The upcoming General Conference on human sexuality will say more about our understanding of God than our understanding of human sexuality. Will we affirm that “we are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation and given new birth through water and the Spirit” and that “all this is God’s gift, offered to us without price?” (UMC Baptismal Service) Or, will we believe that God’s grace is earned by human actions? Will we keep refusing to offer God’s grace to baptized members, who simply ask for God’s blessing as they marry? Will we keep withholding some people’s ordination because of who they kiss? No one rejects the 23rd Psalm due to King David’s lifestyle! We believe in matchless-marvelous-infinite grace freely bestowed and greater than our sin. What lens will we use to read the Scriptures? Will we trust unquestioned traditions or risk prophetic insights? Will we do theology with internally inconsistent proof texting or reasoned interpretation? Will we preach wrath or grace? I invite you to examine your theological lens by focusing on a few Scriptures! Will we hold onto the letter of the law or embrace the Spirit of Christ?
First, consider Leviticus 21:18-23. ‘”No one who has an imperfection will be allowed to preside at the Lord’s Table: this includes anyone who is blind, crippled, disfigured, deformed; anyone who has a broken foot or hand; hunchback, too small, eye disease, rash, scabs, crushed testicle, or (it goes unsaid here but) any woman! Such folks can take Communion sure, but they may not officiate… for if they do they make the sanctuary impure”* We don’t believe that. We reject the notion that God excludes a person from priestly service based on a biological condition. We are saved by Divine grace, not works!
Brace yourself, and hear Titus 2: 9-10 “Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior.” Sadly, the southern church took sinful comfort in such verses when it split away in 1844. May we all flatly reject Bible passages like this one!
Third, test your lens on 1 Timothy 2:12: “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.” We believe in the full inclusion of women in ministry. We decided to step away from these oppressive verses, along with nearly 2,000 years of church tradition in 1956. If the leaven of those preaching Biblical fidelity today is unchecked, they will likely in due season, drag the church back towards an 1880’s understanding.
Fourth, In Matthew 19, Jesus says “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.” In 1960, we allowed pastors to marry divorced persons without fear of sanction. Is our divorce theology consistent with the lens we use in regards to homosexuality? Today, we welcome and are blessed by many pastors: who have left their own denominations after a divorce, and have found grace and full inclusion inside the UMC.
Fifth, let us consider 1 Corinthians 6:10 “thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5 adds hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy to the excluded list.)” You will not hear many sermons about “drunks” any more, because science has taught us about people’s genetic predisposition to alcoholism. Praise God, that we do not use ugly hurtful terms like “incompatible” in regards to alcoholics! May that soon be true for our gay friends!
Finally, let us remember the Wesleyan love affair with Paul’s words in Romans 8: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law could not do: by sending Jesus to deal with sin! … Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies! Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus! Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Christ who loves us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”* (Romans 8)
Nothing, in all creation, can separate us from the love of God given to us in Christ Jesus. Who is there to condemn? No one! Friends, full inclusion is reasoned, gracious and orthodox. Let us not go backward to the days of exclusion and segregation, but offer the winsome love of Jesus to our hurting world. Amen.
*I have taken certain contextualizing paraphrases with the Scriptures, so I encourage you to read this passage for yourself.