The Real Issue Threatening The UMC and the Nation
Intro: “the Bible is true. The Bible is true for me. The truth of this Bible should change the way I believe and behave.”
Last week I shared with you some devastating news regarding the condition of The United Methodist Church. Many of you consider yourselves members of Byhalia United Methodist Church, while others regularly participate in the worship of God and in the life of faith through this body of Christ without paying any particular attention to denominational affiliation.
Those of you who know me well know that I do not walk the party line when it comes to all things United Methodist. To borrow a phrase from the newly named Republican candidate for vice president, Mike Pense, “I am a Christ follower, a husband and father, a pastor, and a United Methodist, in that order. I grew up in the Methodist Church, but I don’t have to die there.
That said, I love the Wesleyan way of life, the roots of which grow deep in United Methodism. There can be a great future for this 48-year-old denomination; but only if we remain true to all God has called us to be. I want to share a bit more about the state of the church and her possible future, NOT because I think it is important to remain a United Methodist congregation or that it would benefit our congregation to be something other than United Methodist. In fact, by the end of this message, I hope you see that denominationalism has little to do with my heaviness of heart.
First let me share where we are. To do this, I will read an excerpt from The Confessing Movement: INDIANAPOLIS, IN, July 16, 2016à “It is with pain and sadness that The Confessing Movement has noted what appears to be the unraveling of The United Methodist Church. Unfortunately, a small number of LGBTQ-rights activists has influenced some of our conferences, our bishops, and some of our leadership to bring planned disobedience to the Doctrine and the Discipline of The United Methodist Church in an attempt to render the church inoperable under its present General Conference, and its doctrine and discipline. Consider this:
The Western Jurisdiction has elected Rev. Karen Oliveto, an openly gay clergyperson as a bishop of the church. As Bishop she is required to respond positively to the vow of consecration which includes these words: You are called to guard the faith, to seek the unity, and to exercise the discipline of the whole Church…” However, she vocally and actively seeks to break that unity, undermine the faith and to violate the exercise of the discipline of the whole church.
The New York Conference approved three clergy candidates for commissioning and one for ordination in violation of the vows, the covenants, and the discipline of the church.
At least four conferences have passed resolutions declaring an “Action of Non-Conformity with the General Conference of The United Methodist Church” that they would not comply with the provision of the Discipline that “discriminates against LGBTQ persons.
The Oregon-Idaho Board of Ordained Ministry joined with four other Boards of Ministry indicating candidates would be considered for ministry without regard to sexual orientation or gender identification. That conference and four others also defied the actions of the General Conference which legislated that the Church withdraw from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) by either joining the national organization or regional RCRC organizations.
The Cal-Nevada conference passed a resolution saying the Discipline would not be followed as it relates to items concerning LGBTQIA persons (Q is queer or questioning; I is intersex; A is asexual).
These actions come as no surprise as the LGBTQ advocates even before General Conference indicated they intended to close down the church if their demands were not met. [South Central Jurisdiction has petitioned Judicial Council to rule on election of Oliveto.]
…The eight conferences of the church which have declared themselves in defiance of the General Conference and the Discipline of the church together account for only 643,714 members of a 12-million-member denomination. This represents less than 6% of global United Methodism and only 9% of American United Methodism.
These same conferences who consider themselves progressives and the future of the church were also responsible for the loss of 17,056 members in 2015, or a decrease of 2.65%.
At this point you make you wondering why, when such a small number of United Methodist are breaking covenant with our Book of Discipline, is it important to discuss these matters? Why, when homeland terrorist’s attacks are on the rise and racial tensions are high (thanks in large part to social media and news media outlets)…when the future of our nation seems more dubious than in recent memory… would I be focused on the actions of 6% of a denomination that represents less than .02% of the nation’s population.
Let me tell you why. The movement of the LGBTQ community within our denomination—and I would argue within society as a whole—is systemic of an even deeper problem. Many of us can easily dismiss individuals and groups who do not conform to our way of life or our understanding of the order of things as we believe God has ordained. We can point to the five passages of Scripture which clearly condemn the practice of same sex relationships.
In the Old Testament, we can look at one of the greatest examples of judgment against the practice of homosexuality, Sodom and Gomorrah, found in Genesis 19. Two Angels came to the city and Lot showed hospitality and protection from the wicked city by giving them shelter. Some men of the city both young and old demanded that Lot turned them over so that they may have sex with them. [this is where we get the term sodomize.] But their sins were already known to God. The Lord had sent the angels to destroy the city because of its wickedness.
Some in the homosexual community would argue that only a select few in the city were sexual deviants and that their real sin was a failure to show hospitality to the stranger. While there is biblical evidence that God considers rejection of the alien and stranger a sinful act, there is nothing to indicate that that was the reason the city of Sodom and Gomorrah were being destroyed. In focus within the narrative of Genesis 19 is sexual sin of sodomy.
We can also turn to Leviticus 18:22, which reads, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” Or Leviticus 20:13. “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”
The LGBTQ proponents would argue that other things were prohibited because they were an abomination such as eating pork and that these were part of the Holiness code for the covenant people of Israel, not the new covenant people of Christ. They would argue that Christ never mentions the practice of homosexuality and by omission has condoned long-term, monogamous, same-sex relationships.
So the Christian may point to the New Testament’s most prolific writer and greatest spokesperson for Jesus, the apostle Paul. In Romans 1:26 – 28, he writes, “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
The proponents of same-sex relations might then argue that Paul, looking around his culture where pagan worship included male and female temple prostitutes (where married men and women would have sexual relations as a part of the gluttony of the culture), was addressing the larger issue of gratifying the desires of the flesh rather than seeking the one true living God. They argue that Paul was not addressing the issue of loving, monogamous, same-sex relationships.
Paul also addressed this issue in his first letter to the Corinthians when he included homosexuality among many unrighteous practices—such as adultery, drunkenness, idolatry, and greed—which would prohibit one from entering the kingdom of God. Paul also told his son in the faith, Timothy, that God’s laws are good and are laid down for the lawless and disobedient, among whom include the sexually immoral—men who practice homosexuality. Other lawlessness includes people who murder, who strike their parents, who lie and perjure, and who live in defiance of sound teaching, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God.
Again, those who would condone homosexual lifestyle would explain away that Paul was dealing with a different culture. They would argue that promiscuity—whether heterosexual or homosexual—is contrary to the will and purpose of God. And on that point, I certainly agree.
TRANSITION: Notwithstanding the leap one has to make to interpret these passages as antiquated at best and “neutral” in God’s eyes at worst, I believe there is something much deeper and more troubling going on here: the authority of Scripture, God’s holy Word, is on trial. The truth of the Bible has been called into question. On the witness stand are the texts related to human sexuality. Representing the prosecution are the people of the LGBTQ community; the real prosecutor, however, is the accuser, the father of lies, Satan himself.
Remember his words to Eve when she contemplated disobeying God’s first restrictive command: “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge and good and evil, lest you die.” The serpent’s response was to get Eve to question WHAT God said: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” When Eve clarified that they could eat from any tree but the one in the middle, the serpent began to call into question God’s INTENTIONS behind His word: “You will not surely die,” the serpent said. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So she believed it the serpent rather than God, and her actions followed her beliefs.
We do this all the time, don’t we? We question whether or not our sinful behavior is something God would disapprove of. We rationalize that it would not be such a big deal to God if we violated his commands. Once we have changed our beliefs, then we can behave the way our sinful nature wants us to.
On a macro level, this I believe is what has happened with the issue of human sexuality. Slowly, inch by inch, the church has given up ground regarding truths of Scripture. One major area in which the church is all but conceded is the doctrine of Creation. The first two chapters of Genesis give us complementary narratives on God’s creative nature as He speaks everything out of nothing. Over the last century, evolutionists have convinced the world in general and the church, specifically, that the origins of life were a random, cosmic event that began the process of the creation of everything we know and see. The church—not all mind you, but many mainline denominations—have accepted the Big Bang Theory and the theory of evolution as truth, thereby dismissing the greatest truth to creation: GOD DID IT ALL BY HIMSELF!!!
The proponents of the LGBTQ movement were successful in getting the Supreme Court to re-write the historical definition of marriage (one man and one woman) so as to be more inclusive and less discriminatory. Same-sex unions are now the law of the land.
As if that were not enough, the LGBTQ community is calling for—among other things—gender-neutral bathrooms (of which Target has adopted) and even gender-neutral personal pronouns! No longer does a girl have to be known as a “she” and a boy known as a “he,” one can be known as “ze.” Teachers are urged to ask students their preferred gender-neutral pronoun, for goodness sakes! Doctors, rather than calling the newborn baby a boy or girl, are to refer to it as a male human or a female human.
All of this is an attempt to delete all things “binary” out of our language. No boy or girl. No she or he. No distinction among us; only unity. We don’t even need male and female to raise children; just an egg and a sperm which can be developed in a laboratory. Does this bother you? I bet it does! But this morning I want to challenge our thinking as to WHY it should bother us.
On the surface, we may be bothered because it disrupts our understanding of the order of things. We are uncomfortable with the oddity and unnaturalness of it all. I get that. But on a deeper level, we should be bothered because it is contrary to God’s Word. Let me read for you the creation story of Genesis 1 and, as I do, I invite you to listen for the “binary” relationships found all through the narrative. [READ GENESIS 1:1-28]
As you can see, God established all creation in a binary way—heavens and earth, light and darkness, night and day, evening and morning, greater light and lesser light, and most significantly male and female. These are complementary. They need one another to fulfill their individual and collective purpose for which they were created.
God’s first command, first to sea creatures & birds, then to man and woman, was “be fruitful and multiply.” One major task of all creation is…creating! God gave us authority to do what God did: create. He also gave us authority to govern…to steward over creation. When it comes to people, we steward by being a family. In the second creation narrative (binary), a commentary is given about the sanctity of marriage: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”
One could argue that—before the war on human sexuality—there was a war on the family levied by Satan. The woman’s liberation movement had many good attributes—the rights of women to vote and to receive equal pay for equal work being two. However, the notion that women and men are neutral when it comes to our role in creating and sustaining a family has led, in part, to the destruction of the sanctity of marriage. We have a huge divorce and remarriage rate in this nation. Let me point out that Jesus did speak against both! But we listened to the lies of our culture; began believing that God really didn’t mean what He said, and behaved accordingly.
Now the issue is human sexuality, and that’s not only unfortunate it is deplorable. But even more deplorable is the reality that we, the Church, have abandoned the belief that God is authoritative and thus, God’s Word is no longer authoritative.
Located in the Doctrinal Standards and Our Theological Task section of the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church lies our Articles of Religion. These are the foundational statements of belief that guide who we are as a church. Article V is entitled, “Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation.” The opening statement reads, “The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” It goes on to state that this scripture is the Old and New Testaments and even lists the OT books by name.
In other words, as United Methodists, we hold the scriptures in highest regards. With John Wesley we claim “sola scriptura,” meaning we are a people of one Book! And God’s authority was imparted onto men of faith to record His word so that we could read and know this God we love and worship. 1 Peter 1:23 claims that we are to love one another earnestly because, “you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’”
Hebrews 4:12-13 reminds us that, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
In the grand sweep of things related to authority, God first exercised his authority in creation. After man and woman rebelled against him, God exercised his authority in re-creation. In the Old Testament this is seen in the covenant between God and Israel. In the fullness of time the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. God’s authority was exercised through his son Jesus Christ to redeem not just Israel but the entire world by his death and resurrection! God then gave authority to his new covenant people when Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you, to the end of the age.”
CONCLUSION. In closing, let me read for you a short email sent to me by one of our faithful believers at BUMC:
Hope you don’t mind if I take this opportunity to vent on you, a little. I just read Bishop Swanson’s letter and I was just as saddened as I was on Sunday when you read it. I am more than a little disappointed that more of the denomination is not speaking out against this blatant defamation of God’s word, and therefore His character. By electing someone to such an esteemed leadership position, who is clearly and openly in defiance of God’s will, commandments, and expectations for His people, especially in a way that is an abomination to the wisdom and goodness of His created glory, we not only condone but become partners in the ideology that God is created in our image and that our ways are superior to His ways (and isn’t that what condemned us in the first place?) By allowing this we become liars. In our pursuit to know Him, we lie to ourselves that God is ok with His people living in sin and being no different than those in “the world”. In the commandment to us “to make Him known” we lie to the unsaved by grossly misrepresenting the nature, character and holiness of God. The fact that this situation is being sent to the Judicial Council for resolution may mean that we, as a denomination, have already failed in our execution of the Great Commission. I pray that the Council has the personal faith, love for God, and desire for the truth about Him to be made known that they make a decision that is right for the world and not one that is right in the eyes of the world. It is time to take a stand.
I will say it again: on trial is not a few scriptures related to one sinful practice; it is the integrity and authority of God and his holy word that is once again being called into question. And if we concede the authority of Scripture on the point of human sexuality, just as we have on creationism and on the sanctity of marriage, we will have slipped further into the mire of human depravity and willful disobedience to God Almighty, to whom we must give an account.
So what are we to do? First of all, PRAY. Seek God with our whole heart. Repent of our collective sin of spiritual and scriptural apathy. Ask God to forgive us for our lukewarm affections toward himself and our lazy attitude toward his holy word.
Second, READ. Take the personal responsibility of knowing God in a deeper way by knowing the truths of his Word. Read the Bible daily. Study the Bible together. [Experiencing God]
Third, ACT. Do what God’s Word tells us to do. In John 14, Jesus points out that if we love God we will keep his word. In Psalm 119, the psalmist says, “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will keep it to the end.” And 1 John 2 reminds us that we come to know God if we keep his commandments. Remember how James put it? “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”
On the issue of homosexuality, our task is not to judge but to live faithfully according to the word of God. We are to love all people at all times. That means inviting all people to the Bread of Life where they can find forgiveness of sins and redemption for salvation. Regarding the United Methodist Church: we may pull through this crisis and remain a unified denomination. We may split and become multiple denominations, each church aligning herself according to her understanding of God’s authority. Until then, I invite you to join me in praying for God’s will be done, God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. AMEN.