Critique of Methodist study guide on same-sex marriage report

The booklet entitled “And Love Unites Us: Additional Study Guide” is being circulated to Methodist members. It is currently under discussion and the main purpose, as the title suggests, is to encourage members to take a tolerant attitude towards those of radically different opinions about gay marriage. There are however numerous serious weaknesses and errors in this booklet.

1.    IT IGNORES THE CREATION NARRATIVES AND TEACHING ON THE PURPOSE OF MARRIAGE

The booklet does not refer to the creation narratives which clearly teach the principle of heterosexual marriage summed up in Gen 2:24 “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” There is absolutely no support for same-sex marriage in the whole of Scripture.

It also has to be said that it is obvious that human beings were created for heterosexual marriage. Some people have a deep desire to justify same-sex marriage as included in God’s purposes but that is an Emperor’s new clothes idea.

2.    IT EMPHASISES THE IMPORTANCE OF ‘LIVE AND LET LIVE’ AND ENCOURAGES TOLERATION EVEN OF VIEWS SEEN AS SERIOUSLY UNBIBLICAL

The booklet strongly affirms that we must live and let live over the radically different views about gay marriage (but reconsider every 5 years because of drift towards acceptance of gay marriage)
•    It commend the “ability to exist well together within Christ’s church” p. 3
•    It states: “The report acknowledges the respect for differing convictions (5:3) that has already been affirmed through provision made in the Standing Orders for differing views” p 9
•    I states: “The report concludes with an invitation for the Methodist people to … Be open and positive about sexuality and relationships. Value all relationships of grace. Widen and justify the understanding of marriage as being between two persons.” p 9

3.    IT MAKES INVALID IMPLICATIONS TO SUPPORT THE ACCEPTANCE OF GAY MARRIAGE

The report states: “Over time there have been changes in the nuances of our understanding of what marriage is, even within the history of the United Kingdom” p. 10-11.

•    MY COMMENT: But it only instances arranged marriages, the start of formal wedding ceremonies and divorce, all of which are irrelevant to the gay marriage issue but the report writes of them in a way which suggests we’ve changed our approach to issues relating to marriage over the years so we can change our mind over gay marriage. This implication is invalid.

4.    IT MAKES MISLEADING STATEMENTS WHICH CAN CONFUSE THE UNINFORMED

The report states: “Scripture is the primary authority, but comes to us as a tradition, read in the light of reason and experience.” P 13.

•    MY COMMENT: No, Scripture is the Word of God inspired by the Holy Spirit to which we are called to submit, and God is perfectly able to convey his truth clearly over important issues. It is not a tradition subject to our own thoughts and experience, even though such tradition and experience may add to our understanding.

5.    IT TOLERATES ILLEGITIMATE ARGUMENTS WHICH CAN CONFUSE THE UNINFORMED

a.    The report refers to Lev 18:22 “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable” and Lev 20:13 “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable.”

The report states: “While these verses do condemn same sex activity between men there are many laws in Leviticus that Christians do not apply to themselves today, for example not wearing clothing made mixed fibres (19:19), and not cutting the hair at the edges of your beard (19:27). These verses do not in themselves give any reason to condemn consensual, loving and faithful same sex relationships today. When reading the laws of the Hebrew Scriptures it is more important to understand the reasons that lie behind those laws, and many of them had to do with social order rather than eternal principles. Lev 18:22 is probably describing same sex activity taking place in the context of worshipping false gods. Lev 18:21 refers to sacrificing children to the god Molech, and same sex activity was a common feature of certain religious cults at the time.” p 16f

MY COMMENT
However:
•    Lev 18:22 is in a chapter condemning having sex with close relatives (vv 1-16) or with both a mother and daughter (v 17) or committing adultery (v 20). It is not legitimate to argue it is only about pagan worship. The context of Lev 20:13 is the same.
•    The argument that the condemnation of gay sex is on a level with rules against wearing particular clothing, or shaving is not legitimate. These are ceremonial rules. The condemnation of gay sex is about moral behaviour repeated in the New Testament.
•    The report’s statement “These verses do not in themselves give any reason to condemn consensual, loving and faithful same sex relationships today” is wishful thinking and completely without evidence or proper argument.

b.    The report refers to 1 Cor 6:9-10 “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men  nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” and 1 Tim 1:9-10 “We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practising homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers – and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine.”

The report comments: “It is not clear that the original Greek words [“men who have sex with men” and “those practising homosexuality”] refer to anything we would recognise today as consensual and loving same-sex relationship.” P 18f

•    MY COMMENT: However it is clear that such “consensual and loving same-sex relationships” were known in the 1st century and would have been known by Paul, who was well-educated. Had he only been referring to aggressive, unloving homosexual relationships he would have made that clear. This argument respected by the report is a case of special pleading used by those who have already accepted the legitimacy of same-sex relationships.

It is a cause of concern that on the page about 1 Cor 6:9-10 and 1 Tim 1:9-10, headed “New Testament Law” the report states: “To what extent do you believe that instructions for the early Church should be lived out by Christians today? What is your basis for deciding which rules still apply? Can you appreciate that someone else may have thoughtfully and prayerfully considered reasons for taking a different view?” p. 19

•    MY COMMENT: Yet the passages are speaking against sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, theft, greed, drunkenness, slander, swindling, murder, slave trading lying and perjury. Quite apart from this, we are called to obey God’s word on all moral issues in our Christian lives, whatever differences we may have on ceremonial issues. This is quite clear in 1 Cor 6:9-10 and 1 Tim 1:9:10 with solemn warnings.

c.    The report refers to Rom 1:26-27 “God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

The report records as a legitimate view the following: “Paul seems to be setting out same-sex relationships as part of his understanding of the fallen nature of creation. However, Paul lived in a different context from that of today and also did not have access to some of the scientific understanding available today. His arguments that same sex activity is shameful and unnatural, and perverting the natural created order are very similar to his arguments about head covering in 1 Corinthians 11. Very many Christians today would say that 1 Corinthians 11 is a cultural instruction not relevant to today, but Paul's arguments don't seem to suggest this. He says it is shameful for a woman to cut her hair or shave her head (v.6), a woman should cover her head because of the order of creation (v.8-10). It is unnatural and disgraceful for a man to have long hair (v.14) and all the churches follow this custom (v.16). If we can read 1 Corinthians 11 as something for a specific time and place that does not apply to us today, then we can prayerfully consider Romans 1:26-27 in the same light.” P 20f

•    MY COMMENT: But this is another case of special pleading used by those who have already accepted the legitimacy of same-sex relationships. Paul goes on to list other sins (vv 29-30) “envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents.” Are these also because “Paul lived in a different context from that of today and also did not have access to some of the scientific understanding available today.” Of course not. This, including the references to homosexual practice, is a list of immoral behaviour which is to be avoided today, not just in the 1st century. Also, as said above, Paul would have known about “consensual and loving same-sex relationships” and, had he only been referring to aggressive, unloving homosexual relationships he would have made that clear.

6.    IT INCLUDES AS LEGITIMATE OPTIONS (TO BE TOLERATED) VIEWS WHICH CONTRADICT PROPER SUBMISSION TO SCRIPTURE

Having included a section entitled “Living with Contradictory Convictions” (p 26ff). It speaks about legitimate diversity, freedom of conscience, asking the following questions “How important is freedom of religious conscience to you? Are you content to grant that to others? Are there limits, and if so where?” “What does it mean to be united in Christ if we hold very different theological. Political, moral or ethical views?”

The report then goes on in its “Appendix 2: Models of Biblical Authority” (pp 32-34 from the 1998 Conference Report) to include as legitimate options five views of Scripture which are manifestly contradictory to proper submission to God’s Word. This is a cause of deep concern. In the following quotations I highlight the errors. My comments are in borders.

a.    “7.9.3 The Bible is the essential foundation on which Christian faith and life are built. However, its teachings were formed in particular historical and cultural contexts, and must therefore be read in that light. The way to apply biblical
teaching in today's very different context is not always obvious or straightforward. Reason is an important (God-given) gift which must be used to the full in this process of interpretation.”

“This view emphasizes that the Word of God is contained in a collection of books written in times and places very different from our own and cannot simply be read as a message for our own situation. We must work out by the use of reason how far and in what way the ancient text can appropriately be applied to the modern situation.”

[My Comment 1: God is love and love communicates, so revelation is of fundamental importance to God. Clarity over important issues for all time is essential to revelation (secondary issues may be unclear in a book written over so many centuries by so many writers). Marriage and sexual relationships are not a secondary issues so this view is implying that God fell down on the job over producing revelation (as opposed to confusion and uncertainty)]


b.    “7.9.4 The Bible's teaching, while foundational and authoritative for Christians, needs to be interpreted by the Church. In practice it is the interpretation and guidance offered by Church leaders and preachers which provides authoritative teaching. Church tradition is therefore of high importance a practical source of authority.”

“This view is concerned to stress that the people of God, the Church, existed before the Bible and that the Bible therefore does not exist independently of the Church. Interpretation of the Bible is essentially a matter for the Church community, and especially its appointed leaders, rather than for private individuals.”

[My Comment 2: This is a rather dictatorial view which disallows the individual to conclude the church has got it wrong. Church history proves that sometimes the church has got it wrong. Also the church is very divided over the homosexual issue, and will become more so. We need to encourage submission to God’s Word.]


c.    “7.9.5 The Bible is one of the main ways in which God speaks to the believer. However, the movement of God's Spirit is free and unpredictable, and it is what the Spirit is doing today that is of the greatest importance. The Bible helps to interpret experience, but much stress is placed on spiritual experience itself, which conveys its own compelling authority.”

“On this view, to give too high a status to the Bible may prevent us from hearing what God is saying to us today. We should be guided principally by the convictions which emerge from our own Christian experience as individuals and as a church community which on occasion will go against the main thrust of the Bibles teaching.”

[My Comment 3: This is a mistaken view. Our submission to God includes submission to his Word which is “God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16). The writers “though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21). It is a long-established truth in the church that tradition and reason (and experience) must be submitted to God’s Word.]


d.    “7.9.6 The Bible witnesses to God's revelation of himself through history and supremely through Jesus Christ. However the Bible is not itself that revelation, but only the witness to it. Christians must therefore discern where and to what extent they perceive the true gospel witness in the various voices of the Bible. Reason, tradition and experience are as important as the biblical witnesses.”

“This view emphasizes that the Bible mediates the Word of God but is not identical with the Word of God We can discover which parts of the Bible are God's Word for us only if we make use of all the resources of reason, church tradition and experience.”

[My Comment 4: I repeat Comment 3 above. The long established church view of the Bible is summed up by Articles 6 and 7 of the 39 Articles of the Church of England: “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 the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation … it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.”]


e.    “7.9.7 The Bible comprises a diverse and often contradictory collection of documents which represent the experiences of various people in various times and places. The Christian’s task is to follow, in some way, the example of Christ. And to the extent that the Bible records evidence of his character and teaching it offers a useful resource. However, in the late 20th century it is simply not possible to obey all its teachings since these stem from very human authors and often represent the ideology of particular groups or classes in an ancient and foreign culture. Reason and experience provide much more important tools for faith and practice.”

“This view also stresses that the Bible was written by people addressing particular times and situations. But, guided by the insights of, for example, feminist and liberation theologies, it further argues that before we can discover in it God's Word for us we must strip away from it those elements which betray the vested interests of particular groups, for instance, the interests of male dominance or of political and economic power-blocks.”

[My Comment 5: This view effectively rejects the divine inspiration and authority of Scripture. It implies that God has not given us a clear, authoritative revelation on all important issues. It exalts human opinion above Scripture.]


7.    IT IGNORES THE BIBLICAL TEACHING ON SEPARATION FROM SERIOUS ERROR

Paul writes to the Corinthians “ I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people” (1 Cor 5:9-11). It follows that if, as seems clear to the unprejudiced reader, Scripture condemns homosexual behaviour (as well as other sexual sins) we cannot just happily and meekly live with those who defend such behaviour. Such an approach is clearly contrary to the teaching of the New Testament. We cannot just ‘live and let live’ on this issue. We must separate ourselves. That may mean a congregation taking a stand against denominational compromise, or an individual ceasing to be a full member. It doesn’t necessarily mean departing from a congregation or a denomination. I seriously considered leaving the Church of England many years ago but the Lord made it quite clear he was saying “Stay put, but don’t stay quiet.” I didn’t stay quiet.