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INTRODUCTION

In the first article, I defined Bible engagement, and the necessary steps to determine if a situation is a Bible engagement crisis.  In the second article, I explained why the Bible mandates that a Christian practice Bible engagement that satisfies the biblical standard.  In the third article, I discussed 2 Timothy 2:15 to develop a foundation to comprehend the biblical standard for Bible engagement.

In the fourth through sixth articles, I looked at six actions found in verses 14 and 16-24 of 2 Timothy 2 that define actions contrary to those comprising “rightly handling the word of truth.”   In the seventh article, I advanced a clear definition of the biblical standard for Bible engagement.  

In this eighth article, I explain what I can best ascertain comprises the “understanding and interpretation of Scripture” of the pro-LGBTQ faction.   

A BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE UMC SPLIT

A very public Bible engagement crisis manifested itself in the early January, 2020 agreement in the United Method Church to formally separate over the issue of same-sex marriage and the ordination of homosexual clergy.   The written plan called “Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation” would need to be approved by the 2020 General Conference in May before taking effect.  Had this plan gone according to plan, the UMC would have already approved the split, but the COVID-19 pandemic intervened and so things were put on hold.   Even though the formal split has been delayed, the Bible engagement crisis remains. 

The pro-LGBTQ faction claims their position is biblical in light of the opening statement in the Protocol, which reads:

Whereas, The United Method Church and its members – after careful reflection, discussion and prayer – have fundamental differences regarding their understanding and interpretation of Scripture, theology and practice;

AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE SUPPORTING GROUNDS OF THE PRO-LGBTQ FACTION

Introduction

I could not locate a single document that listed the reasons the pro-LGBTQ faction uses to support its position.  To gain an understanding of the reasons, I considered two primary pieces of evidence. 

The first was the substance in a video presentation entitled “A Plea to the United Methodist Church” and posted on August 20, 2019 by Bishop Richard Wilke.  The details of the presentation are from what I believe is a transcript of the video reported in UMNews.org per an article of August 21, 2019 entitled “Gay Daughter sent bishop back to Scriptures.” 

The second was a series of blog posts by Rev. Adam Hamilton, the founder of a large pro-LGBTQ UMC church in Kansas City.  These posts comprise: (1) a March 11, 2014 blog entitled “Homosexuality, The Bible, and the United Methodist Church” (hereinafter Hamilton #1), (2) an April 27, 2016 post entitled “The Bible, Homosexuality., and the UMC – Part One” (hereinafter Hamilton #2), (3) a May 9, 2016 blog entitled “Five Things the General Conference Could Do Regarding Same Gender Marriage – Part Two” (hereinafter Hamilton #3), and (4) a May 20, 2016 blog entitled “A Hopeful Path Forward? – Part Three” (hereinafter Hamilton #4]. 

Based on the above materials, it appears the pro-LGBTQ faction uses at least the following approaches and arguments to support its position.  

Euphemistic Characterization of the Physicality of Homosexual Activity

The pro-LGBTQ faction tries to normalize homosexual activity via euphemistic characterizations of homosexual sexual conduct.  For example, in Hamilton #1 and Hamilton #2, Rev. Hamilton characterizes homosexual activity as “same-sex sexual activity,” “same-sex intimacy,”   “same-gender relationships,” “same-gender marriage,” “same-gender sexual acts,” “same-sex acts” or “same gender sexual relations.”   

The pro-LGBTQ faction describes a homosexual relationship in the most flattering terms with a focus on selfless love and stable commitment.  For example, Rev. Hamilton describes homosexual couples as those “who love one another selflessly” and have “love and commitment.”   See Hamilton #2.  Bishop Wilke describes a homosexual relationship as: (1) a committed relationship, (2) a relationship in which his daughter wanted to loved and accepted and in which she was happy and whole, (3) a loving, faithful relationship, and (4) a faithful, stable, and loving relationship.

The “God made me this way” Argument

According to Bishop Wilke, a person’s sexual orientation is how God made them.  In other words, God made a practicing homosexual to have a homosexual orientation.   The implication from this argument is that it is acceptable if a person lives in such a way consistent with how they believe God made them.

Downplaying the Authority of Scripture

The pro-LGBTQ faction minimizes the importance of Scripture that addresses homosexual conduct.  Bishop Wilke argues that a “big-picture grasp of the Bible” renders the “few passages” that address homosexuality as “insignificant.”   The implication is that the biblical teaching about homosexuality is “insignificant.”  Bishop Wilke says that the passages of Scripture pertaining to homosexual practice are “a few misunderstood passages of Scripture.”  

Rev. Hamilton seems to take the same approach when he writes “the handful of passages in the Bible that seem to speak to some form of same-sex sexual activity.”  (See Hamilton #1).  In Hamilton #1, Rev. Hamilton presents a hermeneutical approach that pigeonholes Scripture into one of three “buckets.”  According to Rev. Hamilton, the three buckets into which Scripture falls are: (1) Scriptures that express God’s heart, character, and timeless will for human beings, (2) Scriptures that expressed God’s will in a particular time, but are no longer binding, and (3) Scriptures that never fully expressed the heart, character or will of God.  According to Hamilton, the issue is “whether the handful of scriptures that condemn same-sex sexual activity belong to bucket one, two, or three.” 

In an effort to validate discarding the prohibition against homosexual practice, Rev. Hamilton points out that the early church decided, “that circumcision was no longer required of Christians, or that Christians were no longer bound by much that is found in the Law of Moses.”  Per Hamilton #2, the pro-LGBTQ faction does not adopt an evangelical hermeneutical approach: 

But in truth, I don’t believe that we are picking and choosing. I think we’re appropriately interpreting; we’re asking the question, “What was the historical and cultural setting of these words, and do they appropriately express the heart of God for us today?” And how do Christians make that determination?  We consider the words and actions of Jesus, we think of what he described as the great commandments, and we consider the major themes of Scripture. Then we bring our intellect and experience of the Spirit to bear on our reading of Scripture.

Bishop Wilke adds emotion to the analysis in his effort, “to reconcile my commitment to scriptural authority with loving and accepting my daughter.” 

Rev. Hamilton highlights ways in which the UMC’s understanding of Scripture has changed over time with respect to slavery, women’s voting rights in America, and women pastors in the UMC.   He observes that given time, the homosexual issue should become “a non-issue, as even most evangelical young adults in the United Methodist Church see this issue differently from their 40- and 50- and 60-year-old parents and grandparents.”

In Hamilton #4, Hamilton urges finding a “genuine compromise” on the issue a majority of United Methods can live with.  He characterizes the UMC as taking the “middle way.” He defines the “middle way” as , “a church that values and holds together in tension ideas and impulses that seem like opposites.”

The Reason Behind the Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

The Bible presents the account of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18:16-19:29.  According to Bishop Wilke, it is “easy” to see that the sin of Sodom was not homosexual activity, but the inhospitality of the people of Sodom because they wanted to rape and humiliate the angels visiting Lot citing Ezekiel 16:49 Luke 10:12.  (See Wilke presentation).

The Irrelevance of the Levitical Holiness Code

According to the pro-LGBTQ faction, the context of the Levitical Holiness Code shows it was peculiar to the times to separate the Jews from the surrounding pagan nations.  Bishop Wilke says:

This code was designed for the specific purpose of setting the Jews apart from the Canaanites. It was not intended as a universal morality. It was peculiar to the Hebrews — and to the times. It reflected one side of the constant tension in Judaism, as well as in all religions, between exclusion and inclusion.

Today, according to the pro-LGBTQ faction, neither Jews nor Christian obey the Holiness Code.  Three examples of “disobedience” are: (1) Christian eat shrimp, (2) Christians do not stone those who commit adultery, (3) Christians do not justify killing children for talking back to parents.  (See Wilke presentation).

In reference to Leviticus 20:13, Hamilton #1 reads:

Whether you believe in two buckets or three, the question remains, Which bucket do the five passages of scripture that reference same-sex intimacy fall into?  Consider Leviticus 20:13 in which God is said to command: “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.”  Anyone who has a child that is gay would rightly ask, “Did God ever really command that gay and lesbian children be put to death?”  They might also ask, “Does God really see my child, or the love they share for their partner, as an abomination?” 

What Paul Knew or Didn’t Know About Homosexual Sex

According to Bishop Wilke, in reference to Romans 1:24-32, Paul was familiar with only two kinds of homosexual activity (1) wealthy Greeks would buy young boys as slave and sexually exploit them, and (2) part of the Greek-Roman world would go to male and female prostitutes as a form of fertility or mystery cult worship.   These actions bear no resemblance to “the loving, faithful relationships” of homosexual relationships.  (See Wilke presentation). 

Contemporary Rejection of what Paul Wrote about Women

Hamilton #2 points out that the contemporary UMC has moved away from what Paul taught about women’s role in the church:

Further if we consistently applied these same assumptions to what Paul teaches about women in the New Testament, the female members of the United Methodist Church would pray with their heads covered; they would remain silent in the church; and they would not be permitted to teach in any church gathering where men were present. 

Rev. Hamilton seems to equate condemning homosexual practice to maintaining the above restrictions regarding a woman’s role in the church.

Contemporary Rejection of Slavery in the Bible

Hamilton #2 points out that the contemporary church as moved away from condoning slavery.  He appears to equate condoning slavery to condemning homosexual practice:

If Methodist Christians consistently held that everything in the Bible is God’s Word and that it is unchanging — and by this they meant that what the Bible allows we must allow, and that what the Bible forbids we must forbid — we’d still support the practice of slavery today.

Jesus Focused on the Marginalized in Society

Jesus focused on the marginalized.  Jesus placed kindness and acceptance over custom and social norms.  Jesus emphasized hospitality.  (See Wilke presentation).  Bishop Wilke cited two exemplary texts:

Again and again Jesus placed kindness and acceptance over custom and social norms. “Love one another,” he commanded, “as I have loved you.” He also emphasized hospitality: “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. And you will be blessed.”

Conclusion

As I can best ascertain, the pro-LGBTQ faction use the following categories of approaches or arguments to support its position: (1) euphemistic characterization of the physicality of homosexual activity; (2) the “God made me this way” argument; (3) downplaying the authority of Scripture; (4) the reason behind the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; (5) the irrelevance of the Levitical Holiness Code; (6) what Paul knew or didn’t know about homosexual sex; (7) contemporary rejection of what Paul wrote about women; (8) contemporary rejection of slavery in the Bible; and (9) Jesus focused on the marginalized in society

In the next article, I will address each of these basic approaches or arguments by the pro-LGBTQ faction. 

Please send me any comments to steve@stevebelsheim.com or use the comments feature of the blog.

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