Why Same-Sex Marriage Is a Communion-Dividing Issue

Unified-ChurchUM News Service reporter Heather Hahn recently recounted the third forum on sexuality held by the Connectional Table, this one in Mozambique.  I was intrigued by the views of Bishop Christian Alsted of the Nordic and Baltic Area.  Alsted “said some of the conferences he serves want to allow same-sex marriages and gay ordination, while others would be opposed to such a move. Still others, he said, are split on the question. But he sees no reason those differences should threaten the church unity. ‘It has always been part of my understanding of our DNA that we as United Methodists are willing to ask the hard questions… and to do this with respect, grace and compassion.’”  When asked what might happen if the church changed its position on marriage and sexuality, “Alsted said some churches would welcome the development while he is sure others ‘would consider leaving the connection.’”

“’However, it is a mystery for me that this one issue has become such a dominant issue within our denomination and in our society, and that presents a problem,’ he said. ‘The issue of human sexuality, in particular homosexuality, is an important issue. But it does not have the significance or importance to split us as a church. And if we go in that direction, I wonder what we will think of our past in 50 years.’”

I agree with Alsted that “United Methodists are [and ought to be] willing to ask the hard questions” and engage one another “with respect, grace, and compassion” (at least on our better days).  But his statements bring up the important question, whether the issue of homosexuality has “the significance or importance to split us as a church.”  I believe this issue is a communion-dividing issue for at least three reasons:

1) Empirically, it has already proven to be a communion-dividing issue for many other Protestant Christians.  The United Church of Christ, The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Presbyterian Church (USA) have all experienced denominational separation after changing their position on marriage and ordination for same-sex persons.  In addition, thousands of persons have left Mainline congregations, including The United Methodist Church, over the past 20 years due to struggles over what we believe about sexuality.  Churches who become “Reconciling” often lose a significant percentage of their membership.  One can say that it doesn’t have to be that way, but evidently many people do see a change in the church’s position as a reason to separate.

2) Evangelicals view compromising the church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality as a violation of biblical authority.  We say that we believe the Bible is “the true rule and guide for faith and practice.  Whatever is not revealed in or established by the Holy Scriptures is not to be made an article of faith nor is it to be taught as essential to salvation” (Confession of Faith, Article IV). Yet that is precisely what advocates of same-sex marriage are proposing, making the affirmation of same-sex behavior an article of faith.  Scripture is clear on this matter, as we say in our Book of Discipline, all persons are of sacred worth and loved by God, but homosexual behavior is not consistent with God’s will for us.  I have read many different attempts to portray an alternative interpretation of Scripture that would allow same-sex marriage.  By and large, these are rationalizations, not faithful interpretations of the Bible.  The best any of them can say is that the words of Scripture do not mean what they say, or that they no longer apply to us today.  There is no positive warrant in Scripture endorsing same-sex behavior.  Against that is 2,000 years of Christian teaching and an additional 1,000+ years of Jewish teaching about the complementarity of the sexes and the meaning of marriage.  These teachings were promulgated in many different cultural situations, some of which allowed or even embraced homosexual behavior.  Yet the teaching has remained consistent throughout that God’s design is for marriage between man and woman — and most ideally between one man and one woman for life.  Given the stress on obedience in the Bible, including in the words of Jesus, for the church to turn its back on biblical teaching would leave many evangelicals no choice but to separate.

3) Alsted (along with Rev. Adam Hamilton and a number of other church leaders) seems to believe that it is possible for the church to exist with part of it endorsing same-sex marriage and ordination and part of it opposing this.  However, proponents of same-sex affirmation would not be satisfied with such a situation.  Even Hamilton views that accommodation as only a temporary one, until the older generations die and the younger generations are in a position to change the church for everyone.  If by some chance a compromise were reached that would allow people to live according to whatever they personally believe, it would not last long.  Advocates for same-sex affirmation view their cause as a civil rights issue on par with slavery, racism, and discrimination against women.  Just as the church could (rightly) not exist “half slave and half free,” or segregated by race, or not giving women full equality in every part of the church, so same-sex advocates will not rest until every part of the church affirms the goodness of same-sex marriage and the endorsement of homosexual behavior.  Anyone who cannot agree with such a program will eventually be forced to leave the church.  What is the difference if that separation happens now or in 20-30 years?  It will happen just the same.

Much as I would like to believe that persons holding different views on human sexuality and having different practices regarding marriage and ordination could all live together in the same church body, I do not believe it is possible.  For either side to live with the other’s actions would require each side to give up their deeply held convictions and violate their consciences.  This truly is a communion-dividing issue.

18 thoughts on “Why Same-Sex Marriage Is a Communion-Dividing Issue

  1. Yes it is a communion dividing issue. Do any of our bishops have anything meaningful to say? Are they all a bunch of “company men” who just “tow the line”?

    I don’t what is going to happen with us as a denomination but I long for a day when we have bishops who speak with passion for orthodox Christianity.

  2. I have always believed the Bible is the guideline on how we should live…..It is sad that part of the Denomination wants us to turn our backs on God and his teaching in his word……If we do that…..We will stand before God and He will say….”I never knew you”……WE NEED TO DEVIDE NOW!!…..Social issues (worldly views) are draging us down into the pit!!!…..SHAME ON THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH FOR PUTTING UP WITH THIS…..If we do not rectify this now, it might be too late and if we do not stand up and oppose it then we are just as guilty as those that propose this worldly way of thinking that “a man laying with a man or a woman laying with a woman is ok”……So I would say, Which is your master…….The world or God!!!…..Stand up and be counted for God’s Glory!

    1. Amen to your comments about using scripture to defend God’s Word on sexuality. That this is even a debate is unbelievable to me! Just check out Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 18-20, 1 Timothy 1:9-11, Jude 1:4-7. It’s bad enough when the world perverts God’s will and tramples on His Word, but when the church does it, it is terrifying. We better get ready to defend our faith because persecution is on its way, even inside the church.

  3. It is a mystery to me why it is a mystery to Alsted that why homosexuality has become such a dominant issue in the denomination when Bible revisionists have been pushing it since the beginnings of the denomination.

    As Tom says, it is a matter of Biblical authority. It is not just about homosexuality, that is just the primary presenting issue because that is what Bible revisionists have made of it. It is about a rejection of the authority of the word of God and thus a rejection of the authority of God Himself.

    How can this not be a communion-dividing issue?

  4. We are not authorized by God to change his word to fit this unruly world. This is the slow work of satan to keep wiggling his way into the Church and as we know, satan hates the church. Love the sinner but despise the sin. Leave the Holy word “Marriage” to one man + one woman united by God. Let the same sex union be just that a “Union” by man’s law. Keep the sacred word “Marriage” reserved for those of us who try to honor God’s Holy Word as it is.

    1. I am fearful of the way the church is going. We should not even try to change God’s word. The bible states the the word was god! We will end in hell if we try to change the word. Bishops need to get a backbone and honor gods word.

  5. Commenting on your numbered list:

    (1) UMC now – and also in 2016 and 2020 – is in a hugely different place in terms of (a) public opinion and (b) legal status of same sex marriage. Marriage equality makes all the difference because if gives gay folk equal opportunity as straight folk to follow the traditional Christian ethic of chastity in singleness and faithfulness in marriage. That why it is no longer just a “liberal cause” (politically) or a “progressive cause” (theologically). We will not see same degree of fallout as those other denominations you cited. Remember the folks who have been leaving UMC also includes gay-friendly folks too due to UMC’s increasingly out-of-touch stance.

    (2) Our UMC caucus groups do not speak for all evangelicals. The biggest developments in 2014 has been the growing shift in opinion by evangelical leaders. I’m not saying it is majority, but we seem to be at a huge transition (especially with younger generations). See 2014 books by evangelical biblical scholar James Brownson, evangelical ethicist David Gushee and young gay evangelical Christian Matthew Vines. The evangelical camp now has strong voices who take a high view of biblical authority in establishing their SSM-affirming argument as biblically-grounded. (Personally, I’m more moderate theologically and just a lay person. But deep in my heart, and after a lot of study, I feel that the traditional church view of homosexuals is not consistent with God’s message as revealed in scripture and through the example of Jesus Christ).

    (3) I’m a person who is affirms SSM but also values the full range of theological diversity within our communion; most of us are somewhere in between. Pardon me for seeing the charge that affirming Methodists will run out the non-affirming Methodists as just a scare tactic. I don’t think the liberals want to do that, and I know the moderates will not let them. Schism would be loss for all three camps. We did divide over slavery, but we managed through a lot of messy transition during civil rights and women’s rights eras. I predict this will be much like women’s ordination.

    I recognize that some may persist in pushing for separation. And that grieves me. But the largest share of conservatives (who might have left if today’s scenario had played out in the 1990s) will now envision a different future that allows them to back away from the cliff. I hope we see more evangelicals like Asbury professor Steve Harper step up to avert disaster. Think how well it could go for the evangelical renewal cause if, instead of separating from the UMC, you separated from what most people consider (rightly or wrongly) as an “anti-homosexual cause”. Granted, Tom, I appreciate that you don’t see it as “anti-homosexual orientation” but rather as “anti-homosexual practice” and also I respect your valid reasons why even though we disagree. But public perception of Christians as being anti-homosexual is hurting our Christian witness.

    Ponder a different future where evangelical Asbury grads go forth in a future UMC unencumbered by this non-essential point of disagreement. How large might they grow the Body of Christ within that UMC future?

    1. 1) The word of God does not change with the times, nor does God Himself. Marriage equality makes no difference because legally the same things could be accomplished through civil same-sex unions not called marriage. Marriage is defined by God as between one man and one woman, so homosexuals cannot possibly follow a traditional Christian ethic of faithfulness in marriage. And it is not the stance of our church that is out of touch; it is those who want to ignore or re-interpret the word of God who are out of touch with God, His word, and His will for the church, for His people.

      2) Evangelical is not what people call themselves or what someone else calls them, it is what people believe and do. Perhaps you could share some of those supposedly Biblically grounded views of SSM, because I say that is an oxymoron. The Bible is very clear about what it says about homosexuality, and it always says that it is a sin.

      3) If “liberals” don’t want to run off orthodox and evangelical believers in TUMC, then why all the bullying, name-calliing, accusations of being hateful, etc? Whatever perception there is of Christians being anti-homosexual comes in great part from these bullying tactics by “liberals” in the name of Jesus and love. And of course from groups like Westboro Baptist who are no more Christian than my Honda CR-V is a Rolls Royce. What is hurting the witness of TUMC, and what is causing us to lose members by the hundreds of thousands annually, is at least in great part the constant bullying and bickering in the name of “holy conferencing” and “dialogue”.

      This is no non-essential point. It goes to the authority of the word of God and the authority of the Author of the word of God. That is as essential as you get for a Christian.

    2. Excuse me but I don’t think you can take just part of Scripture to support your belief system. The whole of scripture supports the positive marriage between one man and one woman. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:11, “And this is what some of you USED to be,” indicating that the transformation of Christ delivered those who practiced homosexuality.” You should read Karen Booth’s book, “Forgetting How to Blush: United Methodism’s Compromise with the Sexual Revolution.” She documents the move to accept not just homosexual practice but all sexual practice from around 1913 to today. It is well researched. Before you write those of us off who would keep the UMC stance the way it is, you should read the history of the movement. I stand with the present stance even though I have a gay son whom I love. God loves him too.

      You would also do well to proofread your comments for grammar. They were sometimes hard to read.

    3. Dave, If public perception of Christians is what is important then we are no longer followers of Christ! You might want to read Galatians 1:10 and 1 Thess. 2:4. We have too many pastors, elders and bishops trying to please people rather than simply preach the Truth of God’s Word! I am a United Methodist Pastor for now battling for our church to repent of the sin of abortion, homosexuality and pornography. If the sinful darkness of this present age is not confronted, we will have already ceased to be a part of the Body of Christ. We will have become what Wesley feared…a dead sect. Yet, confrontation makes us uncomfortable and many bishops, elders and pastors don’t have the stomach for anything uncomfortable….maybe the United Methodist Church needs to simply stop trying to be a Christian Church because true Christianity confronts sin at every turn and makes us all very uncomfortable. If it is comfort you are looking for, then I recommend you seek another religion other than Christianity. The Bible makes me very uncomfortable with my own sin and leads me to stop, drop and pray. I pray to God confessing my sin, repenting of it and asking God to enable me to be the man He calls me to be in accordance with His holy Word. Until we repent as a church, we will continue to be a dead sect.

  6. This schism in the UMC is full blown and there is absolutely no way that Orthodox Methodists and Liberal Methodists can come to any sort of co-existence solution because the disagreement is so great that both would have to give up far too much for that to happen. This “third way” idea being discussed by the Connectional Table is nothing but step one for the full implementation of the gay agenda across the church. Only liberals are represented at this table — it’s rigged from the get go as they continue their passive-aggressive tactics in pursuit of their ultimate goal. It is time to shift all energy and effort to General Conference 2016. No more debate, it’s becoming time to vote. Let’s get focused on that and bring this thing to conclusion so that Methodists across the church can decide their futures one way or another.

  7. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. I am a simple layperson and have no theological expertise to offer you. Just my own – ordinary – story. I grew up in a very normal family where my parents often made the least of each other. When I was 17 I remember telling a teacher that I was never going to marry. In my experience nothing good could come of it. As a Christian I have later been blessed to see and experience the life changing power of love. I feel in no position to discriminate between different kinds of truly loving relationships. In fact I am just grateful for any true love in this world.

    1. Anne, I just want to be clear. Are you saying homosexual relationships are among the “different kinds of truly loving relationships”? Since homosexual relationships are the topic of this blog post, it seems like that is what you are saying, so I will go ahead and respond to that.

      True love is defined by the word of God, not by society or by human opinions and feelings.

      The Bible tells us that God is love (1 Jn 4:8) and that God is holy, and we are to be holy too (1 Pet 1:16).

      God says in His word very clearly that homosexual relationships are sinful (Rom 1:26-28; 1 Cor 6:9-11; 1 Tim 1:8-11). Sin is opposed to holiness and love. So homosexual relationships cannot be loving, according to the word of God.

      Likewise, marriages are not loving when husbands and wives commit adultery or otherwise sin against each other.

      The difference is that marriage itself is not a sinful relationship, but a loving and holy one.

      Anne, it’s not a matter of discrimination. It is a matter of discernment, of discerning between good and evil, which we are all called to do as Christians (1 Thess 5:19-21).

      God bless.

  8. What has happened to using God’s Word to defend God’s Word. That marriage and human sexuality is debated in the church is unbelievable to me. Repeatedly in scripture, God tells us that marriage between a man and a woman is sacred and that the practice of homosexuality is a sin. Check out the following scriptures: Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians: 9-11, 18-20, 1 Timothy 1:9-11, Jude 1:4-7. For the church to pervert God’s will and trample on His Word is serious business. We better get ready to defend our faith because persecution is promised.

  9. The UM must not allow the CT to slip unnoticed into the conflict and further “muddy the waters”. Their current recommendation gives the less than one quarter what they want General Conference to approve. I realize this amounts to a recommendation. If I were a gay person I would KNOW we have been heard.

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