Thank you for being gracious in your words toward persons who have chosen to be a part of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and those who will align with the future Global Methodist Church. In an era where there is much venom and mistrust in our denomination and our culture, we note your tone is one of goodwill. It is noted and appreciated. We seek to do the same.
Thank you for your presentation shared on May 11th, 2021, in Birmingham. For those who have not seen it, you may access Adam’s presentation HERE. We wish to provide a gracious response in two posts. This is the first of two.
We want to affirm that the church should always be a place where questions are encouraged. Without honest questions and creating environments where we honor questions, it is difficult for persons to own their faith. Thank you for being one who engages good questions. You model a quality all should seek to emulate.
We agree that we do not have to choose between God and Science. We believe the majority of Methodist Christians deeply value the contributions of science and the scientific community. While not cited in your presentation, it is noteworthy that approximately 65% of the world’s Nobel Prize winners are Christians.
We appreciate the seminary level teaching featuring differing thoughts on how we view Scripture. As you are aware, much more can be unpacked regarding theological perspectives regarding inerrancy, infallibility, or inspiration of Scripture, along with its associated nuances. While not exhaustive, we recognize there are many perspectives on these issues in the greater church and among a people called Methodists.
Thank you also for sharing your perspective on God’s sovereignty, free will, and suffering. Most Methodist Christians would certainly be more inclined to embrace an understanding of our free will as it relates to these matters, particularly as we flow from the Wesleyan-Armenian tradition.
Here is our first point of concern which we wish to address in this post:
In reflecting on your presentation, we want to note your pattern of maximizing the inconsistencies and minimizing the consistencies. In other words, you spent over one hour dealing with inconsistencies found in church history related to science, along with inconsistencies you noted in Scripture. Then, you suddenly jumped to the topic of human sexuality (one hour and 14 minutes into the presentation) and then minimized the consistency of the New Testament witness. The inference the listener is left with is this: If the church has gotten it wrong in the past, and if Scripture can be interpreted wrongly, can we trust Scripture to be authoritative in matters of human sexuality?
We do not believe you are attempting to be manipulative. We believe you are sincere. Yet, we would submit that this approach is hugely problematic as a way of doing theology and determining what we believe as Christians, let alone Methodist Christians.
Prior to the one hour and fourteen minute mark in your presentation, you were maximizing the inconsistencies found in Scripture and church history through multiple examples. But at the one hour and fourtenn minute mark, you minimize the consistent witness of Scripture by only giving a cursory reference to the Bible’s teaching on human sexuality. You stated, “In this specific case, we are talking about six specific verses.”
We would graciously contend that we are not merely talking about “six specific verses.” For you to get to the one hour and fourteen minute mark and only give your hearers a slight glimpse or peek into the New Testament on the topic of marriage and human sexuality, is misleading. Particularly when you had devoted the previous hour to biblical authority and interpretation and when your examples all demonstrate you are right.
Let us note the consistent witness of the New Testament regarding the definition of Christian marriage.
We find that most United Methodist Christians see marriage between a man and a woman as a sacred covenant because marriage is a visual and tangible reminder of a deeper and transcendent reality. It is from Scripture that we know marriage is God’s idea, not ours. The husband and wife relationship in the covenant of marriage points to Christ and the church. This is substantiated by the Apostle Paul as he explains how marriage is more about Jesus than it is about us:
“’Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it (marriage) refers to Christ and the church.”
Christian Marriage is much more than a “man needing a companion to be his helper.” Marriage exists as a sacred union between a man and a woman. They become “one flesh” in holy covenant, clinging to one another spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Just as Jesus and His church are not to be distorted (as we see illustrated in the epistles and Jesus’ letters to the seven churches in Revelation), marriage is not to be distorted by adultery, pornography, pre-marital sex, divorce, spousal abuse, or homosexuality.
When we want to know and understand the character of God, we know we look to Jesus. Jesus is the “Word made flesh,” as you noted in your presentation (John 1). Based on His words, marriage between a husband and wife is the way of Jesus.
Jesus said, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Matthew 19:4-6 (ESV)
Marriage, defined as being between a man and a woman, is the consistent witness of New Testament Scriptures. This truth should be maximized and not minimized.
We can clearly and consistently find references to marriage as being between a man and a woman in the New Testament: Mark 10:8-12; Colossians 3:18-20; 1 Peter 3:7; Hebrews 13:4; 1 Corinthians 7:2-5; Ephesians 5:22-30; 1 Timothy 3:2, and in many other passages.
And, as you referenced, these six verses from the Scriptures do indicate a prohibition of same-sex sexual expression: Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Timothy 1:10, and Romans 1:26-27.
You noted in the question and answer section of your presentation, “We interpret more challenging passages in light of the ones that are more clear.” We believe most United Methodist Christians agree with this point, which is why most Methodist Christians see the clear teaching of Scripture as supporting marriage as being between one man and one woman, and not between two men or two women.
You make the statement in the question and answer time that “every United Methodist should hold to the authority of Scripture.” We agree. However, we find many influential United Methodists do not hold to what we believe to be the clear teaching of Scripture. Perhaps, part of the reason is as follows:
Professor Luke Timothy Johnson, Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at the Candler School of Theology, served for many years training future United Methodist pastors to serve local churches. He is on record stating the following:
“I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality-namely, that it is a vice freely chosen, a symptom of human corruption, and disobedience to God’s created order.” Homosexuality & The Church – Scripture & Experience; Commonweal
For a number of years, you have linked issues of slavery and women in ministry to our discussions on human sexuality. You did this again in your presentation.
You ask, “How do you get there?” in reference to the decision to ordain women to offices of ministry. As future members of the Global Methodist Church, we didn’t get there in spite of the biblical text but because of the biblical text.
In 1 Corinthians 11:5, Paul makes the statement, “But every woman who prays or prophesies,” (NIV), demonstrating biblical support for a woman having authority to speak in church. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul admonishes women not to usurp authority while possessing the authority to speak in church.
For laity who may be reading this post, who may wish to grow in a biblically rooted understanding of why we empower women in ministry on the basis of the Bible, we encourage you to listen or read the following links. These links provide evidence to the fact that we are not glossing over Scripture, but we are empowering women for ministry on the basis of Scripture:
- Women in Ministry (by Dr. Sandra Richter)
- Why Arguments Against Women in Ministry Aren’t Biblical (by Dr. Ben Witherington)
- Women in Ministry, Part 1 (by Dr. Ben Witherington)
- Women in Ministry, Part 2 (by Dr. Ben Witherington)
- Women and their Roles in the New Testament (by Dr. Ben Witherington)
We didn’t get there in spite of the biblical text but because of the biblical text.
Methodism has a history of God moving powerfully in the lives of both men and women, influencing masses for the glory of God. One of those persons would be Phoebe Palmer, who many consider the mother of the Wesleyan Holiness Movement. For lay-persons who may not be familiar with her, you can read a bit about Phoebe and her influence for Christ HERE.
We find the repeated attempts to link the topics of slavery and women in ministry based on how we interpret Scripture to the grand leap of codifying a new sexual ethic for humanity and the church, deeply lacking in biblical support and bordering on pure conjecture. If we did theology in this manner, then a countless number of behaviors could be justified.
For Methodist Christians who are reading this, please take the time to read this helpful article or consider ordering the following book:
Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals, by Dr. Timothy Tennent
Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis, by William J. Webb
Substantive Scriptures supporting women in ministry are found in the Bible. The clear arc of biblical revelation aspires to the elimination of slavery. Furthermore, there is clear teaching in Holy Scripture that describes God’s will for us all as it relates to human sexuality. We should magnify God by magnifying the gift of this revelation and not minimize it.
Once again, we thank you for being gracious in your words toward persons who have chosen to be a part of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and those who will align with the future Global Methodist Church. We wish you well, and we also wish all persons who may align with the post-separation United Methodist Church well.
May God give great wisdom in these days.
Rev. Dr. Tommy Gray, Senior Pastor, Asbury UMC Huntsville/Madison
Rev. Rev. Dr. Tiwirai Kufarimai, Senior Pastor, St. Paul-Triana UMC
Rev. Paul Lawler, Senior Pastor, Christ Church UMC Birmingham
Rev. Cam Price, Founding Pastor, Turning Point UMC, Locust Fork
Rev. Dr. Robin Scott, Lead Associate Pastor, Asbury UMC Huntsville/Madison
Rev. Vaughn Stafford, Senior Pastor, Clearbranch UMC, Birmingham/Argo