Are Methodists really dividing solely over the issue of human sexuality? As I've said before, I think the answer is a resounding 'no.' But let's assume I'm wrong. After all, it happens all the time. Let's assume that human sexuality is the only issue dividing the UMC. Which side made it the issue?
I've heard some say that traditionalists are doing all this, but that isn't true, and I can easily prove it.
To be blunt, if this is the issue, it is progressives who have made it the cause they are willing to divide a denomination over and the hill upon which they are willing die.
I can hear the chatter even now..."What?! How unfair! How uncharitable! How hateful! How unchristian of you to say such hurtful and mean things!"
Seriously? C'mon. Let's be adults. Read on, and see if I make my case.
Take a look at one of the 'vice lists' that St. Paul is famous for using in his letters. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul contrasts Christian behavior with unchristian behavior, righteous deeds with unrighteous deeds, in order to differentiate between the saved and unsaved masses of humanity. He writes:
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6.9-11 NKJV)
Currently, the debate in the UMC is only about homosexuality. Of the nine sins listed here, we're only talking about one (described above with two terms). And, specifically, we're talking about 'rebranding' one of those sins as practices that should no longer be considered sinful in the eyes of the UMC but affirmed and celebrated in the church as in the world.
Who is making the assertion that any of these behaviors understood as sinful by the church for nearly two thousand years not longer be considered a sin? Not traditionalists. Not a single conservative I've encountered is suggesting that we consider any of these sins to be anything but sinful still, even in today's modern age. It's the progressives who are trying to make that change. It is liberals who are trying to pick and choose what sins are still sinful and which ones we should condone.
Is homosexuality still sinful? Traditionalists say yes. Progressives say no.
(Note: for those wanting to repeat the oft-suggested but erroneous argument that Paul wasn't speaking about the same kind of same-sex relationships as in today's world...read this foot note 1)
What about all the other sexual sins? Is theft still sinful? What about coveting? Is drunkenness still sinful? How about abusive language? What about good old-fashioned extortion? Presumably conservatives and liberals are in complete agreement that all of these sins are still really sins. I suppose we could take a survey and see (wouldn't that be interesting), but assuming both sides still see eye-to-eye on the bulk of this list, who is it again that is making this a single-issue debate?
Not the conservatives. Their position hasn't changed one iota. It's the progressives that want to change things up. They have forced the discussion and the debate. They have brought the UMC to the point of schism by bringing this up in every General Conference since the 1970s. Can we at least be honest about that?
Now, before you go away irritated, this discussion of what acts are sinful versus righteous has nothing at all to do with how we should welcome, treat, and love sinners of all kinds that come into the church. As soon as we start turning people away for their sin, we stop being Christ's church. At the same time, as soon as we decide we are in the position of authority to decide what is sinful and what is not, we also stop being Christ's church (and start being our own).
That is a discussion for another day.
It may warrant another post on another day, but let's just go ahead and address the argument made by some saying something like, "In the Greek, the words Paul used here don't really refer to the same type of homosexual relationships we have today." Those familiar with Greek who make this argument have to be pretty dishonest about what the Greek words actually do say. To quote the standard Greek New Testament Lexicon (Danker, Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich) which is edited and published out of the University of Chicago by self-professed theological progressives, "Paul's strictures [restriction, criticism] against same-sex activity cannot be satisfactorily explained on the basis of alleged temple prostitution, or limited to contract with boys for homosexual service." In other words, even the theologically liberal authorities on New Testament Greek agree that Paul was talking about what we're talking about. The two Greek words in 1 Cor 6 refer rather technically (and graphically) to the men on the 'giving' and 'receiving' end of homosexual relations. These were commonly-used words in the ancient Greek world whose definitions are not debated. ↩