(Post 1 of 5 in a series on Human Sexuality)
Following United Methodist General Conference 2019, several members of my congregation started asking me if I could make a presentation about my own beliefs on human sexuality. I’ve always been pretty open about believing that the Gospel is fully inclusive, but after the church’s relationship with LGBTQ+ people got so much press, traditionalist and progressive folks alike were interested in my perspective. So I’m going to break it into five fairly long blog posts and dump them here. Parts 2-5 will be reflections on particular passages, and part one will have more to do with how I read scripture more generally.
Part 1: My Quadrilateral
This is a presentation about my own faith and interpretation of scripture, it is helpful I think to look at what our denomination’s official position actually is. So here is our statement, from the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church:
We affirm that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons. We call everyone to responsible stewardship of this sacred gift.
Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.
We deplore all forms of the commercialization, abuse, and exploitation of sex. We call for strict global enforcement of laws prohibiting the sexual exploitation of children and for adequate protection, guidance, and counseling for abused children. All persons, regardless of age, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation, are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured and to be protected against violence. The Church should support the family in providing age-appropriate education regarding sexuality to children, youth, and adults.
We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.
While there is a lot in this statement to be commended, I disagree with parts of it. Namely, the way that I read Scripture leads me to understand that, “the practice of homosexuality,” as the discipline says, is NOT incompatible with Christian teaching.
I believe this because of how I read scripture, not in spite of it.
I believe the way that I approach scripture is profoundly Wesleyan. The official means of biblical interpretation in the UMC is known as “The Wesleyan Quadrilateral.”
I want you to hear me say that the Wesleyan quadrilateral is not a square or a parallelogram. Wesleyans, like the overwhelming majority of Christians, find the holy scriptures found in the Bible to be the primary source material for our faith. We believe that everything necessary to know in order to secure salvation is included within the Bible. I agree with these beliefs whole-heartedly. I also believe that everything in the Bible is inspired and useful for learning something of God and God’s relationship with humankind.
However, like many of you, I do not think that everything in the Bible is exactly the same. It is a collection of ancient texts written by real flesh-and-blood people who were inspired by God at different times in different places for different purposes. Some of it was written as verse or poetry. Some of it was written as instructional story to teach people something about who God is. Some of it was written as narrative history. All of it tells us something about who God is, who we are, and why that matters. All of it also requires interpretation, because we are not the original audience. That’s where the quadrilateral comes in.
I remember my own confirmation class being a place where I learned about this Wesleyan way of engaging the bible. We were encouraged to ask questions, to bring our full selves to biblical discussion, and to use these three tools of tradition, reason, and experience to better understand and apply the text.
- Tradition implores us to ask about how the church has functioned throughout history, and to trust, value, and use the wisdom of those who have come before us.
- Experience implores us to trust ourselves. To realize that we were created by God with minds and hearts and emotions and perspectives, and that we should use those to think about how we read the words on the page.
- Reason implores us to keep learning, and to think about others. Scholarly work in philosophy, theology, science, archaeology, and countless other fields deepens and expands our faith.
A quick note: I’m not going to put a lot of work over the course of these 4 pots into disproving the passages that explicitly condemn homosexuality. Much work has been done on this topic, and it’s been done by much more accomplished scholars than me.
I’m interested in building the case for inclusion, rather than the case against exclusion. But I will offer a couple of resources, wand I’m happy to provide more. There are many arguments to be made against these passages, which are known in the LGBTQ Christian community as the “clobber” passages, but most of them have some basis in the understanding that the sorts of sexual immorality that are described in scripture have little to nothing to do with the desires of faithful queer Christians who seek companionship and love in their lives. The Book “God and the Gay Christian” by Matthew Vines does a great job of clearly and concisely providing many of the arguments against reading these passages of scripture as condemning of contemporary gay and lesbian people.
Because of my own life and experiences and people I knew and loved as someone who grew up where and when I did, I did not start from the perspective that queer people’s desires or the people they loved were sinful. However, I knew that much of the tradition of the church taught that this was so. So I began a lifelong project of testing my understandings of this through the lens of Holy Scripture. In the posts that follow, I’ll be looking at the sexual ethic I see running consistently through the New Testament, the relationship between the law, the Spirit, and revelation, Jesus’ consistent critique of barriers to love, and the radically loving blessed community.
Part 1: My Quadrilateral
Part 2: A Case for Celibacy
Part 3: Who am I to deny the spirit?
Part 4: Love over law
Part 5: Unity in Christ