Same-Sex Marriage and the Methodists

In the August 2015 issue of Beacon Lights, under the title “I’m Scared,” I wrote concerning the United States Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage. In lamenting this decision and condemning it on the basis of scripture, I addressed you young people, writing that I am fearful for you in terms of what will likely happen in the future.

I want to reiterate those comments from a couple of viewpoints. The first is that you are in the process of inheriting a wicked world that is very different from that of your parents and grandparents (and for some of you, ancestors of the generation preceding that of your grandparents). Today’s world is so very different from what theirs was when they were young, and in so many ways. For example, when I was a young person, sex was rarely mentioned, much less discussed, although the social revolution of the 1960s did much to change that. I do not remember how old I was before I even figured out what homosexuality was, but I certainly wasn’t young. Today homosexuality and LGBT are splashed across the headlines, shown on television, and discussed in the social media, so that even young children have a pretty good idea of what is happening in the world. The older generations has not done you any favors in leaving you to inherit the world as it is today.

The second viewpoint is that all of this will only become worse as time goes on. Having received a Reformed upbringing in school and church, you know that throughout history the truth is not static or stagnant, but in a positive sense develops and progresses. We today stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. The same is true negatively concerning sin. Since the beginning of time with the sin of our first parents, sin has developed. And it will continue to develop and become worse until the day of antichrist, when it will reach its culmination and ultimate manifestation. The time and the details we do not know, but scripture is clear that this is true. The false teachers in the church will increase in wickedness and influence, as Peter teaches in his second epistle. It is this scenario that you will have to face as you become adults and live your lives in the world.

Therefore it behooves you to know what is happening in the world and to mark the progress and development of sin. It is also necessary that you know who maintains and stands for the truth, and to stand with them.

This was recently brought home to me when I read two articles, written about three weeks apart, in The Washington Post. The subject of these articles was the issue of same-sex marriage in the United Methodist church, and what stand this church is taking or should take regarding this controversy. This information is worth summarizing and passing along. It should be said from the outset that as Reformed Christians we differ doctrinally with the Methodists in many respects; by no means are we on the same theological page. Nevertheless, the controversy in this church should not be easily ignored or dismissed. The Methodists, with churches throughout the world, including 32,400 congregations in the United States and a large presence in Africa and Asia, are the second largest Protestant denomination in the world (I think the Baptists are the largest). Thus they are influential concerning the issue of same-sex marriage. Besides, despite many differences in our respective teachings, as far as I am able to discern, they ground their opposition to same sex marriage primarily in the creation ordinance, as do we.

Both of these articles were written in the context of the Methodist General Conference, which roughly corresponds to our synod. Held every four years, the most recent meeting was this past May 10–20.

The first article, written prior to the General Conference, focused on the efforts of an activist minister (so-called) who wants same-sex marriage legalized in the United Methodist church. I will not validate him by giving his name; more publicity, which is what he wants, plays right into his hands. Two years ago he officiated at the wedding of his daughter to another female—to use an oxymoron, a lesbian marriage. Although the Methodist authorities were aware of his actions, for reasons unknown he was not sanctioned or defrocked. Perhaps the answer is to be found in the comments of the managing editor of the church’s publications: “We are the church of the big tent. There’s room for everyone.” This is obviously the language of compromise and eventual outright denial of the truth. The article concluded by noting the sharp difference of opinion of the issue: “Some want to open the church to allow gay marriage and gay ministers. Others want to enforce the current prohibitions even more strictly, such as automatically defrocking any minister who performs two gay marriages.”

What happened to one? What do you think would happen to one of our ministers if he performed even one same-sex marriage?

The second Washington Post article recounted the events of the General Conference regarding same-sex marriage. United Methodists have not changed their stand on homosexuality, although much of mainline Protestantism has. Yet all is not well in the church. There are two distinct wings in the Methodist church. One is the American faction, which is decidedly liberal and many of whose members want the church’s laws to be changed to allow for homosexuality, although there are many traditional members who want more accountability to the laws of the church. The other is comprised of the African and Asian branches, which are growing rapidly—30 percent of the General Conference delegates came from Africa—and are much more conservative than their American counterparts, in general opposing homosexuality.

The questions whether or not to stay together as a unified denomination and whether or not this is even possible were the subjects of more than 100 proposals submitted to the conference. The issue is not just a matter of differing personal opinions, but a matter of church law, which at this time states that homosexuality is “incompatible” with Christian teaching. How to reconcile church law with the pressures of today’s culture is the subject of debate. Those who are more evangelical want the laws strictly enforced. Others are wondering aloud if it is time to “create a global book of discipline that says, ‘here’s what we agree on worldwide,’ and then one for each area of the world to help us deal with our own cultures…The issue is: What questions belong to the whole, and what questions belong to the parts?”

A group of Methodist leaders met to ask “the question of can the United Methodist Church move forward in the regard to the question of gay and lesbian inclusion.” A spokesman said that the “short answer was no. The far right and the far left are entrenched in their theological understandings. The group also faced a reality that by 2020 and beyond, our African United Methodist sisters and brothers would control the church, so what this would mean practically is that the United Methodist Church would be on a trajectory to become ever more conservative on a whole host of issues. Our leaders believe the hour has come for a loving separation.”

It seems as if the American Methodists’ mission work in Africa has apparently been almost too effective and is now backfiring on them. On a more serious note, it is obvious from events at the General Conference that the winds of compromise are blowing strongly. It will be interesting to see what will happen in four years. But without doubt, the advocates of homosexuality will use the time to promote their agenda. Heretics always take advantage of every opportunity to corrupt the truth and influence the church for evil. Perhaps a division in the church would be a good thing, assuming that at least by some the truth of God is maintained.

Perhaps some of you young people have relatives, friends, or acquaintances who are Methodist, so that you have a natural interest in this subject. But whether or not you do, be aware of what is taking place in the church around you. Discern the signs of the times, and watch for false teachers, for in our day you can find one around every corner.

But above all, in the face of compromise and apostasy, hold fast to the faith once delivered to the saints, and by grace stand for the truth.