Approaching General Conference: Pastoral Letter on Diverse Understandings

2/15/2019

Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson has received several questions asking for help in understanding United Methodist sisters and brothers in Christ who feel differently on the topic of human sexuality. She offers a reflection from Rev. Dr. Dan Johnson, who recently retired. He wrote the reflection below to Trinity UMC in Gainesville, Florida, following the 2016 General Conference.

How can Christians see this issue so differently from one another? The truth is that within our Trinity family (and the larger Christian Community) there are deeply devoted, faithful followers of Jesus who serve and love others and are an inspiration to me and to many, who see the matter of same sex marriage very differently.  How is that possible?  Let me suggest an answer, not to persuade you of the validity of another’s position, but to help you understand the other’s view point.

A: Some of our Trinity family see the passages in Scripture (there are about six specific ones) related to homosexuality as forever true and forever binding, condemning the practice of homosexuality as wrong.

B: Others of our Trinity family see these same passages in Scripture similar to Scriptural passages that affirm slavery, accept the subjugation of women, often as property, and endorse the destruction of whole communities, including women and children in times of war (yes, they’re in the Bible; see the Books of Joshua and Deuteronomy). Their point is that these views in Scripture have been superseded by the life and teachings of Jesus and His Gospel of Love for all humankind.  Indeed, as followers of Jesus none of us any longer endorse slavery, the inequality of women or the mass killing of persons. Similarly, many Christians have evolved in their understanding of divorce; 100 years ago, most Christians believed it was not permissible according to the Scriptures. Many Christians in Trinity believe that in light of new scientific, genetic and psychological understandings of the  origins of homosexuality, that the ethic of love and grace supersede the prohibitions against faithful, covenantal same sex relationships.

Now, how does this group view the teachings in the Bible that are specifically about homosexuality?

Basically in this way:

(1) the Old Testament passages are mostly in the Levitical Law section, and since we don’t hold to many of those religious laws any more, so it is reasoned, Christians are not required to hold to those relating to homosexuality (read over the laws in the Book of Leviticus 19 for example: Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material; do not cut the hair at the sides of your head, or in chapter 20, we don’t burn or kill people for sexual crimes; in 21, if a priest’s daughter becomes a prostitute, we pray for her, we don’t burn her in fire, etc). In short, their thinking is that those laws were written for a particular time and place, and are no longer followed by Christians.
 
(2) The primary Biblical Text that seems to condemn homosexuality is Roman 1:26, 27. These faithful Christians see these two verses as dealing primarily with either pedophilia or abusive, promiscuous homosexual behavior; they do not believe these verses relate to a relationship of fidelity.In addition, most of these persons have friends or relatives or both who are gay or lesbian, or are themselves gay or lesbian, and who are deeply devoted Christian, too, and who are perhaps in a loving, committed relationship.Such personal relationships impact one’s views in a powerful way.
 
My point here is not to convince any of you that A or B above is the right view, but rather to explain how it is possible for deeply committed Christians to have very different views on this, and to demonstrate that those in group A (many of whom you know) are not homophobic because they believe this way or that those in group B (many of whom you know) are not morally deficient because they believe the way they do; indeed, for them their view is one of moral conscience. So, please, don’t judge those who see this differently than you do. Far better to ask them about their views, have a gracious exchange, and continue to love one another.
 
My goal here is to help us all stay in a spirit of unity and understanding and Christian love as we sort through these things. 

—Rev. Dr. Dan Johnson, to Trinity UMC in Gainesville, Florida

Do you have a question about the Way Forward or the United Methodist General Conference? You're invited to email WayForwardQuestions@ngumc.org. 


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