Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
II Corinthians 3:4-6
The United Methodist Church is on the brink of schism because of disagreements about the nature of human sexuality.
The practical issue that divides us is the question of whether our LGBTQ siblings are to be included in, or excluded from, full participation in the life of the church.
Within and beneath those highly contentious issues there is a foundational question about who we are as a church.
John Scott Lomperis, the United Methodist Director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy posted an essay on the Juicy Ecumenism blog of the IRD titled, “Case Closed: Affirming Homosexual Practice is Irreconcilably Contrary to Core United Methodist Doctrine.”
His contention is that “within the specific context of United Methodism, our denomination’s core doctrine leaves no room for directly and explicitly affirming homosexual practice.” And for emphasis he asserts that “Acknowledging this is not a matter of opinion or faction, but rather of basic intellectual honesty.”
Before I give you the link to his essay I need to warn you that it is long and ponderous, and as you read it you may find yourself losing the will to live. So be careful. But here is the link: Case Closed.
Lomperis observes that John Wesley’s sermons and his notes on the New Testament are part of our “Doctrinal Standards.” And he cites several instances in the sermons and in the notes where Wesley condemns “sodomites” as proof of his thesis that the condemnation of “homosexual practice” is part of our core doctrine.
He cites a passage from Sermon #38, “A Caution Against Bigotry” as an example:
“In Section I.11 of this part of our Doctrinal Standards, Wesley classifies ‘sodomites’ as part of a list of different types of sinners, listing ‘sodomites’ immediately after robbers and immediately before murderers! Specifically, Wesley judged that the fact that ‘common swearers, drunkards, whoremongers, adulterers, thieves, robbers, sodomites, murderers, are still found in every part of our land’ to be proof of the devil’s power.”“I am uncomfortable with the word ‘sodomite.’”, writes Lomperis, “But we have no power to change eighteenth-century English language usage. The fact remains that in Wesley’s day this was a very negative term applied to individuals who engaged in homosexual practice.”
Note the exact wording he uses. It is instructive.
Lomperis speaks of “eighteenth-century English language usage.” He notes that this language usage was common “in Wesley’s day,” and that the language conveyed a very negative perception of same sex relationships.
Wesley used the language of his day to convey the viewpoint of his day.
It should not surprise us that an eighteenth century man, even a well-educated and enlightened eighteenth century man, would not have a twenty-first century view of human sexuality.
John Wesley was a brilliant man, but he was still a man of his times.
Our Book of Discipline speaks of “Doctrinal Standards and Our Theological Task.” The Doctrinal Standards are part of our history and they shape our present, but Our Theological Task calls us into the future.
The Doctrinal Standards are meant to be a foundation, not a ceiling.
Our Theological Task is not limited to looking for quotations from the writings of John Wesley and applying them to the twenty-first century.
We are not called to be religious archaeologists excavating an historical crypt, or curators of a Methodist museum. Our task is to use the wisdom of the past to guide us into the future.
As Paul told the Christians in Corinth, we are called “to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish.