This Trial is no way to settle an HR dispute

#StopTheTrials #UMTrial #MinistryOnTrial

Let’s imagine that you work for a company with a set of rules and expectations. In your past, you did something against those rules, but no one was personally hurt by it. You told your superiors that you broke the rules, and they did not make a complaint about it. Fast forward a about 6 years: A staff-person in your department is let go by HR (which you do not control). The staffer’s son is angry and makes a complaint to the Corporate HR (not your local company’s HR but the higher-ups) about your broken rule in the past–in fact, he makes it less than a month before the statute of limitations gives out. The Corporate HR then spends upwards of $20-40k on a trial to address the past infraction all because a staffer’s son was angry about his mother’s termination from the company.

How would you decide in this trial?

  • Is this an action against you because of being hurt by their mother being let go?
  • Or is this a person actually hurt by your actions in the past?

What does justice look like in this situation?


It’s important to consider this situation because a possible parallel church version is happening right now in rural Pennsylvania.

As the trial proceeds in the Frank Shaefer case, some details become clear for the first time.

  1. Complainant was a member at the local United Methodist Church led by Frank Schaefer, but attended only sporadically after his youth and did not live in the area.
  2. Frank Schaefer informed his District Superintendent in writing of his intention to perform a wedding for his gay son
  3. Schaefer performed a wedding for Tim.
  4. Six years go by. Complainant only attends church for family baptisms and funerals. Is not otherwise involved with the church. 
  5. In the sixth year, complainant’s mother is terminated from her organist position by the Staff-Parish Relations Committee, which is chaired by laity (not the pastor).
  6. Complainant (who described himself as “angry about the firing” on the stand) wrote a formal complaint to the Bishop after seeking a marriage certificate for Tim.
  7. Mediation process did not reach a satisfactory conclusion and thus went to trial.

I’m really confused and disturbed that this obvious local HR dispute and local church frustration has become an internationally-watched trial. I was wondering also why the Good News and IRD hadn’t commented much on this trial publicly (or at least as much as they had with the Talbert/50 clergy in Pennsylvania topics). Now I know why: something is fishy at Camp Innabah. And they perhaps knew it. 

Upon learning these facts, Rev. Becca Girrell tweeted the following:

For love of his son, Frank officiated a wedding. For love of his (recently fired) mom, complainant filed charges?

Is that what this trial is coming down to? A dispute over what lengths will a father or son will go to for their child or parent? To marry them and risk their ordination, or to advocate for them against all other reasonable conclusions?

Or is this just a local church issue that should have been  identified as such?


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  1. Michael Monnikendam says

    To whom it may concern;
    First of all, why is the son of the mother involved in this at all? Should not the employee his/her-self be involved in litigation?
    Two, I believe that in Proverbs, it says that 2 wrongs do not make a right.
    Just my 2 cents.

  2. JA says

    Isn’t it true that if Frank agreed to never do another same-sex wedding again then there would have been no trial?

    If so, that makes the company analogy you painted earlier seem pretty weak. If the employee isn’t sorry for what he did and has no plans not to do it in the future, I think most people would be fine with disciplinary procedures.

  3. says

    You make some fair points, Jeremy. I believe the DS should have filed the complaint when the wedding took place, whether they agreed with church law on this or not. Looking the other way when you know about a chargeable offense isn’t showing a lot of integrity. And why weren’t all these facts vetted by someone beforehand?And only one witness? The whole trial seems like it was thrown together at the last minute. But technically, Rev. Schaefer did violate the BOD. So as far as the complaint goes, what we may have here is a case of someone doing the right thing for the wrong reason, but because of that, there’s a cloud hanging over the whole trial now. And that makes it somewhat of a hollow victory no matter which “side” prevails.

    • Churchola says

      This point about integrity is interesting and I guess gets back to the heart of the matter. For those faithful Methodists who think that same sex marriage is no big deal, Schaefer and the DS and anybody else are acting with integrity of the Gospel. For those who disagree, well, integrity is adherence to BOD.

      • says

        If someone’s understanding of the Gospel and their personal convictions preclude them from obeying their clergy or membership vows, then the right thing to do is either work to change the rules, or find a denomination where they aren’t faced with this conflict. Disregarding a covenant and taking the law into one’s own hands shouldn’t be an option.

        • Churchola says

          “then the right thing to do is either work to change the rules”

          I see this as part of working to change the rules. Maybe it’s not my way or your way of doing so, but I think it’s part of others’ plans.

          In situations likes these, hopefully we are confronted with our God-given consciences which may lead us to change the rules.

          I mean, if they (the activists) just showed up and said, “Hey, guys, let’s marry people of the same gender,” do you think they would really get anywhere? All the meanwhile, lgbt brothers and sisters are seeking the church and Christ. But the BOD rules folks want them to have that meeting first to conference for a few decades to see if we can welcome them.

        • says

          I call BS on the whole Ordination vows thing. I recently sent a very clear complaint to the Florida Bishop about a pastor who have very clearly violated TWO of the vows of ordination. The letter of findings I got from the Bishop said that what I’d cited was related to candidates for ordination. He never said they weren’t violated…in fact, the letter seemed to imply they were, but applied only when one is a candidate. So, according to the Florida Bishop, once you actually take the Vows of Ordination, they no longer apply. That was basically his logic. So, if all they have on this pastor is that he violated a vow of ordination…since he’s already taken them, a long time ago, they don’t apply today.
          But of course, this was a pastor who was actively discriminating against LGBT people, so he had to be protected at all costs.

          • says

            That does sound like an odd chain of reasoning, BJohn, but the issue when people discuss breaking vows of ordination is slightly different that that. When a clergy person is ordained they vow to uphold the doctrine and discipline of the UMC. So, people find it bad faith to break those vows.

            But breaking that vow is not per se a chargeable offense in the BOD. The things a pastor (or lay member) can be brought up on charges for are specifically enumerated in the BOD.

  4. Geoff says

    The circumstances are sketchy but the act is clear. Guilty of disobeying the BOD. Until the book is changed the charge is an action that is harmful because the rules are about order.

  5. George Jonte says

    This is an age-old problem – the biggest complainers have always been the people who rarely come to church, who are not involved in the church and/or are angry over the termination of a good friend or family member. Sometimes all of the above. I walked into that situation in my current position at the church I now serve. And after 6 years, people still talk about my predecessor who was the one terminated as if he is the greatest thing since the wagon wheel and the ten commandments. If this is what this trial boils down to – it’s a no brainer. There should be no punitive measures taken.

  6. says

    While the motivation for the filed complaint can be questioned, the fact remains that it is beyond a local matter. The person on trial admittedly violated the Discipline, and that actions affects and potentially harms all United Methodists.

    • says

      And how, exactly Scott, are all United Methodists harmed. I have certainly not suffered any harm…what great harm has befallen you?

      Please don’t just make stuff up that sounds pious.

    • MG says

      Except that you’re wrong. Frank Schaefer’s actions – affirming and marrying his gay son did not harm any UMs. None. In contrast, the trial has actually hurt many UM’s who believe in equality and are committed to removing hurtful language from the BOD. The church prosecutor inflicted HURT on straight and LGBT folk when he claimed that “homosexuality is a disorder.” I am a heterosexual female and that statement HURTS my LGBTQ brothers and sisters and it hurts me.

  7. Glenn says

    I’m still unsure how Frank’s actions “potentially hurt all United Methodists”.

    I am UM and I don’t feel “potentially threatened” by what he did. I do feel potentially threatened by the comments of the prosecuter which still used outdated and uninformed analogies that pin sinfulness not on the idolatry of heterosexist thinking and power structures but on limited and anachronistic understandings of human sexuality. And I feel threatened by the spinelessness of a bishop that did not aquit a trial when it was evident that what was at issue wasn’t an infraction of the bod (which by the way are rules that We make as a community not something set-in stone) but a fued fuled by anger over an issue not related.

    It makes me wonder what keeps people from making claims against other UM clergy for other actions that are contrary to the bod, but not as central to the hate machine that keeps United Methodism stuck.

    One positive outcome could be that enough ministers decide that it isn’t worth gaining the whole world (of clergy benefits, a “good job”, being seen as a “respectable minister”) and losing their souls. Then if/when we all get defrocked there wouldn’t be enough ministers to lead congregations. Or we would recognize how asinine all of this and move forward without all of that mess. I highly doubt it.

    Maybe living into the gospel isn’t for everybody.

    • Churchola says

      I’m interested in understanding what other BOD infractions are happening that could be chargeable. For information’s sake.

      • says

        You know Churchola, that’s an interesting concept. I have, despite being a lay member of the Church, actually read the Discipline…cover to cover, and then had to go back through it in some detail recently. It’s a lot like the Federal Statutes. It would be hard to NOT violate the letter of the BoD on a pretty regular basis. There are things that conflict throughout. For example, on this topic, the BoD says, in about six places, including the Vows of Ordination, that one is not to discriminate against LGBT brothers and sisters, yet demands just such discrimination in other places. So, this is a situation very similar to how ultra-conservative evangelicals tend to approach the Bible, and specifically the Levitical code. They are kind of picking and choosing which rules/sins they really care about, and ignoring the others.

      • MG says

        Yes! The complaint was filed by Jon Boger, a few days after Jon Boger’s mother was fired from her job as church organist (ironically, not fired by the Pastor, but a council of laiety). He was so angry, he obtained a copy of the marriage license and filed a letter with the Bishop. Why did he file this complaint, at this time? Because he was “hurt” by Rev. Schaefer marrying his son over six years ago? Or because he was very angry that his mother was fired as organist and wanted revenge?

  8. says

    It was so interesting to witness the different ways that the prosecution & defense supported their view(s). Prosecution appealed almost exclusively to BOD, with the exception of citing Jude 5-7 (which was cruel & tactless, in my opinion). The defense appealed exclusively to Scripture, using the parable of the Good Samaritan and 1 John 4.

  9. Christie says

    I believe that all who love each other should be able to have their marriages blessed by their clergy in their local church. However, church law (The Discipline) is updated every 4 years at General Conference. Until we have enough delegates to General Conference, church law will not be changed. Though I thoroughly disagree with this particular church law, I don’t know how the Judicial Council will decide any way except guilty.

    I think that just any person can bring charges against a minister in the United Methodist Church is ludicrous. That the son of the woman brought charges and not the mother who was fired who made the charges speaks tons. That is the only way that Reverend Schraeder can come out of this without losing his credentials to preach.

    This makes me terribly sad.

  10. Christie says

    Read this article for a different perspective on how to effect change in the UMC. When a retired bishop decides to bless a gay marriage, maybe others will follow. I’m sure this won’t be brought up at Revered Schaefer’s trial, but I hope that the Judicial Council holds it in the back of their minds.

    I am a member of a local UMC in Rome, Georgia. My best friend is transgender and she will join our congregation soon and be welcomed. She just lost her wife of 17 years to cancer a few months ago. Her wife encouraged her to come out and live the life that she had hidden since she was a child. She is realizing that many love her and of course she lost some friends. Those of us who loved her as a male, loved her the same afterward. I cannot call this sin.

    • says

      I was heartened by your post! I live in a county of Eastern PA with a large gay community, yet our church is the only RUM congregation in the county. I am ashamed that we are allowing antiquated thinking and poor biblical interpretation to make a mockery of what we, as United methodists profess to be about: Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors.

      I was at the service of marriage for Rick and Bill at Arch Street United Methodist and God’s Spirit was so clearly present that even those who attended and were against same-sex unions commented on it. One can not ever be wrong when we chose love over hatred. Jesus proclaimed this over and over again to his disciples.

      People speak of disobeying the book of discipline. Sorry, that is not the Word of God. Frank and the other pastors who are standing up for what God has placed on their hearts, in spite of great personal cost, are true disciples and true shepherds.

  11. says

    The problem with what you’re proposing Christie has to do primarily with the Pauline epistles. The apostle Paul repeatedly condemns homosexual conduct and calls Christians where possible to a life of celibacy, and where impossible to marriage (the gold standard of Christian sexuality however is complete lifelong abstinence, which historically has been required of bishops). The early church interpreted Paul literally in this respect, as is witnessed by the wealth of canon law and patristic statements regarding homosexuality.

    Now just because homosexuality is prohibited within orthodox Christianity does *not* mean that we hate homosexuals. I myself very much enjoy the British SF series Torchwood, which features a bisexual male protagonist. But in all honesty and fairness to everyone, the character of Captain Jack could not be admitted to communion in a church maintaining the catholic Christian faith (which includes, for the time being at least, the UMC), much less be married therein.

    Now that said, if a clergyman were to discretely perform a homosexual wedding, as a private citizen, and not as a Methodist pastor, I could not object personally; as far as I’m aware that is not against canon law. Perhaps it should be. However, one thing is for certain; if you ever “have enough delegates” at the General Conference [to change the UMC doctrine on human sexuality], you will cause a schism, of the sort that has already rocked the Presbyterian Church, USA, and the Episcopal Church, USA, where congregations are leaving en masse to join the ranks of Eco and the ACNA respectively. This would in my mind be tragic.

    Surely within the current Methodist doctrinal formula, that affirms homosexuals are of sacred worth, but calls them to celibacy, we should be able to reach some sort of concord, on the basis of ascetism. I feel the UMC ought to take a generally anti-sexual road at this point; the historic Christian position is to stress celibacy wherever possible. Augustine considered all sexual activity not for the purpose of reproduction to be a sin, and all sexual pleasure to be of a sinful nature. I don’t agree with Augustine on this point, but perhaps this gives us an interesting theological perspective to consider. We can sidestep the dispute over sexuality by deprecating it altogether; we can say that homosexuals are uniquely blessed because they are in fact called to chastity, which is superior to sexuality.

    • John says

      I think you’re stretching to make a point. Paul doesn’t make any reference to homosexuality. The term homosexuality doesn’t appear until the mid 1800’s when it first shows up in the DSM (at least as far as I’ve been able to tell at this point). Its also important to note that of the 31,000ish verses in the Bible only about 8 are typically used to condemn homosexuality. To me I think that means we should look more carefully at what’s really going on. Its irresponsible of us to make blanket statements with such scant support. I think we can make much better arguments that are more applicable to life today, and would show our Christian faith in a way that more folks would see the Gospel.

    • Jamie Michaels says

      Paul, I’m curious: why do you think Paul imagined that the “gold standard” for Christian sexuality was celibacy?

      • says

        Jamie, I feel this point also warrants some explanation; I just made a somewhat lengthy reply to BJohnM, but I think I would be remiss if I did not answer your concern individually.

        First of all, there is the Biblical preference expressed, for example, in 1 Corinthians 7:38 and 7:40. Our Lord makes a similiar remark in Matthew: “All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.”

        From these directives, we see both male and female celibacy elevated to a unique degree of importance. The greater number of the holy Apostles are believed to have been celibate. The tradition of celibacy continued in the episcopacy, and then we had the glorious moment in which Anthony the Great entered the deep Egyptian desert to live the life of a hermit; all three forms of Christian monasticism (solitary monasticism, the informal life of idiorhythmic monks, and the well-organized praxis of cenobitic monks such as the Benedictines) resulted. You might well enjoy reading the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, which is linked to from my profile.

        That there could be any doubt as to the blessed holiness of the celibate, consecrated Christian life was dispelled by the vital role Christian monasteries played in the next several centuries. It is entirely fair to say that Christian monks literally saved civilization as the Roman Empire came crashing down. The great works of classical literature were preserved therein; the Syriac monks translated the Greek classics into Arabic for the use of the ascendant Islamic civilization, and later, Latin monks translated Avveroes and Avicenna from Arabic into Latin, facilitating the work of figures such as Thomas Aquinas, and eventually giving rise to the Renaissance. Monastic clergy such as Franciscan friars and Greek and Russian hieromonks, played as important a role in the transmission of Christianity as anything else; before Luther and the widespread availability of a vernacular scripture and vernacular liturgy, friars such as Franciscans and Dominicans provided the only real direct access to Gospel teachings in the vernacular language in Western Europe (within the East this was not as big a problem, as the Koine Greek, Classical Aramaic and Old Church Slavonic languages remained generally accessible to the majority of Eastern Christians, and were in many cases much closer to the vernacular than classical or vulgar Latin was to the languages of Western Europe). Of course, all bishops and a very large chunk of clergy, including historically, all Western priests, were celibate (although I am of the Eastern opinion that clerical celibacy is optional).

        Setting aside the secular and ecclesiological accomplishments of celibate clergy and ascetics, which we can measure, I think we also ought to consider the benefits of Christian ascetics that are by nature immeasurable, that is to say, the extreme fruit of two millenia of fervent prayer on our behalf. Even now, I feel safer knowing that the Athonite Monks, the Coptic monks at St. Anthonys, including Fr. Lazarus, the last anchorite, and the Roman Benedictines, Trappists, Carmelites, Carthusians, et al, are praying for me as well as for all of mankind together. Given the ill health of my spouse, my emergency plan in the horrible event that she is lost has always been to enter a Christian monastery myself and dedicate myself to a life of prayer (even now, although I am not personally a celibate, I seek to follow monastic discipline by observing a rule of prayer and strict fasting restrictions, and I have gained extreme comfort from this practice; I recommend it for all Christians who are distressed about anything; when you remove from your life those aspects that are superfluous, and focus purely on God himself, you can attain an inner peace that is so great as to be incomprehensible).

        Ascetism is not works righteousness. I love Francis of Assisi, but I am troubled by remarks he apparently made, to the extent that all sins he had committed, he had repented for. This may well have been true, I hope it is, but I feel like I should close instead with a quote that emphasizes more than else the continuing need for repentance and absolute love of God, and that echoes an idea that has tragically become largely alien to a horribly large number of Methodists, both conservative and liberal:

        When St Sisoes lay upon his deathbed, the disciples surrounding the Elder saw that his face shone like the sun. They asked the dying man what he saw. Abba Sisoes replied that he saw St Anthony, the prophets, and the apostles. His face increased in brightness, and he spoke with someone. The monks asked, “With whom are you speaking, Father?” He said that angels had come for his soul, and he was entreating them to give him a little more time for repentance. The monks said, “You have no need for repentance, Father” St Sisoes said with great humility, “I do not think that I have even begun to repent.”

        After these words the face of the holy abba shone so brightly that the brethren were not able to look upon him. “My savior has come!” Then there was a flash like lightning, and a fragrant odor, and Abba Sisoes departed to the Heavenly Kingdom.

        • says

          I’m going to go a step further, and actually compare the act of sexuality with an alternative. It is utterly useless to suggest that people when sexually tempted to engage in a wrong sexual practice should take a cold shower. However, saying the Jesus Prayer a thousand times repeatedly can bring an intense peace. Sexual pleasure lasts an average of fifteen minutes and is often followed by intense guilt, and other unpleasantness. Through intense prayer, many monks claim to have had supernatural encounters of extraordinary beauty; the Beatific Vision described by Roman Catholics, the sight of the Uncreated Light of God by Eastern Orthodox. Given the choice between a mere fifteen minutes of physical pleasure, and the intense spiritual peace granted by the latter, I would go for the latter option.

          • says

            David, the Jesus Prayer and other forms of Christian ascetism (the memorization of the psalms by Coptic monks, and I would argue, the practice of Lectio Divina, as well as adherence to the Liturgy of the Hours in its different forms) are not transcendental meditation; they are forms of prayer which in some respects are superficially similar to Eastern meditation, yet in fact, are quite different both in their objective, and in how they are performed. Let’s take a look at the Jesus Prayer, which is one of the most popular forms of Christian ascetic discipline, and also the form that superficially resembles transcendental meditation to the greatest extent.

            Unlike in Buddhist, Hindu or other eastern forms of meditation, in saying the Jesus prayer, one does not say it as a mantra. One does not merely concern oneself with uttering the syllables; rather, one must continually focus on the meaning of every word, and of the entire prayer. This is, at first, surprisingly demanding but becomes easier with time. Now, the objective of the Jesus Prayer is simply to follow the directive given to us, that we are, as Christians, to pray without ceasing. The Jesus Prayer, along with other equivalent ascetic practices in other Monastic rules, is designed to facilitate this, by being simple enough to memorize and to continually repeat. Now, some monks do report seeing the uncreated light of God; this is a remarkable achievement when it happens, but one must pursue the Jesus prayer with a spirit of humility, and one should not set out to attain that objective, but rather simply, to learn to pray without ceasing. Many monks report being able to say the prayer even while asleep; this is a great accomplishment although again its also not required.

            The content of the prayer is of extreme importance. One must pay attention to what one is saying. Once, a monk is reported as having attained a state of continual prayer, the “unceasing prayer of the heart” which is so vigorously pursued, but was advised by his father of confession to pay close attention to what his heart was actually saying. Following some discernment, the monk determined that he was not continually repeating the Jesus Prayer, but rather, “meow”, like a cat. Based on this, he had to start from scratch in his ascetic discipline.

            Ascetic prayer in this form therefore is not a mantra; I would say that its not even meditation in the Eastern sense of the word, but rather, pure prayer; it is not done because it is fun, but rather, because it brings one closer to God; it is not a form of works righteousness; the monks have no greater a guarantee of salvation than you or I. Nor are these practices exclusive to monasteries; I practice them in my secular life.

            Lastly, one important distinction I should point out between intense prayer in our faith and the meditation of Eastern religions is that, as a rule, Eastern meditation tends to be focused on denial; on the practice of shutting down one’s awareness of periphery things. While Christian prayer does stress a turning to God, it does not require the same level of denial, nor is denial the objective; these prayers are rather offered in a much higher state of sensory awareness than their Eastern equivalents. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware finds the Jesus prayer ideal for situations like waiting for a bus, sitting in the chair at a barber shop or the dentist; any situation where some distractions exist that might interfere with a more complicated form of prayer, such as that of the liturgy of the hours (which typically is centered around the Lord’s Prayer and the reading of psalms).

  12. Dawg-ma says

    I will never stop being surprised when the faithful give in to their “pharasite” leanings and debate legalisms. This is an HR matter. By blowing it out of proportion and into a trial it pretends to open up a conversation about an issue. Trials do not make or unmake policy or vision. Deal simply with the HR concern and don’t let a trial pose as a real conversation.

  13. says

    John, first of all, while homosexuality is forbidden, homosexuals in and of themselves are not condemned; in that homosexuality deviates from the Biblically mandated modes of sexuality (which are holy celibacy, and heterosexual marriage, with holy celibacy clearly the preferred route for whoever can adhere to it), it is no worse than any other sin, per the words of our Savior.

    Now, it is true that Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10 do not use the word ‘homosexuality’, indeed, they do not condemn those who feel homosexual inclinations. Rather, they prohibit homosexual activity. Let us take a look at the relevant passages in Romans:

    26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

    27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

    In reading these, there can be no doubt that they specifically prohibit male-male and female-female sexual relations. In the Roman Empire, these were widespread (although not to the same extent as in ancient Greece), however, unlike in our modern world, they were very frequently non-consensual, with slaves routinely being the victims of what was later classified under the English common law as the offense of ‘buggery’. It is obvious that rape was a target of these prohibitions, yet clearly, the prohibitions are not qualified in this manner, and also apply to consensual contact.

    Now, in my mind it is highly fallacious to say that Paul’s prohibitions on homosexual contact, or for that matter, the much harsher penalty prescribed in the Old Testament (which mandates the death penalty; fortunately Christianity does not require literal observance of the Mosaic Law, and the Jews themselves had a very high standard of evidence and generally only executed one person every seventy years for any capital crime according to the Mosaic Law, whether it was homosexuality or idolatry or witchcraft or any other offense), are in some respect not valid, because Paul does not use the contemporary term ‘homosexuality’, for in the Biblical passage quoted above, there can be no doubt that Paul was in fact referring to what we now refer to as homosexual contact. As homosexuality was exceedingly common in the Roman Empire, it seems doubtful that a specific term would even be needed to refer to it as such; in like manner, it became much rarer in the centuries following the adoption of Christianity, although it never disappeared in its entirety, and the use of a specific term to refer to it is a relatively recent phenomena.

    It is equally fallacious to consider that the passage is not in full force because it is only mentioned eight times within the Bible. Eight times is certainly enough to prohibit something. In the case of autoerotic practices, one can make a case that they are allowed; that the blindness of Onan actually was imposed in response to Coitus Interruptus, and certainly (perhaps for reasons of decency), Paul did not appear to comment on it. Christ commands us to avoid lascivious conduct of any sort, and I am sure we all to some degree are guiltless of violating this exhortation, regardless of our sexual orientation.

    This takes us to the most important point: Christianity in general abhorrs sexual expression of any sort. This is an inherent aspect of our religion. To the Church Fathers, sex was at best unimportant, a secondary benefit of marriage; the Patristic texts show a continual struggle to de-sexualize the decadent and depraved society of the Roman Empire. In our modern era, when so many young people struggle from forms of sexual addiction, including addiction to pornography, it seems to me that we should reaffirm these traditional teachings. We do not have to go as far as Augustine did; we can affirm the validity of sex within marriage, but I think we should stop there, and we should definitely also say that even within marriage, sex is at present over-emphasized. Sex should be a secondary consideration of heterosexual marriage, something that facilitates reproduction and strengthens an existing emotional bond, but it should not be a primary consideration. Engaging in heterosexual adultery is a sin just as homosexual activity is; to divorce and remarry is adulterous (although the Orthodox allow it on the ground of oikonomia).

    I myself feel that the UMC canons regarding sexuality do not go far enough; a pastor who divorces his wife ought to be immediately defrocked; whereas one who is divorced against their will ought to be required to take a leave of absence and to enter a church-governed spiritual retreat to facilitate healing; in the manner of the Orthodox church they should be required to remain celibate for the duration of their presbyterial tenure. We may even wish to consider the possibility of canonical penalties, to be applied to laity who engage in divorce without justified reasons (such as physical abuse, emotional abuse or infidelity).

    Regarding Dawg-ma, I must stress that orthodox Christianity, of the sort still practiced by a significant percentage of Methodists in North America, and the vast majority in Africa and elsewhere, is quite different from the legalistic religion of the Pharisees, and even that of Orthodox Judaism. In Christianity, while there remain strict moral regulations, we can be assured that we will receive the forgiveness of God in repenting; the depraved condition of creation resulting from original sin makes our sinning inevitable. We should not however follow Luther’s advise that we should “sin boldly”; this was probably the most heretical utterance of Martin Luther, and along with his anti-semitism, causes me to regard him as heterodox (although his efforts to make a vernacular Bible accessible have hugely benefited all Christians in Western Europe).

    I should also state that within the UMC, or most Christian churches for that matter, clergy and indeed laity are protected from the unilateral application of canon law, and have the right to a trial if charged with a violation. This is of vital importance, as it prevents us from being the victims of capricious persecution at the hands of vindictive clergymen and laity. One comes across horror stories of incidents in 9Marks churches and other authoritarian churches where a congregant is unilaterally excommunicated and shunned for disagreeing with some aspect of the minister’s leadership; if UMC ministers such as UMJeremy had the power to unilaterally excommunicate me every time I raised an objection to some aspect of modern theology, I would have been ejected long ago. Fortunately, they do not; in like manner the laity cannot unilaterally destroy the careers of clergymen by raising false accusations. The difference between the church and, for example, a major corporation, is that here due process exists.

    What is more, it is not simply an HR decision. Defrocking a minister is far more serious than firing an accountant; ministry is a lifelong commitment to the church, almost like a marriage. The canons of the Early Church clearly emphasize the importance of deposing clergy only for major offenses, and contain procedures for reinstating clergy unjustly dismissed by an abusive prelate.

    • says

      Lastly, I do feel compelled to respond specifically to Beth, with three points. Firstly, the Book of Discipline is not the Word of God, yet the injunctions contained within the Apostles clearly mandate adhering to the moral instructions of the Church Hierarchy; when a presbyter violates these instructions it is a serious matter that can require the offender to be deposed, in rare and unpleasant cases. Secondly, even if the Book of Discipline did not contain the injunction that it has, the Bible verses I cited above clearly do contain it (unless you want to say that Paul’s epistles were not in fact divinely inspired, which opens up another rather larger can of dogmatic worms). Thirdly, even if it didn’t, the fact that the early Church prohibited this practice indicates that it is contrary to the normative behavior of Christianity; I think it is fair to say that to a Christian that has benefited from a strong spiritual formation in the traditional faith, the doctrine of the early Church can be assumed to be correct at all times, and to the extent that we deviate from it, we are effectively practicing a different religion from the Apostolic faith.

        • says

          That is to say, sexual acts outside of heterosexual marriage, in this case of a homosexual nature, which are by themselves no more sinful, and no less sinful, than acts of heterosexual adultery, or acts of fornication, or bestiality and so on. Now from a societal standpoint, bestiality and paedophilia are in fact worse, in that they’re violations of living beings in the manner of rape, but from a purely Biblical standpoint Christ draws no distinction. The early church did, however, and priests who sodomized young boys were subject to what amounted to an ecclesiastical death penalty, that being permanent excommunication (IIRC even Martin Luther was given the opportunity to have his excommunication lifted if he retracted his 95 thesis and other anti-Roman statements). Thus, from an ecclesiastical standpoint, we can of course say that functionally, murder, paedophilia, rape, and so on, do more damage from a social perspective. In the eyes of our Lord however, there is no difference; all of these actions are sin, in the original Greek, hamartia, literally, “missing the mark;” they are the fruits of the depraved condition of this world in the form of original sin, but the Lord, in his infinite mercy, is prepared to forgive us. That said, we must view our life as a battle against sin, as a war against Satan, and seek to repent of sin at all times and in the deepest humility.

    • says

      Paul Anthony Preussler, unless and until you confirm that you follow the entire Levitcal Code in its entirety, then your arguments have no authority or relevance. As I have previously noted, you have taken about 8 verses from the New Testament, and created an entire standard for living for a specific group of people (who are actually not the people nor actions being addressed by Paul). If you are going to take the Bible so literally, then it’s all or nothing…who are you to pick and choose? So please, spare us the piety until you are living it fully.

      • John says

        BJohnM, if the minimal standard for anyone to speak with authority or relevance is complete obedience to the multiplicity of codes within Leviticus (why any Christian is subject to the Priestly Code, as an example, is beyond ludicrous), then there’s no sense in any of us to speak a word to one another. None of us fully conform. Taking your own argument to its logical conclusion, only Jesus speaks with authority or relevance… and the record of what he himself has said has no authority because the human authors, inspired as they were, nonetheless were flawed human beings incapable of complete obedience to the Law. Because none of have any ability to say anything of relevance to each other, there’s no point in saying anything at all.

        • says

          I think John, perhaps I wasn’t clear in my reasoning. Let me attempt to clarify. If one elects to take one or eight verses from the Bible, and interpret those, out of context, in some attempted literal sense, and use those to make any group of people “less than” others, then one ought to be obligated to use the same logic and tests in interpreting and abiding by every other verse. Who is the person qualified to decide which verses are literal and which are not? That’s my point. I’m all for having a dialogue on the entire Bible, but only with the starting premise that it is not infallible and inerrant based on our modern understandings of people and the world (the issue of slavery being one good example). That it was written by men at a time well after Jesus lived (for the New Testament anyways), and that we all struggle with the interpretation of these verses. Paul Anthony appears to submit himself and his view as the final answer, based out of context interpretations of a very scripture. I only submit that if he’s intent on doing that for those particular scriptures, he’s obligated to the same standard for them all.

          • says

            BJohnM, first of all, I’d like to point out that your remark could be interpreted as being anti-Semitic, in that both the Karaite and Orthodox Jews do make a sincere effort to follow the entire Levitical code, the Karaites through a Protestant-style analysis and the Orthodox Rabinnical Jews via the Talmud, a codification of the Oral Torah observed by the Pharisees (I would also say that objecting to the traditional Christian doctrine on homosexuality is inherently anti-Semitic in that it requires us to say that all Jews before Christ were more, and not less sinful, than their Greek, Babylonian and Roman oppressors, and it requires us to say that all Orthodox and Karaite Jews after Christ have been sinful to the extent that they observe the Levitical Code in this regard. I am not prepared to say that about our pious brethren from what could be described as our sister religion.)

            However, in terms of Christianity, you miss the mark substantially because we’re not talking about the Levitical Code. Rather, we are talking about the specific instructions of the Apostle Paul in three separate Epistles. Now you can say I’m wrong to interpret them the way I do based on the fact that they only appear 8 times; this is fallacious, in that we should not rate sins against other sins or deny their sinful nature depending on how many times they are referenced. However its also fallacious because we know exactly how the early Church interpreted these instructions.

            Gregory of Nyassa in his Canonical Letter to Letolus of Mytilenne,, along with Canon 71 of the Council of Elvira, Canon17 of the Council of Ancyra, by and in Canon 14 of the Council of Tours, and Canon 3 of the Sixteenth Council of Toledo,. among other ancient sources, restrict various forms of homosexuality ranging from pederasty to monks sleeping two to a bed. The Corpus Juris Civilis of Justinian, which was the first legal code to be explicitly based on the teachings of the early Church, reinforced the practice. So it is simply not historically accurate to suggest that within the Orthodox, Catholic faith this practice is allowed. So while we can say that homosexuality is certainly no worse than any other sin, and we are all guilty of different sins, it is a huge leap to go from there to saying that we actually should make a habit of engaging in that specific sin. One might as well propose that we habitually engage in adultery or fornication (in the manner of the LibChrist movement).

            Ultimately, if one bears in mind the canons of the early Church and the teachings of her Apostles and Fathers, one can say beyond any doubt that the early Church took an extremely dim view of this practice, and indeed of all sexuality. Paul’s epistles show a strong preference for celibacy; Christ himself expressed this, but stated that those unable to maintain a celibate life could well be married. The extreme preference for celibacy is why ultimately all Bishops were celibate, and why Anthony the Great left metropolitan Egypt to venture out into the deep desert, founding the great institute of Christian monasticism, on among other things, a complete denial of all forms of sexual expression.

            This in my mind is highly desirable. Now it is fair to say that Christians are not literally bound to the Levitical Code; as it is well expressed in the NT, the consensus is that the Levitical Code cannot really be completely adhered to, because there seems to be an effect I would call the “conservation of sin”, in which attempts to avoid sinning against one aspect of it result in accidentally sinning against another. That said, Peter and James the Just certainly didn’t fault Jews for trying, and I don’t think Paul did either; that was not his point. Rather, we can rest assured of forgiveness to the extent that we violate it, and also we are no longer required to implement the governmental sanctions the Levitical code requires. We can very happily say that the Puritans in fact sinned greatly in the Salem witch trials, and that it is quite wrong to put homosexuals to death. I love homosexual figures such as the actor John Barrowman; I’ve even known some closet homosexual clergy and I love them dearly. I just maintain in accordance with church teaching, that the church traditions regarding homosexual practice ought to be maintained.

            What this means is that simply, homosexuals have a unique and exceedingly blessed calling to holy celibacy. First, they must overcome any actual aversion they have to the opposite sex. The canons of the early church require that clergymen who are celibate because they actually hate womankind must be deposed; I think we can safely extrapolate this to say that its sinful either for gay men or for lesbians to engage in misogyny or misandrogyny. Once this aversion (which is often triggered by a horrible experience at some point in life) can be overcome, the path of blessed holy celibacy can be followed. Now, if someone then backslides and succumbs to temptation, even a large number of times, they can expect to be forgiven. This is the beauty of Christianity. When we say something is wrong, from a theological standpoint, we don’t mean that God is going to damn you for it (unless of course you fail to repent), or that the civil authorities should kill you for it, but rather, simply that it is wrong and is to be avoided.

            So whereas the Levitical Code, which from the writings of the Apostles and the statements of Christ himself, we can safely say still represents the normative definition of what is sinful and what isn’t (with a few specific exceptions, such as the release from symbolic aspects of the code), the difference is that within Christianity, there is not a judicial or legal means of penalization for violating it; we can be assured of forgiveness. Thus the Levitical Code ceases to be a strict legal framework that must be adhered to, and instead becomes a standard that should be aspired to, while following the strict instructions of Christ and his apostles; that we are to love God with all our heart and mind and soul, love our neighbor as ourselves, and so forth.

            The pericope regarding the woman who had engaged in adultery perhaps offers us the greatest insight on this point; it represents to the fullest degree the difference between Christianity (and indeed contemporary Orthodoox and Karaite Judaism) and the old Second Temple Judaism and militant forms of Sunni Islam. Christ prevented the execution of the adulteress, and instructed her to go forth and sin no more. In doing this, he stopped what was a cruel abuse of the Law, giving the sinner a new life in the fullest sense of the word, however, he did this without denying the sinful nature of adultery.

            I think this shows us clearly how to do Christianity: in a spirit of intense love and repentence. We cannot, in the manner of Martin Luther, sin and sin boldly; we are not utterly released from the Law and granted carte blanche to transgress God’s instructions at will; our faith is not anomial. Rather, we are called to a life of prayer, a life of repentence, in many respects, a life of self denial (represented by the Orthodox practice of fasting more than half of the year) in pursuit of Christ, who we are to love above all other things; and a life in harmony with our brethren, who we are to love as ourselves.

            I feel like contemporary Protestant Christianity has actually become a very mean-spirited religion, in the manner of Gnosticism. The emphasis is on secret knowledge, in this case, of the Gospel; we emphasize a spiritual rather than a bodily resurrection, and what is worse, we position ourselves as a social and intellectual elite. Catholics and Orthodox Christians are viewed with derision, regardless of whether one is on the right wing (the militant Calvinist/9Marks/Southern Baptist school) or the left wing (essentially BJohnM, you, along with say, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church USA, and a vast array of other contemporary liberal Christians, liberation theologists and neo-Gnostics).

            What I think John Wesley was really after, with the Holiness doctrine, was to return Western Christianity to its roots. Holiness is almost directly equivalent to theosis, or deification. God became Man in Christ so that we humans could become like God, participating in his divine energies (while his essence remains utterly unknowable). For this theosis to occur, an extreme degree of spiritual discipline, which Wesley emphasized in his Methodist societies, which had a very strict juridicial praxis, with troublemakers quietly ejected, is required. The Methodist societies represented a new form of ascetic Christianity, accessible to those living the secular life, but in many respects modeled on monasticism. In the UMC, I feel we should return to this model, deprecating sexuality, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, craven materialism, and the trappings of our modern, decadent and depraved society. In pursuit of this noble objective, we should let the teachings of Church Fathers guide us in correctly interpreting the Bible, and we should hold fast to Church tradition to the fullest extent possible.

    • MG says

      Paul Anthony – what your doing is called proof texting. Get over it. The bible also says not to divorce, that women should subjugate themselves to men, among many other things that we don’t practice today. Do you eat kosher? No? I didn’t think so.

      • says

        My points exactly. Right in the middle of his dissertation, he makes the point that one simply can’t follow all of the Levitical laws. Fine, but my point to him is that he doesn’t even make the effort. He picks the Biblical passages (Old and New) which he wants to use against others, and ignores all those that might apply to him.

        • says

          MG and BJohnM make several misleading statements here that require a closer look.

          I will begin with MG. The Bible does indicate that divorce is sinful; it is my view that any time a divorce occurs, this, as Christ indicates, constitutes a form of adultery. Divorce is a reprehensible act and in my mind any married clergyman who divorces his spouse ought to be deposed. Adultery of this sort is, in the eyes of God, clearly no different from homosexuality; but adultery that destroys a marriage, from a purely social standpoint, does substantially more damage than an isolated incident of homosexual activity outside of marriage. The Roman Catholics err however in not allowing it; this approach led to the Anglican schism and the murder of numerous women throughout history; the Eastern church allows it but frowns on it to an extreme degree; if a divorced person is remarried, the joyous aspects of the marriage liturgy are omitted and the prayers assume a more penitential tone. I very much feel this ought to be adopted in the UMC, which historically stressed affirming marriage in a number of interesting ways that the contemporary church, in its blandness, has abandoned (there was a prayer service led by a minister, where married couples would affirm their love for each other, that has become quite rare, and I think this is a great tragedy).

          Now you raise another interesting point on dietary laws. The early Church, going back to the apostles Peter and Paul, considered the Kosher laws to be symbolic, along with circumcision; these laws served to define Jewish cultural identity. However, it is certainly not wrong for Jewish Christians to follow them. Within the early church, the Council of Jerusalem (which is described in Acts) abolished these as binding requirements on the faith, but did retain one important dietary restriction, that being a prohibition on eating the blood of anything strangled, derived from Noahide Law, which is the baseline standard of morality Jews feel ought to be applied to Gentiles. I make it a point to not knowingly violate this restriction, and I feel the importance of this ought to be emphasized in our society.

          Now, there is another interesting and related point, which is fasting discipline. The Christian church has historically fasted two days each week, on Wednesday and Friday; on these days, at a minimum, meat other than seafood should be avoided; preferably, all meat, as well as animal products and vegetable oil. This degree of fasting is also adhered to in the 40 day fast of Great Lent as it is practiced in the East, except on weekends. The Oriental Orthodox practice the most extreme fast in the form of the Rogation of the Ninevites, which is based on the Jonah story, which is of particular importance to the Syriac and Assyrian communities as they view the Ninevites as their literal ancestors; this fast, which is also followed by the Armenian and Coptic communities, is an example of an Old Testament practice that has been preserved in the modern church since at least the sixth century. Then there is the Eucharistic fast; abstinence from food and most forms of drink for at least three hours, if not twelve hours, before receipt of Holy Communion. Christians following Eastern fasting discipline spend a little more than half the year fasting to one degree or another; Roman Catholics also fast to a substantial degree, and I believe it is time for these practices to be adopted within the UMC; if we really care about the starving of the impoverished people, and of the health consequences of obesity, fasting, giving the excess food to the poor, and availing ourselves of the accordant weight loss, while at the same time growing in our faith through the ascetic discipline this provides, is a win-win scenario. The early church in a few cases did intentionally deviate from Kosher requirements to forge a distinct Christian identity; the Jews historically fasted on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but within Christianity this was changed to Wednesday and Friday to commemorate the betrayal and crucifixion of our Lord. I myself do not follow Kosher, therefore, but rather the Eastern Christian fasting discipline (although I consider Roman praxis in this regard to be equally valid). It should be stressed that failure to fast, within Christianity, is not a sin; fasts are a devotional exercise, and make one happy, by bringing one closer to God.

          Now, on to your next point. The Bible nowhere specifies the subjugation of women. What it does do is define a scenario of sexual relations that I feel the Church did the best job at in the Medieval period, with the chivalric practices. Christian orthodoxy, following in the teachings of Paul, does not require women to be subjugated; it does indicate that they, like men, should avoid adorning themselves in a vain manner (“with gilt trinkets”); it also reserves the priesthood for men. The traditional theological interpretation of this is simply that, because the priest or Bishop must vicariously represent Christ in consecrating the Eucharist, the holders of that office must be male; however, the early church did have deaconesses, and from a theological standpoint, there is no other ministerial function not open to women. Nor does this restriction mean that the early church subjugated women or viewed them as inferior; while there was some sexism, on the whole, the early Christians, and the Jews before them, practiced greater gender equality than any other ancient society (there were matriarchal societies, the Numidians come to mind, but here it was the men who were subjugated). One interesting manifestation of this still visible today is the idea that Jewish identity is transmitted on a matrilineal line.

          Now let us continue on to BJohnM. While Christians realize that the Torah cannot be adhered to in an infallible degree, at least in its Biblical form (the Rabinnical Jews, to make it work, turned it into a consistent law code in the form of the Talmud and repsonsa literature), that does not mean we should not make a sincere effort to follow its moral imperatives. We will fail, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try; we just should not, in the manner of the Pharisees, consider that we have succeeded, and that it has made us righteous. Now, a few specific aspects of the Torah which relate to Jewish cultural identity were specifically invalidated by the Apostles, yet other provisions, including that relating to homosexuality, were continued, and in fact Jesus Christ substantially tightened the restrictions on divorce. Whereas a Jew could in general obtain a divorce with a clean conscience, Christ removes that possibility for Christians.

          Now, let’s take a look at how we know that the moral imperative regarding homosexuality applies to Christians. Firstly, the Apostle Paul condemns the practice in Romans, Corinthians and Timothy. Jude 1:7 condemns sexual immorality and reiterates the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Our Lord himself condemns lascivious behavior. Fornication and adultery are also condemned; Christians are clearly called, Biblically, to remain sexually pure, either through holy celibacy, the preferred route, or through the institution of heterosexual marriage.

          Now, the most compelling reason to avoid homosexuality, from my perspective, is not just that its condemned within the Bible, but that the traditions of the early Church maintained these condemnations. As Irenaeus pointed out, one can, by selecting Biblical verses out of context (proof-texting), distort the Bible into saying whatever one wants it to; this was a favorite tactic of the Gnostics. This is why it is of utmost importance to follow to the fullest extent the teachings of the early Church; it is my opinion that the Church Fathers through the fourth century, possessed through the grace of the Holy Spirit the definitive interpretation of the Bible. It was the early fathers who defined what the NT canon was; it was the early fathers who taught us to interpret them. If it were not for them, the Church, if it were to still exist in any form, might follow the anti-semitic faith of Marcion, or the anti-materialistic dualist spirituality of Gnosticism; we might in the manner of Arius deny the consubstantiality of Christ with the Father. I can assure BJohnM and MG that I am not proof-texting, or seeking to create an original interpretation of the Bible to pursue my own objectives, in the manner of contemporary Protestants of both conservative and liberal persuasion, rather, I am merely echoing the sentiments of the Church Fathers. If they can show me where I’ve misinterpreted Patristic opinion, then I will of course yield to their view, but given that all of the churches which prioritize Patristic thought (the Eastern Orthodox, the Oriental Orthodox, the Assyrians, the Eastern Catholics, and to a lesser extent the Romans, and some Protestants, such as John Wesley, and conservative Anglo Catholics such as the ACNA) stress these same doctrines, I would view that as unlikely. A simplistic way of looking at this moral equation would be to take the shared teachings of the aforementioned denominations, and then compare them with the early church; any that remained could be considered definitive, and the UMC is then shown to be in error to the extent that it deviates from them.

          Now, how do we know that the Church Fathers objected to homosexuality? Aside from the canon law examples I cited earlier, and the Corpus Juris Civilis, we have some of the most compelling evidence from St. John Chrysostom, widely considered to be the greatest preacher of all time. Chrysostom’s contribution to the Christian liturgy is immeasurable, yet he also made huge contributions to the traditions of Christian philanthropy; with his fire and brimstone rhetoric, he shamed the upper classes of Constantinople into giving away a substantial portion of their income, and in so doing founded hospitals, hospices, schools, and numerous other components of social infrastructure, following in the footsteps of Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian; with whom he is remembered as one of the Three Holy Hierarchs in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

          What did John Chrysostom have to say on homosexuality? In his fourth homily on Romans, the saintly patriarch of Antioch and later of Constantinople declared that “All these passions then were vile, but chiefly the mad lust after males; for the soul is more the sufferer in sins, and more dishonored, than the body in diseases. But behold how here too, as in the case of the doctrines, he deprives them of excuse, by saying of the women, that they changed the natural use. For no one, he means, can say that it was by being hindered of legitimate intercourse that they came to this pass, or that it was from having no means to fulfill their desire that they were driven into this monstrous insaneness. For the changing implies possession. Which also when discoursing upon the doctrines he said, They changed the truth of God for a lie. And with regard to the men again, he shows the same thing by saying, Left the natural use of the female.”

          Chrysostom’s standing within orthodox, catholic Christian doctrine, of the sort adhered to by John Wesley, among other Protestants, lies utterly beyond question. His interpretation of Paul’s epistles can be considered definitive in every sense of the word; to deviate from it is to read it incorrectly. And here we see him clearly defining the orthodox doctrine on homosexuality. Now, given the choice between siding with the sociopolitical opinion of our modern, depraved society, or of aligning myself with John Chrysostom, there is simply no choice; I must align myself with John Chrysostom because his role in witnessing the Christian faith is immeasurable; the impact he alone has made on my life, in terms of bringing me to my God, invaluable.

          Now, one last point should be addressed. Do I personally ignore Biblical injunctions on occasion? Being a sinner, the answer is unfortunately yes; sometimes I forget, sometimes I get angry and sin deliberately. To this extent, this reflects my depraved nature, due to original sin. This is why I stress the importance of continual repentence, self-denial and ascetism, to increase in holiness, as John Wesley stressed, and to slowly reduce one’s inclination to sin. Surely, as Abba Sisoes said, I cannot know if I have even begun to repent, yet this does not mean I shouldn’t try. As a Christian and a Methodist, I feel compelled to urge my fellow Methodists to adopt the same course of deep repentence, and to return to the path John Wesley, and the laudable, honorable and glorious apostles, martyrs and theologians of the early Church, have set out for us.

          For those interested, the complete text of St. John Chrysostom’s fourth homily on Romans can be found here:

  14. Amanda Wooldridge says

    I am a member of the UMC and am very involved in my local church. This situation just breaks my heart. I was the UMC Facebook page today and there were tons of people pointing out the hypocrisy of the Open Minds slogan in light of Reverend Shaefer’s conviction. Many others said they’d be leaving the UMC. Friends of mine who attend my church also expressed similar feelings. At the church I attend both the Youth Leader and Sunday School teacher are homosexual. I feel like we need to do something to express how wrong this is. I want to apologize to all of those who have been made to believe by the church that God doesn’t love and accept them for being who they are. It isn’t right and I’m ashamed of the UMC today.

    • says

      Amanda; we should be apologizing to God; repentance for our myriad sins should be the main focus of our lives. The Bible, for reasons I’ve explained elsewhere, reinforced by the traditions of the early Church, allows for two modes of human sexuality: heterosexual marriage, and holy celibacy, with celibacy being the preferred route. If homosexuals were to, instead of indulging their sexual appetite, dedicate themselves to prayer, they would be happier and more fulfilled. Therefore, if the Methodist church deviates from classical Christian teaching on this point it is actually harming homosexuals by denying them the inner peace possible through prayer and celibacy; in the same manner that it would harm heterosexuals by affirming adultery or fornication. I myself on occasions have experienced homosexual temptation, although I’m now in a heterosexual marriage; if I lose my spouse I will become a celibate monk. Homosexuality is no worse or no better than any other sins; it is a sin to hate homosexuals, or to mistreat them; Turing and Oscar Wilde were horribly treated, in a sinful manner. That said, within the *Christian* religion, the Orthodox, Catholic doctrines of our faith, that Methodism historically affirmed, impose severe limitations on human sexuality. To suggest any change here would transform the Christian faith into a form of Gnostic religion.

      There are alternative faiths for those unwilling to give up homosexual pursuits, such as Unitarianism. For that matter, there are heterodox Christian denominations such as the PCUSA, the Episcopal Church, USA, and the UCC. If you are so ashamed of the UMC for maintaining its historical doctrine, in order to be honest to its faith as interpreted by the majority of its congregants, and to avoid a schism, you should consider these alternatives. The Episcopal Church, USA, is very similar to the UMC, in that it shares a common heritage in the pre-revolutionary Anglican churches in America, has the same polity, and very similar worship. For that matter, Unitarian Universalism is a formerly Christian religion that has discarded all the strictures of our Orthodox faith. I myself like the UUs because of their stress on the importance of religious tolerance, which I agree with. I heartily recommend the UU for anyone who does not want to give up sexual expression in the manner required by Christianity.

      Within our faith, however, and especially within the Methodist tradition, driven as it is by the Wesleyan doctrine of holiness, there is a substantial emphasis on giving up secondary pleasures such as alcohol, drugs, sex, and so forth, in order to move closer to God, in continual prayer and love of Jesus Christ. We are called upon not to be inclusive or welcoming, but rather, to call the world to repentance, to be the light and salt of the earth, and to pray without ceasing; most especially, to pray for those outside the church. Non-Christians can easily be saved, especially through prayer, according to orthodox Christian doctrine; as Christians are in fact held to a higher moral standard than non-Christians, I would propose it is actually safer for someone who feels a homosexual inclination and does not want to pursue a celibate life to remain outside the Church. It is generally believed that, with God at least, ignorance is a valid excuse, but intentional defiance is utterly contrary to the spirit of repentance that Christianity requires.


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