The Rev. J. Richard Peck
May 21, 2004
A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. J. Richard Peck*
2004 General Conference defeated a proposed statement for the United
Methodist Church’s Social Principles that would have acknowledged that
church members hold differing opinions on homosexuality.
conservatives acknowledged that the Social Principles statement
declaring homosexual practice to be “incompatible with Christian
teachings” causes pain in the homosexual community, and a few believe
that it would be better to have an “amicable separation” rather than
continuing to inflict pain on these people.
a legislative committee approved (68-30) the acknowledgment of our
differences, arguments from African delegates in a plenary session
convinced a majority (527-423) that such a public acknowledgment could
“give a mixed message to the world.” The plenary reversed the
recommendation of the legislative committee and adopted (579-376) a
minority report that adds a clause, “... and we will seek to live
together in Christian community.”
defeat of an acknowledgment of our differences does not alter the
differences. Even the final action of General Conference to affirm our
unity cannot erase the opinion chasm.
following General Conference and our declared intent to “live together
in Christian community,” perhaps we will find it more helpful to focus
on our differing attitudes toward Scripture that cause us to have
differing views on homosexuality.
view Scripture as a single entity. They believe every book in the Bible
is the inspired Word of God. They quote Leviticus and the letters of
Paul with equal certainty; they are likely to assert: “The Bible says
few conservatives also say the Bible is without error. They believe the
Bible contains the words of God revealing the Word of God.
a liberal notes that Jesus never discussed homosexuality, conservatives
are quick to note that he never taught about child molestation,
polygamy, pornography use or embryonic experimentation, but that doesn’t
make these practices right.
all conservatives say the Word of God is the same yesterday, today and
tomorrow. No scientific claim and no change in social standards can
alter the fact that there is no passage in Scripture that supports
homosexual practice, and every mention of homosexuality within that holy
book is negative.
on the other hand, view the Bible as a library of books with different
levels of inspiration and truth. A quote from Leviticus carries almost
no weight with liberals. They will dismiss any negative teaching about
homosexuality from that ancient collection of laws as quickly as they
dismiss laws from the same book calling for the execution of children
who curse their parents (Leviticus 20:9), a law prohibiting the wearing
of a garment with two different materials (Leviticus 19:19) and laws
prohibiting eating ham (Leviticus 11:7) or shrimp (Leviticus 11:10).
are not as quick to dismiss the letters of Paul. They well know that
Paul wrote some of the most insightful and inspirational passages in all
of Scripture. At the same time, they know that he was a product of his
times. Liberals place Paul’s teachings about homosexuality into the
context of a time when lifelong committed homosexual relations were
unknown. Liberals also tend to dismiss his teachings on homosexuality as
they dismiss statements saying it is shameful for a woman to speak in
church (I Corinthians 14:35) and a passage stating that all governing
authorities (including, we assume, Herod Antipas, Adolf Hitler and
Saddam Hussein) are instituted by God and should be obeyed (Romans
liberals value the words of Jesus above all other teachings, even here
they will distinguish between the early writings of Mark and the later
and more theological writings of John. If there were teachings by Jesus
in any of the Gospels about homosexuality, liberals would find these
compelling and debate might be ended.
may agree with conservatives that God’s Word is the same yesterday,
today and tomorrow. However, they believe the Word of God is contained
in the words of the Old and New Testaments and one must use reason,
tradition and experience to find that Word within the words. Liberals
also believe that a living Christ offers new insights into God’s Word.
discussions by United Methodists about the nature of Scripture should
precede debates about homosexuality, for that is at the core of the
Peck is a retired clergy member of New York Annual Conference and
former editor of Circuit Rider, Newscope, the International Christian
Digest and the Daily Christian Advocate. He was on United Methodist News
Service’s 2004 General Conference staff.
News media contact: Tim Tanton (615)742-5470 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.