Biblical Authority, the United Methodist Church and Homosexuality

Timothy Tennent, president of Asbury Theological Seminary, is working within the United Methodist Church to affirm biblical authority in response to the progressive push to affirm homosexual practice and the ordination of those who identify as homosexual: The “Progressives” Are Desperate, the “Conservatives” Are Weary, but God Is Still Holy

I affirm strongly what Tennent writes, and appreciate greatly his labor in this area.

Here is the crux of the debate, as captured in Tennent's first few paragraphs.

The United Methodist Church is in the full throes of a crisis, with deep divisions over our response to homosexual practice and the ordination of self-avowed homosexuals.  The latest attempt to resolve this crisis is a plan known as “a local option proposal compromise.”  This plan has emerged through the good faith efforts of a group of conservatives, progressives and moderates who have worked hard to find common ground.  The long awaited plan was finally released.  The basic thrust of the plan is as follows:

  1. We all agree to change the Discipline to say that “sincere Christians disagree” on the issue of homosexuality and we remove the language which says that homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian teaching. Congregations spend a year in prayer and discernment as to whether they will allow same sex weddings on their property or receive a practicing gay or lesbian person as their pastor.  A 2/3 vote would allow it.
  2. Pastors, even when churches oppose, may conduct same sex weddings off site.
  3. Congregations who cannot accept the new Discipline or the new practices in the church may, after a year of prayer and discernment, leave the church with a 2/3 vote.
  4. If a church leaves, they must repay any loans to the conference and also pay two years of apportionments in full.
  5. If the payment is made, the church retains their buildings and other assets.

In my view, this plan should be rejected.  Despite the cultural wave flowing against the church, the “progressives” have already been looking at the make-up of delegates who will be attending General Conference in 2016.  They do not have the votes to change the Discipline. The African delegates will be 3% higher than in 2012, and the U.S. delegation – as a whole – is actually more conservative than in 2012.  We must understand that the progressives agreed to this plan because they are desperate.  They also know that we are weary of fighting.  Of course, there will be more public shaming of the conservatives than ever before, and the demonstrations in Portland will be the stuff of daily news.  Welcome to life on the margins of a post-Christendom society.  But, we cannot forget that the Discipline will not be changed unless we can be enticed to cast our votes for that change.  This latest proposal is an attempt to find “a way forward” to get the conservatives to raise their hand and vote for a change in the Discipline.  This plan calls for an agreement by conservative delegates to permit homosexual practice and ordination in the church and then wait for a year before we can leave.  We then make a payment at the exit door (two years of apportionments) and receive our buildings as a consolation prize.

Brothers and sisters, it is never right to do wrong.

This is the discussion occurring in the United Methodist Church, which parallels the discussion in a number of other denominations. Some denominations, like the United Methodist Church, are still in discussion, with hopes that people will stand on the Rock, God's Word, with decisions flowing from that truth. In some other denominations,the discussion is over and the decision has been made - for sexual and moral progressivism and against God and His word, biblical authority.

Thanks be to God this debate regarding biblical authority is not happening in the EFCA. Furthermore, while standing on the authority of the Bible, we seek to live, serve and love pastorally on the basis of that authority, which means, as we combine the orthodoxy with the orthopraxy, we are committed to being welcoming (of the person) but not affirming (of sinful behavior).

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