Volume 16, Number 2 May 2006
"Liberal" versus "Conservative" theology
At present there is a major battle going on within the United Methodist Church between those who espouse a "liberal" view of theology over against those supporting a more "conservative" or orthodox view. The advent of the "age of reason" and the increased popularity of German-inspired "higher criticism" affected theological study in the 1800s. In America "higher" or "historical criticism" questioned scriptural foundations on which many of the orthodox Christian beliefs were founded: Old Testament stories such as the Garden of Eden, Noah and the flood, and Jonah and the fish, were discarded as myths along with the reality of miracles that contravened physical laws, and the person and work of Jesus Christ. Scholars believed that theological belief needed to be changed to reflect a more "realistic" – and humanistic view of the world.1 United Methodist clergyman Dr. James Heidinger summarizes liberal theological beliefs in his Basic Tenets of Liberalism:
1. God’s character is one of pure benevolence – without wrath. All persons are His children, and sin separates no one from His love.
2. There is a divine spark in every man and woman. All persons are good at heart and need only encouragement to allow their natural goodness to express itself.
3. Jesus Christ is Savior only in the sense that He is our perfect teacher and example. He was not divine in any unique sense. He was not born of a virgin, did not work miracles, and did not rise from the dead.
4. Just as Christ differs from other men only comparatively, not absolutely, neither does Christianity differ from other religions. Thus, missions should not aim to convert but rather to promote a cross-fertilization of ideas for mutual enrichment.
5. The Bible is not a divine record of revelation but a human record of the religious experiences of a nation.
Then Dr. Heidinger goes on to state that liberalism (i.e.,liberal theology) is a negation of orthodoxy. It is almost always defined over against [and attacks] historic Christianity2
Liberal theology is manifested in two very key areas:
The first key area is our understanding of Jesus Christ. Just as Christ differs from other men only comparatively, not absolutely in that he is a "good man" in a human sense. A good analysis of liberal doctrine in this area was given by C. S. Lewis, the brilliant Cambridge University professor, and was contained in the last edition of The Christian Methodist Newsletter athttp://cmpage.org/news/CMN2Q2K6.htm
The second key area is our understanding of the Bible. Liberal theology contends that it is a book (just like any other book) that is time and culture-bound, written by multiple human authors with all of its attendant limitations and no supernatural inspiration. The thinking is that "because it was written so long ago and is riddled with errors, it is not applicable today as a source of absolute truth." This means that a person can adopt a "pick-and-choose" attitude toward the Bible - if one part of the Bible makes him uncomfortable, he can simply ignore it as not relevant to his world-view. This belief means that there is no absolute truth in spiritual areas, notably in determining morality.
This latter belief contravenes Wesley’s admonition on one essential point when he wrote, "In all cases, the Church is to be judged by the scripture, and not the scripture by the Church."4
Concerning a core basis of liberal theology – no absolute truths - G. K. Chesterton decried this belief in the time-sensitivity of creedal values as the "imbecile habit": "You might as well say that a certain philosophy can be believed Mondays, but cannot be believed on Tuesdays. You might as well say of a view on the cosmos that it was suitable to half-past three, but not suitable to half-past four. What a man can believe depends on his philosophy, not on the clock or the century. " 5
Just one of these areas of "no absolute truth" in which this problem is manifested is sexuality, and more specifically that of homosexuality. When I am asked, "How can Bishop _______ support ordaining homosexuals the way he does when the Bible is so clear about it?" I respond, "For that bishop, what the Bible says is not really important; he is a liberal – for him the Bible is ‘time and culture bound’ and ‘does not apply to today’s problems’." What used to truly be considered ‘sin’ in the past and as judged by the orthodox Christian faith now is condoned and supported by many in leadership positions in our church.
This is not an "us-them" problem but one which affects all of us. God’s standard for sexuality is specified as between husband and wife within the context of marriage; anything else outside of this is sin. If the Christian community as a whole had been more faithful to His teachings in this area we as a church might not be facing the issues of homosexual practice that we are at this time.
To further complicate the issue, those of us who stand for traditional faith and morality are often attacked, demonized, and marginalized. This practice is unfortunate and not characteristic of Christian behavior. If not corrected, it will lead to further degradation in our church and its continued decline.
It seems that at this time there is an all-out effort being made to lay the basis to overturn our United Methodist Church’s position that homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching"; we believe that attempts are being made to elect delegates to annual conferences who will in turn elect delegates to do just that at General Conference 2008 in Ft. Worth. Pray that we will maintain a faithful Christian witness in this area.
- Allen O. Morris
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The "Gay" Lifestyle
With so much confusion in this area, it is important to examine this practice to evaluate the impact it has on our church’s witness.
A Scriptural View
The UM homosexual advocacy group "Affirmation" view "that the practice of homosexuality is compatible with Christian teaching" conforms to that of others, including some members of the UM clergy (bishops included). However, that does not conform to sound biblical scholarship. John Wesley wrote as a purpose for compiling his Notes on the Bible, "To give the direct, literal meaning of every verse, of every sentence, and, as far as I am able, of every word in the oracles of God. I design only, like the hand of a dial, to point every man to this; not to take up his mind with something else, however excellent, but to keep his eye fixed upon the naked Bible, that he may read and hear it with understanding. I say again, and I desire it may be well observed, that none may expect what they will not find...."2
The first scripture passage to be examined is Leviticus 18:22, which reads, "Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable." Romans 1:18-32, speaks to this issue, especially 26-27 where Paul wrote, "...God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men."3 These Scripture verses are clear.
Some verses linking homosexual acts with other offenses are those such as I Corinthians 6:9-10, "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders...." In I Timothy 1:8-10 these actions are condemned indirectly by linking this practice with adultery and refers to these actions as being "ungodly and sinful" along with other choice adjectives.
In Genesis 19:1-11 we read about Sodom and Gomorrah where in verse 5, the men of the city called out to Lot and said, "Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them."3 a reference to homosexuality similar to Judges 19:22 where the Benjamites told the host, "Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him."3 It is this reference to Sodom that Rev. James Lawson claimed the Bible is being misused"4 against homosexuality. But II Peter 2:6-10 contradicts Lawson's assertion, especially in verses 6 and 7, which read, "...if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men..."3 "Filthy" is not descriptive of inhospitality, but more applicable to physical condition and sexually-related matters. Finally, Jude 7 tells us that, "...Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffered the punishment of eternal fire."3 What is being discussed here is clearly homosexual practice.
A summary of the scripture verses is best rendered in Dr. David Seamands’ comments, "...every passage which speaks of homosexual behaviors is clear, unambiguously negative and morally hostile towards them (the actions themselves)."5
Even though we can see how the Bible views this practice, we will still encounter those who dispute what it has to say in this area. These views in turn are rejected, however, by many other orthodox scholars, in addition to contradicting John Wesley's view to "give the direct, literal meaning" of Bible verses. As far as "sexual identities" Victor Furnish (of Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas) makes an increasingly common error in believing that people are "born" to be homosexuals. There is no credible study, scientific or otherwise, today that demonstrates this. The closest to it was the work by Dr. Dean Hamer who purported to have done an experiment proving that. However, according to data provided by Dr. Paul Cameron of the Family Research Institute, Hamer was accused by a fellow researcher of "research fraud" - and a Canadian firm was unable to duplicate his results. In addition, it seems that Hamer had left his wife and child to move in with another man. Finally, after this information was brought to light, Hamer himself repudiated his own results.
An in-depth examination of the textual references is contained in an open letter to Bishop Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in his attempt to justify this practice:
An Open Letter to the Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold7
September 30, 2003
Dear Presiding Bishop Griswold,
The following remarks were attributed to you in an Associated Press interview published yesterday ("Episcopal Leader Defends Gay Bishop," by Rachel Zoll, AP religion writer;):
He said that in biblical times there was no understanding that homosexuality was a natural orientation and not a choice. "Discreet acts of homosexuality" were condemned in the Bible because they were acts of lust instead of the "love, forgiveness, grace" of committed same-sex relationships, he said. "Homosexuality, as we understand it as an orientation, is not mentioned in the Bible," he said.
With all due respect, if these remarks are correctly cited, you are in error on all counts.
First, there were many theories in the Greco-Roman world that posited something akin to modern sexual orientation theory. Philosophers, doctors, and moralists often attributed one or more forms of homosexual behavior, at least in part, to congenital factors. And some of the same persons could still refer to such forms as "contrary to nature" - that is, given by nature but not in conformity with embodied existence or nature's well-working processes. Lifelong, exclusive participants in homosexual behavior were also widely known in the ancient world. Indeed, Paul's reference to the malakoi ("soft men," men who play the sexual role of females) in 1 Corinthians 6:9 is one such instance.
Second, you assume that the absence of "choice" regarding sexual impulses absolves one of moral responsibility for the behavior arising from such impulses. Numerous sinful desires, sexual and otherwise, are not "chosen" in the sense of being manufactured willfully. That doesn't make them any less sinful - though it can and should inform our pastoral response. Who would choose to be a pedophile if it were a simple matter of choice? Some people find it extraordinarily difficult to be limited to a single sex partner; do they choose their sexual impulses? Some people grow up without an instinctive aversion to sex with close blood relations and then fall in love with one such relative; do they simply manufacture such feelings? Paul describes sin itself in Romans 7 as an innate impulse, passed on by an ancestor figure, running through the members of the human body, and never entirely within human control. The very nature of sin is that it generates biologically-related impulses. Why do you think a biological connection disqualifies an impulse from being sinful? Such thinking is patently un-biblical.
Third, biblical writers were certainly not limiting their condemnation of same-sex intercourse to particularly exploitative forms. Non-exploitative forms were known in Paul’s day and had Paul wanted to limit his condemnation to exploitative forms he certainly could have done so. The wording in Romans 1:24-27 is quite clear as regards what Paul found objectionable about same-sex intercourse: its same-sexness, persons seeking sexual integration with a non-complementary sexual same, persons erotically attracted to what they intrinsically are as sexual beings. This is sexual narcissism and/or sexual self-deception: a desire either for what one is or for what one wishes to be but in fact already is. The intertextual echoes to Genesis 1:27 ("God made them male and female") and Genesis 2:24 ("For this reason a man shall . . . be joined to his woman/wife and the two shall become one flesh") in Romans 1:24-27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9, respectively, confirm that Paul had in view the male-female prerequisite ordained by God at creation. (Incidentally, so did Jesus when he appealed to the same two texts from Genesis as normative and prescriptive texts for human sexual relations [Mark 10:6-8].) The beautiful image put forward in Genesis 2:18-24 is that of an original binary human split down the side into two sexually differentiated beings. If sexual relations are to be had, "one-flesh" sexual wholeness requires a re-merger of the two constituent parts produced by the splitting. By "nature" in Romans 1:24-27 Paul meant the complementary structure of males and females still transparent in material creation - a category of thinking that transcends issues of love and commitment. The description in Romans 1:27 of males mutually gratifying themselves with other males does not suggest exploitation. Nor does the mention of female-female intercourse point us in the direction of a particularly exploitative form of same-sex intercourse. The language in Romans 1:24-27 of being "given over" to preexisting desires and forsaking any heterosexual relations certainly suggests innate and exclusive passions for members of the same sex. Scripture is clearly condemning every form of same-sex intercourse. Biblical authors would no more have accepted a committed and loving homosexual union than they would have accepted a committed and loving adult incestuous union. Both types of unions are structurally incompatible: sex with sexual or familial sames.
Much more could be said about each of the points above but what I have written should suffice for now.
Even some pro-homosex biblical scholars such as Bernadette Brooten and William Schoedel recognize that "sexual orientation" and commitment would have made little difference to Paul's indictment of same-sex intercourse. My book, The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Abingdon) which has been out for a full two years, also makes this clear (see especially pp. 347-60, 380-95). See also now my more condensed discussion in Homosexuality and the Bible (Fortress), just released, and a forthcoming article in an edited volume entitled Christian Sexuality (Kirk House), which deals extensively with orientation theory in antiquity.
There really is no excuse any more for making the kinds of false statements about Scripture that you made in the AP interview. It is especially inexcusable for a presiding bishop - an office that has guarding the faith as a chief concern - to be making such inaccurate representations of the biblical witness. I urge you to read more widely, and more carefully, as regards recent work on the subject of the Bible and homosexual behavior.
Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of New Testament
Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
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Secular physiological/behavioral data completely reinforce religious teachings and give indicators of the effects of this practice.
A Physiological/Behavioral View
Aside from what the Bible has to say about the practice of homosexuality, let us look at different physiological/behavioral statistics. It is not our intention to be negative in the presentation of this information, but the data do not reflect favorably on this lifestyle.
The following analysis may be considered explicit by some. Please be advised of this fact before you read it.
We need to answer the question, "How widely prevalent are same-sex acts?"
Since the publication of Albert Kinsey's book Sexual Behavior in the Human Male had touted the figure of "10% of the male population being homosexual" there have been numerous studies discrediting that figure. A 1990 study of more than 10,000 persons by the National Center for Health Statistics indicates that homosexuals and bisexuals combined total approximately 1.5 percent.8,9 Different studies we have seen at Concerned Methodists of varying male populations generally show the percentage to be between .8% and 2.4%.
These figures agree with the research compiled by Dr. Thomas E. Schmidt, who also makes the point that "Numbers do not in themselves establish a morality of an activity, but a number as large as 10 percent, the equivalent of 25 million Americans [at that time], seems to attach a degree of normalcy to homosexuality. Thus, out of the moral fog of the last few decades, the notion emerged that 10 percent equals normal, and normal equals natural, and natural equals acceptability." His findings show that the rate of homosexual practice hovers around 1 percent; he bases his conclusions on three separate surveys with this analysis:
Three separate 1990 surveys conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics found that under 3 percent of men had experienced same sex relations even once in the past 15 years. Four separate national studies conducted in the United States In 1970, 1988, 1989 and 1990 by the National Opinion Research Center shows 7,408 subjects came up with an aggregate incidence of 1.8 percent who had had male to male sex during the previous year, with 3.3 percent reporting that they experienced male-to-male sexual contact occasionally or fairly often as adults, and five to seven percent estimate as having such contact ever. Another recent study, which incorporates the result of the studies and three additional post 1988 U.S. surveys, gives a mean of 5.5 percent male, 2.5 percent female, for lifetime same-sex contact. The latest major survey of more than three thousand subjects gives slightly higher numbers: among sexually active women, 1.3 percent reported at least one female partner in the previous year; among sexually active men, 2.8 percent reported at least one male partner in the previous year.10
Schmidt went on to observe, "we should understand that some homosexuals do not experience same-sex relations in a given year, while some who do experience same sex relations in a given year are not homosexuals."
An observation made by Dr. Paul Cameron of The Family Research Institute (FRI) is that the average age of the first homosexual experience is 13 years old11 whose partner is usually an adult male.
Other aspects of the lifestyle are:
*This practice is the source of the plague of AIDS in the United States. A Canadian flight attendant named Gaetan Dugas ("Patient Zero") is identified as having introduced it into this country; he was the initial carrier of the virus. Before his death in 1984, Dugas estimated that he had coupled with 2,500 partners in New York and California. The places he frequented were bathhouses, rest rooms, bars, and motels. Even after doctors told him that he had a fatal, transmittable disease, he still engaged in sex. Often after the act was completed, he would face his partner and say, "Guess what? I have gay cancer."12 Studies by the FRI indicate that the practice of having unprotected sex by an infected person is still widely practiced today.
* The average life expectancy of a man in the homosexual lifestyle is 41 years; with AIDS factored in, the age is reduced to 39.1.13
* A study of 15,565 gay men has determined that, independent of
HIV infection, homosexual men are 24 times more apt to get anal
cancer than men in the general population. 14 In addition, there
appears something the doctors refer to as "gay bowel syndrome" that is found almost exclusively among homosexual men.
* 41% of homosexuals have had over 500 encounters; 28 percent have had over 1000.15
* With the threat of AIDS, sexual contacts average 47 per year, 76 during pre-AIDS years.16
* 35% of homosexuals are alcoholics.16
* 78% of homosexuals have been infected by some form of STD.17
* 67% of all AIDS cases are directly attributable to homosexual conduct, and 50 percent of male homosexuals in San Francisco are now infected with the HIV virus that causes AIDS - up from 7 percent in the early 1980s.18
* There are more ex-homosexuals in America than there are active practicing homosexuals.19
Dr. Leicester Longden puts a balanced perspective on this issue when he said, "In spite of the cultural assaults that attach the label of ‘hate speech’ to biblical affirmations of human sexuality, we must not abandon hurting people by retreating to a safe haven of 'correct' teaching. A robust theological defense of our church’s position on homosexuality must be accompanied by dynamic ministries that welcome homosexual people into the transforming power of the gospel in the midst of congregations."20
Finally one must take a "common sense" approach in looking at the ways that men and women are physically constructed. It is obvious that the various parts of their bodies were meant to come together as pieces of a puzzle in order to effect human reproduction.
From Biblical, medical, behavioral, and logical perspectives this does not commend itself as a healthy way of life. Perhaps the best commentary on this practice comes from one who was actually in it:
I’m very scared to die such a young man. I’d like a little more time. I lived in the fast lane. If only God will give me a break.
- 28-year-old man infected with AIDS, Time, August 12, 1985
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1. Evangelicalism in Modern American Methodism: Theological Conservatives in the "Great Deep" of the Church, 1900-1980; doctoral dissertation submitted by Dr. Glenn Spann to The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland; 1984, pp. ii and 4. Published by UMI Company, Ann Arbor, Michigan; p. 29. A copy may be ordered by calling 800/521-0600 or 734/761-4700 and asking for UMI dissertation number: 9523868.
2. "The Devastating Legacy of Liberalism" by Dr. James Heidinger, Good News Magazine (Wilmore, Kentucky: The Forum for More Spiritual Christianity).
3. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan-Collier, 1960), pp. 55-56.
4. John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley (Oxford, England: Clarington Press, 1980), Vol. 10, p. 141. As quoted in "How Wesleyans Do Theology" by Dr. Allan Coppedge, p. 10; from Doing Theology in Today’s World by John D. Woodbridge and Thomas Edward McComiskey (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House), 1991, pp. 267-289.
5. G. K. Chesterton, as quoted in "Who Broke the Baby?" by Dr. Jean Garton (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers), 1998, p. 124.
References provided in the book At the Crossroads and on website:
The Good Stuff – Protected by prayer
A missionary would take a two-day journey periodically to the city to get money out of a bank, purchase medical supplies, and then hop on his motorcycle for the trip back to his small hospital in the African jungle.
One time, while in the city he stopped a fight between two men, and bandaged up one who had been badly injured. The next day, he got on his motorcycle en route to his next stop to purchase the medical supplies. He spent the night in the jungle, as was his custom, and continued on to get the supplies. He made his purchase and then returned to the hospital.
On another trip to the city some months later, he met the man whom he had bandaged. There was a confession: he admitted that he had gotten several of his companions and planned to attack the missionary, kill him, and take his money. When asked why he did not do it, the African replied that just as they were about to move into his small camp, 26 men came out of the jungle, surrounded the missionary as he lay sleeping, and would not let anything harm him. The missionary replied, "There must be some mistake. I was alone in the camp." The African was adamant; there were 26 men. When they appeared so suddenly, he counted them, and knew that there was no way that their small group of men could get in and take the missionary's money.
The missionary forgot about the incident until months later when he was on furlough and telling the story at his home church in Michigan. At that time, one of the men stood up and asked him when it had happened; the missionary told him the date. The man then stated that he was on the golf course at that precise time in the United States when he felt an overwhelming urge to pray for that particular missionary. He gathered other men from the congregation, met at the church, and prayed for the missionary. The man then asked all of the guys in the congregation who had prayed for the missionary to stand. 25 other men stood up - 26 in all.
- The Foundation for Christian Living; reprinted from New-Life Witnesses, chapter 8, pp. 81 ,82.
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They walked in tandem, each of the ninety-two students filing into the already crowded auditorium. With rich maroon gowns flowing and the traditional caps, they looked almost as grown up as they felt. Dads swallowed hard behind broad smiles, and Moms freely brushed away tears.
This class would not pray during the commencements----not by choice, but because of a recent court ruling prohibiting it. The principal and several students were careful to stay within the guidelines allowed by the ruling. They gave inspirational and challenging speeches, but no one mentioned divine guidance and no one asked for blessings on the graduates or their families. The speeches were nice, but they were routine.....until the final speech received a standing ovation.
A solitary student walked proudly to the microphone. He stood still and silent for just a moment, and then, it happened. All 92 students, every single one of them, suddenly SNEEZED!!!! The student on stage simply looked at the audience and said,
"GOD BLESS YOU, each and every one of you!" And he walked off stage...The audience exploded into applause. The graduating class found a unique way to invoke God’s blessing on their future with or without the court's approval.
This happened at the University of Maryland.
- Received by e-mail.
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To trust Jesus Christ as your Savior
1. Recognize that Jesus loves you and wants you to have a relationship with him. Rev. 3:20, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in…"
2. Recognize that you are a sinner. Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…."
3. Recognize that Christ died for your sins on the cross. Romans 3:24, "and [all] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came from Christ Jesus."
4. Recognize that you need to make the conscious decision to accept what Christ did for you – like you would any other gift.
Published by: Concerned Methodists, P.O. Box 2864, Fayetteville, NC 28302. Tel.: 910/488-4379 FAX: 910/488-5090
Website:www.cmpage.org E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org