Next month, the United Methodist Church will meet in St. Louis to vote on what is being billed as the One Church Plan, a comprehensive measure recommended by the Council of Bishops that would revise their Book of Discipline. The revision would include instructions for celebrating same-sex marriages and ordaining openly LGBT clergy. The revision would also include conscience protections for conferences (outside the US), clergy, and laypersons who object to such practices. One church, two views of marriage. Only time will tell how long this unity on the basis of theological diversity will hold.
Reading through the document report itself is an exercise in patience—both enduring the length and the theological gymnastics. Consider this working proposal for a new definition of marriage in the Book of Discipline (underlined portions are proposed additions, struck out portions are proposed deletions):
“Marriage—We affirm the sanctity of the monogamous marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity, traditionally understood as a union of one man and one woman.
between a man and a woman. We believe that God’s blessing rests upon such marriage, whether or not there are children of the union. We reject social norms that assume different standards for women than for men in marriage. Where laws in civil society define marriage as union between two adults, no United Methodist clergy shall be required to celebrate or bless a same-sex union. We support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”
A few things immediately jump out. Why the new insistence on “monogamy” as constituent of marriage? If you can no longer define marriage according to nature, as between one man and one woman, then the naturally restrictive, complementary binary (one man and one woman) is no longer implicit. The binary must be made explicit. But it is arbitrary now.
What prevents this new line in the sand from suffering the same fate as “between a man and a woman” and “We support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman”? Doesn’t this new definition exclude the UMC polyamorists, some of whom would be implicitly included under the “B” (bisexual) of any LGBT accommodation, in whose name this is being proposed in the first place?
Elsewhere, the report assures the UMC that the One Church Plan “affirms clear teaching [sic] of the bible that promiscuity, whether among persons who are straight or gay, is neither a healthy nor a holy lifestyle.” I am interested in learning more about the hermeneutic that finds this notion of promiscuity more clearly prohibited than homosexuality in the Bible.
Finally, I do not know the history of the clause, “We reject social norms that assume different standards for women than for men in marriage,” or the extent of its meaning and implications in the UMC (personally, I think it is poorly worded if it is trying to abolish male headship in the home), but it is telling that this is not a new addition with this revision. That ship has already sailed, and following in its wake is a new cultural accommodation frigate.
For as many years as our organization has existed, CBMW has been making the argument that the issue of men’s and women’s roles in the home and the church is directly related to the issue of upholding a biblical sexuality. In 1990, John Piper made this point explicitly in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood when he wrote,
“[W]e believe that the feminist minimization of sexual role differentiation contributes to the confusion of sexual identity that, especially in second and third generations, gives rise to more homosexuality in society.”
“To us it is increasingly and painfully clear that Biblical feminism is an unwitting partner in unravelling the fabric of complementary manhood and womanhood that provides the foundation not only for Biblical marriage and Biblical church order, but also for heterosexuality itself” (RBMW, pp. 75, 76).
At the base of both issues is whether or not men and women are interchangeable. If someone concedes the functional interchangeability of men and women in the home and the church, then they have already opened the doors to their sexual interchangeability. If there truly is no meaningful difference between male and female headship in the home and the church, then it follows naturally that men and women are interchangeable not only functionally—a woman can do anything a man can do, period—but also sexually and even ontologically—a woman can be anything a man can be, period.
Under such reasoning, the difference between a man who chooses to marry a man and a man who chooses to marry a woman is arbitrary, subjective, and negligible. Can’t both men and women perform the same functions in the home and the church? What is more, if a woman can be anything a man can be, what prohibits her from simply becoming a man?
There have been numerous examples of this connection between egalitarian theology and the acceptance of homosexual marriage and the ever-expanding LGBT ideology over the past half-century. I often cite the anecdotal evidence that you cannot point to a single church or denomination that is doctrinally complementarian and also same-sex marriage affirming. But never have I seen such a direct connection than this UMC One Church Plan report provides. Part of the rationale cited in the report for taking this new step is how the UMC handled the issue of women’s ordination in the past:
“Over 60 years ago United Methodists followed this admonition when its members decided to ordain women over the objection of many who did not believe scripture supported the practice and found little backing for it in the tradition of the church. At that time the church accepted a new practice that led to mutual edification and over time, resisted the impulse to judge each other in the midst of disagreement. Such changes, including those we now contemplate in the One Church Plan, are formed in the desire to be responsive to the movement of the Holy Spirit and our common humility before God.”
According to this paragraph, the UMC decided to ordain women “over the objection of many who did not believe scripture supported the practice and found little backing for it in the tradition of the church.” What justified overruling such concerns? The same impulse that justifies the affirmation of LGBT ideology: a “desire to be responsive to the movement of the Holy Spirit” that believes the Spirit works apart from, or even in contradiction to, the Word. But this ignores the Scripture’s clear witness that responding to the Word is responding to the Spirit (cf. 2 Tim 3:16–17).
Here is the bottom line: the same hermeneutic that can sideline the clear prohibitions against female headship in the church and the home in Genesis 2, Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, 1 Corinthians 11 and 14, 1 Timothy 2, Titus 2—not to mention overturning millennia of church consensus—is the same hermeneutic that can twist the Scriptures in Leviticus 18 and 20, Matthew 19, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, 1 Timothy 1, and Jude 1, and shrug at its radical break with Christian tradition.
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