By Riley B. Case
One of the bishops who spoke in support of the General Conference’s action on homosexuality was Bishop Lindsey Davis of North Georgia. Davis is quoted as saying: “I think the church is right. I think we are very much in sync with historic Christianity and very much in sync with 99.9 percent of Christians in the world. I make no apology for our position. It is biblical, and it is in keeping with 2,000 years of Christian tradition.”
Bishop Davis may have overstated the case, but if so, not by much. The truth is that Christians in all places and at all times have almost unanimously agreed that marriage between a man and a woman is a Biblical “mystery” (a truth too deep for rational explanation) pointing to the relationship between Christ and the Church. The sexual ethic “faithfulness in marriage and celibacy in singleness” points to that mystery and precludes the blessing of homosexual practice.
The United Methodist Church stands with Christians around the world in proclaiming this mystery. To have declared otherwise, or even to have added a qualifier that “we disagree” about the practice of homosexuality and/or the definition of marriage would have placed us outside the mainstream of Christian tradition and identified us as an extremist sect, if not a cult.
Evangelicals as well as others affirm our church’s doctrine and discipline and place United Methodism within the mainstream of Christianity. We reject the idea that our stand on sexual morality is “sinful” (as one speaker during the demonstration at General Conference asserted), or “wrong” which was the word used by Bishop Melvin Talbert. We also reject the accusation that the action is “hateful,” “homophobic,” “intolerant,” and “unloving.” These accusations must be seen as being leveled not just against evangelicals and the action of the conference, but also against Christian standards as defined by the church through the ages. What appears to be taking place is that an alien church culture, fed by religious inclusivism, would be willing to deconstruct Christianity and replace it with an alternative ideology.
It is important to understand just how out-of-step this desire to deconstruct Christianity is. Issues of truth, or even morality, are not to be resolved by majority vote, but at the same time, one must have a powerful argument to overturn the overwhelming consensus of world Christianity.
How much of a consensus is there? In United States alone one can postulate a church membership of 200 million, of which about 14.6 million belong to the four most liberal denominations (UM, Presbyterian USA, Episcopal, and UCC). According to figures taken from the Connectional Table study 39% of UM’s strongly disagree or disagree somewhat with the statement on considering the practice of homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching (even this statistic is quite suspect because of the type of people surveyed). If that same percentage were applied to the other most liberal denominations, the total who disagrees with the church’s historic stand would total 5,759,000. If another 4.3 million are added from the most conservative denominations that would total 10 million, or 5% of the total Christians in the United States. Even if we were to double this figure (20 million) this still represents only 10% of American Christians.
But Americans represent only 10% of the world’s Christians (200 million out of 2 billion-figures taken from the World Christian Encyclopedia, 2000 figures). Except for Canada and Europe, the rest of the world stands strongly with the Scriptures and with tradition on the matter of homosexuality. No matter how the statistics are figured, anywhere from 95%-98% of the world’s Christians do not believe the practice of homosexuality is consistent with Christian teaching.
Granted, interpretation of statistics is an imprecise science. Still, however the statistics are analyzed, it is difficult to come to any other conclusion than that the blessing of homosexual practice is anything other than an extremist position within world Christianity. It is also possible to argue that no Christian groups (except the cults) have ever redefined marriage to mean anything other than between a man and a woman.
Our United Methodist stand is, if anything, far more sensitive than much of the rest of the Christian world. We support civil rights for all people; we (including the evangelicals) believe that homophobia is to be resisted; we affirm the sacred worth of all individuals. We confess that as a denomination we have not always lived up to our own standards. But our church’s stand is right.