Same-Sex Marriage and the United Methodist Church

Last Saturday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling rippled through our nation, establishing same-sex marriage as a constitutional right. What is important to remember is the difference between the role of the judicial branch and the role of the Church. Supreme Court Justices are charged with determining if a law is constitutional. The Church is charged with proclaiming and interpreting God’s Word, giving us a plumb line for daily living.

The Supreme Court decision speaks directly to the legal issues of marriage. A marriage is a legal contract. The Church, through the centuries, has distinguished between a sacred and secular marriage. Some choose to begin their marriage within the Church while others choose to begin their marriage before a Justice of the Peace. The United Methodist Book of Discipline, which is changed only by the General Conference which meets every four years, is responsible for providing rules for how we live as United Methodists. General Conference, which meets again in May 2016, will be considering many pieces of legislation. Their actions will shape and form the United Methodist Book of Discipline regarding our understanding of Christian marriage.

I have listened to many people speak on this topic, some beginning their statements with, “But the Bible says…” and then continue to frame their argument. While I am certain it is not always the intent of the person speaking to use the Bible as a weapon, it has sometimes felt that way to me. The Rev. Adam Hamilton, of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, states in his blog that he has been studying the Bible for a long time:

“But, 37 years of studying the Bible has also taught me that the Bible is at times complicated. Within its pages we learn of the heart, character, and will of God, but we also find on its pages things that we might question. Things that seem to reflect the culture and the times the biblical authors lived in more than the timeless will of God.”

Clear-cut answers are not easily discovered as we seek the truth. For example, slavery and polygamy are both acceptable practices in the Bible. The Bible is like a multi-faceted diamond that contains many kinds of literature to bless and guide God’s people: Law, History, Prophets, Poetry, Gospels, and Epistles. Each type of literature has a different purpose. We need not be afraid of digging deeper into God’s Word and applying a Wesleyan approach as we seek the truth. Using the four lenses of the Wesleyan quadrilateral: scripture (which is primary), experience, reason, and tradition, in a spirit of seeking and prayer, will help us find our way. Additionally we can choose to follow the call of St. Francis of Assisi seeking to console rather than to be consoled, to understand rather than to be understood, to love rather than to be loved.

The Supreme Court’s ruling will influence the conversation about our denomination’s stance on homosexuality. I invite you to pray for our Bishops across the nation, pray for our clergy, pray for our congregations, and pray for the gay community that we can continue to seek the path God intends for us. Your prayers are cherished.

Your Servant in Christ,

The Rev. Dr. Cathy Johns

Posted in Weekly.