Evangelical Renewal Fellowship
A Statement on Homosexual Unions
December 7, 1998
The Evangelical Renewal Fellowship (ERF), an informal fellowship of pastors and laity which holds to the United Methodist Discipline, opposes the planned ceremony to bless a homosexual union as though it were a true marriage. This ceremony is being planned by the Rev. Don Fado of St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Sacramento, CA. From sixty to eighty other pastors are evidently planning to join him in an act of "ecclesiastical disobedience."
We oppose these plans and what they represent for the following reasons:
Why does the ERF oppose gay "marriage"?
We oppose gay "marriage" because it is not true marriage. We are first of all faithful to Scripture, recognizing Scripture as " . . . the primary source and criterion for Christian doctrine," (The Discipline, ¶63, p. 75). Scripture only mentions homosexual behavior a few times, but every time with disapproval. Homosexual behavior is not the worst sin - all sins separate us from God.
Scripture is overwhelmingly heterosexual beginning with creation. When asked about the permissibility of divorce, Jesus points us back to creation, saying, "Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate," (Matthew 19:4-6 NRSV)
In the Hebrew context in which Jesus ministered, it was unlikely that homosexuality would have been an issue about which Jesus might have been asked. Mostly likely, had he been asked, Jesus would have pointed back to creation just as he did for divorce. Jesus granted exceptions to divorce due to human sinfulness. No such exceptions are made for homosexual behavior. God's creation is heterosexual.
Reason teaches us, as we observe God's creation with rational and logical thinking, that sexual relations between people of the same sex are impossible. No children can be born of same-sex relationships. Physical contact between people of the same sex which is so often considered "sexual" is only an imitation of the real thing. Many of these imitations cause physical damage to the body and spread disease. We do not support gay "marriage" as part of God's good creation. They are due to human sinfulness spoiling God's creation.
Centuries of Old and New Testament and Church traditions also oppose homosexual behavior. Opposition to homosexual behavior goes back over thousands of years and is not new in our time. Even non-Christian cultures and other major world religions oppose homosexual behavior. A few have argued that homosexual unions were conducted in medieval Europe; many other scholars disagree. Even if they were conducted back then, many aberrations crept into the church during that time, aberrations which now both Protestants and Catholics disavow.
Scientific evidence concerning the causes of homosexual behavior is tentative and uncertain at this point. Scientific evidence would have to be overwhelming to outweigh centuries of unanimous tradition. And even if the "cause" of homosexual behavior was found to be genetic that would not rule out seeking genetic therapy for this condition. And should this deterministic view of human behavior become generally accepted, the repercussions for race relations and equality between the sexes would be immense. If homosexual behavior is genetically determined, why not racial stereotypes and differences in behavior between the sexes? We should be extremely sure of our genetics before we change our morality which has worked for generations.
Finally experience teaches us that homosexual behavior is often accompanied by distress, unhappiness and a lack of fulfilment. Many who once participated in homosexual behavior have left those practices behind. They tell us not only of the possibility of change but of the pain of many in those lifestyles. As many as 20% of the population has struggled with this issue at some point in their lives. Another 5% or so have actually engaged in homosexual behavior but no longer do so. Only about 2% of the population actually engages in homosexual behavior on a regular basis and not all of those are identified with the gay community. Many active homosexual people are in denial of their problem, and they protest loudly that they are happy. A homosexual union only enables this denial and allows it to continue.
Fewer than 5% of gay men have faithful monogamous relationships, while women become co-dependent on one another in their relationships. Their relationships often become unhealthy, but for opposite reasons than for men. On the other hand, ministries with ex-gays report change and transformation rates such as 50%. Which solution to the problems of homosexuality is more likely to succeed especially among men: the 5% rate for male homosexual unions or the 50% rate for transformation? We think the latter. God has designed men and women for each other - men to pull away and women to pull into the relationship. Same-sex relationships just do not work! (For more information about these rates, see, Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth by Jeffrey Satinover, M.D., Baker Books, 1996)
Conducting such ceremonies gives approval to homosexual behavior and leads to persecution of those who have changed and dare to tell their stories. Ex-gays are silenced, intimidated from speaking out and attacked. Even the Los Angeles City Council and others tried to prevent a convention of therapists who treat ex-gays from meeting, raising fears that qualified therapy would be denied to those who want to change. It is only a matter of time before such verbal violence becomes physical violence. Recognizing this concern, the 1996 United Methodist General Conference by 81% passed the statement, "We also commit ourselves to social witness against the coercion and marginalization of former homosexuals," (¶66H).
Is this a matter of civil rights?
Most certainly not. Societies have always regulated marriages for the benefit of society and future children. One may not marry a close relative. Multiple marriage is outlawed. Marriage is by definition between people of opposite sexes. Anyone who is not already married is free to marry anyone else of the opposite sex who is not already married, provided they are not a close relative. Gay men and lesbian women are free to marry anyone of the opposite sex with the same restrictions any heterosexual has. Many gay men and lesbian women have married persons of the opposite sex. The restrictions on marriage are applied equally to all regardless of whether the person is homosexual or heterosexual. Just because a right is voluntarily not used, does not mean that right is denied. This is not a matter of civil rights; it is a matter of changing the definition of marriage.
State laws already allow for hospital visitation, legal inheritance and property ownership. None of this requires that our churches bless homosexual unions.
Why does the ERF oppose the planned homosexual union?
In addition to our reasons above, we are greatly concerned about the covenant we make as United Methodists. By joining The United Methodist Church and accepting service as pastors in that church, we make a voluntary covenant to obey its order and discipline. As United Methodists we have many practices and beliefs which are unique to our church; there are also other practices and beliefs which we reject. We believe in infant baptism; other churches do not. We have episcopal government; other churches do not. It is of the nature of voluntary organizations to set their membership requirements. No one must join The United Methodist Church. No one must stay a member.
One of the unique features of The United Methodist Church is government by the General Conference. Even Bishops are subject to General Conference. General Conference delegates are elected by the Annual Conferences according to membership size, and the majority rules at General Conference. The 1996 General Conference passed by 63% the statement, "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches." Questions were raised about the meaning of the statement. The United Methodist Judicial Council (the "supreme court" of our church) has ruled three times now that the statement is proper and also that it is a chargeable offense. Whether we like it or not, it is the law of the church, and we are duty bound to follow it as pastors and laity.
What about those pastors who say The United Methodist Church has broken covenant with them?
Back in the sixties and seventies, when the sexual revolution was in full swing and "do your own thing" was popular, the pluralistic approach to theology was popular. The 1972 General Conference placed such a pluralistic statement in our Discipline. However, times changed. In 1988, the pluralistic statement was removed, and the present statement concerning the primacy of Scripture was inserted in its place. General Conference has the right to do that in our system. General Conference has the right to fix the duties of pastors, including duties to bless some relationships and to not bless some others. All United Methodist pastors are required to take a course in seminary concerning our church structure. All of us recognize the possibility that General Conference will make changes in the future; such changes are not a violation of the covenant. They are part of the covenant.
Times have changed. The sexual revolution is over. We welcome a growing concern for morality in our country. The majority of United Methodists consider homosexual behavior as immoral and do not want to approve it. At the same time, they do not want to see violence or discrimination directed against those who are part of the gay or lesbian community. Those who support these homosexual unions in our conference are part of a decreasing minority in our church. It is time for them to get with the modern age which is ending the sexual revolution as a bad experiment which has brought poverty, child abuse, disease, marginalization of women and children and divorce.
What should those who want to conduct homosexual unions do?
As we have said, there are practices and beliefs which are part of United Methodism. These are determined by General Conference. There are churches which allow homosexual unions, such as The United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Church. A pastor who would not perform infant baptisms out of conscience would be invited to join a church which only practices adult baptism. Those who must out of conscience perform homosexual unions should join a church which will not violate their conscience.
It should be pointed out that every United Methodist, pastor and lay person, has the right to petition General Conference for changes in the Discipline. We may advocate change but we do not have the right to practice that change until the change becomes law. One might advocate that the speed limit on Interstate 5 become 100 miles an hour, but one does not have the right to drive at that speed until if and when it becomes law. Those who want to conduct homosexual unions similarly have the right to petition General Conference to make these changes.
When Martin Luther said, "Here I stand, I can do no other," he was forced to leave the Roman Catholic Church and founded the Protestant movement.
What about "ecclesiastical disobedience"?
Our nation and our church both have a tradition of civil disobedience in the face of laws which we consider unjust. Our United Methodist Discipline recognizes in ¶68E the right of civil disobedience as long as the individuals involved are willing to pay the penalty for their disobedience out of respect for the law. Even then we recognize this right only ". . . after exhausting all legal recourse." We see this planned ceremony as different for two reasons: first, all legal recourse to change our church's law have not been exhausted. And secondly, one only leaves one's country with great difficulty when laws become unjust. Our church is a voluntary association to which no one who disagrees in conscience is forced to belong. Rather than "ecclesiastical disobedience," those who favor homosexual unions should exercise their rights to change the system.
Who is being blessed in this ceremony?
Jeanne Barnett and Ellie Charlton, the two women who have volunteered for this ceremony, have both served their church and conference in many capacities and have been faithful stewards of the gifts that God has given them. They are both pleasant and nice people. We have no quarrel with them as persons. We do not hate them. We want the best for them.
According to an article in the Sacramento Bee, Jeanne and Ellie blessed their relationship in a ceremony years ago. It is obvious that this ceremony is being conducted for political reasons, not for the benefit of their relationship. In fact the exposure will only put stress on both people and all concerned. (See the Fall 1992 issue of Open Hands, p. 12-13 for Jeanne and Ellie's stories in their own words.)
What happens to the conference judicial system?
The math is simple. The Discipline requires a panel of 35 elders in full connection to be called as potential jurors in a church trial. If 70 pastors participate, panels numbering 2,450 elders would be required. For the trial, 13 jurors are required, meaning the participation of 910 elders. The Journal shows that there are 629 elders in our conference, (p. 79). It may take active pastors years to try so many people. Each elder would have to be called at least four times to be on a panel of 35.
Our United Methodist system is voluntary. It was not designed to be legalistic. These efforts are likely to bring even more stricter laws from future General Conferences which will make our system more and more legalistic. If our covenant together becomes legalistic, that same covenant will be destroyed. For a legalistic covenant is really a secular contract which the world knows all too well. We fear what our church might become if we cannot abide voluntarily in our covenant together.
Why should other United Methodists be concerned?
A strong and united church is desperately needed today to minister in our weak moral climate. People are flocking to churches which set moral standards. We are concerned about lying, cheating, stealing as well as loose sexual standards. Immorality weakens families and causes divorce. Divorce has economic repercussions as more housing and more jobs are needed. The impact on children has been negative. The waste in human life and potential has been tremendous. The Bible constantly admonishes us to care for widows and orphans; today widows and orphans are being created by our lack of morality. A church which cannot minister to this modern age in its great need for renewed morality will be irrelevant in the next century.
How can we oppose adultery, sexual harassment, child abuse and other sexual misconduct, and at the same time change our time honored stands on homosexual behavior? If homosexual behavior is no longer a sin, why should adultery still be a sin?
We are not saying that gay men and lesbians are destroying families. In many ways they are the victims of our dysfunctional families as much as heterosexuals are. Sexual brokenness exists even more among heterosexuals. We need compassionate ways to minister to those in sexual brokenness without advocating that this same sexual brokenness continue in the next generation.
Homosexual unions are a band aid approach to a difficult problem, a problem which requires more serious surgery than a band aid. The prophet Jeremiah reminds us that the simplest and most pleasant solutions are not the right ones. The prophet Hananiah proposed an easy and popular solution; time proved Jeremiah right. (See Jeremiah 28: 1-17) The easy solutions of today's Hananiahs have no place in the church of tomorrow.
Our connection is worldwide. Our actions affect United Methodists all around the world as well as those who are yet to come. All United Methodists have a stake in the morality of tomorrow.
(Note: This statement was authored by Robert L. Kuyper, edited and adopted by the ERF group meeting at Modesto on December 7, 1998.)