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Bishop, Disciple Bible Study Author, Says Bible Favors Homosexuality At Epworth-by-the-Sea Camp Meeting

March 17, 1999

The “good ship Methodism” recently took a direct “hit” during the Tuesday morning Bible study at Winter Camp Meeting, February 9, at Epworth-by-the-Sea, St. Simons Island, Georgia. The “hit” was directed at the heart of our belief in the authority of Holy Scripture, the Book of Discipline and the Council of Bishops’ Pastoral Letter to the church last spring.

The deadly attack came subtly, couched in a moment of lightheartedness. And from no marauding external enemy did it come. What made this attack so cruel and destructive was that it came from one of our own.

Bishop Richard Wilke was teaching from the Book of Revelation, the seven letters to the seven churches in chapters two and three. In his teaching on the church at Pergamos he pointed out that the condemnation of this church resulted from its embracing the teachings of the Nicolaitans. These persons, according to Wilke, were perhaps legalists in the church. After offering several examples of Jewish legalism, he said that we are dealing with the same kind of issue in our denomination regarding the same sex covenant and homosexual issue. He went on to say that our problem in this area is that some of us were being entirely too legalistic regarding same sex marriages and that time would prove this to be the case.

(I thought it ironic that in his teaching on the very next church, Thyatira, condemned for tolerating Jezebel, the bishop said that the problem with that church was that they had allowed the values of the world to infiltrate the church.)

Following the Bible study, Bishop Wilke was approached by a South Georgia Conference minister, Rev. Billy Key, to make sure he had not misunderstood what was said. “No sir,” responded Wilke, “you heard me correctly. We are entirely too legalistic in this matter, and it will probably take the church fifty years to pray it through.” As I looked on, Wilke abruptly turned and walked away from Rev. Key, evidently not wishing to discuss the issue further.

If the bishop’s theology and reasoning are taken to their logical conclusion, it would appear that the solution to any sin listed in Scripture is simply a matter of “lightening-up” being more tolerant and refraining from legalistic attitudes. That being the case, why do we need the sacrificial atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ for the sins of the world?

Bishop Wilke’s teaching struck at the heart of our belief in the authority of Holy Scripture and our Book of Discipline. It also scuttles the significance of the Council of Bishops’ “Pastoral Letter to the Church” last spring in which we were made to believe that there was consensus among our bishops regarding same sex covenants. Evidently Wilke, like Melvin Tolbert and others, signed it “tongue in cheek.”

I have always had and continue to have the utmost respect for the office of “bishop” in our denomination. But Wilke has profaned that high office. It is indeed sad and ironic that the man who has received such acclaim for his work in Disciple Bible Study should be the very one to deliver such a cruel blow to the authority of the very Scriptures he claims to hold in such reverence.

In another day of the church, such teachings as we heard from the sacred pulpit at Epworth-by-the-Sea on February 9 would without hesitation have been called heresy. Today we call it pluralism and tolerance. I can’t help but wonder, however, what it is called by the ONE who continues to walk among His churches, searching out their works and their loyalty to Him.

Rev. Jim Hamlin
Pastor Fort Valley UMC
Fort Valley, Georgia 31030

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