The following Viewpoint was submitted to the editor of the United Methodist Relay, Voice of the New Jersey Area for the July/August issue. It was not run due to its length and the fact that 1999 appointments were being published. It is in response to a Viewpoint by Rev. David E. Wiley, III that was featured in Volume XLV, JUNE 1999, No. 5, Page 5.
What God Has Called Sin, Sin
by Bill McMahon
What follows really did happen to me. And maybe it happened to some of you.
When my company relocated me to New Jersey, the first order of business for my family was to find a church home. For my wife, the top priority was a place where we could study the Bible with those who believe it is the Word of God. For me, sermons that proclaimed the Good News of Jesus Christ were most important. And for both of us, it was essential to have a nurturing environment for our three young boys, now ages nine, seven and five. As we began to visit congregations in the area, I did not really expect to find a United Methodist Church that would meet our needs. My lifelong denomination was in crisis and I assumed things would be worse in the Northeast. Yet when we visited Flemington UMC our boys found a thriving childrens Sunday School program and new classes were being formed for adult Bible study. And during the time of worship, the pastor opened his Bible to John 14:6 and plainly explained that Jesus is the only way to receive eternal life. All men and women were born in sin and no one could approach our holy God based on his or her own righteousness. We had found our church home.
While I was taking a break from preparing my Sunday School lesson, I read the June issue of the UM Relay. I was taken aback by the viewpoint offered by David E. Wiley. Here was a UMC pastor and the secretary of the Northern New Jersey Conference using the Bible to justify same sex unions in our church. He used John 16:12-13 to explain that God had not fully revealed Himself through the Bible and that special revelations of truth continue to this day; revelations that may contradict the Bible.
While I take exception with Rev. Wileys contempt for the UM Discipline and his characterization of our church as "legalistic", I will focus on his imaginary story where a young man came to him seeking the blessing of his homosexual behavior. Incredibly, Rev. Wiley did not offer this young man the saving grace of Jesus Christ. The God who changed my life and rescued me from sin could surely handle this case. God has the power to changes lives. I will highlight three major flaws in Rev. Wileys approach:
First, to suggest that homosexuals are born this way and cannot change flies in the face of the testimony of all those who have left the gay lifestyle. Success rates of over 50% have been documented for secular psychology treatments. Faith-based programs offer even greater hope. The causes of homosexuality are complex, but are not entirely genetic. Research shows that the hormone experiences in the womb, the relationship with the parents and same sex peers, and childhood trauma play a role as well. But all these potential influences can be summarized in a simple statement. We live in a fallen world corrupted by sin. God did not create man and woman to be homosexual any more than He created us to be sinners. Our problem goes back to the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve introduced sin into the world. We are still suffering from their disobedience. Stating that a behavior is good because we are born that way rejects the doctrine of original sin. It is not easy to break out of any sinful lifestyle, which is why the grace of God is needed. Several faith-based programs are available to minister to those wishing to break the bonds of homosexuality including Exodus International, Redeemed Life Ministries and Personal Care Ministries.
There are those who think the Bible is unclear on the issue of homosexuality or that the Old Testament and the New Testament are in conflict. Rather than quote all the scriptures on the subject, I will quote Jesus himself:
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17)
Clearly our Lord is telling us that the sins of the Old Testament are still sins today. We must regard the entire Bible as Gods revelation; we cannot pick and choose.
Second, to suggest that this young man go "up the street" to the Unitarian Church shows total disregard for his eternal destiny. These folks deny the deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit. You cannot do away with the sin problem by simply redefining sin. Jesus warned:
"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it." (Matthew 7:13)
Humankind cannot broaden the path to heaven. Salvation by its very nature is exclusive and the threat of hell is real. I know that if any of my three boys fails to repent of his sins and put his faith in Jesus, he too will face an eternity of torment.
Finally, the fact that the young mans parents are faithful Methodists is all the more reason to offer the saving grace of Jesus to their son. If this were my son, I would want a pastor to lovingly point out the error of my childs way, not to bless the behavior as good! Furthermore, this young man cannot ride on the coattails of his parents faith. He must personally enter into a personal relationship with Jesus.
This is where Rev. Wiley should tread lightly. Again Jesus warns:
"And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!" (Matthew 18:5-6)
Perhaps you share my concern. I love my local church where I am fed and equipped to share the Gospel with those I encounter each day. Yet as I read the UM Relay each month and see the positions being taken by the leadership of the NNJ conference, I cannot see how our denomination can survive. It seems to me that we simply cannot reject our classical orthodox Christian doctrines and continue to call ourselves United Methodist or even call ourselves Christians. At least that is my viewpoint.
(Bill McMahon is a member Flemington United Methodist Church and is co-chair of the New Jersey Association of Confessing United Methodists.)