By Janine Warrington
From Saturday, Feb. 23 to Tuesday, Feb. 26, a special session of the United Methodist Church (UMC) General Conference took place. Nearly 1,000 delegates from across the globe gathered in St. Louis to discuss the global denomination’s official stances on same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ+ individuals. Ultimately, what is called the “Traditional Plan” passed, stating essentially that LGBTQ+ individuals cannot be ordained ministers in the UMC, and that same-sex marriages cannot be performed by UMC clergy.
Over the course of these four days, many arguments were put forward, but a commitment to biblical values was a major factor in the support of the Traditional Plan. TheRev. Jerry Kula of Liberia, for example, stated, “The Traditional Plan is not only traditional but biblical; it ensures God’s word remains foundational to the life and growth of the UMC.” Others have posted their reactions to the proceedings online, such as Skipper who writes, “How easy it is for people to reject the God-given lifestyle of the Bible and make up their own.”
As a student of biblical studies at a Methodist school of theology, I share this commitment to the sacred Scripture. I believe in the authority and influence of the Bible, and therefore I believe that interpretation and application of the Bible should be taken seriously and done responsibly. Unfortunately, the Traditional Plan is not the result of responsible biblical interpretation.
After the vote passing the Traditional Plan, Jeffrey Kuan, president of Claremont School of Theology and delegate for the California-Nevada conference, proposed an amendment which would change the wording of this plan. Rather than excluding only “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from ministry, Kuan proposed that the plan should read “self-avowed practicing homosexual, polygamist, divorced, and remarried individuals.” Kuan, a biblical scholar, made this motion in order to expose the hypocrisy of the Traditional Plan in “placing restrictions on the ordination of homosexuals instead of everyone involved in what the Bible and the UMC’s Book of Discipline indicates is sexual sin.”
Not only does this plan disproportionately emphasize certain biblical issues over others, but it ignores the context of the few verses in the Bible that directly address same-sex relationships. In reference to these traditional arguments, New Testament professor James V. Brownson writes that “the most common attempts to explain the underlying moral logic that shapes this outlook are inadequate and unhelpful.” Brownson’s analysis of the basis for traditional arguments reveals an underlying concern for gender hierarchies and anatomical differences which are not biblically sound.
The UMC claims that the Bible is the Word of God, and that God was active in the writing and canonization of the Bible and continues to be active in our interpretation of the Bible. To hold this belief demands that we take our interpretation of this Sacred Word seriously. This means that we can’t neglect some passages of the Bible in preference of others, we can’t ignore the context of these words, and we can’t apply certain passages to current situations without thoughtful and prayerful study of those passages.
As the UMC and the wider Christian community moves forward following this historic decision, we must be careful about the way we use the Bible. The responsibility which God has given us to interpret and apply God’s Word is weighty. As we engage in this conversation and the decisions which must now be made, I challenge us to return to Scripture with fresh eyes and open hearts, remembering that this is not a rhetorical weapon to be wielded as we walk into battle with our siblings in Christ, but rather the living, breathing Word of a loving Creator, Mother, and Savior. May our readings, interpretations, and applications be guided by such love.