St. Paul Addresses the LGBT Debate at the 2016 General Conference of the UMC


Paul of TarsusFrom the back corner door in a tense, crowded convention hall, a short, modestly dressed middle-aged man appears. He wears a beige shirt and pants with street-worn brown shoes. One look at him, and anyone could sense that he didn’t quite belong there. His face bears jagged, careworn lines from an arduous life of work and great sacrifice, and yet there is an otherworldly serenity about the way he carries himself. His eyes have a sharp intensity to them- critical, sad, and yet longing. He has olive-colored skin, a balding head with sparsely greying dark hair, and a thin beard. He doesn’t have a Conference delegate badge, and yet he confidently walks into the room as if he had always been there. Hardly anyone notices his arrival at first, but in a matter of moments, all of that is about to change.

It is late in the afternoon on May 18, 2016 in Portland, Oregon. The delegates of the 2016 General Conference of The United Methodist Church are once again embroiled in an emotionally passionate debate that has eventually taken center stage of every General Conference since 1972. It’s the debate over Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people. What should the church think about them? Is the practice of homosexuality and transgender people compatible or incompatible with Christian teaching? Is it right or wrong to host and celebrate their marriages? Can LGBT persons be ordained as clergy?

Every quadrenium the resolutions pour in, demonstrations are rallied, and delegates are asked to decide which “side” will hold the day for at least another four years. And they know full well that whatever they decide will deeply impact the ministry of the United Methodist Church and how well they can remain united as one body. One can glance around the room at the delegates and feel the immense weight of everything they must consider and vote into church law.

Emerging from a back corner of the convention hall, the visitor slowly makes his way up an aisle and to the desk of the presiding bishop. With a hand cupping the microphone, she quizzically engages this stranger. At first the bishop seems annoyed but then she suddenly freezes as the color drains from her face. She gazes up at the stranger for a few moments longer and then slowly stands. Her eyes never leave him.

Speaking into the microphone, the visibly shaken bishop says, “Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, our General Conference has voted on parliamentary rules which I am required as your Presiding Bishop to uphold, but I am making an extraordinary decision to unilaterally suspend these rules in light of the person I am about to introduce. Brothers and sisters, I offer the floor to none other… than the Apostle Paul of Tarsus.”

Stunned silence overtakes the room followed by a rash of whispering. “Is she crazy?” “Who orchestrated this?” “She doesn’t have the authority to do that!” “Who did she say he is?”

Amidst the growing clamor, Paul begins to speak in a clear, calm voice. He adds no hint of polish or flourish to his words, and yet he speaks with a methodical, earnest passion:

“My dear brothers and sisters, yes, it is I, your brother Paul of Tarsus, an apostle sent not from any person but rather from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I have watched your proceedings with great interest over these last 44 years, and at the bidding of Christ Jesus, I have come to bring you a word from the Lord. May the Holy Spirit enlighten the eyes of your heart to my gospel, which I faithfully preached throughout the world. I now proclaim this same gospel to you.

“Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to embrace any form of legal marriage, but another embraces only heterosexual marriage. The one who embraces both same-sex and heterosexual marriage equally must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not embrace same-sex marriage must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

“One person considers one form of marriage more sacred than another; another considers both same-sex and heterosexual marriages alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards only one form of marriage as sanctified does so to the Lord. Whoever regards same-sex marriage equally sanctified with heterosexual marriage does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever does not, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

“You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written:

‘”As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.'”

“So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that monogamous, covenanted same-sex and heterosexual marriages are right and holy. But if anyone regards something as not holy, then for that person it is not holy. If your brother or sister is distressed because of your convictions, you are no longer acting in love. Do not let your advocacy for what you deem to be just and holy destroy someone for whom Christ died. Do not let what you know is good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of sex and marriage, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.

“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of sex and marriage. All legal marriages are good, but it is wrong for a person to advocate for what they deem to be just and holy in a way that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to self-righteously or angrily advocate for your beliefs and convictions or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.

“So whatever you believe about these things, keep yourselves humble and open, as if this matter was between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they force themselves to go along with something they believe to be wrong, because their acquiescence is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”

At that, Paul bowed his head, backed away from the microphone and quietly exited the hall. He would never be seen or heard from again.

Once more the hall was subdued into stunned silence. No one shouted amen. No one flinched. Then after a few minutes, an elderly statesman of the church stood up from his seat and said, “Bishop, for the sake of our whole church, gay and straight, of any gender, and of any conviction thereof, I rise to offer this motion…”

(The main body of Paul’s speech is a hermeneutical application of Romans 14:1-15:7)

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22 Comments

Filed under Reflections

22 responses to “St. Paul Addresses the LGBT Debate at the 2016 General Conference of the UMC

  1. David Whitlock

    Thanks, Chris, diving in . . hope to get back to you – Dave Whitlock

    Date: Thu, 9 Jan 2014 14:23:40 +0000 To: dkwhit76@hotmail.com

  2. David Whitlock

    Thanks, may I share, Chris? – Dave Whitlock, Webster, NY laity

    Date: Thu, 9 Jan 2014 14:23:40 +0000 To: dkwhit76@hotmail.com

  3. David J. Whitlock

    Thanks. Thoughtful. Gotta open Paul’s letter . . soon

  4. It is a sad day when even an atheist sees the madness of this: To quote: “If you’re a “Christian” who thinks that you can somehow reconcile homosexuality or bisexuality with your “faith”, then I think you’re sorely missing the point of what being a Christian is supposed to be about. If you simply admitted to being an atheist, then it would be less offensive, but I think you’re lying when you try to misrepresent Christianity in such a way.” http://agalltyr.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/the-ten-commandments-are-against-homosexuality/

    • Matthew Chiglinsky

      Oh, I wrote an even more general post about my annoyance with false “Christians” a long time ago:

      “This post used to be titled ‘Why I Hate Jesus’. Then I realized that I don’t really hate Jesus. I actually agree with some of the philosophy associated with him in the Bible … It’s ‘Christians’ I hate, because none of them can seem to agree on exactly what Jesus stands for (which often doesn’t agree with what I’ve read in the Bible either).”

      http://agalltyr.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/why-i-hate-christians/

    • Matthew Chiglinsky

      A little background on me:

      – I was raised Christian, so maybe I think like a Christian.
      – I collected pornography for years, and I tried to rationalize it as “art”.
      – I tried casual sex a couple times, but it was only fun for that moment.

      I can’t imagine how anyone finds homosexuality or even casual heterosexual sex to be satisfying on an emotional level. Forget what “God” thinks of you. What do you think of yourself? I’m sure it feels good, temporarily, but I can’t imagine how it could give anyone with a conscience any spiritual fulfillment long-term. It’s so meaningless, empty, and vain.

  5. Edmund Metheny

    Shouldn’t Paul have started his address by telling all the female clergy to move to the back of the auditorium and shut up?

    I am not sure that I agree entirely with Mr. Snow that you cannot reconcile Christian faith and support for homosexuality or bisexuality. But I do think that if you want to do so you need to do it the same way that you reconcile your Christian faith with a belief that slavery is wrong, that women are equal to men, and a bunch of other things – you must accept that there are certain parts of the Bible which may be interesting for historical purposes but which are ethically and morally faulty, and you must expiate those portions from the moral framework of your belief.

    In short, you have to accept the fact that there are certain things – many of them stated very clearly in the Bible – that you nonetheless don’t accept as being morally acceptable and aren’t going to do.

    Does that open a whole, huge can of icky, slimy worms? Yes. But no bigger a can of worms than trying to follow all the teachings of the Bible.

    • There are indeed cans of worms. But the claim that homosexual practice is okay, takes things to a new level – to a barrel of snakes perhaps, rather than just a can of worms. The Bible does not teach us that Christians must practise slavery. It teaches that the role of women differs from that of men, and it teaches that slavery is morally permissible. There is a difference between something being permissible, and something being a requirement. If a Christian chooses not to keep a slave, that Christian is not in violation of Scripture. But to proclaim homosexual practise as not sinful, is to violate Scripture. If homosexual practise was a mere matter of conscience, surely it would not have been treated so severely in the Old Testament, and would not have been listed repeatedly in the New Testament as not only sinful, but as a determining factor even for salvation itself (1 Cor. 6:9).

      • Edmund Metheny

        Stasisonline:

        1) Don’t preach at me. If I want to be preached at, there are local people here who can do it.
        2) Good attempt to pick only one of my two examples to rebut, but yes – I’m afraid I did, in fact, notice.
        3) http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/literalist-gluttony

      • “The Bible does not teach us that Christians must practise slavery. It teaches that the role of women differs from that of men, and it teaches that slavery is morally permissible. There is a difference between something being permissible, and something being a requirement. If a Christian chooses not to keep a slave, that Christian is not in violation of Scripture. But to proclaim homosexual practise as not sinful, is to violate Scripture.” Yes, this is a splendid illustration of the kind of religious precept that is immoral and need to be thrown away. With prejudice, and on all three counts (“role” of women, slavery, and homosexuality.) Thank you for supplying it.

  6. Chris, I was going to leave a long comment about (1) how this doesn’t fit with Pauline writings; (2) how many supposedly Pauline writings should be struck out of the canon anyway since we know they are later forgeries; (3) how the argument cannot constitute an institution-wide policy; (4) how somebody else’s outrage does not constitute a reason to abrogate convictions; and (5) how that still doesn’t address the dignity and equality of very real people. But I got to the comments section and I saw that you had your hands full with Christian arguing, you didn’t need a non-believer to raise those things. Instead, I will leave you with my own reading of the Sermon on the Mountain:

    “If your religious precepts causes you to be immoral, cruel, or unjust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your religion than for you to trample your own sense of right and wrong.”

    • mechanteanemone, I don’t want to sound dramatic, but that is clearly a twisting of the Sermon on the Mountain. Much of the New Testament talks of the battle between one’s spirit and one’s flesh, as does the section that you refer to (Mat. 5:29-30). Jesus’ words that “It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” simply does not translate to “It is better for you to lose one part of your religion than for you to trample your own sense of right and wrong.” Ironically, in my NIV this section of Matthew is subtitled “adultery”, and delineated as a teaching against sexual sin, yet you turn it into a whitelisting of sexual sin.

      Lets not forget the rest of what Jesus taught in His Sermon on the Mountain;
      EG “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.”
      “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”

      • stasisonline, I was perhaps unclear: this is not an attempt at translation. Also, I’m not a Christian. This is my attempt to find some use in the words of the New Testament, unauthenticated and adulterated as it has reached us.

  7. A few thoughts… I’m torn on this issue in a number of ways. Of course, we should love one another, even if we believe differently on an issue. However, I believe there is a clear difference in how we should approach sin in believers vs unbelievers. When, though, do we confront a fellow believer over their sin? We’re supposed to hold each other accountable, but we’re also supposed to deal with the planks in our own eyes first. I know I have more than one, myself. As, “the Church” or a denomination, though, don’t we need to decide on what is acceptable / what we will bless? When thinking of how we treat LBGT individuals, I wonder if we (individuals or the Church) would treat heterosexual couples who are living together without being married or are engaged in sexual relations outside of marriage in the same way.

  8. Edmund Metheny

    Mechanteanemone – the phrase you are looking for is “hermeneutical application” ;-P

  9. Matthew Chiglinsky

    Does no one find it coincidental that the same culture that is literally flooded with Internet porn is the same culture that suddenly decides it wants to legalize gay marriage? Consider the source.

    http://agalltyr.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/a-message-for-christians-who-support-gay-same-sex-marriage/

  10. Pingback: A Scriptural Way through the LGBT Debate | Pastor Chris Owens - - Musings, Rants, and Reflections

  11. James V Lyles

    The world is going to hell while the United Methodist church fuss about the humanity of gay people. Let the church be the church and live the life of Christ-unconditional love for all. A grave error was committed in 1972 when the General Conference created a second class membership-gay people. Let the United Methodist repent for its oppression of gay people; confess for committing the sin of oppression and accept with open arms those whom God has already accepted and get about the business of preaching and living the Word and transforming the world.
    James V. Lyles, Retired

  12. Pingback: A Scriptural Way through the LGBTQI Debate | Pastor Chris Owens - - Musings, Rants, and Reflections

  13. Pingback: Live Report: St. Paul Delivers a Speech at General Conference Addressing the LGBTQI Debate | Pastor Chris Owens - - Musings, Rants, and Reflections

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