The U.S. Senate is currently debating a "Marriage Amendment Bill" which, if ultimately passed, would add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution declaring marriage to be legally between a man and a woman. While the bill likely will hit roadblocks long before it even comes close to becoming a part of the U.S. Constitution, the liberal lobby is understandably upset over the discussion.
What surprises me (and I guess it really shouldn't) is the monumental ignorance displayed by leaders of the Church regarding this debate. You can read about this in a UMNS article here. The United Methodist Church’s stand on marriage is found in Paragraph 161 C of the Book of Discipline, and states:
“We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment and shared fidelity between a man and a woman. We believe that God's blessing rests upon such marriage, whether or not there are children of the union. We reject social norms that assume different standards for women than for men in marriage. We support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”
Despite that clear position, James Winkler, chief executive of the General Board of Church and Society, insists that the idea that marriage is between one man and one woman is in conflict with our official position as a denomination. Mr. Winkler believes it to be an issue of "equal rights" for homosexuals.
First, let me say that I have never understood this argument. Any homosexual person is free to marry, as far as I know. If a homosexual man finds a woman whom he wishes to wed, and she feels the same, then they may certainly be married. If a homosexual woman finds a man whom she wishes to wed, and he feels the same, then they may certainly be married. Homosexuals are as free to get married as heterosexuals in the U.S., as far as I can tell.
Second, it bothers me that we as a denomination permit Mr. Winkler, as the head of one of our mission share-supported general agencies, to fail in his basic duty to support the position of the denomination. It seems to me that Mr. Winkler's job is to lobby for the UM stance in Washington and demonstrate how our beliefs can be lived out day-to-day. For Mr. Winkler to so blatantly ignore the will of the General Conference calls into question, in my view, his security in his current position. The same is true for any denominational leader: follow the rules or lovingly find a way to leave. Harsh, but true.
The article goes on to quote an Old Testament scholar from California named Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan. I've never heard of Rev. Kuan, but he teaches at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. A quick search on Amazon.com shows that he has published in the fields of Ancient Israel and Neo-Assyrian language. What his qualifications are regarding Biblical sexual ethics, I'm uncertain; we need to remember that not every Biblical scholar is an expert in every field. As a United Methodist, Rev. Kuan has every right to hold an opinion, providing that he doesn't violate the Discipline. But when he goes on to state that, "...Christian opposition to homosexuality is based often on selective biblical interpretation that takes the few verses of Scripture that may or may not refer to sexual intercourse between people (of the) same gender out of its socio-cultural and historical contexts. Moreover, such a stance often refuses to acknowledge that our modern understanding of sexuality is worlds apart from the understanding of sexuality in ancient times...", his opinion is no more valid than that of any UM pastor, since (again, as far as I know) he is no expert on Biblical sexual ethics and hasn't published any scholarly work in the field. So why quote him?
A few years ago, Robert Gagnon, a New Testament scholar at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, published The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. In the book, which is available here, Dr. Gagnon maintains that, "...there is clear, strong, and credible evidence that the Bible unequivocally defines same-sex intercourse as sin...", and, "...there exist no valid hermeneutical arguments, derived from either general principles of biblical interpretation or contemporary scientific knowledge and expierence, for overriding the Bible's authority on this matter." His book is not primarily a work of theology, but of Biblical scholarship, and is to date the definitive scholarly work on the issue, and is viewed as such by the academy, even those who dislike its findings. Sure, Dr, Gagnon is a Presbyterian, but shouldn't Mr. Winkler and (especially) Rev. Kuan at least be familiar with this work before ignoring its position, as well as the position of the UMC and the ecumenical consensus?
This is what bothers me about the left-wing of the Church. Often, they simply deny reality and refuse to deal honestly with issues. True, the right-wing is often guilty of the same thing, but, in this case, the left-wing, particularly Mr. Winkler and Rev. Kuan, ought to be ashamed of themselves...either for being ignorant of the issue or for deliberately misleading people regarding the issue.