Guest post by Executive Pastor & Chief of Staff Scott Lees
The response from bishops, pastors and lay people in the United Methodist Church regarding the recent decisions made by the delegates at the Special General Conference has been understandably emotional.
Christ Church in Memphis, Tennessee, has sought to be loving, clear and faithful in our response.
We believe in the sacred conversation that takes place between two believers, but an important part of the conversation is being honest about what you believe Scripture teaches when it comes to issues regarding sexual morality and Christian marriage.
Here is my best attempt to provide scriptural context for the position I hold and pray we continue to uphold as a denomination. I believe much of what we are dealing with regarding the Christian Church’s response to the issue of same-sex marriage is captured in this familiar story Christians know well.
1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,”she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,”Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
What I love about this story is how it provides a perfect example of grace and truth. Jesus is full of grace, and He is full of truth.
Our issue is that we tend to swing the pendulum to one side or the other, operating out of grace or truth. Often, we find ourselves offering extreme grace in an effort to be loving or referencing the importance of truth to be faithful.
Our goal should be a full expression of both—just as Jesus modeled for us here.
So what does this story teach us about being people of grace and truth rather than people of grace or truth?
- All people are created in the image of God and have sacred value and worth.
Notice how this story starts with the teachers of the Law and Pharisees trying to trap Jesus by emphasizing the Law of Moses. They want Jesus to acknowledge the true thing to do in this situation.
The religious people see an opportunity to trap Jesus because they know He is a “friend of sinners,” and they think He doesn’t have the heart to give the woman what the Law says she deserves—stoning. They see this as a chance to show the larger community that Jesus is a false prophet who leads the people away from God because He lacks conviction to act on the Law.
On the contrary, Jesus sees a broken person caught in an unhealthy pattern of life. What Jesus does next should be revealing to us as His disciples.
Jesus is willing to sacrifice His reputation for the sake of this woman’s restoration. Instead of focusing on a literal interpretation of the Law, Jesus sees a chance to reveal His true mission.
God so loved the world that he gave his son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)
Jesus Christ is the hope of the world, and as Wesleyans, we believe Christ died for everyone —regardless of one’s gender, race or sexual orientation. He did not come to condemn this woman but to save her, and His response reflects His mission.
This means the way Christians respond to the Special General Conference’s recent decision should reflect the character of God. The way Christians interact with those in the LGBTQ+ community should reflect the character of God. The world is watching. Just as Jesus literally, and figuratively, positions Himself between the religious leaders and the sinful woman at great cost to Himself, shouldn’t we do the same for one another?
May our attitude, words and actions to the current situation do the same and ultimately point everyone who reads our blog posts and Facebook feeds to the glory of God.
As we personally respond, may we consistently ask ourselves, “Am I being a faithful, loving witness who shows the world that everyone has sacred worth to God—even those I disagree with?”
Are we willing to step in the gap, even at cost to our own reputation, when we see someone unjustly treated because of his or her belief, interpretation or lifestyle choice?
- We must review and repent of our own brokenness.
Notice how Jesus turns the situation around. The religious people want to focus on the woman’s sin, but Jesus uses the moment to focus the crowd on their own sin.
We are not certain what Jesus wrote in the sand, but it must have been convicting for the religious leaders. Jesus showed them something that caused them to walk away. It’s rare for people with extreme convictions to quickly abandon them in this type of situation.
Later, Jesus makes this sentiment even clearer when He tells us it’s much easier to focus on the speck in someone else’s eye than the log in our own.
As Shane Stanford, Sr. Pastor at Christ Church Memphis, reminds us:
“The practice of homosexuality fits within a long list of moral laws that includes statements for faithful, godly human sexuality and raises such issues as premarital sexual relations, adultery, divorce, pornography, lewdness and lack of self control—to name a few issues of a similar nature. These lists also include non-sexual concerns such as hate, selfishness, drug use, idolatry, jealousy, drunkenness and such. Scripture is very clear that these issues of brokenness and sin are unacceptable. As Christians on either side of this issue, we must be willing and accountable to read the entire list and let the Holy Spirit convict us where we fall short.”
It is much easier to look at the lifestyle of others, rather than our own. May we all use this moment in history to reflect on our personal pursuit of holiness.
What are the issues God reveals in our own lives, and what are we doing to grow in biblical holiness? Could we be using our time more productively by prayerfully asking the Holy Spirit to show us where we fall short of holiness and what steps we should take toward Christian perfection? What does God need to do in my marriage or singleness so that the way I live my life glorifies Him?
- We must retain our focus on truth and God’s authority.
As I said earlier, Jesus shows an amazing amount of grace throughout the encounter but at the end of the story, Jesus does not compromise God’s truth either.
After the accusers have left, the conversation doesn’t end. He boldly looks the woman caught in adultery in the eye and says, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
For Jesus to say anything less would not have this woman’s best interest at heart. He knows there is a better and more fulfilling way for her to live.
Just as the Bible is clear about the sacred worth of all people, the Bible is also clear that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian doctrine and teaching. All sex outside the context of marriage is less than God’s best for His people—both heterosexual and homosexual.
The Supreme Court can redefine civil law on marriage, but Jesus does not.
When it comes to the issue of holy, Christian marriage, God’s best from the beginning of creation is for a man and a woman to share their lives with one another so they might be fruitful and multiply. At no point does Jesus, Paul or the early church deviate from this position. Throughout His ministry, Jesus is very clear that marriage is between a man and a woman. No question. This is God’s best design for humanity. Therefore, regardless of how some might re-interpret Scripture based on changing social norms, the biblical and historical view on the subject have not changed.
Faithful Orthodox Christians must not shy away from this truth. To do anything other than that lacks love.
This truth claim does not make anyone a bigot, hateful or narrow minded. It is actually loving for people to gracefully take this position. They are in good company as they follow Jesus’ example by being people full of grace and truth.
Let me conclude with another thought Shane Stanford shared with his congregation in a letter.
“Jesus was clear that His teachings, taken as a whole text, would not always bring people together. He said at times it would divide families and close friends. That is why Jesus prayed so diligently for unity among His followers. He knew the Adversary would use these issues to create moments of disagreement. Many of us will still disagree over this and other issues, and, so, we must be careful to love one another as Christ has loved us.”
I share these thoughts not to divide but to provide clarity. May we carefully examine ourselves and be careful not to fall into secular camps emphasizing grace or truth. Rather, may we as a Christian community live our lives like Jesus as He gracefully deals with our sin and lovingly confronts us with the truth.