Do conservative United Methodists read all of the Holy Bible — the Old Testament and New? Do their ministers read it — those college-educated, seminary-polished clerics?
Apparently not. Though they do seem to know very well the few verses that condemn gay people to grisly death. That must be why 90 of their ministers signed a letter objecting to gentle treatment for a lesbian pastor:
“We simply cannot abandon the Bible’s teaching on the practice of homosexuality and same-sex marriage,” they wrote. “Your proposal would put us, who believe that same-sex relations are sinful, in the position of having to deny our consciences.”
But these United Methodist pastors altogether forget those other verses that condemn themselves and virtually every adult sitting out there in the pews. You and me, for instance. Those verses which — if obeyed — would bring quick death to most of the American population, newborns excepted. From here forward I speak of these particular United Methodist pastors and congregants — those who cannot accommodate gay people.
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I say this now because United Methodists couldn’t straighten themselves out last month at their General Conference meeting in Portland, Ore. Their doctrine does not prevent a pastor from marrying adulterous heterosexual couples, people “living in sin.” But — increasingly alone among mainstream Protestant denominations — these Methodists cannot abide employing a gay minister in their churches or marrying gay couples, even people who have lived faithfully together for 30 years. In Portland, they decided to study the problem for two more years, leaving in limbo our lesbian Edgerton, Kan., pastor, the Rev. Cynthia Meyer.
Since then, the United Methodist Great Plains Conference (Nebraska and Kansas) passed a resolution calling for another attempt at “just resolution” in Meyer’s case instead of moving immediately towards her trial. That’s good, but still leaves the Edgerton pastor hanging.
Five months ago in this column, I wrote that conservative Christians were just too decent to do what the Holy Bible literally requires — that is, to kill a wide variety of people in the congregation. Now that the Methodist Conference is over, let me change that word “decent” to “dense,” or perhaps “uninterested” in the full text of the Holy Bible.
It happens that I grew up teaching Sunday school in an Oklahoma Southern Baptist church and read beyond the published lesson. In recent years I also explored the wonderful world of searchable Bibles on the internet, like biblegateway.com/passage/?version=KJV&search=all. I came to love Jesus and the good parts of the Bible; came to ignore the few bad parts, like those instructions to execute people.
Our newspaper journalists, our TV commentators, cover gay issues all the time. Most are even sympathetic to gays. But they seldom wrestle directly with the Holy Bible, which is the crux of the matter. They don’t understand that in biblical times as today, much of Scripture is politics.
“We’re not going to get involved in arguing Scripture with the preachers,” an editor once told me.
True, most journalists don’t know enough about the Good Book to debate preachers who abuse people with Scripture. They need to educate themselves and join biblical arguments that affect the public.
Sure, the Holy Bible condemns gay people to death. It also condemns to death people who divorce and then remarry, plus the spouse of the remarried person. Mark 10:11 states that “whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another committeth adultery against her.” Lay beside it Leviticus 20:10: “And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife ... the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” The Pew Research Center reported in 2013 that 42 million Americans were divorced and remarried. Killing the spouse would double the death toll to 84 million.
If you have a daughter with a boyfriend, beware Deuteronomy 22:21, which dictates the fate of the nonvirgin bride: “Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die.”
The Bible condemns to death many classes of sinners, including “he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord” (Leviticus 24: 10-16); “whosoever doeth work” on the Sabbath (Exodus 35: 2); and “every one that curseth his father or his mother” (Leviticus 20:9).
The Bible’s list of death penalty sins goes on, but let me stop there. These Methodists choose to absolve many whom the Bible orders killed. They don’t absolve homosexuals, who are condemned if not to death at least to exile.
Why don’t they outright kill offenders, as the Holy Bible commands? They often justify today’s ethics by speaking of the “Old Covenant” and the “New Covenant,” the supposed harsh biblical law before Jesus and the gentler era after.
The Rev. David Livingston, pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Lenexa, said early Christian leaders like St. Augustine proposed that there is moral law, civil law and ritual law. Those who believe in the distinction between new and old covenants say civil law and ritual law are now abolished. Only moral law counts. But the distinction is artificial, he added, since the Bible doesn’t make it. Even if you believe this, what behavior belongs under which law?
The Apostle Paul, supposedly under the New Covenant, is sometimes difficult. In First Timothy he says he will “suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” That is because, Paul adds: “Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, was in the transgression.”
In his Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul advocates submission to slave masters. In his Epistle to the Romans, Chapter 1, he condemns many offenders, including homosexuals, “whisperers, backbiters, haters of good, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents … covenant-breakers.” In verse 32 Paul speaks of “the judgment of God that they which commit such things are worthy of death.”
Commenting in the aftermath of the Portland Methodist Conference, Pastor Livingston said even the people who wrote the Bible did not take it literally the way some do today.
“That’s why we have four Gospels that don’t always agree with one another,” he added. “The only people who take the Bible literally word for word are atheists, who want to prove it absurd, and fundamentalists who do that and prove the atheists’ point.”
Charles Hammer of Shawnee writes monthly. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.