Last month, the United Methodist Church voted to uphold its ban on gay and lesbian clergy and same-sex marriage. However, the majority of the Methodist leaders in the US are supportive of same-sex couples and voted to change the church’s position.
The closeness of the vote—53 percent to 47 percent—is reflective of the number of Christian pastors and leaders in the US who have studied the same scriptures, and concluded that same-sex marriage is compatible with Christian teaching. Which raises the question, “How is it possible for prayerful, faithful Christians to study the same Biblical texts, and yet arrive at different conclusions?”
The Human Empathy Project has compiled a summary of Biblical scholarship highlighting the way in which Biblical texts commonly thought to refer to same-sex relationships may be understood in two different ways. The growing body of scholarship on these scriptures is indicative of a commitment on the part of many Christian leaders to uphold a dedication to Biblical principles, along with a commitment to continuously improve the accuracy of our translations and interpretations.
The church’s commitment to accurate Biblical teaching has, in the past, sometimes resulted in an update to church policy. The Methodist church, for instance, updated its policies around race and interracial relationships over the course of many decades, and numerous discernment processes leading up to 1968 when the church finally began the process of eliminating racial segregation through a series of policy revisions.
When it comes to matters of human sexuality, pastoral teams often appreciate having a private, confidential sounding board of consultants who can support Christians in their Biblical and ministerial commitments, and can provide information to help them understand and support LGBTQ+ members effectively. We have also heard from congregations around the country who are looking for examples of faith communities who’ve managed to effectively engage questions pertaining to LGBTQ+ affirmation and Christian belief, and found the conversation enriching and spiritually nourishing. The Human Empathy Project offers free consultation and resources to pastors, teams, and congregations seeking to create inclusive spaces for diversity on matters related to scripture interpretation, while also serving the spiritual and wellbeing needs of LGBTQ community members.
The United Methodist Church may be headed for a division which represents a potential loss to community members who may otherwise benefit from sharing life and worshipping together. At the same time, the hope remains that the church could fulfill its potential to be one body--with many different members, working in concert together to accomplish what no one can achieve alone. Such a vision may seem impossible; and yet the church’s history of discerning such matters and arriving at policies that support the wellbeing of all people suggests it may be more possible than it seems.
By Gena Minnix
Gena Minnix, PhD is a regular contributor to the Human Empathy Project blog and volunteer consultant for tHEP. She is a licensed professional counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist, and serves as Assistant Professor of Counselor Education at the Seminary of the Southwest, in Austin, TX.