If These Pro-LGBT Ministers’ View of ‘Harm’ is Right, Jesus was a Very Bad Man
Religion Dispatches posted an interview on Monday with Rev. Cynthia Meyer, a United Methodist pastor in Kansas who just came out as lesbian, and is under church discipline for it. Her situation echoes another one going on more prominently at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, reported by Time, with corrections issued afterward by IVCF.
In both cases a Christian ministry is holding the line on biblical sexual morality. In both cases Christian ministers are crying “harm!” But what is this harm they’re talking about?
In her interview Meyer said,
The church, in its policies and its ongoing adherence to exclusion, is causing the denominations great harm. Younger people in general are very open, and do not want to be a part of an institution that is going to exclude them, or their friends. I have a daughter who is 21, and she really has no interest in the United Methodist Church at this point. That’s a sad loss.
So many people who might otherwise be attracted to the United Methodist Church — with its care for the larger world and commitment to social justice — are put off by the stance on these issues. Those who are LGBT, or who have family members or people important to them who are LGBT (and that includes about everybody), now face the choice of whether or not to be a part of a religious body that does not feel their very worthy love lives are in fact fully worthy. People are raising those questions, and it’s very harmful to the future of the church.
Former IV staff member Matthew D. Taylor wrote concerning InterVarsity’s decision,
I think that they have drawn the wrong line in the sand, that it is a line that is arbitrary, that ends discussion and dialogue rather than encouraging them, that hurts real people in the name of a narrow interpretive consensus.
So where is this harm of which they speak? How do these ministers define that harm?
People Being Put Off
People are “put off,” says Meyer. Jesus wouldn’t do that, would He? But read John 6:41-70, where Jesus’ words were (to put it mildly) incredibly off-putting to His Jewish listeners. What did He do, then, when some walked away? He let them go. He even turned to His disciples and said, “You too?” And what about the rich young man in Matthew 19:16-22, who “went away sorrowful”? Jesus was willing to draw a “line in the sand” with him to borrow Taylor’s phrasing.
Jesus didn’t define harm according to whether everyone liked what He was doing. If Meyer and Taylor want to follow Christ, they need to find another test for “harm” than that.
Excluding People or Their Friends
Jesus was completely inclusive. And completely exclusive. He accepted all persons, but not all behaviors.
No doubt the Church could always learn to be more like Him in welcoming everyone and loving everyone. Still, the same Jesus who accepted all persons also told them, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) “Repent” means to quit doing what is wrong and begin doing what is right. Hence (this should not be hard to understand) there is such a thing as right behavior and wrong behavior, in Jesus’ eyes.
Thus Jesus loved the tax collector who was guilty of fraud, and the woman who had committed adultery, without approving of either’s sins. He loved people of whom we know great sin and others of whom we are told of no sin at all. That tells us a lot about Him, for sure. But if he accepts every person without difference, that acceptance can’t be the test that tells the difference between actions that are right or wrong. In particular, it doesn’t tell us a thing about the rightness or wrongness of LGBT practices. There are other ways to make that determination.
An “Arbitrary” and “Narrow” Position
Taylor used “arbitrary” and “narrow” to describe IV’s position. It almost sounds like they sat down one day last year and asked, “Who can we keep out? I know! Let’s target LGBT people!” Not likely. (I wonder if Taylor realizes how incredibly judgmental he sounds?)
He also wrote,
The Bible … doesn’t speak with a single voice. … Simply put, the Bible doesn’t resolve the great debates of Christian history; it occasions them. That is why Arius and Athanasius were both quoting the New Testament and why advocates for LGBTIQ rights in Christian communities and their detractors are still wrestling with and exegeting the same passages.
This presents only an illusion of historical awareness. Some doctrines have been contentious at times, yes; those that have been hard to discern clearly from Scripture. LGBT-related doctrine, however, became contentious only when LGBT or LGBT-affirming people tried to make the Bible say what it had never said before. On this topic, the Bible really does speak with a single voice.
Both InterVarsity and the United Methodist Church have deep historic roots in biblical theology, and those roots have always been wrapped around a solid, non-arbitrary morality. If there’s narrowness there, it’s of a sort that Jesus affirmed: choosing the path that leads toward Him, not away. (Matthew 7:13-14)
Where’s the Real Harm?
Aside from Taylor’s ineffectual appeal to historical theology, both he and Meyer rest most of their case on the harm they see their ministries causing. Apparently they see these particular harms — being off-putting, or exclusive, or “narrow” — as decisive. But they can’t be. If they were, then Jesus Himself would have to be regarded as an extremely harmful character. Some skeptics probably think that’s so — but they have no business advising IV or the United Methodist Church on anything, especially morality.
And Meyer and Taylor are not taking the position of skeptics in this conversation. I seriously doubt either one of them would want to say Jesus was such a bad man — even though their view of “harm” certainly points toward that conclusion. No, they want to see Him as on their side, even though they have to ignore much of what He said and did in order to get Him there.
Distorting Jesus vs. Teaching Him Who He Truly Is
And that distortion of Jesus’ teaching is the real harm here, after all. InterVarsity and the United Methodist Church were both founded to lead people to a true knowledge of Jesus Christ through His full revelation in the Scriptures. That’s what these ministries are there for. (The UMC is foundering on this, but that’s still its officially stated position.)
If Jesus Christ is worth following, as both ministries say He is, then He’s worth following for all that He said, all that He did, and indeed all the good that is in Him. Let’s listen to what He tells us what’s good and what’s harm. And let those who disagree with Him on these things depart peacefully but definitely and finally from ministries agencies and churches that serve in His name.