Last January I wrote a letter to Ron Mason, Chincoteague UMC's representative at the Virginia Annual Conference, regarding the issue of so-called gay marriage and of homosexuality in general. It was not my intention to put this letter on my blog but some have asked that I make the letter available online so I am using this forum to do just that. I plan on resuming my regular blogging next week. Here is the body of the letter plus some more information at the end. I hope that this will help those upset and confused about this issue what I think and know about it.
Here it is:
Letter from Brian Scarborough to Ron Mason who represented the Chincoteague UMC at the Virginia Annual Conference in 2015:
I have spent much time studying and keeping up with the issue of homosexuality and the response of the churches. I also know that the roots of this controversy in the church goes much deeper than this current hot button issue. It has to do with basic views regarding the Bible and exactly what the Bible is to us. Is it the fully inspired Word of God or is it a book written by men who did their best to understand what God was saying to them? But I cannot get into all that now. I will try to take the issues a step at a time.
1. What is homosexuality?
This might seem obvious to us, but we may mean different things when we use the term. It originally meant, and means in the Bible, those who have sex with a person of their own gender. But today it often means those who have a homosexual “orientation”. In other words, they have the natural desire for a person of the same sex. The Bible does not recognize or deal with the modern view that we may be “oriented” one way or another, it only deals with behavior. This means, very simply, that homosexual ‘feelings’ or desires are not discussed or condemned in the Bible at all. The closest it gets to this is in the whole subject of temptation.
We all have temptations, feelings that lead us in the wrong direction that, if yielded to, makes us sin. “Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin.” (James 1:14-15) Jesus was tempted but did not sin. Temptations (feelings) are not sin.
So, when we discuss this subject in the church, we must be clear that we are talking about behavior and not feelings. Nobody is saying that someone is wrong because of how they feel.
2. What is marriage?
Lost in this debate is a discussion of what marriage truly is and what it does for society. Before there was a church or synagogue, there was marriage. It has been around from the beginning and has been practiced by all cultures and been recognized by all as a foundational institution. And it has only been defined one way – the union of a man and a woman, preferably for life. It is protected by law and custom and any violation of the marriage covenant is universally condemned. Even in a sexually permissive culture like ours, adultery is still judged as wrong.
However, in our modern, individualistic culture marriage has been seen as little more than a means of personal fulfillment, a social contract between two people. People get married so that they can be happy, as our romance novels continually affirm. But that is not why society puts such a high value on marriage. The (physical) union of a man and woman is the only relationship that produces children. (Technology may allow us to produce children outside the womb, but we still need something from the male and female to accomplish this.) From the joining of the man and woman we not only have children that they love, nourish and protect, but these unions have produced all humans from Adam and Eve onward. This is how we create the next generation. It is not just a benefit to society, it is the very means of society’s propagation and survival. The whole complex of human relationships – aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, grandparents, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc – stems from man and woman. It makes the family, the clan, the tribe, the nation.
Children are nourished and raised best, under normal circumstances, by their biological parents. (We all understand that this is not always possible or always the best.) Children want, and need, both a mother and a father, not one or two of each. Recently, a well-known celebrity, who is gay, adopted a boy. When the boy became old enough, he told his adopted mom that he wanted a daddy. She told him that mommy was not the kind of mommy who wanted to live with a daddy but the kind who wanted another mommy. He still wanted a daddy, not another mommy. She thinks that he just does not understand, but it is she who does not understand. He truly needs a father.
Fatherless families have created havoc with children and contribute enormously to societal ills. They suffer because there is no father in the home. Do not think that I am “picking on” single mothers. They know this. I have had literally dozens of single mothers work for me and they all wanted (dare I say it) a normal family with a husband/father, wife/mother along with the children. Single motherhood is a social disaster. It is the main cause of childhood poverty and criminality especially among males. (I could go into this in depth, but I am only making a point about marriage and children.)
Every society has sought to honor and protect the unique relationship of marriage because it offers great benefits to society and is actually more important than either church or government. So the question now is: what benefits does society get from the union of two men or two women? None. Society has no reason to give this relationship any special status at all much less make it legally equal to the relationship of a man and woman.
What about “marriage equality”? There is no such thing. The union of two men or two women can never be equal to the union of a man and woman. Their relative contribution to society show that gay marriage is not equal to traditional marriage.
Can “gay marriage” rightfully be called marriage at all? I would contend that it does not. As Chief Justice Roberts told a lawyer who was arguing for gay marriage, you can say that the bond between two of the same gender is marriage, but that is to change the meaning of the word ‘marriage’. He said that if he told his son to go make friends with that boy over there, he might do it but the meaning of the word ‘friend’ has changed.
We live in a society that accepts just about any sort of living arrangement in whatever the relationships among those living there might be. Those relationships are sometimes sexual, but often they are not. People are legally free to do what they want and most people will leave them alone whether or not they approve. Gays are free to do this, but some of them want more than that. They want the government and the church to put their stamp of approval on this relationship. They want to be “equal” with heterosexual and their relationships. But it is not equal.
Notice that I have not even touched on what the Bible says about marriage. I will do so now:
3. What does the Bible say about marriage?
It is very basic and simple. It is the lifelong joining of a man and woman in a covenant relationship. “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply.” … Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 1:26-27;2:24) It seems that the Bible confirms universal human experience, or vice-versa.
What about polygamy - didn’t they practice that in the Old Testament? Yes, but when the matter of easy divorce came up, Jesus said that some things God allowed because of the hardness of men’s hearts. He then told them to go back to the verse quoted here from Genesis as the truth about marriage. It is not just joining together, it is multiplying as well. There was no polygamy in the beginning. In the Bible, marriage is only the union of a man and a woman. For that reason alone the church should not approve so-called ‘gay marriage’.
4. What are the arguments for gay marriage?
One of the arguments made is why not? What harm does a gay marriage do to others? Well, perhaps none. The point is not whether your relationship does any harm to anyone, but whether or not your relationship deserves the special status of marriage. I think I clearly have shown that traditional marriage offers huge benefits to society without anything comparable coming from gay marriage.
Another argument is the “equality” argument. We like equality, but I have shown that they are not equal except that someone might be personally fulfilled. Personal fulfillment is not the purpose or goal of marriage though it might be the motive of those who marry. The purpose of marriage is the sustaining and propagating of the community. Also, the assertion is made that we heterosexuals can marry whomever we like, but that homosexuals cannot. That is not exactly true. We are all under the same rules/laws and we cannot always “marry anyone we want”. Some relationships are illegal – incestuous, underage, polygamist – and the one I want may not want me. We do not always get what we want. Furthermore, God has not ordained “gay marriage”.
A third argument is made when it is pointed out that no society has ever had gay marriage so why should we suddenly put the label of marriage on a homosexual relationship. This argument has two parts. First the assertion is made that traditional societies (non-Western especially) have condemned homosexuality but that now we are more enlightened. The response is that some societies, like the ancient Greeks, celebrated as well as condoned homosexual relationships. But it never occurred to the Greeks, or anyone else, to call these relationships “marriage”. That leads us to the second part of this argument: in ancient times people did not have the kinds of “good” gay relationships that we have today. I would like to know what evidence they have for this assertion. The idea that ancient people were not as enlightened or as virtuous as we are is nothing but pride and ignorance as far as I am concerned. They were perfectly capable, and no doubt had, any kind of good, or bad, relationship that we have today.
5. What does the Bible say about gay sex?
I realize that there is disagreement among some in the church about the correct interpretation of the Scriptures regarding homosexual activity. However, I think that you would have to have some pretty fanciful ways of interpreting it to get to any kind of approval of gay sex. It does not move me that scholars and ministers have interpreted the Bible in such a way that they end up with making homosexuality a positive good when done in the right context. Scholars have made some really outrageous claims about the Bible and that is not just among the critics of the Bible but among its proponents as well. I wonder if some have come to the Bible hoping that it will say what they want it to say rather than let the Bible determine how they ought to think, believe and act. I am not saying that their motive is necessarily wrong, but we are all prone to self-deception in our desire to have God approve of how we think.
What does the Old Testament teach about homosexuality? “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” (Leviticus 18:22-23) Is this not clear? Can it be interpreted as anything else except to show that gay sex is sin? Obviously not, yet there are those who would deny this. They say that this rule only applies to a certain context – either it’s a violent act or idolatry is involved. Let’s look at the context: “You shall not lie sexually with your neighbor's wife and so make yourself unclean with her … You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. And you shall not lie with any animal and so make yourself unclean with it.” To consistently interpret this passage we must treat all three situations the same. If you say that homosexuality is only wrong in a very specific context (idolatry), then you must apply that to adultery and bestiality as well. When is adultery and bestiality wrong? Always and in all circumstances. We must say that about homosexuality as well.
What does the New Testament teach about homosexuality? “God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men.” (Romans 1:26-27) To me, this is also crystal clear. Homosexuality is sin (the act, not the feelings). Once again, though, some fancy interpretive work is done to justify homosexual activity. The focus becomes the expression “contrary to nature”. Amazingly, this is seen as referring to the fact that a homosexual act is “unnatural” to a heterosexual, so it is sin for a heterosexual, but not for a homosexual because it is “natural” for a homosexual to have gay sex. So this is supposedly written for heterosexuals and not homosexuals. (You might think that I am making this up but I am not. People, scholars no less, have said as much.) There are two huge errors in what I hesitate to dignify with the term “interpretation”. The first is the fact that the whole orientation issue I discussed earlier is a modern concept, not an ancient or biblical one. They are saying that the application of this condemnation depends on the orientation of the individual and not on the action. There was no such thinking in the first century. What is spoken of is action, not orientation. The second thing wrong here is that the term “contrary to nature” does not refer to how someone feels as in “it’s not in my nature to do that”, but refers to a sex act occurring in a way that does not correspond with how our bodies come together in the sex act. Simply put, the appropriate place for the male organ is the female organ. In male homosexuality, you need one partner to play the female role and use a substitute for the female organ. This is contrary to the natural order. In sex, one naturally needs the male and female, but without one of those a substitute must be used. That is what Paul is saying. Two men do not naturally fit together. Neither do two women. He is showing that homosexuality is not just a sin, but that it goes against the way that our bodies are created.
Additionally, like the Leviticus passage, Paul puts sexual sins in the same category. “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21) Notice that adultery, fornication and ‘uncleanness’ are mentioned together. Adultery is having sex with someone outside a marriage. Fornication is sex between people who are not married. Uncleanness actually refers to homosexual relations that Leviticus put under the laws regarding uncleanness. Some have said that we no longer need the levitical laws regarding uncleanness since Jesus did away with them. But Jesus only did away with some of them. He did not do away with the laws regarding sexual uncleanness. In the above Leviticus passage, Moses calls adultery, bestiality and homosexuality ‘uncleanness’. Jesus did not say that sexual uncleanness was okay. In fact, Jesus raised standards for sexual morality in the Sermon on the Mount. “Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) Jesus did not preach a loosening of sexual mores but a strengthening of them.
There are many subjects in the Bible where there is legitimate disagreement because of uncertainty of various biblical texts. But the Bible is not unclear when it comes to morality. God made sure that the Bible was clear on the more important issues, like the gospel and morality, though He was less clear about less important ones. We are not disagreeing about whether or not it is right to drink alcohol or on what is the proper mode of baptism. These things we can differ on. Regarding basic morality, we cannot afford to compromise. We must stand with the Bible no matter how we might think that it should not be that way. We must humble ourselves to God and His Word.
6. What has been happening in the United Methodist Church regarding these issues?
I can’t cover it all, but I will summarize the best I know how. In 1972 at the General Conference there was a statement added to the Book of Discipline that said something like ‘homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.’ I think it is weak language, but I will accept it. It should read “homosexual activity is a sin”. More could be added to that.
Every four years since then, at General Conference, some activists have tried to overturn this. Progressives want the Book of Discipline to treat homosexual relations, including gay marriage, as if it is not sinful activity and traditionalists want to keep homosexuality in the list of sins and do not want any minister to officiate at a gay wedding.
In 2008, the attempt to overturn the 1972 statement was almost successful. If only the US churches were involved in the voting, the 1972 statement would have been overturned. But 20% of the vote came from overseas, especially Africa where the UMC is growing very rapidly. (In fact, they are underrepresented according to their numbers.) The foreign vote is almost entirely on the side of the traditionalists. The progressives were sure that the 2012 vote would go their way. It did not because the overseas vote was up to 30%. Many progressives were very frustrated and realize that in 2016 the overseas vote could be as a high as 35% or 40%. That would mean that the progressives could never win. They have made “progress”, if that is what you want to call it, in bringing the US part of the UMC to the point of overturning the 1972 statement. On the verge of “victory”, they have been denied, probably permanently.
The reaction has not been completely gracious. Some have decided to simply defy and disobey the Book of Discipline. One minister in Pennsylvania, Rev. Franky Schaeffer decided to “marry” his son and his gay partner. He was (rightfully) defrocked. Then a Judicial Council overturned that defrocking. This was done on a couple of technicalities, but the effect of the decision is to restore him to ordained status. This was the most obvious, but not the only, act of rebellion against the Book of Discipline. Some bishops and ministers, even entire Conferences, have stated that they plan on doing what they term “justice”, rebelling against the decision of the General Conference and marrying same-sex couples.
Another reaction has been the attempt by some progressives to limit the vote of the General Conference to Methodist churches in the US. They want to cut out the African vote. So much for inclusiveness and diversity. In the political sphere, this would have been labeled ‘racism’ but I will not do that. It is a racial injustice, however. It is excluding those they disagree with because their culture agrees with the Book of Discipline. It seems to me that we could learn a lesson from them about morality.
My comment: if these rebels had any integrity at all and believed that the Book of Discipline was unjust in this matter and that it would never be “made right” in their eyes, then they should resign and go start their own church. It is not about them satisfying their own consciences (which I would say were corrupted consciences), but about them forcing their views on the rest of us. Otherwise, they would write a letter to their bishop or the Council of Bishops (or whatever they call it) saying why they can no longer stay within the UMC. They are acting as if it their right to do with the church as they see fit.
7. Since society increasingly accepts homosexuality and many gay people are now legally ‘married’, how should the UMC respond?
A. We should not respond by condoning any sin. Lowering standards of holiness is dangerous and contrary to the gospel.
B. Offer grace to homosexuals. We need to understand the true grace of God. The grace of God saves us from sin. It does not release us from the responsibility of doing what is right. It brings us to repentance and forgiveness, but not permissiveness.“ For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.” (Titus 2:11-12) The grace of God teaches us to live right.
Years ago, I was in a non-UMC church and a young fellow came into the church and began attending. He was not so much interested in God as he was in a young lady who was also attending. This young man was a drug dealer and, on the surface, a Satan-worshipper. He wore a jacket with all kinds of satanic symbols on it. Nobody responded negatively to him at all. In fact, everyone just loved him and welcomed him. Today, that man is a preacher of the gospel.
C. How should we treat the homosexual? Like anyone else. The Bible tells us how to treat others – with love and respect, not with condemnation. The example of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery is a perfect example. He told her, “I do not condemn you. Go, and sin no more.” I am not saying that we tell them to go, but I am saying that while we do not condemn a person, we do not condone their sin or affirm them in it.
D. If we expect homosexuals, along with other sinners, to repent, obviously we will not give those still practicing homosexuality a position in the church much less make them an ordained minister.
E. Regarding our response to the world, are we not to be a light to it and not the other way around? It seems like progressives want to take cues from the world rather than shining the light of the gospel.
F. We cannot compromise with the world with regards to marriage. We can never condone same-sex marriage.
8. Won’t the church grow if we are more inclusive? Won’t marrying same sex couples actually bring more people into the church and show that we are not judgmental towards them?
It might seem that if we reflect the world’s values, then we will be more attractive to the world. But that is not the way it has worked in practice. When Frank Schaeffer performed a same sex marriage in his church, he split the church wide open. He immediately lost half of the members who have never returned. In short, he destroyed the church when he selfishly decided that he knew better than the Book of Discipline.
The Episcopal Church (EC) suffered greatly after ordaining a practicing homosexual as bishop. This man had abandoned his wife and children to live with another man. Instead of defrocking him, they made him a bishop. Attendance fell by 24% and a schism was created that still continues to this day. Many congregations and one whole conference has left the EC. Another Anglican body was created to accommodate those who left.
The evidence is in. Whenever the church compromises with the world and becomes like the world, true Christians often leave and the world figures that it does not need the church because the church is really no different than it is.
[Addendum to the letter: Since the writing of this letter the Virginia Conference of the UMC has passed a resolution saying that it is in favor of removing the above statement in the Book of Discipline that states, “Homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” The outcome of the vote on this, while reprehensible, has no effect on the Book of Discipline and changes nothing within the Virginia Conference. All the churches in the Conference are still subject to the Book of Discipline and Bishop Cho has made it clear that he will not accept any violations of it.
In May of 2016, the General Conference will meet again as it does every four years. I believe that this is the last chance that the pro-gay group has of winning this battle. After next year, the foreign vote, which is nearly 100% in favor of maintaining the language, will simply be too large for the US liberals to overthrow. So it seems that 2016 may be a watershed year. We ought to focus our prayers on that Conference.
By the way, it seems that Mark Tooley of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, who has been fighting against the liberals for decades in the UMC, agrees with my assessment. He has a guest columnist on this blog writing about this matter. See it online.
Of course, the website, which has many excellent articles mostly about the UMC can be found at
For a good article on the growth of the UMC in Africa go to:
Note: Good News magazine has a slightly different view than IRD does on how conservatives should respond to the liberal challenge within the UMC. Good News takes the view that the UMC should split amicably into two denominations, one liberal and one conservative. IRD does not want any sort of split but wants to keep the church together and fend off the liberal challenge.