Diversity, inclusion, compromise, and unity were the mantra of the Uniting Methodists Conference at Lovers Lane UMC from July 16–18. In their view of the liberal and conservative divide over homosexuality within the denomination, “Both perspectives are biblical and evident in the church today, and both are necessary.” Though they claim to be a theologically diverse group, this conference definitively showed that the caucus is dominated by liberals who would largely like to see the removal of traditional values on sexuality in the UMC, evidenced by their major support of the “One Church Plan”. Central to the conference was Rev. Adam Hamilton, conservative-turned-liberal senior pastor of the 22,000 member United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, who provided a keynote talk defending how liberal United Methodists interpret the Bible in regards to homosexuality.
Hamilton attempted to present a case for affirming homosexuality as Biblically sound by confounding scriptural authority and interpretation. He asked, “What constitutes a high view of scripture?” To him, someone with a high view of scripture reads it daily, asks God to speak to them by it, uses it for prayer, and reads its “minor chords” and “major chords”. They always take things seriously, but not necessarily literally. He says we all take some verses literally, and not others. This picking and choosing is part of our differing interpretations of the Bible.
He attempted to show that conservatives are no less guilty of not taking the Bible literally or very seriously than liberals. One egregious example he used was that of Matthew 16:19, which begins “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.” If conservatives are so concerned about taking scripture at face value, he half-joked, they should get rid of their savings accounts, or their pensions through Wespath, even. By not doing so, Hamilton claims, conservatives show they do not honor biblical authority better than progressives like they claim to, and in fact do impose their own personal interpretations on the text. Since we all agree that these practices are sound Biblically and logically, to him this is proof we all “pick and choose.”
To further complicate the basic conversation of biblical authority, he discussed how the phrase “the word of God” in the Bible rarely refers to something written down. Rather than a text, he says, it is usually said in reference to something a prophet or disciple has to share, a message that has come to them from God to relay to the people. This, he says, means that “the word of God” is something bigger than the Bible. Particularly, Jesus is the “Word,” as evidenced by John 1. To Hamilton, there seems to be a difference between all of scripture and Jesus and his own words, the latter being more authoritative and definitively free from error.
To add to this, Hamilton commented on a piece of scripture foundational to this debate, 2 Timothy 3:16, which says that “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” (NRSV). Hamilton shared that Paul’s word for “inspired” isn’t found anywhere else in the Bible, and is rare even in non-Biblical texts of that time, so we have little context for it. “If it means God-influenced, what then?” he asked. The megachurch pastor also said that we go too far to say that this verse means scripture is inerrant. In all, he presented the verse as carrying much less weight and importance as it is normally given.
To wrap up his argument, Hamilton described the references to homosexuality in the Bible as if they were very vague and confusing. “The question we’re left is, those six or seven verses in the Bible that say something about some form of same-gender something, and we can’t even be sure on some of those, are those passages more like the things we all agree are timeless… or are they more like the passages we just have said we no longer apply to us today?” Hamilton’s strategy seems simple: apply a false sense ambiguity to straightforward statements on human sexuality that support God’s unambiguous design described in Genesis. All of this is necessary to the Uniting Methodist talking point that the UMC’s divide on issues of sexuality are not worth splitting the church.
While at face value Hamilton’s points on word usage and language are correct, I feel that more importantly he is doing wrong because he is sowing seeds of doubt on the authority of scripture, our accepted canon. Were the people who wrote, translated, or transcribed the various books of the Bible across many centuries perfect or free from error? No, but I believe a perfect God who wants all of mankind to truly know Him has watched and guided these processes at every step. Instead of creating space for Biblically-sound debate, Hamilton justified disregarding verses one finds inconvenient and encouraged doubt in the absolute authority of all scripture.Google+