This Was About Love

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Last week, the United Methodist Church (UMC), by a slim majority, approved the Traditional Plan, which would retain the language in the Book of Discipline that the UMC “does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching” (pg. 161). The previous day, the One Church Plan failed, which was an attempt by Progressives within the denomination to allow affirming churches to coexist side-by-side with non-affirming churches.

In a passionate address before the council in support of the One Church Plan, J.J. Warren spoke before a cheering crowd, “No plan to separate us can unite us like God’s love. We are the church. We are God’s children. Let us be the church together.”

To many supporters of the One Church Plan, this was a plan about unity and love. What many won’t see is that to the supporters of the Traditional Plan, it was too. Dr. Jerry P. Kulah, in an address to the Reform and Renewal Coalition Breakfast, said this, “Friends, please hear me, we Africans are not afraid of our sisters and brothers who identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered, questioning, or queer. We love them and we hope the best for them. But we know of no compelling arguments for forsaking our church’s understanding of Scripture and the teachings of the church universal.”

The vote last week was about unity and love, but not how you think.

Unity

The proponents of the One Church Plan stressed the importance of unity, but what do we mean when we say, “unity?” Unity can be defined in many ways, but generally it can be defined as being “joined together as a whole.” For Christians, unity is of the utmost importance. It says in Psalm 133:1 “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” And again in Romans 12:16, “Live in harmony with one another.” It’s clear from Scripture: Christians are to be unified. Yet even greater than this unity among Christians is something found in the prayer of Jesus in John 17, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” To truly understand unity, we must understand God as a God of unity. 

From the very beginning of God’s story, we read of a unified God, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Deut. 6:4). There is no other god to contend with the true God, "And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me.” (Isa. 45:21). There will be no one before or after the true God, "'I am the Alpha and the Omega,' says the Lord God, 'who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.'" (Revelation 1:8). Our God is a God of complete, total, and utter harmony within his trinitarian nature which means he gets to set the standard of unity for His people (for a more in-depth discussion on the unity of God, check out Louis Berkhoff’s Systematic Theology, pages 61-62).

So what does unity look like for us as Christians? We look to him who was “radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature,” Jesus Christ. Karl Barth said it like this,

“The quest for the unity of the Church must in fact be identical with the quest for Jesus Christ as the concrete Head and Lord of the Church. The blessing of unity cannot be separated from Him who blesses, in Him it has its source and reality, through His Word and Spirit it is revealed to us, and only in faith can it become a reality among us.” (Pg. 13).

So our unity as Christians must be built around the person and work of Jesus Christ, otherwise known as the Gospel. So unity for Christians is to be joined together as a whole around the Gospel. This Gospel begins with the bad news: it tells us that before Jesus, we were walking down the wrong path; a path that leads to nothing but death and destruction. The Gospel then leads us to the good news that when we "confess with [our] mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in [our] heart that God raised him from the dead, [we] will be saved.” (Rom. 10:9). There is a better path to follow. But to believe in this path, we must believe in telling the truth. The truth about God and about ourselves. In fact, Jesus himself says in John 14:6, that “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” 

The Truth tells us right from wrong. It tells us what path we must walk in in order to live a life that is pleasing to God. Therefore, to be united to my brothers and sisters in Christ means I must call out rebellion and sin in their life. Hebrews 3:13 says, “...exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

We must call sin what it is: an act of rebellion before a holy and righteous God. This saves our brothers and sisters from becoming hardened by its deceit. We must say, “there is a better way to live” and be jealous to fight for this unity against those who would be opposed to “the doctrine we have been taught.” This does not mean that we agree on everything. But it does mean that we agree on the essentials of the faith and allow charity on non-essential, or as my church calls it: open-handed issues. What does this have to do with the UMC? 

The Bible makes it very clear: homosexuality is a sin (Lev. 18 and 20, Rom. 1:18-32, 1 Cor. 6:9-10, 1 Tim. 1:8-10). Word count limits me in this post for making a comprehensive case, but I will link to the best resources on this topic at the bottom of the page. Suffice it to say, the proponents of the One Church Plan were asking people who uphold the Biblical teaching of sexuality to conform to untruth. It created the facade of unity. It asked churches, specifically international churches, to look the other way while the Western Progressive churches endorsed what God calls sin. It was an attempt by the Western Progressives to colonize the faith of international churches. The Traditional Plan was a plan of true unity because to be truly unified means we must be willing to say something is either right or wrong. We must be willing to embrace the Gospel and all of its implications not only for our lives, but for the lives of others.

So if true unity is a joining together around the truths of the Gospel, then what is love?

Love

Amid the calls for unity in the UMC, came the call for love. But what does love mean and specifically what does it mean that Christians are to love? To define love is to define it by categories. I love my wife differently than I love watching movies. Because of this, the Bible categorizes love in four different ways: sexual, brotherly/sisterly, familial, and covenantal. So what do we mean when we say we must love one another? To understand love, as with unity, we must understand God.

The Apostle John tells us that “God is love” but this is not the only thing God is. God is also holy, he is just, he is merciful, he is wrathful, he is kind, he is good, he is sovereign, he is eternal, he is righteous, he is self-existent. To take away any one of these attributes is to deny God who He declares Himself to be. God’s love then, is interpreted through all of who He is: namely that He is holy and unlike anything we can fathom. He is good and perfect in an of Himself. He is righteous and is the standard of all justice and mercy. Love is not more or less important than any other of his divine, communicable attributes.

For the Christian, love is one of the most important things we embody. In Colossians Paul writes, “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” The entire Law, Jesus says, is summed up in two commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And finally Jesus says, “by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

If unity is conformity to who God is in the person and work of Jesus, then love is a lifestyle of radical self-giving to the very character and nature of God in word, thought, and deed. That’s why the Traditional Plan was one of love. To truly love someone means to tell them that they are wrong. It means to honestly tell them that the path they are heading down leads to death. It is the exact same thing God does for us, so why do we think we can do it differently?

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:9-11).

This is a radical call. To love is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, holding to the standards that God calls us to in his Gospel and living it out in such a way that people find it attractive. It can be hard because many people that we genuinely love are walking down the wrong path. This is a radical call to love our LGBTQ neighbors, not in affirmation or conformity to what we believe is untruthful, but in truth and grace. It’s time we stopped yelling on street corners and start shaking their hands to get to know them. It’s time to start showing them the real love of Jesus. The kind of love that invites them into your homes. The kind of love that sees them as image bearers of the Living God. The kind of love that is willing to speak truth and the kind of love that continues even if they reject the Gospel.

The One Church Plan was not one based in love, but rather based in conformity to untruth and affirmation of sinful living. Love is neither of those things. The calls for unity and love among Progressives in the UMC ultimately rings hollow in light of the true nature of these attributes. I pray the UMC continues on this trajectory of upholding God’s vision for sexuality. That they would “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” That they would not just hold to a Traditional Plan, but the story God has been telling for thousands of years. For now, it seems, they are doing just that.

Further Resources

Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God's Grand Story by Dr. Christopher Yuan

What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung

Gay Girl Good God by Jackie Hill Perry

Transforming Homosexuality: What the Bible Says about Sexual Orientation and Change by Denny Burk and Heath Lambert

Is God anti-gay? (Questions Christians Ask) by Sam Allberry

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert : An English Professor's Journey into Christian Faith by Rosaria Butterfield

The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics by Robert Gagnon

Jake Cannon