Same-Sex Marriage in the UMC, Part I: The Issue at Hand

* this is the first part of a four part series about why I think the UMC should fully include same-sex marriages. See also parts II: The Bible, III: Complementarity, and IV:Full Inclusion.

It has been rather disappointing to watch the United Methodist Church (the denomination to which I belong) struggle over the question of the inclusion of same-sex marriage into its denominational life because there has been precious little dialogue. The debate has been filled more with noisy echo chambers than theological discussion. I don’t know how to address that aside from adding my voice to the mix by submitting an argument that attempts to deal with the theological and Biblical issues involved. I’m not sure I’ll get opposing arguments exactly right, but I will attempt to engage them fairly. And I invite discussion about these points.


THE ISSUE (AS FAR AS I CAN TELL):

The first order of business is an attempt to understand, as best as possible, the issue at hand. The UMC Book of Discipline states that, in line with Christian teaching and tradition, same-sex romantic and sexual acts and relationships (what is termed “the practice of homosexuality”) are not to be permitted in the life of the church (¶161 [F, p.111] and ¶304.3 [220]).

An important question must follow as to why this is the case.

In attempting to clarify this statement, here is my ensuing line of thinking:
1.) There are no romantic or sexual acts unique to a same-sex couple that could not be performed by an heterosexual couple.
2.) Denominational discipline is not really aimed at specific romantic or sexual acts, per se.
3.) The Book of Discipline does not prohibit any specific sexual act.
-> 4.) Thus, the Book of Discipline and exercised denominational understanding of its violation seem to be aimed at the proper pairing of a couple given their respective sexes/genders.

A discussion of same-sex marriage in the UMC would therefore need to be about whether or not a particular pairing of sexes/genders is essential to the definition of marriage.

I’ve broken my argument up into four posts because of length. After this initial post explaining my understanding of the issue, they are as follows:

Part II: The Bible
Part III: Complementarity
Part IV: Full Inclusion


MY ARGUMENT IN BRIEF:

1.) claiming a proper pairing of sexes/genders is essential for the definition of marriage can rest on either Biblical and/or complementarian grounds
2.) the Biblical grounds for such a claim are exegetically problematic
3.) the Biblical grounds for such a claim are in direct conflict with the UMC’s current acceptance and endorsement of remarriage
4.) the complementarian grounds for such a claim rest on asserting an essential difference between men and women which is counter to explicit commitments of the UMC
5.) the purpose of marriage has no necessary connection to a particular gender/sex pairing
6.) prohibiting same-sex marriage results in the lack of recognition of the full humanity of LGBT people
7.) there’s no reason to think that being in a same-sex relationship necessarily hinders one’s ability to be and become more Christ-like, more loving of God and neighbor
8.) therefore I see no reason for the particular pairing of individuals to be essential to the definition of marriage
9.) therefore the UMC should adopt an understanding of marriage wherein the particular pairing of sexes/genders is inconsequential


A NOTE ON CLAIMING WESLEY:

Before ending this preliminary post, however, I must say something about those in this debate who claim John Wesley. Claiming that John Wesley is on a particular side of this issue as a way to bolster one’s case is not at all effective. To develop a Wesleyan or United Methodist view is not to adopt Wesley’s view, from which, on the issue of marriage, The United Methodist Church has already importantly diverged.

Wesley, though ahead of his time in many ways, remained a man of his context in others: Wesley clearly believed firmly in the divinely ordained subordination of women to their husbands. [1]. The UMC rejects this view, as will be explained in Part III.


NOTES:

[1]  Bufford W. Coe, John Wesley and Marriage (Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1996) 101. For this see Wesley’s comments on Genesis 3:16, Ephesians 5:23, Colossians 3:18. The Book of Discipline explicitly rejects this view, as will be explained. More directly this points out Wesley’s belief that there is an essential difference between men and women, but it surely plays out in his understanding of marriage.

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