Gay Christians and the UMC and Lambeth Controversies

Gay Christians and the UMC and Lambeth Controversies March 26, 2019

Given how much this subject has been in the news lately, and on blogs and other sources that I read regularly and subscribe to, it seems that a round-up is in order. The convergence of the United Methodist Church’s vote, and the Archbishop of Canterbury rescinding the invitation to same-gender spouses of attendees, showed that even in progressive demominations there is still significant ongoing debate. I know a number of people who are involved in these denominations at all levels, from laypeople through Sunday school teachers to seminary professors and people in leadership roles in the church hierarchy – as well as at least one individual who is contemplating going to seminary and wondering what all this might mean for their future vocational path.

Below is a selection of links to blog posts and articles on these topics. I think that setting these different yet related events from two different yet related denominations is instructive. Let me know if I missed anything that you think is particularly helpful or insightful!

Erin Wathen asks why Christian homophobia is trending at the moment, and says insightful things like “It is the fear of change itself that keeps our faith so small and scared.” Inside Higher Ed looked at how United Methodist schools are reacting. The University of Kent responded, being the prospective venue for Lambeth 2020.

Christian Century has had articles on what the United Methodists should do now that their meeting offered no clear way forward, as well as wrestling with the fact that people can be both bruised and blessed by scripture.

Americans Show Broad Support for LGBT Nondiscrimination Protections

Bad Theology Hurts People

Behold LGBTQ+ Stand at the Door and Knock

Bart Ehrman hosted more than one guest post by Jeff Siker on homosexuality and the New Testament:

Homosexuality and the New Testament. Guest Post by Jeff Siker.

Why the Uniting Church should be louder about its LGBTIQ inclusion

Union Theological Seminary shared its response

Hacking Christianity shared a reader’s response to the vote, a collection of regional responses, the Nordic UMC response, as well as an extensive discussion of flawed arguments used in the debate.

Eboo Patel focused on the way reporting about this exposes a false simplicity in the progressive and liberal narrative represented in much of the media.

Methodist Pastor Will Keep Officiating Gay Weddings Until the UMC Kicks Him Out

The Largest Christian Charity in America Gives Millions to Anti-LGBT Hate Groups

Evangelicals and the Gay Closet: Is Ray Boltz Still a Christian?

A Saturday Church (Reflections on General Conference)

A Gay Church Janitor’s Song About His Place in Heaven Wowed American Idol Judges

The Truth About LGBTQ Christians

Pastor Fired for Officiating Former Student’s Same-Sex Wedding Has No Regrets

Christian Group Runs Anti-Walmart “Survey” After Gay Men Appear in Blind Date Ad

Anti-Gay Christian Who Broke School Rules Claims She Got Punished for Her Faith

Evidence of improper voting raises questions about Methodist gay clergy vote

Changing our Mind

Bishops and spouses respind to Lambeth disinvitations

The way of love and Lambeth

The Guardian had an article on “the gay church.”

Lee M asked whether the world needs another Methodist church.

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  • Robert Conner

    Fear of change? Is it really? Or is it the sinking realization that Christianity is a lot of folklore, folklore without meaning?

    • Folklore is rarely not meaningful to those who preserve it and find their identity in it, and so your alternative suggestion seems rather implausible.

      • Robert Conner

        As you well know, Christianity doesn’t claim to be folklore. It claims to be divinely revealed truth that leads believers to eternal salvation. People define themselves by all sorts of idiotic crap. MAGA, for example.

        • Sure, but what does that have to do with how one studies it as a phenomenon?

          • Robert Conner

            Speaking for the majority of skeptics, I begin by dismissing its truth claims and then asking what it’s currently being used for. What’s its psychological use, its political use? How have the most vocal Christians, the fundagelicals, managed to help create a plutocracy, a country where guns are constitutionally protected and school kids are disposable, for instance? And I ridicule it. A lot.


          • John MacDonald

            You think you speak for the majority of skeptics? I’m agnostic, and you certainly don’t speak for me. Your approach is to ridicule someone (a lot) because (in your opinion) they are in error? I certainly hope you never become a teacher …

          • Robert Conner

            Reading comprehension, John, reading comprehension. The majority of skeptics “begin by dismissing [Christianity’s] truth claims,” n’est-ce pas? I’m not an agnostic about Christianity’s truth claims any more than I’m an agnostic about Zeus or Dionysus. There is no evidence for Christianity’s theological claims. No evidence for Adam and Eve, hence no evidence for “original sin,” hence no need for redemption from same. Or do you think kangaroos got on Noah’s ark and then Noah dropped them off in Australia? Would that have been before or after Noah dropped the elephants off in Africa?

            Have you been to the Ark Exhibit? How about the Creation Museum? Stocked up on Armageddon food buckets yet? Had your MAGA hat autographed? What school system do you teach in? Oklahoma, I’m guessing. Close? Or is it Alabama?

          • John MacDonald

            My, you’re feisty! Robert said: “I’m not an agnostic about Christianity’s truth claims any more than I’m an agnostic about Zeus or Dionysus.” This seems a little like a one size fits all overgeneralization. From your point of view, what are, to use your language, the central Christian truth claims?

          • Robert Conner

            Well, John, according to the gospels, Jesus believed in Adam and Eve (Matthew 19:4-5) and Abel (Matthew 23:35) and Noah and the Flood (Matthew 24:37-39). Jesus at least had an excuse for his ignorance. Jesus was a peasant born in a village in a backwater of Palestine 2000 years ago. What’s your excuse?

            So, yeah, John, one size fits all. Jesus and his illiterate followers had no more chance of knowing anything real about the world than a bunch of drunks parading through the streets celebrating Dionysus. Jesus wasn’t born from a virgin like Dionysus wasn’t born from the thigh of Zeus. Osiris didn’t come back from the dead and neither did Jesus. You see, I’m getting “feisty” because you’re getting stupid. Which I think is a fair trade. You see, it’s not an overgeneralization to say people of the past were ignorant. Most of them knew factually less about the world than today’s dimwitted third grader.

            BTW, I’d guess the majority of mainstream New Testament scholars reject at least certain parts of Christian truth claims and some of them reject the whole megillah. Which you’d know already if you cared to.

          • You’re making a number of completely off-base assumptions about where John is coming from. And as one of those mainstream academics I cansay boththat your guess is correspct, and also at the same time that I wish you cared enough about this to actually check what scholars and historians have to say rather than merely guessing, since it is not only our conclusions but our methods by which we reach them that it is, I think, important for the general public to know about.

          • John MacDonald

            I sort of get where Robert is coming from. I’ve seen him post on Loftus’s anti-Christian Debunking Christianity site.
            I was also once a fundamentalist atheist/mythicist, and thought I was making profound points by doing stuff like pointing out Biblical Contradictions. I started to sway away from this for a number of reasons, such as when I realized I was being a bit of a hypocrite: accusing theists of simply guessing that God does exist without compelling evidence, when I was actually doing the same thing = guessing that God doesn’t exist without compelling evidence. The fundamentalist atheist mindset treats all believers as though they are inerrantists, and so contradictions, etc, are a major point of contention. But as I matured in my perspective, I found liberal Christians have little in common with these fundamentalist Christian conservatives. And, if we define God as theos or ground, bracketing the question of the theos’s attributes, then I am a theist!

            Chancellor Palpatine:
            Anakin, if one is to understand the great mystery, one must study all its aspects, not just the dogmatic narrow view of the Jedi. If you wish to become a complete and wise leader, you must embrace…a larger view of the Force.


          • Robert Conner

            Well, Dr. McGrath, let me say that I went to a real university back in the day, a school with classrooms, professors, and a curriculum, and studied biblical Greek, Hebrew, Coptic and Aramaic before finally concluding that the New Testament claims were basically a crock. I changed majors, took other degrees, and wrote other books, without completely losing interest in how a potpourri of nonsensical snot like Christianity managed to become a world religion. In the past decade or so I’ve written three books on magic in the career of Jesus and early Christians, a critical look at the academic (if that’s what you’d call it) response to Morton Smith’s claims about “Secret” Mark, and last year another title about elements of ghost lore in the resurrection stories. This year a skeptical look at miracles, for which I’ve contributed three chapters, is set for release.

            So for a non-specialist I’d say I’m pretty well read in New Testament studies and well aware of what the canons of evidence require to substantiate a claim. My big problem with responding to blogs, which is why I don’t generally bother, is that I have zero patience with the question begging, special pleading, and general pettifoggery that infests these forums. While I recognize that the vast majority of pew sitters are simply too obtuse or uninterested to be swayed by logic or evidence, I’m also aware that fundigelical Christians pose an existential threat to democracy, and worse yet to ecological survival given their science denial and their enthusiasm for stupidity generally. I openly invite hard- and soft-core apologists for the accreted folklore that is Christianity to get back with us after another fifty years of environmental destruction and let us know how that Jesus thingy’s going for you, humanity generally, and the thousands of species that will likely be extinct by then. BTW, it’s 28 March, 2019, and Jesus still hasn’t Come Back yet. Hope you haven’t been waiting up nights.

          • If you’ve written on ancient magic, I’d love to do an interview for my podcast about your work, if you’re interested! I have been getting the impression that you think that this is yet another place where academics is at best marginal and you need to be aggressive and/or defensive. I hope that instead you’ll find this to be a place where people interested in setting aside superficial controversy and digging deeply into historical questions can actually take center stage at least from time to time. I hope you’ll find it a refreshing change from other places you frequent on the internet! 🙂

          • John MacDonald

            A gentle answer turns away wrath. – Reverend Lovejoy, to Ned Flanders on the Simpsons

          • Robert Conner

            Been off work the last few days, out for long walks. Fields full of wildflowers, scores of trees in full bloom, covered top to bottom in blossoms, sunny, warm. Guess what’s missing? Honey bees. Not. A. One. Anywhere. After I first noticed it, I started really looking. They’re gone.

            I’ve stopped doing interviews except for new book releases. We’re prattling on about some delusional Jewish peasant who’s been dead for two millennia and the world around us is in collapse, dying before our eyes. Back in 2015 a publisher in the UK released The Secret Gospel of Mark: Morton Smith, Clement of Alexandria, and Four Decades of Academic Burlesque. It wasn’t until I researched and wrote that book that it fully hit me what a sham the whole Jesus Studies enterprise is and has always been. Some skeptic friends of mine continue to chip away at the edges, writing and arguing in hopes of getting at least a few believers to wake up and notice the cage they’re in. In my considered opinion, we/they might just as well be shouting at the dead–the vast majority who retain any serious belief in religion are irremediable.

            As far as magical praxis in early Christianity goes, there is no historical debate, nor is there any deep digging left to be done. That ruin has been excavated. Jesus and the early Christians were magical thinkers and the evidence for it is so extensive I doubt it could be adequately surveyed at this point in anything less than a thousand pages. Thanks but no thanks.

          • I had no idea how new your books were. I agree completely with your assessment, and I empathize with the desire to explore serious scholarship on the one hand, and to figure out how best to use it to disabuse fundamentalist religious people of their unhistorical and ahistorical notions, which lead to concrete negative consequences. If you ever do have a new book out, my offer still stands. In the meantime, feel free to continue engaging with blog readers (and with me, of course) if you are so inclined.

            Just so you know, John MacDonald is an agnostic who seems to disagree with you only in how to best challenge conservative religious people. I hope that if your conversation continues, it moves in interesting and fruitful directions!

          • John MacDonald

            One question I have for Robert and his atheist proselytisation is why couldn’t the public school mutual respect model act as an exemplar for society as a whole? In public schools we celebrate multiculturalism and provide a venue for students to express and explore their beliefs, so long as an atmosphere of mutual respect is maintained. I think that would be an excellent model for society as a whole: a critical thinking approach that challenges faith where it does not live up to a mandate of mutual respect, but otherwise celebrates our differences and works together to explore, resolve, and accept our differences of opinion.

          • Robert Conner

            It’s curious that you frame my objections religiously as “atheist proselytisation” (sic). I guess to a hammer, it’s all nails, huh? Obviously you can define “god” any way you want. That said, what Debunking Christianity’s clearly about, as the name clearly indicates, is questioning the specific truth claims of Christianity. (Spoiler alert: there is no evidence for the theological claims of Christianity. None.)

            No one is obligated to “respect” frauds, liars, bad faith argumentation, question begging, or special pleading. Nor are skeptics required to entertain lets-pretend arguments. Bored now. Leaving. Have a nice weekend.

          • John MacDonald

            Atheism is a faith. It infers an absence of god/gods despite the lack of sufficient evidence to draw such a conclusion. That’s why I’m not an atheist.

          • Robert Conner

            Atheism is to religion as not collecting stamps is to hobbies. You still have a long way to go.

          • John MacDonald

            If your worldview is evidence based, give one piece of compelling evidence that there is no God.

          • Robert Conner

            “… give one piece of compelling evidence that there is no God.”

            Let’s start with your reasoning ability. On second thought, let’s just skip it.

          • John MacDonald

            If you don’t or can’t provide even 1 piece of compelling evidence that God doesn’t exist …

          • John MacDonald

            I mean, think about it: If we are going to convict God of existing, or conversely, convict God of not existing, we need to present the jury with argument and evidence. C’mon, give me your best argument that you think convicts God of not existing, and hence provides a compelling case for your atheist point of view.

            For instance, many atheists like to default to the argument of suffering as an argument against the existence of God. But I don’t think this wins the day. While the problem of suffering may be evidence against a certain type of God (Omni good/loving/present/powerful/knowing), it certainly doesn’t disprove a God who is indifferent, or impotent, or insane, or Evil, or unaware, etc. And of course, fundamentalists try to undermine this line of thought completely by simply pointing out God promises justice in the next world, not this one.

            A theist thinks there are compelling reasons to believe there is a God/gods. An atheist thinks there are compelling reasons to believe there is no God/gods. An agnostic feels (i) there aren’t any compelling reasons for believing there is a God/gods, just as (ii) there aren’t any compelling reasons to believe there is no God/gods. The agnostic observes that perhaps theism and atheism are just groundless guesswork, and points them to read The Emperor’s New Clothes picture book.

            So humor me! You’ve got me curious. What’s your best/favorite argument/evidence against the existence of God. Prosecute your case!

  • Bones

    Meh, no one cares about Lambeth especially when the US Church is suspended while there are churches like Africa and Nigeria supporting criminalisation of (and worse!) gay people.

    • D.M.S.

      There’s no such thing as sexually active gay Christians.
      They’re an abomination unto God/Jesus.

      • It is far easier to make the case that there are no bigoted, prejudiced, hateful, or rich Christians, all of whom are much more clearly an abomination unto God/Jesus. Knowing the scriptures, I am sure you agree.

        • D.M.S.

          These days everyone is bigoted, prejudiced, hateful by today’s standards.
          Every Christians that has God/Jesus in their everyday life are rich.

          • Bones

            That’s why you worship trump.

          • D.M.S.

            I worship God/Jesus.
            I vote for President Trump.
            As I do for most Republicans.
            I vote for very few democrats.

          • Bones

            Amazing how you are triggered by gay people but not Christians wanting to kill gay people.

            Says a lot about you.

          • D.M.S.

            Christians who want to kill gay people, are ‘ NOT ‘ Christians.
            They’re fascist.

        • D.M.S.

          You must be a MikePence fan.

      • Bones

        Yawn…what does the bible say about liars again???

        • D.M.S.

          Where does God/Jesus state otherwise?
          A man leaves his mother and father and takes a wife and they become one.

          • Bones

            Or he takes a sex slave. .. Or he takes more than one wife. . Or he takes mistresses to be his concubines…. Or he kills the parents and takes their virgin daughters…. Or he kidnaps daughters to make them his wives.

          • D.M.S.

            I’ll ask again, real slow.
            Where does God/Jesus state otherwise?

          • Bones


          • D.M.S.

            Yes, it’s funny.
            Because you can’t answer that question.
            Because it doesn’t exist.
            God/Jesus speaks ( states ) of marriage between a man and a woman only.