Biblical Obedience

34
26538

By Roy I. Sano, Bishop | The United Methodist Church

A growing number of United Methodist clergy are conducting same gender unions in violation of the Church’s law. (¶2702.1b) They are doing so out of love for those they are uniting. They also see the Church’s prohibitions contradicting Wesleyan hospitality in our Discipline. “Inclusiveness means openness, acceptance, and support that enable all persons to participate in the life of the Church, the community, and the world; therefore, inclusiveness denies every semblance of discrimination. The services of worship of every local church of The United Methodist Church shall be open to all persons.” (¶140) In addition, some cannot comply with what they see as an injustice in the Church’s prohibition and are seeking to restore justice.

Those who want to terminate the membership of these clergy should reflect on the interactions Jesus had with the Pharisees and his neighbors.

Those who want to terminate the membership of these clergy should reflect on the interactions Jesus had with the Pharisees and his neighbors. In his ministry, Jesus violated religious regulations and challenged the biases of his people as he fulfilled the Great Commandment of love (Mt 22:37; Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18) and met basic human needs. (Mt 12:1-14, 22) After the Jesus violated Sabbath regulations, they “went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him” (Mt 12:1-14); after Jesus cured a demoniac, the Pharisees claimed, “It is only by Beelzebul, the ruler of demons, that this fellow [Jesus] casts out the demons.” (Mt 12:24; Mk 3:22; Lk 11:15)

The Gospels answered the opposition with passages from Isaiah about the anointed of the Lord. Those passages identified who Jesus is, what he will do, and by implication, how disciples are expected to follow Jesus. Matthew claimed Jesus was not moved by Beelzebul, but was anointed by the Spirit of God. (Is 42:1-4, in Mt 12:18-21) That meant Jesus is the “beloved” of God who is “chosen” to advocate justice and bring it to pass. God is also “well pleased” with this “servant” because he “will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick”—an apt description of those wounded by the Church’s exclusion. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus read another passage from Isaiah. (Is 61:1-2, with 58:6, in Lk 4:18-19) His people were appalled when Jesus said he is the anointed one in the prophecy; his people were enraged when he said he will fulfill his calling as Elijah and Elisha did. Elijah went abroad and fed a Gentile widow during a famine, although hunger was rampant among his own people; Elisha cured a commander of a menacing army of his leprosy, although there were many lepers in Israel.

Two features in biblical obedience explains why Jesus violated religious regulations and challenged the people’s biases.

His people attempted to toss Jesus over a cliff, but he escaped because his time had not come. (Lk 4:16-30) Thus, the anointing of the Spirit of God, and not an evil spirit, empowered Jesus to promote justice and extend pastoral ministries to those who were different, just as the clergy violating Church law are doing today. Two features in biblical obedience explains why Jesus violated religious regulations and challenged the people’s biases.

First, Jesus drew a sharp distinction between disobedience to human tradition and obedience to God’s word.  When the Pharisees complained that the disciples did not observe dietary regulations, Jesus answered, “For the sake of your tradition you make void the word of God.” (Mt 15:6; cf Mk 7:13) In Mark’s version, Jesus said, “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” (Mk 7:7) Debate over the Sabbath vividly illustrates the distinction. Human traditions had accumulated around specific ways to observe the Sabbath. Because those human traditions “make void,” or lead people to abandon the more basic commands of God, Jesus disobeyed those traditions, and practiced biblical obedience by observing the “weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy and faith.” (Mt 23:23) By doing so, Jesus kept the Sabbath holy. (Ex 20:8)

Second, Jesus also drew a distinction between a passage we have relied on uncritically, and biblical obedience to a particular portion of the Word of God related to what is under consideration. We see this focus in another exchange with Pharisees. Jesus affirmed the biblical passage that United Methodists have often cited to support our prohibitive tradition: “At the beginning, [God] made male and female.” (Mt 19:4, from, Gen 1:27) Amidst further exchanges in that setting, however, Jesus spoke of another ordering in creation that we have abandoned. Jesus said, “There are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” (Mt 19:12)

Those who are violating United Methodist prohibitions are supported by what Jesus said about another ordering in God’s creation.

United Methodism has therefore accumulated in the Discipline a tradition of prohibitions based on God creating male and female, but has nullified and abandoned biblical obedience to another way people are born or “made.” Those who are violating United Methodist prohibitions are supported by what Jesus said about another ordering in God’s creation. Because this claim may sound rather novel, it is necessary to place the new ordering Jesus mentioned in the broader sweep of God’s activities.

There is a strand in the Bible that only builds on God’s creative acts by fiat in Genesis 1. God creates creatures and draws sharp distinctions among them, separates creatures from other creatures and says they are good—light from darkness, water from land, species of every kind distinguishable from others, and male and female. From this perspective, combining the distinct kinds, or crossing what separates them, violated the goodness God created and was therefore prohibited. That perspective generated a number of prohibitions, including the breeding of different kinds of animals and planting seeds of different kind in the same field, wearing different types of textiles (Lev 19:19) and males crossing over their distinctiveness. (Lev 20:13) The same perspective eventually led Ezra and Nehemiah in the post-exilic period to demand that Jews who had married Gentiles “send away all their wives and their children.” (Ezra 10:2-3, 10-11; Neh 13:23-30) In the development of this strand in the biblical witnesses which we use in our prohibitions, God created distinct creatures and intended to keep them apart permanently.

There is, however, another story of creation in Genesis 2 which leads to the new ordering Jesus mentioned. (Mt 19:12) In this story, God does not separate, but gathers different creatures or blends their ingredients, and makes them a part a new creation. Water and the earth are brought together, as are a host of different plants, to create the Garden of Eden. Woman as a distinct creature may have come from man in this account, but in the culmination of this story, two distinct creatures “become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24) This strand is crucial for Christians. Boaz, a Jew, married Ruth, a Gentile descendant of Moabites whom Israelites despised. (Ruth 4:10-12; Neh 13:1) Their children blended ingredients from Jews and Gentiles.

There is, however, another story of creation in Genesis 2 which leads to the new ordering Jesus mentioned.

Later, Mathew’s genealogy of Jesus heightened the blending. We discover three Gentiles in the ancestry of Jesus, namely, Rahab, the harlot, Ruth, and Bathsheba, counted by the Jews as a Gentile because she married Uriah, a Gentile. (Mt 1:1-17) Thus, our Lord, Jesus Christ, came from an ancestry of mixed marriages between Jews and Gentiles, clearly contradicting the excesses in Ezra and Nehemiah! We see the same story in the birth of the church. The Holy Spirit equipped the apostles to bring together the first multi-lingual, multi-cultural mega-church (Acts 2:5-11) that blended this variety into a single faith community. (Acts 2:44) Philip, the evangelist, spread the faith further. Under his ministry, Samaritans seen as blending different ethnicities and faiths (Acts 8:4-25) and a eunuch who crossed the lines of distinct identities (Acts 8:26-39; cf Lev 20:13) were converted to Christ.

The tension between the two stories of creation is resolved when positive ingredients of both stories become stages in the fuller sweep of God’s mission. First, God creates creatures with their distinctive identities and affirms their goodness, and, second, God gathers a variety of creatures, with unfolding variations in their identities, and makes them a distinguishable part of a larger whole. Truly a further ordering in creation. Space only allows for one paradigmatic illustration of a scenario that occurs elsewhere in the Bible. When the Church decided not to circumcise Gentiles at its council in Jerusalem, they were saying Gentiles did not need to become Jews before they became Christians. The goodness in the distinct identities of Gentiles, along with the Samaritans and the eunuch, were retained (!), and, together with Jewish Christians, were brought together as distinguishable parts of a larger whole in new household of faith. (Acts 15:1-21; ¶140)

With biblical obedience we join in the sweep of this mission of God.

With biblical obedience we join in the sweep of this mission of God. In the traditional language of the mission of the triune God, what the Father as the Source is creating, is not violated however much they are transformed by the Son as the Savior and the Spirit as the Sanctifier. God is One. (Deut 6:4; Mk 12:21)

These lines of reflections lead me to say the following. First, I support those who are celebrating same gender unions based on the biblical foundations in the ministry of Jesus Christ for the mission of the triune God. Second, the prohibition of same gender unions in our Discipline has nullified and abandoned key passages in the biblical witnesses to God’s work, and is weighed down with human traditions that constrain us from fulfilling the Great Commandment with “weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy, and faith.” Third, we should therefore forego any further uses of those provisions in the Discipline for charges and in trials. Fourth, we now need hallowing conferences to develop a consensus around more appropriate strands in the biblical witnesses to God’s activities for the issue at hand, and develop related traditions that baptize us into God’s expansive mission. With consensus on those points, we will become more faithful to the Great Commission (Mt 28:18-20) and better able to reach new people and new generations for Christ. Dear God, help us. Amen.


Bishop Roy I. Sano was elected to the United Methodist episcopacy in 1984, serving the Denver (’84-’92) and Los Angeles (’92-’00) episcopal areas. Directly preceding his election, he was Professor of Theology and Pacific and Asian American Ministries at the Pacific School of Religion. Bishop Sano earned an M.Div. from Union Theological Seminary, NYC (’57), a M.Th. from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, C, and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Claremont Graduate School (’72). He retired in 2000 and currently lives in Oakland, CA.

Photo Caption: Bishop Roy I. Sano addressing Western Jurisdictional leaders during a service at First United Methodist Church of San Diego in July of 2012. Photo by Patrick Scriven.

34 COMMENTS

    • Those who hear this will be deceived. Jesus clearly taught that marriage is between a man and woman and that sin is to be turned away from, not embraced as something new God is doing.

  1. Great way to stretch and manipulate God’s Word into what you need it to be Bishop. I challenge you to find any translation of the Bible that approves of these unions without manipulating the text.

  2. Amen. Additionally, according to Wesley, scripture is primary “as far as it is necessary for our salvation.” (umc.org)

  3. John 16:1-15 reminds us that God is continually bringing us the Good News through the power of the Holy Spirit. As Bishop Sano shares, Jesus gave us a model of openness to the guidance of the Holy Spirit that allows us to leave ways of thinking that prevent the fullness of God’s grace to reach all people.

    I stand with my brothers and sisters in the LGBT community based on what the Holy Spirit has shown me.
    I base my understanding on Biblical Obedience. If the Book of Discipline contradicts Biblical discernment then it is the Book of Discipline that needs adjusting. John 16:1-15 is one of many biblical passages the Holy Spirit has placed on my heart in my journey to be faithful to God.

    If my discernment is different than others I agree there needs to be dialogue. Not condemnation.

    • quite the contrary…. we sit down and with the grace of God listen to one another. If faithful discernment still leaves us with no resolution then we need to sit with each other in love while God helps us sort it out. That’s the difference between “Just Resolution” and a “Trial”. A trial can seem tidier as one can wash their hands and say, “that’s done” but we know what that can lead to as well…..

  4. Does Bishop Sano equate being “born a Eunich” with a same-sex orientation? Seems like a fantastic stretch to me. One of his points hangs on Same-Sex orientation being a part of God’s created order (as to intention) The Biblical witness of Romans would speak of same-sex orientation being not an expression of God’s creative intention (male and female God created them),but rather an expression or sign of the brokeness of God intention in creation. In my mind, Bishop Sano’s Biblical exegesis seems more an expression of his own imagination, and a possible dip into the dangers warned about from another Genesis story: that of Adam and Even and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil….that humanity will assume it can decide what is ordered and disordered or what is right and good and what is less.than so. I prefer a more humbled hearing of the revelation of God through the scriptures. I was once in a place where I presumed that my inclinations were the same as the Biblical’s witness and therefore, since I had no problem with same-sex persons entering into marriage (or some similar thing)—therefore God must have no problem with it. The more I read scripture, the more I learned how I presumptuous I was in many, many ways regarding scripture. On guard as much as possible on my own presumption, I have come to do better scriptural listening. I certainly am not hearing what Bishop Sano is hearing. I think most often a simpler read brings much more truth than the fantastic gyrations that seem evidenced in Bishop Sano’s exegesis..

    • I don’t see where he “equates” them. He uses that scripture to talk about someone who is born “different” – i.e. what we consider “different” – which is what Jesus did when he spoke of eunochs.. Our current concept of homosexuality was not known at the time this scripture was written, but people would have known what eunuchs were when Jesus spoke of them.

  5. 5 Myths People Spread About Jesus, Sex and Gay Marriage by Kenny Burchard. Google it. Read it.

    The day the UMC caves in on this issue and allows homosexual marriage plus ordains homosexuals is the day I will resign. As a Libertarian, I believe you have the right to pursue happiness in any way you wish provided no other persons are hurt or injured in the process. I believe in INDIVIDUAL rights. Homosexuals are a GROUP pushing for GROUP rights. And that destroys liberty to the rest of us.

  6. This is not exegesis. This is a bunch of nonsense put together to make a point. Where is the consistent worldview? Where is the systematics? How can a bishop of the church flunk systematics this badly?

    Any good systematics text will take a concept and trace its history through the history of the church, compare interpretations, and then look at the Scriptural foundations in light of these things. Not the other way around.

  7. Nothing new in your comments. The one thing you do miss is that Jesus knew what was in the hearts of each person he encountered. It amazes me that so many are ready, like the Pharisees, to condemn rather than getting to know what is in a person’s heart. Much easier to use the letter of the law to quickly dispense righteous declarations. Jesus challenges us to come closer to the spirit of the law… and actually get to know those we are so ready to declare sinners.

  8. It seems to me that everyone is forgetting that it is against God’s law for same-sex to be together. We are to hate the sin (which it is) and love the sinner.

  9. During my 75-plus years as a Methodist, with a brief 10-year sojourn with Catholics, I’ve had several occasions in which it was necessary to rethink an affiliation with which I originally had been compatible. Sometimes it was due to not fully understanding the goals and guidelines but it was often only gaining greater knowledge and maturing in my beliefs. However, in each situation, I was faced with the decision of remaining and modifying or terminating and seeking that group with whom those beliefs were more in line with. Not once did I have the hubris to expect that group to modify its structure so as to allow me to accept it. Covenants, whether social or spiritual, should be honored and, when, as a matter of conscience, they cannot, the only course of action remaining is termination of the covenant.

    • Thank you for sharing your process of staying in covenant. It seems we can veil our need to control others’ process of staying in covenant by declaring our preferred way of acting to be everyone else’s way to act. Very interesting….. hubris takes many forms. One might consider contemplating that those who welcome gay and lesbian brothers and sisters understand they are keeping covenant with their savior Jesus Christ.

  10. Gal 3:28: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

    When I enter my reward, those around me will have no awareness of gender. If it matters not in heaven, why should it matter on Earth?

    I reject all who hate those who sin differently, I suspect they may be greatly surprised when the sheep are separated from the goats.

  11. Haters will always hate and use Jesus to defend their bigoted outlook on life. Why not stop wasting time arguing and work together to share the love of Christ to everyone – PERIOD!

    • Discussion is only wasted if people are not open to hearing what is being shared. It can actually be an important part of the work that needs to be done. Arguing with closed minds does waste time…..

    • Why is it that so many people “assume” that just because we believe that homosexuality is biblically wrong that we are haters? Nowhere in these comments do I read that anyone hates homosexuals or those in the LGBT community. I know that I don’t.

      Condone their lifestyle? No. Show them the love of Christ? Yes, by all means!!! Disagree with us? OK, but please don’t label us haters, or anything else, just because you disagree with us. That is not the way to go forward and “work together to share the love of Christ to everyone”.

      • Cheating on your income tax is Biblically wrong as well yet I never see large groups of people with signs protesting that particular “wrong”. I pray that you actually do show those who are different than you the love of Christ, but for me and my family that has never been the case.

        • I couldn’t quite follow your logic with the income tax angle but perhaps the reason you’re not sensing that love is that you are unable to see it as love. For you, love for the individual and failure to accept their life style are mutually exclusive. If they don’t agree, it’s not love.

    • This is in response to both Sharon and Mark. It remains an enigma to me as to why those who entertain a certain position tend to attack the motivations of any who disagree by assigning some pejorative such as hate to diminish the credibility of those that oppose them. To attack the character of the messenger, as opposed to discussing the merits of the message, would appear to indicate perhaps a weakness in that position necessitating the destruction of opposition.

      • Oh they have to say hate when they have no line of argument. There are a couple of problems with it.

        First, let’s suppose that I really did hate homosexuals. (I don’t. I have friends who are homosexual.) Does that make me ipso facto wrong with what I say about homosexuals? No. Does it give cause for suspicion? Sure. But you only know if someone is wrong if you look at the data.

        Second, the problem is hate is just too nebulous a term. Everyone hates something. Everyone had better hate something. If there is nothing you hate, you have a problem. Why do I say that? Simple. I hate injustice. I hate greed. I hate sexual abuse. I hate seeing how many murders are reported on the news. I hate the suffering of innocent people.

        If you don’t hate things like that, you have a problem. If you categorize all hate as negative by virtue of being hate, then you must condemn the hatred of those things as well.

        The left cannot go by the data and can only go by character assassination. Sad that that convinces so many.

  12. Discussion will only be tolerated by the LGBT side until (if?) the Book of Discipline is changed. After all, why would anyone be afraid of discussion? What’s the harm in conversation – even a temporary suspension of trials/discipline until the church body has reached a consensus? — that’s how the argument goes. The issue?

    Once (if?) the Book of Discipline is changed, then discussion will no longer be tolerated and the traditionalists will be forced into silence. Discussion will be thrown by the wayside, and dissent will not be allowed. If you don’t think that will happen, just look at the ELCA or TEC – the Lutheran and Episcopal equivalents to the UMC. They discussed until the change was made, and then the traditionalists were stamped out. Same playbook – I hope a different result.

Leave a Reply