Human Sin and Fallibility – Wesley's Theology and LGBTQ Inclusion



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Overthinking the issue, or grasping at straws

I am a life long Methodist, have no letters behind my name, and am not a biblical scholar. However, I do know right from wrong. The Bible is clear that homosexuality is sin. If we are to continue in Christian fellowship, we must all agree that homosexuality is a sin. No amount of "studying" the issue, looking at Wesley's letters, or uncovering "hidden" meanings will change the fact that homosexuality is a sin. Once we agree that it is a sin, how can we give credibility to any "church leader" who says otherwise? They can no longer lead. I, and others, cannot acknowledge them as a leader and thus cannot follow them. Thus, the UMC MUST split. We need to know who the conservative leaders are and only follow them. I cannot continue to tithe to a UMC that does not see the sinfulness of homosexuality. Whereas I understand that the "church leaders" don't want to split because of diluted resources for pensions, stipends, etc. it is the right thing to do. To think that the progressives and conservatives can ever agree on any compromise solution, simply to avoid splitting is grasping at straws and delaying the inevitable.

It is also more than homosexuality. Our progressive members want to force gender identity, global warming and all types of other social justice issues on us when conservatives don't believe these are Christian issues, only secular issues that have no place in worship or the church's teachings. So, even if a compromise is reached on homosexuality, it will only be a matter of time before we are disagreeing on these other issues. No one wants a constant state of disagreement and acrimony. Like a good parent the UMC needs to put the interests of its members first and not their own self interests.

Steve more than 3 years ago

Basis in Wesley

The detailed analysis of Wesley’s writings that lies behind this blog can be found in my book “Bid our Jarring Conflicts Cease: A Wesleyan Theology and Praxis of Church Unity" (Nashville: Foundery Books, 2017)

David N. Field more than 4 years ago

Seems Like Sophism to Me

After reading this earnest article I was immediately reminded of the Steely Dan song "Pretzel Logic." I understand the need to justify what historically has been sinful behavior, but basing such justification on "it was done out of love" is setting up a false equivalency IMHO. I offer as support the following article -

Dan more than 4 years ago

Moral Law

This author is simply rationalizing anything and everything under the premise that "this is out of love and feels right". What are the limits and how are they drawn?

Kevin more than 4 years ago


I have briefly described what I mean by love in an earlier blog tere I state:Love for God is to center one’s life on God, giving God ultimate loyalty and living one’s life to God’s glory this is not a matter of obligation but of deep love for and delight in God. It in embodied in a life of payer and thanksgiving, participation in communal worship, obedience to God’s commandments, trust in God’s care in all circumstances and the rejection of all competing loyalties.

Love for one’s fellow human beings is the commitment to the concrete and holistic well being of all human beings.

It is not mere outward actions it involves attitudes and motivations.
It extends to all human beings: Friends, strangers, enemies, the moral, the immoral and even those one considers to be the enemies of God.
Entails a deep compassion for and solidarity with those who are suffering.
It pervades and directs all dimensions of a person’s life.
It takes on a particular character in relationships between fellow Christians entailing reciprocity and mutual delight
I would add that at its core it involves self sacrifice.

David N. Field more than 4 years ago

Pseudo-academic sophistry

Very sad twisting of Wesley's theology of sin based on invalid extrapolation from a partial line of reasoning contained in Wesley's A Plain Account of Christian Perfection. Anyone with even a cursory familiarity with Wesley's writings recognizes his consistent emphasis on the Christian requirement to keep the moral law.

Substitute any other sin into the author's argument (e.g., lying, stealing, murder, incest, pride, fornication, etc.) and the vapidity of the argument becomes utterly apparent. Can you imagine the author seriously proposing that a conservative evangelical could personally view murder as sin, but still be able to recognize that an unrepentant pastor who regularly murders people is an example of holy living?

That a scholar who is either willing to twist Wesley's words, or doesn't recognize how badly he is twisting Wesley's words, is on the Commission on a Way Forward is a sad commentary.

Paul W. more than 4 years ago

A reply

Obviously there are gaps in my argument which is a blog post and not a detailed analysis. Let me note the following.
1. I strongly affirm that Wesley consistently emphasizes that Christians should keep the moral law. This is clearly a central dynamic of his theology. The question is not should Christians keep the moral law, but the interpretation of what the moral law requires. Hence we are faced with the question: “Does the moral law forbid or affirm sexual relationships between people of the same sex in the context of covenanted monogamous relationships?” In my personal experience I know deeply committed Christians whose lives demonstrate the character of Christ and have a deep love for God and their fellows who in good conscience disagree on this.
2. I recognize that Wesley does not even consider the possibility of Christians disagreeing on this issue as his references to sodomy make clear. He does, however, in many places in his writings affirm the holiness of Roman Catholics and their genuine love for God, even though he regarded Catholic worship, with its understanding of the mass and its veneration of the saints and Mary, as idolatrous. A clear violation of the moral law as set out in the Ten Commandments. He goes as far as to accuse them of making a commandment disappear. Yes I am extrapolating from Wesley to address another issue. But I do not think it is illegitimate given the developments in our knowledge of human sexuality since Wesley’s time on the one hand and the experience of Lesbian and Gay Christians, and the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in their lives.
3. If we take your list of other sins. Firstly, they are clearly ruled out by Wesley’s understanding of love for your neighbor. Love ruling the transformed heart gives rise to holy tempers including patience, humility, meekness, justice, self-sacrifice, benevolence and many more. Love for your neighbor in is manifested in concrete acts aimed at the spiritual and physical well being of others. This clearly rules out murder, stealing, lying etc. As I stated in the blog post “This does not mean we can do what we like, for conformity to the law of love requires us to pay attention not only to our motives, but also to the scriptural exposition of God’s moral law, and the empirically determined consequences of our actions.” Second, for Wesley the moral law is most clearly set out in the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount which again would clearly rule out your list of sins.

David N. Field more than 4 years ago

Interested in Your Comments on Tim Keller Article

Based on your article and replies to comments, I would be very interested in your thought on an article by Tim Keller that seems, at least to me, to address many of the issues you cover. His article is found at - Thanks

Dan more than 4 years ago

Keller article

Thanks for the comments and the reference to article by Keller. In my perspective it is a very gracious and respectful articulation of the rejection of the position that monogamous covenanted homosexual relationships are to be accepted. I wish that this discussion was generally carried out with the same tone of respect and grace. While my point at present is not to get into deep discussion on the biblical texts and theological perspectives that underlie the different viewpoints (that would take a book and not a blog) I do think he points out some of the simplistic and problematic reasoning that is often used by those who argue against the traditional views. As I have read a wide variety of books from different perspectives my personal evaluation has been that writers from different positions are often guilty of this. My point is not to engage in arguing for against a particular position but to recognise that faithful Christians disagree. I also think that this is not a trivial matter. If the conservative viewpoint is correct then those who are advocating for an affirmative position are promoting something in which God's eyes is wrong and which therefore has deep spiritual consequences for individuals and societies. If the conservatives are wrong then they are advocating a position which is unjust and has alienated people unnecessarily from the gospel, and which is some cases has been used to justify the mistreatment of LGBTQ people. I think that the discussion needs to continue in a spirit of grace and respect that really tries to hear where those one disagrees with are coming from. My argument is that this is best done when people recognise each other as siblings in Christ and who are together seeking to be faithful to the gospel. We have, for example, debated for centuries the morality of Christians participating in war and come to contradictory conclusions and practices but in many churches including the UMC we have found ways to live with each other, to respect each other and top love each other as siblings in Christ despite these differences.

David N. Field more than 3 years ago

Your response was helpful (Part 1 of 2)

David, I appreciate the responses you have provided. They are enlightening for more clearly understanding where your argument is coming from and for understanding where your argument has gone astray. It is also extremely refreshing to hear someone on your side of the argument clearly admit that Wesley’s views on sodomy are such that he would never give credence to this discussion. (I do have to take issue though with your discussion of the “many” Wesley references to the holiness of Catholics, but I digress…)

Where your argument becomes invalid for theological conservatives is that you left out the following key piece of Wesley’s theology of sin: We determine from Scripture what is and is not sin.

To again quote from “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection”:

"And the tree is known by its fruits. For, as he loves God, so he `keeps his commandments;' not only some, or most of them, but all, from the least to the greatest. He is not content to `keep the whole law and offend in one point,' but has all points `a conscience void of offence towards God, and towards man.' Whatever God has forbidden, he avoids; whatever God has enjoined, he does. `He runs the way of God's commandments,' … All the commandments of God he accordingly keeps, and that with all his might; for his obedience is in proportion to his love, the source from whence it flows.”

This is where your argument breaks down. For the evangelical conservative, the Scriptures are clear: Homosexual behavior is a sin. We have heard all the revisionist arguments time and time again; we have duly considered them and do not find them either persuasive or credible. If we rephrase your opening thesis as a question, “On the basis of Wesley’s theology, would it be possible for a conservative evangelical church leader, who believes that all sexual relationships between people of the same sex are condemned by God, to hold up an openly gay pastor in a committed relationship as a model of holiness?” – The answer is, of course, a resounding no. When Wesley speaks of “sins improperly so called”, he is speaking only of areas where scripture is not clear.

Paul W. more than 3 years ago

Your response was helpful (Part 2 of 2)

To the conservative evangelical camp, the revisionist arguments seem to be based on obfuscatory constructs designed primarily to create confusion and cause folks (particularly those who have a poor grounding in the Scriptures) to question the meaning of the verses, i.e., attempting to narrow the context of the discussion (e.g., defending only loving monogamous same-sex relationships), attempting to narrow the context of the “sin” (e.g., the same-sex relationships condemned in scripture are all associated with idolatry or force), appeals to emotion over Scripture (e.g., the same-sex couples I know are good-hearted Christians), attempts to question the translation of texts themselves (e.g., who knows what Paul really meant by the terms malakoi and arsenokoitai?), etc… Couple this with a healthy dose of “we know so much more now than the writers of the Old and New Testament knew”, and, from our perspective, you have the perfect mix of eisegesis and liberal theological unbelief to confuse the masses. Whether intentional or not, although I assume you are sincere, we view this as false doctrine and those promoting such as false teachers. If you consider each of the revisionist arguments from a neutral perspective, you will be able to see that the same arguments could be employed to argue for redefining any sin.

So, let’s return to the key question, “Does the moral law forbid or affirm sexual relationships between people of the same sex in the context of covenanted monogamous relationships?” The answer from my camp is, “Of course the moral law forbids sexual relationships between people of the same sex in any context.” We are not at liberty to redefine sin. We all know examples of people who are incredibly nice, loving, caring people even though they are living in unrepentant sin in certain areas of their lives; this does not excuse their sins and they should never be described as living holy lives.

Hopefully, this has been helpful to you to better understand my camp and avoid misrepresentations of our positions. At this point in the LGBT discussion in the UMC, it’s long past time for us to be talking past each other, inadvertently misrepresenting each other’s positions, and floating proposals that are dead in the water due to misunderstandings of each other’s theological stances. As a member of the Commission on a Way Forward, I pray that you will be able to quickly develop a deeper understanding of the perspectives of each group represented at the table.

Kind regards.

Paul W. more than 3 years ago

A reply to a reply (1)

Paul. Thank you for your long and detailed response - I appreciate the chance to dialogue. I am happy to drop the “many” to Wesley’s references to Roman Catholics. Perhaps a few words about my context will enlighten where I am coming from. I am South African who spent my early academic career teaching in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Presently I live in Switzerland and am involved in teaching Methodist Studies to students from across Europe. Theologically the vast majority of European Methodists, myself included, locate ourselves within historic orthodoxy, when it comes to socio ethical issues probably many if not most European Methodists would hold views which in the US context would be regarded as pretty much on the left, though with an issue such as abortion the majority (myself included) would reject prochoice views without necessarily taking hard prolife viewpoint. However on the issue of homosexuality we are deeply divided. In short my context is one where Methodists live and work together, mutually support each other, have a largely common theology but disagree on this one issue. I do not think I fit in a camp. I interact with Methodist clergy and lay leaders who disagree on this issue but who in their lives examples of self sacrificial commitment to Christ and the work of the church. I think it is also interesting to compare the situation in the British Methodist Church where the issue is a live debate but has not had the intensity or divisiveness that it has in the UMC.

David N. Field more than 3 years ago

A reply to a reply (2)

I appreciate where you are coming from. I also find some of the views promoted by “progressives” are not persuasive. I find it particularly problematic when conservatives are portrayed as hateful or homophobic while some might be the ones I work with regularly are not. Like you they have deep convictions grounded in their interpretation of scripture. I come from a conservative evangelical background but on this and some other issues have changed my views over the years. To detail that would take more time and space than I have available. I agree that a key issue is the interpretation of scripture. Over the years I have come to a position where I find some of the alternative interpretations of the key biblical passages persuasive – I do for example think there is considerable doubt as to what Paul meant by arsenokoita and malakoi. I have great difficulty relating what Paul says in Romans to the lives and faith of gay and lesbian people I know. I also find some traditional interpretations unpersuasive. I do not think it is narrowing the discussion to focus on covenanted monogamous same sex relationships. Though on these issues I am aware that I will most probably not be able to persuade you even if I had the time and space. I see that you are not persuaded by the analogy of Wesley’s approach to Roman Catholics whom he clearly regarded as teaching false doctrine.
I have written a further blog on my own blog site (Grace in the Fractures) clarifying how I interpret Wesley on moral law.
In my work in the commission I make a point of ensuring that the voices of all European Methodists are heard. My deep concern is for Methodist Churches across Europe who in often difficult contexts bearing faithful and fruitful witness to Christ despite our diversity of views on sexuality.
Thank you again for the opportunity to dialogue.
With best wishes.

David N. Field more than 3 years ago

A reply to a reply (3) PS 1

I am not sure what order this will appear on the website but after a nights sleep I had some further reflection. So here it is:I might be wrong but I have interpreted Wesley’s comments on sin properly so called against the back ground of his other discussions about human fallibility, mistaken opinions and hence mistaken practices found in different texts. Such his sermon “Christian Perfection he states:
The best and wisest of men are frequently mistaken even with regard to facts; believing those things not to have been which really were, or those to have been done which were not. Or, suppose they are not mistaken as to the fact itself, they may be with regard to its circumstances; believing them, or many of them, to have been quite different from what in truth, they were. And hence cannot but arise many farther mistakes. Hence they may believe either past or present actions which were or are evil, to be good; and such as were or are good, to be evil. Hence also they may judge not according to truth with regard to the characters of men; and that, not only by supposing good men to be better, or wicked men to be worse, than they are, but by believing them to have been or to be good men who were or are very wicked; or perhaps those to have been or to be wicked men, who were or are holy and unreprovable.
Nay, with regard to the Holy Scriptures themselves, as careful as they are to avoid it, the best of men are liable to mistake, and do mistake day by day; especially with respect to those parts thereof which less immediately relate to practice. Hence even the children of God are not agreed as to the interpretation of many places in holy writ: Nor is their difference of opinion any proof that they are not the children of God on either side; but it is a proof that we are no more to expect any living man to be infallible than to be omniscient.
Against this background I find Wesley’s discussions of Roman Catholicism informative. In his polemic texts he subjects Roman Catholicism to withering critique and rejecting major aspects of its theology and practice as clearly contrary to scripture and detrimental to Christian life and at the same time affirms that many Catholics have and are holy people. He went on to publish edited editions of Catholic writers such as Thomas à Kempis.

David N. Field more than 3 years ago

A reply to a reply (4) PS 2

In “A Caution Against Bigotry” he states:
But in a far stronger sense "he followeth not us," who is not only of a different Church, but of such a Church as we account to be in many respects anti-scriptural and anti-Christian, --a Church which we believe to be utterly false and erroneous in her doctrines, as well as very dangerously wrong in her practice; guilty of gross superstition as well as idolatry, --a Church that has added many articles to the faith which was once delivered to the saints; that has dropped one whole commandment of God, and made void several of the rest by her traditions; and that, pretending the highest veneration for, and strictest conformity to, the ancient Church, has nevertheless brought in numberless innovations, without any warrant either from antiquity or Scripture. Now, most certainly, "he followeth not us," who stands at so great a distance from us.
In “On The Trinity”
Whatsoever the generality of people may think, it is certain that opinion is not religion: No, not right opinion; assent to one, or to ten thousand truths. There is a wide difference between them: Even right opinion is as distant from religion as the east is from the west. Persons may be quite right in their opinions, and yet have no religion at all; and, on the other hand, persons may be truly religious, who hold many wrong opinions. Can anyone possibly doubt of this, while there are Romanists in the world? For who can deny, not only that many of them formerly have been truly religious, as Thomas a Kempis, Gregory Lopez, and the Marquis de Renty; but that many of them, even at this day, are real inward Christians? And yet what a heap of erroneous opinions do they hold, delivered by tradition from their fathers!
In all these critiques he gives no indication that he regarded the key theological and practical issues as areas where there was room for legitimate diversity of opinion. As I read him he clearly condemned them as obviously contrary to scripture and yet continues to affirm the holiness of individual Catholics and state that Catholics could be members of the Church of England and suggests in a letter to Gilbert Boyce (May 22, 1750) that he could be a member of the Church of Rome as long as he was not compelled to go against his conscience.
I think that one can draw an analogy between this and the contemporary debate on homosexuality. Where for conservatives the acceptance of sexual relationships between members of the same sex in a monogamous covenanted relationship is understood to be sin and for progressives the refusal to accept such relationships is unjust and this sinful.
Thanks again for taking the time to critique my ideas I find it really helpful.
Grace and peace

David N. Field more than 3 years ago

Fundamentalists: The Thesaurus is Your Friend!

Why must every little thing you deem to be politically incorrect come about by "twisting"? This verb as used here just means "Waaa, I don't wike it." It's right-wing code words for politically incorrect, a shorthanded signal to the deluded that the author speaks for political correctness. Coupled with an invalid slippery slope argument it is apparent the writer is grasping at straws like a climber falling down from a precipice.

George Nixon Shuler more than 4 years ago


Adding to my earlier comments; as a person who values scholarly precision I find it deeply disturbing that my scholarship is being called into question on the basis of this post. More so that this is seen to be detrimental to the work of the Commission on A Way Forward of which I am a member. Clearly, as I argue in the blog my interpretation and use of Wesley is subject to all human limitations and possibilities of error. The blog is based on a much larger study of Wesley’s writings dealing with unity and diversity in the church which I have published in my book “Bid our Jarring Conflicts Cease: A Wesleyan Theology and Praxis of Church Unity" (Nashville: Foundery Books, 2017). In the spirit of scholarly fairness I would ask that my interpretation of Wesley be judged on the basis of this more comprehensive work which does not focus on the debates on LGBTQ inclusion though I do address them briefly in the conclusion. If you think this is a matter of such importance as your comments indicate Paul W. I would invite you to read and comment on my interpretation of Wesley in the book, I am very willing to read critique and re-evaluate my arguments in the light of that critique. The book is available at a very good price from Cokesbury.

David N. Field more than 3 years ago

A quote from John Wesley

 “Whatever doctrine is new must be wrong,” he wrote, “and no doctrine can be right, unless it is the very same ‘which was from the beginning.’”

As best as I understand it, the belief/doctrine that marriage is for one man and one woman has been in place for over 2000 years which means what is proposed in this article is "new doctrine".

Betsy more than 4 years ago

New doctrine?

Thank you for your comment. There are two issues here. The one is the morality or immorality of sexual relationships between peoplem of the same sex in a covenanted monogomous relationship. It is to this questions that issue of "new doctrine" must be addressed. This is not the question I am addressing in this blog. I am addressing a second question and that is how can people with different if not contradictory views on this issue live in in relationship with each other within the same church. The princples I use from Wesley were used by him to discuss relationships between people with different theologies and practices many of which he argued were "new doctrines" that is they did not go back to the early church. Yet he distinguished between a theological position he rejected and the spiritual integrity and faithfullness of the persons holding that position.

David N. Field more than 4 years ago