15 propositions on homosexuality, by a UM pastor and author

James C. Howell

Having heard much talk recently about the Bible and homosexuality, in our Methodist denominational conference, in my home state of North Carolina with its marriage amendment vote, and then President Obama’s statement affirming gay marriage, I have pulled together propositions that I believe might help us moving forward.

(1) If we could travel back in time to interview the authors of the books of the Bible and the other leaders of God’s people, all of them (Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Peter, Paul, James) would have regarded homosexuality as a bad idea. There is no support for homosexuality from these writers.

(2) No one in Bible times had the slightest familiarity with homosexuality as we know it today. Moses and Paul never met the kind of committed gay couple you might know from your neighborhood or the office. When they thought of homosexuality, they thought of an aged Roman senator who had a young boy for a sexual slave, or perhaps a sudden drunken encounter between two people who didn’t know each other five minutes before. In elite Greco-Roman society, there were non-secretive gay and lesbian relationships, but those involved were still married to persons of the opposite sex. Bible writers were against these things, and so am I.

(3) Today, when anyone talks about the Bible being plain, and that they agree with the Bible, they are reading selectively, picking and choosing this or that from the Bible. No one today has any serious intentions of doing everything the Bible says, and certainly an entire state or country does not, or we’d shut down the NFL and the Pentagon, which are quite clearly out of order according to the Bible. Jesus very plainly said if you have a party, don’t invite those who can invite you back, but invite the maimed; most who quote the Bible do precisely the opposite on both.

(4) Similarly, when we speak of the separation of church and state, this often is code language, translated roughly as “If it supports my viewpoint, the state should be involved; if it disagrees with me the state should keep its nose out of our business.” Consistency on the church and state relationship would be helpful. Generally, Christians are foolish if they count on government to enforce what the Church believes.

(5) The Bible’s writers were inspired by God, but clearly they were not taking dictation from God. And they did not anticipate every situation we would deal with in the modern world. They spoke to ancient people, largely about ancient issues, many of which continue today, but in very different forms. So the Bible requires interpretation.

(6) All of us in various ways take the Bible’s core truths and engage in some updating so the heart of the Bible might make sense today. Some of this we do quite faithfully: we are glad women speak in church, and we happily wear blended fabrics. At other times we update the Bible simply to suit our own prejudices: we justify unholy wars, and we are greedy consumers and then say we are “blessed.”

(7) No single Bible verse, or handful of verses, can reveal the fullness of God’s mind. If you retrieved four sentences of various things I have said over my adult life, you would have a skewed image of who I am and what I think. It is the whole body of work, all of God’s Word not just a few words from God’s Word, that tells us what we need to know.

(8) Human beings are fallen, prone to self-justification and pasting God on whatever we happen to prefer or enjoy – and we are probably most likely to be confused about God’s way in areas of sexuality, given the virtually irresistible lure.  How we feel, think and act regarding sex (no matter the orientation) should be subjected always to rigorous scrutiny and prayer.

(9) Generally when Christians talk about holiness nowadays, they point the finger at somebody else for not being holy instead of rising up to be holy. When Christians talk about “standards,” they mean religious rules that come quite easily for them or don’t affect them. We could readily focus on “standards” regarding how we spend or make money, or what we thoughtlessly watch on TV, or the rancor we harbor in our hearts against people who disagree with us – but instead the idea of “standards” becomes a weapon against those who aren’t like us.

(10) Christians who seek change on homosexuality are not wise to make “love” their primary argument. “God loves everyone” – but that doesn’t solve anything, since a non-inclusive Christian can quite easily point out that God loves child abusers or alcoholics. God does love, and then the Bible and all of Christian tradition has yearned for us to move past merely being loved by God toward a life of holiness before God. Similarly, to point to “this is the way I was made” helps a lot, but doesn’t entirely solve things, since I might be made with a proclivity toward alcoholism, or a likelihood of lethal disease.

(11) It is a false dichotomy when conservatives declare that liberals want love without holiness. Some liberals are not very holy, but then again quite a few conservatives are not so holy either. Many liberals I know are tremendously holy, exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit, with hearts and lifestyles very much dedicated to God.

(12) It is also false to say that conservatives have the Bible on their side and the inclusivity folks ignore the Bible. Serious cases have been made in interpreting the Scriptures for openness to homosexuality, thinking of God’s creation of us as the beings we are, the centrality of faithful, monogamous relationships, etc.

(13) If we could travel back in time and take a close look at marriage in Bible times, we’d say “No thank you.”  Life was grinding and utterly unromantic.  Many marriages were arranged.  Women had no rights, could be and were abused without any recourse, dispensable on a whim; with no antibiotics women routinely died in childbirth.

(14) God does love everyone, and holiness is God’s desire. But we cannot make anybody else holy. We cannot even make ourselves holy. This is God’s work in us. Our job isn’t to judge others, and our job isn’t to enforce rules on God’s behalf. God is God. What God asks of us is hospitality, love for everyone, openness to everyone, and even an openness to what God might do that we don’t understand, or that makes us uncomfortable. The first people who knew Jesus were so uncomfortable with him, and his way was so out of their holiness box, that they crucified him instead of welcoming him.

(15) Immense humility, and tender care and gratitude are always fitting for Christians. Being right is interesting, but love for those Christ loves is always one step higher in Jesus’ scale of values. To be a listener – and we’ve had far too little listening on both sides – is holy. And we can be grateful for each other, even in our disagreement. Methodists have said for decades that they don’t condone homosexuality; but gays and lesbians keep coming to our churches, they preach, teach, pray, sing, serve, and love – and I for one give endless thanks to God for this miracle of grace that they are still here. And of course, the total inclusivity people need to find ways to include those who disagree, who genuinely are striving to know and serve God with where they are on things. Proverbs 16:7 says “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.”


Dr.  Howell is pastor of Myers Park UMC in Charlotte, N.C., and author of several books, including the recent What Does the Lord Require? and The Beauty of the Word. This essay first appeared on his blog. http://revjameshowell.blogspot.com/


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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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It appears that I have joined a different denomination. To all those who love to quote Leviticus, are you really "living Leviticus" or just using that particular law to justify your own views? Whatever happened to the open door of Methodism? And what exactly is a denomination that is so split on this issue, but seems to easily accept divorce, the one thing Jesus was pretty clear about? Hypocritical? That would seem to be a solid and truthful answer. I don't recall being knighted as a holy warrior when I took the vows to bring my gifts, prayers, and service… Read more »


Here is another piece (one of many) that contains information about same sex marriage in Pauls time.
It is interesting the very man that would have Paul beheaded, Nero, was the same man that practiced same sex marriage.
Kinda reminds me of John the Baptist condemnation of Herod and his beheading.

Toggle down to same sex marriage.


Maybe this will help you understand the history.

From the Britsh Museum:

"…, ancient sources make it very clear that Hadrian formed a homosexual relationship with a young Greek male called Antinous. Homosexual relationships were not considered unusual in ancient Rome, but the intensity with which Hadrian mourned Antinous’ premature death was without precedent."

Hadrian was born in 76 a.d. and died 138 a.d.


" No one in Bible times had the slightest familiarity with homosexuality as we know it today." That is a completely false statement. Have you read any Greek literature lately? Have you read of the male bonding in Greek and Roman history? Have you read the great homosexual love stories of the era? Are you familiar with Ovid’s poetry 43 BC – 18 AD Some of the greatest homosexual love stories ever written were before the christian church. The greeks wrote of their preference of males over the female for sexual pleasure. Paul visited Lesbos. The center of lesbian activity… Read more »


This is one of the reasons our beloved denomination is dying. Biblical revisionism. The Torah from a Jewish perspective is what it is. Liberal revisionism cannot explain away the law. Jesus even said he came not to do away with so much as a punctuation mark in the law. The moral law (613 laws of Torah) still stand. We are under grace, but no so we can go out and sin all we want. The ritual law for dealing with sin against God's law was complete in Jesus. Jesus himself said he did not come to do away with Torah.… Read more »


Sir with all due respect. I must contradict you a bit. Which Bible are you reading? My Bible says that homosexuality is an abomination to the Lord in Leviticus. And I believe you stated that no where in the new testament does the Bible talk about homosexuality. Well let me sprinkle some verses on here. 1 Timothy 1:9-11 states ' We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral,… Read more »


Talk about selective reading. I read through the article twice. No where does he state that homosexuality is not in mentioned in the New Testament. I suggest you read it again.

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