A Loving Dissent to the Southeastern District’s Resolution on Same-Sex Marriage

This week, the Southeastern District of the Church of the Brethren adopted the following resolution about same-sex marriage at their district conference:

We affirm that for the church scriptures provide the final authority for defining practices for followers of Christ and for His church. Timothy 3:16 states that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Therefore, it is our attempt as a body of Christian believers to follow the teachings and commandments in this holy book.  

In regards to marriage Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” And he went on to say in Genesis 2:24: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” Marriage is set forth as the bond between a man and a woman. Jesus re-affirms this scripture in Mark 10:6-8.

In the Old Testament in Leviticus 18:22 says “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. The New Testament in Romans 1 likewise speaks against such practices as does I Corinthians 6:9-11)

In addition, Annual Conference in 1983 stated that same sex covenants are not acceptable to the Church of the Brethren.

We therefore affirm that
1. All are invited and welcomed to come and worship the Lord.
2. Marriage is a God ordained covenant that should be entered into by one man and one woman.
3. The Southeastern District will not accept performance of same-sex covenants or marriages by its licensed or ordained ministers.
4. The Southeastern District will not accept the performance of those ceremonies on any property that is a part of the Southeastern District. 
5. In addition we will not support any materials or anyone promoting the acceptance of the practice of homosexuality as a lifestyle that is approved by God.

I am deeply saddened by the Southeastern Districts decision. On their website about District conference, the Southeastern District says this about their conference theme, which was “Walk in the Light:”

“It seems that we can follow Christ, the Light of the world, or stumble in the darkness. Let’s walk in the light and seek to reflect the light to others as we go.”

How sad that they’ve forgotten their own words about following Christ, and instead have stumbled into the darkness.

I hope the rest of us in the COB can reach out with love but also with firmness to the Southeastern District, to tell them that this is not acceptable and that hate is the real abomination. Of course, we must also acknowledge that the SE district’s statement is not outside of the Church of the Brethren’s own policy regarding human sexuality. While it is important to denounce the Southeastern District’s resolution, it is far more important to resist and change this policy within our entire denomination.

Still, it is my hope that by offering a loving dissent to the Southeastern District’s resolution, we can begin to resist the arguments used to wage spiritual violence on the LGBTQ+ people within our denomination. For my part, here is a biblical response to each point raised in the Southeastern resolution.

Point 1: “We affirm that for the church scriptures provide the final authority for defining practices for followers of Christ and for His church.”

That the Bible offers clarity on the issue of same-sex marriage is not true. It would be nice and convenient if it did, but it doesn’t. At least not explicitly. Instead, Biblical law is full of nuance and complication, buried under layers of different commandments enacted at different times that, when read holistically, would be impossible to follow entirely.

However, the Bible does provide some helpful summaries of what the law is trying to achieve. When it becomes impossible to know if we are in accordance with the law, we can at least look to these helpful verses, to see if we are in accordance with what the law is trying to accomplish. Here a few of those verses:

Micah 6:8 – “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Matthew 7:12 – “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law.”

Galatians 5:22-23 – “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.

I’ve added emphasis to these verses to highlight why they can be helpful in understanding God’s law. While we can’t hope to be in accordance with every facet of the law, we can look to these verses to understand why the law exists and what the law is trying to accomplish.

It seems pretty obvious that the intent behind the law is to build a community of people who actively love one another. People should practice kindness and mercy, they should treat others as they would want to be treated themselves. They should pursue justice. They should be loving, patient, generous, and gentle. I don’t think any of these things apply to the Southeastern District’s resolution, nor any other attempt to inflict spiritual harm on LGBTQ+ people.

Point 2: “Marriage is set forth as the bond between a man and a woman.”

I think the scriptures referenced in Genesis reflect the biological reality that when the Bible was written, only men and women could reproduce. These scriptures never say that this arrangement is the only permissible arrangement.

The SE District’s whole argument for this point is reminiscent of the “Biblical marriage” argument, that “one man and one women” is the Biblical standard for marriage. I would point to the many examples, from Abraham to Jacob to Solomon, of men with multiple wives to assert that the notion of “biblical marriage” is an invention of 20th and 21st century thought, not an arrangement of marriage backed up by scripture.

Today, our culture views marriage differently. Just as we view polygamy as unacceptable because of legal complications and because of its exploitative nature, so have our entire standards for marriage shifted. While marriage in ancient society had more to do with property, power, and patriarchy, marriage in our culture has much more to do with love between committed adults and a family structure that is good for the economy and good for society. As a Church community, we should affirm marriage as a healthy arrangement for spiritual growth and for the nurturing of adults and children. There is no reason to believe that same-sex marriage would be any different.

As for Mark 10:6-8, I would caution the SE district to examine the entire context of this quote by Jesus, because it reveals the hypocrisy and hateful agenda behind singling out same-sex couples for discrimination. In Mark 10:2, the Pharisees approach Jesus and ask him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Jesus replies by quoting Genesis in Mark 10:6-8, and then he continues in verse nine to say, “What God has joined together, let no one separate.”

In Mark 10: 6-8, Jesus isn’t talking about same-sex relations, nor is reaffirming a particular arrangement for couples. Instead, he is condemning divorce. I would like to see a statement from the SE District concerning divorce and remarriage. Why have we chosen instead to single out LGBTQ+ couples for shame and condemnation?

As for me, I choose to stand by Jesus in Mark 10:9: “What God has joined together, let no one separate.” I know enough same-sex couples to have witnessed God moving in those relationships. What God has joined together, I think the SE District nor anyone else ought to separate.

Point 3: “In the Old Testament in Leviticus 18:22 says “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. The New Testament in Romans 1 likewise speaks against such practices as does I Corinthians 6:9-11)”

There are several ways to approach Leviticus 18:22 in a way that affirms same-sex relations. One such way is with proper understanding of cultural context. Just as ancient marriage had more to do with power than with love, so often did all sexual acts. I’ll exemplify the point I’m trying to make with another scripture often used to condemn same-sex relations: Genesis 19, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In the beginning of Genesis 19, two angels of the Lord come in male form to Lot’s house in Sodom. At night, the men of Sodom surround Lot’s house, and demand that he send the angels out into the streets so that they can rape them.

Such was a common practice in ancient culture, to exercise violent sexual dominance over strangers. Which does the Lord have a problem with? Same-sex attraction? Or sexual violence? I think it’s the latter. In Leviticus 18:22, is it possible that the scripture forbids this same expression of sexual violence and dominance? I believe so. The rest of the sexual taboos in Leviticus 18 have to do with the same themes: sexual violence, exploitation, and humiliation. Do I believe the Lord is against sexual violence against others? Yes. Do I believe the Lord is against same-sex attraction built on a foundation of love, respect, and consent? No, I don’t.

Romans 1 is another one of those scriptures that when read in full context speaks a very different story about how Christians should respond to LGBTQ+ people. Romans 1 lays out a laundry list of sinful behavior, among which is that same violent form of sexuality, as well as other sins like envy, violence, deceit, faithlessness, heartlessness, and ruthlessness. Then, just when you expect Paul to affirm to those of us who refrain from sinful behavior, he turns the other way and says, at the beginning of Romans 2: “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”

How ironic that the SE District should use Romans 1 as a justification to judg eothers, when the point of Romans 1 is to set up Paul’s instruction in Romans 2 that we not judge one another. I’m reminded of Jesus in John 8:7, who said, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.” Of course, Jesus, who was without sin, had every right to cast that stone, but he didn’t, because he envisioned an arrangement of God’s kingdom here on earth that prioritized love over legalism, and restorative justice over punishment, and Grace and mercy over condemnation.

Here is the NRSV text for 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11 – ”

“Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

I’m not sure exactly which part of this scripture is taken to be a direct condemnation of same-sex relations, but I assume it is either the term “male prostitutes” or “sodomites.” Both of these terms are once again best understood within the ancient cultural understanding of these terms.

I don’t think Paul’s gripe with male prostitutes had as much to do with the same-sex encounters with which they were a part, as much as his gripe is with the commodification of sex, of turning sex into an act that valued economic power. Just like the scripture in Leviticus condemns the use of sex to express power, so does Paul’s commentary here seem to condemn those who view sex as an expression of power or economic might.

Aside from my earlier commentary on what the actual sexual sin of Sodom was, it’s important to understand what the bible describes as the sin of Sodom. You might be surprised. The sin of Sodom is same-sex relations, right? Even if we take my understanding of sexual violence to heart, it’s still mostly about sex, right? Wrong.

The bible references “the sin of Sodom” several times. Here’s a typical example from Ezekiel 16:49-50:

“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me.”

The sin of Sodom had a lot more to do, once again, with exploitation and ruthlessness. They were unconcerned. They did not help the poor and needy. I do not think it is fair to say that Paul’s intent behind writing about “Sodomites” was to condemn LGBTQ+ people. Once again, this is a projection of our culture, which uses the term “sodomite” as a slur for LGBTQ+ people.

Once again, I want to emphasize that the biggest problem with the SE District’s resolution on Same-Sex marriage is that this resolution is fully within denominal policy. While we should resist expressions of hate whether they occur at the individual, congregational, district, or denominational level, those of us working for full equality in the Church of the Brethren should focus our energy into changing the denominational policy.

I also want to urge those of you who are upset with the SE District to voice your anger with love and grace. It can start by accepting that while the SE District’s resolution is hateful, that does not mean that the people of the SE district are hateful or bad people. I genuinely believe that those who affirmed this resolution believed that they were acting as their understanding of scripture indicates that they should. They were trying to honor God. To be clear, they are wrong. But we change minds by pushing back with the firm, prophetic, and gentle voice of justice, not by disparaging or belittling.

Here’s hoping that we continue our work as gentle servants of Christ, building his Kingdom brick by brick, one act of love at a time. For our work, hear again the words of Micah 6:8 – “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Let us do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. May it be so.

Emmett Eldred - Hollidaysburg COB, Middle PA District

Emmett Eldred is a junior Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy Major at Carnegie Mellon University. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of DunkerPunks.com, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter @DunkerPunks and on Facebook.

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