by Dr. Stephen Long, Professor of Ethics at Southern Methodist University
Recently, a conservative Methodist leader used my own words written in 2003 against the article I wrote about my son in 2019. I was not informed that this was going to happen and I find the situation to be a lack of charity.
Perhaps I should not have written the 2003 article. Back then, I critiqued the arguments for gay and lesbian marriage based on “liberalism” by which I meant capitalist forms of exchange in which there is no concern for common goods but only self-interest. I am still concerned about those arguments but have also discovered arguments, like those of Robert Song’s, who do not defend gay covenants based on those forms of exchange. I still affirm that all forms of faithful sexuality require the ascetic practices of celibacy or marriage — lifelong fidelity is an ideal of holiness. I do not think forcing gay and lesbian persons into celibacy is a workable strategy, but that is what my church is preparing to do.
The church should be different from the market and the state. I fear that the traditionalist plan will turn the church into a state with mandatory sentencing requirements for persons who do not measure up to ideas of holiness, but this is not how the quest for holiness works. It cannot be enforced through juridical decisions enforced by authorities. It is not what Jesus accomplished through the cross. Will those behind this plan really seek to purge the church of all those who do not measure up to those ideals?
They will first need to kick out all the gays and lesbians who are not celibate and all who support them pastorally through the ascetic practice of marriage. Then, if they have any concern for consistency, they will need to kick out all those who are divorced and remarried in direct opposition to Jesus’ own words even though we have come to recognize that sometimes broken marriages can be extended mercy. If they don’t, the hypocrisy will be so obvious that the first purge will be unsustainable without this second one. They will then need to purge everyone who watches pornography — we could easily get that information on our clergy and laity. They will then need to purge all those who have too much wealth in opposition to Jesus’ teaching. They will then need to purge all those who affirm the use of violence and war. I could go on. Who will be left?
The church should be a place that seeks holiness. It is how we become like God. The church should also be a place that does not enforce its discipline like a state. Its way in the world should be mercy and persuasive proclamation. The traditionalist plan turns the church into a state and its enforcement mechanism. It will not work and it will be ugly, as ugly as Trump’s America — and my fear is that the same culture that gave us Trump is now giving us a “make Methodism great again.”
Only God can save us now.