By Dr. Bruce N. G. Cromwell
What Does the Tradition Component of the Quadrilateral Have to Say Regarding the LGBT Debate?
Free Methodist Study Commission on Doctrine, 2014
Even a cursory examination of Church history finds numerous statements from mothers and fathers of the faith regarding sexuality, including what contemporary discourse has identified as LGBT sexual orientation.1 When it comes to sexual activity beyond the bonds of marriage between one man and one woman, the Church speaks with one voice: such practice is not consistent with God’s will for human sexuality, procreation, and fulfillment in marriage.
Though the focus of such teaching has varied, from a perversion of roles (males playing the part of females), to the corruption of youth (pedophilia), to the inability to procreate (homosexual activity is not a complementary union, able to transmit life), to the abuse of power (including clergy who engage in sexual liberties), the Church has been univocal. All sexual conduct outside of God’s perfect plan is “ordered toward an instrinsic moral evil.”2
However, in recent years the Church has also been clear and consistent in a call to mercy and compassion. On October 1, 1986, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Roman Catholic Church published its second document on the subject. Signed by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and approved by Pope John Paul II, it was called a “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.” Within it, Cardinal Ratzinger (who, of course, later became Pope Benedict XVI) clearly urged Christians to love all persons and be generous with our grace. “It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.”3
Point 15 of the document is especially worthy of note:
We encourage the Bishops, then, to provide pastoral care in full accord with the teaching of the Church for homosexual persons of their dioceses. No authentic pastoral programme will include organizations in which homosexual persons associate with each other without clearly stating that homosexual activity is immoral. A truly pastoral approach will appreciate the need for homosexual persons to avoid the near occasions of sin. We would heartily encourage programmes where these dangers are avoided. But we wish to make it clear that departure from the Church’s teaching, or silence about it, in an effort to provide pastoral care is neither caring nor pastoral. Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral. The neglect of the Church’s position prevents homosexual men and women from receiving the care they need and deserve. An authentic pastoral programme will assist homosexual persons at all levels of the spiritual life: through the sacraments, and in particular through the frequent and sincere use of the sacrament of Reconciliation, through prayer, witness, counsel and individual care. In such a way, the entire Christian community can come to recognize its own call to assist its brothers and sisters, without deluding them or isolating them.4
Such is the counsel the Free Methodist Church gives today. True pastoral care addresses sin, wherever it may be found. It calls persons to surrender to the lordship of Jesus Christ, and to confess areas where we live in disobedience to God’s revealed will. It does not turn a blind eye, but it similarly does not turn a cold shoulder. As our Book of Discipline states, we maintain a life of holiness which stands counter-culture to the world, even while we live and work in the world, and yet we believe that “the best way to keep worldliness form invading the church is for the church to invade the world with redemptive purpose.”5
There is no reason for the Free Methodist Church to not continue to stand on the witness of ecclesiastical history and proclaim that an LGBT lifestyle is not consistent with God’s plan for human sexuality. There also is every reason for Free Methodists to vocally resist intolerance and inequality when it comes to seeing all persons as created in the image of God. There is an objective moral order to the Church’s position on homosexuality, and our stance as Free Methodists is clear and unambiguous and ought to be respected. But yet there is also a subjective moral order that should orient the pastoral action of the Church. We need to treat each person within our care with love and grace and dignity and respect. May we, like those before us, continue to speak the truth as we perceive it, but do so with great, great love, reflecting the One who gave and gives so much love to us.
1 A more lengthy account of such historical references can be found in my earlier paper for SCOD on “Homosexuality and the Church Historic.” Numerous scholarly works can be readily found which give additional primary evidence. A copy of this paper is available upon request from the Board of Bishops office. Please call1- 800-342-5531, ext. 208 or send an email to FMCBishops@fmcusa.org.
2 “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons”, 3. The document may be found at www.newadvent.org/library/docs_df86ho.htm.
3 Ibid., 10.
4 Ibid., 15.
5 Book of Discipline of the Free Methodist Church, 2011. Indianapolis, IN: Light and Life Communications, 2012, 14.