Being a trained pastor in the UMC, I often look at things through what is called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. The Quadrilateral is a tool used to come to theological conclusions. The word “theology” comes from two Greek words that combine to mean “the study of God.” I understand Christian theology to be an attempt to understand God. A quadrilateral is a four-sided figure, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral attempts to look at things in light of four different areas. It is an attempt to approach life in a manner similar to that of Methodism’s founder John Wesley.
The four sides represent Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. Scripture is pretty self-explanatory, for me it is what we call the Bible, the base of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is Scripture. When we talk of tradition we are speaking of centuries of Christian teaching on a subject dating back to the original followers of Christ. Reason can be defined as rational thinking and interpretation of a subject. Experience is based on our own journey and life.
We need to remember that for Wesley, Tradition, Reason, and Experience do not form additional “sources” for theological truth. He believed that the Bible was the sole source of truth about God, but rather these form a tool for interpreting and understanding the Bible. Therefore, while the Bible is the sole source of truth, Tradition forms a “lens” through which we view and understand Scripture. But, while the Bible is perfect, tradition may not be perfect, and it must be balanced and tested by reason and experience.
We can use this tool to look at many things to help you examine things as you try to understand God. I am going to use it here to help us understand how I look at homosexuality. Please remember that this is my interpretation of the issue, I have no official voice and in no way speak for my church, my denomination or any person or group other than myself. You may, and most likely will, see some parts of my conclusions differently.
As in many subjects, when I look at the issue of Scripture and homosexuality I get very confused. Taken individually, the verses that speak of homosexuality appear to be pretty straight forward in their condemnation of the idea. Now the problem with reading these verses and coming to the conclusion is two-fold. Most of us read the Bible as it is translated, and translation from two “dead” languages can lead to possible confusion. The second problem comes from looking at these few verses apart from the overall story that I see as God loves and wants relationships.
For a large portion of my life, when I viewed these verses through the lens of tradition or church teaching, I felt homosexuality was wrong. Many that teach and have taught, come at this from a point of view that homosexuality is wrong. For many years of my life there was no room for any other interpretation. Even today, there seems to be an attempt by some to make this an issue that defines denominations and ministries. I have found that in our culture, many times those who speak the most and the loudest are considered correct. As I try to sort through this issue I feel the need to dig deeper.
When I do that I use reason and experience. Again as I have gone through life I have believed that homosexuality was wrong. I believed that homosexuality was a choice using reason. I have read and understood studies that led me to reason this “lifestyle” was a choice. People that I knew who were homosexual did nothing to lead me to reason or experience this idea in any other manner.
The problem, or benefit depending on your point of view, with the Quadrilateral is that reason and experience are much more flexible than Scripture and tradition. This flexibility forces us to look at things continually, evaluating and reevaluate what we think and believe. Over the few years of my ministry I have met, loved and worked with a many people, I know some of them are homosexual, and others probably are too. I have been forced to look at what I believe again and again. I have been doing this analysis for years now, and this week I have been reflecting on homosexuality a great deal. Is it wrong, is it right? Today I am not sure, tomorrow I may say yes and Saturday I may say no. The paraphrased official stance of the UMC is that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Many people have a problem with that statement or idea. I do not.
I believe that when we ask questions like is homosexuality wrong, we are asking the wrong question. We need to question how we can show love to those that are homosexual. We need to question how can we minister to those affected or effected by homosexuality. We surely do not need to attack those that do not believe as we do, but we need to find ways to continue learning about each other. I do not have a good grasp on homosexuality, nor any number of perceived problems that we experience as a people. I do know that Jesus did know what God liked and what God did not like, and Jesus treated everyone with love and respect and my prayer is that I and all who I shepherd do the same.