No, Dr. Dunivant, it’s not all that complicated. A UMC pastor willfully warps Scripture to the detriment of his flock.
Dr. Ken Dunivant, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, preached a controversial sermon at his church on February 28, 2106. (You can access the video here: http://fumct.org/media/sermons.)
Titled, “It’s Complicated: Marriage Equality, Sin, and Sanctity,” the message was a whitewash of biblical texts regarding homosexuality.
In subsequent blogs, I will address one by one Dunivant’s errors (and similar errors by other pro-gay teachers) concerning these biblical passages.
However, in this initial blog I want to point out broader errors in the message that reveal a frustrating lack of ability to properly exegete a biblical text. That means Dunivant either can’t or won’t tell his congregation what the Bible is actually saying in a particular passage.
Error #1 – Blame it on our ignorance.
Dunivant spent the first part of his sermon telling his congregation that the Bible doesn’t mean what it seems to say when it comes to homosexuality.
However, in his opinion, there’s a reason for that. He mentioned 1 Corinthians 13:12, 13. That section of Scripture says: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love” (NASB, and so throughout).
Dunivant focused on the part where Paul says we see “dimly.” It should be fairly clear, even to a first year seminary student, what Paul is talking about. The gifts of the Holy Spirit – the primary subject matter being discussed in chapters 12-14 – are meant to help us while we live in this age. We don’t see the spiritual realm clearly, nor do we fully understand eternity or the age to come. We will one day, Paul says, “when the perfect comes.” In the meantime, we should remember that we are being trained to love – and love is more important than knowledge, faith, and good deeds.
That’s not how the reverend interpreted it. Dunivant said that, regarding issues like homosexuality, “We don’t see clearly. There’s still muddledness. There’s still confusion. There’s still understanding that needs to take place.”
In other words, we need to talk amongst ourselves and try to decide whether or not homosexuality is a sin, because in this life things aren’t always clear.
The problem with this wrongful interpretation of the passage is that it creates a loophole through which any manner of sin can be rehabilitated.
The process undertaken by Dunivant is fairly simple. The first step is to undermine the clear prohibition of any particular sin. The serpent did this in the garden of Eden: “Indeed, has God said …?” (Gen. 3:1). Did God really say that? Did He really mean that?
Once the clear meaning of Scripture has been twisted, the second step is to point out how confusing it all is. “That’s pretty muddied now, isn’t it?”
Third step: Justify the confusion using the Bible itself. “See, according to 1 Corinthians 13, God knew we’d be confused about a lot of things.”
Finally, we are ready to validate the sin in question, simply by driving it through the loophole we have created.
This is madness. Yes, there is much about eternity and even this life that is mysterious. That’s why God gave us the Bible. On the issues that He wants us to be clear about, He speaks clearly about them.
If ministers like Dunivant want to undermine the clarity of those words, Jesus makes plain the seriousness of their situation: “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:18-19).
Error #2 – Blame it on Jesus Himself.
Preachers who are intent on nullifying the clear word of God regarding homosexuality have to find some way to make Jesus appear to be a cheerleader for the effort.
Toward that end, Dunivant said this in his sermon: “I have been led to the experiences of Jesus that were barrier breakers, where Jesus time and time again went to people who were concluded outside the realm of God’s grace and extended grace to them. The leper who was unclean, who begged Jesus, ‘If you will, You can make me clean.’ Jesus touched him. Made him a part of God’s grace.”
This means that God is allowing homosexuals – who have long been outsiders in the church – to access God’s grace. At this point I would agree with Dunivant that for far too long, the church has often treated people struggling with same sex desires as pariahs. I’m all for calling homosexuals into the grace of God.
But when Dunivant said Jesus is making homosexuals “a part of God’s grace,” to what was the minister referring? Make no mistake: Dunivant meant God is declaring homosexuality to be natural, normal, and healthy.
This is clearly twisting the intent of God’s word. Yes, lepers were cultural and religious outcasts in Jewish society. Yes, Jesus changed that and, using Dunivant’s language, He invited the leper to partake of the grace of the kingdom.
But Jesus did this by healing the leper – that is, He changed him. For this example to serve properly in Dunivant’s theology, Jesus would have left him in his leprosy and concluded: “You are the same as the non-leper. God made you a leper, I accept you as a leper. There is no need to change you.”
That’s not the Jesus of the New Testament. In every example like this, Jesus included people in the grace of God by breaking the physical and spiritual chains that bound them – not by leaving them in their chains. Through repentance and faith, the power of God made sinners into new creations.
Error #3 – Blame it on the process.
In one of the most famous verses in the Bible, Paul says, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
Dunivant admits that Paul might have been addressing us as individual Christians in this verse. But then the minister suggested a different interpretation: “He could’ve been talking to us as a church: ‘Hey, church, God began a good work in you and He’s continuing to perfect that and He’s going to bring that good work to completion.’ I think in this issue [of homosexuality], it’s one in which God is still at work to help bring us to completion.”
It is stunning to comprehend the lengths to which a false teacher will go. Dunivant so grossly misrepresented Philippians 1:6 that he made it sound as if the great apostle was encouraging not holiness but licentiousness! That what Paul meant here was not that the Philippians might be certain that God would complete the process of conforming them to the image of Christ, but that God was allowing them to commit buggery.
Dunivant made this bizarre argument even more explicit. He recounted how his Tuscaloosa church had one time received a couple of men as members. Later, a young man confronted the pastor with the knowledge that the couple was, in fact, a homosexual couple.
“Are we going to let people who are gay in our church?” the young man asked.
“Well, let me ask you a question,” Dunivant responded. “The Scripture gives us condemnation of all kinds of behavior.” He then used examples like gluttony and lying. He asked if the church should start excluding people who eat too much or tell white lies.
Dunivant said, “Maybe we ought to draw lines to keep people out, but I had rather draw circles to include people.”
This is a red herring – the presentation of an irrelevant issue in order to pull attention away from the real matter at hand. You see, the young man wasn’t really asking about membership or attendance, he was asking about acceptance of sin.
No pastor in his right mind would start kicking people out of the church every time they committed a sin. But what pastor justifies keeping imperfect Christians in the church by declaring that sins – like lying and gluttony – are no longer sins?
That’s what Dunivant has done. He accepted the homosexual couple as members because he believes their homosexuality isn’t a sin.
For some reason, this issue of homosexuality has become the dividing line between faithful Christians and those who have embraced the spirit of the age. Remember, Dunivant’s First United Methodist Church isn’t in San Francisco, California, it’s in Tuscaloosa, Alabama – which is to say right smack in the buckle of the Bible Belt.
Rather than it being “complicated,” as Dunivant suggests, the Bible is actually quite clear about the sinfulness of homosexuality.
It’s also clear about something else, too: “There were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you” (2 Peter 2:1).
It’s terrifying to comprehend that, a mere five verses later, Peter warns: “if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter; … then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority” (2 Peter 2:6, 9-10).
For those struggling with homosexual desires, God’s promise is to rescue you from temptation. For those who teach homosexuals to continue practicing sodomy, it won’t end well.
It’s time the church held fast to the clear teaching of Scripture – and held its preachers to it as well.
Next: What does the bibilical story of Sodom and Gomorrah tell us about homosexuality?