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United Methodist Wesley Theological Seminary hosted “Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?” workshop in downtown Washington, DC on December 3. Although the event provided discussion on how to implement “affirming” policies in United Methodist churches, Wesley professor Youtha C. Hardman-Cromwell provided the core of message; namely, the Scriptures do not eschew homosexual behavior as sinful.
Herself a long-time delegate to the church’s quadrennial governing General Conference, Hardman-Cromwell teaches at Wesley as assistant dean. Her focus includes opposition to The United Methodist Church’s official stance affirming sex only within marriage between husband and wife. An outspoken liberal voice in the Virginia Conference, Hardman-Cromwell has lectured for both the pro-abortion rights Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) and the LGBTQ (lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-questioning) advocacy caucus Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN). She was candid about her views at the Wesley workshop. The folder provided to the half-dozen participants included contacts for nearly every pansexual church-lobbying organization.
Upholding her left-leaning reputation, Hardman-Cromwell sought to dismantle the Scriptures to make space for various sexual practices in her lecture entitled “Burnishing Your Shield: Combating Homophobia with Scripture.” “Homophobia,” of course, meant standing for traditional Christian teachings on sexual ethics. To start off, Hardman-Cromwell dismissed the reliability of the canonical record. She claimed the Bible was “impacted by rational editorial processes over the centuries” by “humans who believed that they had been inspired by God.” And she claimed that “something must have gone wrong.” She warned against worshipping the Bible, mere text, or one’s present culture when approaching a Scripture selection. In light of these obstacles, the theology instructor proffered a Buddhist epigram: “Seek not to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; rather, seek what they sought.”
Next, Hardman-Cromwell sought to reinterpret common texts used to condemn LGBT practices and beliefs. Her first stop: Genesis 1 and 2. She faulted her traditionalist opponents for citing the example of Adam and Eve as an affirmation of traditional marriage. “[The creation stories] answer the question, ‘Where do we come from?’ and that answer is the same now as it was then. We come from the sexual union of a man and a woman,” she observed. And she added this is no longer so relevant: “Before, you needed an actual coupling between the two, but this is being wiped away by technology.” To be clear, Hardman-Cromwell reiterated, “It is not about relationships…They just couple and produce children.”
Brandishing her modernist hermeneutic, the seminary professor flitted through various portions of the Old Testament canon to introduce “nuance” and “unclear understandings” to the homosexuality debate. In Genesis 19:1-9, she was quick to point out that Sodom was a condemnable “instance of homosexual rape [that] does not include all homosexual activity,” even for “two-sexed, two-spirited people,” in an apparent reference to the angels whom the mob at Sodom sought for sexual gratification. When Leviticus derides homosexuality as an “abomination,” it is coming from the perspective of a “frontier nation” with an exclusive, historically-bound “holiness code.” Traditional theology understood that there were three kinds of Old Testament law: ceremonial, civil, and moral. Hardman-Cromwell questioned, “How do you determine which laws are merely ceremonial [thus no longer binding] and which are moral?”
Eventually, Hardman-Cromwell turned her attentions to the New Testament. In particular, she worked to reinterpret Romans 1:26-27, revolting against the traditional understanding of nature, natural law, and other similar limits. Instead, she tried to base St. Paul’s teaching on contemporary contexts to in essence argue for a “born this way” ethic. Homosexuals have a “natural” inclination to their various behaviors so they should remain unimpeded in their appetites. In I Corinthians, Paul was merely discussing aberrant sexual behaviors as merely symptomatic of sin rather than actually forbidding them. Likewise, Christianity is based on belief rather than behavior; judging outward actions ought to be forbidden. Also, Christ spoke nothing of homosexuality (ironically, an argument from silence) but did preach inclusiveness (including towards the sexually promiscuous). The church ought to be practicing “radical hospitality.” For United Methodists, Hardman-Cromwell believes, this means changing The Book of Discipline to approve of homosexual behavior. Currently the book of church law requires clergy to be chaste, disapproves of sex outside traditional marriage, and forbids same-sex unions.
The Wesley Seminary presentation offered but a cursory glance of the actual texts, their meaning, their audience, and their contexts. If anything, the workshop provided a sense of security for those who wished to push the homosexual agenda within the church. At the lecture’s conclusion, Hardman-Cromwell confessed, “I don’t have a deep understanding of what [the texts] are saying to us.”
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