In exploring theology Methodists use something called the Methodist or Wesleyan Quadrilateral. As you would expect, this is made up of four headings: Scripture, Reason, Tradition and experience. Whenever we explore a subject theologically we look at it through each of these headings and ask what light does this shine on the subject as we look upon it through this particular lens.
This is particularly important when we look at the subject of Homosexuality and all areas relating to LGBTI+.
What does Scripture, the Bible say on these matters? In what context was it written? Does it actually really say anything about LGBTI+ relationships as we know them today? The answer to this is probably not, as the references used against the LGBTI+ community really relate to exploitation of another, particularly in a sexual way, to express dominance and control.
We therefore have to apply the 2nd strand of the Quadrilateral – Reason – to our thinking and exploration of these texts. Do they really apply to the individuals we are using them against? Is the context really the same? How do these texts fit in with the rest of scripture that paints an image of an all inclusive loving God?
Tradition simply means ‘how we have always done things, been taught, and understood them to be’. The problem is that there are many ‘traditions’ that we would now be horrified to continue – slavery or abjection of women just being a couple. Why then should we be any different in questioning the ‘traditional’ Held by the church on this subject. After all, society in general has now done this and it now appears that the church is now choosing to lag behind as it feels it’s precious traditions and hard held views coming under pressure and being chipped away at.
Perhaps the most important strand of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral for both LGBTI+ and heterosexuals is therefore experience. What does it feel like, what have we observed and experienced to be true in our own lives and the lives of others – particularly in relation to loving, faithful, stable relationships? How do the scriptures speak into these experiences and how can we understand and interpret what the scriptures have to say in Light of this? What is our experience of our loving God, and how is this love expressed in the lives of LGBTI+ people?
Does any or all of this change how we feel and how we react? What is it that makes us feel and react in this way anyway? What would need to happen in order for us to be open to the viewpoint and experience of another? Is it not as equally of value as our own? Or maybe we feel it is Bigoted and biased – not based on any reason or experience but simply on deeply held tradition or imparted values.
May the God of all openness and love, enable each one of us to have the grace to have such openness and love to our brothers and sisters in Christ however they choose to identify or who they choose to be in relationship with.
Revd Andrew Orton