The history of the church offers up no monolithic perspective on human sexuality and human worth. If we believe we are making disciples within our context as local church questions should come up about how we value and respect human dignity and practice sexuality as followers of Jesus Christ. While some members of the United Methodist Church and members of traditions that as a whole or in part embrace an inerrantist perspective on scriptures both propose that we could simply “follow scripture” on these issues. The mistreatment of people who are different from the prescribed norm of culture (even as culture and churches attempt to broaden the norm) requires us to care for those mistreated in the best case as our neighbors or at the very least as one of the least of these in both cases finding Christ.
The Connectional Table of the United Methodist Church sat down this tuesday to work out what type of legislation should be brought before our governing body the General Conference in 2016. The Book of Discipline which contains the doctrine and practices of the methodist church. Some of the articles are set in stone others there is more or less interpretation on. In working to change some of our social principles to be either more inclusive by directly stated changes allowing lgbtq ordination or marriage or more inclusive by recognizing our right to differences in interpretation (such as Adam Hamilton and other proposed at the last General Conference in 2012) the connectional table enters into what is more than potentially a hotbed issue for most methodists.
There does need to be room for question and discernment on issues of human sexuality and worth. Importantly this needs to be in dialogue with those who see things differently to fairly offer a self-critique. The blind cannot lead the blind in a discussion on color, which is a over simplification on the ways in which we may be complicit in harming other human beings or suppressing their full calling into the abundance of life offered by Christ.
In my own walk, I find myself utterly enamored with the cultural acceptance of a broad understanding of sexual and gender orientations as valid modes of being, but the since I hold that scripture does offer everything necessary for salvation and life with God. So, now I am in some conflict with the contents of scripture oddly not from the two passages that deal with what could be termed as scripturally abnormal sexual orientations or more accurately the problem of sexual practice outside of heterosexual marriage. No the passages that really hammer hard are the ones that set forth an ideal of monogamy for church leaders – I would claim not just pastors but all leaders.
Just to be clear, I am a happily married provisional Elder in the methodist church with two wonderful daughters. I have not made up my mind on this issue for what I will outline below. Obviously a full discussion would take much more time, as such I ask that you suspend judgement until you have a conversation with me.
First, a call to an ideal is not a call to a universal. Recently, the church has moved along with culture to only support the calling of marriage. In other words, the only valid way our culture and our churches have seen of following Jesus existed within a monogamous relationship. This means that in choosing a few scriptures with which to set out this ideal primarily from the house hold codes and the description of candidates for overseers we have ignored Christ’s blessing of the call to holy singleness. Singleness and marriage both are recognized callings within our faith, and of course with the emergence of cultural acceptance of homosexuality more emphasis has been placed on the call of singleness. It has however only been an emphasis on the call to singleness for homosexuals.
Second, it is impossible for me to ignore the role of human sexuality in procreation. However far technological advantages have taken us away from the bare biology, it is still a question of a sperm and an egg. The catholic tradition persuades me here by offering a consistent position – no birth control, sacred life, no abortion, and attempts to support unwed mothers all going in hand in hand. Part of the marriage relationship they say is unitive and part is procreative but both are essential to the union and no conscious effort should be made to block either.
Why would a methodist turn to Catholic doctrine? Inerrantists are not as consistent in their readings of scripture and tradition as Catholics, and I think particularly here we find a case that if you are to be an inerrantist the Catholic position holds more logical and conceptual ground than does the simple prohibition on sexuality deemed alternate. They also manage to make us aware of a link between homosexuality and contraception – the latter produces sexual relations that mimic the formers lack of fecundity. It is interesting to me that prior to the invention of birth control homosexuality was still practiced, but no one advocated for unions or marriage from what I have found so far.
Third, Any scripture we use requires a lens with which to interpret. Inerrantists work from a particular frame of scripture reading. I cannot represent them as a whole with out creating a caricature of their work. Some of their interpretation is absolutely bar none the best in the world. Some is not, but the same can be said for historical critical interpretation, theological interpretation, or any other particular frame. Building a lens or recognizing the lens that we read from matters, and I remain undecided primarily because I have yet to discover a persuasive lens for reading scripture that really help with forming a mental frame work for understanding homosexual union as marriage that do not also open up other sexual practices.
Fourth, psychologically it could be possible to have a break in reality and believe false things about oneself. Some of the descriptions I have heard do sound as if psychosis were a likely diagnosis, but and this is very important to me, not all. The larger problem here is that I am making suspect other people’s thoughts about themselves and the way they are expressed, I recognize my own fallibility in making any such psychological critique. Of course, this psychosis, if it exists, could be not a symptom of the person’s orientation or gender but of the trauma of lbgtq persons. It is abhorrent the way our neighbors are treated and devalued.
I find acceptance of lbgtq as individuals and people to be desirable even loving. In a crazy world where romance and relationships are broken uniting people seems like a good. Politically we should not allow people to undergo discrimination based solely on gender, sexual preference, race, or disability. It may not be something most people are aware of but homosexual and transexual people have been fired or not hired because of their desires. Since, no one person has any argument against their behavior that is not religious, it is impossible for me to see this as an issue not covered within the second amendment.
Like I said, I have not yet made my mind up to have substantive disagreement with the Book of Discipline, and that means I stand behind our current teaching. Many of us do, and amazingly I know several people with sexual orientation that is made alternative by our discipline that have become eunuchs for the Kingdom of God in order to live into their call. How can we not be deeply impressed with those who have a call of singleness on their lives? But if they are not called to singleness? Do we want to live with a structure that forces dishonesty on people?
My prayers and hopes for clarity go out to the Connectional Table and to all of us UMC folks who struggle to find a place in the conflict because they want resolution and unity with their partners in ministry who disagree with them on this one issue.
For more reading on the UM Position on homosexuality consult the Book of Discipline particularly the Social Principles: