Today, I saw an article by Rev. Dr. Steve Harper, the former Vice President and Dean of the Florida Campus of Asbury Theological Seminary called “UMC: Revisiting Human Sexuality.” He writes about a topic that has arisen at every General Conference in my lifetime… and will again in May.
My only experience of this discussion at the GC level was that of entrenchment, pain, and grief. Nobody really listened to one another. Everyone stuck to their talking points. And those who are most closely and personally impacted by our current position – LGBTQ persons (lay and clergy and their allies) – felt like they had no choice but to interrupt proceedings in order to be heard. I wrote about that day as it happened and you can read it, if you want, here.
But he brings up four points to bear in mind in May. He claims the terms of the conversation have changed since 1972; there is new information that needs to be heard:
- Scholarly work has shown you can be a “biblical Christian” and hold a non-traditional view of the “clobber passages.”
- Scientific research has transformed how we understand human sexuality.
- the actual witness of LGBTQ Christians – “There is no doubt that gay Christians are living as faithful disciples and serving effectively as clergy.”
- Our myopic view on LGBTQ persons has kept us from the conversation we should be having about human sexuality and ethical behavior in general.
Points one and three are probably the ones that have the most impacted my own position on this topic. I simply do not read six verses of scripture the same way some in our church do. But I firmly believe that we are all doing our best to be faithful to the scriptures. And perhaps my reading is impacted by my experience and relationships with LBGTQ persons… in the same way that our understanding of verses like 1 Timothy 2:12 has been impacted by the experience of women actually teaching (umm… like myself….). I can’t read those passages the same way after knowing the couple with three adopted kids who sat on the church board. Or the pastors who have challenged me with the gospel and provided care and comfort in difficult times. Or the friend who turned his back on a promiscuous life, found Jesus Christ, and is now happily married to the man of his dreams.
I think of all Rev. Dr. Harper’s points, maybe the fourth is the most compelling reason to change the conversation. I think of that friend I just mentioned who wasn’t able to separate his sexuality from his behaviors because he thought the church was rejecting all of it… until finally he heard that God loved him as a gay man and he found the ability to make different choices. Or the dinner conversation I just had at Easter about marriage: if the only criteria we use to define marriage is that it is between one man and one woman, then we lose our ability to speak about abuse, covenants, respect, mutual love, and a whole host of other biblical principals… and in fact, we ignore much of what the bible actually says about marriage (some of which, we happily reject).
I pray fervently that we can all truly hear one another at General Conference this year. I hope that the alternative process for these conversations might bear fruit – if we have the courage to vote for and use them on this topic. Above all, I pray that God would guide us and help us to be faithful, honest, and gentle with one another and show us a path forward as a people.