Thoughts on “UMC: Revisiting Human Sexuality”

 

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:

  1. Scholarly work has shown you can be a “biblical Christian” and hold a non-traditional view of the “clobber passages.”
  2. Scientific research has transformed how we understand human sexuality.
  3. the actual witness of LGBTQ Christians – “There is no doubt that gay Christians are living as faithful disciples and serving effectively as clergy.”
  4. 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.

2 Comments

  • lnhudson111

    March 29, 2016 at 8:06 pm Reply

    In all of the discussions about our sexuality, I have had no one answer this one question:”What is the definition of the word “marriage”?
    Our human relationships are complex. The word marriage throughout human history (I far as I have been able to go back in time and records) as revolved around the description of a permanent/life long relationship between men and women. That is a gender specific relationship that also included the possibility of conceiving and rearing children.

    I have yet to see a written definition that expands that relationship to include “same-sex” relationships. All of the same-sex relationships that I have known and currently know seem to use the term “partner” or “companion” to introduce or refer to one another. This has always made sense to me because it evoked the image of intimacy. friendship, companionship and equality in their relationship.

    Historically, it seems to me that a “marriage” relationship evokes images of specific roles, responsibilities, expectations, etc.

    I have discussed this topic with many of my colleagues, parishioners and others who would listen. Why not acknowledge the uniqueness of both kinds of relationships by recognizing the historical religious covenant in scripture as gender specific and recognize the legitimate personal connection and love that same-sex individuals experience in their lives are just as life affirming and committed to each other with a unique description of their own? Such as “Life Partners”, or something similar.

    For some reason our civilization has become reluctant to honor our own individual uniqueness as part of God’s creation. We seem to crave a false comfort in wanting to be just like every other person and they be just like us. Being unique is God’s gift to us not a burden or disabling weakness.

    I have had the privilege of living in different cultures and being part of their community life. My life has been enriched as a result.

    In my “humble” opinion, we need to expand the Discipline to include and recognize the value and importance of long term/life long human relationships that God wants us to experience as being fully human.

    • salvagedfaith

      April 18, 2016 at 10:10 am Reply

      I apologize for taking so long to see and then approve your comment!

      That initial question, “what is the definition of the word ‘marriage’?” is so important. I look at the scriptures and I do not see within one cohesive definition of marriage that I necessarily want to embrace in a modern world. Biblical expressions of marriage can devalue to role of women in a relationship and leave them in vulnerable situations (like a rape victim or war trophy being forced to marry her abuser/captor or the dual standards regarding adultery). Historically, ancient practices were designed to secure the land, the inheritance, the legacy, and so yes, procreation was intimately tied up with marriage. In the New Testament, clear roles and subjugation of the sexes seem to be built in to the definition. In their own contexts, sometimes these practices were a means of security and protection, yet outside of the context, they seem barbaric, unhealthy, and demeaning.

      Ultimately, when I think about the biblical definition of marriage, I find that it is an institution of society that varies based on the context. As the communities in scripture change, so do the practices of marriage. I think that to feel we are locked into a first century description of the institution of marriage from one part of the world is limiting. In so many cases, it appears to be a societal institution that then has religious meaning attached to it.

      So, what is marriage in our society? It is not merely a religious practice. In fact, I can preside over a marriage ceremony, but it has absolutely no significance in society if there is not a piece of paper from the state which validates the practice.

      We understand marriage to be intimately tied up in legal status and societal recognition. It is an institution that provides value and stability to our communities regardless of whether there will be children or if the marriage is religious in nature or not. In the landmark Massachusetts Supreme Court decision on Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, the justices write:

      Without question, civil marriage enhances the “welfare of the community.” It is a “social institution of the highest importance.” … Civil marriage anchors an ordered society by encouraging stable relationships over transient ones. It is central to the way the Commonwealth identifies individuals, provides for the orderly distribution of property, ensures that children and adults are cared for and supported whenever possible from private rather than public funds, and tracks important epidemiological and demographic data.

      Marriage also bestows enormous private and social advantages on those who choose to marry. Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family… Because it fulfils yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.

      Tangible as well as intangible benefits flow from marriage… The benefits accessible only by way of a marriage license are enormous, touching nearly every aspect of life and death.

      You lifted up that the language of partners or companions “evoked the image of intimacy, friendship, companionship and equality in their relationship.” Those are the values of marriage in society today.

      And they are the values I seek to find in my marriage. In my covenantal relationship with my spouse, we are not together to protect land or to preserve gender roles or even to bear children. We have found in one another the person we have promised to love and to cherish every day of our lives.

      Thank you for your question… I’d love to hear your response.

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