The United Methodist Church and Human Sexuality


Still Pondering the State & Nature of Church

If you’ve followed my last two blog posts, you’ve likely picked up that questions about church unity are on my mind. Why is the United Methodist Church a single church body? What keeps us together? What differences can we have and still stay together? At what point do people/groups within the church diverge so much from the church’s traditions that they should leave? I have responses to these questions, of course, but there are rarely clean answers to these sorts of questions. So I just keep asking!

Human Sexuality–The UMC’s official theological stance

In exploring those types of questions, one question has come into focus for me lately: what is the United Methodist Church’s theology of human sexuality? Does the official theological stance reflect what we actually believe? Is it rooted in Scripture and the traditional teachings of the church universal? Now, of course, my first question was easy to answer, since I clearly memorized every single word of the Book of Discipline for United Methodist polity/doctrine class and for my ordination process (tongue firmly in cheek). But seriously, it’s easy to find, it’s in our Social Principles, which is part of our Book of Discipline. It can be found here on the official website, and I copied it below for everyone’s convenience:

Human Sexuality

We affirm that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons. We call everyone to  responsible stewardship of this sacred gift.

Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.

We deplore all forms of the commercialization, abuse, and exploitation of sex. We call for strict global enforcement of laws prohibiting the sexual exploitation of children and for adequate protection, guidance, and counseling for abused children. All persons, regardless of age, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation, are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured and to be protected against violence. The Church should support the family in providing age-appropriate education regarding sexuality to children, youth, and adults.

We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us.  We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.1

1See Judicial Council Decision 702

Starting a Conversation

I could offer some theological/biblical responses to this official statement, and I normally would. But as much as I like blathering myself, I want an open conversation about these issues. So, especially for the Methodists reading this, what do you think? To what degree is the statement biblical? How much of it reflects sound theology, how much is bunk, and why? What parts of this statement reflect our faith in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? How does this statement reflect a perspective of human sexuality rooted in our common faith in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ? How much of this statement do we all agree with, and how much of it divides us? Are those divisions reconcilable?

Seriously, I’m inviting comments. I normally respond in to comments pretty consistently, but I’ll try to refrain this time unless asked to jump in. If you do not feel comfortable sharing your views openly, message me privately on Facebook/Twitter, and I’ll post it as “Anonymous contributor,” and your identity will be confidential. As we discern our future as the United Methodist Church–a process that fills me with both hope and trepidation–we should discuss more than just structure and process. I truly believe in a transparently open dialogue about who we are as followers of Jesus in the United Methodist tradition, including how much we have in common, and how much we need to have in common to stay whole. Since our views on human sexuality divide us most clearly, let’s start there. Let’s start now.

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One Reply to “The United Methodist Church and Human Sexuality”

  1. I am surprised your post did not bring comments. I must have missed it when you posted it. As I have wrestled with this matter, what I keep wrestling with is this. The classical approach to Christian life would include a focus on love to God and neighbor, the development of faith, hope, and love, the development of virtue and avoidance of vice, and a reflection on the household rules. What I have seen is that this classical approach shows flexibility as it encounters new cultures and new challenges of history. Thus, it can affirm some form of slavery in one period and call for its abolition in another. It can assume male authority in one period and see the need for a partnership view of marriage in another. It can assume only male ordination (many still do) in one period but see the biblical nature of female ordination in another. Such flexibility of the classical position occurs because new situations, combined with new spiritual insights into Scripture, are part of the openness of the people of God to movements of the Spirit. I stress, though, that such openness to newness does not mean the church of every age can make it up as it goes along. Thus, when it comes to sexuality and gender matters, I find it difficult to work within a classical view of the Christian life and endorse the many re-configurations of marriage that the LGBTQ promotes. Given their logic, they will take up the cause of polyamory at some point. Now, if you reject the classical approach to the Christian life, you may well find some justification for the church to make this change, as a few denominations have done. Of course, I am also concerned about church unity and global Christianity, but that is another dimension of this story. I share these things in the same spirit you have stated. It might be that within a classical view one make the change that some seem so bent on making. I do not see how. The reason is simple. Marriage is between man and woman in the Bible and church tradition. Slowly, it became one man and one woman, based upon the theological move of the marriage relationship between God and the people of God. It also, rarely, says No to homosexuality. Of course, it also offers a simple No to many forms of heterosexual practice, but that is not the focus of the current debate.

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