A couple of posts from different places about discovery, pain, sexuality, and God.
William Birch on learning to be at home with himself.
A college senior writes about her friend.
Talbot Davis reflects on a colleague’s change of heart.
My father is a psychologist. He told me once that any church that has children in it and is not looking for signs of sexual abuse is asking from trouble.
I thought of this after I learned of Bob Jones University firing an investigator it had brought in to investigate sex abuse on its campus.
The story led me to this blog by Boz Tchividjian, a former child abuse prosecutor who writes about sexual abuse in the church and investigates it. Here is the message he delivers at the end of one of his recent blog posts:
Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from this ruling has nothing to do with who is or who is not an “actual supervisor”. It has everything to do with the urgent need for the Church (Yes, I mean both Catholic and Protestant) to expend itself in placing the value and safety of children above all else, including institutional reputation.
If we fail to embrace this fundamental Gospel lesson, not only will there be more prosecutions (as there should be), but the beautiful lives of those made in the image of God will continue to be devastated and discarded. Jesus demands that we learn this lesson and begin living it out.
The United Methodist Church has formal policies and programs in place that are meant to protect children. Reading Tchividjian’s blog reminds me that these are not merely bureaucratic rules, but the living gospel.
My problem with retired United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert is not about breaking vows.
Don’t misunderstand. Vow breaking is sin. Sometimes it might be unavoidable sin, but it is still sin to promise one thing to God and to do another. I do not condone vow breaking. I just have come to realize that I was missing the real point in the past when I made that my primary concern.
My fundamental problem with Talbert and those who share his cause is not that some of them are breaking their vows of ordination. Frankly, I’ve learned that clergy bend and break such vows all the time for various reasons without much of a peep or qualm. Bishops and clergy turn a blind eye to the preaching and teaching and practicing of doctrines contrary to our Book of Discipline often enough that it should not be considered exceptional that it happens.
No, my problem with Talbert’s argument and actions runs deeper than that. My problem has to do with what people do with the bodies God has given them. My problem is that there are certain combinations of human sex organs and other body parts that Talbert deems blessed and I cannot. I’ve tried to get where Talbert wants me to go. Because I cannot get there, he calls me a perpetrator of injustice and evil. These are things I do not wish to be. I’d like to be able to cry “peace, peace.” But I have no peace. I cannot arrive at any conviction other than the one that says sodomy is a sin.
My problem is not that he is breaking vows. It is that he is encouraging sin. He is applauding as men and women leap into the pit.
Of course, he disagrees with me on this point — perhaps on many levels. But his disapproval and the disapproval of many other men and women I respect cannot change the conviction I have when I try to work through this matter. My conscience is captive to what I understand the Word of God to teach.
I may be wrong. I may one day be deemed unfit for ministry in the United Methodist Church because of this. I know I will disqualify myself from serving in many of our pulpits by writing this. And I know I strain my relationships with people I like and respect.
But I cannot applaud when a member of the clergy encourages sin. And my conscience will not let me name these forms of sex as anything else.
I do not share any of this with glee or relish writing about it, but it appears to me that events will require that we examine our own consciences. I’d like to find a soft, middle ground where I can stand without offending or upsetting anyone. But more and more, it seems such a place does not exist. And so, this is where I stand. God help me.
Stanley Hauerwas writes in an essay called “Resisting Capitalism: On Marriage and Homosexuality” that the people of the United Methodist Church don’t have any idea how to talk or think about homosexuality.
They do not know how to think about homosexuality because they do not know how to think about marriage and divorce. The churches have generally underwritten romantic accounts of marriage — that is, you fall in love and get married so that sex is an expression of your love. Such accounts not only destroy any understanding of marriage as lifelong monogamous fidelity but also make unintelligible the prohibition against same-sex relations. After all, the latter are often exemplifications of a loving relation.
Hauerwas’ overarching point in the essay is that we as a church have capitulated to the idea of marriage as an easily voidable contractual relationship that is only valid so long as those in the contract deem it in their interests to remain so. Such an understanding leaves out questions about the purpose of marriage as an institution ordained by God, and reduces it only to an expression of our choices. Hauerwas writes that when that is the meaning of marriage, our conversations about homosexuality and same-sex relations make no sense. He argues that we first have to recover the concept of marriage from liberal capitalism before we can hope to talk coherently about any of the related questions — promiscuity, fornication, adultery, polygamy, divorce, homosexuality.
Hauerwas offers us a list of provocative questions, particularly for those who support the United Methodist teaching on sexuality:
Do they think that a marriage is no longer a marriage simply because the people in the marriage no longer love one another? Do they think people who have been divorced can remarry after they have found someone else to love? How should people be examined to discern whether they are capable of making the promises we still ask people to make when the church witnesses their marriage? Should people who have been divorced bear a greater burden of proof if they wish to be remarried?
These are tough questions, but I find persuasive Hauerwas’s insistence that our answers to these questions should inform our answers to other questions. For Hauerwas our discussions about what some call “the clobber verses” of Scripture should be done in the light of the scriptural witness regarding singleness and marriage, letting our discernment about those matters shape our reading of other parts of Scripture. Of course, as Hauerwas notes in his essay, when he offered his arguments as part of a General Conference appointed task force he was ignored by both sides of our ongoing debate.
For what it is worth, though, I find his proposal more appealing than slinging slogans and scripture at each other, and I do think theological questions about sex and sexuality are best understood as secondary to our theological understanding of what marriage is and why people do or do not enter into it. Put into question form, we need an answer to the question “Why should people get married?” before we can have a coherent answer to the question “Why is sex outside of marriage bad?”
I don’t think either question ignores Scripture. Rather, I think they force us to read Scripture and wrestle with its witness to us.
I was reading through the United Methodist Social Principles. Yes, I do that from time to time. This time, I came across this sentence that I had not noticed before in the paragraph about women and men:
We especially reject the idea that God made individuals as incomplete fragments, made whole only in union with another.
This is arguing with Plato, right? He had the idea that people are divided wholes that only achieve full humanity when matched up with their other half. (Is that where the phrase “my better half” comes from?)
Maybe the church was not targeting Plato here. I could see this being aimed at the notion that single people are somehow missing something essential from their lives. We write about not bad mouthing singleness in other places in the Social Principles. Or is there a notion somewhere that women are incomplete without a man? I don’t know.
Maybe we just don’t like the movie Jerry Maguire.
As you can tell, I’m not sure what this sentence is doing or what evil it is trying to fend off. Whatever it is, we are “especially” opposed to it. Who can help me out? How about a biblical reference while we are at it?