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 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.
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?
Let’s talk about sex for a moment.
No, not the kind we always write about in the Christian blogosphere. Let’s talk about the 90% or more of the people who engage in sex with those who have different plumbing.
Question: Does God care about sex?
As good United Methodists, we turn first to Scripture as we seek to find answers to this question. You can do the detailed exegesis. I’ll just note here that the overwhelming answer to the question appears to be yes. From the beginning to the end of the Bible we have Yahweh, the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles speaking about sex. I will note that it is overwhelmingly in terms of prohibition and limitations. Sex is polluting, dangerous, and a gateway to idolatry and all manner of sins. Yes, there are some exceptions that get a lot of mileage — kind of reverse clobber passages. But the Scriptural references to sex appear to be mostly about limitations and boundaries rather than celebration.
My sense is that most of our conversation about sex these days has little to do with theology and a great deal to do with biology, sociology, and economics. Without saying it explicitly, we presume that the biblical view of sex was really just a god-talk cover for concerns about patriarchy, disease, and unwanted pregnancy. In our day, where these concerns are more under our control, we can ignore the biblical witness. That seems prudent only if we believe the biblical witness is just a culturally conditioned artifact that has no bearing on our world.
The traditional Christian teaching has long been that sex should be contained within certain bounds, often articulated as heterosexual marriage. I’m not claiming to be an expert on this, but I struggle to see any argument that honors the place of Scripture in our theology that does not start with a deep-seated suspicion about sex and caution about its power as a dark force in our life.
I know this puts me at odds with American popular culture. What I can’t figure out is how to avoid that conflict without undermining Scripture’s role in our theology.
A woman stood in her ramshackle hut polishing a brass lamp with a rag, working hard as she could to clean it to a brilliant shine. The only odd thing about this was that her house stood in the midst of ruins. An earthquake had shattered the street itself and brought down houses and shops on every side of her. That her little hovel had somehow stood was remarkable, but cleaning the brass missed the greater calamity.
This little parable comes to mind when I read this post by Ron Belgau.
I had an exchange not long ago with Dean Snyder seeking to understand how his arguments about gay marriage are materially different from the arguments of polygamists. We did not really come to a mutual understanding.
But today I am reminded by Belgau’s post that it is not wise to narrow our attention to only the most pressing issue of the day.
We should look around the neighborhood, as well. We should look because the advocates who shed tears and sometimes hurl names at the church have often correctly noticed that our denomination appears to have come to terms with all manner of heterosexual sexual behaviors that Jesus, the apostles, and the prophets did not appear all too happy about.
People who point out these inconsistencies, of course, rarely are advocating that we as a church go back and strive for biblical standards in these areas. The message is more often: “Hey, you are giving the fornicators an easy time. You don’t say much when a man divorces his wife and abandons his kids because he’s gotten tired of being married. Why not treat others the same way?”
For me, at least, this is an important question to deal with. I have more than once asked someone who is advocating for change in the United Methodist Church’s social principles and law to share with me their holistic theology regarding sex. Don’t tell me merely why you think this provision in the Book of Discipline is wrong. Help me understand how your theology speaks to our sex-crazed culture.
It is only fair, of course, to turn that question on myself. Does the status quo of United Methodist teaching on sexuality provide an orthodox and holistic theology about sex? Does it witness to the ills of our world with a gospel answer? Does it speak in a comprehensive way, or is it a divided witness that has already been compromised by accommodation to heterosexual practices that have no basis in Christian holiness? If our only interest was in heterosexual sexual behavior and attitudes, does the current official witness of the church reflect sound Christian theology?
What do you think?