Revisiting human sexuality

March 29th, 2016

It is incumbent on delegates to discuss any issue with the best and most up-to-date information available. This is particularly true with respect to human sexuality. A lot has changed since 1972, and what we have learned since then cannot be omitted from the deliberative process. There are four fundamental reasons why the current statements regarding human sexuality in our Book of Discipline must be revised.

First, thanks to the exegetical and interpretive work by scholars such as James Brownson, Mark Achtemeier, Luke Timothy Johnson, Walter Wink and David Gushee, it is possible to strongly affirm the inspiration and authority of Scripture while holding a nontraditional view of certain human sexuality passages. It is simply not true that only those who hold a traditional view are “biblical” Christians. Such either/or, in/out, right/wrong thinking is no longer credible.

Second, learnings from science (e.g. brain studies, the human genome, fetal development, gender identification, etc) have greatly expanded our understanding of human sexuality that United Methodist delegates simply did not know about in 1972. Books by Jacques Balthazart, Simon LeVay, Michael Regele and others are revelatory. This new knowledge takes us to the chromosomal level, generating new information about how we become who we are. These insights alone mandate fresh conversations.

Third, the witness of LGBTQ Christians warrants a fresh conversation. The courageous willingness of increasing numbers of LGBTQ Christians to come out (e.g. the Gay Christian Network) is revealing their clear moral commitments to the integration of faith and sexuality in singleness, marriage, and ministry. There is no doubt that gay Christians are living as faithful disciples and serving effectively as clergy. To allege otherwise goes against available evidence.

Finally, the United Methodist Church needs to develop its views about human sexuality by including the problematic behaviors of heterosexual clergy over the past 40 years. Bishops and Boards of Ministry have had to deal with untold numbers of cases where heterosexual clergy have not lived as they should. But because the public debate has been about LGBTQ people, the heterosexuality dimension has not generally been part of the conversation about human sexuality, thus skewing the picture–making our views one-sided and incomplete.

The point is, on multiple fronts, the church has 43+ years of knowledge from a variety of disciplines to legitimize new conversations about human sexuality. To keep language in our Book of Discipline as it currently is, or to further tighten the meaning of current language, is to engage in obscurantism, rather than to practice Christian conferencing with new information on the table.

Steve Harper is the author of For the Sake of the Bride and Five Marks of a Methodist. He blogs at Oboedire.

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