A plea to my centrist friends in the United Methodist Church

March 29th, 2016

On March 23, 2016, the Methodist Federation For Social Action posted an anonymous blog that made even the most jaded among us blush.

Titled “#HandsOffMyBC” and authored by a United Methodist clergyperson, the blog made an emphatic case for universal access to birth control while also including these admissions:

I chose to go on birth control because I didn't want to get pregnant and I wanted to have sex. Because I am a clergy woman in The United Methodist Church, and I'm single, that information could get me brought up on charges, and I could lose my ordination.

Luckily, I can access birth control through the health insurance plan that my church pays for. However, because I value my job, I have to remain anonymous in writing this. It strikes me as ridiculous in 2016 that this is necessary, but being a person who is sexually active while single is against the rules.

Not drop the mic. Drop the jaw.

Dalton Rushing, UMC pastor and self-described progressive, replied this way on Twitter: I'm in favor of universal birth control access, but this is awful. If this is progressive then I wonder what I am??

And yet the post was modest compared to some of the remarks that followed in the comments section. Most notable comes from a prospective ordinand in Oklahoma:

Hi there. Future UMC Rev. here (starting seminary this fall.) Thank you so much for this brave post. Your body, your sexuality, and your safety are your decisions and I applaud you for your willingness to share, even anonymously. My fiance and I (he's going to be a Rev. too) started having sex a couple of years ago and were thrilled with our decision, and it wasn't one we made lightly, as I'm sure you don't take sexual activity lightly. As for the promises of ordination…perhaps it's time to take a second look at those.

So this is what it has come to: a pair of would-be UMC ordinands inviting us to celebrate their premarital sexual intercourse. Just when I thought I’d seen it all, I realize I hadn’t.

Note the perspective in both Anonymous’ post and the referenced comment. It’s the church of me and of now. It’s an ecclesiology wrapped up in personal autonomy. It’s a faith in which the highest allegiance is to the self. It’s a hermeneutic which confuses “rules” with “commandments.”

It’s a future for the United Methodist Church in which sacrifice-making, cross-taking, self-denying holiness has gone the way of garters and petticoats.

It’s theology by Oprah.

And here’s why this is particularly germane in the spring of 2016 and why I’ve titled this piece "A Plea To Centrists": the views expressed and actions declared on the MFSA blog have everything to do with the current UMC imbroglio over homosexuality.

Many of my centrist friends are heading to Portland in May and will cast votes either to retain or remove the language describing what United Methodist believe about homosexual intercourse. And I know that many centrists — even in my own Western North Carolina Conference — are still weighing their decisions carefully.

If that group includes you, I want you to know your vote is not simply about homosexuality and it’s not about justice.

It is instead about dismantling the entire sexual ethic that has helped define the Christian faith for two millennia.

Because as both Anonymous and the commenter show us, once you become more enlightened than the authors of Scripture when it comes to same-sex intercourse, then you are inevitably more enlightened when it comes to premarital sexual intercourse as well.

The church of me and now will always trump the faith of we and history.

And sexual anarchy is the result.

That’s not the faith I signed up for, nor is it the church I was ordained in. Instead, I have been steeped in the understanding that Hebrews 13:4 — keep the marriage bed pure — starts long before one ever gets married. I suspect that most of my United Methodist clergy friends believe the same and lived the same. It has always been a fundamental part of what it means to be a disciple.

If you are a United Methodist centrist and are heading to Portland still undecided in how you will vote on the Conference-defining issue, please remember: a “change the language” vote unleashes a generation of clergy who have so rewritten our sexual ethic that it will not be in any meaningful sense Christian.

And both Anonymous and the commenter will be serving as tomorrow’s youth pastors, giving sexual advice and counsel to your children and grandchildren.

Talbot Davis is pastor of Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina and the author of Head Scratchers: When the Words of Jesus Don't Make SenseThe Storm Before the Calm, and The Shadow of a Doubt, all from Abingdon Press.

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