Although The United Methodist Church confronts challenges to its continued vitality and mission on many fronts, delegates to the 2012 General Conference will yet again be asked to reverse
the church’s position on homosexuality.
Our Book of Discipline declares that the “practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” forbids the ordination or appointment of self-avowed, practicing homosexuals and prohibits ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions from being conducted by our ministers or occurring in our churches.
For 10 General Conferences (1972-2008), and after numerous dialogues, two general church study commissions, the development of official study resources, dozens of convocations, a plethora of books, demonstrations and disruptions of General Conference business, and extended impassioned debate, The United Methodist Church has continued to affirm a holistic position on human sexuality that is pastoral and biblical, compassionate and redemptive.
Our denomination’s current statements on homosexuality set forth a balanced position that affirms the “sacred worth” of all persons, while acknowledging that as Christians, we cannot affirm every expression of human sexuality. There are sexual practices that contradict biblical standards, and as faithful disciples, we must be willing to declare them incompatible with Christian teaching. Our position does this with mercy and grace, and is consistent with the pronouncements of Scripture in both the Old and New testaments and 2,000 years of Christian history.
For millennia, biblical and Christian writers have declared that homosexual practice violates God’s design for humanity and the pronouncements of Scripture. Explicit moral references to such behavior in the Christian tradition have been consistently negative. Every reference to same-sex intercourse in Scripture is negative (see Genesis 19:3-8; Judges 19:22-25; Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 18-20; and 1 Timothy 1:8-11).
Scripture challenges contemporary culture
The Scriptures and Christian theology have limited sexual activity to within the boundary of marriage. Marriage has been defined by the church in its orthodox expression as the covenantal relationship of supreme love between a man and a woman. This definition has been based, in part, upon the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 19:4-6, which affirms that gender is a divine creation, heterosexual marriage is a divine institution and heterosexual fidelity is the divine intention. Our Discipline rightly calls faithful followers of Jesus Christ to celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage. Maintaining the current stance in our Discipline keeps faith with the supremacy of Scripture and is consistent with tradition, experience and reason.
Exposure to contemporary media demonstrates that we live in a hypersexualized culture. For more than 40 years, there have been those within The United Methodist Church who respond to events in our culture by arguing that we should accommodate to and adopt the ways of the culture in which we live. The existing position of our church, grounded in Scripture and the historic teachings of the church, is a statement of clarity in an age of murky morality. In an era when far too many know the spiritual devastation which comes from sexual brokenness that occurs regardless of sexual orientation, our focus as a church should be on being prepared to minister to the needs presented while uncompromisingly standing for biblical truth and the transformative power of a relationship with Christ.
Our current Discipline makes clear that all persons, whatever their sexual orientation, are welcome in The United Methodist Church. However, it is also clear that sexual relationships outside the biblically and historically defined boundary of Christian marriage between one man and one woman must be confronted for what they are – sin – and persons who sin must be called to confession, repentance and transformation.
Every four years for 40 years now, as we have approached General Conference, clergy and laity, regardless of perspective, have approached the debate on sexual practice with apprehension. While the malaise present in The United Methodist Church is not solely related to this debate, the contentiousness of this debate has distracted us from the central mission of the church — to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Yet we still battle. We will do so again in Tampa. May God give us grace and mercy.
*The Rev. Keith Boyette is pastor at Wilderness Community United Methodist Church, Spotsylvania, Va. This article first appeared in the March 2012 issue of the Virginia Advocate.