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Sunday, April 27, 2008
Human Sexuality and the APPROACHING STORM at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church
As the Methodists will be aware, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church now meets in Ft. Worth, Texas. The meeting began last week and will conclude at the end of this one. This is how the Church orders its policy and discipline every four years. As always, the storm brews over human sexuality and the legitimate boundaries for Christian practice. Below appears the major change in the works.

The PRESENT LANGUAGE approved in the "Social Principles" by the 2004 General Conference.

We recognize that sexuality is God's good gift to all persons. We believe persons may be fully human only when that gift is acknowledged and affirmed by themselves, the church, and society. We call all persons to the disciplined, responsible fulfillment of themselves, others, and society in the stewardship of this gift. We also recognize our limited understanding of this complex gift and encourage the medical, theological, and social science disciplines to combine in a determined effort to understand human sexuality more completely. We call the Church to take the leadership role in bringing together these disciplines to address this most complex issue. Further, within the context of our understanding of this gift of God, we recognize that God challenges us to find responsible, committed, and loving forms of expression.

Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are only clearly affirmed in the marriage bond. Sex may become exploitative within as well as outside marriage. We reject all sexual expressions that damage or destroy the humanity God has given us as birthright, and we affirm only that sexual expression that enhances that same humanity. We believe that sexual relations where one or both partners are exploitative, abusive, or promiscuous are beyond the parameters of acceptable Christian behavior and are ultimately destructive to individuals, families, and the social order.

We deplore all forms of the commercialization and exploitation of sex, with their consequent cheapening and degradation of human personality. We call for strict global enforcement of laws prohibiting the sexual exploitation or use of children by adults and encourage efforts to hold perpetrators legally and financially responsible. We call for the establishment of adequate protective services, guidance, and counseling opportunities for children thus abused. We insist that all persons, regardless of age, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation, are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured.

We recognize the continuing need for full, positive, age-appropriate and factual sex education opportunities for children, young people, and adults. The Church offers a unique opportunity to give quality guidance and education in this area.

Homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth. All persons need the ministry and guidance of the church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God's grace is available to all, and we will seek to live together in Christian community. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons."


The PROPOSED LANGUAGE, which passed committee, for the 2008 "Social Principles."

We recognize that sexuality is God's good gift to all persons. We believe persons may be fully human only when that gift is acknowledged and affirmed by themselves, the church, and society. We call all persons to the disciplined, responsible fulfillment of themselves, others, and society in the stewardship of this gift. We also recognize our limited understanding of this complex gift and encourage the medical, theological, and social science disciplines to combine in a determined effort to understand human sexuality more completely. United Methodists, along with other Christians, have struggled to find principles for applying traditional teachings to contemporary understandings of human sexuality.

We recognize that sexuality is part of the larger human mystery, to be received and acknowledged in grateful responsibility. We reject all sexual expressions that damage or destroy the humanity God has given us. We deplore all forms of the commercialization and exploitation of sexual relations, with their consequent cheapening and degradation of human personality. We call for strict global enforcement of laws prohibiting the sexual exploitation or use of children by adults and encourage efforts to hold perpetrators legally and responsible. We call for adequate protection, guidance, and counseling for children thus abused. We believe that the Church family should support all families in providing age-appropriate education regarding sexuality to children, youth, and adults. We challenge all members of our community of faith to commitment, integrity, and fidelity in their sexual relationships.

We know that all are God's children and of sacred worth; yet we have been, and remain, divided regarding homosexual expressions of human sexuality. Faithful, thoughtful people who have grappled with this issue deeply disagree with one another; yet all seek a faithful witness. We continue to reason and pray together with faith and hope that the Holy Spirit will soon bring reconciliation to our community of faith. The fire in our disagreements points to a deeper human mystery than we knew. We believe that the Spirit has brought our collective conscience to acknowledge this mystery more honestly, and to make our claims with greater humility before God and our neighbors. We therefore ask the Church , United Methodist and others, and the world, to refrain from judgment regarding homosexual persons and practices until the Spirit leads us to a new insight. In the meantime, let us seek to welcome, know, forgive, and love one another as Christ has accepted us, that God may be glorified through everything in our lives.


The conservative coalition clearly lost on this front in the committee. The vote from the full session will likely come on Tuesday. Thoughts on the proposed changes? Analysis on the strategy here?
posted by John David Walt | at 4/27/2008 08:42:00 PM

 

13 Comments:

Anonymous Matthew Johnson said...

J.D., if I'm not mistaken similar legislation has made it out of committee before only to be voted down by the General Conference. There's always quite a few of these pieces that get voted down by the body. I expect this one will fail on the floor as well.

You might be interested to know that the homosexual ordination issue failed in committee by a 44-24 vote. As I understand it, this issue won't see the light of day on the GC floor.

9:38 PM EDT  
Blogger JohnDeere said...

thanks matt-- i thought this as well until i spoke with maxie dunnam by phone tonight. he seemed to think the gay lobby was somewhat more formidable than typical on this front. jd

9:58 PM EDT  
Anonymous Matthew Johnson said...

If Maxie is there, he'd know better than I would as I'm only going by an E-mail from a friend who is there and was in the legislative committee that voted down the ordination petition. I think we might underestimate the strength of the Central Conference delegates which I hope to be true for a number of reasons.

11:22 PM EDT  
Anonymous John D. Palmer said...

I don't think either of the statements are particularly good. As to the newly proposed. . .as with so many of my prayers that I seemed to think the Spirit hadn't spoken on yet. I would suggest that the Spirit has moved on this issue and the answer is that the practice of individuals of the same sex engaging in sexual relations is wrong and not acceptable. I think this is a clear discernment at our General Conference quadrenium after quadrenium. When will we be obedient to the answer of the Holy Spirit?

In my lifetime we have sat by idly and allowed the very activity to be "named" as if it was a co-equal legitimate lifestyle. The notion that there is a person that could be refered to as "homosexual" is absurd. Prior to the moment in history that this name was given creedence humanity didn't go around refering to itself as heterosexuals. We have allowed this language to come into our lexicon and we have out of a false sense of grace entertained this debate longer than we ever should have.

I pray we don't uphold this proposed change and that we can finally listen to the Spirit's discernment and put this issue to rest.

10:03 AM EDT  
Blogger KellyLawson22 said...

The wording of the new proposal just sounds sort of sad, really. There's a feeling of defeat or something running through it. Like, we just have to resign ourselves to the fact that we can't make everyone happy, so we had better not commit to anything, so here we have accepted defeat in coming up with a clear solution. Sort of a "we aren't confident (or unified) enough to make a decision, so we're just going to leave it at this for 4 more years, and maybe next time we meet something will have changed." Hmm. Interesting.

5:36 PM EDT  
Blogger Kendra said...

The proposed language presents the problem of God’s good gift. He has given a good gift, but sexual conduct is too much a mystery for any of us to define, according to the statement. They strongly imply that God’s traditional teachings are not adequate to meet the needs of our contemporary times. A collective conscience must guide us. God, as the gift-giver, has given us limited ability and we are operating with a deficient definition. The statement begins without exalting God as the standard and omits any call to a biblical standard. Even the term “marriage” is omitted, I would guess because it is too extensive of a boundary in that it leads back to the Bible as the origin of the marriage covenant between man and wife.

Next, the greatest evils presented for the sexual social principles of Christians are the commercialization and exploitation of sexual relations. If we are not careful we might be guided to believe that the greatest evil is not in our sin nature and within ourselves, but lies “out there.” There is a sense of the decentralization of sin from within the human heart to a definition that defines sin as the deviation of the social norm. I doubt they intend the weakening of the gospel message, but that is what it seems to do if I follow through to the end results of their system of thought.

I love their emphasis on social justice and commend them for the focus. Yes, let’s let our influence extend to the nations and to protect the weak and oppressed. But in guiding social principles of the Church, worship through daily life must be defined by its Source. In the latter statement I find the Source lacking – a God who gave a good gift with inadequate guidance. Thus, we must rely on the social conscience to give boundary to sexual conduct.

8:08 PM EDT  
Anonymous Charles said...

J.D. I just got back from GC and I agree with Maxie's sentiment - It is clear that the left is much better organized than usual - the protests outside were smaller, but presence in committees was stronger. Matt might be right that the minority report could prevail - but the sentiment to "moderate" is strong, and this proposal is being seen as the "moderating position. I think part of the sentiment is a backlash against conservatives for the 2004 amicable separation proposal, s well as a backlash against IRD for the cell phone distribution to African Delegates. The Judicial council elections were a disaster for conservatives - all of the recommended candidates by IRD/GN/Confessing movement placed near the bottom of the voting. Get ready for a wild ride tommorow.

11:34 PM EDT  
Anonymous guy m williams said...

I too have heard from several-time delegates that it has been quite rare for the majority report to reflect the conservative position and that the minority report is consistently (and increasing in voting margins over the quadrennia) favored by the general body.

Seems to me the news isn't that the majority report came from committee in favor of language changes, but that there are folks who give more credance to the political organization of those in favor of changes. I'm still betting it fails in the general body, but will of course watch to see what actually does transpire.

12:48 AM EDT  
Anonymous Matthew Johnson said...

IRD/Good News have been hurting us for some time. We can lay the blame for this at their feet.

10:49 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am deeply concerned by the move of the Methodist Church to these doctrinal beliefs. I am not a Methodist, but a Conservative Christian who grew up in the Baptist Church, but now affiliated with a non-denominational Bible Church. This change of thinking goes against biblical instruction for marriage. Is the church changing doctrine because society is accepting behaviors that were once normally considered taboo? Are we conforming to societal beliefs and changing our views to keep the church relevant? This is dangerous. We ARE called to love all people- including homosexuals. But, to openly consider homosexuality as a "mystery" and not what God had condemned to be as "sin" as declared in his actions against Sodom & Gomorrah, is truly heartbreaking. I'm sad for the church and the stand that they are considering.

10:20 PM EDT  
Anonymous guy m williams said...

tend to agree with you, Matthew.

12:50 AM EDT  
Anonymous Matthew Johnson said...

The second section you posted up there was the majority report from committee. It was replaced by the minority report (Eddie Fox, Maxie, etc.) by a 55% to 45% ratio. That seems a little too close for comfort, BUT even if this report fails, the language in the discipline stays the same. The minority report was more strict than the current language. I suspect that if the current language of ¶161 were up for a vote it would pass 70%-30%.

I'd be interested to hear what Maxie has to say if you hear from him tonight.

7:24 PM EDT  
Blogger Michel said...

I love the seige mentality we seem to adopt. But it's all okay now... the Rulebook is safe for another four years.

4:41 PM EDT  

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