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Sharing in faith: Sexuality and The United Methodist Church

 

The Rev. Sky McCracken
Photo courtesy of Sky McCracken
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I have been ordained in the United Methodist Church for 24 years — four years on staff as an associate pastor, 17 years as a lead pastor, and a little over three years as a district superintendent. In all of those years, no issue in the church has been more complicated than sexuality. And no issue has been more heated, yet less spiritually and faithfully discussed, than sexuality.

Sexuality is complicated; it is emotional and can be uncomfortable. Given the present reality of LGBTQ debate in our denomination, we find ourselves polarized at the extremes.

I pray we will willingly place ourselves between blushing and brazenness in matters sexual. This issue concerns me because I think it matters how we come to the table to talk about sexuality.

Our previous and present discussions have mirrored U.S. politics in both manner and vitriol. We are called to a better way.

More than two sides

What I have witnessed is that while we would wish for our denomination to have two “sides” to this and other issues, it is rarely so. There are theologically and biblically orthodox folks who embrace a more progressive sexual ethic, as there are more conservative folks who also embrace a more progressive sexual ethic — and permutations all around.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, a United Methodist, is extremely conservative in some things, but he supports people entering “any kind of arrangement they wish” where straight and LGBTQ marriage are concerned.

So to think that there are only two sides to this issue, and to sexuality in general, is to be less than self-aware. It is a multifaceted issue, and lack of true Christian conversation at a table has left us adrift to label, demonize and stigmatize those who see differently than us. Our reticence and embarrassment to discuss sexuality has led us to a blood feud among United Methodists, where schism is now being discussed.

The middle way

Because of this, my own preference for embracing the “via media,” the middle way, has been strengthened even more.

Rather than sitting on the fence, the via media provides a stable ground for conversation, discernment and work of the Holy Spirit to abide. It is also a very risky and vulnerable place.

Jesus was crucified between one man who wanted him to prove his power and fix things, and another man who knew that one day he would get far better than he deserved. That tension is a tough place to be. But I think it is the place where we are called to be.

I am theologically orthodox. I hold a traditional ethic regarding sexuality and am convicted that United Methodism holds the best theological formulations and traditions to be a witness for Jesus Christ in this world. I am not a biblical scholar, and barely know enough Greek to use a lexicon. I am also aware that some of the best biblical scholars in the world approach their study from differing hermeneutical backgrounds — which makes it harder for those of us who have to trust scholarship and the Holy Spirit to make sense of God’s Word.

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A churchman

I am also a churchman –– and I place my trust and faith in The United Methodist Church to be the imperfect yet chosen institution to best carry out the Great Commission: to make disciples of Jesus Christ. The UMC is a family related by blood; the family is dysfunctional at times, but it is a means of grace.

Because I embrace the via media, I have to be willing to meet with folks. These days we tend to do that at a General Conference, crafting legislation, engaging in debate, and ending with votes that produce winners and losers.

Dr. Steve Harper, a professor of spiritual formation, urges us to return to the tradition of meeting at the round table instead of in war rooms and in front of microphones where we try to force the truth over someone else.

A round table

We should meet not to convince someone to change their mind, but with the conviction that we can do better and that mutual covenant demands such: “…[T]he round table is the place of respect. We come believing that God is at work in all people of faith and good will. But we also come confessing that it is possible to concentrate on our position so much and for so long that we either lose sight of other positions — or — caricature them in order to make our position look stronger or better. A return to the spirit of respect does away with that false notion and enables us to say, ‘God is trying to speak to us, and God will use all of us to construct that message.’” (Steve Harper, “For the Sake of the Bride: Restoring the Church to Her Intended Beauty,” p. 83).

I know that God isn’t finished with me. I also know it is easier to pick a side either to be safe or to feel self-righteous, but my personal conviction is that neither of those is faithful for me.

So I place my hope in Jesus Christ, my covenant with The United Methodist Church, and myself in the middle of the fray so I might learn more, and might contribute more, as a disciple of the Kingdom. We serve a Lord who puts up with us yet believes in us, and loves us fully and crazily. This requires that, before we do anything else in the UMC, we meet, pray, share and learn together. Even, and especially, about sexuality.

The Rev. Sky McCracken
Paducah, Ky.

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Posted July 22, 2014