Earlier this year, I commented disparagingly on a statement from 33 retired UMC bishops supporting gay equality in church. As I’ve said many times, I welcome a full-throated exegetical debate on the issue—will any of our non-retired bishops lead us in that discussion?—but that’s not what this statement invited. It was written from a place of fear (“We’re losing members!”) and sentimentality (“Doesn’t it feel wrong to discriminate?”). It wasn’t an argument. As I said then, before we make what amounts to a radical change to our Book of Discipline and our church life, let’s make sure we’re not simply selling out to a sexually pathological culture.
In one of today’s subscription-free First Things posts, Leonard Klein describes the way sentimentality rules when it comes to discussions about sex. He also describes this sexually pathological culture better than I have.
An Orthodox friend has a T-shirt that says, “Wow, suppose it’s all true!” The “all” of course is the Christian Gospel and its ultimate promise of resurrection and everlasting communion with the Holy Trinity. If it is all true, if Jesus is risen, and if following him leads to that everlasting communion, then the impact on our lives will be vast.
The impact will even touch sex. That proposition is increasingly incomprehensible to souls nurtured by the toxic soup of post-modern sentimentalism. In that fog sex is a free-floating good to be used to the most gratifying effect by a disembodied self casting about for meaning, affection, and joy. It has become a right, indeed an entitlement. Any interference with the attainment of that entitlement, even the publication of discouraging news about the results of the sexual revolution, is out of bounds in large segments of our culture. Sexual freedom and self-expression just cannot be bad or dangerous or illusory. If increasing numbers of female undergraduates show signs of depression, it cannot have anything to do with the sexual anomie into which the society has delivered them. Sex is nearly the most important thing, but it cannot be thought to have any real affect on the person.
Even if we disagree on the issue, can’t we agree that Jesus is Lord of our bodies and our sex lives? That we don’t get to have any corner of our lives that doesn’t fall under the Lordship of Christ? That God has the right to say how we use these good gifts?
I’m not suggesting that many gay Christians who support equality in church would answer these questions differently from me. But I strongly reject the idea, often expressed in arguments on the pro-gay side, that God couldn’t possibly care about our sex lives or that sex is no big deal (within certain boundaries). Where does that idea come from? Certainly not scripture or church tradition.
Critics of my position, which is simply affirming what the United Methodist Church (and most of the universal church) believes, will often respond, “Yes, but we’re all sinners.” And I agree! I’m a sinner. And when Jesus tells me, “Go and sin no more,” I try my best to do that. Sanctification, as Wesley understood, is a lifelong process of becoming aware of sin in our lives and, with the power of the Spirit, changing.
But to say “We’re all sinners” begs the question. It’s hardly a good argument on the pro-gay side. It’s not as if they will concede that homosexual behavior is a sin that needs to be repented of.