The UMC Sexuality Debate is a Symptom, Not the Problem

Posted: May 20, 2015 by Matt Horan in Uncategorized

By Matt Horan

We’re about to see what the United Methodist Church is made of.

This summer United Methodist Annual Conferences will vote and elect delegates to the 2016 edition of our quadrennial General Conference.  There is important work to be done at General Conference, as it only meets once every four years and is the place and time where all United Methodists on the planet are represented.  The gathering will take two weeks and cost millions of dollars, but it seems that all that’ll happen is debate about homosexuality.

There’s basically two schools of thought available at this point.  Some think that the Bible’s clear rejection of homosexuality should be the last word on it, and that any desire to act on an attraction to someone of the same sex is sin, and should be resisted.  Others think that the Bible’s clear rejection of homosexuality was written at a vastly different time, and that new understandings of human development, human sexuality, and theology require us to honor what the Bible says by accounting for its context and considering the implications of those contextualized writings on us today, with word for word obedience as one, but not the only, option that might should be prayerfully considered.  In short–some believe this rejection is the last word, and others think it’s the first word.  Some feel that it should end the conversation, while others think it should start it.

I suppose there are other takes besides “enders” and “starters,” but these approximate the top two.

Sadly, both sides seem to have abandoned any hope of dialogue.  Revs. Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter and others put forth a good faith effort at creating space to coexist, but coexistence is an abject failure if your goal is extermination.

Sadly, differing views on homosexuality has become “the problem” to so many that I’m afraid we’re unable to see the actual problem.  This issue is not the problem, but a symptom.

I propose that the problem is contamination of the UMC by American electoral politics.

The most effective use of the massive campaign war chests candidates are amassing is spent on firing up those already on your side so that they’ll be sure to show up on election day.  There is no effort made anymore to win anybody over.  The formula is simple: villify our opponent thoroughly enough so that our base is so opposed to them winning that they’ll show up in bigger numbers to vote against them.

The nation has been conditioned to identify themselves as liberals or conservatives.  Ask us why we’re one or the other, we’ll easily give you more reasons to not be the other kind than reasons to be what we are, because these campaign managers have learned how to manipulate the electorate, they do it exceedingly well, and they have taught politicians how to do it exceedingly well too.  They may not have done a great job teaching us what we’re for, but we’re abundantly clear about what we’re against.

In fact, they’ve taught us so well that we’ve begun to bring these labels with us to church.  They’ve taught us so well that we have become better at defining our faith by what we’re not more easily than what we are.  Delegates to annual conferences who most years skip sessions to cruise through the book tables, ministry displays, and local restaurants to reunite with friends will attend the sessions in far greater numbers this time around, because the key to victory–the key to extermination–is getting out the vote.

It’s gone so far that the “enders” are now rallying the troops to separate from the “starters” and create two separate denominations, as if that will solve our problem.  However, since that isn’t really the problem, our problem won’t be solved.  The problem–the contamination of the UMC by American electoral politics, will still exist.  It will continue to create a need in us to hate somebody.  It will continue to deceive us into thinking that the kingdom of God is one of the options available to us on a ballot.  It will continue to whisper in our ear that our primary identity is not found in Jesus Christ, but in who we are trying to exterminate.

I guess, in the long run, the world will be better off either way.  Perhaps we will figure out our real problem and do something about it, thus freeing up our resources to do actual beneficial work for our neighbors.  Or perhaps we won’t, and we’ll successfully exterminate ourselves, thus freeing up our resources to be used by others to do actual beneficial work for our neighbors.

Hang in there, neighbors–someone will be along shortly to lend a hand.  Maybe after General Conference 2016, United Methodists will know whether or not it’s going to be us.

  1. Thanks, Matt! Your way of looking at our problem shows (yet again) that our problem is dualustic thinking–which erodes the willingness to talk and creates right/wrong scenarios no matter the issue. General Conference will have many things to consider, but if we go to Pirtland as a house divided on human sexuality, it will be difficult to lay down partisanship on ither matters. Thanks for reminding us that the root problem is nit an issue, it’s a mindset.


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