“A Plea to my Centrist Friends,” posted on March 29, 2016, is a cry for those who rest in the center of the church’s debate on human sexuality to maintain the current United Methodist teachings on human sexuality found within the current United Methodist Book of Discipline. I believe the large umbrella of The United Methodist Church is large enough for both Peter and Paul to be in ministry, offering shade to those on opposite sides of this debate. My opposition to this article is not with the author’s stance; rather the argument itself is built on harmful assumptions which call for comment.
First, the assumption that centrists haven’t made a decision about the debate is naive. I am not a centrist because I haven’t made up my mind. I am a centrist because the center is where the bread and cup live. On one side you have Simon the Zealot who wants to overthrow the institution. On the other side you have Matthew the Tax Collector who benefits from the current structure. Both were at the table with Jesus when he offered the bread and the wine to be his body and blood. In other words, the center is not about compromise; The center is about communion.
Second, the author’s stance on “celibacy in singleness,” is certainly valid, and one I support, but upholding this teaching from the Discipline with one hand, and denying some the opportunity for marriage with the other, creates a catch-22. In essence, celibacy is the only acceptable form of sexual expression from the LGBTQ community, which unfairly leads the author quickly to jump from promiscuity to discussion about gay marriage. It’s like kicking someone out of school, and then later in life, blaming them for their own ignorance.
Assuming that relaxing the Discipline’s language for inclusive marriage leads to promiscuity is precisely the opposite result those supporting the change desire. Many of our homosexual brothers and sisters are begging for a Christ-centered, covenantal relationship built on fidelity, trust, and the uniting of wills. To deny them this opportunity, and then refer to their lifestyle as promiscuous is unfortunate and misses the mark.
Finally, marriage is an outward and visible sign of an inward spiritual grace, signifying to us the union between Christ and the Church. What saddens me in this debate is that many in the church are boiling marriage down to intimacy only. When I meet with a couple before their wedding, we talk about a host of topics: what does home feel like, how did your parents argue, what is your favorite way to spend time with the person you love, how do you spend money, and yes, we also talk about sex. In other words, many are quick to turn a couple away because of how they share intimacy, but do we turn away the workaholic because of the damage too many hours in the office can do to a relationship? Do we turn away a couple because one of them will be inheriting a massive amount of debt from the other? Do we turn them away because one wants to have children and the other isn’t sure? I’m assuming we don’t because we have faith that through their connection with the church, they will be able to compromise and learn to honor and love the other person sacrificially; they will learn how to commune daily with each other and with God. If we trust this about those in our churches, why does this article sound the alarm that the UMC is heading toward irreconcilable differences? If the sole purpose of the covenant is to have legitimate sex, then we need to rethink how we call marriage the symbol of how Christ is united to the church.