In Response to ‘A Plea to my Centrist Friends’

 

one_in_christA 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.

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13 Comments

Mike

I can always understand your position and respect your thoughts as a church leader. I agree that we are all God’s children. What I not so sure about is why can’t we all just get along and be humble and kind. There are more serious problems we face. Matt never stop sharing and caring.

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Matt Rawle

Mike, thank you so much for taking the time to read. We are all of God’s children, but as a father myself, raising children is a full time job! Thank God for mercy and patience and teaching.

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Spiller

You have a remarkable ability to not only see the broader picture but also to clearly express it.

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Matt Rawle

Thank you, Dr. Milton, for taking the time to read and reply. I have so enjoyed being in ministry with you.

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Warren Clifton

I will continue to dwell in the center, for as you say, ” 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.” I am proud to be part of the communion called the United Methodist Church. I pray for love and grace in our conversations. Thank you, Matt.

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Ted Fine

Matt, I appreciate your heart on this matter. But here is a valid argument from my perspective on what I consider the other side of center (even if arguable): While I myself know and have communion with practicing committed gay couples (one couple are longtime friend), I also know of, have heard from, and had personal contact with (not intimately by the way) far more people (an entire culture actually) whose main (if not sole) motivation in the gay movement “is” about sexual intimacy. And while I strive to live into our UMC stated discipline that promotes love and acceptance of “all” people, I do not see where changing our stance on marriage is required in order to do that. Indeed, from my perspective, to do so is capitulation to a fallen culture. that will use such change as a vehicle for spiraling moral debauchery – i.e. it opens the door for people to feel comfortable making comments like one circulating on the net that wonders why outdated ideas such as abstinence in singleness were even still considered valid in 2016.. There are many other reasons too numerous for this forum that speak to the current push to change discipline being a slippery slope, and way too few people willing to have civil, in-depth, and fruitful conversations on the matter. I know, because I have tried over and over again to have that conversation. If your sentiments are heartfelt (which I believe they are), then how do you suggest speaking to the center in a way that opens the door to honest, open conversation that has any real chance of affecting the current and growing cultural rift in a positive way?

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Matt Rawle

Hey Ted. Thank you so much for reading, and taking the time to reply. I think conversation is a great thing, though we’ve had lots of it over the years. I think what would be fruitful is to spend time in trying to understand each other’s perspectives. For example, I should be able to articulate your point of view to your satisfaction, likewise you should be able to talk to my point of view to mine. Once we can find that place, we will come to a point of understanding that will allow us to then enter to debate. We tend to do these things backwards. For me, it begins with scripture. I believe when we read, study, pray, and ponder God’s word, we will find truth. For example, many use Sodom as an example of God’s judgment against homosexuality, but when we read, study, pray, and ponder we see that in Ezekiel 16:49 that the sin of sister Sodom is “She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the needy.” Of course, dealing posts is not a conversation, so I leave it by saying thank you for your willingness to enter into a dialogue and to be moved by the Holy Spirit. Thanks, brother.

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John Winn

You are right on target, Matt. Thanks for putting it out there and for the nature of your responses to those who might think otherwise.

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