Content warning: sexual assault

What if The United Methodist Church weren’t stuck spinning our wheels on sexual orientation as if it were the only aspect of “human sexuality,” as this debate is being euphemistically framed? What if instead we were actually able to thoughtfully engage the moral and ethical implications within the full scope of sexual behavior?

This week, while our Council of Bishops has been debating ways to keep the denomination together despite differences around moral understanding and inclusion of all sexual orientations, another friend of mine was sexually assaulted by a heterosexual man. Because of where we are stuck in our attention to sexual matters, we are of little help making the world safe from sexual predators and other incredibly important aspects of human sexuality.

We should be able to be a moral authority on how to live respectfully as sexual beings. Instead we are arguing about how much or how little room we can make for the participation of LGBTQ people in our churches. 

I am in Chicago with colleagues from the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus engaging various bishops in conversation while they are on breaks and reminding all of them visibly that they are discussing plans that affect real people, not just a theological issue. I have many thoughts about the unjust nature of both of the plans being considered, but that is not what I’m writing about today. As much as I care about the outcome of the bishops’ deliberations, I spent hours yesterday doing something of greater value than my public witness. I talked to my friend through some of the shock of her traumatic experience.

The debates that divide us as a denomination are irrelevant to the lived experience of most people I know,  who have long since decided on the value of queer lives. 

What could we accomplish as a denomination if we were truly able to move past this division? Think of the dollars, the time, the energy we have wasted on trials for clergy who dared to celebrate the love of members of their congregations or dared to be open about the people they love. Think of the dollars, the time, the energy we have wasted in Annual Conferences, General Conferences, Judicial Council meetings, agency meetings, congregations, and other bodies arguing about who should be welcome to fully participate in the life and responsibilities of our churches.

What if those resources were spent on actual ministry?

What if even a portion of those resources were spent on strategizing about how we could wield our moral influence to help our members and friends have healthier and more wholistic understandings of sexuality?

What if The United Methodist Church could be seen as a force in reducing the prevalence of sexual abuse, sexual assault, and sexual harassment? 

Instead we are stuck in the same rut we’ve been in since nearly the beginning of our time as “United” Methodists.

We won’t get to a healthy, relevant message about sexuality for today’s social context by simply debating the worth of “homosexuals” and critiquing sex outside of marriage. Sexual harm happens across all sexual orientations, gender identities, biblical interpretations, and spiritual traditions. Ending sexual abuse should be something all United Methodists are able to unite around. We can’t get there, though, if we can’t talk to each other about it. Given the quality of our debate about the one aspect of human sexuality we do engage, I’m afraid we wouldn’t even know where to start.

So here we are, yet again debating what so much of US culture has already moved beyond instead of engaging what people really need. The church is the last place most of my friends would look to for their moral questions about sexuality. It is a shame. There is so much good we could do. 

Rev. Austin L. Adkinson

Rev. Austin L. Adkinson is the pastor of Haller Lake UMC in Seattle. He is a member of the leadership teams of United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus and the Western Methodist Justice Movement and was part of the 2016 General Conference delegation from the PNW Conference.

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