A Way Forward? My Response Part 5: What about the whole LGBTQIA community?

Saturday, June 14th, 2014

This is the fifth part in a seven part blog series reflecting on the document, A Way Forward for a United Methodist Church

Andy Crouch, in a recent article in Christianity Today helpfully observes that the church is mistaken and out of touch by framing the current debate about sexuality as whether the church should “accept” or “reject” same sex marriage. To do that is to focus one on tiny wave and miss the tsunami which is about to engulf us. The proposal by Hamilton seems to think that if we agree to this proposal we just might put this issue behind us. On the contrary, we are just on the front edge of this issue.

Even the acceptance of same sex marriage assumes, for example, stable sexual orientation. In other words, it assumes that someone is oriented towards a different or same sex as a permanent reality. Today we hear quite a bit about the LGBT and the LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Queer/Questioning, Intersexed and Asexual) community. However, the proliferation of letters beyond L and G in the growing LGBTQIA lineup clearly demonstrates that there is far more going on than a discussion of same sex marriage. Today, the debate also includes, for example bi-sexual, transgendered and intersexed persons. In fact, I read a recent writer who is part of the LGBTQIA “community” who referred to those who speak of only “gay” and “lesbian” as living in the “dark ages.” His point was that the real issue today is not about sexual attraction between men and men or women and women, but, more fundamentally, about the freedom for gender non-conformity and the full disassociation of gender with any physiological markers. In other words, this is not a discussion about sex or marriage, it is a discussion about the elimination of all gender boundaries and assumptions about gender identity, even those markers physiologically given to us through creation. This is, therefore, fundamentally about the Christian view of the body. This debate has enormous implications for historic Christian teaching concerning the body. This, in turn, has even deeper implications for the Christian doctrine of the incarnation, the bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ and our own bodily resurrection at the end of time.

For example, the very notion of same sex marriage assumes that we are referring to men who may be sexually attracted to other men, or women who may be sexually attracted to another woman. But what about someone who claims to be a “man” trapped in a woman’s body and wants to marry a woman. In this case, they fiercely resist being called a homosexual couple, but would argue strongly that they are actually a heterosexual couple since sexual identity is no longer identified with particular physiology, but with inner dispositions.

As far as I can tell in reading the proposal, the proposed legislation focuses solely on the church’s response to practicing gay and lesbian persons. Thus, the document is silent on the actual current state of the national conversation.

I am not suggesting that A Way Forward anticipates that the church would accept any of the above relationships as compatible with the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We are not told what the ethical and theological boundaries might be laid. Perhaps, the current proposal has not anticipated the full theological ramifications of what is actually happening in our society. Once the gender line is given up, it may not be so easy to respond to, for example, polygamy, concurrent bi-sexuality, or someone who does not believe that gender should be related to any particulars of human physiology. Therefore, it seems incumbent upon those who framed A Way Forward to articulate in writing whether the proposed legislation would apply to other groups besides gay and lesbians. Transgendered persons are now being cited as the new focus of civil rights. For example, the current proposal points out that that if a local church voted to fully include practicing gay and lesbian members then “they would be held to the same standard heterosexual clergy are held to: fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness.” Would this standard, therefore, prohibit a bi-sexual or pan-sexual persons from expressing their orientation to more than one gendered partner, effectively forcing a bi-sexual person to make a lifelong commitment to one sex or the other? What would happen if a person who is married (either heterosexually or homosexually) to someone but, over time, gradually begins to recognize a different interior gender orientation? Do we believe that gender identity is or is not related to physiology? The bottom line: The United Methodist Church had better reflect deeply on the true nature of this crisis and the full implications of this proposal before quickly overturning thousands of years of Jewish-Christian teaching.

Did God create us “male and female” or is it possible that He created us LGBTQIA, etc.? In Mark 10:6 Jesus teaches that God created us “male and female.” Furthermore, the New Testament teaches us that this sacred relationship is mysteriously linked both with the image of God in humanity and the relationship between Christ and His Church. This affirmation of the body as the good creation of God does, in fact, imply certain ethical boundaries to our subsequent life choices and decisions. Therefore, there can be no functional, pragmatic answer which ignores these created boundaries. To make gender a matter of heart disposition rather than bodily physiology has huge implications for the Christian view of the body as good. The Bible portrays the heart as deceptive, the mind as needing renewal, but the body as good. The only real way forward is a solution which is deeply theological, marvelously sacramental and richly biblical. It will recognize the divinely created sacredness of our bodily sexual differentiation.


  • Thank you for this series Dr. Tennent. One of my favorite texts with regard to the role of women in the church is St. Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:26-29.

    “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

    As a clergywoman, I find this to be a revolutionary, empowering, and consoling statement. It also makes me reflect on the possibility of inclusion in the church of people who are confused regarding their gender and their sexual expression. I’d like to know your thoughts on this.

  • Mark says:

    The sexual impulse in most people is strong, presumably because God our Creator was PRO-creation. Anything other than an opposite-sex institution throws a big wrench into that paradigm…but we live in a fallen world, one which distorts and re-directs sexual impulses in unhealthy—physically, emotionally, spiritually—directions. A strong impulse, like a raging river, can sometimes flood its banks. The current cultural climate gives this message: whatever you find as a natural object of your desire, whatever direction your river rages, go for it with gusto! And anyone who tells you that your pursuit of that object is unwise or wrong is being judgmental (the main sin in contemporary society) and should be marginalized and ignored.

  • Terry Powell says:

    “The Bible portrays the heart as deceptive, the mind as needing renewal, but the body as good. ” Good point. It is not about who I think I am, but who God says I am. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” When we become prideful and want life on our own terms then only confusion reigns, and we lose out with God.

  • Timothy, thank you for thinking this through. As you know, I live in the backyard of this discussion.

    A major text for our time is A Theology of the Body, Pope John Paul II.

  • Thank you, Dr. Tennent. As a United Methodist pastor of 36 years who has just returned from our Annual Conference, I am keenly aware of the tension with our “tribe” over gender awareness. One of our retired bishops, preaching at our ordination service, said, “Tell me when you decided to become heterosexual,” thus intimating that choices occur in a moment in time and perpetuating the fiction that what we do with our genitals is an ontological issue. As someone stated above, who defines us? Me or God (in my baptism!)? That bishop says, “Me.”

    I’ve long suspected that the frau-frau over same gender marriages had more to do with our jaundiced theology of the body (and thus the bodily resurrection of Jesus) more so than just legal or “heart” issues. I believe we live in the “Age of the Gland” when feeling has become great idol of the times. We need the kind of clarity of thinking “against the grain” of our culture that you teach and embody. Thanks so much for helping me gain that clarity.

    Along with Pope John Paul II’s text mentioned above, I would also recommend (for historical insight) Peter Brown’s “The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity.”

    • Jim Govatos says:

      Picking up on Logan Garth Swanger’s reply, I am distressed by the overall lack of theological rigor I have seen even from bishops who are supposed to teachers of the church. In an attempt to be pastorally sensitive they often fall into muddy thinking on the matter, letting a series of micro-narratives (my experience) determine the macro-narrative. Thanks, Dr. Tennant, for your carefully considered reflections on the matter.

  • Ralph says:

    Brilliant logic Dr. Tennent. Indeed, we must carry any line of reasoning through to it’s logical conclusion, which in this case is far broader than gay marriage. Let me also point readers to an excellent article by Doug Mainwaring found here: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/03/9432/

    • Mark S. says:

      Ralph, excellent article; it should be very eye-opening for marriage redefinitionists who read it with an open mind.

      • Tim C. says:

        Hamilton and Slaughter’s “A Way Forward” is quite discriminatory and narrow minded when you think of the “Rubics Cube” of expected acceptable practices that are sure to be brought before conferences and congregations for acceptance. Quite surprising that the “most enlightened” among us would propose to limit the denomination going forward to simple homosexuality……..No doubt sure to “end the rancor, animosity and endless debate that divide our denomination every four years at General Conference”. Propelling us into the 21st century.

  • Elaine T. says:

    I have recently been introduced to THE COR PROJECT which is an introduction to John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and it is the most absolutely beautiful portrayal of human sexuality. Christopher West does an excellent seminar called Our Bodies Proclaim The Gospel. Check it out and you won’t be disappointed!

  • Sonja LeVan says:

    Wonderful article…..and an urgent need for us to split!!!….NOW!!

  • I am looking forward to blog 7, having read the others.
    Actually the first shot at disunity in the UMC was at the Indianapolis GC. It came from outside the UMC. Thee convention center’s welcome sign read, “Welcome, Untied Methodist Church.” Perhaps prophetic.