Church and Society webzine: Sex outside of marriage can be “moral, ethical”

By Joseph Slife

A sex-education column in a recent issue of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society’s web-based publication, Faith in Action, argues that persons can have “a moral, ethical sexual relationship” outside of the covenant of marriage—a position that stands in clear opposition to both historic Christian teaching and the language of the UM Book of Discipline.

The column was written by Unitarian minister and “sexologist” Debra Haffner, executive director and co-founder of the Religious Institute. According to the Institute’s website, the group’s mission is “to change the way America understands the relationship of sexuality and religion.”

Haffner is the former president and chief executive officer of the controversial Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), a strong opponent of abstinence-until-marriage policies.

In the August 31 Faith in Action column, adapted from her book, What Every 21st Century Parent Needs to Know, Haffner writes that “based on my more than 30 years as a sexuality educator and now as a minister, [I believe] that a moral, ethical, sexual relationship—whether one is married or single, 16 or 35 or 80, gay, bisexual or straight—is defined by five criteria: It is consensual, non-exploitative, honest, mutually pleasurable, and protected, if any type of intercourse occurs.”

In a column published on another website, the Huffington Post, Haffner argued that non-married clergy should not be expected to remain celibate.

“I’ve long believed that the major sexuality problem denominations face is that they are unable to acknowledge that celibacy until marriage doesn’t apply to most single adults,” she wrote in the August 24 article posted on the Huffington Post site.

“It makes sense to require that clergy not engage in sexual relationships with congregants,” Haffner wrote. “It does not make sense to ask them to give up adult sexual lives outside of the congregation.”

Also in that Huffington Post column, Haffner noted that the Religious Institute—the group of which she is the executive director and co-founder—“has long called for a new sexual ethic to replace the traditional ‘celibacy until marriage, chastity after.’ This new ethic is free of double standards based on sexual orientation, sex, gender, or marital status.” (That “ethic” is outlined in the “five criteria” mentioned above.)

In the Church-and-Society-published article, Haffner argues that “[t]hese [five] criteria are more ethically rigorous than abstinence until marriage because they apply to intimate relationships both before as well as after marriage.”

Haffner’s views in the Huffington Post and the Church and Society article run counter to the long-held views of the church, which are rooted in scriptural injunctions, and to the official teaching of the United Methodist Church—teaching that was clarified and strengthened only last year.

The ethic of Scripture, as expressed in 1 Corinthians 6, is that believers should “[r]un from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20 NLT).

Further, Titus 2:11-14 teaches that the ability to resist all manner of temptations is a gift of God’s grace: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (ESV).

The United Methodist Book of Discipline states that “although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only within the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage” (Paragraph 161).

That language was adopted by the 2008 General Conference to clearly express the church’s stand on the issue of sexual relations outside of husband-and-wife marriage.

The Faith in Action column by Debra Haffner is the latest in the publication’s months-long series titled “Sex and the Church.”

In announcing the series in February, Bishop Deborah Kiesey (Dakotas Conference), president of the General Board of Church and Society, and Jim Winkler, the board’s chief executive, issued a joint statement saying the series would “help provide needed education to our children and ourselves. We anticipate it may restore relationships, create new healthy ones, and perhaps move people to act.”

The “Sex and the Church” series is overseen by Linda Bales Todd, director of the Louise and Hugh Moore Population Project at the General Board of Church and Society.

Joseph Slife is a certified lay speaker in the North Georgia Annual Conference. He blogs at www.MethodistThinker.com.

What does full communion with the Lutherans entail?

By Riley B. Case

The headlines from the recent Lutheran churchwide assembly in Minneapolis have not been encouraging: “Lutherans Approve Full Communion with United Methodists; Approve Homosexuals as Pastors.”

It is most unfortunate that the headlines have appeared together. Theoretically, there is no connection between the Full Communion action and the action to approve homosexuals as pastors. Even so, there are questions to be addressed.

Since the reports of the Assembly, United Methodists (as well as Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, and lots of others) are wondering what the implications of these actions are for United Methodists. If we are now in full communion with Lutherans, which includes accepting their pastors to serve in our churches, will we have homosexual pastors serving United Methodist churches?

We need some clarity on this. We don’t know what the long-range implications of the Lutheran’s decisions are either for Lutherans or for United Methodists. In the meantime, however, some clarification is in order.

1) We are not talking about all Lutherans. We are only talking about Lutherans within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). This church is the largest Lutheran body in America with about 4.7 million members and is the 7th largest denomination in America. However, many of us are acquainted with the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod (LCMS) with 2.4 million members, and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod with 312,000 members. Both of these are significant Lutheran denominations within the United States; both adhere to strict biblical principles; neither approves the practice of homosexuality. It is, in fact, rather ironic that the United Methodist Church declares itself in full communion with ELCA Lutherans, and other Lutheran bodies do not.

In other words, we must understand what Lutheran group we are talking about.

2) No pastors, Lutheran or otherwise, can preach in United Methodist churches who do not practice and uphold the moral, ethical, and belief standards of the United Methodist Church. This means that even though we are in full communion with ELCA Lutherans, no practicing homosexual Lutheran pastors can serve in United Methodist churches. This has been re-affirmed by Bishop Gregory Palmer, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, who issued a statement after numerous persons asked the question about whether United Methodist congregations would have to accept practicing homosexual Lutheran pastors.

3) It is good to understand what the Lutherans approved and what they did not approve. Under the change, Lutheran congregations will be allowed to hire homosexuals in committed relationships as clergy. Before, gays and lesbians had to remain celibate to serve as pastors. The Lutherans are not on record as affirming homosexuality as a gift of God, nor are they, at least at this time, supporting gay marriage. The decision of the denomination, though discouraging to most of us who had hoped for more from the ELCA Lutherans, is still not as extreme as the positions taken by the United Church of Christ and by the Episcopal Church (USA).

4) What is the meaning of the “mutual recognition” between ELCA Lutherans and United Methodists? The “recognition” is in no way a merger. It means both groups are “open to receiving and accepting and acknowledging each other’s ministries.” The churches recognize the authenticity of each other’s baptism and eucharist and recognize that each church has “the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith” expressed in the Scriptures and confessed in historic creeds and the core teachings of each denomination.

The United Methodist Church approved the “recognition” at its General
Conference in Fort Worth in April, 2008.

5) While many of us are unhappy with the action of the denomination, there is no reason why we cannot work with, affirm, and uphold our Lutheran brothers and sisters on local levels. Lutherans can teach us much. Their churches are in many respects more acquainted with and grounded in the historic creeds than United Methodists. Many local churches and individuals are unhappy with what the Minneapolis Assembly has done. These people need our support and prayers.

The fall-out and implications of both the vote to accept homosexual clergy and full communion with United Methodists are yet to be seen. This is a developing story and relationship that warrants our steadfast attention.

Riley B. Case is a retired member of the North Indiana Conference, assistant executive director of The Confessing Movement, and a member of the Good News Board of Directors. He is also the author of Evangelical and Methodist: A Popular History (Abingdon).

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