At IRD/UMAction we have documented repeatedly how the sort of sexual liberation sought by LGBT activists in the UMC is far more ambitiously radical than simply seeking church blessing for committed, celibate-before-marriage, lifelong, absolutely monogamous gay relationships.
I am not aware of any leader in the cause of sexually liberalizing the United Methodist Church’s standards who has also clearly, strongly, and consistently defended any moral boundaries for sexual relations beyond consent and challenged sexual behavior outside of these boundaries as dangerously sinful. (Seriously, if I have missed anyone, please let me know in the comments!) While I am more personally familiar with the UMC world, very similar dynamics have been at work in other denominations facing internal sexual-morality disagreements.
We cannot forgot the UMC General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) defending premarital sex and the anything-goes ethos of Unitarian sexologist Debra Haffner, pro-homosexuality activists uncritically rallying behind a (failed) proposed 2012 sexual-morality statement for our church that would have deleted marriage or any other firm sexual boundary (beyond some general frowning at exploitation), the main sexually liberal caucus recently holding a secret workshop exploring “polyamory” (concurrent multiple sexual partners), and liberalization proponents’ apparent belief that risqué drag queen shows are appropriate for church-related events. In light of these, it is fair to ask if there are any limits to the radicalism promoted by the sexually liberal caucus groups in the UMC.
The Church Within a Church (CWAC) movement is a semi-schismatic liberal group that in the past has said it refuses to make a firm commitment to either staying within or leaving the UMC. It spun off some years ago from the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), the denomination’s main sexually liberal caucus.
To honor Women’s History Womyn’s Herstory Month, CWAC sent out the testimonial of a transsexual former “sex worker,” Janet Mock, who sees nothing inherently sinful or shameful about teenage prostitution. Rather, what is truly “shameful,” according to this author, is the lack of mainstream acceptance of “underground economies like sex work.”
CWAC uncritically touts this pro-prostitution essay as an encouragement “to reconsider our assumptions about woman/womyn, sex, gender and ultimately, redefining realness.” Taking the “how can any form of consensual sex be wrong?” arguments of the LGBT cause and the (factually flawed) “it’s my body” arguments defending elective abortion to a logical extreme, CWAC responds to this defense of prostitution by telling its network of pastors and church activists: “For Women/Womyn to be able to have full access to making choices about their person, body and way of being is still a revolutionary notion. We have much work to do.”
Obviously, there are vast differences in the situations faced by same-sex-attracted individuals, women with unplanned pregnancies, and women (or men) tempted towards prostitution.
But each case involves people created in God’s image facing situations of brokenness and tempted towards (forgivable) sins that would cause grave harm to themselves and others. In each case, the church of Jesus Christ is called to compassionately walk with people in their pain. And in each case, the church of Jesus Christ must help lead people away from destructive sin and towards the new, holy Christian lives God wants for them.
The CWAC-linked essay does at least call attention to some of the dangers and economic marginalization faced by those involved in “sex work” and some troubling demographic disparities. (Though it largely avoids acknowledging the trafficking, exploitation, addictions, and coercion that trap many in prostitution. And obviously a trafficked woman is not guilty of sin for being raped.)
But this CWAC-linked essay portrays prostitution as far more than just a last-resort means of making financial ends meet. Mock recalls “perceiv[ing] the sex trades as a rite of passage” for male-to-female transsexual individuals. As a teenager, many of Mock’s mentors in this sub-culture “engaged in the sex trades at some time or another – some dabbled in video cam work and pornography, others chose street-based work and dancing at strip clubs.”
Indeed, Mock seems to glorify prostitution. Mock was “empowered” by “witnessing the women … tak[ing] their lives into their own hands” by selling their bodies on the street. They provided “sisterhood and community,” teaching the author “firsthand about body autonomy, about resilience and agency, about learning to do for yourself in a world that is hostile about your existence.” The essay concludes: “These women taught me that nothing was wrong with me or my body and that if I wanted they would show me the way, and it was this underground railroad of resources created by low-income, marginalized women, that enabled me when I was 16 to jump in a car with my first regular and choose a pathway to my survival and liberation.”
I am simply at a loss for words at how to respond further to theologically liberal United Methodists disseminating an essay that actually celebrates as “liberation” an impoverished teenager jumping into a car with a man to begin what would become a regular habit of him selfishly using and exploiting Mock’s young body as a commodity.
Farther down, the CWAC email almost becomes a caricature of itself. In the traditional Ash Wednesday imposition of ashes, a minister says, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This echoes God’s curse in the Fall (Genesis 3:19), pointing to the foundational Christian doctrines of original sin and total depravity, and giving the ash-wearers a proper send-off to a season especially focused on humility, repentance of sin, and self-denial.
But CWAC uses this Lenten email to promote a more mystical-sounding, self-celebratory alternative from one of its founders, the Rev. Greg Dell: “From stardust you came and to stardust you will return.”