Here’s a resolution I’ve submitted to the 2016 General Conference that strives to recall historic Christian and Methodist teaching on divine purpose for the human body, with some help from Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body:
The Christian Church, including Methodism, has always upheld the sacredness of the human body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, to be resurrected eternally. Methodism has been blessed with a particular focus on upholding the holiness of the human body, advocating spiritual disciplines faithful to that holiness in gratitude to God and in witness to the world.
In Romans 12:1-2, the Apostle Paul offers this counsel:
I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourself to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.
Modern secularism rejects the holiness of the human body and its ultimate ownership by God, instead commodifying the human body as merely the property of the autonomous individual subject to personal choice. This confusion over the divine purpose of the human body has tragically created much destructive confusion for persons outside and inside the church. As United Methodists, we should point to a better way, reminding a confused world of God’s magnificent, loving intent for the human body.
Based on Creation and the Incarnation and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, Christianity affirms the intrinsic goodness of the human body. God created our first parents as bodily beings. “Male and female he created them” (Genesis 1.27). The two sexes of male and female are wonderful gifts of God, blessed for distinct and complementary purposes.
God’s purpose for human sexuality is for loving mutual giving and receiving in open self-surrender between husband and wife in lifelong commitment and openness to children. Other forms of sexual contact, outside natural marriage, while romanticized by the world, are outside God’s caring and wise desire for loving lifelong marriage between male and female. Chastity, which means fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness, emblemizes the goodness of God’s creation and the integrity of unity among human mind, body and heart.
Maleness and femaleness, realized through the human body, are particular gifts of God that cannot be reimagined or reconfigured through alternative identities or surgical procedures. In sexuality and other physical expressions, the human body reveals what is invisible in God’s creation. It is a physical sign of each person’s unique identity as an image of God and is a sacrament of how God acts. So the human body should never become an object of use for self-gratification or for the exploitation of others.
As the temple of God, the human body should not be exploited, manipulated, mutilated or disfigured. Instead, it should be nurtured, protected and honored, with modesty and gratitude. In pursuit of holiness of body and spirit, Methodists have traditionally abjured intoxicants and recreational narcotics, have encouraged exercise and healthy diet, have urged modest apparel that is not costly or showy, and have opposed salacious media and pornography, along with prostitution, as gross distortions of God’s purposes for the human body.
Methodists have also traditionally encouraged policies in political life that honor and protect the human body for the common good. Public policies in society that undermine natural marriage, that mock chastity, that claim that gender is self-selected and that sex change procedures should be publicly subsidized and acclaimed, that legalize and legitimate prostitution, that abet pornography, or encourage legalization and easy use of dangerous narcotics, are at variance with Methodism’s historic and noble concern for social holiness and social justice.
The church’s high regard for God’s gift of the human body, if effectively modeled among its own members and transmitted effectively to wider society, will help contribute to human flourishing, strengthen marriages and families, protect children, empower the poor, contribute to public health, liberate victims of sexual trafficking, and break destructive addictions to alcohol, drugs and pornography, among other benefits.
Methodism’s unique legacy of emphasis on personal and social holiness ideally equip it to advocate renewed appreciation for the holiness of the human body amid a secular society that both deifies and exploits the human body. All outlets of United Methodism, from the local church to general agencies, are encouraged to provide resources on God’s purposes for the human body, to equip church members with instruction on holy living, and to advocate public policies that protect the human body for the good of all.