A Plea to My Centrist Friends in the United Methodist Church

A Plea to My Centrist Friends in the United Methodist Church

Talbot Davis on April 1, 2016

Editor’s Note: Talbot Davis is pastor of the massive, diverse Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina and the author of Head Scratchers: When the Words of Jesus Don’t Make SenseThe Storm Before the Calm, and The Shadow of a Doubt, all from Abingdon Press. This post originally appeared at MinistryMatters.com and is reposted with permission.


On March 23, 2016, the Methodist Federation For Social Action posted an anonymous blog that made even the most jaded among us blush.

Titled “#HandsOffMyBC” and authored by a United Methodist clergyperson, the blog made an emphatic case for universal access to birth control while also including these admissions:

I chose to go on birth control because I didn’t want to get pregnant and I wanted to have sex. Because I am a clergy woman in The United Methodist Church, and I’m single, that information could get me brought up on charges, and I could lose my ordination.

Luckily, I can access birth control through the health insurance plan that my church pays for. However, because I value my job, I have to remain anonymous in writing this. It strikes me as ridiculous in 2016 that this is necessary, but being a person who is sexually active while single is against the rules.

Not drop the mic. Drop the jaw.

Dalton Rushing, UMC pastor and self-described progressive, replied this way on Twitter: I’m in favor of universal birth control access, but this is awful. If this is progressive then I wonder what I am??

And yet the post was modest compared to some of the remarks that followed in the comments section. Most notable comes from a prospective ordinand in Oklahoma:

Hi there. Future UMC Rev. here (starting seminary this fall.) Thank you so much for this brave post. Your body, your sexuality, and your safety are your decisions and I applaud you for your willingness to share, even anonymously. My fiance and I (he’s going to be a Rev. too) started having sex a couple of years ago and were thrilled with our decision, and it wasn’t one we made lightly, as I’m sure you don’t take sexual activity lightly. As for the promises of ordination…perhaps it’s time to take a second look at those.

So this is what it has come to: a pair of would-be UMC ordinands inviting us to celebrate their premarital sexual intercourse. Just when I thought I’d seen it all, I realize I hadn’t.

Note the perspective in both Anonymous’ post and the referenced comment. It’s the church of me and of now. It’s an ecclesiology wrapped up in personal autonomy. It’s a faith in which the highest allegiance is to the self. It’s a hermeneutic which confuses “rules” with “commandments.”

It’s a future for the United Methodist Church in which sacrifice-making, cross-taking, self-denying holiness has gone the way of garters and petticoats.

It’s theology by Oprah.

And here’s why this is particularly germane in the spring of 2016 and why I’ve titled this piece “A Plea To Centrists”: the views expressed and actions declared on the MFSA blog have everything to do with the current UMC imbroglio over homosexuality.

Many of my centrist friends are heading to Portland in May and will cast votes either to retain or remove the language describing what United Methodist believe about homosexual intercourse. And I know that many centrists — even in my own Western North Carolina Conference — are still weighing their decisions carefully.

If that group includes you, I want you to know your vote is not simply about homosexuality and it’s not about justice.

It is instead about dismantling the entire sexual ethic that has helped define the Christian faith for two millennia.

Because as both Anonymous and the commenter show us, once you become more enlightened than the authors of Scripture when it comes to same-sex intercourse, then you are inevitably more enlightened when it comes to premarital sexual intercourse as well.

The church of me and now will always trump the faith of we andhistory.

And sexual anarchy is the result.

That’s not the faith I signed up for, nor is it the church I was ordained in. Instead, I have been steeped in the understanding that Hebrews 13:4 — keep the marriage bed pure — starts long before one ever gets married. I suspect that most of my United Methodist clergy friends believe the same and lived the same. It has always been a fundamental part of what it means to be a disciple.

If you are a United Methodist centrist and are heading to Portland still undecided in how you will vote on the Conference-defining issue, please remember: a “change the language” vote unleashes a generation of clergy who have so rewritten our sexual ethic that it will not be in any meaningful sense Christian.

And both Anonymous and the commenter will be serving as tomorrow’s youth pastors, giving sexual advice and counsel to your children and grandchildren.

  1. Comment by David F. Miller on April 1, 2016 at 8:43 am

    This is both sad and disturbing. I worry for the UMC and America when I hear clergy persons so divorced from scripture that sin has no meaning. We are to be the salt of the earth. We laypersons need guidance and inspiration but we get selfishness and hedonism. Sad.

  2. Comment by Mark Brooks on April 1, 2016 at 9:40 am

    It is sad, but not necessarily surprising. I am sure that there are people who seek ordination in the UMC, not because they believe the scriptures or subscribed to Wesleyan theological distinctives, but for reasons of their own, such as seeing the UMC as a tool for achieving their vision of social justice, or simply because it looks like an easy job where, at least once a week, people will look at you and listen to what you say.

    These folks need to be weeded out before ordination, and the fact that it isn’t happening should also be a source of concern.

  3. Comment by Xerxesfire on April 3, 2016 at 1:35 am

    Agreed. IMO, many UMC seminaries have liberal professors who impart their worldly views on impressionable seminarians, who in turn, impart their knowledge on us, such as it is. The main problem is this knowledge is often social gospel-oriented milk, instead of Biblical meat to chew on.

  4. Comment by RicoSuaveGuapo on April 1, 2016 at 3:48 pm

    uhboy… I’d say that MFSA comments section was a brilliant a parody of third wave feminism, if I did not know any better.

  5. Comment by The_Physetor on April 3, 2016 at 9:38 am

    You can’t really parody feminism, it is so bizarre.

  6. Comment by apriluser on April 2, 2016 at 10:01 pm

    The attitude of heterosexuals toward sex is in large part why homosexuality has gained acceptance. Sex has been on a slippery slope for decades in the West: marrying and then divorcing; living together and then marrying; living together and then parting ways for another partner; and the derivations go on. As a result, homosexuality and all other disfunctions of sexuality press on us. We have “played tennis with the nets down” for so long that marital sex has evolved into something that is no longer recognizeable. The culture has had sway with even those charged with calling the people of God to sexual holiness.

  7. Comment by The_Physetor on April 3, 2016 at 9:38 am

    Are centrists moderates – or are they just mediocre?

  8. Comment by Quartermaster on April 3, 2016 at 8:28 pm

    The UMC has been ordaining non-believers for many years. The wind has been sown, now comes the whirlwind.

    I am hopeful that the Conference will vote down the change in language. The outcome will determine if the UMC remains christian, or goes wholly gnostic.

  9. Comment by Dan on April 4, 2016 at 8:31 am

    I exhort all faithful UMC members to publicly ask their current pastor these three questions: 1) do you believe Jesus Christ is God icarnate, born of the Virgin Mary 2) do you believe Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and then was bodily resurrected in the flesh before ascending to the Father 3) do you believe that all persons will be judged at the end of time with believers being resurrected to an eternal, bodily existence with our Lord and non-believers being condemned to eternal damnation.

    If they cannot publicly answer an unqualified “yes” to each of these questions then demand your Staff/Parish committee meet with the district superintendent and demand a pastoral change to replace your current pastor with a Christian. I’d like to hear how this turns out.

  10. Comment by Heddrick Steel on April 5, 2016 at 9:14 am

    My sense is that General Conference is a toss-up. We’ll know in less than 2 months whether we are in the denomination we thought we were in. To be fair, we’ve wondered if we were in any denomination at all during these homosexuality wars, and that’s gone on for decades now, but there was the sense that there was a path that could be walked by evangelicals that was entirely acceptable within the framework of United Methodism.
    That might shortly end.
    It might end because of both a broader acceptance of homosexualism in our culture, and also because of a desire to just end this endless debate. Both of those make the delegates vulnerable to plans to find a middle way out of the dilemma. Biblical Christians know there is no middle way, that any compromise is an allowing of that which has always been considered sin throughout church history.
    So flip a coin. By the end of May you will know if the homosexuality wars continue, or if you are in a new, thoroughly worldly denomination.

  11. Comment by the_enemy_hates_clarity on April 5, 2016 at 10:52 am

    In my church there will be a significant exodus, probably not a majority, but a majority of the most involved.

    In Christ,

    The enemy hates clarity

  12. Comment by Heddrick Steel on April 6, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    I can see that. I’ll probably be among them, if not at first, then probably within a year. I wish everyone would agree to just let churches go with their property to wherever they want to go.

  13. Comment by Geert Is Right on April 26, 2016 at 1:50 am

    8 … Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?

    Religion promises good wages without a lot of work, power, for many a down right cushy lifestyle. Never mind that they don’t believe…. One of the things that fueled Tyndale.

    Itching ear messages make many rich.

    Pray for revival.

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