Media coverage of the recently concluded United Methodist General Conference in St. Louis might give casual readers the impression that the denominational fight is centered upon homosexuality and – once everyone gets on-board with the “new thing” – everyone can return to the “real” work of the church.
United Methodists in the LGBT-affirming Reconciling Ministries Network and other allied unofficial caucus groups are careful to police their messaging, but occasionally someone speaks candidly about the next new thing. And that new thing discards the idea of a “committed, monogamous relationship” for “open relationships”, “non-monogamy”, and “alternative love”.
“In my denomination, the prohibitions that we’re fighting against are self-avowed practicing homosexuals, the people who want to be discriminatory don’t even know the range of things that they should be trying to prohibit,” disclosed United Methodist Pastor Austin Adkinson in a June 2018 interview.
A member of the leadership team of the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus, Adkinson was recently a member of the Pacific Northwest Conference’s General and Jurisdictional Conference delegation and is a member of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference Board of Ordained Ministry. Even if he holds radical views, he was elected to represent his conference and should not be dismissed as a fringe voice. At the recent General Conference, Adkinson supported the failed One Church Plan. (As an aside, Adkinson also serves on a Westar Institute committee, which readers may recall is behind the Jesus Seminar, a longtime effort to debunk the Gospels’ supernatural message about Jesus’ divinity and miracles).
Adkinson appeared in June on the podcast Multiamory to discuss “shifting values around sexuality and non-traditional relationships” specifically polyamory and Christianity. He reveals the current debate around human sexuality not as a slippery slope, but as an incremental agenda in a predetermined direction.
“There’s nothing in the Bible that’s going to say polyamory is good because there’s no such phrase for that, but challenges of who we love and who we’re supposed to love and really loving everyone is at the center of things through all of Jesus’ teachings,” Adkinson asserted. “That’s what I try to focus on. I’m less of a rigid, ‘here are the rules that Christians are supposed to follow,’ and more focused on how do we focus on loving the people around us better and seeking justice and caring for making the world more like God intends it to be.”
“We have solid academics behind how none of that [scriptural prohibitions against homosexual practice] is a real condemnation of a loving, committed same-sex couple in our current context,” Adkinson claimed, referring to such verses as “clobber passages” and “the text of terror.”
Adkinson was joined in the podcast by gay Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) youth minister J.D. Mechelke, who offered more support for alternative sexual arrangements. Noting symbolism in the Last Supper and the biblical imagery of the church as the bride of Christ, Mechelke also called attention to an Evangelical praise song:
“There’s this very intimate, individualistic relationship that people have with God and it’s very erotic sometimes. My favorite example is this old song. It’s not old, but ’90s, ‘In the secret and the quiet place, I want to touch you.’ You start to think, ‘That’s kind of erotic and yet it’s evangelical.’ It’s that we’re doing that, which is fine. There are queer theologians that are taking that and saying, ‘Maybe we have this erotic thing going on with Jesus.’ Also thinking about it, ‘This is my body.’ You’re taking somebody’s body in your mouth, and so there’s some phallic-.”
“It’s either erotic or cannibalism,” interrupted host Jase Lindgren.
“Who’s to say not both?” Adkinson suggested.
Later in the interview, Mechelke offers: “Some would say that the Last Supper, Jesus is proposing to the twelve friends and so it’s very gay and very polyamorous.”
There is plenty more in the interview, including Mechelke’s writings on “creating a kinky doctrine of sin” and “putting the Christian symbolism into different roles, ethics in the BDSM [bondage, discipline/domination, sadism, and masochism] community.”
You can listen to the podcast or read it all in entirety here.
Regardless of the merits of Adkinson’s appraisal of biblical support for polyamory, he makes one assertion that few in the United Methodist Church will dispute: “a lot of pastors are more concerned about job security than about bringing change.”