October 26, 2016
Dear Renew Network,
Since my last Newsletter, much has happened in the church. But by far, I believe the most transformative event for our church is the creation of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, which met in Chicago in early October. As one young pastor from Texas put it, “It is not often that you get to be part of history.” Indeed, history was made, and you can read more about that HERE.
I like how Bishop Mike Lowery described the meeting when he wrote,
I experienced the event as a movement of the Holy Spirit. Prayer was deep. Hope was bright. A sense of the Spirit’s leading was strong. Obedience to Christ was paramount. Such prayer, hope, sense of the Spirit’s leading, and obedience to Christ remains paramount.
For me, the gathering felt like a daylong prayer and praise meeting, which was interspersed with the preaching and presentations of some of our denomination’s most astute bishops, theologians and pastors. I was particularly interested in the words of the church historian, Rev. Andrew Thompson, because his remarks reflected much of what the Renew Network is all about.
Thompson had been asked to give us an overview of church history. He emphasized that the church throughout the centuries had been tempted to accommodate the demands of the culture, instead of transforming culture with the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He began by reminding us that Jesus himself had warned us that we would have tribulation, conflict and challenges in the world, but He had overcome the world.
Thompson powerfully spoke to the challenge before the UMC when he said,
The Church was not meant to be the handmaiden of the culture. The Church was rather called to be the ‘light of the world,’ the ‘city built on the hill,’ and the ‘lamp upon the lamp stand’ giving light to the darkness beyond. (Matthew 5:14-15) If your standard is the ‘spirit of the age,’ then considerations like the sovereignty of God, or the moral law of Christ, or the atoning sacrifice of the cross – these are just embarrassing relics best swept under the rug in the name of ‘progress.’
For over 26 years, part of the work of Renew Network has been to shine light on the places where our church has been tempted to accommodate the prevailing culture rather than be the light of the world and agents of real transformation.
In my last newsletter I wrote about one of these challenges, and what I subsequently learned is known by the term, “sex positivity.” As you may recall or can read about HERE, the United Methodist Women’s 2016 spiritual life study is a book by Helen Brubaker, The Bible and Human Sexuality: Claiming God’s Good Gift. This study asks the church to move away from The Discipline’s stated biblical understanding of human sexuality as fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness based on the moral teaching of Christ.
Instead, Brubaker calls for the church to embrace a sexual ethic built on consent and safety. The sexual ethic known as “sex positivity,” is also built on consent and safety. Sex positivity is the view that sexual activity in all its forms is positive and healthy if consensual and safe. This was clearly taught at the Mission U events of the UMW, which I attended this past summer. But the idea of “sex positivity” goes farther than legitimizing sexual behavior that has been seen in previous times as immoral; it claims that sex should be unrestricted on the basis that it is a human right.
The notion of “sex positivity” is being used in the efforts of organizations like Amnesty International, United Nations AIDS, UNDP, UN Women, Human Rights Watch and the ACLU to decriminalize prostitution – and not just decriminalizing sex workers who are often victims of human trafficking. Some go so far as to advocate the right of men to buy and sell women’s bodies for sex, because sex is positive and good for everyone’s health. You can read about this in the excellent article by Darren Geist in the August 2016 edition of First Things.
Is this what we want the United Methodist Church to adopt as it’s teaching on human sexuality? Is our church teaching to be no more than the culture’s contemporary understanding of sex?
You no doubt will find this an outrageous development, which may seem hard to believe or perhaps overstated. The UMW 2016 spiritual life study does not directly advocate for prostitution to be decriminalized and seen as a right. But be aware that Brubaker’s study, The Bible and Human Sexuality leads the UMW and the UMC far beyond de-stigmatizing sex outside of traditional marriage, or legitimizing homosexual behavior and the right of same-sex partners to marry as a matter of justice.
We are being asked to embrace a new sexual ethic that is unbiblical, particularly harmful to women, works counterproductively to ending sex trafficking, and encourages prostitution and pornography, which are becoming increasingly extreme and violent. Geist shares a disturbing statistic – prostituted women have a mortality rate two hundred times higher than the general population.
Lest we despair, let us remember John’s Gospel tells us Jesus has overcome the world; He has the answer to all that is wrong and evil in our culture. Be encouraged! And know there is a significant group of conservative, evangelical, orthodox believers in the UMC who are committed to being “the light of the world” and the “city on the hill.”
I would encourage you and your church to stand firm by staying prayerfully committed. I also would encourage you to go a step further and join the WCA (HERE).
In the meantime, the Renew Network continues in the work that has been so necessary and important to the women and the church called United Methodist. If you have not made a contribution this year, please do. We need your prayers and we need your financial support. Renew is a group of volunteer women, but our work does come with costs. You, our supporters, have been faithful. We appreciate your continued prayer and financial support.
Stand with us by going on the Renew Website and download or print the Donations Form. Or you may designate a check to Renew Network and send to:
P.O. Box 132076
The Woodlands, TX 77393-2076
Above all, let us not forget the words of Jesus:
My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid… In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.
John 16:27, 33b
In His Service,
Renew Network Team Leader