What we miss when all we talk about is sex

Published 11:13 am Saturday, May 21, 2016

by Andrew Book

I am a pastor in the United Methodist Church (UMC). In many ways the discussions we have in the UMC parallels the conversations we are having in this country, and that includes the obsession we have with talking about sex. Usually we are concerned with other people’s sex, what they should or should not be doing and whether their sexual/gender identity is appropriate. As a country we talk about bathrooms, same-sex marriage, rights for gay, lesbian and transgendered people — and we have those same conversations in the church.

Over the last two weeks, the UMC has been having a lot of those conversations! Our General Conference (an international gathering that sets all church positions and policy) has been engaging in our once-every-four-year meeting and they have spent a lot of time talking about sex. When we have had time, we have celebrated ways that the church has impacted the world for Christ and worked on a few other questions and issues, but the entire conference has been overshadowed by questions about sex.

As I reflected on this last night, as the conference shut down to prepare for its final day today, something inside me clicked and I realized that we are not just taking too much time on one issue. We are, in fact, being unfaithful to God’s call on us as the church.

You see, the point of General Conference is to set up the United Methodist Church to help local congregations, like the one I serve in Courtland, to thrive. The General Conference and the organizations they create for mission, discipleship, ethics and even publishing supposedly exist to help the local church make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. However, despite nearly two weeks of meetings, conversations about how to help local churches thrive have been almost completely absent. We have gotten so wrapped up in our conversation about sex that we have forgotten who we are and what we are supposed to be about.

What clicked in me last night was the realization that we easily get so wrapped up in one issue that we lose sight of the reason we are here in the first place. General Conference has lost sight of the mission of the United Methodist Church and state legislatures and local governments all over the country have lost sight of their missions as well. We have, as the saying goes, “lost sight of the forest for the trees” — just one tree really! We need to take a step back, fix our eyes on our mission and refocus our attention on what matters. For the denomination, what matters is making disciples who follow Jesus, primarily in our churches. For government, what matters is figuring out how to protect, support, and help your people to thrive.

Questions about sex, sexuality and gender are part of those conversations, but when we consider the myriad of issues facing us both as a church and as a society, we need to be honest and recognize that they are only one small part of the whole. When that one small part becomes the only thing we talk about, think about or work on, we fail at our mission and those people counting on us to fulfill that mission are the ones hurt.

In the case of General Conference, our local church is hurt — we have been ignored by those who are meant to support and help us. In the case of local government, all those who need a functioning government are hurt. The same is true in our individual lives. I don’t know who is hurt in your life when you get stuck on issues of sex, sexuality and gender, but we all have lives to live and people who rely on us in one way or another. We all have ways that God has called us to embrace and care for the world around us, but if all we can see is the question of sex than we cannot live as God has called us to live!

This Sunday I will be preaching at Courtland United Methodist Church. I’m going to be talking about community (not sex). Next Sunday I’m going to be talking about service (not sex). In fact, I have sketched out my sermons through most of the summer and there is no conversation about sex anywhere. We will talk about sex from time to time in appropriate ways, because sex is important. But sex is only a part of who we are, and if we allow our concerns, questions and views of sex to dominate us, we all lose.

My hope for you, for all of us, and for the final day of the United Methodist General Conference is that we would remember who God has called us to be and what mission God has set us on. Fix your eyes on that mission, live it out, and don’t let anything turn you to the left or the right!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or andrew@courtlandumcva.org.