What I Wish I Had Known about Sex

“What is something you wish you had known about pastoral care and sex/sexuality/gender identity when you were in seminary or before ministry began?

That was a question the panel moderator raised at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Wednesday, March 27. I continue to ponder my response.

I attended seminary 1962 to 1965.  I don’t recall a single discussion about sexual identity and orientation during those three years. The “sexual revolution” had not reached our campus.

The hot button issues were racial integration, poverty, and the Vietnam war. Those were on the cutting edge of Biblical/theological/ethical inquiry and at the top of the justice agenda.

We grappled with what the Bible says about race, slavery, economics, and war; but the passages referring to “homosexuality” received no exegetical analysis.

Matters of sexual identity, orientation, and expression were physically, emotionally, and morally settled and unambiguous.

There were only two prevailing truths about sexual identity: (1) There are males and females! (2) You don’t “do it” until you’re married! It’s that simple!

Any deviation from that binary description was considered “abnormal.” The American Psychiatric Association still listed homosexuality as a “disorder,” not removing it from the list until 1973.

During my thirty-two years as a local church pastor, people who didn’t fit into that dualistic, simplistic mold of sexuality largely remained hidden; or we operated by the principle of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

So I answered the moderator’s question this way: “I wish I had known the complexities involved in sexual identity and orientation. Since I didn’t, I have been complicit in hurting people who don’t fit into the binary description.”

I failed as a pastor to provide safe spaces for LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers to openly accept their full identity as beloved children of God, made in the divine image. And, I failed to challenge the prejudices and injustices directed toward them under the guise of being faithful to the Bible.

Scientific understanding and biblical interpretation regarding sexuality have greatly advanced over the last half century. We are learning that the binary understanding of sexuality is as antiquated as the notion of a flat earth.

And, using the Bible to justify discrimination against LGBTQIA people is as flawed as using Scripture to exclude women or divorced people from church leadership.

I have much to yet to learn about the complexities of sexual identity and orientation! I’m still having trouble fully comprehending the realities behind the letters L G B T Q I A.

Thankfully, people who live the complexities of sexual identity are opening my eyes and helping me receive their marvelous gifts.

I am convinced that God is working in, among, and through LGBTQIA colleagues to bring to reality God’s dream of a redeemed and reconciled humanity.

I regret that it has taken me so long to welcome, affirm, and support their gifts.









8 thoughts on “What I Wish I Had Known about Sex

  1. I am tired of the contemporary obsession with sexuality. We presume we know more than aeons before us. We take that presumption and beat up anyone who is not as “woke” as we have suddenly become. I can accept whatever person one declares oneself to be, and not feel prejudice against that person. I cannot, however, see the world as any other than one in which animals are created male and female. What nature and nurture lead those animals to do with their sexual capacity and desires is something else again. How long, O Lord, must we wallow in our glee that we discovered sex in our enlightened time? How long must we enjoy guilt?


  2. It is time for The United Methodist Church to amicably split into two churches.

    Plan for Separation Gains Adherents
    By Walter Fenton

    April 2, 2019

    For some time some United Methodist traditionalists have said a plan of separation is the only healthy way to resolve The United Methodist Church’s long and damaging debate over its sexual ethics, teachings on marriage, and its ordination standards. Some progressives are beginning to add their voices to that call.

    In a lengthy and learned essay well worth the time to read, the Rev. Dr. O. Wesley Allen, Jr., a professor of homiletics at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology, says a “split is not only inevitable, it is necessary.”

    Rather than thinking of a UM Church separation as a divorce, Allen draws the analogy of siblings needing to move on after the death of their parents. “Shifting the metaphor… allowed me to think of the denomination celebrating (even if the celebration had a melancholy tone to it) the potentiality of the futures of our different movements while we continue to be in conversation around our common heritage and look for ways to share resources and join forces in certain kinds of ministry (e.g., disaster relief) without demonizing each other.”

    In fairness to Allen, a self-identified progressive, he first called for separation in a Christian Century article shortly after the UM Church’s 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was at that conference that a delegate smashed a communion chalice on the floor of the convention center to register his outrage over the church’s reaffirmation of its sexual ethics; that bishops invited LGBTQ protesters to demonstrate on the floor of the conference; and when the late Rev. Bill Hinson called on the conference to consider an amicable separation. Hinson’s plea was a genuine and heartfelt one, but as Allen notes, “the vast majority of those on the left and in the denominational bureaucracy would not even engage in such a conversation” in those days.

    But other progressives have now joined Allen. The Rev. Darren Cushman Wood, pastor at North United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, writes, “In the United Methodist Church, the burden is on us progressives to leave. And it should be. General Conference after General Conference has drifted rightward on the issues of sexuality and the most recent General Conference confirmed that direction to the point of no return.”

    In a plea to his fellow UM progressives, Wood writes, “Our kinfolk in the Western Jurisdiction seem to be bent on standing their ground. They might have the luxury of doing that because they are, for the most part, protected by the checks and balances in our polity. But for those of us outside the Western Jurisdiction we have no such protection. I am a pastor of a [Reconciling Ministries Network] Congregation in Indiana. They need to consider the impact their (in)action could have on churches like mine.”

    To buttress his call for progressives to separate from the UM Church, Wood cites a recent article by the Rev. Dr. Jack Jackson, a professor at Claremont School of Theology (Claremont, California) and the Director of its Center for Global Methodism. Jackson says, “The hopeful option is for progressives to form a new progressive Methodist denomination.”

    Citing the shift of UM Church membership to Africa, Eastern Europe and the Philippines, where staunchly traditionalist views are in the ascendancy, Jackson maintains progressives can either spend their time fighting an uphill and potentially losing battle for power in the UM Church or pour their energy into starting something new and hopeful.

    “Fighting is simply no longer an option if the progressive goal is a vital missional community that welcomes all numerous visions of human sexuality,” he writes. “The next four to eight years will be painful ones for the denomination no matter which path progressives choose. But a decision… to welcome and encourage conversations on a generous separation will give progressives and traditionalists alike the chance to pursue their distinct missional visions and offer hope for a truly vibrant future.”

    And even some bishops are coming around to the idea of a negotiated settlement. Bishop Sue Haupert Johnson of the North Georgia Annual Conference said in a recent article in the Washington Post, “We’ve either got to figure out how we go together [with same-sex marriage], or how we separate.”

    Haupert Johnson, who has said before that she leans evangelical in her theology, is progressive when it comes to the church’s sexual ethics, teachings on marriage and its ordination standards. In the Post article, she said, “How do we go about this in a way that you know is of God, led by God? . . . How do we sense that the Holy Spirit is leading the church now? . . . If the Methodist church has to get leaner and nicer, I’m all for it. I’m tired of the meanness. I’m tired of the pettiness. I’m tired of the fighting to win at all costs.”

    Her exasperation is reminiscent of what my colleague the Rev. Rob Renfroe and I wrote in our book Are We Really Better Together? “We [need to] admit that we are two different churches and… decide that we don’t want to fight any longer. We don’t have to demonize each other. We don’t have to have victims and villains. We don’t have to have winners or losers. We don’t have to ‘be at war.’ We just have to admit that we are not able to pursue our differing visions of faithfulness together and set each other free” (p. 103).

    The Wesleyan Covenant Association welcomes the growing number of voices calling for a multiplication of Methodist expressions to emerge from the UM Church. Few from any part of the church desire to repeat the experience in St. Louis, Missouri, at the 2020 General Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. WCA leadership is involved in conversations with recognized leaders in the centrist and progressive parts of the church to make such multiplication a reality. Rather than tearing the church apart, now is the time to address the present reality to create hope and opportunity for all who love Jesus, but who have irreconcilable differences on the essentials of how we are the church.

    The Rev. Walter Fenton is a retired clergy member of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference and vice-president for strategic engagement at the Wesleyan Covenant Association.


  3. I understand where you are coming from, but don’t you think all of us that have sinned should ask forgiveness and do our best not to go back to that sinful lifestyle. The way I understand the Bible; we all have sinned, and yes I’ve done many things in my past that I am so amazed that God has forgiven me. That doesn’t mean it’s ok for me to repeat the sin because I know God will forgive me again and again.

    I would think, and just my awkward way of thinking, that yes if you are homosexual and the Bible says it’s a sin, you ask for forgiveness and ask God to help you fight those desires to not turn back to that way of living. If I’m not mistaken those who say that they are Christians but persist in sinful practices with no sign of remorse will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

    In a permissive society it is easy for Christians to overlook or tolerate some immoral behavior (sexual sin, gossip, greed, drunkenness, etc.) because it is so widespread. Although it surrounds us, we cannot take part in it or condone it in any way. Staying away from generally accepted sin is difficult, but it is no harder for us than it was in Jesus’ time. God expects his followers in any age in time to have high standards.

    Christians must be careful to condemn the practice, not the person. The Church should be a haven of forgiveness for repentant homosexuals without compromising its stance against homosexual behavior. In fact the Church should be a haven for all us sinners who want to repent and live for Christ.

    Christ has taken away our sin, this does not give us freedom to go on doing what we know is wrong.


  4. Thank you, Bishop Carder, for exemplifying Christian growth in thought, word, and deed. And thank you for inspiring others to engage in thoughtful and inspiration discourse.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you Bishop Carder. I pray the people will re, ally pray about what you are saying and listen to God’s reply! Yes, I believe we will have to go in different directions! Sad, isn’t it!


  6. Bishop Carder’s reflections has prompted me to revisit some texts I had read several years ago. One that continues to make me think beyond the judging comments of many well intended Christians, is one edited by Walter Wink, “Homosexuaity and Christian Faith: Questions of Conscience for the Churches”, Fortress Press, 1999. Thank you, Bishop Carder, for helping me discover the wider mercy and grace of God’s Love for all people.


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