The winds of culture blow strong against us. We all feel it. Peer pressure isn’t something we leave to the halls of our high schools when we graduate…or college…or grad school. We deal with it all the time. We are constantly being asked to conform. What is good? What is right? Where do we flex and where do we bend? Perhaps more importantly, where do we stand firm?
Stories live with me and help me carry a truth much bigger than I can carry on my own, much like a suitcase helps me carry much more than would otherwise fit in my hands. Before, during, and after our meeting on The Way Forward” on Wednesday April 18, I have had a specific story on my heart. It is about a farmer who hired a farmhand who gave a cryptic response when asked about his ability to serve. He always said, “I can sleep when the wind blows.” The farmer hired him anyway and found out what he meant one night when the winds of a terrible storm began to stir. (For a full account of the story visit: http://www.agiftofinspiration.com.au/stories/attitude/When%20the%20wind%20blows.shtml) We may debate as to whether or not we are facing a storm. I am certain we all want the peace to be able to sleep soundly in times of storm and in times of calm.
Our culture’s view of human sexuality has been changing for most of our lives. Anyone alive since the 1950’s has seen tremendous change in what is or is not acceptable. We seem to be entering a time when there is very little that is still unacceptable as appropriate expressions of human sexuality. I think we all agree that there should be some boundaries but we disagree as to just where those boundaries should be. This is true in the world around us and in the church as we gather as believers each week. I have no doubt that caring, devout, very sincere followers of Christ have differing points of view. This does not make us more or less Christian. It does mean we will have interesting conversations and points where we are not likely to agree. Can we live with that? What would it mean to live with these different views of appropriate expressions of human sexuality?
Perhaps you’ve seen recent news articles on The United Methodist Church and our stance on human sexuality (http://www.newsobserver.com/living/religion/article201102699.html). Perhaps you’ve been following the work of The Commission on the Way Forward which The United Methodist Church created to help us navigate these winds of change (http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/commission-on-a-way-forward). Perhaps you are just now learning of this whole conversation. It remains to be seen what the special called session of General Conference will prayerfully discern in February of 2019. They will speak with a definitive voice for the global body called The United Methodist Church. Whatever they discern, I am certain the conversation will continue. I think we can all agree to pray for this General Conference and for the ones that will follow. In fact, I think we can all agree to pray for every conversation where acceptable expressions of human sexuality are discussed, especially among people who agree that Jesus is Lord.
Speaking as your pastor, this is where I have found the peace to sleep when the wind blows whether it is a hurricane, Nor’easter, thunderstorm or just a friendly breeze. I am standing firm on God’s Word and the Tradition of the Church. From the beginning of the Bible, we see that God created man and woman for each other. Early in their lives together, God gave man and woman desire for each other which should be expressed within the covenant of marriage. Jesus himself affirmed this expression of human sexuality in Matthew 19 when he spoke in the context of divorce. There are other specific prohibitions of homosexuality in both the Old and New Testaments and I would be glad to prayerfully enter conversation with you about those texts. However, it seems clear to me that God designed us to express our sexuality man for woman and woman for man within the covenant of marriage. This is where I stand and this is the only position that allows me to sleep when the winds blow.
You are free to disagree with me. I will love you and value you as a fellow disciple of Jesus Christ. I will gladly roll up my sleeves alongside you to labor in God’s Kingdom. I have all ideas that we’ll spend eternity together. I have prayed long about this position and feel called to the stand I have made. Perhaps you will say the same thing about your stand even if it is in a very different place. I can say that Asbury Church will welcome all who come and seek relationship with Jesus Christ. This will be true regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, political affiliation or any of the many and varied ways we may distinguish or divide ourselves. Together, we will grow a garden to feed our hungry neighbors. Together, we will package meals for Rise Against Hunger to feed hungry strangers in places very far from Raleigh. Together, we will continue to build the village of Sous Raille, Haiti with our resources and with our volunteers. Together, we will continue to build children and families of our community through our partnership with Lynn Road Elementary School. In short, we will continue all the things we have done and we will prayerfully discern new ministries that can only be accomplished together. This is who we have always been. This is who we will always be.
Asbury Church marches forward. We continue to strive to live faithfully in Jesus’ name. Regardless of what stances on human sexuality are made by our culture or our denomination, we will continue to serve as faithfully as ever. We will continue to affirm families and what we have always believed to be a scriptural model of appropriate expression of human sexuality (one woman and one man joined together in the covenant of marriage). Our call from God is to engage people in relationships where Christ transforms. In this, we will continue. Even more, we will engage more deeply and more widely as we reach more and more people with the good news of the relationship God offers through Jesus Christ. There is holy work for us to do and God is calling us to do this work together and with God’s help. It won’t be easy. It will be worthwhile…and as we engage faithfully together, I think we’ll all be able to sleep when the wind blows…
Peace & Partnership,
Tom Newman, Lead Pastor