In a long-awaited, long-debated decision, a majority of United Methodist Church delegates at last week’s General Conference voted to double-down on the church’s historic stance against homosexuality (it’s contrary to God’s will), LGBTQ+ ordination (unless said clergy choose to be celibate), and same-gender marriage (church law will punish those who officiate).
But, then again, you may already know this. It’s been everywhere in my feeds, my ears, my home. You may also remember that I’m married to a United Methodist youth director. Or that in an out-of-character, out-of-body move, I became a member of not just any church but a United Methodist church plant last year. So when the so-called “Traditional Plan” outlined above was passed, I listened to my people’s cries, read their laments, coaxed my comatose heart to consider what may be my piece of the puzzle to add. And here it is:
For the love, can we, please, quit using procreation to exclude others?
Intent to procreate has long been used by both so-called traditionalist and liberal Christians as a measuring stick for marriage. In the former camp, the creation account in the book of Genesis (2:24) that describes the sexual union of one man and one woman has been interpreted as not just natural law but divine law. And yet progressives, too, have often used the opportunity to parent, if not procreate, within the stability of marriage as a reason for opening the sacrament to all peoples.
For example, in a recent article, a United Methodist Church elder wrote in affirmation of his gay son by arguing that the vocation of marriage requires at least openness to procreation except under extraordinary circumstances. By this account, same-gender couples who seek ways to bear and raise children are more a reflection of God’s plan for humanity than those like my husband and me who spent a decade of our marriage purposefully childfree. So, why did our unnatural union get #blessed and theirs continues to be banned?
My hunch? Procreation is a proxy argument to conceal bigger fears Christian leaders have of losing our cultural comforts, categorical certainties, and protected privileges. (Could there also be a fear of losing numbers if natalism isn’t pushed?) Because if marriage truly required literal, intentional, biological procreation, obviously, we could not allow the infertile, the elderly, or suspected baby-haters like me walk down the aisle—at least not without some unconscionable inconsistencies.
Then there’s the serious fear on both sides that the Bible is not being read seriously enough. Just take Genesis 1:28 that commands—or blesses, depending on your perspective—humanity to “be fruitful and multiply.” Some interpret this verse as a procreative mandate for marriage. But others are “redefining fruitful” as a cultural mandate for thriving—that is, collective disciple-making, not individual baby-making is the proper emphasis.
Much of the debate about homosexuality, LGBTQ+ ordination, and same-gender marriage is ultimately about emphasis. No one in my progressive circles is denying that there are a handful of verses in the Bible that condemn homosexual practice. But many also argue that not one of them can easily be taken to condemn loving, committed, same-gender relationships as we now know them.
The “God-in-human-flesh” emphasis is the one I privilege, whereby we hold the life, death, words, deeds, and wily witness of Jesus Christ as more crucial than any other. This interpretative decision still rarely offers simple answers to modern debates, but it does remind us that in God there is no male and female (Galatians 3:24) and in God marriage matters more as metaphor for spiritual union than as cover for sexual one (Ephesians 5:32). As Eugene F. Rogers wrote in The Christian Century essay that rocked my moderate world, “Marriage, in this view, is for sanctification, a means by which God can bring a couple to himself by turning their limits to good. And no conservative I know has seriously argued that same-sex couples need sanctification any less.”
Jesus is the shining example of God’s plan for humanity, and Jesus did not procreate—let alone marry—nor was he ever recorded connecting procreation to the purpose of partnership. If you remember he was, in fact, rather rude in distancing himself from the biological family altogether, as I’ve written about before.
The talent or intent or desire to procreate is not an argument for someone’s sacred worth, their ability to represent God in a religious role, or their only way to enjoy a good and holy love. Having a child does not automatically make saints out of sinners, nor does remaining childfree shrivel saints into shrews.
Parenting of any kind is a crucible, for sure, but so too is giving an aging aunt a sponge bath.
There are limitless ways to love to your limit.
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