A sex-education column in the latest issue of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society’s Web-based publication, Faith in Action, argues that persons can have “a moral, ethical sexual relationship” outside of the covenant of marriage — a position that stands in opposition to both historic Christian teaching and the language of the UM Book of Discipline.
According to the Institute’s web site, the group’s mission is “to change the way America understands the relationship of sexuality and religion.”
Haffner is the former president and chief executive officer of the controversial Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), a strong opponent of abstinence-until-marriage policies.
In the Faith in Action column, adapted from her book, What Every 21st-Century Parent Needs to Know, Haffner writes that “based on my more than 30 years as a sexuality educator and now as a minister, [I believe] that a moral, ethical sexual relationship — whether one is married or single, 16 or 35 or 80, gay, bisexual or straight — is defined by five criteria: It is consensual, non-exploitative, honest, mutually pleasurable and protected, if any type of intercourse occurs.”
Last month, in a column published on another Web site, Haffner argued that non-married clergy should not be expected to remain celibate.
“I’ve long believed that the major sexuality problem denominations face is that they are unable to acknowledge that celibacy until marriage doesn’t apply to most single adults,” she wrote in an article posted on the Huffington Post site.
“It makes sense to require that clergy not engage in sexual relationships with congregants,” Haffner wrote. “[I]t does not make sense to ask them to give up adult sexual lives outside of the congregation.”
Also in that Huffington Post column, Haffner noted that the Religious Institute — the group of which she is the executive director and co-founder — “has long called for a new sexual ethic to replace the traditional ‘celibacy until marriage, chastity after.’ This new ethic is free of double standards based on sexual orientation, sex, gender or marital status.” (That “ethic” is outlined in the “five criteria” mentioned above.)
In the Church-and-Society-published article, Haffner argues that “[t]hese [five] criteria are more ethically rigorous than abstinence until marriage because they apply to intimate relationships both before as well as after marriage.”
Haffner’s views in the Huffington Post and, more importantly, in the Church and Society article, run counter to the long-held views of the church, which are rooted in Scriptural injunctions, and to the official teaching of the United Methodist Church — teaching that was clarified and strengthened only last year.
The ethic of Scripture, as expressed in 1 Corinthians 6, is that believers should “[r]un from sexual sin!”
No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:18-20 NLT)
Further, Titus 2:11-14 teaches that the ability to resist all manner of temptations is a gift of God’s grace.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (ESV)
The United Methodist Book of Discipline, in ¶161F, states that “[a]lthough all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only within the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.”
That language was adopted by the 2008 General Conference to clearly express the church’s stand on sexual relations outside of husband-and-wife marriage.
The Faith in Action column by Debra Haffner is the latest in the web-based publication’s series, “Sex and the Church.”
In announcing the series in February, Bishop Deborah Kiesey (Dakotas Conference), president of the General Board of Church and Society, and Jim Winkler, the board’s chief executive, issued a joint statement saying the series would “help provide needed education to our children and ourselves. We anticipate it may restore relationships, create new healthy ones and perhaps move people to act.”
The “Sex and the Church” series is overseen by Linda Bales Todd, director of the Louise and Hugh Moore Population Project at the General Board of Church and Society.