The following book summary is by Riley B. Case, associate executive director of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church.
Dr. Case served for many years as a pastor and district superintendent in the UMC’s North Indiana Conference (now the Indiana Conference), and he has been a delegate to five UM General Conferences.
He is the author of Evangelical and Methodist: A Popular History (Abingdon Press).
This piece was first published in a different form in the Confessing Movement’s e-publication, “Happenings Around the Church.”
Links and subheadings below have been added by MethodistThinker.com. — Ed.
Forgetting How to Blush: United Methodism’s Compromise with the Sexual Revolution (Bristol House, 2012) is a thoroughly researched, heavily footnoted account of efforts, strategies, schemes, and attempts on the part of non-Christian — or at least quasi-Christian — persons, groups, caucuses, and in some cases church leaders, to secularize historic Christian truth in regard to human sexuality.
Author Karen Booth, director of Transforming Congregations, begins with Alfred Kinsey and his studies on human sexuality. Kinsey influenced Hugh Hefner, who chafed under the restraints of traditional biblical morality (Hefner grew up in a conservative Methodist home).
Hugh Hefner not only started Playboy magazine, he also gave a major grant to fund the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). SIECUS was interested in values-neutral sex education, which basically ignores biblical moral teaching.
Remarkably, SIECUS had ties with the Methodist General Board of Education Task Force on Sex Education, which operated under the assumption that the church’s “negative” views toward sexuality needed adjusting.
In the 1960s, youth ministry in the Methodist Church was undergoing a philosophical shift. Youth, so we were told, did not want others — including their parents or the church — to tell them what to do. They wanted “freedom” and “equality.”
Under the sway of progressive pressures, the 1972 General Conference did away with the Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF) and legislated a new agency, the National Council on Youth Ministry (NCYM). That group, among other things, gave grants to homosexual-advocacy groups.
Trying to be ‘relevant’
The church bureaucracy was already on board. As early as 1962 the Methodist Church had published a resource Sex and the Whole Person which essentially substituted the latest (secular) psychological insights for traditional teaching about faithfulness in marriage and celibacy in singleness. Sex and the Whole Person spoke of Freud and sexual repression. It emphasized that in sexual matters seldom is there a right and wrong, but shades of grey. There were no moral absolutes.
At the time of The Methodist Church-Evangelical United Brethren merger in 1968, the editors of church school material indicated that sex education would be one of their top priorities. Meanwhile in its March-April, 1969 issue, Motive magazine — the church’s paper for young adults — printed an article by Del Margin and Phyllis Lyon, co-founders of a lesbian-advocacy group. (The UMC had the sense to stop publication of Motive in 1971).
In the mid-1970s, Leon Smith of the Board of Discipleship commented on “positive” trends he saw in the church’s response to the new sexuality — from rigid rules to situational ethics; a new toleration of private, consensual acts; the recognition of positive uses of pornography; and a new understandings of homosexual activity (understood now as a “variant” rather than “deviant”).
If the church believed that this attempt to be “culturally relevant” would enhance youth ministry it was sadly mistaken. Over a 10-year period the circulation of youth materials fell from 1.2 million pieces per quarter to 400,000 and the youth staff at Nashville went from 13 full-time persons to one part-time employee. (Melvin Talbert, now a retired bishop who urges clergy and laity to defy the UMC’s sexuality standards, was the general secretary of the Board of Discipleship at that time.)
To their credit, a number of bishops and church leaders were not pleased with the direction in which progressives were leading the church in the area of human sexuality. A few leaders spoke out on behalf of the church’s traditional stance, and Curriculum Resources toned down some of the more extreme studies.
The push to normalize homosexual relationships
Those biblically orthodox leaders were further tested by the onslaught of homosexual-practice advocacy that has characterized some parts of The United Methodist Church since 1970.
Had it not been for an amendment from the floor at the 1972 General Conference that inserted into the Social Principles language that says the UMC “does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers it incompatible with Christian teaching” (now in ¶161F in the Book of Discipline), The United Methodist Church likely would have been the first mainline denomination to neutralize biblical teaching about homosexual practice.
Tellingly, since 1972 no general agency of the church has petitioned the General Conference to uphold traditional teachings on marriage, the family and human sexuality.
Before the 1980 General Conference, every agency and every caucus that petitioned General Conference in regard to homosexual practice — except for the renewal ministry Good News — urged the church to set aside its orthodox stance on homosexual practice. For its efforts Good News was labeled “intolerant” and “hateful.”
The United Methodist General Board of Church and Society claims to advocate positions taken by the General Conference, but in the area of marriage the board is silent. It is also silent in the area of affirming the sexual ethic of faithfulness in marriage and celibacy in singleness (¶161B and ¶161F).
GBCS does indicate that the church must seek to eradicate “heterosexism” and “homophobia,” but when it comes to the UMC’s statement that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” GBCS is silent. At one time the church sought to enrich marriages. But in a current GBCS list of 20 key issues facing the church and society, marriage is not even mentioned.
Follow the money
The United Methodist Book of Discipline prohibits the use apportionment money to “promote the acceptance of homosexuality” (¶613.20 and ¶806.9). This doesn’t mean that those in the church who want to bless homosexual relationships and to change the definition of marriage are without funding and support.
Karen Booth traces some of this money and support, most of which comes from groups outside The United Methodist Church, including:
Major funding for these organizations — and for caucuses within mainline churches — comes from groups such as the Arcus Foundation, which from 2007 to 2011 has made 150 grants totaling almost $20 million to “religion and values” initiatives.
Two UM groups, Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) and Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA), received almost $850,000.
The Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund has given $10 million in the same four-year period to “allies” who work among clergy and congregations for “marriage equality.”
The E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation gives money to seminaries that support the homosexual agenda. In 2009, it gave grants totaling $75,000 to the Church Within a Church Movement (PDF), Dumbarton UM Church in Washington D.C., and the Reconciling Ministries Network.
Karen Booth asks an interesting question: Does The United Methodist Church understand the implications of outsider money flowing into the church with the specific agenda of subverting the church’s teaching on human sexuality? Have any church leaders expressed concern over this?
A healing gospel
The typical reaction on the part of progressives to a work such as Forgetting How to Blush is to rant about “homophobia” and “hatefulness.” However, it would be difficult to label the movement Karen Booth heads, Transforming Congregations, as a homophobic and hateful group.
Many of those associated with Transforming Congregations have known sexual brokenness themselves and have experienced rejection on the part of the church. But they believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ offers healing, and they give testimony to healing that has taken place in their own lives.
Forgetting How to Blush (the title is from Jeremiah 6:15 and 8:12) is not an encouraging book. It is a sober account of “United Methodism’s Compromise with the Sexual Revolution,” an account that suggests intense spiritual warfare is taking place in The United Methodist Church.
But hope remains. Most local UM churches and ordinary church members have refused to follow the progressives in their effort to follow the secular world in regard to human sexuality.