Last week, Sharon Watkins, the General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) released a pastoral letter regarding the denomination’s stance on homosexuality. It was sent to all churches in the denomination and late last week, a letter came to the church where I serve as Associate Pastor. You can read the letter and watch a video by Watkins by going here.
All in all, I think it was a good letter. What is what I would have liked to hear? No. But I think it is what I needed to hear.
Fellow Disciples such as Derek Penwell have regarded Watkins’ letter as “moderate,” trying to steer a course between pro-gay and anti-gay factions. There is some truth to that, but I don’t think the goal here was to be “moderate.” I think the goal was to be a living witness of how to be church in a polarized world.
Being an openly gay man and a Disciples pastor, I have a dog in this fight. I’m not going to pretend I’m above the fray and all that. I want to see churches become more accepting of LGBT persons. However, I also want the church to be a better witness in the world, not only being more inclusive, but also showing how we can deal with one another humanely even when we disagree profoundly.
We live in a world that is increasingly polarized and factionalized. More and more, we sort ourselves into like-minded ghettoes where we never encounter folks with a differing view point. More and more we are certain that our view is the correct one and the other side is going surely lead us down the road to ruin. As our political and social lives have become more polarized, so has the church. In the name of justice or faithfulness or what have you, we have erected barriers to protect ourselves from other views and launch verbal attacks on others, cloaking our incivility in some form of being prophetic or speaking God’s truth.
I don’t think that Watkins was calling for some sort of lame middle of the road view as much as she was calling for those of us who follow Jesus Christ to act with civility towards each other, even on issues that we view as a matter of justice.
I think it matters in this age, when the outside culture is so toxic and where people are mean to each other to find the church, God’s people showing a “more excellent way.” We have to find ways to discuss, discern and decide issues without being mean towards one another.
I know that talking more about…talking can be frustrating to people on my side of the debate. In his blog post, Penwell shares stories about how LGBT people have been hurt by the church:
A few days ago I met a young gay man who had just recently undergone reparative therapy to “repair” his sexual orientation. Among the accounts of psychologically damaging statements about the fact that he was a “broken” young man—broken in places where straight folks are presumably “whole,” in virtue of their “natural” constitution—were stories of therapies that included beatings, needles, and electric shock. I don’t want to be misunderstood to be asserting that the treatment this young man received is the norm. I will extend the benefit of the doubt to those who both seek and administer such therapy that on balance the intentions are good. However, I have heard enough horror stories told by people who have been the recipient of these “good intentions” to know that great damage is being done to people, often at extremely important and formative stages of their lives.
It can be hard to hear stories like this and not feel that the time for debate is over. But the fact is, many people are still dealing with this issue. They are still trying to come to terms what this all means. Maybe this is a foolish dream, but I still think it matters how we conduct ourselves in the world, even if and especially when I think I’m right.
Maybe there will be time when debate has to end, but I don’t think we are there yet, I know we aren’t at the church I serve.
So, as hard as it is to sit and be patient, I think we have to try to engage in debate with true love for each other and show the rest of the world that at least this little patch of humanity is truly living like Christians, loving each other even when they don’t see eye to eye.
I didn’t see Sharon’s letter as trying to take some middle-ground non-position, either. It was a very Disciples position, I thought. I know what I believe, and I am pretty sure history is going to prove me right; but in the meantime we are in community and at a Table with people who don’t all agree with me. It is the ability to sit at that Table together with those with whom we disagree that makes Disciples Disciples–and it is a witness very much needed in today’s world.