This summer the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) will gather for its biennial General Assembly in Orlando. One of the items to be considered is a resolution proclaiming the denomination Open and Affirming to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.
A resolution is for the most part a sense of the Assembly and carries no legislative power. That said it does carry some importance in making some kind of a statement at a specific time and place. I know some of the people who came up with the resolution and after much revision it looks good. It resolves that “the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) declares itself to be a people of grace and welcome to all God’s children–inclusive of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, ethnicity, marital status, or physical ability.”
Good words. We want to strive to be welcoming to LGBT persons who have been told in the past that they aren’t welcome at church. The explaination for the resolution points this out:
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ) people have suffered, often most egregiously at the hands of the church. This suffering has come as a result of outright violence in word and deed and, perhaps just as damaging, through silence in the face such injustice. As a denomination that proclaims itself “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world” the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) must accept a special responsibility in actively finding ways to bring wholeness and offer healing, in particular to those whom the church has had a hand in harming, as well as to those whom the church has failed to stand beside in the face of the harm perpetrated by others.
The primer continues explaining how Disciples have spoken prophetically in the past:
At the height of civil unrest in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when the country remained violently divided on the issue of race, Disciples stood up and spoke with a clear voice at the International Convention of Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) in 1968 “to address the sin of racism through resolutions and direct action.” In 1973, when only 4% of the of professional church workers and 9% of seminarians were women, and congregations were divided over whether women should be allowed in ministry, the
General Assembly in Cincinnati, Ohio found its voice and passed resolutions urgently seeking to address the inequities of gender discrimination posed by excluding women from serving the church in the same capacity as men.
The important thing to note in these two examples is the extent to which Disciples made it a priority to help shape the church’s thinking on a General level, prior to any consensus on the Regional or congregational level. Knowing the potential fallout from taking controversial stands on race and gender, the General Church spoke to a better version of ourselves in which justice trumps inequity, in which hospitality surpasses exclusion, and in which holy courage eclipses fear. Despite the traditional theological understanding among some, underwritten by Scriptural interpretation—that races ought not to mix and that women ought to remain silent in the church— Disciples embraced a hermeneutic that opened itself up to God’s
ability to do a new thing among God’s people.
The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is in need of such a voice today to speak courageously against the exclusion of LGBTIQ people from full participation in the life and ministry of the church.
And the thrust of this is to extend hospitality:
There are many Disciples who believe that we need to take positive action to communicate the need for a broader sense of the reach of hospitality, to acknowledge just how we can live out our identity as a people of welcome and grace. Therefore, it seems fitting to offer a resolution that would allow the General Assembly to speak a word to the church about what it means to welcome all to full participation in the life and ministry of the church.
All of this is good. And yet, there is something missing. It’s not something that is added to a resolution, but it has to be added to the life of many mainline churches. I think it is good to extend the Table to LGBT folk. I am all for hospitality. But here’s a question that no one seems to care to answer:
What do we do once we’ve extended hospitality? Where does discipleship fit into all of this?
In many ways, progressive Christians have adopted the tactics of the wider society in fighting for equality. I think in some cases that’s important. But as Christians, we don’t just follow the law; we are also called to follow Jesus and to take up our crosses as well.
Most progressive Christians will talk about how inclusive Jesus was. That may be the case, we aren’t talking about some kind of glorified Benneton ad. Jesus also called people to do hard things. He called the Rich Young Ruler to see his possessions. He called the Woman Caught in Adultery to leave her life of sin. There is forgiveness and grace with Jesus, but there is also a call to follow which isn’t always easy.
Maybe this harder call to follow Christ is heard in our churches and odds are it is. But more often than not, we are welcoming people something more akin to a social club than it is to the community of Christ. I know this because I’ve seen it in churches and among fellow Christians. Recently, blogger Rod Dreher had something to say regarding what Christianity is about. Regarding a discussion on religion between Andrew Sullivan and the late Christopher Hitchens, Sullivan noted ““I don’t see Jesus trying to control anybody’s life.” Dreher responded:
Judging by the evidence in this dialogue, Sully seems to believe in a Jesus that doesn’t require anything of him, a Jesus that exists as a psychological comfort, but certainly not as Lord.
“I don’t see Jesus trying to control anybody’s life” — what could that possibly mean? Did Jesus not try to control the lives of the moneychangers in the Temple? Did Jesus turn away from the woman caught in adultery as she was about to be stoned by the Pharisees? It wasn’t his business, strictly speaking, to tell the Pharisees how to run their lives. In fact, he told the adulterous woman to “go and sin no more” — a pretty conclusive sign that he believed he had the right to tell an adulterer to stop doing that.
When the Rich Young Ruler came to Jesus and asked him what he must do to be saved, Jesus had an answer for him — an answer the rich kid didn’t want to hear. True, Jesus didn’t press the young man into his service, so in that narrow sense, Jesus didn’t try to control his life. But Jesus did tell the young man how he ought to live if he wanted to find eternal life. To say that Jesus never told anybody how they ought to live — which is what Sully means here — is not remotely tenable. Hitchens the atheist militant has a better understanding of what Christianity demands, I’m afraid.
Sullivan wrote a post last year about what Jesus meant to him that got a lot of play. (I wrote a post about it.) The thing is, the Jesus that he is talking about at times tends to be the Jesus that I might hear in a mainline church. It’s the Jesus of Moral Therapeutic Deism a faith that looks like this:
- A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
- God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
- The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
- God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
- Good people go to heaven when they die.
Sadly, when I hear people talk about the inclusion of LGBT persons in the church what I hear are numbers 2 and 3. We are arguing less for the fact that all are welcomed to follow Christ than we are wanting to be good and fair people and making sure people are happy.
I would like to see mainline churches do more than offer Queer Moral Therapeutic Deism*, which is what I feel we offer at times to gays and lesbians. I’m not advocating for a more conservative theology, but I am asking that mainliners offer a more robust and challenging Christianity than the weak tea we get at times.