Back in May of 2012 , I shared a story of what happened at a Baptist church I attended in Washington, DC in the early 90s. It was a story of how people who disagreed with each other on the issue of homosexuality were able to still be friends and support each other.
Around that same time, I remember someone saying something after a congregation was going to make a tough vote on becoming open and affirming. The exact situation is foggy after 20 years, but what I remember this woman saying that after this vote, “there would be some healing to do.”
The pastor was quite aware the stand be open and affirming to gays and lesbians was the right thing to do, but there was also a need to heal the rifts from this challenging process of discernment. After the prophetic, there had to be time for the pastoral.
When my denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) gathers in Orlando this summer for our General Assembly a resolution will be up for consideration on welcoming LGBT persons not just as congregations, but as a whole denomination. Knowing some of the folks who came up with the resolution, I think it’s pretty good.
And yet, I’m concerned what will happen to the wider church after the vote. Will the body been torn apart, never to be put back together, or will there be agents of peace who will try to mend the broken pieces after a hard, but neccesary vote?
The thing that I don’t hear much these days is the call to mend fences after a vote such as this. More often what happens is that folks vote and the winners claim victory and the losers walk off to sulk. What missing in all of this is the larger picture, the larger whole of the church. There is no desire to heal the wounds.
As I said in my post from last year, I think part of the problem here is sorting of American society into like-minded communities. Here’s what I wrote back then:
Civility is all the talk in our political culture, mostly because it seems like we have less and less of it. We have made it a civic value, but I want to lift up the fact that it should also be a moral and biblical value. We have to learn ways to respect and honor one another; not papering over our differences, but finding ways to still care for each other even when we disagree.
Last summer, Sharon Watkins, the General Minister and President tape a video about the importance of all sides of this issue to remain at the Table. The letter and video, called Setting a Graceful Table stressed the centrality of the communion table:
All tables of the church must be safe places, where respect for diversity among God’s children is honored. As self-governing ministries, in covenant with one another, our challenge is to make room for each other within one Church – even when we make different decisions on important matters. In the past, maintaining the respect and safety of the Table has challenged Disciples. In the era of slavery and abolition Disciples did not divide, but stayed at the common table. Today, the politicized and polarized character of the sexual orientation and equality debate again poses such challenges. This is the time to use our best table etiquette of entering into dialogue in love even in our diversity of opinion. This is the time for the church to show the world that wholeness wins out over fragmentation.
I shared in a post that this issue of welcoming LGBT persons into the full life of the church is personal for me. But so is being a unique community of love:
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.
What I long for this summer is two-fold: I hope the resolution passes, but I also hope that if my side succeeds they will reach out to their sisters and brothers who might be on the losing side. I hope that we won’t just be prophetic, but that we are also pastoral to those who might be our “enemies” and welcome them with open arms.
I hope we can wait for the healing.