Matthew 20:1–16 | Second Sunday in Lent | March 1, 2015 | First Christian Church | Mahtomedi, MN
“Grace, God’s generosity is beyond human imagining. We want God to show love to us and those like us, but not to them. Not to that guy over there. Not to that poor person. Not to that rich man. Not to that conservative. Not to that liberal. Not to that gay man. Not to that black person.”
There has been something that has been bothering me for a while. Usually when people start talking about gay ordination or same-sex marriage, someone on the pro side will say something to the effect: “Jesus was inclusive,” or “Jesus welcomed everybody.”
Now, I’m all for welcoming people into our churches in the way that Jesus did. I’ve been fighting for LGBT inclusion in the church for years. But when someone says something like the sentences above, I get a weird feeling, like something isn’t right.
Recently, after reading a blog post, I finally understood what was bothering me. In the contemporary liberal church, the highest goal, the highest good is to be “inclusive.” As I’ve said, being inclusive matters to me. But should our faith be only about inclusion? What are we including and why? Why are we being inclusive? What are we being inclusive for?
Rod Dreher linked to an article from Slate on the controversy brewing among Catholics in San Francisco. The bishop wants to make sure that teachers working in Catholic schools don’t say anything that contradicts church teaching on issues such as homosexuality. Needless to say, this has bothered a lot of people. But the problem is less the bishop’s policy, but the response to the bishop. The protestors want the church to be nonjudgemental- something that Will Saletan from Slate believes is impossible:
The protesters are confused. They reject morality clauses but call the archbishop’s behavior sinful, shameful, and wrong. They belong to a church but seem to think it shouldn’t forbid anything. They insist that no one can be judged, except for issuing judgments that contradict their own. They can’t explain or even acknowledge the moral differences between homosexuality, contraception, and abortion. The nonsense of nonjudgmentalism has turned their brains to mush. It’s clouding their ability to think and speak clearly about society’s mistakes—and their own.
Saletan isn’t a conservative, he agrees that the bishop is wrong. But he thinks that many of the liberal Catholics don’t understand their own faith, ignoring church teaching and thinking the highest goals in Catholicism are inclusiveness and tolerance. He argues:
The dictionary says churches are supposed to teach doctrines. But the campaign against Cordileone says they shouldn’t. Students at one Catholic school “are very upset” by the new policy, says a teacher. “They’re afraid it’ll lead to indoctrination.” A statement signed by more than 200 opponents of the policy says Catholic leaders should follow their flocks: “Most U.S. Catholics believe very little of what is in the Archdiocesan document and actively reject much of it. The role of the bishop is to articulate the faith of the people.”
In place of morality or doctrine, the archbishop’s critics preach acceptance, inclusiveness, tolerance, affirmation, and diversity. An online petition, signed by more than 6,000 people, says his proposed rules violate “Catholic values of inclusion and diversity.” “By forcing morality clauses, you’re taking away all inclusivity and diversity in these schools,” adds a supporter on Twitter. Haider-Winnett says students need “affirming environments.” The campaign’s hashtag is “#teachacceptance.”
Of course people can argue against church teaching. And teachings change over time. But it’s one thing to argue that teachings must change, it’s another to say that things like doctrine have no place in the life of faith.
Which gets me back to why we need to be inclusive. What is the theological reason for this? I think we should, but why does it matter that churches have to be inclusive and diverse?
I tend to think that in many liberal churches (the tribe that I hang with) gay and lesbian inclusion and indeed, all inclusion is based on moral therapeutic deism (MTD), the defacto civil religion in the United States. Writer Damon Linker explains what MTD is all about:
1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.”
2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.”
3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.”
4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.”
5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.”
I think this is what drives inclusion these days. Now there are some outliers, liberal Lutherans have enough classical Christianity that they still talk about sin, cross and grace. But this what my side of the debate on LGBT issues tends to believe in, which I think is pretty thin gruel.
The church should be open to people of various sexual orientations and gender identities. Church should be tolerant of differences. But if we want to include them into the life of the church, there has to be some there there. We can’t just talk about being inclusive, because Christians are supposed to be nice.
Churches can and have become places where all that matters is to be nice and tolerant, but I wonder. Is this what we fought for? I think people sacrificed a lot for us to join a church that simply teaches one to be nice.
The thing is, inclusive churches don’t have to give up orthodox belief. In this blog post from 2014, an Episcopalian priest named Matt Marino noted that he is getting a number of calls from gay Millennials that are looking for a place where they can talk about Jesus, resurrection, evangelism and the like. They were in churches where such talk was not cool and longed for community that talked about a faith worth having. Here’s what one such gay Christian said to the priest:
“Well, when I talk about ‘Jesus, and the power of the Resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings,’ I get raised eyebrows. When I talk about evangelism, historic doctrines, or believing the Creeds, people tug at their shirt collars…and clergy their clerical collars. They are very excited about Spong, Borg, Crossan and the Buddha, but they get the willies when I want to talk about Augustine, Aquinas, NT Wright and the Messiah.” They tell me ‘we welcome questions,’ but it seems that orthodox answers are the only ones not tolerated.
Marino continues wondering why such “inclusive” places are not so inclusive to those who they don’t agree with:
Imagine that you are a twenty year old Episcopalian. You view the world through post-modern eyes…you place high value on maintaining relationships with people, including those with differing viewpoints from your own. Whether gay or straight, you are coming of age in a world in which, chances are good, that you have not fought over sexuality. In that world, young Gay Episcopalians seem to be seeking out the theologically orthodox for supportive Christian discipleship.
My snarky side wants to whisper, “Gee, that sounds like actual tolerance.” You know, from before “tolerance” was code for “progressive,” when it was a word that presumed disagreement. After all, I don’t have to “tolerate” those I agree with. We already agree. Much has been written about the exclusivity of “inclusivity” – How the only idea that is out of bounds is the idea that some ideas are, in fact, out of bounds. The old and inherently contradictory notion that there is no objective truth except, of course, the statement that there is no objective truth. But now my iPhone call log is showing a growing list of indicators that at least some of the group the Episcopal Church has most tried to enfranchise are feeling disenfranchised. What kind of inclusivity is it that is gives Gay Millennials the experience of being excluded for simply wanting to follow Jesus according to the traditions and doctrines of our faith, as set out in our prayer book and Scriptures?
I can understand back in the day that one might want to tone down on the sin talk since many gays were coming from places where they were considered sinful, if not damned to hell. I can understand the need to talk up the love of God more than God as Judge.
But I’m beginning to think that many LGBT folk are yearning for a more robust faith, something that asks of them. Yes, they know God loves them for who they are and they want to share that love with others.
For LGBT folk and their allies, it is time to move beyond MTD to something stronger. Jesus didn’t call us to simply be tolerant, we are called to be disciples. Inclusivity is about welcoming LGBT folk to become disciples of Christ or at least it should.
That’s why we should be inclusive. That is what being inclusive is for.
Photo by Matt Meltchley.
Matthew 18:15-35 | First Sunday in Lent | February 22, 2015 | Dennis Sanders, preaching
“In preparing for this sermon, I heard somewhere that forgiveness is about dealing the past to be open to the future. “
Matthew 18:1–9 | Ash Wednesday | February 18, 2015 | First Christian Church | Dennis Sanders, preaching
“Ash Wednesday is a “feel bad” day. We are reminded that we are limited
and imperfect. When we receive the ashes, we are reminded of our
humanity, our frailty. We are reminded that our quest for status matters
little as compared to our aging bodies. Ash Wednesday should remind us
that we rely on God, not on status.”
A few years ago, I was at a local gathering of Disciples (my denomination) in Minnesota. It was a good event overall, a time when our small tribe could gather to worship and fellowship. Somewhere early in the event, there was a slide that showed all of the Disciple congregations in Minnesota that no longer exist. The speaker wanted us to honor the work that these former faith communities did and I was in agreement. They had for a season, been a small example of God’s kingdom.
As much as I wanted to honor these congregations, I also felt a sense of annoyance. Not with these congregations, but the fact that we Disciples in Minnesota are a smaller groups of people. In the last 15 years or so, a number of congregations in the state have closed. Churches in Rochester, Mankato and Fridley (a suburb north of Minneapolis). Some of these congregations had simply reached the end of their lives and that is understandable. No, the frustrating thing is that we aren’t replacing those churches and it seems at times like most people don’t care.
A century ago, it was not uncommon for local churches to plant new churches. First Christian in Minneapolis (where I used to serve) planted a number of churches over the years. They looked to see an area where there was no Disciple church and a number of people would go to start a Sunday School class that would be come a church.
Over time, our churches have lost that evangelical drive. We have become risk-averse. People have become skeptical that investing money in church plants actually makes a difference. Better to spend it on a needy social service agency. Some pastors from outside the area have said they were interested in church planting, but only if they were given money to support them.
I don’t say this to trash talk or to speak ill of folk. But I do think there is a problem here when it comes to planting new churches.
I have had an interest myself in planting a church, but I already have a church that is in a transformation process, so I don’t know if I have the time to do this.
What is needed is for their to be a revival of sorts, people who feel called to help plant new communities. I pray for the Pentecost winds to blow among our small Disciple tribe in Minnesota to have a passion to tell the good news of Jesus that translates into new churches.
I think we can say “well done” to those churches that are no longer with us. But we should also be busy planting new communities, places that can reach the Minnesota of 2015.
I pray that this might come true.
“Follow the Leader” | Work of Christmas Series | Matthew 16:24-17:8 | Transfiguration Sunday | February 15, 2014 | Dennis Sanders, preaching
“The late German theologian Dietrich Bonheoffer is rumored to have said that when Jesus calls us to follow him, bids us to come and die.”
On January 31, I got the phone call that you always dread, at the what I’ve been dreading for nearly 10 years- that call at 4 in the morning. Long story short, I learned that my father had died. As Daniel and I got ready to fly from Minnesota to Michigan, I left a text with John Paulson just letting him know I wasn’t going to be at church this Sunday. I don’t know what all John did, but he was able to marshall the forces of the church to make sure church went on smoothly. Retired Pastor Paul Ficzeri preached in my stead.
My Dad had been in declining health for years. Congestive Heart Failure and COPD wore him down. He entered the hospital on New Year’s Day with really low blood pressure. He was taken to a transitional care facility to recuperate and hopefully get well enough to go back home. His time at the facility wasn’t easy. Unlike other hospital stays, he wasn’t bouncing back. I had started to think he might end up at this facility permanently- something Mom had wondered as well.
He actually was feeling better the day before he died, my Mom said. She offered to stay the night, but he wanted her home. A nurse came into wake him up on that Saturday morning to get him ready for the day and he didn’t respond. Dad had died in his sleep after 85 years on this earth.
Grief is something that always fascinates me. I’ve always wondered how different folk grieve a loss. I’ve also been interested in how someone on the autistic spectrum mourns. People might think that those on the spectrum don’t feel anything, but the fact of the matter is we feel a lot.
My sign of mourning is a physical one: I feel what I can only explain as a heaviness of heart, as if my heart is crying even though I’m not visibly crying. I felt that way a few years ago when my Uncle David died, and I felt it again when my cat Morris died a few months later. When my other cat, Felix died a year later, the heavy heart was there again.
Over the last week, I noticed that my heart was truly heavy again. I might not be crying up a storm, but my heart was…is weeping for my Dad.
I share this because we all do grieve differently. For some grief is a slow process and for others it’s “faster.” Some people cry visibly, others cry in secret. Those of us with Aspergers also grieve in ways that might seem odd, but it is grief.
I miss my Dad. I think that my heavy heart will come and go for a time. But a smile comes to my face as well: my heavy heart is a sign that I am truly human after all.
Note: The top photo was taken by my husband, Daniel shortly after we arrived at my parent’s apartment. On one of the bed posts were my baby shoes. This is what Daniel wrote on Facebook describing the photo: “A father’s love for his son…hanging on his father’s bedpost are Dennis’ childhood shoes.”
The bottom photo was taken with my Dad in November 2013.