Friday, July 5, 2013

Can We Talk About This?

Please include me in the vast ranks of people who don't like conflict... or change. Actually, change, once it's been accomplished, is okay... if you survive the transition.

My community of faith has been working through a change in our collective understandings about what it means to be gay... and a minister called by God to proclaim the Good News. 

This has been hard work. 

There are those who angrily left. 
There are those who sadly left. 
There are those who tentatively stayed. 
There are those who adamantly stayed. 

There are many in that very first category who had other issues burning, and this was the one that gave them permission to leave. We miss them, even though in the long run it is healthier for them and the congregation for them to have moved on.

I've had conversations with some of them and those in the second category. Those in the second and third categories are hard conversations. They mean well. I mean well. I ask if it's possible for us to be the congregation that shows the community at large that it can be done; people can disagree on even the big things, but still come together to do good for an even bigger thing. They just can't do it or, they can but only if the gay issue doesn't get talked about. 


Don't ask ,don't tell... even though when my wife is not leading worship elsewhere in her ordained calling as a United Church of Christ minister she attends worship and is on a committee and teaches a Bible study (talk about pastor's wife stereotypes!). Still, nothing should be addressed out loud.

In order to calm the waters, I've been okay with not talking about these issues: being gay and a Christian, being Called, being fearfully and wonderfully made, being married to someone who is the same gender. I've even been complicit in the silence as my own nature is to keep my private life, private; separation of personal and professional.

But have you read this post?

It is written by a mother, a woman of deep faith, whose son came out to her as gay and she handled it in the most faithful and understanding way she knew how. In her words:
"We said all the things that we thought loving Christian parents who believed the Bible, the Word of God, should say:We love you. We will always love you. And this is hard. Really hard. But we know what God says about this, so you are going to have to make some really difficult choices... 
We love you. Nothing will change that. But if you are going to follow Jesus, holiness is your only option. You are going to have to choose to follow Jesus, no matter what. And since you know what the Bible says, and since you want to follow God, embracing your sexuality is not an option."
Although these words were never specifically spoken to me, as a child of the church the message was clear - being gay was not an option for those who wanted to lead a faithful life.
End of discussion. 

But we have to talk about this because young people are being hurt by bad theology. We have to learn why it is okay to read the Scriptures that a significant segment of the religious establishment use as proof-texts and be bold enough to say: 

They. are. wrong. 

Designed by Southminster Presbyterian Church, Boise, Idaho
There are so many resources available to us that allow us deeper insight into the context of when those texts were written. There is so much accessible scholarship that encourages us to a deeper level of understanding of God's Holy Word. We cannot allow a translation from the 17th century to be waved around as "God's Truth" because although in the 21st century it is rusty and archaic, that sword remains deadly. 

I am calling out myself on using the phrase "faithfully agree to disagree." 
We just don't have that kind of time.

Mrs. Robertson continues...
"We thought we understood the magnitude of the sacrifice that we -- and God -- were asking for. And this sacrifice, we knew, would lead to an abundant life, perfect peace and eternal rewards. Ryan had always felt intensely drawn to spiritual things; He desired to please God above all else. So, for the first six years, he tried to choose Jesus. Like so many others before him, he pleaded with God to help him be attracted to girls. He memorized Scripture...
But nothing changed. God didn't answer his prayer, or ours, though we were all believing with faith that the God of the Universe, the God for whom nothing is impossible, could easily make Ryan straight. But He did not."
We are watching too many people flee our churches because we offer no sanctuary.  
We are watching as children are baptized and told they are loved no matter what... and then later on in life told about the caveats that apply.
We are watching as parents and families and children and teenagers try to do what is right in "God's" eyes forgetting that God called us specifically to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.

We have to talk about this because young people like Mrs. Robertson's son are unable to find peace when they try to live a lie - that they are not gay. In Ryan's case, he turned to drugs for the fleeting peace they gave him.

We have to talk about this because as one colleague wrote in regard to this article: 
bad exegesis kills.

How do we continue the conversation?


Martha Spong said...

Ready here.

jledmiston said...

This too should be on a t-shirt:


Gord said...

And most important we need to have the discussion BEFORE it is an active issue in our midst. Not reactively but proactively, not because it didn't go away when we ignored it but because it is a part of life.

altar ego said...

There are so many painful stories. There is so much pain. Judgment is cruel, and I fear it is the veil of fear that, in a contradictory sense, protects us. When we set aside fear we risk a kind of exile from everything we understood about ourselves, our story, our community, our family... It is a bold, bold risk to set aside fear, and a harrowing journey to shirk it with every step. Love is the only thing I know that can penetrate fear, but even love is risky. And now matter how much we trust God, believe in the divine power to restore, heal, transform, redeem and lead us to peace, it is all a precarious balance. Life is so hard. Life without love is impossible.

RevHRod said...

Hey KJ!
Last year was a challenge with students who had beliefs on every point on the spectrum. Your words are helpful and affirming of what I know and believe. May have to reread them several times this Fall. :-)


Mary Beth said...

It's a conversation we **must** have. I remember about 20 years ago my diocese and parish in The Episcopal Church ran a series of Listening Groups around Human Sexuality (what that meant then was gay issues). It was very scary to sit in carefully planned small groups, facilitated by professional counselors, and discuss these issues. The pain and fear were palpable; I still carry the memories in my body today....but oh, what worthwhile pain! And what it has done to bring me to where I am today. And, that was just a drop in the bucket toward what needs to be done.

Similar to physical exercise, which hurts at the time but brings greater health, flexibility, and joy...this is work we MUST do.

LutheranChik said...

Our congregation has for years been skirting the sexuality issue -- my partner and I, who have never hid the nature of our relationship, have both had leadership roles in the church without any negative feedback from the congregation, but it's never been an explicit topic of a sermon or study or pastoral letter or anything. In fact, several years ago when our church body directed individual congregations to promote discussions about our sexuality statements and policies, our church didn't participate; didn't even mention the churchwide discussion of the issue. My pastor's assertion has always been that actions speak louder than words, that "Things work better around here when people aren't fighting about theology" and that our congregation has had an uncanny tendency to come out ahead of the game precisely by approaching change in a low-key, go-it-alone way without involving itself in the larger conversations of the Church. And I must say that on the surface that's worked well for my partner and me. And yet I know -- I know from listening and from observing -- that there is latent homophobia and misogyny in some of our households, that we have a good number of new members who have come from other church backgrounds with more literalist methods of biblical interpretation, who are maybe culturally closer to the local Baptist or Pentecostal conregations than to our mainline-denomiational church culture...I think there's a lot of sociopolitical stuff roiling around in the background of our outwardly inclusive and laid-back community. Our pastor is also retiring at the end of the summer, and judging from my past experience with congregations going through the call and interim processes some of these unspoken resentments/disagreements/misunderstandings are going to make themselves known. I'm really conflicted about my response to all of this, especially since my partner and I have been researching other church options (for reasons other than what I call The Troubles). Part of me wants to rise to the occasion, but the conflict-avoidance part of me wants to say, "Goodbye and good luck."

Muthah+ said...

There is part of me that says I am tired of talking. But that is just me. I am definitely tired of being placed in a defensive position simply because I have been called by Church and God to serve the Church. Even though we have had LGBT clergy for some years now, it is still a way to discriminate. I'm tired of being marginalized because others refuse to look at their own sexuality and become comfortable with it.

Bishop Gene Robertson has said it best: "The Church has been wrong!" and we as Church must be willing to address the fact that like with other issues such as slavery, exclusion of the disabled, the whole teaching on LGBT is WRONG and we have to repent of it.

Sally-Lodge Teel said...

I'm ready to talk about this directly. I see silence about who God loves as violent.

Rev. Pat Raube said...

Soon I will do a funeral for a woman who, with her husband, left the church I serve when I came out. Over the years since, they have come to other funerals, community events our church hosts, and in tentative conversation with me have expressed a desire to come back to the church. Now, with the reconciliation incomplete, I have the privilege of walking with her husband as we mark what I believe to be the reconciliation God offers us all.

We have to talk about these things. Conversation was essential to my congregation's processing of my coming out. It remains essential, as we move forward in a state with marriage equality and in a denomination that has skirted the issue. The answer to your question, Kathryn, is, we must talk.

Robin said...

Great discussion.

When I interviewed for my church, I was clear about my views on sexuality issues, which sent one member of the committee reeling. He asked whether I would be willing to lead a study on the issues -- of course. But he left two months later, telling me that the problem wasn't me, but the direction of the mainline church in general. When we accepted his resignation as Lay Leader at a council/session meeting (we are Meth-Presby) in his absence, I asked if people wanted to discuss the reasons behind his departure, and was told, "It would tear the church apart."

Since then and many theological, educational, worship, and musical issues later (!), I have learned that the aforesaid leader tried to get a motion passed that the church would refuse to honor the PC(USA) on ordination standards, been told that "of course we welcome everyone to our church; we just don't want 'them' in leadership; and been told that "our previous pastors have been more experienced than you and have kept their views to themselves."

It is a long and very slow road, this movement of building trust toward more pro-active conversation. Yes, we need conversation. But so far I think there are still many people in shock at having encountered a Christian pastor who supports gay ordination and marriage, does not believe that Muslims are going to hell or that the Bible should be taken literally, and yet loves them and visits them in hospitals all over the state and presides over beautiful funerals and hangs out with the entire county at their (our) pancake breakfasts. They have no idea what to make of such a person.

When I "returned" to church in my late 20s, after a sophisticated religious education in high school, I was quite disconcerted to discover the "Dr" pastor of our 2000-member church located in a highly educated community preaching as if the past 150 years of Biblical scholarship had never happened. Now I get it -- the landslide will really bring you down if you so much as hint that the church of 1950 was not the one Jesus had in mind.

I am so glad to see this conversation launched, because I really have no idea how to proceed.