That’s right. The ISSUE. You know, the issue dividing church congregations across America, causing us to take sides, split apart, be rent asunder. We, who are to be One in spirit, in unity, and in love, are instead many in division, in opinion, in anger and in alienation. You know, the ISSUE.
And no, I’m not talking about bad potlucks. Or boring committees. Or the quality of church tea. (But really, Lipton? Not that Lipton isn’t a fine, upstanding company, I’m sure, but that ain’t tea. Why do the coffee snobs get all the good stuff?) (I digress.) Of course, it would be great if the meeting of hundreds of interested members I attended this weekend was called to discuss the quality and quantity of our congregational family’s outreach to the poor, or whether or not we were sufficiently welcoming the lonely, broken or sick in our communities into our arms.
But no. It was called because I belong to a traditional Christian denomination (let’s say it rhymes with Shmesbryterian) that is struggling with the issue of gay and lesbian members in positions of church leadership. The meeting was called to educate and inform the congregation about denominational events on the national level, biblical background for the two major positions, and to recap the work that had been done in our congregation. Following that was an opportunity to break into small groups and be heard, to ensure that all opinions were reaching the ears of leadership.
People, I gotta tell you, lessons were learned. Because I’m a giver, and those lessons will sink in to my head better if I’m forced to write them down, I thought I’d share them with you. To be clear, this post is not my statement on the issue, nor arguments to change anyone’s mind. That is another post, if it is a post at all. These are just lessons and observations. Three of them, in honor of the 3-point sermon tradition…..plus one more because I really have four.
4. Leadership, well done, is a towering act of love. I truly do not think I have ever seen a more practical, real example of this than Sunday afternoon. I cannot imagine the time our senior pastor put into this presentation, the preparation, the planning and consideration, or the prayer. Or how many brothers and sisters in Christ prayed him to it and through it. But it was evident in every respectful, careful, and loving word he said. He was logical and emotional, respectful and firm, thorough and concise. He walked us through an issue that could have left us splintered, grieving and broken, and brought us to a meaningful position from which to cling together. I left in awe of and grateful for his leadership. I want to grow up and be just like that. But inevitably louder and a good deal more obnoxious, I am afraid.
3. That whole thing about what happens when we assume, and what it makes out of you and me? Truth. I was reminded how difficult it is when smart, thoughtful, prayerful, good people come down on radically different sides of an issue.(Side note A: If any non-Christians ever read this post, please be assured that even within my small denomination there is widespread, LOVING disagreement on this issue and many others. We are dumb humans, trying to figure it out. Side note B: If any gay or lesbian Christian or non-Christian ever reads this post, please know that my (probably not Shmesbryterian) God loves you unconditionally. Period. Not trying to be pushy. Just sayin’.)
In the listening group, I saw the fallout in difficult assumptions that came out just in my small group of 4-5 people. We represented both sides, and hurtful assumptions were made about “my” side. Assumptions are short-sided, and they are the death of good dialogue.
2. Humility will take us all a great, great distance. This was true both in the presentation (for good) and in the listening group I participated in at the end (maybe not for good). As Christ Himself did not say anything about the ISSUE in the Scriptures, we simply CANNOT be entirely sure what He would say. I know I do not want to be caught someday looking in His eyes, trying to justify what I had claimed He would say or want, or the resulting actions I took from such a claim. Please save me from that arrogance. At the very least, I think we need to hold any position with a degree of “this is the best I can do as a fallible human being and I could well have it entirely mucked up.” Such humility, liberally applied with love and mercy, would serve us all well, even when we feel the need to take a stand. (I must remind myself of this frequently, as I can wield righteous indignation with the best of them.)
My final lesson, which I think I will be pondering for a long time to come:
1. We are likely to find more of Christ, and to look more like Christ, when we CHOOSE the inherent messiness of living out our faith with people with whom we disagree. We may allow God to do a far bigger work in us when we choose to be with those with whom we differ, and argue, and struggle.
In a world that pushes us to polarize, to separate, to split into red and blue, black and white, for and against…….to choose to stay together? Oh, this is the radical choice. But if we do it the world’s way? When we separate ourselves into comfortable little camps that look like us, think like us and feel like us, we are in danger of reducing Christ to a god who merely looks like us, thinks like us and believes like us. Lord, have mercy.