“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” (Psalm. 133:1).
Of critical significance to the life of our community lately has been the discussion about sexual orientation. Douglass Boulvard Christian Church, the church I serve, has engaged in discussion at great length about we can be a part of the solution in embracing diversity, rather than the problem.
We’ve taken important steps to live into our identity as An Open and Affirming Community of Faith. Most recently, we voted as a congregation no longer to sign marriage licenses, since our LGBTQ members cannot avail themselves of the same rights. As a church and as a culture we still have many miles to walk. The only way to begin the process of healing and reconciliation is to be honest about the fact that things are not as they should be. Honesty, after all, must be the bedrock upon which we build any new foundation of trust.
To suggest that there are problems, however, is not to say that there are not a number of folks deeply concerned to see those problems addressed. It occurs to me that the LGBTQ community, in particular, feels like it has been shouting itself hoarse for some time in an attempt to raise the alarm that problems exist. Apparently, though, they feel like their cries have gone largely unheeded. How can we create an atmosphere in which people’s deepest fears and longings are heard, not as threats, but as pleas for a more equitable community? That, it seems to me, is the first hurdle we must surmount on this journey we have begun together.
I know, as I have said previously, of a considerable number of Christians who want to see the bonds of exclusion loosed once and for all. What they want to know is, “What can we do? How can we make a difference in the fight?” Now, I am aware that that can sound like just another case of liberal guilt masquerading as patriarchal philanthropy. Affluent, well-situated folks often have nothing better to do than sit around feeling guilty because we are affluent and well-situated. But, as ridiculous as it may sound, there are folks who want to change things, not merely because of some free-floating feelings of shame but because of whom they claim to serve. There really are folks who, honest to goodness, believe that their faith compels them to see everyone, regardless of race, gender, or nationality, or sexual orientation through the prism of the cross. But we are not perfect. We need some help figuring out how we can help make things better.
I know that many people think it’s unrealistic to expect that the church is the place to begin this work. The church, we must admit, has a history of being as much a part of the problem as a part of the solution. We can neither ignore that, nor should we try. No, in most people’s minds the place to begin is in the “real world.” If we could just get this fixed in our society, or if we could just insure that that inequitable practice could be stopped, we would have what we need to announce the end of homophobia. Why? Because the “real world” is where people live—not in the insular halls of religion. And what needs to be fixed is the “real world,” which the church cannot effectively change. The church is just a lot of well-meaning, but impotent folks who may care but who do not have the wherewithal to do anything of lasting significance. If we want real change, it is thought, we will have to go to city hall or to the state capitol, or to Washington. The church may be nice, but it’s irrelevant when you get right down to the hard matters of the “real world.”
And while I would be the first to admit that we need to address the systemic inequities that foster discrimination against people based on their orientation, I would like to suggest that the church has a stake in learning to live like Christ, regardless of what the rest of the world does. We need to learn to seek out those who’ve been marginalized and forgotten, and embrace them the way Christ has embraced us. Whether or not society ever sees fit to extend justice to the beleaguered (which I fervently pray it does), we must learn to speak up for justice. While we trust that making the world whole is ultimately God’s responsibility, we are still charged with the faithful pursuit of wholeness.
And we’d love to join our voice with yours to let the world know that those people who follow Jesus really mean it when we say that, through us, God continues to seek out the last, the least, the lost, and the dying. If our LGBTQ sisters and brothers face injustice, then we who love the lover of everyone need to raise our voices together to speak the truth. If you care about trying live the difficult demands of Jesus, drop me a line. I’d like to see what kinds of miracles we might be capable of together.
Maybe we don’t control the levers of power, but we serve a God who is victorious over death. And if God can conquer death, we naive fanatics believe God can conquer injustice. Maybe now is the time.
by Derek Penwell
Derek Penwell is senior pastor of Douglass Boulevard Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Louisville, Kentucky and lecturer at the University of Louisville in Religious Studies and Humanities. He is the author of articles ranging from Stone/Campbell history to aesthetic theory and the tragic emotions. He is a graduate of Great Lakes Christian College (B,R.E.), Emmanuel School of Religion (M.A.R.), Lexington Theological Seminary (M.Div. and D.Min.), and a Ph.D. in humanities at the University of Louisville. He currently blogs at The Company of the Eudaimon and on Twitter at @reseudaimon. Penwell frequently crochets Mexican serapes from the tattered remnants of repurposed 1970s tube socks.