By Mark Poindexter
Taped to the top of a cabinet setting next to my desk is a quote that has been with me throughout my ministry. I do not know its origin and I have forgotten when I first came across it. I know I have had it around for quite a while and it means a great deal to me. The quote is this, “One of the best gifts for a critical mind and a living tradition is the gift of a new question.” Both as a believer and as a pastor, I have come to understand that questions are one of the most important aspects of the life of faith. I heard one of my professors, Clark Williamson, say this about questions, “Think about it: It is the questions we ask that unite us, but too often the answers we give that divide us.”
One of the things that I have sought to do in the congregations I serve is to help folks to understand the important role questions play in the development of our faith. I think that often church members believe asking questions is equated with being unfaithful. But I try to assure them by pointing out that Jesus told us to “ask , , , seek . . . knock.”
In the congregation I presently serve I did a summer sermon series based on questions people submitted to me. The series lasted throughout the summer and went into the fall. The questions included, “How do we feel God’s presence with us?” “What role does anger play in our faith?” and “Will our pets be with us in heaven?” This last question gave me the opportunity to talk about God’s love for the whole of creation and that all of creation shares in the struggle for God’s realm. There was also a question about our children, “How do we teach our children right from wrong if we are to accept all lifestyles? I understand not judging, but how do we teach them to make good decisions?” Though it was not planned this way, this question was dealt with on the day that we began our 40-day Light a Candle for Children Prayer vigil which ends with a time of blessing for all our children as part of the ecumenical celebration of Children’s Sabbath.
The sermon dealing with this question had three parts, the first part was about our responsibility as adults to show our children how to make good decisions by seeking to make good decisions ourselves – decisions rooted in grace and love, decisions which allow us to become involved in making our community and world a better place. The final part of the sermon dealt with what I consider the most important relational element we can have with our children, unconditional love. I used the story of the father and two sons highlighting the fact that maybe the reason the younger son knew he could come home after all his was wayward living was because he knew at home there was someone who loved him.
In the middle part of the sermon I dealt with the phrase “different lifestyles.” I mentioned that this is often the way people refer to those who are gay and lesbian and without saying gay and lesbian. I also mentioned that it was time, even past time, for the church to talk about this matter in a reasonable and respectful way. Since virtually our entire culture is engaged in this conversation in one way or another, it is irresponsible for the church not to be engaged in the conversation. To avoid the conversation because it is uncomfortable for some people is to render the church irrelevant to this day and age . . . and our children, their families, our communities and our world need a church that is relevant (Our congregation has had two very specific opportunities to share with each other about this matter with about ¼ of the membership taking part. Though there was a wide range of perspectives, it was agreed by all that the church should be a place of welcoming love for all.) I reviewed for the congregation the more open and inclusive perspective that many denominations are now taking toward same-gendered relationships and also acknowledged that it is not the perspective held by all. I also mentioned the decisions that stand before our denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) at both the regional and general levels. I stated that the acceptance of committed, loving same-gendered relationships within the church is not a slippery slope leading to anything goes, that there are always some things outside the Christian norm. A heart rooted in hate and vengeance, intent on destroying others can never be condoned by the church. Racism, in which some people are looked down upon simply because of the color of their skin, can never be accepted by the church, and when it has been the church has failed. Silence in the face of injustice and living selfishly, not concerned for the well-being of others, is not an acceptable practice in the Christian life. What then do we teach our children? We teach them kindness and grace. We teach them that life is complex and we don’t know everyone’s story so we should practice patience and understanding. Ultimately, we should teach our children what Jesus taught to treat others as we wish to be treated.
We had several visitors in church that day, one of whom was there with her husband and two children. She lingered after worship and was talking to our associate pastor and then she came up to me. I recognized her because she had been in church a time or two before. She asked “Can I speak to you for a minute?’ I said, “Sure.” She said, “My husband and I were both raised in a very conservative church . . .” I thought “Uh-oh.” Then she said, “We have been attending there all of our lives. We started looking for a new church a few months back because my best friend is lesbian and we just got tired of all the hate we were experiencing toward homosexual people in that congregation. They didn’t use the word hate, but it was evident in their attitude.” I said, “So what you heard this morning had a freeing effect on you?” She said, “Yes, very much so. I still don’t know what I think about all of it, but I know I love my friend and she is a good person.” I replied that in our congregation we believe that the heart of the gospel of Christ is rooted in God’s love for all and all indeed means all.
As a pastor, that exchange after worship meant a great deal to me. It all began with a quote that is taped down by my desk and which I look at every day. It helps me to remember that honest questions about important matters help to deepen our faith. On this this specific day, one person’s question about how to raise our children became the opportunity for someone else to experience an aspect of God’s grace and love that, though raised in the church, she had never experienced before.
The following week, I got an email from our visitor saying the sermon had yielded a lot of conversation at her house on Sunday afternoon. Her email also had a couple of other questions for me along with the promise that we would see them again in worship. I was glad someone had asked the question they did, because “one of the best gifts for a critical mind and a living tradition is the gift of a new question.” It’s true. I’ve experienced it.