LGBTQI

No Apologizing: A Reflection for National Coming Out Day

By Douglas Collins

One of my friends and ministers speaks a lot about feminism and her experience in seminary during a time in which women just didn’t do that sort of thing. She speaks with clarity about the many experiences she has had throughout her life in which coming out as a feminist to the Christians and coming out to the Christians as a feminist was met with rage, confusion and misunderstanding.

“Feminists are angry men-haters. Christians are bigoted, patriarchal, and blind.”

In many of our discussions, we shared similar life experiences of living with two conflicting identities that others just didn’t perceive as possible. In the midst of that frustration, she made a comment that will always stick with me. She said:

“Being a feminist Christian feels like being the child of divorced parents. There are so many Christians who have raised me to be the woman I am. They have loved me and taught me about living a life full of meaning. I’m also a woman. There have been so many women in my life who been such amazing, supportive people to me as I have grown into the person I am today. I happen to believe that women are equal to men – that women deserve all the same rights and are the same in God’s eyes as all humans are on this earth.”

I too, feel like the child of parents who went through a nasty divorce. Both of them love me so much and I could never choose one over the other. I find myself in a grand scheme of misunderstanding: accusations upon accusations both rooted in the same claim – that one side is more righteous than the other. One parent has got it right, and the other is a self-centered idiot. We live in a world in which coming out as who you really are, in any respect, is just hard. It’s possibly the hardest thing we humans do while we’re alive. Not just gay, or Christian, or woman, or feminist, but coming out of any closet. It’s the age old question: who am I and what am I supposed to do on this earth? It makes me wonder how many people trudge through life just trying to survive, hiding a piece about themselves for fear of being attacked or persecuted by the people they love the most. Where is God in that anyway?


Dear lover, wherever you are,
If you’re there, if you’re reading this, I’ve got some news for you. I’m a Christian and I’m gay. I am a person who finds men to be physically, emotionally, and spiritually attractive. I don’t know why. I just am. No, I won’t sleep with you tonight. I’m not interested in FWB or telling you if I’m DDF or HWP or into poppers or 420 or whether or not I’m circumcised. If that’s all you want to know, I want to know more about your story. As a Christian, it saddens me to hear that you want to know whether I’m a top or a bottom instead of getting to know that I’m a jazz pianist, or that I have a passion for graphic design and making people laugh. I believe God made me to be who I am. I hope you do too.

Dear Christians,
I’m gay. If you care to know, I may disagree with you theologically. We may have different images of the Christ and we may just not have the same conclusions about what God wants us to do. You may think I’m going to hell and that I’m just a perverse sinner who refuses to look past my sexual desires in order to better glorify God. Yeah, it hurts people when you say things like that. It’s the reason children grow up in churches and kill themselves every year. It’s also the reason that it is still somehow a huge “scandal” every time a famous athlete or politician comes out because s/he is sick and tired of giving in to society’s norms, and more often than not, the church’s status quo. Where is God in that? Where is the church?

My dear brothers and sisters,
Among the spectrum of sexuality and race and creed and nationality and physical appearance, there is nothing I want more than to work as hard as possible to accept you for who you are. Why? Because I am sick and tired of living a life of apologies for who I am. I am sick of staying silent during a sermon of ridiculous condemnation, or whenever I’m at a wedding and the pastor finds some reason to slip in their sermon that God only consecrates one man and one woman. I’m sick of trying to explain to everyone who I think God is and why I do and believe the things I do. I’m tired of trying to both have a conviction for my faith which calls me to do justice and to walk humbly, while on the other hand, affirm and share with others that I also have doubts and that that doesn’t mean I’m a total moron or that I think I should just give up on religion altogether because it’s only for those who can’t seem to find a moral compass elsewhere. I believe that God is more complicated than that. I am longing for the day when I don’t have to find some crafty way of slipping something into my online dating profile about how I’m “spiritual” or “open to religious ideas” so long as it doesn’t “define who I am.”     Let me tell you something – the faith I put into the way I live in relationship with God, the one in whom I am free to explore my whole being and wrestle with the big ideas is who I am.

Dear Mom and Dad, or Dad and Dad, or Mom and Mom, or human and human,
Please, get over yourself. Stop fighting. It hurts my soul. It makes me feel like I’m the reason you split up. Your angry accusations and shouting matches about who cheated on whom and who gets the kids and how awful and wrong each other is tells me that you care more about convicting and slandering each other than learning how to forgive and reconcile your differences for the family. You know those times when it’s just you and me out on the boat or cooking together and you make some snide remark about how “your father” or “your mother” is just full of crap? That makes me furious. It makes me want to leave you forever because you think I can just cut out one of the people who loved me and raised me and taught me to care for myself and others just like you did.

Parents have the capacity to abuse their children. They can say the most rotten, horrible things ever. They also have the ability to find a new way and to live in harmony, at least for the sake of the kids.

Don't give up on the work for justice

By Rev. Mindi

As I write this, late on Saturday night after the verdict has been read for the George Zimmerman trial, I’m overwhelmed with emotion.  Sadness for Trayvon Martin’s parents and friends. Grief that our court system failed, once again. Anger that an unarmed teen was killed, for no reason other than he was perceived as a threat because he was black and was wearing a hood. Frustration that racism is alive and well and even more flustered that so many in the United States don’t believe racism exists.

A boy is dead. And there is nothing that can change that. Not even a guilty verdict could have changed that.

I believe, and hope, that most of us Christians would not want retribution against George Zimmerman. God’s justice is not about retribution but restoration. An acknowledgement that racism is prevalent. An understanding that racial profile is real. A push to change our patterns of suspicion. And work to end unjust laws such as Stand Your Ground that allow for someone to shoot and kill another person who is unarmed, who is only perceived as a threat.

But we can’t give up hope just yet. We can’t just pray for the Martins in our prayers and not do anything as the church. We have a voice. We have power that can be used to speak out for justice.

We can work to change unjust laws. The “Stand Your Ground” laws are designed for people to be able to defend themselves on their own property. When they are expanded beyond that, we end up with people taking matters into their own hands, such as George Zimmerman following and then shooting an unarmed teenager instead of waiting for police, or, in an infamous case near my hometown in Alaska, people who had committed a crime who were running away were shot in the back and the shooter was also found not guilty. We can work to change “Stand Your Ground” laws in restricting how they are applied.

We can work to change our cultural attitudes. In our congregations, we must begin preaching against the violence in our culture, the attitude that says live in fear and carry a gun everywhere, the attitude that says everyone who looks different might be a threat, the attitude that violence is the only answer.  We have to work on teaching nonviolence as the way of Jesus, as integral to our faith as our baptism, our communion, our Bible study, our worship. Nonviolence is the way of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

We have to talk seriously about racism. We are not in a post-racial society, not even with a black president. Black men are still profiled regularly, not only by authorities but by everyday people.  I hear racism even in church circles. We have to speak out and stop the stereotypes, stop the profiling that happens. And we have to talk about the fact that we live in a white privileged society, that white women and men will not be suspected of wrongdoing most of the time. We have to talk about the mass incarceration that is occurring of young black men (and I highly recommend purchasing and reading The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness). We need to talk about race especially in our Euro-American congregations, even when we don’t want to, because we have to acknowledge and recognize our privilege. When only white faces on TV talk about how justice is served, while our prisons are full of young black men, we have to have this conversation.

We have to continue the work for civil rights for all people. While we work for equality for LGBTQI folks, while we work for inclusion for disabled folks, we also have to continue to work for equality, inclusion and justice for people of all races and cultures. We have to work for immigration reform. And we must not give up or assume the fight is over for civil rights for people of color.

I will dare to say it is evil that wants us to believe we are color blind. It is evil that wants us to believe everyone is on equal footing in this society. It is a systemic evil, rooted in our sins of the past that we have never fully repented of, that continues to make white people afraid of black people, that continues to profile young black men and continues to say violence is an appropriate response, especially against black people. We have to repent of this evil, and we have to change, and we have to talk about this in our churches.

Do not forget Trayvon Martin. And do not hate George Zimmerman. Instead of hate, let us use righteous anger to work towards justice. Let us use anger and frustration with the repetitions of sins of the past to repent and work for justice and true equality, in the nonviolent ways of the Prince of Peace, who stood for justice and nonviolence even at the most violent cross of capital punishment.  But please do not let our justice be only passive conversation. Let it be active change, in each of us, in our congregations, and in our communities. This time, let us not give up.

Exploring Theology of Disability for LGBTQI Advocates

By J.C. Mitchell

I am looking forward to the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  I am not very excited that I have to travel from Seattle to Orlando, but traveling alone I will get a lot of reading completed.  I am already creating my list of books I need to know, since I have not figured out osmosis, not from due from the lack of trying to sleep with a book on my chest.  I have a long list but you are welcome to add to the list as well, if you will seriously take this book I just read on your own list.

The book is The Bible, Disability, and the Church; A New Vision of the People of God, by Amos Yong.    In a sentence it is a book that carefully creates a Biblical hermeneutics of suspicion of the presumed ableist perspective.  I believe his method is commendable, especially by admitting in the preface that through thanking Kerry Wynn, “[…] to how deeply I myself was mired in a normate (able-bodied) worldview, and irony indeed […]” (xi),  There were a few places where I may have disagreed; for example, I uphold only the authentic Pauline writings and Yong is fine with all traditionally attributed to Paul.  You would imagine some differences between a Pentecostal Scholar who was born in Malaysia, and a Disciples Minister raised in New England, and that is partly why I recommend this book, because so many of the recent books I have read have been people of European decent. 

Some of you may know that the theology of Disability has been pivotal to my theology and it became very personal, as my son lives with autism and is very limited in communication.  However, I write this book review for those that are allies of LGBTQI persons, for I know those working with the theology of disability is quite aware of Yong’s work.  (I confess I was delayed in reading this 2011 work, but as I admitted, my reading list is long).  I do not know where Yong stands on the issues of LGBTQI, and I started looking for such information, but then realized that the truth I know and the truth I read will not be affected by his stated beliefs elsewhere.  Yes it may be harmful and even wrong, but we cannot only read theology of only those we agree with entirely.

The importance of this work is how Yong handles the scriptures that are and have traditionally been read to marginalize and oppress people with disabilities.  This is of course an issue for the LGBTQI community as well, but truly with less problematic scriptures.  For instance, Jesus says nothing about homosexuality, but the healing passages have been often used against people with disabilities.  And let me note that it happens by conservatives and liberals alike, but the normate worldview blinds one from their insensitive readings of scriptures.  Therefore, I believe seeing how a careful reading that is aware of the able-bodied assumptions will help LGBTQI advocates to do the same with the few scriptures used for oppression.

Not only is it important to be able to deal with the scriptures, but what I really believe people will get from  LGBTQI advocates reading this is how our normate (able-bodied) worldview influences our reading of the scriptures and thus our theology.  By exploring this assumption, it will help in explaining the assumptions of those that have been influenced by hetero-centric assumptions, while learning about another population that needs liberation. 

[T]here is nothing intrinsically wrong with the lives of people with disabilities, that it is not they who need to be cured, but we, the non-disabled, who need to be saved from our discriminatory attitudes and practices, and that people with disabilities should be accepted and honored just as they are. (118)

Go ahead and replace the words disabilities and non-disabled as you want, but know also by admitting you have been influenced by the normate worldview, as both I and Yong are also not immune, will help us all understand how to love the other and include everyone. 

Amos Yong Book On Rainbow Flag.jpg

Work Cited:

Yong, Amos. The Bible, Disability, and the Church; A New Vision of the People of God.  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; 2011. 

SCOTUS Decisions—Reflections Part 2

By Rev. Mindi

This morning on the West Coast I quickly turned to the news at 7 a.m. just in time for the breaking news to be revealed that DOMA had been struck down, and in the revealing of the decision and the minority opinion it was clear that Prop 8 would also be struck down.

I rejoice in that there is no federal reason for denying people the right to marry or to deny benefits for certain types of marriages. However, the ruling leaves it still up to states to pass equal marriage laws.

As many have already noted, if one really is for civil rights, for human rights—we cannot rejoice fully. Voting rights have been restricted; Euro-American cultural values have been valued as the norm; we still do not acknowledge the T in LGBT. Trans rights are often ignored or scoffed at, though there are currently several court cases for trans teens fighting for their rights in state courts. Teenagers are the ones speaking out for their own rights because teachers and administrators have failed to do so.  And as a parent of a child with special needs, even though we have had the IDEA act renewed in 2004, we find our rights and our son’s rights violated everywhere we turn in the public school system. And we are Euro-American—add in other cultural differences and different languages, and we find that even Supreme Court rulings do not guarantee rights for all will be granted.

As people of faith, we must lead the way on human rights. We must listen to the minority voices in our congregations and beyond in our communities, and work for justice for all. It’s easy to take a quick look at one’s congregation and see some of the issues they face, whether it’s the right to marry, the right to receive disability benefits, the right to get a driver’s license; it’s much harder to know whose rights are violated with the lack of a comprehensive immigration law, who doesn’t have access to adequate health care, and other rights that may be violated or ignored. If we assume a certain issue does not apply to our congregation so we can ignore it or evade it, we are failing the community at large.

Vision and Branding

By Rev. Mindi

I had a really awesome talk with a local advertising agent for our local news blog just this morning (Monday as I write this) and it has me thinking that we in the church still are so, so far behind in so many ways.

We are so good in the church about saying “We are not a business.”  But then we go and act like a business with a board that runs like a corporation and congregational leaders that act like CEO’s.   We draw up budgets and we crunch the numbers. We put resources into staff positions and maintenance and cut outreach and education and mission. We get smaller and smaller and so we cut all “non-essential” budget items like continuing education and health insurance, cut salaries and positions down to half-time or less, and finally, we are left with nothing to cut and we close. We are a failed corporation.

That’s where our problem is: we say we are not a business, but then we act like big business.  Rather, we have a lot to learn from small businesses (and yes, not every business is the same, not every small business is the same).  Many new start-up small businesses are based on a passion, a dream, that is driving the business: a vision. Many people start up their own business because they love doing what they are doing and dream about doing it, whether it be a restaurant or a bakery or a used book store, a consulting firm or jewelry shop, just to name a few of the small businesses in our town on one street. But here’s the thing: they are local, and they begin with a dream, a vision.

They also have to compete with the big box stores or big firms or big chain restaurants, but don’t worry too much about the competition from them because they are local, they offer personal service, they don’t mind you taking time and they will take time for you when it comes to making decisions on purchases or transactions of services.  Of course, the church is not a place where we exchange money for services, but the personal service, the attention to detail, and the time given for decision making are all good aspects we can take into the church, on top of the notion of dreams and passion: a vision that moves people forward.

Now here is where branding comes into play. I know of a church whose slogan on its sign is “Something For Everyone.”  Except it doesn’t really offer something for everyone and if it did offer something for everyone, I would expect it to be much, much larger than it is. Even my current church is using a slogan that is a bit too broad and too open for interpretation.  We do this all the time in smaller churches that want to grow: we don’t want to limit our possible outreach, we don’t want to say no to anyone who comes in, so we try to say “yes” to everyone. The truth is we can’t be all things to all people.

So that’s where my talk with the advertising agent comes in. She (an active member of another church) told me something I’ve known for a while: you have to brand yourself.  That’s the marketing term: branding.  What is it that makes you stand out, what makes you unique?

Translation for the church: What is your vision? How do you make your vision known?

I have been leading my church in a vision process for the past six months, and I led my previous congregation in a similar process.  First, we looked back at our past. We had a day where we shared memories by the decades (I started with the 1950’s but people had memories further back than that). We wrote them down on big sheets of paper, decade by decade. What was it that brought you to church way back when? What was fun? What was exciting? What made you want to keep coming back? We wrote it all down and then put it up the next Sunday for everyone to look at, and fill in a memory if they weren’t there or had remembered something later.  We talked about our memories. More specifically, we talked about the feelings we had, and we talked about the movement of the Spirit in the life of the church. The conversation turned from “what we used to do” or “how we used to do it” to “what was it that helped us feel alive, engaged with God, in relationship with Jesus, moved by the Spirit,” etc. 

The next month we talked about what was important to us, as individuals and as a church (this part is core to the vision process—what is it that we value?)  The following month, we talked about what we were ready to let go of—past assumptions, long announcements, etc. This is a time for venting the negative energy, the things that we do but we don’t know why we do them.  The next gathering we focused on the three core parts of the vision process: Values, Words, Actions. We’d already done the Values part, now we focused on what it was that we said about ourselves and what it was that we did. Do our words, actions and values line up with who we say we are, or is there is a disconnect? 

We’re nearing the end of this part of the process: we are going to be forming a vision statement.  A vision statement is not the be-all and end-all of the process, but it helps point the way. This vision statement will say something about who we are, who we want to be, and how we are being. This statement will go with our church logo, will go on our website, will be the branding that we use. 

For churches, I think (or would hope) that it is less about competition and more about saying who we are to those that don’t know us, and at the same time, reminding us of who we are and where we are going.  Habakkuk 2:2 says “Write the vision… make it plain so that a runner may read it.”  In other words, keep it short, make it easy to know, make it something that everyone can memorize and recite to those who want to know about who you are.

Lastly, so you don’t fall into the trap of “Something for Everyone,” be a little more specific. If you are Open and Affirming or Welcoming and Affirming, say it. Put a rainbow flag up, or a handicap accessible sign, or an Autism puzzle piece on your logo, or something else that symbolizes you are welcoming, open and affirming to a specific population. That doesn’t mean you’re not open and affirming of typically developing children, straight people, or people who don’t use a wheelchair! But it lets people know that your congregation thinks about these things and is concerned about the inclusion of others.  Most of us don’t want to limit ourselves so we either say nothing, or have a very, very long non-discrimination or inclusion statement.  The statements are great—and should be on your website and your welcoming information. But your vision statement, your branding, your logo, your identity statement—however you want to put it—should be shorter, something everyone can memorize and recite, and needs to contain something that makes people say “If they welcome these people, they probably welcome others as well.”  

So as I said, my current church is still in the process. We haven’t gotten there yet. But I’m very hopeful about the process and where we are going, and through this process, we are recognizing our need to be more specific in our welcome and inclusion of others. We are learning that we need to share our dreams, our passion, through the process of vision, remembering the spirit that once filled us before, and we are finding that spirit again. We are also learning more about who we are as individuals, and how we welcome one another is integral to our church.  The spirit is still there, and in the words of Habakkuk, there is still a vision for the appointed time.

Father's Day Dreams of Dance

I have so many dreams for my son: theologian and New Testament scholar are on the list as well as swimmer and ballet dancer.  The first two are because that’s the family business, since my wife and I are both ministers.  The swimmer is because he loves the water and he has flippers for feet.  The dancer is because he loves music and loves to dance, and spends hours in front of his reflection trying to get the choreography (sometimes his own) just right.  To be completely honest, I am also a very big fan of the ballet, not that I ever was a dancer, but I like to dance.

I was pondering these dreams for my son as I rode my motorcycle to a clergy gathering, and then pondered how the ballet dancer has something to say about the role of clergy.  As an ordained minister I am constantly reading and discussing the Bible and theology-- it is my vocation, just as a dancer lives and breathes dance.  Good dancers train and have great discipline, as do good clergy.

I want to be clear that the art form of ballet is not the same mission as the church.  It is quite different, yet the art of dance is something we all should do in some form.  We do have professionals that give their whole life for the performances.  Many of are influenced by music and great themes within humanity, and some even by the Bible.  To this day, my favorite interpretation of Luke 15:11-32, “The Forgiving Father” was created by George Balanchine with the music by Sergei Prokofiev and titled the “The Prodigal Son.”

As a fan that is moved by such powerful performances by the dancers and choreographers, I am influenced to dance in my own life as well, to read body language and to move to the music, all of which is important to life.  I would be so proud if my son became a ballet dancer.

Without these professional artists we would not have the great performances that remind us of the great beauty of the human body and music.  That is one role of the clergy.  We are to demonstrate the beauty of the divine--but I do not simply mean during worship, as if it is a performance.  While I am pretty proud of my latest sermon and worship service, my greatest work last week was being with a woman who died with her family and friends surrounding her.

I was present and demonstrated love of God, mainly with the help of the Spirit, but my words and stance help me open to the Spirit: it is a dance. I must admit these pastoral moments are very emotional and very difficult, and the more I experience and even practice for such events the more graceful I become.

I think of the dancer’s pointe shoes.  The first time, she (or he, but usually a woman) wears pointe shoes, the pain is probably the only thing she feels.  Slowly it becomes part of them and they are able to dance and experience the grace and movement greater than the pain.

As ministers (laity and ordained) we are called to demonstrate the Grace of God despite the pain of life and death. I can picture the “Father” God of Luke 15 dancing to his son, the same God at the table where everyone is invited. Our ministry must be on pointe, that we need to show grace and affirmation to everyone, which includes the LGBTIQ community, for the church has caused much pain, stayed silent to many deaths.  We need to move beyond casually observing to actively participating in the dance, and to participate means to include everyone.   It may be painful for the clergy to say this (we may be afraid of losing membership, financial contributions, or other fears) but we must lead the church to the Grace of the Table, now.

My dream is to see my son dance.

When Prayer Is Not Enough

This post by Joel Engman originally appeared at joelengmen.com. Yesterday I watched a few news organizations cover the story of president Obama coming out in favor of Gay Marriage. One story I was watching shared a quote from President Obama’s book:

He says in his 2006 book The Audacity of Hope that “It is my obligation, not only as an elected official in a pluralistic society but also as a Christian, to remain open to the possibility that my unwillingness to support gay marriage is misguided…and that in years hence I may be seen as someone who was on the wrong side of history.”

In m own career as a pastor I have seen the denomination I serve (the CCDOC) and the church I serve decide to ‘prayerfully discern’ their stance on this and other issues that have the potential to divide. While I support prayerful discernment wholeheartedly I wonder at what point ‘prayerful discernment’ becomes a cop-out for doing the right thing in a difficult situation.

When is prayer no longer enough?

A colleague and friend of mine has recently been interviewing for church positions and was asked what I think may be the best church interview question I have ever heard: ‘Using the image of Jesus in the temple, what would you be willing to turn over the table in the temple for?’

Jesus certainly was a model for ‘prayerful discernment’ but He was also a model of action in difficult circumstances. Jesus certainly took time to pray as a first reaction to difficult circumstances, but prayer was not his only tool. He taught, spoke up, had compassion, lived alongside, and expanded the kingdom in His every action and word.

I hope that more often than not I speak up even when its hard. I hope that while I prayerfully discern I also remember that Jesus was ‘action.’ From that prayerful center comes a burning desire to follow the heart of Christ into battle for the least of these among us, for the right/ethical thing, for the compassionate thing and for what brings healing to our broken world.

My answer to that question:

Treating people with respect, not using power to manipulate and control, having high ethical standards in working with people’s money, time, secrets, and passions, standing with those who have no voice, caring for the ones among us who need a voice, and making sure that message is passed onto the next generation are the things I would be willing to turn over the tables for. I hope in doing so I will be on the right side of history when I look back.

Love Always Wins.

Obama's Announcement and What It Means for "Liberal" Christians

This is something that, you know, we’ve talked about over the years and she, you know, she feels the same way, she feels the same way that I do. And that is that, in the end the values that I care most deeply about and she cares most deeply about is how we treat other people and, I, you know, we are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others.

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But, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I’ll be as a as a dad and a husband and hopefully the better I’ll be as president.

~Pres. Barack Obama

That President Obama’s announcement of his support of marriage equality for LGBTQI people was met with consternation by many in popular Christianity shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. That his “brand” of Christianity fails to be persuasive to a portion of the Christian world should surprise no one either. It is common to dismiss anyone who supports hospitality to those created LGBTQI by God as deluded (at best) and evil (at worst).

What I continue to find troubling, though, is the extent to which people who oppose marriage equality maintain that any support of it by those who call themselves Christian is some kind of hermeneutical dodge. The working assumption seems to be that if you fail to employ some form of traditionally conservative interpretive schema, you can’t reasonably expect to call yourself Christian. Because everybody knows that “liberals” don’t actually believe anything important about God or the Bible or following Jesus; they’re just trying to baptize their godless agenda and impose it upon the unsuspecting majority of real Christians.1 What many people apparently find too difficult to fathom, however, is that some people—among whom I take President Obama to be one—hold these “liberal” positions not in spite of but because of their commitment to following Jesus.

On a “liberal” reading of scripture, “loving one’s neighbor” isn’t a frothy placeholder for moral action nobody cares much more about than to feel it deeply in the heart; it is the very thing of which moral action is an embodiment. Put more simply, to progressive Christians “love” isn’t so much something you “feel” about God or another person, but a way of life that seeks to demonstrate its own authenticity by seeking justice and peace for those kicked to the margins by the powerful—which is to say, by seeking to love those whom God loves, but for whom love in this world is often illusory.

The greater (and more damning) criticism of “liberal” Christians is not that they don’t believe the Bible, but that they don’t live up to their claims about “justice” and “peace.” This is a real danger in progressive Christianity. Talking about justice and peace, without actually going to the trouble to see it realized rightfully leads to charges of hypocrisy—that is, failing to walk the walk.

In President Obama’s case, however, the criticism has for some time been reversed: His words about justice and peace for LGBTQI people weren’t matched by his deeds (e.g., refusing to uphold DOMA, doing away with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, etc.). His failure, according to his critics, was in not being willing to “talk the talk.” In other words, people from both ends of the spectrum were inveighing against him for failing to say in words what he was already doing in practice—a perhaps rarer, but no less damning criticism.

Since I don’t hear the you’ve-also-got-to-talk-the-talk line of argument very often, it got me to thinking about denominational officials, who privately will offer reassurances that they are in support of affirming the full inclusion of LGBTQI folk in the life of the church, but who publicly find it difficult to articulate that support. I understand why taking a stand publicly in support of a controversial issue presents all manner of political land mines, and it makes a certain amount of sense when politicians hesitate to do it. Even religious officials must weigh the political costs of taking, what we religious types call, a “prophetic stance.” But whereas in the case of our political leaders (to our shame, I would argue) we tend to expect political calculations to trump the integrity of personal convictions, one would hope that we haven’t yet reached that level of cynicism about our religious leaders.

Is it to be the case once again that the church can’t quite get its theology straight until the culture shows it the way? Because, let’s not fool ourselves, inclusion is the way things are inexorably headed.

The upshot of it all? If David Kinnaman is right, as Rachel Held Evans deftly points out, what our continued silence risks is the better part of a whole generation coming to the conclusion that they can find better ways to spend their time because they believe the church and its leadership to be “anti-homosexual”. And while I realize that speaking openly about support for our LGBTQI brothers and sisters carries its own risks, I think—like President Obama, it would appear—that silence is a risk no longer worth taking the.


  1. I know that description may sound like an exaggeration of a seriously held position, dear reader, but in my own defense, you haven’t read the kind of correspondence I receive. I do know that there are serious people who disagree with me about the issue of biblical interpretation, but they don’t seem to have maintained good relations with the gatekeepers of the interwebz—since their voices are routinely drowned out by that seemingly professional class of the perpetually aggrieved. ↩

Become You (Psalm 139)

Sermon Preached at Tuesday Chapel at Methodist Theological School in Ohio as part of a three week series entitled “Silent No More” shaped around a re-kick-off of their Gay-Straight-Alliance November 8, 2011 by Rev. Audrey Connor (audreyinlynchburg.blogspot.com)

“Become You”

Psalm 139

I am not sure of all of the dialogue that went into coordinating all of the worships and speakers this week on campus... perhaps in some conversations, I might have overheard

Is-this-really-an-issue?

What-if-the-alums-get-upset?

Shouldn't we leave this for-individual-churches-and-denominations-to-fight out?

Why trouble the campus with this topic?

Why-are-we-making-people-issues-anyway?

Why-haven't-we-done-this-earlier?

This-is-not-the-time-in-the-seminary-to-tackle-such-a-thing-we-need-to-think-about...  you fill in the blank.

Talking about sexuality in church requires all of us to come out of the closet of our own prejudices, fears, questions, and uncomfortableness so that we can say together in this sacred space:

All of us are created in God's image – no matter our sexuality or identities.

Dan Savage does not have a “lock” on the idea in his “it gets better” campaign.

We are also here is because one of the main perpetrators of hate speech against lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, and questioning people (LGBTIQQ) comes from us: our religious institutions.

Some of you might say:

but I am from a welcoming or open and affirming denomination

- or -

I'm open and affirming

- or -

or my church is special.

This isn't my problem – it is THEIR problem....

We all sit here together in a world rampant with homophobia. With suicides on the rise in the LGBTIQQ community, the institution of marriage still blocked here in Ohio, in a world where to be gay is okay as long as you sing and dance and make us laugh and not point to the sad injustices that exist in our world.

All of us sit here together.

Unable to hide from any of it as we listen to this psalm this morning... -------------------------------------------------

You know when we sit down and when we rise up;

  you discern our thoughts from far away.

You search out my path and my lying down,

  and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue,

  O Lord, you know it completely. (Psalm 139:1-4)

For me, I am here after a long time of hiding -      Thinking I could evade myself -      or that I could evade god.

C.S. Lewis likened following God’s call to a man in a boat who is rowing seemingly in circles. It is when he sees an arrow and follows it that he has what we might call a “born again” experience.  Lewis makes clear that first arrow is important, but it is not the last. After that first arrow, there are more arrows given that the person in the boat must continue to look for and follow.

One of the first significant arrows in my life was in the decision to enter divinity school. It led in a fantastic experience where I was also able to see many more arrows along my journey.

My first time coming to a seminary happened when I was about five or six. After working with youth at Northwest Christian Church in Columbus, my mom decided to take a couple of classes here at Methesco to be a better youth minister. She realized God had different ideas for her after a semester or so and was soon a full-time student and then ordained into ministry.

You can imagine that since I had already been to seminary with my mom = attending Peanuts plays, going to her graduation, and playing with her classmates kids (those are my main memories here!), I felt I had already been there and done that!

Ok – not entirely true, but I will say that the choice to enter seminary/divinity school was hard -- making sure I was not doing what everyone said to me: “i see you are going into the family business”....

Ack.

I did not want to follow anyone anywhere, but I did have this nudge…  And after much discernment and conversation prayer and more conversation… I ended up at Vanderbilt Divinity School – a good place for anyone still wrestling with a “nudge” from God. I fell in love with the course work, the ministries I participated in including summer missions, CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education), congregational internship, and working in a congregation abroad. The arrow to serve the church seemed bright neon after my experiences as a student in Nashville.

During my time there, I also fell in love with another woman.  I say “another” woman because she was not the first and she would not be the last.... I had found women attractive first when I was in high school. It seemed unnatural and I tamped down those inconvenient feelings and tried to stay away from women I might find attractive. Then, in college I met another woman who I felt attracted to again. Once again, a terribly inconvenient thing as the friend was very straight and I was not about to ruin that friendship. Since then, I had avoided close friendships with women. But as I began to take myself more seriously, I began to take all parts of myself more seriously – even the ones I did not want.

The psalmist writes....

You hem me in, behind and before,

  and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

  it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?

  Or where can I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there;

  if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. (Psalm 139:5-8)

Experiencing intense feelings about a woman while also living into my vocation helped me to see that those feeling were not bad. In fact, the intense love I felt was helping me to understand love between God and humanity …

Even the darkness is not dark to you;

  the night is as bright as the day,

  for darkness is as light to you. (Psalm 139:12)

And as I wrestled with the darkness, in the darkness, I began to trust those feelings.  I stopped hiding or running. Maybe this is what “normal” people experience when they fall in love, I thought. Perhaps this is not a problem.  Maybe this means I am not straight at all and that is okay....

It was a scary thing to think and even scarier thing to say aloud. I found a trusted counselor who listened without prodding or poking and then a friend who just reaffirmed her love for me... And instead of the world collapsing, I began to feel more happy and alive – not less.

Maybe this is not something to run from.

For it was you who formed my inward parts;

  you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

  Wonderful are your works; (Psalm 139:13-14a)

My frame was not hidden from you,

when I was being made in secret,

  intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.

In your book were written

  all the days that were formed for me,

  when none of them as yet existed. (Psalm 139:15-16)

When the Christian Church in Ohio ordained me into Christian ministry – three and a half years after the start of following a wonderful arrow from God at Vanderbilt, I did not have all the answers figured out but was confident God would be with me as I lived through them. I found myself on the steps of First Christian Church Bowling Green, Ohio promising to love God’s people and serve in the entrusted role of minister with the help of God.  I remember many things about that special day. One that stands out was when my mom presented a stole and said to me that she had been so fortunate in her ministry, and she hoped I had as many wonderful years in ministry in the church.

With so many amazing ministry experiences directly in my rear-view mirror, I could only see possibility and adventure in the church that raised me up and taught me how wonderful it is when you work with others for the glory of God.

I already accepted my first call as an associate minister in Knoxville, Tennessee – three hours east of my Alma Mater and close to recent grads and friends. The church hired me in large part because of my strong mission focus.  They wanted to be better at reaching out to those on their doorstep who were homeless and those in their neighborhood who were different than them.

It was not an open and affirming church, but I reasoned that I was not entirely open and affirming either…  Well - I was affirming, but not open.  I remember sharing with the senior minister, Scott Rollins, my topic for my thesis at div school: “Why the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) should become Open and Affirming” in a one on one interview.  He did not flinch.  Instead, he shared with me how he had been taking the congregation’s spiritual leaders, the elders, through our denomination’s discernment process on that issue.

I had no idea what was ahead, but all directions pointed to ministry. And all ministry I knew did not point to focusing on issues of sexuality.

….

I came out to my associate regional minister that first year in Knoxville while seeking advice about how to integrate my personal and professional life. More specifically, I wondered how to do church camp with integrity. I did not want to feel like I was putting the camp in a bad position as a lesbian pastor in a camp system that had no policy about LGBTIQQ counselors. She told me not to worry about church camp – just be myself and come!  And she offered her friendship for the journey acknowledging there were no clear answers.  “The road is made by walking, my friend,” she said.

I was outed to my senior pastor after six months in Knoxville and his response to this knowledge was a tongue lashing for not having shared earlier. Immediately, he tried setting me up with women, giving me advice on women, and be my most firm emotional and spiritual support throughout my time there.

It was these friendships and more which supported me when I wondered why I was putting myself in a situation where I needed to date in secret, when I listened to church leaders share that our church was not ready to be O&A or that homosexuality was against the bible (they were always the minority).

I could keep those people and those thoughts at a distance during that time in my life. And it worked on me.

In those four and a half years of ministry, I learned a lot about transformation in a congregation as we worked with the Center for Parish Development.  I saw small progress being made with the Tennessee Commission on Ministry for LGBTIQQ ministerial candidates going through the process as I sat on that committee – in the closet.  I worked hard at my job doing Bible studies with the homeless and members of the church, starting two annual mission trips and local missions with the church, and developing a youth and children’s program.  And I learned to spend time in retreat and prayer through a Lilly funded program for new ministries: the Bethany Fellowship. Often, I heard through prayer on those retreats a nudging from God to stop hiding.

And I chose what messages to receive from God.  And which to send back. I found myself talking back to God in silent retreats-

Not yet. This isn’t the time.

It could destroy your church

It could destroy me

It could destroy my best friend and mentor, Scott.

Not now God

Not yet.

And I waited.

And I learned.

And I listened.

How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!

  How vast is the sum of them!

I try to count them—they are more than the sand;

  I come to the end—I am still with you. (Psalm 139:17-18)

I reasoned that the church I worked for was not O&A and neither was I. The denomination of which I was part was not ready to confront issues of homophobia and neither was I.

And life kept on.

Finances for an associate minister in my church were dwindling due to no other cause but long-standing attrition and perhaps too much reliance on past savings. While I continued to grow and slowly felt myself become more and more O&A as a person, I also grew more and more discord within in my calling in Knoxville. I began interviewing for the perfect job where I could be an “out” minister and continue this vocation in the church.

And I would be patient.

Then, on Sunday, July 27th, 2008, a mentally disturbed man walked into the Unitarian Church in Knoxville with a shot-gun in his guitar case, he took it out, and began shooting people while yelling hateful things during the children’s performance of Annie.  This particular morning, I was preaching and my partner opted to hear me instead of attending her regular service at that very Unitarian church where two people were killed and several injured before a member and hero wrestled the shooter to the floor. The man with the gun, Jim Adkisson, planned on being shot by the police and left behind a manifesto that he was motivated to kill by hatred of Democrats,  liberals,  African Americans, and homosexuals.  Apparently, his food stamps had been discontinued, and he blamed the liberals for the problems with the government not working as it should.

O that you would kill the wicked, O God,

  and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—

those who speak of you maliciously,

  and lift themselves up against you for evil!

Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?

  And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?

I hate them with perfect hatred;

  I count them my enemies. (Psalm 139:19-22)

There are things that happen in life with results that we cannot see without time. I could not see it then, but this event in our community had a profound effect on me.  I remember anger surging through me for the lack of solidarity with the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. How could this tragedy not move “moderate” churches to stand in solidarity with those groups who are marginalized? Is not the entire church charged with standing with the oppressed – why is only the Unitarian Church sharing boldly with the public its love and acceptance for LGBTIQQ people (The United Church of Christ congregation too!).  Adkisson was obviously disturbed, but the literature he left behind was common place in many homes: books by Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Michael Savage. Adkisson's logic of hate as a response to social problems and his homophobia was not bizarre in a society with media that perpetuates drama, debate, and divisiveness between groups. His extreme actions were.

PAUSE

At the same time, my attempt to find a church as an “out” minister was feeling futile. The church I served loved me but did not have enough money to support me. I was ready to leave as well as I outgrew their own brand of homophobia. But where would I go?

Interview after interview pained me more and more as I tried coming out at various stages in the interview process.

I also started to reach out the local PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) chapter in Knoxville and got to know the adults who were making a real difference in the lives of LGBTIQQ youth growing into themselves. I was so impressed with these kids with more courage than I had. And I heard over and over again stories echoed by these youth. Stories of violence, fear, hatred... The more I heard, the more I understood the misguided actions of Adkisson were being repeated over and over again all around us – through bullying at school, parents kicking children out, and churches connecting all the violence against LGBTIQQ to sin of LGBTIQQ persons, and churches just being silent...my church... had been silent...

I had been silent.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

  test me and know my thoughts.

See if there is any wicked way in me,

  and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)

I waited to hear God's call when it was convenient for me. I expected the church to keep homophobia at bay so that I could have the career that I thought God wanted for me.

I had been silent.

As we gather together, celebrating new hopes here in the Methodist School in Ohio for all the church to be one and to share the good news for all people through a re-formation of a gay-straight alliance, I have nothing to share with you all but my own prayer of authenticity and hope for us – the faithful - that we might have the courage to own those places in our lives and in our churches where we continue to struggle with homophobia and that we may have the bravery to do something about it.

If you are here today because you are struggling to come out or not to come out or to go into ministry or not, know that you are not alone. There is no place you can run from God and you are fearfully and wonderfully made. While I am by no means a person with any answers, I am along for the journey. And I would be happy to walk with you.

If you are here as one preparing for the ministry in whatever congregation or denomination, know that I am not alone. We are everywhere. We are in your churches, we are children, we are silent adults, we are elders, deacons, and we are often just outside the church, peering in and we are hungry. We are hungry for words of hope and encouragement and we are hungry for the knowledge that this is a safe place for us.

In the last year, finding an open and affirming church allowed me to do other kinds of ministry that I could not do “in the closet”. I organized congregations to speak out for people who are lesbian,gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, questioning, and queer so that they know there are welcoming faith communities in my current city of Lynchburg, Virginia on National Coming Out Day this year and last. My personal belief is that many churches understand all sexualities and identities are welcome in God’s eyes, but they need help in proclaiming it so the LGBTIQQ can hear the Good News. It is slow going - this year our list expanded to a neighboring Lutheran Church, the local synagogue, and parts of Lynchburg College including the spiritual life center.  This has been a great joy to me personally and a wonderful way of building solidarity with those in the church most vulnerable to messages of self hatred.

This is something that I can do as a clergy in the community and as a person who likes to organize things! Other people in our community started LGBTIQQ Bible studies and still others hold monthly gatherings at a local Unitarian church for all people looking for safe space.

My friend Scott was not able to make our church in Knoxville open and affirming after I left for work in the non-profit sector. I never came out to the congregation while in ministry there, and with me gone, he tried hard. But most of the leadership disagreed that it was a good time to make those changes.

He did not stay there much long after . There were many reasons, but this was a significant one. ------------------------------------- What I know about all of our churches is that there are no easy answers. When I hear anything that pretends that there is, I usually have trouble listening. People will say:

It is a gay problem – or a straight problem.

Or it is the problem of regions or conferences

or congregations...

its a lay problem or a clergy problem.

Or a theological problem or cultural or biblical or whatever else.

All I know it is a big problem – it belongs to us all

It is not enough to be silent

It is not enough to preach tolerance from the pulpit from time to time.

It is not enough to simply SAY you are welcoming...

I want to close with a prayer for us all as we listen for how God is knitting us together in secret so that we might come out as one people – God's people of love for all the world

Search us, O God, and know our hearts;

  test us and know our thoughts.

See if there is any wicked way in us,

  and lead us in the way everlasting.

God sent me an email

The healthiest, longest lived relationship I have ever been in broke up a month ago.  The breakup-with-the-possibility-of-future-friendship was put to rest this last Sunday and what I thought was a broken heart before became a wasteland of grief and desolation.  “Where is God in this?” I asked myself as I always do.  “Nowhere.” was my tear stained, honest answer.

Two days later, I spoke with a friend, an ELCA Lutheran Staff Person with responsibilities for group ministries and education.  Pastoral care was not her job description, but it was her job that morning.  I cried out my anguish, particularly at feeling so distant from God in the situation.  As all good pastors do, she sat with my pain, neither trying to fix nor mask it.  I don’t remember what she said, when she finally spoke.  I know it had something to do with prayer, because later that morning, I moved into the side chapel, lit some candles and tried to pray.  Finally, I just prayed with sobs and “sighs too deep for words.” And God answered.  From my friend’s email box, God sent me an email that said, “You are in my thoughts, and remember, you are loved by oh so many people.”  That’s all.  No prophetic word of healing, no lamentation, no parable.  Just a “You are in my thoughts and loved by oh so many people.”

Sometimes that is all God needs to say.  Sometimes that is all the church needs to say.  It doesn’t matter if we are Evangelical or Progressive, Mainline or Emergent, Shrinking or Vibrant.  Our doctrine and dogma (or lack thereof) doesn’t matter at all if we can’t sit with and be the hand of God for the hurting in our congregation. Because I am a Queer woman and my partner was another woman, I couldn’t turn to my biological family for that support.  If I had a traditional workplace, I might or might not have had friends whom it would have been appropriate from which to seek solace.  But THE place for comfort, presence, ministry is the church….doesn’t matter that she was ELCA instead of DOC….in fact, Jesus never asked for a denominational status, not even for a statistical purpose.  But, in the worst moment I can imagine, I did learn that God sends emails.

God's Justice, Not Ours - 1 of 2

My father, Hollis, instilled in me the value of duty and responsibilty.  He came by this honestly.  His father, Henry, instilled that into him.  Add to that a 27 year career as an officer in the Marine Corps and you'll easily make the connection.  If the truth be told, I honor that part in him and also in myself where I find it.  So much so that my wife and I had planned to name our next child, Henry Hollis Dunn, to honor them both.  We ended up with three more children, all girls.  I love my father and grandfather, but not that much! My guess is that most of us living in North America don't need a father or a grandfather like mine to have had instilled in them a sense of duty and responsibility, a work ethic that places value on hard work and showing up on time.  We get enough of it simply by living in America.  If the truth be told again, we honor this about ourselves as a people.  In some important sense it is what makes our country great.  There's nothing wrong with that.  The problem is it makes it awfully difficult to hear the teachings of Jesus without getting really confused or extremely agitated (read, really hacked off!).

For instance, Jesus tells a parable at the beginning of which he says, "This is what the kingdom of heaven is like."  Here's how it goes:

Early in the morning a landowner (who seems to represent God in this parable) hires people to work in his vineyard for the standard daily wage.  He hires additional people at 9AM, noon, 3PM, and again at 5PM, telling each of these groups that he will give them “whatever is right.”  Whatever is just.  (See how Jesus is setting us up?).  When the workday ends, he first pays the folks who labored only a single hour the standard daily wage, the same amount he pledged to those who worked sunup to sundown.  When the members of that full-day crew get to the front of the line, they receive the same amount, exactly what they were promised.  “This is what the kingdom of heaven is like,” says Jesus.

As you can imagine the full day workers are understandably resentful.  We hardworking Americans, who've been responsible and duty-bound, who've kept our noses clean, understand why they'd be more than a little hacked, don't we?

The actions off the landowner are absurd.  They make no sense to us.  This is no way to run a business.  ___________ has noted that Jesus' parables often include absurd behavior.  In Jesus' parables very often the absurd behavior actually delivers the message.  In this case it characterizes what God considers righteous or just.  Fortunately we can all rest in a measure of peace knowing that God's justice isn't about getting what we deserve.

God's propensity to care and give violate our instincts about fairness.  This kind of justice looks rash and irresponsible.  What about the people who work hard and keep their noses clean, people who exceed the expectations?

This parable is like another of Jesus' parables:  The parable of the prodigal son.  A son squanders his inheritance and comes crawling back after reaching to bottom of the barrel of life.  When he does, the father doesn't say, ""Well, let's take this slow.  Let's keep an eye on you for a year and see how you do."  No.  The father runs meet him while he is far off, gives him a royal robe, places a ring on his finger and throws a extravagant party.  Lurking in the shadowy background is the older brother, resentful and agitated (read, really hacked off).

The kingdom of heaven, Jesus says, is like a landowner, who is extravagant in his gracious love.  Who cares less about the rules that allow certain people in while keeping others out.  Who cares less about moral perfection than he does about swamping us with generosity, grace and love, than he does about paying us what is just.

It strikes me that we Americans love grace and mercy.  We love grace and mercy as long as it is directed to the right people and not the wrong people.  We love grace and mercy as long as it's not so lavish as to be embarrasing or involve us in too much risk or demand anything of us in order to love our neighbor.

A few weekends ago, some members of our church were protesting the efforts of another church that was starting a new program of reparative therapy for people who are gay and lesbian.  They gathered in a line across the street to stand with gay and lesbian Christians who believe that reparative therapies of this kind are a form of spiritual violence.  They were holding signs that read, "God = Love" and "Love Your Neighbor".  A car drove by and saw the signs, honked, cheered and gave a thumbs up, smiling and waving approval.  Not three seconds later came the driver's realization that my friends were standing with other gay and lesbian Christians.  The thumbs up immediate became a middle finger.

We Americans love God's grace and love as long as it is showered on the right people--not the wrong people.

Holding Hands and Finding Home

I love traveling, but it makes me nervous. I approach new places with great anticipation . . . and dread. I’ve tried to get to the bottom of this ambivalence, but I still don’t have it quite figured out. On the one hand, I like novelty. I like to discover new places, and to make new friends. On the other hand, I’m a self-conscious introvert—which means that going into new places always plagues me with the inexplicable fear that my fly is open and that the people I meet will destabilize my hard-won equilibrium. So, when I can manage whatever it is I must manage to enter these new situations, I want things to go smoothly—no tripping, no spilling coffee all over myself, and no getting stuck next to the guy at the chip dip bowl who believes I’m fascinated to find out about his latest bunion removal (which first turned up at the Star Trek convention in Des Moines a couple of years ago, just as he was starting to bid on a highly sought after 1976 Star Trek Wax Pack Display Box Proof Sheet). I’ve just returned from a mission trip to a children’s home in San Luis Potosí, México. This year we brought youth from our church, including my two kids. What all of our youth continually remarked on was the amazingly welcoming reception we received. We found it impossible to go from one part of the home to another without having two or three little Mexican children holding our hands, imploring us to come look at a different bug or piece of rock, or offering to bring us water. They made us feel at home, like they really wanted us there. In fact, as we prepared to leave, our youth (only half-jokingly . . . I think) told us they would just as soon stay in Mexico. They felt like they’d found a new family, perhaps a new home.

All of this is on my mind, since at General Assembly in Nashville, many Disciples—in particular, readers of [D]mergent—wondered at length why, as a denomination, we remained silent on the issue of welcoming our sisters and brothers who are LGBTQI. Not technically silent (there were scattered mentions of the issue from the platform—and certainly from the floor), but practically silent (there was clearly no effort to speak normatively as a community about any kind of moral responsibility we might have to show hospitality to LGBTQI folks). In fact, I put up an unscientific poll on the [D]mergent website, asking “Should Disciples Vote to Become Open and Affirming in 2013?” At present, the poll indicates that 79% of respondents—admittedly, a somewhat self-selected audience, but significant nevertheless—believe that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) ought to speak prophetically to the world at the General Assembly in 2013 about the fact that we embrace all people equally, regardless of race, gender, nationality, or sexual orientation.

At first glance, the comments by those who disagreed that we ought to pass a resolution proclaiming ourselves to be Open and Affirming seemed to have more to do with ecclesiology than with theology. That is to say, of the people who commented expressing disagreement with a denominational stance on becoming Open and Affirming, more were dismayed about what—given our congregationally based polity—such a stance might mean. Would taking such a stand be an act of bureaucratic and theological imperialism—“ramming one theology down the throat” of the church? I think this is an important question—not only ecclesiologically, but also theologically. Disciples are undeniably constitutionally squeamish about forcing any position on others. What this question fails to take into account, however, is that staking out a position refusing to impose viewpoints on others is itself an imposed viewpoint. Saying that the most important thing to consider in moral debate is whether one is inflicting one’s understanding on everyone else is to have already stacked the deck in one’s own favor by establishing ground rules that place one in a position of power, able to foreclose any discussion that might result in a decision with which one might disagree.

If I were to say in 1860, for instance, “The church cannot condemn slavery because slavery is a controversial moral issue, and to arrive at a moral position that speaks against slavery would impose an alien viewpoint upon that part of the church that finds slavery to be sanctioned by God, scripture, and tradition,” I would be abiding by the ground rule, “Impose nothing on another.” But would I be more correct to worry about coming to a decision over which there is disagreement, or should I be more concerned with whether the decision is theologically warranted? The fact that some will invariably hold an opposing position with great sincerity does not release me from the responsibility of following my own theologically formed conscience.

Someone will stop me here, I suspect, to ask, “But isn’t it arrogant of you to believe that you’ve come to the correct decision about the inclusion of LGBTQI people, and that anyone who disagrees with you is wrong?” Perhaps. Humility ought to be chief among the virtues found in the techne of theology. It is altogether too easy to assume one has answered for all times and all places theological questions that have been in dispute for years. No one should be too quick to rush in with the definitive answer. But those of us arguing for the embrace of our LGBTQI brothers and sisters aren’t arguing “for all times and all places”; we’re arguing that, given what we know about this time and this place, the justice spoken of as constitutive of the reign of God calls out for the embrace and celebration of those God has created LGBTQI. A call to humility in the pursuit of truth is often a tactical weapon directed at those with whom I disagree, when it ought first to be something back to which I call myself.

Moreover, false humility—humility that fails to be honest about genuinely hard won theological convictions—is its own kind of moral failing. False humility that leads to inaction in the face of injustice has been at the heart of some of the great moral failures Christianity has witnessed (e.g., slavery, Jim Crow, Apartheid). Standing on the sidelines while children of God are being dehumanized because of the way they were created, for fear that wading into the fray will disappoint or anger other people, ceases to be humility and becomes morally and theologically indefensible. Theological humility is not a call to inaction, but a call to the pursuit of God’s justice, tempered by God’s grace.

Would such a denominational stance risk denominational disunity? Again, perhaps. But if our Stone/Campbell roots teach us anything it is that Christian unity can only be sustained in the presence of the truth. Absent the truth, what we experience is not Christian unity, but a strategic non-aggression treaty. Whatever “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world” means, it ought to mean something more interesting than “Disciples: We’re nice! We’ve agreed not to talk about things that make us uncomfortable!”

All of which brings me back to my own discomfort in new situations. If the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is serious about bringing healing and wholeness to a fragmented world, about offering welcome and hospitality to the marginalized and forgotten, then we’re going to have to go out of our way to show it. We can’t afford to be tolerant anymore. People don’t want to be tolerated; they want to be loved and affirmed. We’re going to have to be a church that seeks out those standing on the outside, who’re no longer, many of them, even looking in—because they’ve been told for so long that the church doesn’t have a place for people like “them,” until they change and become people like “us.” We who hold the keys to the church are going to have to throw open the doors and windows and shout that all God’s children are welcome here. Better yet, we’re going to have to go out of the church and indicate our willingness to forfeit our power, to hold hands, and to offer water, to convince people that wherever we are together, we’re all family. And maybe together we can find a place that feels like home . . . to everyone.

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 was once shot with a potato gun while fleeing the scene of a Cold War espionage sting at a premium vodka distillery in a rural Estonian outpost. (He doesn't like to talk about it . . . so don't ask.)