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I was looking for writers, people willing to share their thoughts about Christianity, the church, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. I was hoping for some new voices, some younger thinkers, not the “usual suspects,” the old war horses whose views we’ve heard too many times.
Finding writers was harder than I suspected. Several pastors said, “My congregation hasn’t really processed this yet, and I don’t want to get out ahead of them, catch them off guard.” Being a pastor myself, I could understand.
A few others declined saying, “I’m just not ready to ‘go public’ with my thoughts—too many variables and consequences to consider. No thanks.” Seemed a bit cowardly, but again I had some sympathy.
Then a few who would have taken a more “traditional” perspective, replied, “I don’t feel safe sharing my views. I think I’d be blackballed and derided by ‘the other side.’” Here my sympathy gave way to exasperation.
Really? You, who could walk into any Reformed or Christian Reformed congregation on a Sunday morning assured that you would be warmly welcomed? You, who could probably receive a call to serve as pastor to about any congregation you wanted? You, whose path through education and career hasn’t quite been paved with palm branches and garments of adulation, but almost? You are the victim here? You, not LGBTQ Christians, are the one who lives in fear? It is a maneuver I see so often recently, the powerful and privileged do a quick flip to suddenly depict themselves as the the browbeaten and silenced.
Let’s pause here, take a couple breaths to cool off, and then move ahead gently and patiently.
Increasingly, I am becoming aware that the discussion around welcoming LGBTQ people in the church will be as important as the outcome. How we move forward is as much a part of this delicate process as achieving the goal toward which we move.
Perhaps my comments above violate my own previous aspirations here on The Twelve. Inspired by James Alison, I wrote back in 2013, “how will Christians who support the inclusion of LGBTQ persons invite and welcome their fellow Christians who do not yet share their viewpoint?…Those who support full inclusion, whose victory is inevitable, need to begin talking and thinking about in what manner they will ‘win.’” https://blog.reformedjournal.com/2013/09/23/breda/
Alison used Diego Velasquez’s painting, The Surrender of Breda, as a picture of victory with reconciliation rather than rancor. Are my exasperated comments about those who declined to write, who chose not to share their views on the matter, a counter-example of healthy processes and helpful ways forward?
Let me sound a more conciliatory note. As a pastor, I am a leader and a preacher. Trying to shepherd a collective body you quickly become aware of the diversity and fault-lines within every group. To boldly declare “Here I stand, I can do no other” might feel really good, but usually isn’t the best way to pastor. To all pastors who are perplexed about how to have a truly good process and discussion on LGBTQ inclusion in the church, I sympathize. In my experience, members say “this is something we really need to study and talk about,” but few are actually eager to jump in. They fear conflict, shouting, shaming, and splitting. Even when I hear snarky comments of critics, “Well, they’re just afraid of their moneyed constituents,” I have some sympathy for the leader who has to look for consensus, to hold community together, and not be totally oblivious to dollars. (My twenty-two year old self can’t believe I just said that.)
As a preacher, I honor the pulpit as a sacred place, not my soapbox. I don’t believe that my thoughts on LGBTQ inclusion in the church are “just my opinion,” but I also don’t want to be open to the accusation that this is what my sermons are. Everyone, or almost everyone, in my congregation knows what I believe. They know that they will hear, from time to time, oblique comments and glancing allusions about LGBTQ people and faith. But I hope they also trust that they will not be harangued and scolded. I’m not certain that on such a tender topic, a one-way monolog is the best way to proceed. I think it was Karl Barth who once said something like, “If preaching alone could change the church, and change people, their hearts and minds, the Protestant church would look quite different by now.” This isn’t to belittle preaching, but respect it by recognizing its limits and role.
Process and patience, this delicate dialog, graceful engagement. To you, the readers, my colleagues, my compatriots in Christ, who disagree with me: over the next decade most of you will change. I don’t say that to condescend to you or frighten you, not even to rush you. (“The Spirit blows where it chooses.”) I say it to invite you and assure you of a warm reception. All of us have changed. And all of us can remember moments and steps, uncertainties and fears, conversations, readings, experiences, even sermons, which were part of our change.
I point you toward your coming change (of course, there will be a few holdouts who proudly play the “faithful remnant card”) so that even now you can begin to look ahead and wonder what will it take, what will be the decisive nudge? And then, how will you own and explain your change? How will you live it and share it when it comes? Graciously, change is coming for us all.