A week ago, the Church that my family and I attend came out (so to speak) as completely open and affirming of those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning. This was a little bit of a shock to me…. Not because I didn’t want it to happen (I wrote some thoughts about Gay Marriage a couple of years ago. You can read them HERE), but because I thought our Church was ALREADY open and affirming. Turns out it wasn’t. It was welcoming. It was definitely never judgmental or condemning. But when they started a conversation about the Church’s response to LGBTQ people a couple years ago, they didn’t have a policy of full inclusion–LGBTQ people could be members and get baptized and take communion, but as far as taking positions of leadership, baby dedication, and marriage, those parts of church life were not extended…. Anyway, that all changed this last Sunday.
Now, some of you probably just got upset when you read that first paragraph…. Probably for different reasons. Some of you got upset that a Church (in your head, you might have put air quotes around the word “Church”) would be “preaching” the false gospel that God loves gay people every bit as much as he loves the rest of us, and that someone could be so completely theologically deceived as to think God might bless the union of a same-sex couple. Others of you might have gotten upset at the fact that a Church that claims to follow Jesus could have operated for so long with such a clearly discriminatory policy toward the LGBTQ community, essentially giving gay members of the Church three fifths of a vote when it comes to being part of the Body of Christ. I understand both of those points of view.
Some of you out there may have experience with this sort of process. It’s nothing new in the life of the Church. When I was a kid, the denomination I grew up in started questioning whether or not women could be in positions of leadership. Women were allowed to work in the nursery and teach the kids, but
the Bible their interpretation of the Bible seemed to prohibit female leaders. While the Church wrestled with this issue, there were some congregations who started letting women be Deacons, and others even had female Elders (!!!). There was talk (in my very sheltered world) of some congregations that even had women Pastors–as oxymoronic as those words felt together…. And as congregations moved toward inclusion, people were alienated on both sides of the issue. And people left. Some left because they felt the Church they loved had abandoned “the clear teachings of scripture,” and others left because they felt the Church they loved had abandoned them, and the clear calling they felt on their life. Others stayed….
Some of us have a very clear view of what is right and what is wrong. Then there are some who are in the middle…. the “undecideds.” If one side says “RED” and the other side says “BLUE,” there are always plenty of people who say/ask “PURPLE?” Some Reds can have grace for Purples, and some Blues can have grace for Purples, but it’s often very hard for Reds and Blues to have grace for each other. Some people are so hardcore certain about RED or hardcore certain about BLUE that to even hint that PURPLE might be a possibility is seen as a betrayal. And don’t even THINK of trying to explain that the colors between Red and Blue are might actually be Green, Yellow, and Orange…. Or that there are actually all different kinds of light outside of the visible spectrum that we can’t even see. The Church is like this.
There are Churches out there who are Blue on the issue of full inclusion for people who LGBTQ. There are some who are Red and will never be anything else. And there are a growing number of Churches who are increasingly Purple. It’s important to remember that some of these issues are complicated–even when they no longer feel complicated to you. And the measure of the grace in our own hearts is how we respond to people who have landed at a different place than you did. The hard part is being able to love even the people who have come to a different conclusion than you. For some people (people like me), it is easy to love the one who is way outside the group…. But I have a lot less grace for people in my own group. I feel like they should know better.
It’s not easy for Church leadership to take a stand on something that they know is going to cause division. Some might try to simplify it into just “doing the right thing.” But when doing what you believe is right causes people you love–people with whom you are in community–to feel like they must leave, it’s never as simple as people make it out to be. I mean, when it got out that World Vision decided to hire gay Christians, there were so many people who pulled sponsorships that it threatened their mission. Then again, sometimes staying in the middle can cause people on either on both sides of the issue to feel the need to find another Church home. If an issue that divides people were simple, it probably wouldn’t be an issue that divides people.
When our pastor made the announcement that our Church would no longer discriminate against people who are LGBTQ and even extend the Sacrament of Marriage to gay couples, he conceded that some might feel the need to leave. When talking about those possibly differing journeys, he said, “May we commit to those journeys knowing that the greatest guide is the guide of love.” Many stood and cheered. Some stayed in their seats. All of us were loved by God. I felt bad for the folks who stayed in their seats–it must have been hard for them, and I know it wasn’t out of a place of hatred…. But as hard as it was to see those people who–for whatever reason–were unable to stand, it made it easier for me when I looked around and saw a bunch of face of folks who are gay, standing side-by-side with allies who are committed to following Jesus with all people, regardless of their sexual orientation. There are many safe places for people to land who believe that the Church should be in the business of condemning people in committed, same-sex relationships…. There are not that many safe places for people to land who are gay and somehow manage to really love Jesus at the same time.
I am so proud of my Church.
And I can think of no better time to write about the civil rights of our gay brothers and sisters than on the national holiday set aside to remember and celebrate the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many people don’t know this, but right up until she died, his wife Coretta Scott King, worked very hard for the cause of equal rights for people who are LGBTQ. I’ll leave you with her words, still ringing like freedom….
“I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people, and I should stick to the issue of racial justice. But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream to make room at the table of brother- and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.” ~ Coretta Scott King
If you want to hear the best case for inclusion that I’ve ever seen, here it it: