This is the thirteenth installment in a series of reflections on LGBTQ+ matters.
As a delegate to the Christian Reformed Church’s Synod twice during the years of debate over opening the offices of the Church to women, I heard lament over what was perceived to be a lack of unity. I recall arguing as a member of a Synodical Advisory Committee that was responsible for the “Women in Office” reports and overtures that unity was not the same as uniformity. This concern for unity is being revisited in the current context of discussions about the place of LGBTQ+ Christians in our fellowship.
The desire for unity seems to be deep in our beings. We want it in our families, our friendships, and in our churches. When we are unreconciled, we are troubled and long for peace and a sense of oneness, of being on the same page. When we experience unity, we feel blessed.
Our differences over same-sex relationships and marriages and over the participation of LGBTQ+ individuals in our congregations stir our fear of disunity. But unity does not have to mean thinking alike on every point of doctrine or on every ethical choice we individually make. Are we disunified because we discuss how universal grace is? Are we disunified because we differ over whether women may be ordained? Are we disunified because of differences over who someone may love or marry? If so, I submit it is because we are looking for unity in the wrong places.
Seeking agreement that marriage is between one man and one woman is not the place to find unity. Seeking agreement on exactly what qualifies as sin is not the place to find unity. Seeking agreement on the interpretation of vexingly complex passages in scripture is not the place to find unity.
Unity is a gift. It is not achieved simply as a result of human effort by applying a formula. It is a gift of the Divine. Despite this, we busy ourselves trying to make unity happen among us by trying to find ideas about which we can agree.
The Belhar Confession talks about unity in this way:
We believe in one, holy universal Christian church, the communion of saints called from the entire human family. And we believe that this unity of the people of God must be manifested and active in a variety of ways: in that we love one another; that we experience, practice, and pursue community with one another; that we… give ourselves willfully and joyfully… to one another; …that we have one God and Father, are filled with one Spirit, are baptized with one baptism, eat of one bread and drink of one cup; that we confess one name, are obedient to one Lord, work for one cause, and share one hope, and together come to know the height and the breadth and the depth of the love of Christ; …together know and bear one another’s burdens, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ that we need one another and upbuild one another, [and] together serve God in this world….”
When Jesus prayed, “…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (John 17:21), he was saying that we can find our unity in the kind of unity shared by the different parts of God. Just as Creator God, Christ, and Holy Spirit are in communion, we find unity when we are in communion with God. When we discover that we can live in closer union with God, then we also discover that in belonging to God we belong to each other. Those are powerful and true sources of unity.
This is the twelfth installment in a series of reflections on LGBTQ+ matters.
The church is polarized over how to respond to realities like gender fluidity, same sex unions, and notable differences in the interpretation of important passages of scripture among careful biblical scholars.
Fueling the polarity, serious numbers of people are anything but tepid in calling out what they believe to be sin. These brothers and sisters of ours believe it is their job to protect themselves and their churches from sin. As defenders of the faith, they vehemently call out sin and want to discipline sinners, maybe even shut them out of opportunities to serve their congregations and their Lord because of it.
Is that who we truly want to be? Is that how we want to be known by a disbelieving world? Is that the core of the Christian faith? Is that a holistic way of viewing the entire testimony of scripture?
I think a primary calling of Christians is to draw near to others and to share their joys and burdens. In order to do that, we must approach each other with an awareness of mutuality and with willingness to be vulnerable. We need to be ready to say to each other, “I am human just like you. I struggle with ethical decisions and agonize over my mistakes. I’m not afraid of our differences, including our different pain and struggles.” When we see others as human, like ourselves, it makes room for compassionate, kinder responses.
The person whom we think is misguided or worse gives us an opportunity to look at ourselves. We cannot respond with kindness to what we perceive to be brokenness in another if we are not in touch with our own brokenness and if we are not gentle with ourselves. If we haven’t seen or reacted to our own need for change, how can we allow ourselves to be impatient with another’s lack of change? How can we be as loving as God is if we ourselves have not fully absorbed God’s generosity with us?
Recognition that the other is just like myself is necessary for unity in the church. The way for us to live together is to say, “I am yours, and you are mine. I am human and fragile just like you. Let’s hang on to each other.”
This is the eleventh installment in a series of reflections on LGBTQ+ matters.
In the 1980s, early in my involvement in the lives of persons with disabilities, I began to move beyond compassion and kindness, and way beyond pity, as primary responses to people who are often misjudged, labeled, and marginalized. My shift was prompted and amplified by the voices of Wolf Wolfensberger, Jean Vanier, and Henri Nouwen. (Read anything you can get your hands on by these men.) My shift, more specifically, was recognizing that the people I thought needed to be served were in fact serving me. I began to see mutuality and reciprocity where before I had seen only need and opportunity for doing good to someone else. Previously for me it was “us,” the so-called able-bodied, and “them,” those with impairments. Slowly I began the journey of discovering how profoundly we all are “us.” We are all imperfect, yet we all contribute and make the body better, more whole.
Something similar happens with responses of straight folk to those who are sometimes called “queer” or “gender dysphoric” or “morally suspect.” These lesbian/ gay/ bisexual/ transgender/ queer/ questioning sisters and brothers of ours are viewed by some as wounded, broken, and in need of healing. Some straight folk think that they owe believers who identify as LGBTQ+ straight talk about sin. Just as was said about people with disabilities, who many believed to be victims of the Fall, these gender minorities are seen by some as broken individuals who need healing. Some go so far as to fearfully claim that churches need to be protected from them.
People who are questioning their sexuality, or who live in bodies that don’t fit with their identity, or who are attracted to both genders, or who enter same-sex relationships want the same things as anyone else. They want opportunities to have intimacy with other humans, to pledge faithfulness to another, to support and be supported in long-term, committed unions. They want to feel as blessed in loving who they love as anyone else feels when they find a partner who fits. They want to love their Maker and enjoy worshipping God as much as anyone else who is in love with God. They want to serve the world and serve in their congregations with the same grateful response to being loved by God as any other Christian. Many model for the world the kind of love the Creator has for us.
When the church understands all this, there is no longer Us and Them. We are all Us.
This is the tenth installment in a series of reflections on LGBTQ+ matters.
Deep in our hearts we crave being loved. We can see this same craving in the eyes of others; and, whether it’s a child or adult, from where we live or from somewhere else, when we see that craving, we are moved to compassion. Compassion for ourselves in our own neediness helps us have it for others too.
We all hope to see compassion and forgiveness in our friends’ eyes. When other people act cruelly, condescendingly, dismissively, or in other atrocious ways, we know that we probably have done the same. When someone gives us life, we know that we can do that too. For the honest person, nothing humans do is foreign to us.
In Ephesians 2, Paul reminds us that Christ has broken down the dividing walls of hostility. In Christ the barriers that have divided people are breached. We are no longer alienated from God and no longer strangers to each other but are members together of God’s household. Paul’s imagery is beautiful here. We are part of one house with Christ as the cornerstone, all of us fitted together and growing into a “holy temple,” with God in the Spirit living in us. No longer strangers; no longer aliens; but together at home in the heart of God.
From time to time a member of All One Body will post to this blog. We will also have guest commentary. Stay tuned!