I have loved you and served you for a long time. Like any love relationship, we’ve had our ups and downs. Along the way, I’ve gotten to know you pretty well. And truth be told, you’re complicated. I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to see and engage so many different sides of you. Although sometimes I’ve got to wonder if you’ve got dissociative identity disorder because of the many, many personalities I encounter.
I keep reminding myself that each part has a purpose. I keep thinking of that metaphor of a body and how Paul said that one part cannot say to another part, “I have no need of you.” It helps me when I want to ignore or complain about some of your parts.
One of the key reasons that we are still in a love relationship is because of Jesus’ prayer. You remember right? Where he prayed that all the parts of the church would be one – would be unified. Jesus said that would impact what the world would see. The unity of the church is directly tied to the witness of the church. Now clearly, Jesus realized that with so many different and complicated parts, such unity wouldn’t be sameness. I’m quite sure that he wasn’t praying for uniformity. It seems that Jesus, in his Jewish tradition, was quite comfortable with questioning and grappling and struggle to seek truth as a vital part of faith.
So here’s the thing, why do the different parts either ignore each other or war against each other? I mean really, does one part actually have the arrogance to assume they are the only part that sees, listens to, and discerns God’s will? Of course, a different part of a body is going to have a different perspective – they’re looking at things from a different angle, functioning from a different emphasis in their sense of purpose. But in the end, all the parts are needed for the big picture mission of the whole body.
But unity doesn’t just mean a vague hypothetical connection. If my back is itchy and my hand simply says, “Good luck with that” then clearly my body is not functioning in a unified fashion. There are things a hand can do that a back isn’t so good at on its own. Asking for help isn’t easy. One part shouldn’t make it harder than it already is.
So church, I, along with many, many others, have been trying to encourage dialogue about a difficult topic. Not only does sexuality make us anxious, anything that might ask us to question or rethink or reframe how we engage scripture makes us especially anxious. Really, I do understand. And while I work hard at being attuned and sensitive and discerning so that people do not feel like the rug is being ripped out from under them, the truth is that dialogue about these matters offers an incredible opportunity for spiritual formation. Yup, it can be scary or frustrating or exhausting. Tell me about it. But it is also one of the best training grounds for being enlarged in the fruits of the Spirit and growing in virtue. Navigating matters of controversy where parts of the body disagree with one another can teach us to trust the Holy Spirit. And yes, that is much more unpredictable than trusting our own certainty.
So there are parts of the body who have this all sewn up. They’ve gone through the dialogue, they’ve deconstructed, re-articulated, and they are good to go. They have affirming statements, rainbows on their website, and hopefully some thriving LGBTQ+ folks in their congregations. The thing is, they don’t seem to see how they might still be connected to the other parts, parts who are just exploring, or still resisting, or in the thick of it. I can understand that once you’ve done the exhausting work of listening, discerning, extending patience, and grace, and forgiveness again and again, that you don’t really want to re-enter the fray. And I can understand that no one wants to be accused of watering down the truth, or twisting scripture, or even worse.
Jesus ushered in a most difficult, but most transforming ethic. Love your enemies. Jesus said that anyone can love their friends, but that his followers need to go beyond that.
I want to say to the affirming church, the rest of the church needs you. They probably don’t think they do. They might even treat you like the enemy. But I hope that you will choose to love them anyway. I know that comes at a cost. But I implore you, on Christ’s behalf, to be ambassadors of reconciliation. All the parts of the church do need each other to fulfill Jesus’ prayer, to bear the most life-giving, hope-filled witness to the world.
I encounter a lot of leaders in the “seeking to be welcoming but uncertain about affirming” part of the church who know that this dialogue needs to be had. And they know they need to participate. But it is hard to risk. I can understand the fear of fracture. And I can understand that leaders are juggling many different priorities and many different needs within their communities. And I, of course, understand that there are convictions and hermeneutics and starting points and traditions and positions that all seem to need protecting.
Jesus said that unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it cannot bring forth life and new fruit. Jesus told a story of talents and the displeasure of the master at the burying of talents to avoid risk and loss.
I want to say to the “seeking to be welcoming but uncertain about affirming” parts of the church, the rest of the church needs you. They might think that they don’t. They might think that either you’re too open or too closed. But they need you to step into dialogue with courage – because that is how we press in to the things that God is doing. And that is how we prioritize unity and witness.
I am sometimes asked if I think the whole church will become fully affirming of LGBTQ+ relationships and ordination …. and when that will happen. I have no idea. What God has asked me to focus on, is catalyzing dialogue in the midst of our diversity. And so that is what I am investing in. And while some might think that is too much or not enough, I believe I’m being obedient to what God has asked of me and that in so doing I am seeking to love and serve the church.
Because while dialogue isn’t a destination, and while dialogue can be exhausting – and frustrating if it feels like we’re never landing – I believe there is tangible benefit from engaging. To reiterate, the unity of the church, even in the midst of our diversity, is no small matter. Our witness hinges on it. And secondly, the willingness to risk, to serve, and to give in the context of dialogue helps us to grow, to mature, and to love each other. It is spiritually formational.
So church, please open your hearts to each other. Don’t ignore each other. Don’t view each other as the enemy. Remember that one part cannot say to another part, “I have no need of you.”
Perhaps in 10 years, 20 years, 50 years, our grand-children and great-grand-children will look back and wonder what our problem was. Why couldn’t you just talk together? Serve each other? Humble yourselves enough to learn from each other? I might imagine that there will still be diversity within the church on questions of marriage and ordination for LGBTQ+ people. But I hope, that the hard work of trying to engage different parts in dialogue together, will bear good fruit for the generations ahead of us. And I hope that LGBTQ+ people, who might also continue to hold diverse theological perspectives, will experience full embrace, honour, and purpose within all parts of the church.