Tell the Truth, Suspend Church Weddings

If you’re one of a growing number of clergy troubled by the policies of your church, here are two steps you can take to stand in solidarity with LGBTQ people.

First, tell the truth on your church website. Make sure it clearly spells out any policies affecting LGBTQ people. If you were a sexual minority wouldn’t you want to know up front? It’s just common decency. This recommendation is based on hearing from many who have gotten involved in churches under false pretenses—thinking the “warm welcome” expressed on the church website or from personal interactions with pastors, only to later discover that even sympathetic clergy are forced by their church polity to discriminate against them (in matters of marriage and ordination, for example.)

Second, have you considered simply not performing any weddings until your tradition changes its policies? Yes, it would be an inconvenience, maybe a heartache, for those straight congregants who want you to perform their weddings. But it’s time for more of us to carry the pain that LGBTQ people have been carrying alone, lo these many years. (For that matter, if you are engaged and you support the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church, consider giving up your privilege to be married in/by the church so long as this privilege is denied to your sisters and brothers.)

Believe me, I’m aware of the trouble this might cause. But standing with the disinherited always causes trouble for us. Always. You could take a small share of the trouble on yourself so that those who carry the full weight of it don’t have to do so alone.

Resisting Harmful Systems With Empowered Communities

I consider myself a feminist – one who joined the movement to end all forms of oppression. In the past, I have felt profoundly alone in this struggle. I have felt disempowered, vulnerable and angry. The more I experienced and learned about the reality of the world we live in, the more powerless I became. Right now, many people feel trapped by injustice with no real way forward. There is a powerful tide in this world that can overwhelm even our bravest resistance.

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Some Thoughts For my Fellow Third Way Allies

An answer to a perennial question

“It is the work of the oppressed to resist oppression, it is the work of the oppressor to dismantle oppression”

This is a paraphrase of a comment I ran into the other day at a local SURJ (Standing Up for Racial Justice) meeting. For context, we were (and are) a group of white folk working to support social justice organizations and movements led by people of color, and at the time we were talking about why we exist the way we do because, lets face it, it is weird to be an anti-racism organization with overwhelmingly white membership. Now the fact of the matter is that SURJ emerged as a result of a lot of white folk who had become aware of racial injustice in this country asking people of color what they could do to help. One of the most common answers was (and is) that we could help to educate other privileged folks. Hence SURJ, an organization dedicated to “organizing White people for racial justice”.

This gets at the heart of a perennial question for would-be allies: “how can I be responsible with the privilege I have?” I have written in another post about some of the answers I think the Bible provides to that question, but this comment I ran into at our meeting the other day has me thinking about it again. It isn’t a simple question after all, and as someone who considers myself an ally – a feminist ally, an LGBTQ+ ally, a ally to people of color, among other things – and an imperfect ally at that, I hope that I will be forever thinking about and refining my thoughts and actions on this question.  So here’s the quote again:

“It is the work of the oppressed to resist oppression, it is the work of the oppressor to dismantle oppression”

My job as Mr. Privilege

I am a middle class, college educated, straight, white, cisgender, American, Protestant male. I am practically oozing with privilege. I live in a society and civilization which was literally built to serve people who are like me. I know this. It means, among other things, that my voice will automatically be amplified in most contexts, that my opinion is far less likely to be questioned on the basis of who I am, that I am able to glide through my daily life without worrying about whether I will be safe when engaging in normal, healthy human behavior like holding my spouse’s hand in public, shopping, walking down the street, or worshiping with my religious community. It means that I have the option to ignore just about every oppressive system and prejudiced person in my society without any fear of personal consequences. And as a Third Way follower of Jesus, it means that I cannot give in to the temptation to do just that.

Where does the Third Way come into it?

Probably the most recognizable difference between a Third Way approach and the more typical “Open and Affirming” approach to sexuality and the Church is the Third Way’s openness to the presence of non-affirming Christians within the community. This is both a tremendous strength and serious challenge for Third Way communities. It means that Third Way communities, while demanding full participation for LGBTQ+ individuals in the full life of the church, risk the possibility of having their spaces (physical churches, small group homes, community gatherings, online and social media spaces etc…) become places where non-affirming Christians (in Romans 14 parlance “the weak”) engage in conversation and behavior which is less than perfectly safe for the LGBTQ+ folk who have already been attacked, harmed, and marginalized by the greater Western church. At the end of the day, for all of its value, diversity is less safe than homogeneity.

In this context, it is the special responsibility of Allies to stand up for our LGBTQ+ members and, when called upon, to engage positively, lovingly, educationally, and firmly with our non-affirming members when they (intentionally sure, but also and more frequently unintentionally) engage in speech or behavior which threatens the inclusion and welcome of LGBTQ+ folk. This does not mean that LGBTQ+ folk should not engage with non-affirming members around contentious and debatable topics, that is up to them. They are living in the environment that a historically homophobic, transphobic church has created and their work in this environment is varied, diverse, and subject to the leading of the Holy Spirit. What they do in that context is a conversation that they get to have among themselves, with the other gifted and brilliant LGBTQ+ leaders in the church, with those they trust within strong community, and, most critically, with the Holy Spirit. Our work as privileged members of the Body of Christ is to engage in the messy, complicated, process of dismantling the systems (whether structural, mental, or theological) which have been used for oppression.

My intention is not to say that LGBTQ+ folk cannot, or should not, engage in whatever way seems best to the Spirit and to themselves, it is to suggest that, as privileged people it is our responsibility to engage in the task of dismantling the systems and structures which give us that privilege.

This is especially vital in Third Way communities because it is in Third Way communities that these situations are most likely to arise. We will all get it wrong sometimes, and a community dedicated to following Jesus and to the unity of His Body along a Romans 14 model must be a community of grace, truth, and humility for the times we get it wrong. We who are allies must be engaged in the work of dismantling the systems which keep us apart. Remember that the divisions of the church in Rome were eventually dissolved, they are not the specific issues that the modern church wrestles with. So there is every reason to hope that this will not always be an issue which divides the church, but that will only happen if those of us who could ignore oppression choose instead to stand on the side of the marginalized.

A call for input

All of this is a statement of how I see myself as an ally. And as such I want to own the fact that my privilege numbs me to jagged edges of this work. So I would be incredibly grateful for input from other allies and from the LGBTQ+ members of the Third Way community. What have I missed? What message do you think the Third Way ought to have for allies as we move forward together?

Nothing Hidden: Implications of a René Girard Insight for Third Way by Caroline Kittle

Split-Shire

The Gospel of Mark teaches that nothing hidden will remain covered and all secrets will come to light (Mark 4:22). In this vein, René Girard’s work on scapegoating effectively busts myths. He uncovers the violent origins of ancient myths. His analysis compels us to examine our own tendency towards victimization and violence. Since our victims often seem to be people marked as different, it makes sense to join the work on accepting our differences. As a feminist, I have embraced Audre Lorde’s call to recognize, accept and celebrate our differences. Too often we victimize people who are physically/mentally/socially different. We exclude or condemn LGBTQ+ people from churches and leadership. We want women and men and people of color to fit into certain categories and punish them if they do not fit. However, Girard writes, “Despite what is said around us persecutors are never obsessed by difference but rather by its unutterable contrary, the lack of difference” (p. 22). As we learn to celebrate our differences, Girard challenges us to consider a bigger threat: lack of difference. This insight holds implications for Third Way and may shed light on some of the strong negative reactions to a Third Way approach. Continue reading

Time for InterVarsity Staffers to Speak Up for Vulnerable LGBTQ Students

The largest evangelical campus organization, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, is now ready to terminate any staff members who support gay marriage. In the everyday work of campus ministry, this means that  staff members cannot bless and support the desire of gay students who believe they are called to faithfulness in a same-gender marriage relationship. Scratch beneath the faux warmth of some phrasing in the IV position, and you will find that it is rooted in the traditional view that all same-gender sexual relationships are indisputably covered by the language of abhorrence used in a handful of biblical texts, including Romans 1. All the important cultural-historical work done to interpret the divorce texts ignored in the work of interpreting the handful of texts that have been used by the church to forbid all same-gender sexual relationships. (The IV policy allows for divorce and remarriage in the case of the ill defined and “wide-open-to-interpretation” phrase, “psychological abuse.”)

But this exclusionary LGBTQ policy is carefully stated to discourage (mostly young) IV staffers from openly expressing their disagreement with their supervisors. Because these supervisors, we now know, will be required to terminate those employees with 2 weeks notice as soon as this disagreement is stated. The IV campus ministers will not be asked their views on the policy, but if they share their views, they will be fired. The wink and the nod here is clear: “If you disagree and want to continue your ministry with IV, don’t reveal your disagreement to us. Keep it to yourself.” Continue reading

Oriented to Faith Podcast: A Third Way is Possible – Interview with Ken Wilson

Burning candles in darknessTim Otto, pastor of The Church of the Sojourners in the Mission District of San Francisco, interviewed Ken Wilson on Third Way for his Oriented to Faith Podcast. Tim is the author of Oriented to Faith: Transforming the Conflict over Gay Relationships. He describes Third Way as “a way of including LGBT Christians while not excluding conservatives.” He gives Ken Wilson the opportunity to clarify Third Way as a faithful path through this painful conflict. They explore critiques from people on different sides of the issue and bring light on matters of moral approval, power and privilege as they dig deeper into the Gospel.

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Gay Christian Network Third Way Workshop: Notes On Power and Privilege

ScalesJusticeiStock

Four of us from the Blue Ocean Faith, Ann Arbor staff team attended the Gay Christian Network Conference (GCN) January 7-10, 2016 in Houston, Texas. This incredible gathering of over 1500 people inspired and uplifted. GCN revealed how people with great ideological and experiential differences can come together and worship in acceptance of one another. Perhaps in part because of the sting most people had experienced from mainstream Christian culture around the acceptance of LGBTQ people, the worship and conversations were rich with God’s presence. During the conference, Pastors Emily Swan and Ken Wilson were invited to give a workshop on Third Way. Emily and Ken invited Cassie Brabbs, our worship leader, and me to share about going Third Way. My portion is included here and reflects some insights around power and privilege that I gained as we transitioned towards full inclusion.

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Beyond the Elevator: A Report from the Gay Christian Network Conference

“What conference are you here for?” the respectable looking woman in the elevator inquired, innocently enough. We three middle aged men with the GCN conference lanyards around our necks stole a quick glance before one of us answered, “The Gay Christian Network,” hoping for the best. The woman stepped back reflexively, raised her eyebrows and saucer-eyed us while letting out a drawn-out Texan, “Ohhh…,” a word pregnant with polite discomfort. We smiled and stared at the floor until the doors opened. Continue reading

A Pacifist’s Thoughts on Being Among “The Weak”

One of the frustrations I have discovered writing about LGBT questions from a Third Way perspective is that I, and many of us who take this perspective at present, end up writing from the standpoint of the “strong”. As a result, I am constantly in danger of coming off as condescending (a perennial temptation for “the strong”) and am regularly accused of arguing for an approach which would privilege my take on the relevant theology. Continue reading

O Holy Night, the Bastard Jesus, and Donald Trump

The baby born in a manger became a rabbi with a unique gift: to make the soul of the outsider feel its worth. As Greg Carey notes, his dinners with prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners–serious outcasts–were as much a sign of his kingdom as his teachings, healings, and exorcisms.

Perhaps because exclusion was part of his own experience. Continue reading