June 3, 2021

To confound, confuse or celebrate

June is Pride Month and this brought to mind something that happened a while back.

A few years into my work in Texas, I was contacted by someone from a popular evangelical publication. Impressed by the numbers we were reporting, the journalist wanted to know how this had happened in a stuffy, mainline denomination. The number of missional communities started in the Diocese of Texas had more than quadrupled over the four years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. As I shared with the journalist, I attributed this to the Spirit of God doing something special in this place. I also said that part of the reason why this growth happened could be attributed to two things:

  • We were clear on who missional communities were for
  • We made training simple and accessible.

Missional communities are spiritual and relational outposts for those who cannot, or will not, participate in a traditional church expression. When we are clear on who it is that we are attempting to build Christian community with—and for—the logistics tend to be much easier to address. Around the state, we framed training around the 3 traits of these communities: missional, spiritual and relational. This definition and design made missional community start-up much more approachable. Before the pandemic, more than 60% of those starting new communities were not clergy or church staff.

The journalist asked for a specific example of a new community created for those that would not otherwise find their way to an established church. I shared the story of a new start within the LGBTQ community in a smaller northeast Texas city. The shaming or shunning of queer people in many congregations drove away, or kept away, many looking for spiritual solace. Once it was clear that this was a demographic that was not going to come towards the church in this context, local leaders began building trust and a safe space for folks to explore Christian spirituality together.

Enthusiasm dropped on the other end of the phone line.

When it came to publishing, my comments and story were left out.

I care very little that my name did not show up in the article but was certainly disappointed that the incredible work of Episcopalians starting new communities was excluded. Their story should have been shared. This says more about the publication that it does the missional community. The publication is rooted in a theology defined as much by who is excluded as who is included. This does not align with the trajectory of the Gospels. Throughout the New Testament we see the expansion of who is included in God's dream for the world. This confounds those that were certain they knew who was in and who was out. I imagine that this is what the journalist and their editor experienced. They were confounded by a story of what God was doing within a community they believed to be excluded. 

A few years ago, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry said this:

"Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all. While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the church today: All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ."

Bishop Curry does three things in this simple paragraph that are profound: he states what salvific work of Jesus Christ has done–this is in short what is often called "the gospel," what direction Jesus' work is headed and he roots it all in how he reads and understands the Bible. I come back to this summary statement often. It makes the support of LGBTQ persons clear in a way that is rooted in the Christian faith. It's a fantastic statement and it is what I believe.

To think we can read Scripture and practice our faith outside of our cultural constructs is misguided. The Church is always called to respond to culture in each time and place. I agree with Bp. Curry that the Episcopal Church has responded through our understanding of what Christ has done and is doing. Our decisions are based on how we read Scripture and where we believe it's narrative to be pointing towards. This is to say that ours is a response to culture that is rooted in our reading of the Bible and understanding of the gospel.

As we head into pride month, let's be clear: LGBTQ inclusion is a faithful response to what God has been and is doing in the world. This may confound and confuse others but it is to be celebrated nonetheless.

No comments :

Post a Comment