The Conversation that Every Congregation Needs to Have, But Doesn’t Want To


(Spectrumbot) #1

Avoiding difficult conversations about gender issues within a congregation can seem to be smart. Nobody gets their feelings hurt, or is put on the spot, or embarrassed by their own words. There are no shouting matches over church policies. Teenagers processing their identity are not put in a difficult position. Family members who disagree with each other can peaceably coexist. Pastoral careers are not jeopardized. However, neither is any progress made in understanding each other. People who feel ostracized, continue in that mode. The deep divide between people just gets deeper.

Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” Mark 4:23

Recently, I attended “A Sanctuary for Conversation: Listening, Loving and Learning” held at the Glendale Adventist Medical Center in Glendale, California. There were about 100 other people at the event from a variety of congregations across Southern California, so I didn’t feel like the only stranger in a room full of people who all knew each other. Over four hours we had fun getting acquainted, listening and learning from each other. This was not a lecture event. After a few active learning exercises that served as mixers, we ended up at round tables with different people and then spent a little time getting acquainted with the person seated next to us.

The Adventist Church is to educate its members about sexuality and purity within the context of grace.” —North American Division (NAD) Statement on Human Sexuality

We each received a workbook of valuable resources for our conversations. There was a glossary of useful terms, key documents voted by the church, charts from a survey of Adventist LGBT+ Millennials showing the impact of family acceptance or rejection, diagrams about the genderbread person to help people better understand identity, expressions, and biological sex, plus an appendix of materials from a variety of published sources, including church welcoming statement samples. Intriguing quotes were sprinkled throughout.

If we err, let it be on the side of mercy.” —Ellen White

Chris Blake, the recently retired English professor from Union College who developed the workbook and the workshop, led out. He did short informative interviews at key points during the program with a couple of local LGBT+ people. They each told compelling stories about their journey. One of the toughest questions for each of them was wondering if God loved them. “Would God love her if she came out?” wondered the third- generation Adventist woman who came out in her 40’s. “Will God love me for my authentic self?” was the question of the biracial man whose father’s way of talking about the issue was to lecture him for six hours in a one-sided conversation. He remembered crying and telling God, “I need you now!” Blake made sure to keep things on an even keel. “What is the funniest thing that has happened to you?” he asked. One response was that a friend had commented to the woman, “There’s a lot of letters to your group, Hi, alphabet people.”

The first duty of love is to listen.” —Paul Tillich

In another section of the program, a psychologist was interviewed and he explained the meaning of some of the terms used to describe gender identity and expression. There was also discussion of what it means to be a welcoming church. The workbook includes a chart of six signs of a safe church as well as six signs of an unsafe church, followed by a page to write down a personal action plan on steps to take to help one’s church be a sanctuary for conversation. That was followed by writing down practical steps to pursue to become a safe and brave church. The first item was already filled out: “Form a team to create a personalized welcoming statement for our church.” Certainly, discussing a welcoming statement would move the conversation along. In the workbook, there is a welcoming statement from the San Luis Obispo Adventist Church that reads:

At the San Luis Obispo Adventist Church, we are committed to our mission of ‘Becoming the presence of Christ in our community.’ Jesus did not shun any group of people, but was willing to engage everyone.

God’s love is broader and deeper than we can fathom. A sense of belonging in the church should, likewise, be open and generous. Because all people are created in God’s image, Christ’s love extends to everyone. All are welcome to engage, participate, and serve in our church community.

We embrace the challenge of being a diverse community which encourages dialogue and welcomes questions, as we continue to identify the ways God is at work in all of our lives. We believe this will ultimately enrich us and be a witness for the kingdom of God.

The Glendale conversation was the fourth time Blake has moderated this “Sanctuary Conversation.” One of the first times was for North American Division pastors in 2015. Reflecting on my experience, it seemed to be a great way to have a difficult conversation that we need to have in all of our congregations. We are losing a generation of people because we don’t want to have such a conversation. Talking with a Catholic friend, I learned that her parish wants to have this kind of dialogue, but doesn’t know how to begin. We are blessed that materials are available to assist with this conversation completely within the guidelines of the Adventist church’s understanding of the issue.

We have many lessons to learn and man, many to unlearn.” —Ellen White

Further Reading: Workshop Offers the 96% a Chance to Listen — A Spectrum interview with Chris Blake

Bonnie Dwyer is editor of Spectrum.

Image Credit: https://opendialogueresources.org/

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8564

(Pagophilus) #2

So how do you get around 1 Corinthians 6:9 “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,”?

How much wriggle room is there in that text for “coming out” (which is little more than a public pronouncement saying “I’m determined to publicly go against societal norms and God’s principles”)? Yes, God loves you even if you come out, but salvation is closed to you unless you confess your sins and repent of them.


#3

Dear Pagophilus,
Thank you for your input in this conversation. You quoted a verse, really not the most forceful in a number of statements by Paul (I think also of Romans 1:27-29). This verse would seem to end the discussion.

And yet, something in scripture is telling me that Jesus has more to say on this matter than you want Him to. We must listen to those who ask - “So now what do we do? How do we respond in a loving way to the actual situation on the ground here?” How did Jesus deal with the gross sinners He encountered in His blessed ministry? The tax collectors (thieves)? The prostitutes (fornicators)? The woman caught in the act (adulterer)?

Scripture, to my knowledge, is silent regarding any LGBT+ people at that time, and we know there were many. So let’s use the examples mentioned above - Jesus welcomed these people into His inner circle. Yes, they did repent and change their lives, but not by being accused and belittled and rejected.


(Michael Wortman) #4

Weren’t his most vituperative responses to the prideful, judgmental religious practitioners? If one is inclined to prioritize sins, couldn’t he/she conclude that they were the “gross sinners?” Evidence of loving responses to that group is skimpy.


(ROBIN VANDERMOLEN) #5

Surely the mission of the church is to share God’s love and to make sure that EVERYBODY knows that they are INCLUDED in that love.

I applaud the Glendale.Adventist community for having sponsored this “Sanctuary for Conversation “.

My current congregation exemplifies, epitomizes, and encapsulates this inclusivity with the following statement of caring grace, printed in every weekly worship bulletin, and also on their web site:

ALL ARE WELCOME TO PARTICIPATE IN THE FULL LIFE OF OUR CHURCH, INCLUDING ALL
RACES,
AGES,
ABILITIES,
CLASSES,
GENDER IDENTITIES,
SEXUAL ORIENTATIONS.

This statement was not imposed on the congregation by the pastoral staff nor by conference edict.

It was voted by the members themselves, many years ago, and gets renewed and ratified regularly.

More recently, it was voted to include the word ABILITIES, so that handicapped members would not feel excluded.

I find it a great honor and privélege to join this wonderful warm, welcoming, gathering of Christians.


(jeremy) #6

i don’t think the ingredients for a productive discussion on LGBT in our church exist…this is because the perception has set in that when LGBT proponents say they want conversation, what they really mean is they want acceptance…conversation has become a euphemism for acceptance…on the other hand, the anti-LGBT crowd has already settled around the belief that LGBT is wrong because they can clearly see that the bible condemns it…because they aren’t comfortable with veering so directly from the bible, they aren’t comfortable with acceptance…and because they aren’t comfortable with acceptance, they aren’t comfortable with conversation…this would be why official church discussions never include representatives from the pro-LGBT crowd…

usually the difficulty in discussing this subject is portrayed as an unwillingness on the part of those who believe LGBT is wrong to be more open minded and loving…but there is another aspect to this difficulty, and that is the unwillingness of the pro-LGBT crowd to consider the possibility that they could be wrong…they don’t seem to ever consider the possibility that perhaps the bible’s blunt, comprehensive statements on LGBT are designed to be conclusive, regardless of whether any underlying understanding of biology exists…

in this connection, the real crux of this problem is determining whether being born LGBT overcomes the very strong biblical proscriptions against it…it is possible to view the LGBT situation as an example of what the bible teaches, which is that all fallen humans are born estranged from and out of harmony with god, and that when they actively do what comes naturally, they are deepening that estrangement…my perception is that one real difficulty with productive conversation on the issue of LGBT is that the pro-LGBT side generally refuses to consider the possibility that an LGBT sexual orientation can be understood in terms of this teaching…

it is evident that there are things received at birth, like race, intelligence, talent, height, and right or left handedness, that carry no moral connotations…it’s easy for most people to see that these types of genetic variations should be accepted equally…but the question is whether everything received at birth is morally neutral, and whether we’re always complete victims to the way we were born…a related, more fundamental question is whether taking responsibility for the way we’re born, and laying all of it on the altar of sacrifice by resisting the way we feel if it contravenes what we read in the bible, is what god is asking from us…is our salvation a completed gift that we receive without any striving on our part against what we’re born with and into…or is our salvation a completed gift that we receive to the extent that we strive against and move away from what we’re born with and into, regardless of how our apparent progress stacks up against others…

i think any conversation on LGBT needs to be part of a broader conversation on what salvation is, and isn’t…our understanding of what the gospel means, and what our church’s role is, seems to directly impact how we approach the subject of LGBT…


(Patti Cottrell Grant) #7

It saddens me to see that so many apparently well-meaning people continue to miss the point in these discussions about LGBT folks. God will judge us not on whether we agree or disagree but on how we treat all of God’s beloved. No matter how many Fervent Opinions or Bible Verses or Clobber Texts we throw at one another, no matter how strongly we believe what we believe, and no matter whether or not we we think that we are right and they are wrong, if we do not accept others with open arms of love–just as Jesus accepts us–we will never see heaven. What a terrible price to pay.


(James Peterson) #8

The Church of Christ:

Neither do I condemn you. Now go and sin no more.” – John 8:11

The Synagogue of Satan:

You will not surely die.” – Gen. 3:4

Ref.: 1 Cor. 6:9-11, Mark 4:9

///

There is a VAST difference between:

  1. feeling ill and wanting to be better; and
  2. being ill, not wanting to get well and DEMANDING that others NOT SAY that you are ill.

You wondered aloud how many Biblical characters would be allowed to be full-fledged members of the church, pointing specifically to Noah, David and Solomon. Yet, you forget their contemporaries: Ham (who was cursed), and Saul (who was rejected).

Concerning Solomon, it is written (1 Kings 11):


"But King Solomon loved many foreign women … of whom the Lord had said …, You shall not intermarry with them … they will turn away your hearts after their gods. Solomon clung to these in love.

So the Lord became angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned from the Lord God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not keep what the Lord had commanded.

Therefore the Lord said to Solomon, Because you have done this, and have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant."


BUT the people of God WILLFULLY, STUBBORNLY, DETERMINEDLY, FOOLISHLY, STUPIDLY forget this thing so that the curse looms over their heads still.

///

The Bible makes references to slavery, but it does not advocate the practice. With regards to Paul’s admonition which you quoted, you should be aware, he said elsewhere in 1 Cor. 7:21, “Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it.

And in the Old Testament, God freed Israel from slavery. The fact is ensconced in the Ten Commandments, Deut. 5: “I AM the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. …” Further, He gave them His Sabbath day, saying, “Remember too, that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

God knows where we were born, but He calls us up to higher ground. It is utterly contemptible to say to a pedophile, “I know the desires of your heart; and I tell you, God loves and accepts you just the way you are. See? He has provided the little children for your delication and delight.”

INNATE DESIRES, wrongly directed, are not free passes through the pearly gates. You cannot say on that day, “Lord, here is the talent you gave me. I buried it and now here it is.” A seed, unless it dies, is a useless thing.

///


(Peter) #9

Jeremy, Please don’t overlook the fact that Chris Blake, the presenter, is not LGBT nor is he aligned with any LGBT organization. You seemed to miss that point in your first couple of paragraphs. You also don’t seem to allow for or acknowledge the multiple “straight” Adventist Biblical scholars who have come to believe that monogamous G/L relationships are not what is prohibited in the Bible.

I don’t believe the Adventist church will ever agree on this subject. Nor do I believe that, in most cases, the Adventist church will attract/retain very many LGBT people. Even the most “accepting” Adventist congregations are seeing fewer LGBT people attending than they did ten years ago.

However, the beauty I see is that our amazing, loving Father in Heaven knows each person, knows whether there is a church that is “safe” for them, and knows what He wants from them. As Patti Grant says so beautifully, “God will judge us not on whether we agree or disagree but on how we treat all of God’s beloved…if we do not accept others with open arms of love–just as Jesus accepts us–we will never see heaven. What a terrible price to pay.”


(Andrew) #10

“Gender Issues” aren’t the same thing as sexual attraction. All people should be welcome to fellowship.

But with the exception of a tiny fraction of people with ambiguous gender, there are only two genders. There really isn’t much to talk about.

Just welcome everyone but no need to get caught up in the latest non-sense about which group one identifies with.


(Steve Mga) #11

Robin and Jeremy –
ALL are Welcome … Except…
Yes, How many Biblical characters would be ALLOWED to be full fledged members of the SDA church?
Noah – drank too much.
David – Celebrated because he killed his 10,000 [Saul only 1,000]. Had at least 4 wives. Was NOT satisfied. Had to sexually assault the wife of his best friend. Had his best friend killed. Then had 2 children by his best friend’s wife. [and God said David was a man after his own heart]
Solomon – led many in Israel into idol worship in addition to his sexual addiction…
these are just a few of them.

We SAY the Church is for Sinner to Get Well. BUT SDAs do NOT believe it. In order to Get Well one HAS to be able participate in all the “Hospital” Therapy, and activity programs.
SDAs DO NOT allow that. And do an Active Screening as to who is admitted. And then LIMIT participation in the Get Well Activities.
The Getting Well – Recovery is NOT something one can put on a calendar. Some get Well after a couple of years. OTHERs may take 20 to 30 to 40 years to get Well. And, as Ellen says, may need a Lifetime to become Well.


(Chris Blake24) #13

Pagophilus and Norman, et al.,

From the official North American Division Statement on Human Sexuality (Nov. 2, 2015):

“As imitators of Jesus we welcome all people, inviting them into our faith communities and sacrificially serving them. Followers of Jesus, regardless of their views on alternative human sexualities, treat people with dignity and respect and extend hospitality and grace to all.”

“We differentiate between sexual orientation, which denotes an enduring pattern of romantic or sexual attraction to one or both sexual genders, and sexual behavior or activity.

“Adventists welcome people from all walks of life to join them for Sabbath School, the worship service, the communion service, Bible study groups, and other church-based activities.”

Sexual orientation differs from behavior. Orientation means sexual attraction. If we suggest it is sinful to be tempted, we’re saying Jesus of Nazareth was sinful.

Follow the bouncing ball here: People who are LGBT+ do not need to repent for their orientation. Sins have to do with behaviors–not temptations, attractions, or orientation. There is nothing wrong with being LGBT+. That is the official stance of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Any other approach is outside official Adventist beliefs.

If you have a problem with that you may take it up with the Adventist Church.

PS: Pagophilus, so how do you get around Colossians 3:22?: “Slaves, obey in everything those who are earthly masters . . .” In this and many other references the Bible nowhere condemns slavery and in fact appears to support its existence. Are you for slavery? How much wiggle room do you need?


(Adventist Australia) #14

I agree with this concept fully as the church is well known for shutting down conversations and critics.


#16

I wonder how you feel about God telling his people to break the Sixth Commandment and slaughter their neighbors, every man, woman and innocent child—and then rewarding his religious terrorists with virgins. God told them they could spare the virgins from their murderous swords and kidnap them and force them into marriage or slavery. Do you think there is any wiggle room to justify this horrible fate imposed on 32 THOUSAND young girls? Do you feel as strongly about that as you do about the God’s supposed abhorrence over 2 people LOVING each other the “wrong” way (but in the manner perfectly natural for them)?

I suspect if YOU were among those who have a different sexual orientation, and people told you there was a loving God who demanded you go through life alone and lonely, and deny yourself a needed companion (remember Eden), somehow I suspect you would conclude that there was something wrong with that picture of what God wants for you in this life. Somehow, I think you would quickly see what countless Christians and numerous denominations have come to see: a different interpretation of the texts you now imagine to be so clear and firm.


#17

I like the way you ask us to walk in someone else’s shoes. We don’t do that enough. How can we love our neighbor as ourselves if we don’t walk at least a mile in someone else’s moccasins?