When people find out City Church Long Beach has a Study Team dedicated to LGBTQ issues, and that the Study Team consists of people who do not agree with each other theologically, I get some interesting responses.
First off, a lot of people just think we’re crazy. I find that people who move towards either end of the theological spectrum sometimes struggle to accept that others hold informed perspectives different from their own. So the fact that we have a Study Team has upset some people because the studying, learning, and discussing imply that there might be multiple perspectives on these issues (contrary to their sentiment).
Recently, a City Church leader was asked with a sneer, “Why do you go to that gay church?” by someone who had heard of our Study Team.
Meanwhile, a neighbor from another church told me our church was oppressive to gays because we had no rainbows on our website and no links to organizations that fight for justice for the gay community.
Many people have told me that they think we are wrong to have a Study Team, that these are not issues that should be discussed. The matter is closed so decisively for them that discussion would be destabilizing. I often wish I could understand more of these folks’ stories. What are their fears and where did they originate? What’s at stake for them in this conversation? What stirs in them the need to tell someone else what they can and cannot discuss?
With that being said, I have a number of friends for whom this is a settled matter because of a thoughtful conclusion they’ve reached; thus, this is not an arena in which they wish to spend more time and energy. I totally get that. I don’t feel the need to convince them they need to discuss it again, and I respect them for valuing both sides and for deciding on one of them.
Secondly, some people are fascinated. Within the last few days I received an email from a professor, whom I’ve never met, at a midwestern university. She’s a friend of a friend and through that connection got the syllabus and emailed me just ecstatic to have someone to talk to about these issues. Time and time again I run into Christians who are dying to talk about these things but are scared to death that if they do they would be judged by their church or their friends or their family. So many people are looking for a safe space to have these conversations.
Third, I often get a thoughtful, “Hmm, that makes sense.” Typically this comes from church leaders, both traditionalist and progressive, who recognize the value in conversation and who know that hearing from multiple voices helps us all discern God’s leading. As the Second Council of Constantinople declared in 553AD:
The holy fathers… have followed the examples of antiquity. They dealt with heresies and current problems by debate in common, since it was established as certain that when the disputed question is set out by each side in communal discussions, the light of truth drives out the shadows of lying. The truth cannot be made clear in any other way when there are debates about questions of faith, since everyone requires the assistance of his neighbor.
So why do does our church have a Study Team?
There are four reasons that have to do with our context and four reasons that have to do with our ethos.
- The five past presidents of our denomination (the Reformed Church in America) sent a letter in early 2016 expressing their desire that churches have this conversation, particularly with people who see the issues differently. We have a Study Team because we’ve been invited to do so by the leadership of our denomination.
- Our denominational subgroup (the City Classis) entered into a 2 year intentional dialogue about LGBTQ issues in the Spring of 2015. We have a Study Team because our group of churches is having this conversation.
- Our church (City Church of Long Beach) resides in Long Beach, which consistently ranks highly as one of the nation’s most gay-friendly cities (ranked #5 nationally in this study). We have a Study Team because our missional context requires it.
- Our congregation is remarkably diverse, including a significant number of LGBTQ people (like my son, Timothy) – some who came to us as Christians, some who are investigating Christ, and some who have become Christians at City Church. We have a Study Team because there are practical implications for the membership and leadership of people in our midst that depend on how the church views these issues.
- We’ve always been a church that values authenticity and asking the real questions. We have a Study Team because the people in our church really wonder about these issues and want to discuss them.
- God’s church has a long history of wrestling with difficult issues and not deciding them quickly. We have a Study Team because it is the habit of the church through the ages to discuss difficult issues and, in community, to discern the leading of the Spirit .
- We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church (per the Nicene Creed). We have a Study Team to embody and promote Christian unity and to discern and encourage Christian holiness.
- We’ve seen a lot of division and pain across the church in the U.S. over these issues, and we are just crazy enough to believe that by loving each other well in the midst of our disagreements we could bring a measure of healing to the greater church and some hope to the world. We have a Study Team to model constructive dialogue across differences.
It’s been an incredible honor to be on the Study Team. Each of us on the Study Team have our own unique journeys, and my purpose in this blog is not to speak for them, but rather, for myself. So next week I’ll share some of the story about when my son came out to me.