(A short disclaimer, if you do not know of or understand Disciples polity, stick with this one. You may not know all of the language, but hopefully you will find something meaningful anyway.)
There are many reasons that I am a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); not the least of which is that I can directly trace my lineage back four generations in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and four generations in the Church of Christ (our sister in heritage and the restoration movement). But more than that is our polity and our mission that the most important things in the church are to create unity. That does not mean we will always agree or see eye to eye. In fact the flip side of that tends to be true, but as people who approach Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience differently what we find in common is the table where Christ invites us to grace.
I’ve been around this denomination/this church for my whole life. My parents tell me I was in church when I was 8 days old. I have attended every General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada since I was 11 years old (Louisville, KY 1987). There are not a lot of 37 year olds who can say that, but I would bet most of them are Preacher’s/Pastor’s Kids (aka PKs). When I was 15 the General Assembly met in Tulsa, OK in the fall (1991). The Atlanta Braves were in the World Series for the first time in history, and we were slated to elect a new General Minister and President (GMP) to lead our denomination for 6 years. I was at that Assembly as a voting delegate. There was not a lot for youth to do, so I went to the business meetings and the exhibit hall and spent time with my parents. When it came time to vote on the candidate for GMP, Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon (recently president of the National Council of Churches), thousands (maybe it was hundreds, but I was 15 so it seemed like thousands to me) of people poured into the convention center in order to vote against his nomination. Their reason? During an interview Dr. Kinnamon was asked if he thought Gays should be ordained. And he responded by explaining that the Bible does not forbid it.
Now as many of you know about me, I am a southern girl and I was raised in an eminent awareness of the ability of prejudice coupled with power to oppress those without power. My parents immersed me in an understanding that people are created equal, but not everyone believed that to be true, and that the fear of humans had the potential to undermine, destroy, even kill. But this was the first time I had ever seen a lynch mob of any kind, much less one dressed in their church clothes. Needless to say…it left an imprint on me.
If that seems dramatic to you, I don’t mean to offend, my intent is to help you understand the shift in the air when so many people marched into the convention hall. It felt like an occupation. And it was a little scary for a 15-year-old. Then to watch my parents and their friends weep with disillusion was heart wrenching. Like I said…it left an imprint.
There are friends of mine who have wondered why I would stay in a church that did that kind of thing. Why would anyone want to serve in a denomination where that kind of mob mentality could rule?
Honestly, it never occurred to me to leave. It’s my church. It’s where I was baptized and learned about grace. It’s where I met Jesus in a living way and learned how to offer grace. So when God called me to ministry, I didn’t hesitate (much, anyway). I responded in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) where I understand the table to belong to Christ, and the invitation to be open to all, even those who would deny me a seat there. That is grace.
It’s been about 12 to 15 years since our denomination decided it was important to engage in a discernment process for each congregation to decide how to include or not those who are GLBTIQ. Some churches have done that. My guess is the majority have not. People feel it is too political, and not very spiritual at all. Yet the politics don’t mind calling on the spiritual to make their point.
This year, in fact, last week the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) voted overwhelmingly to invite our local churches to “Become a people of grace and welcome to all.” The encouraging words from those in support of this resolution were, “All means All”
How do I describe to you as a reader who potentially doesn’t have any concept of our polity what it means to me that our Assembly literally stood for this understanding of what Jesus means when he welcomes ALL to the table of grace? How do I put words to the relief and release of sadness for years of work gone by, for the guilt pent-up for not fighting harder sooner, for the complete and overwhelming release that there is in the freedom of knowing people do not have to live in the church closet anymore, if they choose not to? How to I share what it feels like to know God is good and that the church can be faithful (in light of so many times we have not been faithful)?
Sitting here, still, one week after we voted as an assembly to invite congregations to have this conversation to be this welcome, and to love through the controversy, I tear up and feel exhausted, emotionally.
And the funny thing is, this was only one of the issues my denomination discussed and shared about in our business; this business that is always personal and relatable because it is done within the Body of Christ with whom we are in relationship. There were so many things we did in the name of justice, not politics. There were so many issues on which we let scripture speak to call us to accountability as Christians who claim the name of Christ as our head and as our lead.
Many of my friends have written on this issue and have done so more eloquently and with deeper meaning to some. And now that I have finally written, I will go back and read some of those thoughtful and meaningful blogs. But I share my own experience as one who is changed by God’s grace, moved by God’s love, and encouraged by God’s transformation of even the church who gets stuck in tradition, in fear, in brokenness.
Thanks be to God for a blessing of freedom and for a church who is faithful to relationship, even and especially those who disagree, that all are welcome to the table, no exceptions.