The following post was written by Nathan Albert, Director of Pastoral Care at The Marin Foundation.
I recently spoke at a conference on the east coast to just over 100 pastors about homosexuality and the Church. All of these pastors have been in ministry for numerous years, some longer than I have been alive. They also are all part of the same denomination, many went to seminary together, and they often come together for retreats. On this occasion, the retreat focused on sexuality.
The denomination, to which these pastors belong, holds to a traditional view concerning homosexuality. Yet, as I quickly learned, not all the pastors at this retreat agreed with the denominational stance. This is a sticky situation for many- how does one publicly teach denominational stances yet still privately dissent?
And so during this week of lectures and Q&A sessions, I heard a lot of pastors openly and honestly express their concerns. Some affirmed same-sex marriages; others maintained that homosexuality was a sin. And yet through it all, everyone seemed to get a long. I mean, for real. Debates would occur in a session but around the dinner table laughs were had.
The women and men at this retreat agreed to disagree theologically. They agree to voice their concerns and thoughts. But they agreed to remain united and, more importantly, they agreed to love one another.
At one point a pastor got up and passionately made a point about his disagreement with certain theological beliefs in the denomination. He mentioned when people often make their “theology” their pastoral response, they mess things up. Then he went on to say, with tears in his eyes, how much he loves the other pastors that were in that room. Another made the point that his call as a pastor meant he should be willing to die for another. It seemed that their unity as a church community was more important than their theological beliefs about six passages of Scripture.
And so, lately I have been thinking about the utter importance of ecclesial unity. The Gospel compels us to remain united. The Gospel compels us to sit in pews with people who may vehemently disagree with us on particular theological issues and yet still be able to “pass the peace” and worship as one congregation. That is the offensiveness of grace. Just look at the book of Jonah for a lesson on offensive grace. Churches cannot divide over this theological topic. In my opinion, division is sinful. It is more damaging to split over this topic than to remain united with differing opinions. If churches divide, we are giving a watching world yet another reason why they should have nothing to do with Christianity.
The reason I work for The Marin Foundation is because I have so many close friends who are LGBT and sadly most of them want nothing to do with Jesus or the Church. I have always loved the Church and I have always loved my gay friends. And for years I could not figure out why it seemed the two could not go together. I want nothing else than to be able to go to church with them.
But I’ve learned the Gospel compels me to more. Not only am I to sit in pews with my gay friends whom I love dearly, but in the same pews, should be the people who call my loved ones “faggot.”
I don’t think I am at that place yet. But I know that is what I am compelled to believe and hope to enact. That’s reconciliation. Jesus, after he was resurrected, went back to the people who murdered him and forgave them. He essentially said “I still love you, I want to sit next to you in the pew.”
My hope is that even in our differing theological opinions, our pastoral response is always one of “let’s sit in this pew together.”