The pastor of the local United Methodist Church (where I’ve attended and collaborated over the last year) recently offered his thoughts about the events surrounding Pastor Frank Schaefer. While some of it is internal UMC shop-talk, I think his perspective is challenging to the church at large. Here’s an excerpt:
I write as one of the pastors at First UMC Burlington. I do not represent our entire congregation. Here is my dream for our church.
Let us be fully, completely inclusive. That means we love, support, fully include persons regardless of their sexual orientation. It means we offer the full spectrum of what the church has to offer – blessing, membership, authority to exercise God-given gifts in our midst. We hold back neither baptism nor marriage from anyone or any couple, assuming their faith in Christ is intact and their love for each other is true.
Let’s be fully, completely inclusive. That means we love, support and fully include persons who do not accept the expression of human sexuality in homosexual relationships. They don’t need to hide in our midst or be embarrassed. While they can not prevent others from the full and authentic expression of themselves, neither will they be prevented from holding their convictions…
But here is the real challenge… I dream of a church where Frank Shaefer and Phil Robertson can worship together, both knowing they are loved, both approaching the Communion Table side by side. Not because they agree. Not with the agenda of one forcing the other to believe what he believes. But because they know Christ. Let’s get about the really good work – not easy, but eternally worthwhile – of behaving like disciples of the Master. [Read Full Post]
Two things stand out to me here:
1) On the first “fully, completely inclusive”, it seems that this would have to be worked out theologically as well as sociologically. While folks can certainly go to bat on the social issue (which, for me, is clear), it’s different for a local church (or even denomination) to discern things in the ecclesial dimension. Where does a robust biblical theology land us in our local context?
2) On the second “fully, completely inclusive”, I see the desire for a “third-way”, where we move beyond the conservative and liberal poles to a deeper kind of unity. But it seems to me that a third way is not just the sum of two extremes – it is a different way of thinking entirely. Thus, at present it would likely be impossible for Schaefer and Robertson to share communion and be in Christian community together, especially if Robertson refused to change his views somewhat. “Third way” churches (perhaps they don’t yet exist!) are those that don’t merely say “Get along!” – they say, “come and learn a different (kingdom) way forward.”
What do you think? Is this kind of church – and this kind of double inclusion – advisable? And, is a third-way where affirming and non-affirming people knowingly live in community and share communion together possible?