Frank Schaefer & Phil Robertson Take Communion

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?

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About Zach Hoag

Zach J. Hoag is a writer and missional minister from notoriously non-religious New England. His book, Nothing but the Blood: The Gospel According to Dexter was released in 2012. Twitter & Facebook.

  • ryanlrobinson

    Our church attempts to be Third Way. They do not perform same-sex marriages and at least the top decision-makers would generally consider it sinful. But there are a lot of us who want to see that change. We recently had a sermon on this Third Way, with same-sex marriage as an example, and talked about in our Young Adult Home Church where almost everybody disagreed with the church’s stance. We also ran through a bunch of other controversial issues that night, some that we were unanimous on and others which were pretty much split down the middle (I’ll admit surprise at a few cessationists). I know of at least a few LGBT people happily married to the same sex who still choose to live in the tension of worshipping with those who don’t fully affirm their decision. We can all take communion together and gather in Home Church together. 

    As long as Jesus is in the centre, I believe there’s no reason we can’t strive to follow Jesus together side by side despite our disagreements. Of course, I say this as a straight man; I wouldn’t dare to tell somebody who is gay that they must go to a non-affirming church even with those examples of those who do and are content with it. I have some issues that are deal-breakers for me – egalitarian leadership structures for example – and I acknowledge that others will, too.

  • Joshkap

    Zach,  I write from Albany NY.  As you know we recently passed your Burlington for most “post-Christian” city,  I wonder if these ideology divides aren’t our biggest problem.  I long for that “third way” Church.  But for that “third way” to work, we’d have to consciously downgrade Ideology.  And, how can we downgrade ideology unless we change the form of our Church meetings.  If we continue to spend the bulk of our community time together in teaching and learning contexts, then we are subconsciously placing ideology as paramount over community.  What if we elevated community over excessive ideology?  What if we brought Communion back to the dinner table?

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    ryanlrobinson Ryan, this is really good to hear. I admit, I don’t think there are many “officially” non-affirming churches where this kind of disagreement is tolerated and LGBT folks are fully included. Our church plant fell into that category, and it was a beautiful thing while it lasted. Hoping that more and more Third Way expressions will emerge among those that both do and don’t perform gay marriages.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    Joshkap wait a second – Albany is LESS RELIGIOUS than Burlington??? Damn. We gotta get our title back. :)

    And, I like your thoughts here bro. My only pushback would be that I do think, teaching and learning notwithstanding, people tend to shape communities based on conservative or liberal stances on these issues. A Third Way will need to be taught.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    brianb55 I’m guessing someone smarter than me in the areas of gender & sexuality would argue with your leap of logic in point 2 (therefore all orientations are innate, which also assumes that every desire equates to orientation). Further, @markdemers is clearly assuming monogamy – so he’s not talking about including people who want to marry farm animals or whatever. “Full inclusion” is full inclusion of monogamous adult Christian relationships.

  • brianb55

    zachhoag brianb55 burlmark  Zach, I made no mentiion of or implied that there may be people who want to marry animals.  I will, however, make this point:  I told friends of mine who support homosexual marriage that if the definition of marriage is changed to mean anything other than the union of one man and one woman, and if it’s only about fairness, equality, and love, then anyone should be allowed to marry whomever they want, and the number of people they marry is irrelevant.   The recent ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups has found parts of Utah’s anti-bigamy law unconstitutional.  It is only a matter of time before practitioners of polygamy vociferously demand their “right” to make polygamy legal.  Where, then, does it stop?

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    brianb55 brian, i don’t appreciate you deleting your initial comment. if you want to have an honest conversation here, let your comments stand.

  • brianb55

    zachhoag brianb55 Zach, I honestly don’t know what happened to my original post..  I always want to have an honest conversation.  I’m sorry.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    brianb55 zachhoag ok – not sure what happened either if you didn’t delete it. let me see if it’s retrievable.

  • HappyHeretic

    Hi Zach.  New reader here.  Brought in by your resolution post.  

    I am not sure I understand the question: Where does a robust biblical theology land us in our local context?  Can you expound a bit on it?

    On your second point, I can only say that my wife and I left the conservative fundamentalist church more than 20 years ago, and recently began looking for a local church motivated by the birth of our son.  It has been dispiriting to say the least.  Being quite progressive in our orientation we visited many mainline denominations, some advertising themselves as emergent, and even some anabaptist congregations (we live in PA, a hotbed of Anabaptism!) and they all seemed so tired and formulaic.  It seemed obvious why these churches are in decline.  They don’t offer anything substantive.  I am not being terribly articulate here, but if this is what Christianity has to offer in the form of an alternative to Fundamentalism, it is in trouble with a capital T.  Christianity as represented by the current institutional church seems to need a radical re-orientation if it is not going to slide into the obscurity of history.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    HappyHeretic I’m inclined to agree with your conclusions, and I’m sorry you’re running into that dilemma. As to my question, I’m essentially wondering if churches taking a third way stance on gay marriage and gay relationships are the churches of the future. But there will certainly have to be more than just a stance – there will have to be a vibrant passion for Jesus and the work of the Spirit to restore and transform our lives.

  • HappyHeretic

    zachhoag HappyHeretic Thanks for the reply.  Let me try and re-state to see if I understood you correctly – rather than simply over-laying social justice concepts over tired old orthodoxy, we need a radical new theology which embraces social justice as part of its core conceptualization of the message of Jesus.  Is that correct?  Something akin to what Francis seems to be trying to do in the Catholic Church?  

    If so, are the mainline denominations up to it, or will this have to be a grass-roots movement?  Look at what the independent, non-denominational churches and the Southern Baptists Convention, which I believe is something akin to a religious confederacy, did for the conservative fundamentalist movement.  Is something similar needed in the progressive movement (if that is a fair way to describe what we are talking about)?

  • Joshkap

    HappyHereticzachhoag  Check out Missio Alliance.  Zach has talked about it before.  Zach and I both hail from the progressive north east.  Locally we see decline in both the lefty mainline and more conservative evangelical churches.  Missio Alliance attempts to break the stale, mechanical ideology that you mentioned, the stuff that causes church division and rot. Missio is new, it’s a “big tent” of denominations that haven’t traditionally worked together.
    Other groups like the southern baptists or the Gospel Coalition are actively trying to grab the mantle of “middle Christianity.”  These groups are well funded and they have big microphones.  But their approach to everything from life to reading just doesn’t translate well in the North East.  Like they’re trying to force NY to be Texas. 
    The way forward must start with Unity in the “body of Christ.”  Not a false “unity” that is achieved by bullying from the “middle.”  The way forward must translate well across all of the divides.  Only Christ.

  • HappyHeretic

    JoshkapHappyHereticzachhoag Joshkap, I will check into that.  Thanks for the suggestion.

  • HappyHeretic

    brianb55zachhoagburlmark My understanding of the Utah issue was that the law over-reached, and criminalized co-habituating adults a polygamous.  The defendant is civilly married to only one of his sister-wives.  The others simply cohabitate with them.  Nowhere else that I am aware of is a group of adults simply living together as married considered to be polygamy. 

    “Where does it stop?”  I recently read an interesting blog post that proposed that conservatives and liberals (it was by an atheists, so I am not copying her categories verbatim) view the issue differently by using a matrix.  Conservatives use a matrix based on what is acceptable to their religion vs. what is not.  So polygamy, gay marriage, pedophilia, bestiality, etc all fall into the same ‘box’ because is not permissible from their religious point of view.  Those of us on the liberal side use the criteria of consent (which is based on the concept of harm) as the distinguishing characteristic.  So gay marriage and polyamorous marriage falls into the same box as traditional marriage since it involves consenting adults.  Bestiality, pedophilia, etc does not involve consent and therefore would not ever be acceptable.  This relates to what is civilly permissible. (There are, of course, a whole host of issues about polyamorous relationships, such as child custody and benefits, that would need to be dealt with)  Personal religious view would differ considerably, but since a position based on consent would never coerce someone into marrying a same-sex person or multiple people, it would not violate someone’s personal religious position.


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