The Scary Conversation

The Scary Conversation January 30, 2006
“We are a multi-racial, multi-ethnic Christian body committed to living faithfully in the heart of this great city. To that end we strive to be welcoming, responsive, trusting and prayerful in everything we do.”

Wonderful, isn’t it?
Wish I had had something to do with it.
Alas, Calvary came up with this statement as part of a larger mission statement after a months-long visioning process led by interim pastor Jere Allen long before I arrived on the scene. This vision statement, which is printed in our bulletin every Sunday, is one of the things that first made me think I might want to be part of the community at Calvary. It continues to be one of the main reasons I love this community of faith.

See, we’re not just saying that we want to be diverse. There are truly a lot of different kinds of people at Calvary. Lots. And everybody loves to talk about diversity, but have you ever tried to live in the middle of it? It’s hard! That’s where a focus on our larger vision comes in handy. And, hopefully, that’s what will get us through . . . the scary conversation.

It came up yesterday in the annual church meeting, as I suppose it has been coming up all over the world in church meetings of various sorts. Is it time for us to stop tiptoeing around the elephant in the middle of the sanctuary and have the scary conversation? That would be, to publicly and collectively ask the question: “Is Calvary a place where we accept and affirm all people . . . even gay people?”

Since we’re Baptists we are not bound by any larger denominational position (in theory, of course); we are called to discern our own position as a congregation. But while we’ve managed to sit quietly on the sidelines not asking and not telling, we’ve watched churches and denominations ripped apart by all kinds of faithful people with strong convictions on several different sides of the issue (not just two!). And while we realize this is a question that will eventually need our attention, we just don’t want any more ripping apart going on here at Calvary.

That’s what makes it scary.

That and talking about sex in church, which makes most of us want to run into the deacons’ closet and hide.

This is not an essay in which I examine all the theological, scriptural, moral or ethical dimensions of this issue. You can do your own reading on those by checking out what Real Live Preacher has to say on the subject or picking up a copy of one of many excellent books on the topic (search on Amazon or email me for some suggestions). I do want to acknowledge, though, that this is an issue on which people hold all sorts of different positions and about which people feel very emotional. This is not an issue on which we will all agree, no matter how hard we work to come to consensus.

But, friends, this is nothing new for Calvary. Everybody here feels very strongly and very emotionally on almost every issue of our life together (Forget “the gay issue”. What about the punch recipe for Fellowship Hour? What brand of fruit punch used as the base for the recipe has been a hot topic of discussion in several meetings I’ve attended. And, remember the real vs. faux flower debate? Can’t get much more emotional than that!).

The question for us is, how are we going to address this issue in such a way that everybody feels they are heard and that, in the end, we make a decision that moves us closer to living out the vision we’re called to live out in this place?

I’m not sure exactly how that will be, but I think it needs to be a process in which everyone gets an opportunity to examine their position and express their views. It needs to be a process in which we all have an opportunity to learn something new and to listen to each other. And it needs to be a process in which we resolve in the end—whether we agree with each other or not—to continue our work toward that great vision we share: being the community of Christ at the heart of this city and being welcoming, responsive, trusting and prayerful in everything we do.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on how we might approach this issue, whether you are a Calvary member or someone peering in from the outside. From my perch all I can think of are the many faithful people who have traipsed through my office in tears to tell me about themselves or a family member struggling with the issue of Christian faith and being gay. I’ve always reassured them that there is a place for everyone in the body of Christ and also a place for them here at Calvary and I’ve done that truthfully representing what I perceive to be the position of this congregation—even though we haven’t had the scary conversation officially.

There’s a time and place for everything, and if it’s time to have the scary conversation, well, then, I guess we’ll have it. But no matter what happens I’ll keep saying the same things: that we are called to be the community of Christ in this place, that we can agree on that fact, that this is an opportunity to learn to love each other more and that, at the end of the conversation we’ll be sitting next to each other in worship on Sunday.

That’s not so scary, is it?

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