Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

On the other hand, sometimes the middle is right where you are called to be

Written by: on March 22, 2018

Amazon, for all of it’s faults, is a pretty amazing and useful website (somehow that title doesn’t do justice to what Amazon is… but I digress).  For instance, when I went to the Amazon.com page for this week’s assigned reading, Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community by Andrew Marin, there was a little grew box at the top of the page that let me know that I ‘purchased this item on April 20th, 2009’.
April of 2009, then is the first time I engaged with Andrew Marin’s critical contribution to this conversation.  And I can say, somewhat unfortunately, that Marin’s book is as unique and important today as it was then (the unfortunate point is that more of the conversation hasn’t moved in this direction, not that that Marin’s voice is still important).

When I re-read the ‘P.S.’ of Brian McLaren’s foreward, I instantly remembered how, as I was engaged in fairly intense theological (and emotional) debate over this issue during my seminary years [with some of the ‘big’ Presbyterian names in this debates: Gagnon & Achtemeier], it had become a kind of hope/wish/prayer for our discourse with each other.  McLaren writes:

I’d like to ask you to do Andrew a favor, OK?  When you turn the last page, some of you will be disappointed that Andrew didn’t go further.  And others of you will be concerned that Andrew went too far.  Between here and the last page, you’ll have your checklists in mind, waiting to see if he says and doesn’t say the things you want him to.  (Marin, 14)

After taking David Brooks to task for playing the ‘both sides’ card too often, highlighting this point might seem a bit, shall we say hypercritical.  However, my issue with Brooks was that it frequently comes in a effort to ‘seem’ balanced.  Here, Marin’s middle way – or fourth ideal – is really all about fostering relationship, community and understanding.  These are the most worthy goals in my mind.

McLaren’s foreward also lead me to reflect on the moment, during the interview process where I thought I lost the job I am now in.  It was during my second or third phone interview – so two or three hours into the conversation with the nominating committee – and the question came from one of the members: ‘A member comes to you and wants their child to be married in the church, it will be a same-sex wedding, what do you do?’  [In PC(USA) Polity there is freedom of conscience on this issue as well as share responsibility: so, as a pastor it is up to my conscience if I am willing to officiate a same-sex wedding, or not, the church cannot compel a pastor in either direction- and I cannot be disciplined either way;  the session, however, has full authority and final say over whether same-sex weddings can be held in the church/church property]

Taking a page from Marin’s book – (103 ‘why one-word answers’, to be exact) I immediately made it clear that I wasn’t going to give a very good or satisfying ‘interview’ answer.  I shared that if they were looking for clear, ‘easy’ answers, I could do that if we wanted to talk about what I believe the ‘bible says’ (although I loathe that phrase – and Marin does a great job of working through why it’s never quite that easy, while he worked through the ‘major’ texts) about homesexual practice – in the abstract.   But, first, I reminded them that the session would have to make the decision about the wedding and the church.  Second, I shared that I was much more interested in a deeper, more important question: how do we show God’s love, grace and salvation to everyone involved in the situation?

I shared as well, that I truly believe that faithful Christians can come to different conclusions about the sinfulness or lack thereof of a same-sex marriage, but that generally that is not the conversation or the focus that the church is called to have.  And, regardless of where one falls on the spectrum of understanding here, as a Christian all of us are still called to extend God’s love and grace – so what does that look like?

I believe this book and the wisdom located within is a critical dialog partner for leaders and congregations seeking to share God’s love and faithfully witness to the community they are located in.  One of the biggest lessons, however, is not in any way specific to the topic of homosexuality.  Rather it is about how Marin approached a topic – and a group of people – who he didn’t understand and had many presuppositions about.  The section about Marin’s Bible study, first mentioned on pg. 20-21 and then again beginning on pg. 105, where Marin talks about the Bible study he lead and he asks why his LGBTQ friends came and why they invited others is, in my opinion, incredibly instructive.  He engaged with them as children of God – not Gays and Lesbians…. Whatever difference we have with people – where ever we are tempted to judge people for behaviors  before we know their hearts, it would be wise for us to follow Marin’s example – he didn’t sit in judgement, instead he invested time – his whole life, really – in building relationships.

Relationships are messy and they don’t produce many one-word answers…. But, I think, that is exactly the point.  And that is exactly the kind of life God is calling us to lead.


I preached last week about Family – and who we are supposed to consider family as followers of Jesus – I think it directly relates to what Marin has done and to this conversation…. plus I talk about my dissertation…. If you want to check it out you can do so here: HPC Traditional Service or here: HPC 2nd Mile Service

About the Author

Chip Stapleton

Follower of Jesus Christ. Husband to Traci. Dad to Charlie, Jack, Ian and Henry. Preacher of Sermons, eater of ice cream, supporter of Arsenal. I love to talk about what God is doing in the world & in and through us & create space and opportunity for others to use their gifts to serve God and God's people.

8 responses to “On the other hand, sometimes the middle is right where you are called to be”

  1. Jim Sabella says:

    Chip, what a fascinating story about your interview. And, what an answer filled with wisdom. Most people want a quick answer and in many of life’s complex situations there is no quick answer. Sometimes there’s not even a right answer, but I do believe there is almost always a right question. You asked it: “how do we show God’s love, grace and salvation to everyone involved in the situation?” I can see why they called you to their congregation!

  2. Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Well said Chip: “…is really all about fostering relationship, community and understanding. These are the most worthy goals in my mind.” Church life and issues would be much simpler if we would hold these goals before us in all we do.
    Wow- tough interview question, and you obviously nailed it. Congrats!

  3. Mary says:

    How much more love can we show than that, Chip!?! Thank you for pointing this out in such an engaging way. The conversation is important, but strong relationships will further more meaningful dialogue.
    I really appreciated your story. The church called a really wise and gracious guy!

  4. Stu Cocanougher says:

    Chip, thank you for sharing about your ministry and your context. Simple answers sure are easier. And sometimes they are enough. But is it wisdom to know when to give the short, simple answer and when to avoid it.

    So, when they asked you that question, did your inner voice shout “Oh Crap” ?

  5. Katy Drage Lines says:

    Chip, I really considered not writing about Christian responses to people who are gay, but rather to focus on Marin’s model for leadership. So I appreciate you reflecting on (and sharing a real-life example) of one of Marin’s strengths as a leader: an unwillingness to provide simple, one-word answers to complex questions. It’s easy to provide a thorough and abstract “what I believe” with a question like that, but the nuances of taking the middle way go much farther in fostering honest and broad relationships.

  6. Lynda Gittens says:

    I know that one of my clergy friends in their catechism was given a scenario on the gay community. This was about 8 years ago.
    We can always speak on what we would or may do in a scenario but when fact with the reality, reveals our true feelings. When I ws in the wedding industry, I was faced with a few same sew commitment ceremonies, and I was challenged in my beliefe and teachings but I also recognized that as a retailer (I decorated weddings) you served the public. I enjoyed the bride as we went shopping for decor and I learned a lot about her journey). When you listen to people and understand their journey, you don’t see them as a label but as God’s child.
    Thank you for your post.

  7. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    “Relationships are messy and they don’t produce many one-word answers…. But, I think, that is exactly the point. And that is exactly the kind of life God is calling us to lead.” Yes indeed! How often we go through life and forget this! Our lives do not come with prepackaged one word answers rather they come with a complexity of questions! Wrestling through those questions in community is what we are called to do. In order to to that it requires us to establish relationships with one another. Thank you for your reflections!

  8. Kristin Hamilton says:

    I really appreciate your wisdom, Chip, and your willingness to put your possible job on the line to stay out of the realm of one-word answers and focus on the messiness of loving people.
    McLaren’s statement in the forward meant a lot to me. I have a pretty straightforward opinion on the matter of same-sex marriage and LGBTQ inclusion, but it’s not enough to know my own stand anymore, I have to be willing to truly listen to others who disagree, agree, or are unsure where they stand without insisting they agree with me.
    I will say, though, your mention of Gagnon fostered a deep rage within me having had to read his book in Seminary. Not a lot of love there…

Leave a Reply