DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Accommodating the Other

Written by: on March 15, 2019

Four years-ago I did one of the most challenging things I have done as a pastor. I sat with eight other pastors over the course of three days and dialogued for the first time on same-sex inclusivity and the church. We all came from a variety of tribes and traditions and represented the spectrum of Christian belief. To join the conversation each of us had to submit a paper on our theological and practical thoughts and questions on the issue. Then, once together, we each presented our papers to one another, some of us (myself included) with fear and anxiety. What I learned from the conversation has less to do with the Bible and theology and much more to do with my inner world and how I view and treat others.

In Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church, four scholars do a similar work, but at a much more rigorous and academic level. They give their best study to the biblical and theological positions of both affirming and traditional perspectives on same sex relationships. They respond to one another’s perspectives with agreement, disagreement and further questions. Framing their conversation is a fifth academic and practitioner, Preston Sprinkle, an author in his own right and the founder of The Center for Faith, Sexuality and Gender.[1]

In reading the text, there were so many aspects that caught my attention that I considered writing two blogs this week. In particular, the treatment of women with regard to the Imago Dei and the conversation on consistency with regard to how the church handles divorce and monogamous same-sex unions are captivating to me and I hope to wrestle with them both in future writings. However, what I could not get away from was a question of how: How are we practicing a biblical theology that is consistent with the whole of the biblical narrative?

In preparing for my first out loud conversation with my peers, I wrote a paper addressing my convictions from two perspectives. First, that of my perspective on the truth of Scripture which aligned closely with my denomination, which holds that marriage is between one man and one woman in lifelong commitment. The second, was about love, specifically, how will we emulate Jesus in showing people the love of God who do not have our same belief or practice.

Today my theology has deepened, largely as the academic study of Scripture and my experience in further dialogue has become more informed. From the text at hand, the insight on biblical meaning and understanding help me consider the hermeneutics and nuances on engaging the Bible with regard to sexuality.  In particular, Loader and Holmes were very informative. Loader as a leading biblical scholar on sexuality, asserts the Bible does not make accommodation for homosexual relationship in any form but does not extend the teaching of the Bible to modern day. How shocking! His perspective that the Bible does not have all of the modern knowledge of today is reasonable but still a point that is difficult to swallow. And for Holmes, who argues for a traditional marriage between genders, he invites the possibility for same sex couples to be welcomed into the church in good standing, just as has been done for those previously divorced.

Here is what seems to get in the way most of the time for most non-affirming Christians I know: otherness. When we have no friends or close relatives that are gay, whether in identity or in action, we see them as other and are more easily intolerant. The Bible tends to be our stamp of approval on our behavior rather than our guide to discovery. We lean into the prohibition texts before the first and second commands of God and treat people accordingly.

While in the conversation with my fellow ministers four years ago, one who believed probably the most extremely different from myself said something that was so convicting I remember it more than anything else in the gathering. He talked about spit as a metaphor. He said that when saliva is in our mouth it’s part of us and we don’t have an issue with it. However, as soon as it leaves our body it becomes other and we are disgusted with it. When part of the self becomes less than part of us, we cannot take it in. This is what happens when we view those who are not like us, they become less and we automatically feel disgust toward them.

Could disgust be a major underlying piece of a traditional perspective on sexuality? If so, it will come through in our posture, which is probably my biggest concern in the entire topic. This is why Sprinkle’s final thoughts on further dialogue cannot be underestimated. The conversation among my peers gave me the ability to think and explore my beliefs and grow as a person because of the reality that we engaged with convicted civility, were willing to think deeply and openly with one another, sought to understand what the Bible means and not just what it says. The one aspect that was not included (and was called out) in our conversation, and may need to be called out among this blogosphere, is that there are no gay Christians in the dialogue with us. Let me give an example from yesterday as to why this matters.

I waited to finish this blog because Sprinkle happened to be speaking close to my home and I wanted to see and hear from his perspective in person. After sitting in a conversation with at least two hundred practitioners I had heard what I needed and left. I could see that Sprinkle was appealing to a conservative Christian audience of mostly white straight pastors. He knows them, he is one of them, and he knows how to speak their language. The unfortunate part was that, while he lives in the conversation on sexual identity, he did not have one person present on the platform from the LGB-TQAI (and C) community throughout the seminar. Instead, he had two empty chairs up front that were used to symbolize two of his gay friends, while he told stories about them and how they would react to specific conversations, terms, and biblical perspectives. The reality is that they had no “skin in the game”[2] and the opportunity for dishonor to an entire community of people, while not intended, could be felt at times. This undermines the conversation about how to really love people from the gay community well. For me, as a pastor who interfaces often with outsiders and has friends who are gay, lesbian, and queer, I could not laugh at some of the jokes or take the content lightly. As Sprinkle said at one point, both of his empty chair examples deal with suicidal ideation every day.

This topic is too serious, too important to treat lightly, to make jokes about, to question the letters of the acronym and their validity. Regardless of a stance, if we are going to follow Jesus we must love people no matter what we consider their sin to be, and, as Sprinkle did note, do so consistently.

The best thing about Two Views of Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church is that it engages the conversation in a civil way, all joking and judgment aside. It honestly and deeply explores questions. The scholars who engage the topics are doing their best to be faithful to the biblical and theological narrative while asking difficult questions of the text and one another. I only wish more of the church would have these conversations and hold tension with one another.

This is the exact type of dialogue I want to have with women, especially those who are different from one another, to help them engage one another’s stories and hold the tensions with one another so that we ay glorify God seeking the truth together in love.[3]

[1] https://www.centerforfaith.com/

[2] This is a phrase Sprinkle uses in both his introduction and conclusion about the gay theologian, Hill. Sprinkle,  224

[3] My apologies for this being extra-long. I shortened twice but wanted to include the conference from yesterday as well.

 

About the Author

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Trisha Welstad

Trisha is passionate about investing in leaders to see them become all God has created them to be. As an ordained Free Methodist elder, Trisha has served with churches in LA and Oregon, leading as a pastor of youth and spiritual formation, a church planter, and as a co-pastor of a church restart. Trisha currently serves as leadership development pastor at Northside Community Church in Newberg, OR. Over the last five years Trisha has directed the Leadership Center, partnering with George Fox and the Free Methodist and Wesleyan Holiness churches. The Leadership Center is a network facilitating the development of new and current Wesleyan leaders, churches and disciples through internships, equipping, mentoring and scholarship. In collaboration with the Leadership Center, Trisha serves as the director of the Institute for Pastoral Thriving at Portland Seminary and with Theologia: George Fox Summer Theology Institute. She is also adjunct faculty at George Fox University. Trisha enjoys throwing parties, growing food, listening to the latest musical creations by Troy Welstad and laughing with her two children.

17 responses to “Accommodating the Other”

  1. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Trish!

    Thank you for your wonderful writing about “otherness”, “disgust”, and even “spit”. You have made me think deeply. And, thank you for your ministry “seeking the truth together in love.”

    I was wondering what position papers were out there from your Free Methodist Church denomination. Not sure this is the most recent, but I found one from 2015 at:

    http://fmcusa.org/files/2015/03/FMC-pastoral-response-on-sexuality-without-bibliography2015.pdf

    What amazing timing that you were able to go see Sprinkle. Sorry there was not more representation on the podium…

  2. mm Mike says:

    Trisha,
    I read your post, all of it, and wanted to commend you for the personal energy and leadership investment you put into this challenging area before, during, and after Sprinkle’s book. We are broken people in this world suffering from so many pressures, challenges, and temptations. It’s a wonder any of us became Christians, but praise God we did, and many still do.
    No easy answers, but keeping an open dialogue, communications, missional approaches, and chaplain style tactics to reach the hard to reach give me hope and purpose to keep marching onward.
    Great post. Praying you Stand firm,
    Mike w

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Thanks Mike. I am grateful for our continued dialogue and doing so in ways that help us to really hear one another.

  3. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Trisha,
    I appreciate that you have gone through this practice before already and would look to you to lead the conversation in our discussion on Monday. It is interesting that Sprinkle did not actually include anyone who is gay in the conference you went to. This subject is a difficult one but in the end we are to love others as we love God. I made this statement this morning from 1st John, how can you say you love God who you have not seen, when you hate your brother. We may disagree but I can love you no matter what. In fact, without naming them I have a gay member of my family who is loved none the less.

    Jason

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Jason, I highly encourage going through the difficulty of having a conversation face to face with people who are different from us. It is so hard but also helped me to know where I stand and more than anything to love others who are different than me and to withhold my judgment.

  4. So many times, this is how the church deals with individuals. They place two empty seats on stage, and they proceed to speak for them in the form of generalizations and assumptions. People still remain voiceless and are considered agendas to debate.

    You mention, “I could see that Sprinkle was appealing to a conservative Christian audience of mostly white straight pastors. He knows them, he is one of them, and he knows how to speak their language. The unfortunate part was that, while he lives in the conversation on sexual identity, he did not have one person present on the platform from the LGB-TQAI (and C) community throughout the seminar.” This is highly problematic. It doesn’t just occur with the LGBTQIA community, but with race, gender and age. Instead of seeking to understand by listening, many pastors are seeking to cement their ideas through presuming. You also mention that they didn’t have any Christians from the LGBTQIA community. Who would you have recommended? I can think of a few.

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Thanks Colleen. I really think it would have been much more powerful for Sprinkle to have had his friends actually there with him and that they go on the road with him as he is doing these conferences across the country. It seems like it benefits him and not them or the rest of the audience.

  5. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Trisha,
    This is a great blog – full of past and present research as well as a personal reaction to all that you have seen and observed. I’ve got to admit I’m disappointed that your experience in hearing Sprinkle speak was so deflating. It leads me back to the church – do we say the right things at the right time (like we love all, we embrace all, etc), but how we actually behave is leaving two empty chairs “at the table”. The women in our cohort may feel this way more significantly then the men, but that’s another week 🙂 I’m not sure I got a sense for your personal thoughts on church leadership and homosexuality?

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Jean, yes, I was surprised by the fact that there were two empty chairs after I was impressed with Sprinkle’s work in the text. I did learn a lot from him both in the text and in person but I think this point went against what he says in the end of the text. Also, I did realize he was speaking to a very conservative group so maybe he was hoping to protect his friends, but I think he could have framed the day for that if needed.

      Regarding church leadership, I think that churches need to practice their beliefs, beginning with the gospel, particularly John 3:16. That also includes listening to people and not walking in judgment but in love. I have heard it said that “It’s God’s job to love, the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, and our job to love.”

  6. Shawn Hart says:

    So I am just curious if the interaction with Sprinkle helped you gain new perspective on this topic, or do you still see it pretty much the same way you did before?

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      It did! Two things right off – he mentioned not lumping LGB and TQ+ together which was informative. Also, he talked on same-sex with several different words after it – attraction, lust, relationship, etc. He asked what we consider to be sin. I think this is important to clarify as some people are celibate but consider themselves gay. Are they sinning? Are they welcome in the church? Often the repulsion is so strong that there is no chance to even get to this aspect.

  7. Trisha,

    Excellent post and thinking; thank you.

    This comment of yours stood out to me: “The Bible tends to be our stamp of approval on our behavior rather than our guide to discovery.” It is through experience that we open up to other perspectives.

    In our family, Karen’s nephew came out to me about 10 years ago when he was 18 or so. I was the only one in the family he felt confident in sharing this with, and I felt honoured that he had the confidence to reveal his journey with me. However, he shouldn’t have been worried about the others even though many of them struggled with the reveal of his orientation. His grandparents – a devout Baptist pastor and wife (these are my in-laws) – welcomed him and his partner to their home and loved on them as they do all their grandchildren. It was beautiful to watch. His dad was the last hold-out, but eventually even he too has embraced his son and the man who is now his fiancé, and who is the perfect match in many ways. We’re all getting ready for a wedding next year and are super excited.

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Thanks Mark. I am so glad your nephew had the courage to share with you and I am not surprised. I found the following on Sprinkle’s website to help pastors think through specific issues, including attending gay marriage ceremonies.
      https://www.centerforfaith.com/resources

      I hope you enjoy the wedding!
      Reply

  8. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Trisha,

    I thought this question was the most pertinent thing I read in our blogs this week; ?How are we practicing a biblical theology that is consistent with the whole of the biblical narrative?” I also found your consideration of understanding of ‘otherness’ important. Shane Claiborne suggests in his book ‘Irresistible Revolution’ regarding the poor that ‘It is not as though we (Christians) don’t care about the poor but rather that we don’t know the poor.” I think this is also largely true in the LGBTQ debate within the church. While we may have some contact with LGBTQ persons how many of us really ‘know’ them? I think Jake’s post speaks strongly to this. It is far easier to hold a unaffirming position if you don’t really experience that position with another who is affected by it. That has been the motivating force behind my own growth, and most others who have become more progressive in this regard. Though I still hold a high view of scripture I also recognize they are documents developed in a particular culture in a specific time and thus are not free from bias the way it often seems they are used.

  9. Dave Watermulder says:

    Trisha,
    Thanks for your in-depth blog post and for sharing your own learning and growth in this area. You simultaneously come across as very informed and serious as well as warm and inviting for conversation. I think this duality will serve you well as you continue to engage with this topic. I thought your image of spit was a good one (I might have to steal it)–but definitely is the case. That when something is native to us, or normal to us or part of us, we have no problem with it, but when it is perceived as other or outside of us, then it gets suspicion and even revulsion. I also thought that your ending anecdote about seeing the author speak to a group of largely white, straight pastors and how he had the two empty chairs there was telling. Yes, we are becoming much more aware of who is up in front, who is leading the conversation, and how our gay/lesbian brothers and sisters are being presented. That is a really important scene that you witnessed and it said a lot about where large sections of the church are today on this topic.

  10. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    yikes im cringing at this Spinkle event. That sounds pretty lame he simply had two empty chairs and he’s just using his two friend’s stories to further his own points.

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