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

Listening, Offering, Conversions

Written by: on March 6, 2015

Scripture, the word of God has a way of reading us, perhaps even more than we read it. Scripture is not reserved within the content of a book, it is expressed; it is sharper than a two-edged sword. I have yearned to live a life in accordance with God’s word. It seems that God has taken me up on that desire, although it has taken me where I did not expect. God has removed the sides of the tent I thought were safe and secure, framed by right and wrong. Nadia Bolz Weber reminds us “Jesus brings a kingdom ruled by the crucified one and populated by the unclean and always found in the unexpected.”[1]

 

The unexpected invites us to wrestle, to hold the tension (which might require some strength training and flexibility) because if we are going to study Scripture we are going to be challenged by what Scripture says as much as what it does not say. We are going to be confronted with what we might be projecting onto the word of God because of the frame that has been constructed.

 

Both God, Sex and Gender by Adrian Thatcher and Andrew Marin’s work in Love is an Orientation have exposed and brought into focus the tent and its construction. It brings me into tension of experience and Scripture, reason and tradition not as separate entities but as elements contributing the whole. Thatcher advocates and makes the assumption “that Experience does count as a distinct source of theology.”[2] Experience is always rooted. As we read, think and write we are interacting with what we have been taught, what we have heard, and whom we know. “Cultural experiences shape not only a people’s mindset but their subsequent action and reactions.”[3] When our cultural context is stretched or exposed we may sense growth or vulnerability.

 

I know. I have experienced all of these. I have friends that are gay. I wrote last fall of attending the wedding of two of my gay friends. Though it is some years ago, I am one who also told a gay friend that all she had to do to “change” was to pray. I have been that ‘someone’ who has been ignorant and fearful. Five years ago for a course required “stretching experience” I attended a UCC Metropolitan Church. They knew I was the straight one, yet they welcomed me. I have not forgotten the words I heard as the offering plate was lifted in thanksgiving, “Lord, thank you for these gifts, may we use them for your service and your glory, for if we did not have this place, we would not have a place to be.” It was during those spring months that I read Marin’s book for the first time. I admit I was searching, how could I relate to my gay friends? Were they really going to go to hell as I had been told and taught all those years? What I read then has informed my Christian walk. “Productive dialog comes from cognitive insight and can only be accomplished through an incarnational posture of humility and living as a learner.”[4] My gay Christian friends are my teachers.

 

Two specific things have been in my memory bank since that first reading. The first is that we tell people that God hears and answers prayer, so what do we say when we learn that for many God has not answered their prayer concerning same-sex attraction?[5] The second is that we do not understand identity. I am heterosexual, but I do not even think of my identity in relation to that, whereas a gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgendered sense of self comes from within. “Their sexual identity is who they are.”[6] Marin references the searching present within the LGBT communities to sort out and sort through their identity and to follow faithfully after Christ.

 

He writes of their perseverance and persistence in faith.[7] It is this faith, their faith, the same faith that I have in the same Lord that challenges me to not limit my interpretation of Scripture. This does not mean it is easy; we can thank Thatcher for wading us into deep water on this one. By delving into the history of gender and sexuality Thatcher exposes our orientation to see only one interpretation. And when we do so we miss the underlying sins that God seems to always be concerned with – hospitality, oppression, partiality to name a few. The God of heaven and earth is not just focused on one nation’s goodwill at the expense of others. God’s rule keeping has an undercurrent that I have often missed.

 

The call presented by both Marin and Thatcher is one of mutual listening.[8] This mutual listening will hopefully lead to inclusion. But Nadia Bolz Weber speaks honestly as a pastor of an LGTBQ congregation that inclusion is not easy, “If the quality of my Christianity lies in my ability to be more inclusive than the next pastor, things get tricky because I will always, always encounter people … whom I don’t want in the tent with me. Always. I only really want to be inclusive of some kinds of people and not of others.”[9] She is right. I can write of my support for my gay Christian friends and those that are not gay, but will I love my neighbor or the person who sees things differently?

 

Bolz Weber writes about the Ethiopian eunuch. In a traditional interpretation of the passage we typically focus on the conversion of the eunuch. But she wonders if something else is going on. “Perhaps Philip, in this conversation with a gender-transgressive foreigner – which consisted only of questions – learned what seeking the Lord really looked like, in a way that could only be learned from someone who did it in the face of so much opposition and rejection.”[10] The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, knowing because of who he was that he would not be admitted (see Deut. 23:1).  This story offers another conversion, the conversion of Philip. Interfacing with our reading I think I am starting to get it.

 

            [1] Nadia Bolz Weber, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint (New York: Jericho Books, 2013), 163.

            [2] Adrian Thatcher, God, Sex and Gender: An Introduction (West Sussix, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 39.

            [3] Andrew Marin, Love Is An Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 53.

[4] Ibid., 37.

[5] Ibid. 26-27.

[6] Ibid., 36, 38.

[7] Ibid., 32.

[8] Thatcher, 172.

[9] Bolz Weber, 91.

[10] Ibid., 93.

About the Author

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Carol McLaughlin

Carol walks this DMin journey from her locale in Gig Harbor, WA (USA). She is preparing for pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian Church (PC-USA), as well as teaches in the Online Learning Community programs at GFES. Part of the DMin Leadership & Global Perspectives 4 cohort (dminlgp4) her research and dissertation focus is exploring why baby boomers leave the church and what it means for their faith development. The views expressed here are her own.

8 responses to “Listening, Offering, Conversions”

  1. mm Deve Persad says:

    Carol I appreciate this thoughtfully written post. It demonstrates a great deal of contemplation over these topics and obviously we are enriched by your having read one of the books in years previous. With your two lingering questions, you say: “Marin references the searching present within the LGBT communities to sort out and sort through their identity and to follow faithfully after Christ.” There is a sadness that I feel when I meet people who are looking for an identity, whether they are LGBT or they are recapturing their high school years. They are often people who have experienced difficulty or disappointment (those are mild terms) and have had no one or no good resource to help them navigate through, so they look for meaning in a “label” and they harden themselves to preserve that label.
    Thanks too, for sharing that perspective of the Ethiopian Eunuch – so rich; I’ll store it away for use in the future.

    • Deve…
      It has been interesting to see several Christian friends (who are gay) explore their identity. What they have done and been willing to do is far more than what I have done. Their earnestness to confront and be honest with self, to seek the will and purpose of God in their lives has revealed an intensity and commitment that goes beyond my own walk. it is work that they felt compelled to do to live an authentic life in relationship with God. It bring many things into question, often the result of prior counseling that produced more harm in “changing” them.

      Marin’s work and his “posture” challenge me …

  2. Carol,

    Powerful, honest writing. Thanks for sharing.

    You say, “When our cultural context is stretched or exposed we may sense growth or vulnerability.” This week has caused me to experience both growth and vulnerability, and like you, I have experienced a lot of contradictory thoughts and actions regarding gay issues. As I said in my post, I will always love others — even those who are different than I. But I have always made silent assumptions that I don’t think (now) are accurate. As one raised in a fundamentalist church, like it or not, I am prone to reverting to that interpretation of Scripture in these areas. What I learned this week, however, is that there are different interpretations to consider. I knew this before, but I never took the time to fairly and courageously consider these perspectives. This has been a helpful exercise for me. Your post was part of that. Thanks for helping me think more deeply.

    In process…Bill.

  3. Telile Fikru Badecha says:

    Dear Carol, I truly admire your humility and learning spirit. You are right, our cultural experiences shape people’s mindset. I think that is why the continuing change in our cultures is shaping our Biblical and theological interpretation from time to time. I think the real question is the one you asked, ” Will I love my neighbor or the person who sees things differently?” It is my prayers to know how to show unconditional love for all God’s children.
    Thank you for your thoughtful post.

    • Telile…
      In a sense I think that we have always interpreted Scripture through a certain context. Perhaps the biggest challenge is to allow the words and experience of gay Christians to be heard. I think that means we have to be willing to come stand with rather than stand opposite. I don’t necessarily think it is about wrong or right. There is much I feel God is exposing to us. With you in this journey of learning to love.

  4. Michael Badriaki says:

    Carol, you have a way with words and I certainly love reading your thoughts! You start the post with presenting the tension believers might feel with the Scriptures’s double edges. You note that they read us more than we do read them. I sometimes wonder what God thinks about our struggles with spiritual and social issues. I have also believed that because of God’s love we have a lot of space to work out life’s issues with respect and gentleness but it’s not also the case.

    It get tricky at times. This is why I resonate with your statement, “I can write of my support for my gay Christian friends and those that are not gay, but will I love my neighbor or the person who sees things differently?” That is a powerful question you’ve left me with to reflect on.

    PS: I am glad Bill informed you about your blog post link of last week because I read it, loved it and wanted to respond but I couldn’t access it.

    Thank you!

  5. Michael…
    Thank you for your reflections…. Perhaps we need to begin to envision how we might able to work out life’s issues with gentleness and respect. What does that look like when perspectives are different and will not change? What is the sacrifice of love?

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