By: Tyler Sit
October 21, 2011
Fifty years ago, someone would have guessed it was just a fancy sandwich: LGBTQ. Now, it has become a global game of tug-of-war with communion bread, inevitably creating a “winner” and “loser” dichotomy. Churches around the world—and certainly across America—are spinning themselves nauseous over what to do with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) people, and I think it is time we reevaluate things mid-spin.
At FTE’s Calling Congregations 2011 Conference, one of the small group discussions explored strategies for creating a discourse around LGBTQ-related issues that are not divisive or hurtful, as so many of the current conversations have devolved to be. Many insights shimmered out of this conversation, but one revelation stuck with me that could help any denomination, regardless of their polity:
The conversation about LGBTQ people and the church needs to happen in a graceful space that is outside of the loom of legislative consequence.
Nowadays, the conversation is most often happening in the context of policy battles (whether denominational or political), where ideologically homogenous people cling to whomever lets them affirm their beliefs without questioning.
The root of this ecclesial tribalism is the fear of a looming legislative process. During any deliberation or conversation, everyone is lending one ear to the other side and the other to future implications. The result is thoughts such as, “I am starting to understand what they are saying, but if I change my mind then x/y/z will happen.” Ultimately, everyone hunkers down on the ballot, tearing themselves from their brothers and sisters across the sanctuary aisle in the name of their own ideological understanding.
Let’s imagine that you joined FTE for the Calling Congregations Conference, and you are sitting down for lunch. You hear that the caramelized walnuts over sweet potatoes are especially delicious (the conference did take place in the South, after all), but you see that there’s only one serving left at the buffet. As you’re walking to get it, you see someone else eyeing the sweet potatoes, and you are left with a decision: either sprint ahead and take the delicious side dish before someone else or “be gracious” and lose it.
“The conversation about LGBTQ people and the church needs to happen in a graceful space that is outside of the loom of legislative consequence.”
Herein lies the problem with trying to find concession in a strictly denominational setting: at the end of the day, everyone is going to feel as if they lost—lost either what they originally desired or lost an opportunity to demonstrate graciousness.
This is where FTE comes in, along with any other ecumenical organization that encourages people to listen. Rather than having this conversation in high-stakes denominational arenas, we need to enter a space where a diversity of opinion can discuss things without fear of legal retribution.
Furthermore, the discussion needs to be framed with one of the Covenants of Presence in by FTE’s VocationCARE model: “Turn to wonder, not judgment.” We need to ask the questions we could never explore during a denominational hearing, like “I wonder what led her to be so passionate about this particular subject,” or “I wonder if I have hurt anyone while fighting for what I believe is right.”
They are difficult questions that may ultimately uncover some personal wounds. But those wounds are exactly what are preventing this conversation from moving forward in a dignified and faithful way. They need to be healed, and that is not likely to happen in the noxious atmosphere of a high-stakes vote where you will either be the winner or the loser.
United under one cause, such as supporting young leadership in the church, organizations like FTE need to host conversations where people enter with the understanding that they must turn to wonder and, more importantly, that their opinions may change. After the conversation ends and there is neither a winner nor a loser, the conversation participants can then go back to the battlefield of their communities and wave a banner of new understanding. They will be able to show their churches, and the world, that there is no need for panic—there is an abundance of grace to go around.
Tyler Sit is LGBTQ Outreach Coordinator for the North American region of the World Student Christian Federation (www.wscfna.org)