(originally published on her own blog here.)
I received some criticism for writing in August of 2014 that I might need to leave my denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, in response to its stance of welcoming, but not fully accepting those who are LGBTQ.
Friends, both Covenant and those without any religious affiliation,disagreed with my decision to part ways with a beloved denomination. They care about our struggle because they realize this conflict is about love and justice as well as mercy and compassion. They hope that maybe our church, our denomination, our faith might be a place to figure it out – a place where we can disagree politely, be heard soundly, and yet still find some common ground to remain rooted in faith and friendship. Maybe our small denomination could figure out how to be a model for the rest of the world.
Most straight people, in my part of this great world, have friends or family who are LGBTQ. They want their loved ones to be able to dovetail sacred marital vows with the most profound parts of their faiths. Many friends suggested I consider staying with the ECC to voice my concerns, to publicize decisions I disagreed with, and to call people to action as the Spirit led them.
That last phrase is key. I didn’t really expect to change my mind as our current policies are antithetical to my understanding of Scripture, of marriage, and of Christ’s clarion call to love. For me, leaving was a decision of conscience for how could I support a denomination with my tithes and time when people I know and love are ostracized, negated, and required to remain celibate because of their sexuality?
And, side note, what if a married LGBTQ couple, maybe even with children, came to a Covenant church? Would the minister have to counsel them to divorce? That just seems beyond ludicrous.
If I changed my mind and stayed, wouldn’t I be condoning damaging policies I disagreed with? Would I be letting down those whom our church discriminates against by not allowing them to find the joy of marriage and companionship as I was able to do in front of an altar with my husband?
As we enter into this next stage of our lives with our children growing up, our bodies wearing down, and our parents passing on, it is good to be together. I am broken-hearted that my denomination will not permit my LGBTQ friends to speak their own sacred vows in a Covenant church and will only accept them if they remain single and celibate.
A friend told me that wrapping his head and heart around this issue was like changing the direction of a battleship; it takes time. It’s impossible to turn more than 50,000 tons on a dime. But battleships aren’t made to go in a straight line; they can turn – given enough time. Turning them involves a complex arrangement of hydraulic pumps and gears and all sorts of other machinations; one person in the steering house can turn it, but the process involves many other components. Changing our hearts, minds, and policies can be even more complicated.
I decided to use this year to pray fervently, study diligently, and work hard to bring a conversation to the Covenant where all are invited to the table to speak and be heard. Come August 2015 – one year since I published the first blog of A Call for Conversation – I would re-assess.
The Holy Spirit, however, has never respected my time tables; just a little over six months since I published that first blog where I was contemplating leaving, I am re-considering. I am changing my mind, I think, and here is why.
My friend, Kurt Peterson, recently wrote: “If the Covenant has one thing to offer to American Christians, it is a community of faithful believers who remain in fellowship in the face of significant theological disagreement. The litany of theologically and culturally divisive issues that have threatened to tear the Covenant asunder abound: Baptism, language, women in ministry, eschatology, fundamentalism, biblical interpretation, warfare/pacifism. In each instance, the denomination has clung to the central idea of unity in essentials and charity in all else.”
This is the model the world needs. This is what my friends are all cheering for. This is what I want to be part of.
Can our denomination be the model where churches that are ready for inclusion and others that are not still worship Christ together? We already have churches that refuse to baptize infants or call women as clergy even though our church has clearly stated positions on both. I do not agree with either of those local church policies, but they are permitted to remain within our framework of fellowship. Why not also, then, churches that would like to fully welcome all of God’s children?
I don’t want us to exclude those who disagree with inclusion nor those who want inclusion.
Thanks to the vision and hard work of many leaders, our denomination has done great works: sending out missionaries to Alaska 130 years ago at our very first annual meeting to spreading God’s word in more than 25 countries in 2015; establishing a number of educational facilities; building loving communities for the elderly and disabled; starting hospitals and care centers; speaking out on key areas of social injustice such as immigration, incarceration, and racism; becoming ethnically diverse; encouraging women in the pulpit long before most other Protestant denominations; and supporting our youth and the camps that allow them time and space to learn about God’s love in the midst of God’s creation.
I am so proud of that legacy. Someday we may add to that list that our denomination is entirely inclusive. I hope that happens before I die, but at the moment, it seems reasonable that local churches be permitted the right to make their own decision on this matter and to follow through without any reprisals. Many congregations are ready to rejoice. Others are in process. I believe our denomination has the Christ-like capacity to embrace us all.
South African social rights activist and retired Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu reminds us: “It is also a matter of love. Every human being is precious. We are all – all of us – part of God’s family. We all must be allowed to love each other with honor. Yet all over the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are persecuted. We treat them as pariahs and push them outside our communities. We make them doubt that they too are children of God. This must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy. We blame them for what they are.”
I believe that God created us in His image. Genesis reminds us of this three times. Three times. Each of us is wonderfully made. I do not pretend to understand anything about what God does. I am simply going to follow the first and second greatest commandments, speak up for those who are persecuted, and do my best to follow Micah 6:8 “He has told you, what is good: and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Changing our hearts and minds can be slow. It can be uncomfortable in a lot of ways. It can be scary. Churches have always struggled with a variety of conflicts; I would posit that inclusion has numerous parallels to accepting women into ministry. Yes, change is hard, but we’ve done it before. Jesus modeled it, even demanded it, constantly in his three-year ministry. If changing our minds and hearts means loving better, then in the end, perhaps, that is the key point. Love should open us up, take us down paths we never imagined, and always lead us closer to Christ.
Ironically, part of my dilemma was choosing individuals over the very hard work of shaping a place for those individuals to be as welcomed and loved as I was and am – at the foot of the Cross, in the pews of a church, in the arms of the Covenant.
I thought it was a those (denomination) versus them (individuals). My epiphany this Lenten season (yes, I know, I’m a little slow sometimes), is that the struggle is not as simple as choosing sides; it is rather a struggle for a harmonious church comprised of all we wonderful beings God has created in His image.
My gay Covenant friend and I were talking about this. She wrote, My girlfriend and I have had countless conversations wondering if we will ever be considered a part of the church… for me it is my whole personhood, my whole humanity, my whole ability to be a part of both the Church and the church in question. I never ever want to leave the Covenant, and would never ask anyone to leave…For now I hope people stay, I hope people will fight for and with me, I hope to be a part of the Covenant…
That is the main reason I am changing my mind. That is why I am staying.
I would not have her stand alone.
I stand with her. I stand with those who are LGBTQ and want to be fully accepted members of my denomination. I stand with their families and their friends. I will pray with them. I will wait with them. I will continue to work for inclusion. I also stand with those churches and Covenanters who are not yet ready to make that step, who want time to consider, to pray, to think about, to converse. I am taking the long view and trusting in the love of Christ and the timing of the Holy Spirit. That is what the Spirit is calling me to do.
I hope our denomination will support churches who want to proceed towards inclusion and those who are not yet ready. I hope our denomination will grant those on both ends of the continuum the freedom to decide and respect for the choices local churches make. I hope our denomination will listen to the rising chorus of voices and slowly begin the process of turning.
We can do this. The world is watching us, waiting, and I daresay, hoping to see true Christian love and spirit in how we respect our differences, in how we change our minds and our hearts to embrace all – not just LGBTQ, but those Christian brothers and sisters who may disagree on policies, but find common ground in words of the Bible and in the grace, love, mercy, and salvation of Christ our Savior.
Photos by Kelsey Stevens
Written by Krista Brumberg Stevens