Mission Friends for Inclusion

Responding to the reaction to North Park University’s statement

As the response to North Park University’s statement on the removal of Pastor Judy Peterson unfolded, MF4i board member Lisa Peterson was compelled to share her story. We repost her response here for all to read:

It is while wearing many hats that I respond to this thread: Christ follower, therapist, MF4i board member, and 4th generation Covenanter who has worked for NPC/NPU, Covenant Retirement Communities and served with Covenant World Mission. I am an active member at North Park Covenant Church. My heart aches for where the ECC is (or is not) in the LGBTQ conversation.

If you had told me ten or fifteen years ago that I would be an active participant in the LGBTQ conversation, you could have knocked me over with a feather, as I had a very different view then. However, if there’s one thing I have learned in my adult life, it’s that I shouldn’t say, “I’ll never do that!” to God because then it will surely come to pass.

In my work as a therapist, my niche is LGBTQ youth (and adults) who fall under the umbrella of the church. As I have networked with lead, assistant and youth pastors, youth group leaders, school counselors, teachers, professors, Pastor Judy, etc., I have been told how great the need is for queer people of faith to have a safe therapeutic place to work through their stuff – stuff like everyone else’s stuff. Sometimes it’s about their sexuality or gender identity, but mostly it’s everyday stuff, because they’re everyday people who just happen to be queer.

It was a God thing that ultimately gave me a front row view of how NPU cares for their queer students… something NPU has done fairly well from the information I have received from students along the way. Is NPU perfect? No. Allies generally are not because they are also human. Pastor Judy, however, has been named often in that care circle – and there are many other good and trusted allies over there on Foster Ave.

Part of my early work landed me at an agency that worked with homeless LGBTQ youth. One day I sat with one of my many queer drop-in clients, a young transgender homeless woman whose brother had been killed in an act of gun violence over the weekend. Her family had kicked her out when she came out, and they now barred her from coming home to mourn her brother. She was barred from attending the funeral. She was barred from being known and loved. It was a heartbreaking, eye-opening day for me, and I went home and cried a river.

God wouldn’t leave me alone after that. I couldn’t keep the many stories I heard from my queer clients from infiltrating my mind and heart at any given hour. So then I began talking to people, having coffee with the people I mentioned above. I spent time reading books and talking to pastors. I’ll never forget a coffee meeting with Rev. Eva Sullivan-Knoff. Her words, more than anyone else’s, have stuck with me. As I gave her my questioning heart and potential wonderment around the possibility of working with queer youth under the umbrella of the church, she said to me,“Lisa, if this is God-ordained, it will happen.” And it still makes me cry to recognize that it has happened.

The work feels God-breathed, especially given the fact that I certainly would not have imagined it for myself. Ever. I have sat with many, many queer young adults from NPU and heard over and over how Pastor Judy has been a rock and safe harbor amidst the already tumultuous times of being a college student. And this is coming from people who claim the faith and those who don’t. Judy is a pastor to all, and does not discriminate an iota. “Jesus is for everyone!” I can hear her exclaiming in my ear as I write this post.

Yes, Jesus IS for everyone! This whole thread reminds me of work that I do with Christian parents, in particular, when they have a newly “out” child. I help them figure out how to come around their queer child and know and love them because of their queerness, not in spite of it. Many times these parents hold a traditional view and need to work thru the anguish, questioning, disbelief, etc. (all the feelings!!!) and what I say to all of them is this: “That is ok. Give that stuff to me. Don’t give it to your child. Let’s process that here, in a safe and contained space.” I feel the same way about this conversation.

According to ECC publications, “we are in it together” and refer to our mission of more disciples among more populations, in a more caring and just world. The idea is that we desire to journey together as a fellowship of believers, recognizing that we can agree to disagree while still encouraging each other in our walk with Christ. As a denomination we have often been guided by the phrase “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.” It is ok for us to disagree on the non-essentials; we’ve done this well with varying interpretations of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. So why can’t we boldly enter into the LGBTQ conversation in the same manner?

Let’s be respectful of our differences, let’s listen to each other and hear from our queer brothers and sisters in Christ who are just as much Covenant and Christian as you and me! We are in it together. Let’s commit to not causing harm in the name of the Gospel and encourage, rather than discourage, NPU’s embrace of queer youth who have few places to turn, sadly even within their own church family (the ECC!). All are created in the image of God… and all that put their faith in Christ are part of the body of Christ on earth. We are in it together!