Resisting Harmful Lifestyles

IMG_4576I’ve recently read a post from a Conference WCA group that offered a real and honest perspective, worthy of attention. The post called for resistance to the harm caused by the #resistharm movement, claiming that the “liberal theology” behind this movement is “causing untold harm to hundreds of thousands of wonderful people around the world…by promoting a lifestyle that rebels against the known will of God,” a God who does not “bless unholy or unrepentant people.” As a supporter of #resistharm, I would like to enter into conversation with this perspective.

While I don’t presume to speak for all, I can confidently use the plural when I say that we are not here to promote some secular agenda. As a church, we ask different questions: “How do we respond faithfully to anyone who desires to live as a follower of Christ and grow in relationships of faithfulness and love?”  Many of us are asking, “Is it faithful to assess certain people based solely on the way they identify rather than on their character and calling, faithfulness and fruitfulness?”  “Do we welcome some by saying they need to change in ways that we don’t ask others to change?” “Is it possible to develop a serious sexual ethic based not on identity, but on the virtues to which we are all called – monogamy, faithfulness, forgiveness and grace?  “Rather than judging some as ‘incompatible,’ would it not be more faithful to focus on forms of sexual immorality that objectify others for personal pleasure and cause so much harm in the world?” In short, how do we promote true holiness? We believe that the Holy Spirit is involved in this kind of questioning and is calling us to honor the struggle and to learn how to love one another in the midst of so many diverse expressions of faithfulness and fruitfulness. We believe that this process of struggling and learning is a lifestyle that truly glorifies God. I would even call it traditional – and certainly deeply rooted in Scripture.

With this desire to cultivate lifestyles of faithfulness, we do use the language of LGBTQ, with some adding A and I and +. This language seems to cause much holy discomfort. Why this language? We use the language as a way to express our hope that the church to be a safe place for people to engage in personal and spiritual discernment and find themselves welcomed into a lifestyle of glorifying God through Christ our Lord.  We use the language to acknowledge that suppression of this kind of discernment is not healthy and is in fact harmful. The letters themselves are fluid and are there to help people discern who they are as uniquely blessed children of God.  For example, I can embrace the letter “A,” as an “ally,” wanting to stand with those who are being harmed. This is one way this letter is used. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I am working on changing my understand of the term “Queer,” and learning to honor those who use this word to acknowledge that they are “different” and stand outside the sphere of what is deemed culturally normal, often without being a direct reference to sexuality. Some might say that this is the calling of the whole church.

Using this language as a tool for discernment is very different from using it to label others and assess their status in the larger community. That’s what we want to overcome. We long for the day when we get beyond labeling some siblings in Christ with letters, and colors, and references to gender, in ways that hold some to a different standard, outside the inner circle of those who are privileged and who do NOT feel the pressure to qualify and justify themselves in this way. Faithfulness demands that we resist this particular kind of “evil, injustice, and oppression.”

For one more clarification, I do not accept that “liberal theology” is to blame. I see “liberal” as another charged word used to characterize others as one-dimensional and thus lacking in life-giving truth. As sinful and limited creatures, we need more from each other than that.  While seeing through a mirror dimly, and in great need of the perspective of others, my theology is rooted in Christ, in Scripture, in the Creeds, in Wesley, and with a heart that wants to promote holiness defined, with Wesley, by the virtues of humility, patience, and kindness. Through my theological lens, I do not believe it is right to use God and the holy Scriptures as cover to protect our own privilege and conceal our own prejudices.  If I ever do that (and I do have blind spots that would make it possible), I hope others in the body of Christ will call me to repentance.

Oh, how I wish we could take the opportunity we are being given to share a positive witness to the world based on all the things in which we could find agreement, liberally sharing the love of Christ and the high and holy calling that we all have been given: to bear one another with a love that is humble, patient, and kind, seeking unity of spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:1-3).  I believe with all my heart that such a lifestyle would glorify God and be a much better witness to the world.

What Are We For?

While watching the news this week, one commentator asked: If our leaders lack a moral compass, then who can we look to for moral guidance? Who will lead us to be a force for good in the world? The implication was that we are lost without such a voice.  My immediate thought was, “the church.”  We are called to be this voice and this witness.  Amid many recent and worthy posts that provide clarity about what we must stand against in this day, I also want to reflect on what we are “for” as the church.  Here are a few thoughts:

We are for peace-making.  Scriptural and spiritual peace is about coming together in harmony, respecting one another, honoring each other’s voice, and working together to create something good between us.  We are for that.

We are for love– and a particular kind of love, love that does not insist on its own way, love that seeks what is good for the other, love that makes connections with those who stand on the other side, even those that some might deem as enemies.  We are for that.

We are for listening.  In our natural state, our minds and hearts become so cluttered with judgement that cloud the way of God’s transforming grace and guidance. As the church, we suspend judgement long enough to listen, long enough to see what is really going on beneath the surface, long enough to build a relationship with those willing to do so.  We are for this hard work.

We are for proclamation.  Yes, we listen first, but we also speak.  We have a word to share — a word of love and life.  We have a prophetic word to share – a word of justice and inclusion. In a word full of hate, bigotry, deep seated prejudices that cause harm, and intentional polarization, this proclamation sometimes takes the form of prophetic protest.  We are for that, as it is rooted in virtues above.

We are for freedom.  We cultivate community where all are free to grow into who God has called them to be, rather than trying to fit each other into a particular box.  In this freedom that comes through Christ, there is no room to claim the superiority of one image over others, or working to subjugate others into that image.

We are for boundaries. True freedom is possible only when there is shared commitment to certain boundaries. Only in this commitment can we be free to be open and honest and to be ourselves.  What is out of bound for us? Here is a start – lying, slander, assault (and bragging about it), justifying bigotry, causing fear and harm with threats, slurs and claims of superiority, building ourselves, and those “like us,” up by putting others down, deflecting to the faults of others.  To allow “isms” to spread like a disease when we have a Word with the power to heal is to be unfaithful to Christ, and a sign that our own body needs healing.

We are for honest history.  A sign of inspiration is that our scriptures were not cleaned up in a monolithic account.    We see ups and downs, successes and failures. We are invited to ponder different perspectives. This does not mean that we have permission to honor or memorialize those who worked against what the larger community deems to be right and good. In the church, we don’t put up a statue of Judas alongside the saints.  We don’t do things that might give people the impression that it is okay to betray the nobler cause. We engage our history to grow into a more faithful and fruitful future.  We must be willing to hear the “woes” of Jesus along with the “blessings.”

We are for multi-partisanship. It is worth noting that the words party, partisan, partner, all contain the word “part.” We are “part” of a larger whole.  For the whole to be healthy, we need people with different perspectives and ideas, within the boundaries of respect, compassion, and wanting to build something good together.  It is so dangerous when a “part” starts to think of themselves as the whole, as the sole owners of truth.  We call that totalitarianism and I dare say that’s not what any of us want.  We are the body of Christ, with many parts, many gifts.

We are for confession. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer has said, there is no true community where confession of sin is smothered or concealed, where our humanness is not honored, and where we are unwilling to help each other through without judgment and division.  The worst kind of loneliness is to be alone with sin.  To bask in the illusion of our own self-righteousness and superiority is to miss out on true life – which is always “life together” with others who have different gifts and can help us through.

We are for the calling of Christ.  The Apostle Paul begs us to live a life worthy of this calling, with all humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing one another in love, and eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  When John Wesley defined holiness he almost always used these words, as oppose to words that tempt us to “self-righteousness.” I see this calling as highly relevant for our time.  In this age of deep hostility and intentional divisiveness, I believe that this needs to be the witness of the church.  It is not a message of “cheap discipleship.”  In fact, it takes more spiritual courage to cross the aisle, and find new and better answers, then it does to retreat into our camps and comfort zones.

I will stop here for now, and invite you to reflect and perhaps add your own.  Who can we look towards to be our moral compass?  Yes we need this from our leaders, and yes, we also need to look in the mirror as well.