Being in the forefront?

I had a letter from my brother yesterday that made me sad.

He came out several years ago. It was a difficult process in many ways, and in the course of it, a number of relationships were either severed completely or broken to the point that reconciliation–while possible–may take many more years.

But as we shared in his wedding–during those few months that was possible in California–and as I’ve watched him and his husband, I’ve seen him happier than he’s been in years…more comfortable in his own skin and with acknowledging who he is.

One thing is missing, though…a church community that welcomes him.

We grew up intimately involved with the leadership of our faith community. They were our extended family–a couple of them literally so, but the rest of them simply by relationship. They were people we would have trusted with anything.

In 1974, our church was given guidance that said “You who are my disciples must be found continuing in the forefront of those organizations and movements which are recognizing the worth of persons and are committed to bringing the ministry of my Son to bear on their lives.” Quite a challenge!

I was excited about it, especially since it came at a time when we had been dealing with a significant issue in the church about baptism. We had made a decision, one that did not please everyone, but one that did just what that statement challenged us to do–to recognize the worth of persons and to share the ministry of Jesus Christ. In the long run, the rightness of that decision bore fruit.

Challenges continued to come…and we eventually began to ordain women, a practice that was opened through divine guidance. Again, it wasn’t a decision that pleased everyone, but it was the right one–and in the long run has proven to be right and of value. But we weren’t particularly in the forefront in that decision. Other faith traditions had begun ordaining women several years before we did.

And now we’re dealing with another challenge–issues of sexuality. Can we…should we….ordain LGBT folks who are either celibate or in committed relationships? Can God…does God…really call them to ministry?

Unfortunately (at least in my view), for several years, we’ve said that they can be called to ministry if celibate (though often that doesn’t happen)–but not if they are in a committed relationship, even if it is a legal marriage. Nor are our ministers allowed to perform those marriages, even in places where it is legal.

We have talked a lot about the worth of all persons…that God does the calling to ministry…of our challenge to be in the forefront of living that out. But in many ways it’s just words.

I think that eventually we will stop treating LGBT folk as second-class citizens in the church…but when? And my brother’s final sentence speaks to that question–and is what pained me. He said, “I hope for a change in the church acceptance of homosexuality.   But for many of us it will have come too late….and will speak more of inevitability than of the leadership we had hoped for.”

Being in the forefront isn’t easy…and as we struggle with what it means, there will be legitimate disagreements between individuals who have different experiences and understandings of God. But oh….what ministries and blessings we have missed because of our unwillingness to journey in faith! God calls to ministry–that I believe with all my heart. But what roadblocks we can put in the way of some of those who are called…roadblocks instead of bridges.

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