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There is No Shallow End in This Pool

It’s January 23, 2018. Things are moving at such a rapid pace right now that it’s becoming difficult to stay on top of all of the conversations I need to have with people. I realize it’s only been a few days since I last sat down to write, but it feels like several weeks have passed.

It’s another early morning after an incredibly late night as a result of a Board meeting that went on past 11:30pm. One of the more challenging things about trying to lead our church through this season is that there are still so many other needs that require attention for the broader health of our congregation. We had to review our year-end financials and set a budget for the new year, as well as hammer out some details related to our facility-sharing partnership, but the bigger conversation was looming and I could sense that we all just wanted to get on with it.

(Note: This post is part of an ongoing series called The View From Here. Please follow this link and start reading at the oldest post, Fear and Trembling.)

Before the start of last night’s meeting, I had an opportunity to talk on the phone with a pastor who told me that one of the most important things for me to do is get our Board on the same page about our process so that we can engage our congregation with a united voice. “Don’t walk out there alone,” he told me, “make sure your Board is with you.”

I have more to say about my conversation with this pastor, but for now, I’ll return to the Board meeting.

Once we made it through the other items on our agenda, we were able to spend time talking about some of the concerns that were already surfacing and what we thought our collective response should be as part of a longer-term direction for this conversation about same-sex attraction. About six weeks ago, when this conversation started in earnest, I had sent out some recommended reading to the Board. The impression I’ve been getting is that most, if not everyone, on the team has been fairly engaged with the material and has been starting to grasp the significance of what we’re being charged with leading our congregation through.

As church Boards go, ours is kind of like a professional sports team that is early in a rebuilding process: beloved veterans have departed, making way for exciting young prospects. But as every sports fan knows, a rebuilding process can be painful, especially at the start. Alongside a small core of long-serving members, we have four team members who have been leading in this capacity for a year or less, two of whom were attending their first meeting when we started into the conversation I’m writing about now. Needless to say, there is no shallow end in this pool.

Our Board was all over the map that night. It was the first time we had sat down to discuss where things are at and what was coming down the pipe. The day before, a couple of parents had emailed me to share their concerns about having Eric remain in a leadership role, with one family sharing about the struggle they were having with whether or not they should send their child to the upcoming Youth Retreat. What I found out at the Board meeting was that this same family had also contacted a Board member directly to express the same concerns and to ask for a clarification about our By-Laws. In their opinion, the language in our church’s By-Laws would exclude someone who was gay from being in a position of leadership and they were asking our Board for a response. The stakes had just been raised.

A number of years ago, when our church incorporated, we were required to develop a formal membership roll. The Board in place at that time wrestled at length with what we would require of members, which was challenging because we belonged to a denominational family—the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada—with membership requirements that we knew many people in our congregation would struggle to accept. In the end, we decided to focus on the many important things we had in common and not let minor differences get in the way of our ongoing affiliation, and we adopted their statements as our own.

The section on Definition of Membership begins:

“Membership in the Church as a corporation shall consist only of those Persons who give credible profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour. They shall give evidence of compliance with the biblical standard of Christian practice…”

An extended list of prohibited activities follows, including the list of vices from Galatians 5:19-21. Then, a specific definition is given of sexual immorality, “interpreted to mean common-law marital relationships, pre-marital and extra-marital sexual relationships...and all forms of homosexual activity, along with other practices deemed inexcusable for Christian conduct, and which place a person under God's judgment (Romans 1:26-2:11).”

This was the source of the question brought to our Board after Eric shared his story. Since membership is open to those who refrain from, among other things, “homosexual activity,” the individual wondered if that should not also apply to a person serving in a leadership position. The fact that Eric was not a member and that we did not require those in leadership positions to be members (the Board being the lone exception) meant that it was not a violation of our By-Laws for him to continue in a leadership role.

Opinions around the room ranged widely, from feeling that we were making it unduly difficult for people by allowing Eric to continue in a leadership role, to wondering how we could even consider asking him to step down given that all he had done was admit that he was same-gender attracted. What we all needed was a space to process what we had only been dialoguing about over email to this point; a chance to say some things that we had been holding in until we could sit down in person like we were finally doing. I knew that our conversation as the Board was unique in that we would be asked to provide guidance to the congregation, but I also realized that, in another way, this meeting was a microcosm of what would need to happen for the church as a whole.

There were no resolutions made that night, beyond a commitment to take a deeper look into our By-Laws and follow up with the individual who submitted their question about leadership. Myself and another Board member also planned to extend an offer to meet with any concerned parents for further conversation as soon as possible.

By the end of the Board meeting, a number of thoughts and feelings had been expressed, and it became clear that only a couple of us had already landed firmly on this issue. I think it’s fair to say that the remaining members generally held a traditional view of marriage and sexuality, but were struggling with how holding such a view should play out practically in a church. It was one thing to say that you did not support gay marriage, but it was another thing to say you would be prepared to ask a leader in the church to step down because of his sexual orientation.

While we acknowledged that the stakes were high, we all knew that there was only one direction to go from here, and that was forward. I don’t know exactly how everyone was feeling or what they were thinking when they left that meeting, but in the words of one Board member, “I feel that even in disagreement we can show love and respect to each other while engaging in thoughtful dialogue, which makes me hopeful that the same process can occur within the broader church as we navigate the next few months”

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