(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.)
When reading through the comments for a second time, I categorized them and found that exactly half of them expressed either a neutral opinion about the issue or did not express any opinion but focused on the value of the process we were walking through. The number of individuals who expressed ‘traditional’ or ‘affirming’ leanings were about equal, with a slight lean in an 'affirming' direction.
Here is the update our Board (Steering Committee) shared with the church at an informal meeting following our morning service on April 29:
Thank you for engaging with our church’s conversation about the intersection of same-sex attraction and Christian faith.
This is not a process we began with any assumptions about outcomes. It is a process the leadership of Elevation has undertaken with a tremendous amount of prayer, listening, reading, and conversation. We also appreciate that this is something that many others in our church have taken seriously and have engaged with deeply.
Because this is a topic that is important and sometimes quite emotional for people, it has required a lot of pastoral care and time for thoughtful response. As a result, the last few months have been very stressful and the issue has been incredibly time-consuming, for Brandon most particularly, but in some measure for the rest of the Staff and Steering Committee as well.
We know that it can be a challenge to wait, that it is easy to worry about what is or isn’t happening, to wonder whether things will go the way you hope they will or the way you fear they will. But this is not a process we want to rush through. As much as a quick resolution might feel satisfying, we want to be sure to make time to listen to one another, to listen to Scripture, and to prayerfully consider what happens next.
At this point, we would like to walk you through both what has happened and what will happen next.
Listen and Learn
We are grateful for the one hundred plus people who came out to the Listen and Learn sessions in March, engaging in thoughtful and respectful conversation. We have appreciated the feedback from those who came to the sessions and also from those who were not able to join us, but still took time to share their thoughts.
The feedback we received shows that the majority of attendees learned a lot during the process. Here are a selection of comments that represent the variety of responses we received through the online follow-up surveys in mid-April:
“I'm proud of our community for trying to do this.”
“The Bible doesn't talk a lot about same sex interactions, however it does talk a lot about looking out for the oppressed and marginalized.”
“I have never viewed Elevation as a church that tells me exactly what and how to think, yet on this topic, there are many people who want to know the church’s stance. The last I checked, this topic was not one of our core beliefs.”
“I realize it’s not my job to change anyone’s heart or find all the research to convince people to believe the same as me. I am comfortable being a part of a church that invites all in, because I want all people to know God and I trust in the way He works.”
“Silence and unclarity from the ‘front’ is hurting Elevation as a church as well as some individuals…”
“I believe the Bible clearly teaches it as wrong. But it feels like even within the church, someone isn't considered loving or Christ-like without accepting it as okay. I wish there was a middle ground of still being able to be loving while still believing it's wrong. What that looks like is what I wrestle with…”
“When I think of Elevation one of the things that is so different is that the discussion tables every Sunday provide an opportunity for people to discuss. That's what we do. We don't have to all agree. And whoever spoke during the service doesn't have the final say.…Now enter the topic of same sex attraction and suddenly some people want answers. Some people want agreement. But the essence of Elevation is discussion. It's not having it figured out all the time. It's learning to journey with and journey through. It's listening to one another. That's what we've been practicing for. Now is the time to live it out.”
“Unless we root ourselves in Scripture as we go through this process, we will find ourselves swayed by the impact of individual stories.”
“Are we trying to reach a decision on the basis of Scripture? Or trying to keep as many people happy as possible?”
“What I appreciate most about the way Brandon and the Steering Committee are leading us is that they are acknowledging that those of us who are side A Christians are in fact firm believers who love Jesus and are seeking to follow our conscience on this matter.”
“There is room in my pew for both A and B same sex relationships, encouraging them to serve and feel accepted and loved. Having said that, I can't see our church becoming a fully affirming church. Scripture is unclear, this could very well be a sinful lifestyle, not to be encouraged. May God walk us through this with His wisdom. Thank you for walking us through this, it's long overdue in Evangelical churches.”
Through the resources we’ve been studying and in listening to the voices within our congregation, we have seen a diversity of interpretations both of Scripture and of what it means to love our neighbour as Jesus does. We are a community of Christians who come together around core beliefs about God, the church, the Bible, humanity, and our future destination. We are also a diverse community of people who believe different things about a variety of matters, including the intersection of same-sex attraction and Christian faith.
For some in our congregation, this is a critical matter, while for others it is not an essential issue. We have even experienced this diversity among our church’s leadership.
During this season, we have drawn on our Key Values and Core Beliefs to help guide us as we navigate a way forward. One value that has been most helpful to us in recognizing who we are as a church is that of a Journey Mentality, which says, in part, “In the spirit of honest dialogue, we will ask our questions openly and listen for new ideas from others, respecting our different backgrounds and celebrating diversity. We will invite people to experience the eternal kind of life that Jesus offers, walking with one another through times of questions and struggles, as well as times of answers and celebration.”
A number of related and important questions have surfaced during this season of listening and learning. We believe that coming to a better understanding of our posture with respect to these important areas of our life together will bring some clarity to who we are as a church and how we move in the world. In turn, we will be able to answer some of the questions that relate specifically to the intersection of same-sex attraction and Christian faith from a place of strength and conviction.
Some of these key issues and their related questions include:
Diversity - What does it mean for us to journey together in faith when there are real differences between us? What commitments are we prepared to make to one another? Are there limits to our acceptance?
Leadership - What is the role of the leadership in our church? Who will be invited to serve in a position of influence?
Mission - How do we understand our calling as a church? How will we engage with the culture around us? How will we live out the ministry of reconciliation?
Redemption - What is sin and how does it affect our lives as followers of Christ? What does it mean for us to be saved from sin?
Scripture - How do we read the Bible? What claim does this sacred text have on our lives? What happens when there is a lack of agreement on what it calls us to?
Sexuality - What does it look like to flourish as sexual beings in a world of sexual disorder? How do we understand our sexuality as part of a life of discipleship?
Truth - How much can we know? What is our expectation of others when it comes to areas where we do not see eye-to-eye? How comfortable are we living with tension?
Back in January, during our Listen Up series, we explored some of the practices the early believers used to navigate some very complicated waters at the Jerusalem Council (see Acts 15, as well as the sermon from January 21, “It Seemed Good.”) There were five primary factors that were in play as the church tried to discern a path forward during a season of deep disagreement: Dialogue, God’s Activity, Higher Principles, Fruit, and Scripture. Only after considering all of these (and perhaps other) factors, was the Council able to issue the statement, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…”
Our Steering Committee is continuing along a similar path of discernment, and it’s our hope that one day we will be able to speak with that kind of humble confidence. After our team meets together in late May, our intention will be to provide another update on how we see our church and its leadership engaging with the issues and questions we’ve just outlined. However, in order to provide Brandon with a time of rest from the intensity of this season, we are going to hit ‘pause’ on our conversation around this theme for the month of May. We believe this is a valuable way that all of us can care well for our pastor at this time, and we would ask you to provide him with the space he needs over the course of the next few weeks.
In the meantime, we ask for your prayers for our church’s leadership and for your patience as we walk carefully but resolutely into the bright future that we believe God has in store for Elevation. If you have specific questions about what we have shared this morning, members of the Steering Committee will be available for some informal conversation.
Since last week’s Board meeting, I’ve been doing some more reading and research around the idea of having a ‘third way’ response to all of this: not picking a side, whether traditional or affirming, but acknowledging the diversity of our community and committing to walk forward in that diversity. How would this work in real time? Is it really possible for people with strong convictions that move in opposite directions to find a way to worship alongside one another?
I’m looking for examples of churches that are already living this out, searching for evidence that what we’re chasing after isn’t a pipe dream that will only end up delaying the inevitable church split. Even so, what if the best way for our community to move forward right now also ends up dividing us at some point down the road? What if all of our attempts to “hold the tension” and practice “unity without uniformity” ultimately fail? Does that mean that we shouldn’t have tried?