I am the Education Team Chair at my church - think "Director of Education", but without a salary, and in a team-ministry model. As such, I oversee all of the education ministries in the church. On of my favorites is the Wednesday Evening Forum, a kind of weekly seminar on almost any sort of topic, so long as it relates in some way to the life of the church. Usually we bring in a guest speaker/presenter. Last week we had a wonderful time with a local musician who presented on the Gospel roots of blues, R & B, country, rock, and Americana music. I say "presented," because he did much more than just speak or teach - he presented us with the music, and helped us learn how to hear it, how to listen intently and hear things that we may not have expected to hear.
Not surprisingly, that wonderful presentation set an attendance record. But I don't bring in guests all the time, and we can't always talk about the music we grew up listening to. Sometimes I actually get to do some teaching - or at least directing - myself. You may remember that early last month I gave a seminar on the Bible. Well, this month I have a more daunting task.
There is no more divisive issue in our culture and in our churches than homosexuality. This issue sets up some unique pastoral issues. While I don't like dividing our society up based strictly on sexual identity (which reduces a whole person to merely their sexual interests, desires, and behaviors), any sensitive church leader has to appreciate that a group that has been marginalized and stigmatized by our culture will have some unique issues related to that. As such, even though we need to approach homosexual persons as persons, part of affirming their personhood includes exploring issues related to their sexual identity.
Seeing a pressing need for openly discussing the relationship between homosexual persons and the church, my pastor and I decided to do a two-week series, a guided discussion designed to get the congregation talking about that troubled relationship. Yesterday we talked about our personal encounters with homosexual persons, and how they inform our views on homosexuality. It gave everyone a chance to tell their own stories in a safe environment, sharing deep feelings which they may have never had a chance to share in church. Next week we will talk about the ethical and theological issues which surround the topic.
My role this week was to facilitate conversation rather than doing much talking myself. Next week I will probably do more actual presenting. But preparing for both this week and next week's conversations, I put together a list of open-ended questions, designed to get people started talking. Today I'm posting some of those questions here, hoping that this format, while not quite as conducive for conversation as the church parlor, can still lead to some much needed airing out.
As the facilitator at church, my own views on homosexuality and the relationship between homosexual persons and the church were kept hidden so that they wouldn't shape the conversation too much. If we are to have an open conversation, we can't have anyone feeling that we are looking for a "right" answer. At the beginning of a discussion the only right answer is the honest answer, the open answer, the answer which helps air out powerful emotions which may have been festering for a long time. Here, however, my views are certainly not a secret. But, while each of you know my opinion, for the purpose of this discussion there are still no "right" answers.
I do have an agenda with this topic. I would love to see homosexual persons fully accepted and included in the life of the church. And, I would love to see their primary relationships affirmed by the church. But my primary agenda here is to bring some humanity to the topic. That agenda is more immediately important than the other agenda, because it keeps from fragmenting our already divided church. While some leaders on both the left and the right speak eloquently of prophetic moral vision, and decry the "idol" that is the unity of the church, as a worshiping Christian I hate to see any issue get so big that it overwhelms our ability to worship corporately as a single community.
With that in mind, here are some sample questions from both yesterday and next week's sessions. If you find them useful, try to answer them in the comments section so that we can have the sort of fruitful discussion here that my church has been having at our Forum:
Have you ever encountered a homosexual person?
Can you describe that encounter?
How did you feel during it? Were you comfortable or uncomfortable?
Do you have any sort of a relationship with a homosexual person?
Do you work with a homosexual person?
Do you have a homosexual friend of family member?
If so - and given that roughly 10% of the population is homosexual, you probably do, whether you know it or not - how does that relationship inform your views about homosexuality?
What should Christians turn to in order to inform their views of homosexuality?
What sorts of authorities should Christians consider as they wrestle with how to relate to homosexual persons, both as individuals and as a church?
Is there a difference between the way that an individual Christian should relate to a homosexual person and the way that the church as a whole should relate to a homosexual person?
Each of these questions assumes a heterosexual group attempting to make judgments about homosexuality from the outside. As such, these questions participate in one of the most common errors that Christians make: assuming heterosexuality as the normative Christian experience. I wrestled with that, but ultimately chose to embrace that error rather than ask probing questions which might lead to the public outing of a closeted homosexual before they were ready to come out. As we had our first discussion I heard the story of a mother who accidentally outed her daughter at a family event, convincing me that, in that audience, I made the right decision.
That said, this is a slightly different environment. As such, if anyone has wrestled with homosexuality in a more personal way, your stories are also welcome here.
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