No one can do honest discernment unless those who are most affected by the outcome are present at the table. As we began developing the denominational discernment processes in 1994, this was perhaps the key learning for me. Whether the subject is human sexuality, race, or any other arena of human life, everyone impacted must be at the table. Otherwise, those who are least affected by the outcome will tend to reinforce what they think they already know and will join tacitly or actively in reinforcing a group’s sweeping generalizations. Statements and assumptions that would never be allowed to pass, if those directly impacted were in the room and empowered to speak, pass easily and become a part of a sort of “group think”.
As a preacher, I always thought transformations in attitudes and behavior could be affected by preaching and by lectures. There is surely a place for good preaching and teaching, but if transformation (individual and/or congregational) is really the goal, then those most impacted by decisions must be present and empowered to speak and those who are least impacted themselves must constantly be made aware of the presence, experience, and perspective of those who are most impacted.
This is why I think it is not right for legislative bodies made up almost entirely of men to be making laws that govern women’s bodies and why it is perilous for legislatures and governing boards made up almost entirely of white people to make laws that impact how people of color are treated. We see what happens when a Congress comprised of mostly rich people makes laws that impact how poverty is or is not addressed.
This is why over the years the General Board of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has been such an oasis of discovery for so many people: nearly everyone is represented at the table and all those representatives have the power to speak. Every part of the Body is honored.
So when a congregation, or a region, or a denominational church board or assembly seeks to deepen its understanding of what the second commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, really means in practical everyday terms, they had better be sure that everyone is at the table, that everyone can feel safe enough and be safe enough physically, emotionally and spiritually to speak their truth.
The beauty of being part of Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Indianapolis, an “Open & Affirming” congregation, is that everybody is at the table. And everybody is at the Table. It’s great to have people who are different from yourself in various ways to be a part of classes and committees and work projects, etc. But I find it to be even more deeply transformational when you also regularly partake of communion together in worship and when a “person of difference from me” is often the one breaking the bread, or praying over the cup, or serving the elements.
Over time, this experience doesn’t just reinforce one’s ideas about what constitutes justice and righteousness. It changes us inwardly. It purifies our being, it impacts our capacity for empathy. It impacts our sense of justice, but it impacts our sense of humor as well. Things that used to seem funny aren’t funny anymore, and some things that weren’t funny now appear to be hilarious.
I am grateful to God for the “true community” that Central Christian Church is. It’s not perfect of course, because we who are members are not perfect (news flash). Nonetheless, it is surely transforming all of us who gather regularly at the tables and the Table.