Day 22: Space for Grace

Why should the church care about marriage? My answer could easily read like a Top Ten list from a late-night TV show, with the Number Two answer being this: Because we’re family, and Number One being Because of Grace. We have a running joke in my current family that if you don’t know the answer to whatever question is being asked in children’s church or Sunday school, always answer “God” or “Jesus” and you’ll probably be right. It’s the theological equivalent of the secular rule of “when you don’t know, pick C.” You could argue that my answers are about as about as shallow as picking C on a multiple choice test, but you don’t know my story. There’s the rub; too often we dismiss or judge other people because we only see what’s on the surface and don’t take the time to learn their story, and that’s what makes all the difference. So let me tell you a story before I lose the courage to do so.

I was raised in the DOC church, in a fairly typical mid-century downtown congregation. I was taught to respect other people’s opinions, that we have no set doctrine, that we are all God’s children, all that stuff. In my own congregation I saw the first female elders and deacons, female associate pastors, even female junior deacons. One of our youth pastors was loudly feminist and reported to be gay, although not openly. This didn’t bother the youth in the least, but did seem to grate on some of the adults, although not nearly as much as the fact that she played the guitar in worship sometimes. I saw the church wrestle with whether to give full membership to those who had been sprinkled rather than dunked, finally approving this after long, heated discussion. What pushed this vote over, I believe, was the congregation’s love for an associate pastor and a young married couple in the church, all of whom had been baptized as infants in the denominations of their birth. It’s all about knowing someone’s story.

I had a fair amount of sadness as a child, mostly due to my extreme shyness and being overly sensitive combined with some complicated family circumstances. In my high school years I developed a close relationship with someone of my same gender who had had much more trauma than me. This person was questioning transgender and questioning what to do with their life, but their family of origin had all the answers figured out in a different and very conventional way. We developed a close bond that I realize now, many decades later, was an emotional lifeline for both of us. When our families realized the extent of our relationship, we were completely rejected and shamed. To say this was a pivotal experience of my life would be ridiculous understatement. Much of what I understand now about grace has to do with how various people close to us dealt with this situation. My own family threw me under the bus in so many ways, even a sibling who had always been my supporter. I felt alone, broken, guilty, shamed, rejected- if it was a bad feeling, I guarantee I felt it. As a mother now, I have often thought that if one of my children were in a similar situation I would just grab them up in my arms and hug them and tell them that everything would be ok, that I would never stop loving them. I also remember thinking Wait a minute, I haven’t even done anything wrong! All I did was love someone who needed to be loved! All I did was accept someone who wasn’t accepted elsewhere! Isn’t that what you all taught me I was supposed to do?

Interesting, isn’t it? Why is it that families are where we are supposed to be loved and accepted, yet it’s where we receive some of our deepest hurt? Families are supposed to teach and practice grace, yet it’s sometimes the last place we feel it? As Christians we are supposed to be one family, we’re supposed to love and support each other as brothers and sisters, yet we often act like bickering siblings playing games of one-upmanship with the other. For me, a cradle Disciple, I was taught that all are welcome at the table, that we shouldn’t put up walls of doctrine or prejudice that separate us from each other and from God. There’s room for all of us. Move over. Where’s the grace?

I left my DOC family of origin a few years ago, partly because of their passive refusal to deal with the questions about being open and accepting as a congregation, among other things. I should have told them my story and said why I left, but some of those who threw me under the bus are still living, and I guess I’m just not quite ready to face that. My current congregation is in a denomination that talks a lot about grace. The first Sunday that I visited, the pastor spoke quite openly about that denomination’s current controversy about lifting their ban on ordaining gay ministers, and then proceeded to spend about 20 minutes saying that none of us are in any position to decide who is or isn’t worthy of grace, only God can do that, the irony being that none us are worthy, but She gives it to us anyway.

As members of the family of God may we all stop acting like jealous siblings and start acting like the loving family we’re intended to be. Loving families celebrate each others’ joys, like births, baptisms, graduations, marriages, and we comfort each other in our sorrows- loss, death, separations. A part of me will always be a Disciple, because that is where I was taught to make room at the table for everyone, regardless of denomination, doctrine, how they were baptized, or whom they marry. We’re a family. Pass the grace, please.

* This is our only anonymous entry for 2014. If you have questions or follow-up comments, please contact Audrey Connor at [email protected]

Why do YOU think the church should care about marriage?