Rev. Chuck Blaisdell, Pastor of First Christian Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, shares with us this pastoral letter recently sent to members and friends of First Christian Church.
I grew up in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and remember being taught that it was a point of pride that because of our congregationally autonomous structure, we were the only American denomination not to split over the issue of slavery during or before the Civil War. I am now saddened and shamed that I ever shared that pride in the fact that our Disciples forebears hid behind an organizational sleight-of-hand and did not take a stand when a whole race of God’s people were being brutalized and dehumanized by the abomination of chattel slavery. I also fear – and am also shamed by — the fact that I likely would also have been among those who prized such specious unity over offering a Christian witness in the face of what President James Madison first called “America’s original sin.”
But such hindsight can be too easy and too cheap when it does not lead to clearer vision for the present moment and a clearer understanding of what the Gospel of Jesus Christ means and requires. Our Disciples of Christ emphasis on the freedom of opinion and interpretation is a powerful and even counter-cultural stance in a world that so insists that only the like-minded ought to have anything to do with each other. Our insistence that we find our unity in Christ at His Table despite our differences remains a powerfully attractive witness by those who know that God’s love is for each and all.
Yet anything, no matter how good, no matter how well-intended, can also become an idol that is destructive. As I said in one of my sermons, an “idol” is simply something that has a power over you that it has no right to have. And that has happened: the good of a commitment to the freedom to interpret has become an idol when it helps contribute to a climate that has culminated in the vicious murders and maimings of almost a hundred of our brothers and sisters in Christ. The Reverend Kevin Wright has said better than I can how this has happened. Read and ponder his words:
Every time Christians refuse to bake a wedding cake or offer commercial services for LGBTQ folk, or rush to qualify their ‘tolerance’ with a reminder that it still doesn’t mean that they approve of the ‘gay lifestyle,’ they are saying that there is something less acceptable, less moral, and less equal about those individuals in comparison to themselves. These small refusals contribute to a larger cultural dehumanization of LGBTQ individuals, and when we make LGBTQ people less human, we allow ourselves and others to make them more expendable, more disposable, and more killable.(https://www.facebook.com/RiversideNY/posts/10154274695586133)
Moreover, in accepting the tacit dehumanization of LGBTQ folks, we also harden our hearts to the dehumanization of all kinds of the “other”: African Americans, Muslims, Hispanics. Now, I earnestly believe that no one reading my words intends to contribute to such things. And yet I invite you to join me in honestly asking ourselves whether our language about “tolerance” and freedom of opinion has in fact inadvertently contributed to the climate that helped make possible this horror.
It is time to move beyond the shibboleth of “freedom of opinion” and its puny cousin “tolerance.” First Christian’s Personnel Policy says this: “The church does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, age, national origin, ancestry, disability, sexual orientation, or familial status.” And we have regularly said that we intend to be a church where all are truly welcome. It is time, though, I believe for us as individuals and as a church to go beyond such passive language to provide a full-throated, unambiguous, active and emphatic statement to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered folks who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. I hope that we will say:
- You are not just ‘welcome,’ you are wanted.
- You are not just ‘accepted,’ you are loved.
- You are not just ‘free’ to worship, you have gifts to share with the Body of Christ
I hope that we will say “We want you to help us make sure that our language and actions never inadvertently contribute to your dehumanization.” Most of all, I hope we will say “You are safe here.”
How do we as a church do that? For most of my ministry, I believed it was important that in the interests of protecting “freedom of interpretation” that a congregation make no “official” statements concerning any particular theological stance. If that was ever correct on my part, I now believe it no longer is. The events of Orlando have made that view obsolete and even odious. I intend, therefore, to ask our Ministry Board to begin looking at initiating a study and action process to hopefully explicitly become what in the Disciples is called an “Open and Affirming Church.” That is one way in which we can begin to truly signal that we truly care about all of God’s people, all of our brothers and sisters in Christ – especially those who are under such threat simply for how God made them and who God made them to love. But it is also important that each one of us examine our hearts. I would therefore invite you to join me in honestly, if painfully, asking yourself if our language and attitudes have unintentionally contributed to the situation that Rev. Wright so wrenchingly describes. Can we vow never again to laugh at a joke that is told at the expense of a fellow brother or sister in Christ because of their sexuality? Will we speak up when folks slam and slur “those people” with falsehoods and lies?
A great, haunting, marvelous old hymn of the Church says this: “To us all, to every nation, comes the moment to decide. In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side; Some great cause, God’s new endeavor, offering each the bloom or blight. And the choice goes by forever ‘twixt that darkness and that light.” (“To Us All, To Every Nation,” Chalice Hymnal, No. 634.) I do NOT want us to recapitulate our forebears’ terrible mistake. I DO want us to ever more fully extend the love, the hope, the safety of the Gospel to those who are so often demeaned. The choice that the hymn speaks of is before us: Please, God, do not let that choice go by us forever; please let us choose for the good.
Chuck Blaisdell, Sr. Pastor