News from AllianceQ: January/February 2020

No one excluded from God’s love

A joint reflection of faith from General Minister and President Terri Hord Owens and AllianceQ Executive Director and Minister Melissa Guthrie Loy

From Terri Hord Owens

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  John 13:34-35 (NRSV)

As members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), we are committed first to be followers of Jesus Christ. We understand that commitment to include faithful discernment of Jesus’ teachings, the wisdom of the apostles and prophets, and the leading of the Holy Spirit. At the heart of this journey is love: loving our neighbor as ourselves, loving one another as Christ has loved us. Disciples have historically held Christian unity as our “polar star.”  Unity is not uniformity, nor is it the absence of disagreement. It is, however, a reflection of the love that we are called to have for one another.   Working through disagreement is hard work that must be grounded in the Holy Spirit, for none of us is immune to personal biases, judgments or opinions. We gather at the Lord’s table regularly; we do not refuse to gather at that table or walk away because we disagree, but we honor the new covenant represented there with other, with God and with God’s creation.  There all are welcome.

Our polity (governance) as a denomination reflects our belief that each one has the responsibility to discern the truth of Scripture for oneself, engaging our siblings respectfully, trusting God to illumine the dark and difficult places where conflict arises. The light of Scripture shows us the way to unity, and our respect for the humanity of each one compels us to affirm that, while we may disagree, we do not destroy one another.  Our polity also affirms the self-determination of congregations, regions and individuals in coming to theological conclusions.

The general expression of Disciples (across the US and Canada) does not mandate selection of pastors for congregations. The general Church does not own congregations’ buildings. We do not insist that everyone agree with a particular position held by leadership in the regional or general Church. This congregationally-based polity is difficult, especially when differences of theological positions are held tightly. To walk together as one body even when we disagree is the greater witness. In so doing, we reflect Christ’s radical hospitality and love for all. By engaging Scripture together, we affirm its centrality in our journey, while acknowledging the complex nature of these texts. To mandate any theological position upon which there is diverse understanding raises the risk of dismissing our siblings. The better approach is to start with love, as Jesus taught. To dismiss others because they disagree is to withhold the love to which Jesus calls us. Holding fast to this uncompromising call to love is, I would argue, a more faithful understanding of Jesus’ teaching.  And ultimately, such love can help to bridge divides. If no one can be dismissed because they are different in their understanding or in their identity, then no one can be excluded.  NO ONE.

The 2013 General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) meeting in Orlando passed a resolution stating that the Church welcomes all, and for the first time, included sexual orientation as an identity that should not be denied the radical welcome of Christ and Christ’s church.  Many congregations, clergy and lay persons did not agree, but the majority of those at the 2013 General Assembly did agree to call the Church to a posture of welcome.[i][1]As General Minister and President, I do not have the authority to mandate that all congregations deem themselves as open and affirming, nor does the General Board nor the General Assembly. The 2019 General Assembly meeting in Des Moines passed a resolution inviting the whole church to educate itself about transgender persons.[2]  We cannot mandate adherence to either resolution, but with the leadership of many regions, clergy and congregations, as well as ministries such as Disciples AllianceQ, we can offer the space for discernment and education as we all seek to follow the command of Christ to love each one whom God has created, whether we understand them wholly or agree with theological positions they may take.

As GMP, I do have the right to express my own theological positions, and I have gone on record as being open and affirming of all God’s people. If we are to walk as loving and welcoming persons, we must make room for those who disagree, even as we may affirm our own theological understanding. Through prayer and discernment, may we be found to be obedient to Christ’s commandment to love -completely, unconditionally. Be determined that no one shall be excluded from the community of believers simply because they disagree with us.

No one.

How do we not become exclusive in our efforts to become inclusive?

From Melissa Guthrie Loy:

Every body is part of the Body of Christ. Every body who aligns with us and those who draw lines between us. No more lines, please!

We are one body with many parts. Oh, how I wish the body looked and moved and lived into its wholeness. But still we are a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. Still we are seeking to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with our Lord.

As an openly gay ordained minister with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and as the Executive Director and Minister with the Disciples LGBTQ+ Alliance, I am honored to be a part of our movement. I feel called to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly[3] with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) because it is intentional in its efforts for unity. Just as I hope and pray that I am welcomed fully as I am into the full life of the Church, so must I welcome fully my siblings; even those who do not yet embrace me.

I believe we will only be whole when the wholeness of each person is affirmed and included. The witness of our denomination—our movement for wholeness—can be the commitment to affirming the inherent worth and sacred gift of every body as each body journeys toward wholeness.

I am grateful for the call to full inclusion for those of us who are LGBTQ+. I am grateful for our General Minister and President’s affirmation of all people. I am grateful for the commitment of many leaders of our general church to place LGBTQ+ persons in positions of influence and to prioritize affirming ministries. I am grateful for the growing number of ministries that are proclaiming their welcome and affirmation as well as new ministries that are planted O&A from the start. I am grateful for the leaders and lay individuals who are a part of the Disciples Justice Ministries working group, and I’m grateful for partnerships at the intersection of our many identities and the commitment to deepen and improve these partnerships. I am compelled to expand these gifts as we all bring our gifts to the table.

“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NRSV)

Because we see dimly, because we have an insufficient understanding of what it means to be truly inclusive, we pursue gracefully and graciously a wider welcome. Because human lives and dignity are on the line, lines are being erased. No more lines, we pray.

Alongside general church leaders and other ministries of the church, the Disciples LGBTQ+ Alliance is striving to affirm the image and likeness of God in every body as the many parts of the body live together. AllianceQ is committed to following the commandment to love and so build authentic, abiding relationships which gracefully engage individuals and ministries in a journey of welcome—in affirmation, invitation and belonging. This holy work will change our lives and the church. LGBTQ+ bodies come in all types of bodies and so we are mindful of the intersections of identity, especially other marginalized groups. We are mindful and prayerful so that our work to set a place at the table for persons of all gender expressions and sexual orientations does not exclude the fullness of who we are individually or collectively. The designation as Open & Affirming is one milestone in the journey for justice. AllianceQ is committed to building a more just and inclusive church so that all may fully live into the abundant life to which we are called in Christ Jesus.

And so we call you to (re)engage with us at the table so that we can continue to widen the welcome at God’s Table which is for all. Forgive us, Holy One, for what we do and what we do not do. Guide us, Holy One, for we cannot do anything apart from you. May we continue to walk and serve and love together in this body, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Terri Hord Owens and Melissa Guthrie Loy

 

[1] GA-1327 Becoming a People of Grace and Welcome to All

[2] GA-1929 An Invitation to Education for Welcoming and Receiving the Gifts of Transgender and Gender-Diverse People

[3] Micah 6:8

This join reflection of faith is cross-posted on Disciples News Service.