Being a Disciple

I wear many hats in my life. I am a physician, specifically a family medicine doctor specializing in nursing home and hospice/palliative medicine. I am a wife, married to another physician. I am a mother to three very bright young adults who are 13, 18, and 22. I am a “cradle Disciple,”

born and raised in the Disciples of Christ, and a former elder, Sunday School teacher, children’s church worker, and member of various committees. So much of who I am and what I have been able to do in my life I owe to my Disciples upbringing. Beginning in early childhood I was taught that all of God’s children are equal and loved. I was taught to respect other persons’ opinions even if they differed from mine. I learned that “we are not the only Christians, but we are Christians only,” and “no creed but Christ,” and my favorite, “in essentials, unity, in nonessentials, liberty, in all things, love.”

I’m not going to discuss the medical evidence that sexual preference is very likely hard-wired into our brains before we’re born, or determined very early in development, because enough has already been written about that. I’m not going to discuss the Bible passages that have been misinterpreted to suggest that being gay or lesbian or transgender is a sin, because plenty of excellent theologians have already written volumes about this. What I want to consider are the basic teachings of the Stone-Campbell Movement, which I believe compel us to be affirming and inclusive without regards to whom someone chooses as a life partner. The best thing about being a Disciple to me has always been the simplicity of what we believe: God is love. We are all his/her children. Jesus came to show us how to live, meaning we should love and treat each other the way he loved and treated us. That’s it. Unfortunately as Christians we have argued to the point that we have divided ourselves again and again, and we have thrown up barriers that have excluded or alienated many of God’s children. Between denominations, and even inside our own denomination, we have pushed ourselves farther apart rather than joining together around our common beliefs.

Although I have been wonderfully blessed in my life, I have experienced minor prejudice in several ways. By growing up Disciple in the South, I had friends of other denominations who didn’t understand my church and were sure I wasn’t really a Christian and was going to hell. As a female seeking a medical education, I was accused of going to medical school just so I could marry a doctor, or of taking up a spot that a male student could have had. When I had children and didn’t stay home with them full time, I was accused of being a second-rate mother. A few years ago, I experienced a small act of exclusion that taught me a huge lesson. I was attending a “unity service” with several other churches from Campbell/Stone backgrounds. When the time came for communion, all the elders of the participating churches were asked to come up to help with communion – all the male elders, that is. Since the host church did not have women elders, the women elders from the other churches were not welcome to assist. It was even worse that the female DOC minister who had helped to plan the service was not allowed to pray at the table or speak from the pulpit.  The feelings I experienced then of exclusion, of being second-class or flawed or less worthy of God’s love have stayed with me. I can only barely imagine the prejudice that my gay and lesbian friends and colleagues experience on a regular basis. I am ashamed of times that I may have treated other people this way, or times I have stayed silent and watched while someone else was being excluded.

During my adult life I have attended churches of other denominations, but was always a Disciple in my heart. Roughly sixteen months ago I left the Disciples congregation where I grew up and have been on a search for another church home since. What I seek is a church that lives the values I was taught early on. I have tried to find a church 1) that welcomes all persons equally to the table, regardless of race, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or politics; 2) that acknowledges that persons may have the calling to ministry regardless of gender or sexual preference; 3) that celebrates communion weekly, because I need the frequent reminder of my connection to universal family. If you plug various denominations into this equation, you will find that it’s fairly easy to meet two out of three things, but not all three. Although some Disciples congregations have declared themselves to be Open & Affirming to all who follow Christ, the denomination as a whole and many individual congregations have avoided taking a stand on this issue.

What I believe now, more than ever, is that we Disciples have much to offer our broken society, but we must concentrate on those basic values I learned early on: Unity. Liberty. Equality. Love. We must have the courage to have discussions about things that are hard to talk about.  We must have the humility to realize that we have not loved each other as we should have, and to seek God’s calling instead of being led by our own prejudices.  We must have the faith to change how we do things even if we are criticized for it. Our identity statement is beautifully written, but now we need to go do what it says: “We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. As part of the one body of Christ, we welcome all to the Lord’s Table as God has welcomed us.”