Thursday, November 5, 2009

Not Your Usual Theological Disagreement

Yesterday morning I received a phone call from Lovely Conservative Colleague. She asked whether I had some time to talk, either yesterday or today. We agreed that she would come to my church at 3 PM.

From that moment (it was morning when we spoke), I felt my pulse start to escalate, and my blood pressure elevate. I was full of fear. I felt sure I knew why she was coming. I felt sure that her church had decided to initiate a judicial action, either against me or against the local judicatory that approved my church keeping me.

It was a long, tense day.

When she arrived, we sat together in my office and prayed. Then she spoke.

I find I don't want to try to summarize all she said. It's too complicated and it's too full of the kind of arcana that makes people who don't happen to be polity wonks of my denomination nuts.

Here is the short version. She and her husband (they serve a church together) are troubled that I am not, in their view, in compliance with our church's policies. (But I am... we disagree on interpretation. We are not alone in our disagreement.) They are espcially troubled because we work together on a particular annual project that has to do with training church leadership, and they are not sure they can be a part of it if I am a part of it... especially I end up teaching about our church's policies.

More broadly, though, she told me that she has come to the conclusion that our church is too diverse, that it cannot hold together if we can't agree on such fundamentals as who Jesus Christ is and what he does. (But I think we do agree on that. And it is my belief about Jesus that underscores my beliefs about how we should treat all of our brothers and sisters in Christ... including, me.) She believes we should bless one another and go our separate ways so that we can all be, authentically, who we believe God has called us to be.

I, on the other hand, continue to hope we can let Jesus hold us together. I don't believe, given the diversity of creation, that a church can be too diverse. I believe hearts might be changed.

Here's the really odd thing: it was the most loving conversation. Even when it was hard, it was holy. This woman has integrity. She told me, this is not about my gifts. She told me, I am a gift to the church. And... being who I am, I was all too ready to back off teaching the particular unit that concerns her, a willingness to relinquish my own legitimate authority that bothers me as I reflect on it after the fact.

I was able to share with her some of my journey of this past year. I told her how I became convicted (such a great word in this context) by my scripture reading throughout Lent. She marveled at how she and I can read the same scriptures, and feel led by God in different directions. She believes we may just have to let God sort it out, in the end. I cannot disagree.

It was on the whole a beautiful and painful and disturbing conversation. It was not your usual theological disagreement. I did not (and do not) call her a homophobe. (Even though I suspect somewhere, down deep, there is a visceral discomfort that comes into play.)

At the end, we prayed again. Then I said, I was really scared. She laughed and said No, I was really scared!

How can God not want us in the same church?


Byrde said...

I find this a hope-full conversation. I give thanks that your colleague came to you to discuss your points of disagreement, that you were willing to meet with her, and that you would share all of this. May more of these conversations occur.

August said...

How interesting! (and harrowing, I'm sure.) I've been grappling with the same general questions lately; I think it's a beautiful thing that she contacted you and really wanted to talk. Not many people in disagreement seem to have that capability.

God_Guurrlll said...

In my denomination we live by the verse, "That they may all be one." It's very tough to live by this, our denomination is very liberal but the individual churches span the theological spectrum from progressive to conservative. We are bound by covenant and I believe that is what keeps us together.

I still get mad at folk who think homosexuality is wrong because it's in the bible. I'm wondering if your colleague was wearing cotton polyester. When she got her period, did she still serve a role in worship on Sunday. Hows about the verses in 1 Timothy regarding women not speaking in church.

I think there are bigger things for us to worry about than homosexuality. Like I said to a very conservative guy once, "When war is no more, when poverty is wiped off the face of the earth, when the earth is healthy again, when all of God's creation is living in right relationship...if you still want to b*tch about my sexual orientation after all these have come to pass, I'll be happy to talk about it, but I think Jesus has more important things for me to worry about right now.

I admire your graciousness in this conversation.

Just me said...

You seem in a bit of an emotional myre at the present. Anxiety about not being able to save your mother or potentially your father. Underlying anxiety that someone will launch an injunction about your continued leadership. Let go Ge. these things are for God not you to handle -You are a pastor, a fixer of men, a spiritual physician - but you do not need to "heal thyself" - Be kind to yourself and let others be the rock now - let them, and that seriously includes God, help you now - accept your powerlessness embrace it as an infant loves to be cared for and held. You have done so much - you are weary - be kind to yourself!

Dr. Laura Marie Grimes said...

This is so moving, dear C., and I will pray for both of you and for your discernment about the teaching opportunity. Would that I could have the same kind of interaction this Sunday when I go to church in defiance of the person who is trying to dismiss me due to my whistleblowing.

How wonderful you could talk and pray and honor her...but as you say I would hate to see you cede your legitimate authority and prophetic presence and the section you have been asked to present. I think it should be for her/her spouse to step back if they cannot in good conscience teach with you, unlike you with them. Of course if your picking it back up may bring retaliation in the form of an action filed it may not be the "wise as serpents" move right now. Only you and Godde can tell that but we are all here to support you through it.

jsd said...

I imagine this is a conversation that will be within you for quite awhile. I hope it is a conversation that can become a gift for you both, perhaps it is an encounter that will lead to communion. And at least for me I would feel torn between knowing more convesations like these will be needed and hoping there's no more to come. Peace be with you.

Erika Baker said...

I'm sure God wants you in the same church, but you are both free to accept or reject his offer. You know yourself to be in the right place and you know that you can live and work with people who disagree with you.
Your conversation partner now has to ask herself the same questions and draw her own conclusions for her own life.

It is very easy for us to believe that we're somehow lesser, only ok and in the right place if everyone else agrees, and to concede our place as soon as others struggle.
It's a woman thing, but especially also an lgbt thing.

It's hard to hold your ground, gently and with love. You are not responsible for the challenging questions in other people's lives.

As long as you know, deep in your soul, that God loves you and wants you to be where you are - don't concede any ground, don't accept the moral responsibility for how this conversation will end.

Sarah S-D said...


that conversation was a gift, a rare gift.

but i'm sure it was also painful.

i respect you so much, c.

(and damn, you have wise and generous readers!)