Schism is a word that sounds like a hiss, slithering in our direction every time a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer person has the audacity to speak the truth of their lives and calling in our mainline churches. Schism is the live wire and the leftover land mine buried deep but seemingly easily triggered by one story, one life, one witness to the power of God’s abundant love.
Schism: it’s not what we want. It’s not what we pray or hope for. In fact, we work for just the opposite; for peace, for reconciliation, for the ability to join our beloved denominations as full members in the life of the church. Sometimes the very threat of causing a schism can silence our stories on our lips, as if by swallowing our truths, we could singlehandedly stop a whole century of theological disagreements or cultural evolution.
My news cycle this week has been full of stories about Bishops, candidates for ministry, congregations following their callings to marry loving and committed same-gender couples, stories on the floor of Presbytery, or courageous letters in response to a congregation’s decision to leave the PC (USA).
Here is what I believe: our stories have the power to heal the church, not destroy it. In telling our stories we are seeking a “positive peace which is the presence of justice.” A positive peace is only achieved when we follow God’s calling towards being vulnerable with one another: sharing our hopes, fears, and stories that connect us deeply to one another in this beloved community.
Layton Williams, a seminarian at Austin Theological Seminary, was recently given a standing ovation and wholeheartedly endorsed as a candidate by Mission Presbytery. Her statement for candidacy proclaimed her calling to a ministry of homecoming for all those who have felt outside of the bounds of love by our society and by the church. She stood in her truth and named that she was called to work with and for LGBTQ persons, among others.
I can think of no more poignant image of God’s heavenly feast and I can think of no more apt illustration of what I believe the work of the Church to be than this sacred welcoming home. This is what I feel called to. There are too many people in this world who feel homeless and unloved and too many who have been made to feel this way by our own church. Those who are homeless, LGBTQ, immigrant, mentally ill, and so many others. But we know better. I know better. I know–as I have been blessed to know my whole life long–that church is precisely the place where those who would otherwise feel lost should find the comfort and welcome to sit at the table and feel at home.
The result of her bold naming of her calling was a standing ovation. We can debate scripture and theology and what is essential about our tradition all day long, in fact debating is part of our tradition. However, it is our stories, our lives and witness, that have the power to heal the church, and we must keep telling them when it is our calling to do so. I am here in Chicago at the “Marriage Matters” Covenant Network national conference and what I am continually reminded of is that each of us has a story to tell, whether we have been long-time supporters of LGBTQ people and same-gender marriage, or if we have just come to a point in our journeys where we feel this is where God is calling the church. Therefore with the conviction that our stories have the power to heal the church, let us go forth joyfully experiencing what God is unfolding in us.
Yours on the journey,