Thursday, April 2, 2015

Full table…

I joined the Disciples of Christ denomination during seminary. I had begun pastoral training as a free-agent Protestant – and yes, that’s odd! – but I found a spiritual home when I discovered Disciples.

Ironically, the main reason for that choice made news recently. So did Disciples. You see, I joined, basically, because of…Religious Freedom.

First, a Disciples History lesson. We’re an American-grown religious movement. We started in the early 1800s, believing deeply in Unity. Our reasoning was simple. Back then, there seemed an ever-increasing number of splintering churches, each claiming they had God’s Ultimate Truth, while others didn’t. So they’d leave. This constant debate about who were The Real Christians, well, annoyed our founders.

After all, they were Revolutionary Era Americans. They believed in freedom too! In this case, freedom of individual autonomy to interpret faith and the Bible personally. And that should foster unity, they thought, not division, because diversity was God’s gift for making Christ’s church stronger. Therefore, you could believe one thing, while I believed another, and we could still meet at Christ’s Table because Jesus welcomed everyone. A full table was best!
Besides, God’s love is what unites us, they said, not our beliefs. I LOVE that idea. Their pithy slogan was, “No Creed but Christ; No Law but Love.” Amen! God created us free to argue, even disagree, while respecting and accepting each other. I joined because I wanted such breadth and wisdom from my church home.

I also, like many young adult Christians, wanted my church home not to condemn gay people. Alas, that’s what my childhood churches- however decent otherwise- stridently taught. But as I now understand Jesus, he opened his fellowship to everyone. That’s what I found in Disciples. We value the freedom of all to live as they’re made before the God who made them. Therefore, we try welcoming everyone too. That includes, of course, those who don’t think, like me, that LGBTQ Christians should be included in church life and leadership. When I claim we are united by God’s love, I mean it.

But living that can be tricky. For instance, our denomination’s headquarters are in Indiana, whose governor recently signed a law purportedly protecting Religious Freedom. As I understand it (and I’m no lawyer…), it allows employers, landlords, merchants, etc., to make decisions about employment, rentals, service, etc., on the basis of personal belief. Sounds great on the surface! But I worry about the details. Could one effect be, say, a landlord believes that God wants gay people in Hell, not in her building, so she rejects LGBTQ applications?! African-Americans understand too well the unholy, devastating consequences such decisions create. It’s legalized discrimination.

And that’s religious freedom? We’re created to live and believe freely, I dearly believe. But I believe also in responsibility, i.e. my exercise of freedom can’t harm others. Thus, I couldn’t condone excluding LGBTQ neighbors from receiving the same treatment that I or my black foster kid’s entitled to. People died to make us one.

Which brings me to a new reason I love Disciples! Our denominational leaders sent Indiana’s governor an open letter last week asking that he veto the law. News organizations covered their claim that this wasn’t about religious freedom, but ran “contrary to the values of our faith…(W)e follow one who sat at table with people from all walks of life, and loved them all. Our church is diverse in point of view, but we share a value for an open Lord’s Table.” Then, they threatened to move our biennial General Assembly, scheduled for Indianapolis in 2017. That’s already deep in planning. But values held earnestly are worth paying for.

Perhaps you disagree with that decision. I’d strongly defend your free right to believe different than me! But I’m for it since I don’t think we’re fully free to love and serve as God desires if all neighbors aren’t afforded basic dignity. Perhaps this law isn’t as discriminatory as I worry. I hope so. Nevertheless, it provided our church with a clarifying moment: When we claim all are freely welcome to the united Table of the Resurrected One, what does that mean?

All, to me, means all.

Grace and Peace,
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