Readers of this blog will know that I have spent many years cultivating a form of worship that places the circle of reconciling conversation at the center. This Roundtable Worship, which has taken place at First United Methodist Church of Waynesville, NC, has then sought to spin off circles of conversation around issues that divide us. Two years ago, after long conversation about the burden of sexual discrimination fostered by our churches, we became a “Reconciling Community” affiliated with the Reconciling Ministries Network, a United Methodist organization seeking full inclusion of all people in members and leadership in the church regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. This led to an expanding conversation in our church and the formation of a Reconciling Conversations Group that has sought to engage the whole membership.
United Methodists face their own peculiar problem in this regard, since they are tightly knit to a global church, with conferences (our unit of governance) around the world. While the US conferences might largely lean toward wide acceptance, those in other parts of the world, with their more patriarchal and kinship-based social orders, do not. In central Africa, for instance, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender people face ostracism, harassment and even imprisonment and death. So this is not merely a matter of moving us to a principled understanding of this welcoming of ALL people, it is also a matter of our church’s connectedness and capacity for reconciliation, which we see to be at the heart of Jesus’s message and power.
As we struggled with how to proceed, we realized that it is not enough to examine Scripture, theology, ethics, and scientific findings. We needed to anchor what we did in our stories of family members, friends, and ourselves. As we began to hear these stories, we decided to put them together in a book for others to read and talk about. This fall we are leading a series of nine study sessions on the various aspects of this challenge to our traditions, beliefs, and patterns of sexuality. We begin each session with one of the stories. Their effect has been powerful, eliciting the conversation we need to have at a deep level.
We now have a place where you can read the stories on line. The book is called Journeying toward Reconciliation: Personal Stories, of Faith, Sexuality and the Church. We hope to develop this blog site with videos of our presentations and other materials, so if you are interested you may want to bookmark it for future reference.
For some people, this is an issue that has been “settled.” Matters of law and argument are enough. However, for several billion people around the world, it is an ongoing terror in daily life. Moreover, the seeds of enmity against people because they differ in their identity and their love also reinforces a politics of male aggression, female submission, and the destruction of an expansive public realm.
Our is just a tiny effort forward, but in its process and its purpose it seeks to be a healing presence in our community. If you are active in some similar process or if you have comments about this one, please use the Comments option below. I’d love to hear from you!