Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Bending the Rainbow Slowly, V

I’ve been on the road most of the past two weeks. The final weekend of June we spent at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, N.C. If you’re a progressive Christian who doesn’t mind mud and heat you ought to experience Wild Goose at least once. For us, once may well turn out to be enough, but I’m glad I went.
The Goose provides its own interesting lens through which to see the bending of the rainbow arc. Though the festival is a youngster (born in 2011), it has clearly seen its own evolution. When Religion Dispatches covered the inaugural festival its article was headlined “Wild Goose Festival’s (Mostly) Welcoming Spirit for LGBT Christians.”
No qualifier would be necessary in writing about the fifth Goose. Though the event attracted at least one lonesome “ex-gay” evangelical demonstrator who stood outside the gate to the festival grounds using a bullhorn to denounce us, inside the festival felt broadly inclusive, safe and at least a little bit queer.
I don’t know where the few long-time progressive evangelicals are in their personal journeys on GLBT concerns, but they seem publically to have moved. For example, Jim Wallis, Sojourners editor, who spoke Sunday morning about racism, seems to have come a ways since I first met him a decade ago. I spoke at Sojourners’ offices several times years ago when they held a monthly worship, and I recall more than one person thanking me for saying what I said about GLBT justice because they felt Jim needed to hear it.
His wife told me once that he still had an evangelical’s perspective on biblical authority. That comment underscores for me why this struggle has been the central one of my years in ministry, the central one of our time in history. Over the years I’ve heard lots of folks, from across the range of the church, bemoan the amount of time and energy spent on ordination and now on marriage. “We have so many more important issues that we could be working on,” they’ll say.
I’m sympathetic to that statement, though I think it misses the point. Certainly, global climate change, persistent poverty, violence and war are social issues about which Christian faith and the church should and does have important things to say and do. But all of our actions, as people of faith and as the community of followers of Jesus, must be grounded in an understanding of our sacred story, of the person of Jesus, of the nature of truth and of Biblical authority. All of that is what’s truly at stake in this long struggle for GLBT justice.
While it is first and foremost about real people and their lives, it is also about the way we understand the faith, truth, scripture, and what it means to follow Jesus in the 21st century. It is what we have been called to grapple with in our time.
The first same-sex union service over which I presided, back in about 2004, included one young man who had grown up in a conservative, evangelical household. I clearly recall his tears as he asked me if I thought he was going to go to hell. He eventually left our church because he was looking for a place that proclaimed the old-time evangelical faith but somehow made room for him within it. I said to him more than once, “you can’t get here from there.” In other words, we have to think anew about the whole of the faith to understand how it can and does continue to speak its truth through our lives in our time.
That makes of church a community of the questions more than one of the answer. Was it Rilke who said we must “try to love the questions themselves”? Living into the answers is the work of more than a lifetime, and dwelling lovingly, joyously, compassionately in a community of the questions seems like faith to me.

When we learn how to do that well then we may have something important to offer the world on all of the urgent issues we face. I see some signs, in the actions of the just-concluded general assembly, that we may be learning it.

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