I recently discovered Jimmy John's. Not sure how no one told me of this most delicious avenue for sandwich goodness. Did you know that in the Bible there was a heated debate about whether or not as a Christian I could eat a sandwich? Who wouldn't love Jimmy Johns??? It sounds funny to say that a sandwich could start so much controversy, but it is true.
Fast forward to today. Our General Conference was recently held in Oregon. It hotly debated about issues surrounding full acceptance of LGBTQ people into the life and ministry of the church. People were pro or con, and had their scriptures and arguments honed for the event.
I would submit that they were arguing the wrong thing. While it is worthwhile to examine the negative impact of our discipline on gay people, I believe we are missing the larger picture. What we should be debating is the role of conscience in our system. Are you going to be a one-size-believes-all group, or will we make room for disagreement about these issues and still be in community?
Each side of the debate about LGBTQ inclusion seeks the same end: make someone else live by my conviction. Further, to make someone else decide how you and I have to conduct our ministry. I submit that it is our insistence on having only 1 option, and everyone who disagrees has to go along with the majority, is what it causing our impasse and may ultimately cause a schism in our group.
When marriage became open to everyone in Ohio, I asked my colleague, a Lutheran pastor, if she would be willing to perform weddings. She replied that the only guidelines of her denomination were that it had to be legal, and the pastor had to agree to do it. How elegant. How preserving of her conscience.
Let me be clear: I am for full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the life of the church. I will do what I can to work to that end for the rest of my days. But it took me YEARS to get to the understanding I currently hold on this issue. And it pains me to say that I have personal friends who are no longer Christians because of how we have dealt with these matters. It was in part seeing how they were treated that brought me to the position I currently hold.
But I would also never want to force someone to violate their conscience, as I would never want someone to violate mine, as is the current policy. People need time, experience, and relationship before/if they are ever going to change their understanding. It took us decades to accept women in ministry, and this will be the same.
Back to Jimmy John's... when eating certain types of meat was a hotly debated issue, people were doing exactly what we're doing - judging and condemning one another. Brother was condemning his friend to hell for a food choice. Paul cuts through the confusion by saying, "It's not about food, it's about your conscience." If your faith isn't damaged and your conscience isn't pricked in a matter of personal conviction, than you are free to eat. I Corinthians 8-10 deals with this. I would encourage you to read those chapters.
I Corinthians 10:25-26
"So you may eat any meat that is sold in the marketplace
without raising questions of conscience.
For “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”
(WIN for Jimmy John's!)
Every generation has its issue about which people try to put personal convictions into law, describe them as 'sin', and then expect everyone to live by their understanding. We have encountered ours. I look forward to the day when it sounds as strange to say that not everyone was fully included into the life of the church as it sounds to say that I could go to hell for eating a sandwich. Come quickly.