Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Terrible Secret of the Progressive Church

I have a little secret.

For the last couple of months, I'd been spending some time in an online group comprised of self-identifying "Progressive Christians."  It was interesting, but as the group grew and expanded into the thousands, the conversations became wildly cluttered and overwhelming, like the din of a roaring crowd at a concert.

Meaning, fun for a while, but a terrible place for a conversation.

One of the assumptions of that group--in fact, a fundamentally defining theme of that group--was the welcome and inclusion of LGBT folk.  A huge percentage of posts and exchanges revolved around resisting those who exclude, and celebrating those who include.  That was the focus, the place where all of the energy and passion lay.  It was the great and defining struggle.

I understand this, and am sympathetic.  When it comes to inclusion, ordination, and marriage equality, I'm there.

But I'm also aware that inclusion, ordination, and marriage equality are not my primary goal as a teacher of the Way.  They cannot be, for a reason that we generally don't talk about.

The reason?  Q-Folk are human beings, just as I am.  Oh, sure, they experience gender and sexuality differently.  But otherwise, they're children of God, formed of dust, breathed upon by the Spirit.  Just like me.

I know this because I know them.  They have been and are my co-workers.  They are my family, my own flesh and blood.

From my experience, LGBT people are thoughtful and caring parents, beloved uncles and aunts, good bosses, and wonderful teachers.  They make great friends and colleagues.  They can be funny and creative.  They can be thoughtful and precise.  They can be spiritual and radically caring.  They can be everything that a person can be.

Meaning: they can also be the opposite.  I have had LGBT colleagues who were embezzlers, incompetent, and chronically combative.  I have worked with LGBT folks who have betrayed their partners, and have lied about having cancer to falsely justify chronic absences from work.  Lord have mercy, was she a piece of work.

You can be LGBT and a deeply unpleasant and selfish person.  And you can be in between.  What does that mean, on the far side of this exchange?  What will the church that has welcomed in gays and lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered folk look like?

In that, I see a powerful analog in the full inclusion of women in the leadership of the church.  For those fellowships that have moved away from that ancient bias, it was both absolutely necessary and simultaneously meaningless.  It was necessary because including women's gifts and voices as full partners in the life of the Beloved Community righted an unacceptable injustice.

And at the same time, it makes no difference, because--for all of the heady abstraction of feminist theology--women themselves are not abstractions.  They are human beings, children of God, complex and flawed and wonderful.

What women who rightly fought for a full voice are finding is that--well--the church is still the church.

So just as a church that has finally welcomed the sisters to leadership is still a corpus mixtum, so too will a LGBT-friendly church be a wild mix of saints and sinners.  With that necessary righting of an injustice settled, it will still look EXACTLY like the church does now.

OK, perhaps a little more fabulous, sure.  But at the heart of it, the same.

Meaning, the church will rejoice together and have pointless fights.   People will build each other up, and tear each other down.  There will be wonderful communities, and there will be terrible ones.

The need for reformation, for repentance, for learning and living God's love, and for mutual growth in the Way will remain.