“I Am Spartacus”
Rev. Gary Dalton
Scripture: Hebrews 2:10-18
This past Sunday, the congregation met in Church Conference. By a large majority we voted to welcome openly gay persons as any other persons who may present themselves for UBC membership by their profession of faith in Jesus Christ through Christian baptism. The vote tally among the four options presented by the Deacons is listed below.
I want to thank you for turning out in so large a number for this conference. I add my appreciation, as well, to our Deacons and to the Openness Task Force, for how they facilitated this process.
Let’s now move ahead in as caring a manner as we can understand to do. This first means that we recognize a shared concern to which we all need to attend. Some members will find this decision hard to accept. Please find a way to reach out to these friends to encourage them to stay with us at UBC. Leave-taking should not be a hasty decision, and I hope it won’t happen at all.
You may find yourself among those members deeply disappointed by Sunday’s decision. Your Christian conscience guides you to a different answer. What I deeply hope is that your differing answer does not diminish your involvement with UBC. Most deeply of all, I pray that under Christ’s leading, you will decide not to let this difference compel you to seek another church home.
While we carry this genuine burden of concern for one another, we also carry a responsibility to embrace this significant moment in the life of University Baptist Church. The congregation has reasonably explored what the Gospel may require in receiving gay persons into its fellowship.
Should we ask gay members to commit to a lifetime of celibacy, with no prospect of gaining the benefits of Christian marriage? Should we distinguish between straight believers and gay believers in their access to other rights and responsibilities of membership? If so, how would that distinction reflect our understanding of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ?
A large majority has agreed that, yes, the Gospel welcomes persons of a same-sex orientation as it welcomes us who are heterosexual, so University Baptist Church also welcomes those persons with no further distinctions made among members.
As any church that hopes to continue faithful to the Gospel will do, UBC has done. As its members more fully understand the Gospel, it modifies its church practice to better conform to the Gospel’s meaning. This you have done, and it is a good, good step in faithfulness for which we may give thanks to God.
So, now what? Now, the congregation continues to find “its unity in the common desire to live in communion with God, be obedient to Christ, and build with one another a Baptist community of faith” (UBC Constitution, Article IV, Section 1).
For my part, Philippians 1:3-6, expresses well my thoughts about each and all of you, “I thank my God … thankful for your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure that God, who began a good work in you, will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Your Senior Minister in the Interim,
The word ‘liturgy’ literally means ‘work of the people.’ Early Christians adopted the word from its then secular use that denoted ‘public service.’ Now, long detached from its origins, liturgy commonly means ‘the order of a worship service and the items which compose it.’
I raise this bit of etymology because this past Sunday I changed up the UBC liturgy a bit. Rather than end the service with announcements or put them with the welcome-to-worship part of the service,
I began at 10:55 am with a few, ever-so-brief announcements. Too brief, as it turned out.
There were a couple of minutes of unexpected silence after I finished announcing and returned to my chair — not a ‘liturgical silence’ mind you — just a lot of unplanned blank staring. With all those eyes staring back at me, I chose to close mine and hope against hope that some pre-service chatter might resume. Didn’t happen . . . Not a peep.
Every clergy person knows liturgical rearranging is risky business. Interim pastors often plough ahead over risky ground though, given that they already have a short shelf-life, a “best used by” date, after which out the door they’re going anyway.
What role do the announcements play in University Baptist Church’s liturgy of worship? Maybe we do better to ask first, “What is this sacred work we the people do in our Sunday morning worship service?”
Much could be said, but, at the very least, sacred liturgy helps us to remember. The Fourth Commandment begins, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8). God calls us to remember at least one day each week, because we tend to forget what bits and pieces we’ve seen of the Divine, never mind the vastness of God yet for us to recognize.
Liturgy that helps us remember whose we are and who we are, is good work for us to do in the time we share each Sunday. My thought is for us to devote to God the maximum part of this hour of sacred memory work, and for us to leave from this hour undistracted by matters other than God’s own Self, however we each may have experienced God in the hour.
We make announcements, not as liturgy, but as a good chance to get the word out about all the ‘other’ while we’re together in the same room. Fair enough. Let’s give it some time and see if it works to put the announcements before the liturgical hour commences. And I’ll work on not sitting back down too soon, trapping us in those long minutes of unnerving, elevator-ride-like, silent staring.
Your Senior Minister in the Interim,
See Ballot, with Preamble and Instructions here. Copies are available at the church.
Copies of Changing Our Mind by David Gushee are available. A discussion guide with chapter summaries and discussion questions for the book is available on the UBC website at universitybaptist.org/discussionguide.
A bibliography of additional resources is available at http://universitybaptist.org/bibliography. The bibliography, copies of some of the books, and a binder of all of the articles are in Room 114 (the Conference Room/Library).
An aspect of Impressionistic painting I enjoy is to stand, gaze, and watch the artist’s registration of light emerge. What the artist portrayed as brightest in the painting becomes bright to me. Hues initially hidden on my first viewing begin to separate and become distinguishable as the artist saw and recorded the shades and varieties of color. I’m discovering this similar experience in hearing your impressions of our current conversation about membership of openly gay persons.
One message some of your comments are now registering with me concerns trust.
I would state what I’m hearing this way: “Why won’t the Openness Task Force host someone to express the traditionalist view as well as views supporting membership of openly gay persons? Why aren’t you trusting me to weigh the differing views for myself and form my own opinion?”
If I’m accurately registering your impression as a question of trust, then I appreciate how this five-week process offends your sensibilities of fair-play. I assure you this is not the Task Force’s view of the congregation nor its intention. (The Task Force members reading this column, as you are now reading it, are probably incredulous anyone might think that of them, or that I would suggest this question of trust… What?!)
The Task Force, with my encouragement, recognized that our congregation has not heard openly gay Christians speak to us about their experiences. And, to my knowledge, while no preacher in UBC’s pulpit has ever voiced an anti-gay message — not even close! — neither has any preacher argued for alternative readings of the Scriptures typically used to exclude openly gay Christians. This omission recommended that these few weeks allow us time to hear those experiences and readings supporting full inclusion.
You can trust the Task Force’s best intention even if you’ve experienced it as an intention that’s missed the mark. In this case, you might consider Option Three on the publicized ballot: information is incomplete, the discussion is incomplete, it should continue after the church calls its next Senior Minister.
The second message some of your reactions are impressing on me is that you’re bewildered by the whole exercise. UBC has never asked anyone about their sexual orientation, so why start now? Our standard for welcoming a new member or electing a member to church service is a person’s demonstration of Christian experience and fidelity to Christ. Whether a man or woman is gay or straight is between them and the Lord. What we need to know is how they are living out their calling to follow Christ.
If this is your response, then you might consider either the first option or the fourth option on the ballot. Option One states more precisely what UBC means by “any person” when we say, “Any person may present himself or herself as a candidate for membership in this church.” (UBC By-Laws, Art. II.1) Or, if you believe this whole conversation is unnecessary or even unwise, you might go with Option Four that says, “Drop it — discussion is not needed!”
What about Option Two? Option Two may be for you if you find yourself responding something along these lines: “I cannot in good conscience accept an openly gay person into full rights and responsibilities of church membership.” You intend no malice or harm to anyone; you fully affirm the gay person and the straight person are equal recipients of God’s love; but, you believe the Bible is clear in teaching that gay persons who act out their same-sex attraction are sinning, and you believe the church would be affirming people actively sinning. Option Two offers you a way to vote your conscience on this question.
Thank you for presenting your views, allowing me to listen until I can begin to appreciate what you’re experiencing through these weeks. Please consider how one of the four publicized options may best sum it up for you, and choose that option at the Called Church Conference on Sunday, October 23.
Your Senior Minister in the Interim,
Sunday, Oct. 9 at 9:45 am: Individual Sunday Bible Study Class Discussions of David Gushee’s book, Changing Our Mind; Will Brown will lead a discussion of the book in Room 114 (Conference Room/Library) for those not in a Bible Study Class. A discussion guide with chapter summaries and discussion questions for the book is available on the UBC website at Discussion Guide.
Wednesday, October 5, 6:15 pm: “Psychology of Sexual Orientation” — Professor Charlotte Patterson
Sunday, October 16, 9:15 am: Church-wide Congregational Conversation
Wednesday, October 19, 6:15 pm: Church-wide Congregational Conversation
Sunday, October 23, 12:15, Fellowship Hall: Called Church Conference to vote on next steps
Bibliography of additional resources — http://universitybaptist.org/bibliography (In Room 114, the Conference Room/Library, there are copies of some of the books as well as a binder of all of the articles.) The following samples from the bibliography provide varying viewpoints on the LGBT issue:
(A summary of David Gushee’s stance, published in the Washington Post)
(Written by one of David Gushee’s former colleagues, this is a broadly point-by-point rebuttal of Gushee’s argument.)
(A summary of Matthew Vines’ position regarding the biblical questions around sexuality, video and transcript)
e-book, available to download). Multiple copies of this 96-page book are available in Room 114.