Greetings in the name of the living Christ, who came to us in human form, showed us the way of love, and who is dwelling among us even now.
Last week I spent three days in Atlanta attending A [Baptist] Conference on Sexuality and Covenant. Today I write to you as a Baptist and as a pastor. I offer you invitations and questions in the hope of extending this conversation.
Dear Southern Baptists:
From birth, you were my spiritual home, the place where I was nurtured in faith and baptized, endorsed for seminary and ordained for ministry. I long ago departed your house, but you were my first spiritual community. So I speak to you out of a sense of kinship and in a spirit of Baptist freedom.
Last week some of your offspring took up an important conversation about human sexuality and covenant. Please consider the event an invitation for you to do the same. Actually, you don’t need my invitation because 35 million Baptists who fill your church rolls are sexual beings. They need space to talk about their experience, the traditions of the church, the witness of scripture and the work of deliberation about sexuality and covenant. To extend the invitation, I offer these questions:
- How can Southern Baptists discuss openly and honestly what is going on in the world, withholding judgment until understanding has been reached?
How will Southern Baptist churches seek understanding of the changing perceptions of bodies, sexuality, power, gender, violence and covenant?
How will you discern the best possible responses and ways to live?
Some of your public statements as a Convention indicate a simple clarity. If nothing else, last week’s conversation demonstrated the vast diversity and complexity of the issues and perspectives, brokenness and beauty of human sexuality and covenant. This invitation is inspired by an ambitious hope. But why not? God has called us to be people of faith and hope.
Thank you for hosting this event. What a gift! You have opened up an important conversation about human sexuality in its variety and diversity. We did not go to every edge. We did not address every difficulty. We did not name everything that needed naming. But what a giant leap forward we have taken!
I am grateful for the care, intentionality, diligent planning, spiritual preparation, and loving attention that went into this conference. It is hard to imagine how you could have given it any more of your best effort.
My invitation to you going forward, CBF, is to remain steady and continue holding conversations that matter, really matter, for our bodies, our lives, our relationships and the covenants that bind them together.
Churches in this fellowship who have taken steps to welcome and affirm brothers and sisters in Christ who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning (LGBTQ), know loss and grief are part of the decisions. They also know joy, clarity and renewal of community as part of the decisions. We can learn from them. Other churches are addressing violence and injustice of sex trafficking. Still others are challenging gender discrimination, clergy sexual misconduct, and domestic violence. Some have tried to find ways to live faithfully in communities where offenders and survivors alike receive ministry and care. We can learn from them. To extend the invitation, I offer these questions:
- How can CBF continue conversations that keep the whole range and complexity of issues before us – both the thorny problems and the pure delight and pleasure of God’s good creation of human sexuality?
*How can CBF prioritize choosing, calling, electing and hiring leaders who will continue the conversation with us faithfully and without fear?
- How can CBF keep making community in a spirit of openness, respect, and kindness?
How can CBF resist giving in to anxiety of those feeling threatened and those acting in fear?
Friends, may we have the courage to face every aspect of these complex issues including a policy that keeps us in fellowship with some while cutting us off from fellowship with others. We are in this together. Let us make room for each other. There is nothing to fear. God has called and invited us into a baptismal community with space for the full range of our lives and relationships.
Thank you for attending this conference and for leading the way into this conversation more than a decade ago. Last week at the midpoint of the conference, a group of us found ourselves stalling, literally waiting on lunch to be delivered. The hungry bodies, tired from too much sitting and slow, careful deliberations, were grumbling. Impatience and frustration seeped into the conversation.
One of my pastors finally asked a startling question, the best one of the hour, of the conference, for Alliance and Peace Fellowship Baptists: What will help us mitigate against the arrogance of being ahead of the curve on this conversation? As we talked together, other important questions emerged:
- What have we learned firsthand and how can we bear witness to the griefs and joys of becoming welcoming and affirming communities of faith?
How does what we have learned inform where we are now and support others?
What do we need to learn at this stage of the journey?
The invitation for Alliance and Peace Fellowship churches is to make use of the learning in the past and to help others who are new to the conversations about sexuality and covenant. Will you hear in this invitation the Spirit’s call?
Dear Glendale Baptist Church,
Friends I am grateful for your welcoming embrace of me and my family every day. You are my spiritual community in this season of my life. Last week’s meeting was a good moment in Baptist life. Thank you for the ministry of relentless presence and grace-filled kindness to our Baptist sisters and brothers through the years. My invitation to you is to offer your witness and testimony in increasingly public ways about the story we have lived and shared together. To extend the invitation, I ask you to consider:
- Who needs to hear the good news of God’s radical hospitality?
How do we share that story in faith and hope?
What is the Spirit calling us to be and do in this time?
Baptist friends and family each invitation and question I have posed is particular. Yet any and all of them may fit for you here and now. I invite you to discern what may be next for you in the conversation about sexuality and covenant. And I invite you to embrace God’s Spirit of welcome, life and abundant grace.
Peace to you,