Okay, it’s not a total 180. Nor is the headline from Mennonite World Review, “MC USA Council Endorses Unity Statement,” exactly accurate. “Unity” is hardly the statement. For those who saw the article and want the TLDR: This is CLC’s decision. They don’t have any decision-making power, but they’re the wise ones of the church who make recommendations to Executive Board. They spent the last weekend in Kansas–joke’s on them–picking bones over three proposed resolutions around same-sex sexuality in an elimination round to see which one would advance to the Delegate Assembly in Kansas City this summer. There were other resolutions up for debate, too, but they were all noncontroversial ones, like “don’t kill people.”
Since I’ve never claimed to be an unbiased voice in this process, let me restate which basket my eggs are in: the Chicago Resolution is my baby. Okay, not technically. There’s a lot more people who put a lot more gametes into this resolution than I did. But I’ve been midwifing this resolution since November, talking with leadership at both sponsoring congregations, examining drafts of the resolution, and I (and my co-pastors) are among the 12 individual pastors endorsing the resolution, listed at the bottom of the document.
I am DANCING about this resolution. This is the resolution that says “We Are Where We Are.” It’s not a unity statement, not at all. It’s a diversity statement. It says we don’t know what happens next. We don’t even know what we’re doing right now! That’s the most honest and beautiful thing the church can say. Reba Place, one of the sponsoring congregations, is still working through their official stance. This conversation is so fresh for them you can smell the mud. The same is true for my own congregation. We found a brackish middle ground, but we aren’t totally committed to it. We reserved the right to change our minds. We reserved the right to discern the Spirit. I reserve the right to midwife a baby whose personality I don’t know.
But my baby’s not the only one in the room.The other two resolutions, the Lower Deer Creek and the Just Church, also speak to who we think we are and ought to be.
The Lower Deer Creek resolution (named for its sponsoring church) introduces a process that conserves the current Confession of Faith–which has no room for same-sex relationships. It’s specific and it offers space for discernment (within a conservative framework). The weakness I see in the resolution is power: it gives the CLC a mandate to discipline area conferences that are at variance and argues that this enhances our “mutual accountability.” The church doesn’t need more “mutual accountability.” There’s limited accountability we can exercise on the, uh, churches that live in different area codes. Our relationship with them is always abstract, and so our accountability is, too.
The timeline on the process is also interesting–no actions would be approved until September 2016, two and a half years after Mountain States first licensed a lesbian pastor. The most conservative congregations will probably not wait that long to decide whether or not they’ll stay, and it’s unforeseeable that any action would be more than a slap on the wrist. If CLC (a right-of-center group) had reservations about it, it won’t hold much water in the big-C Church.
And if Lower Deer Creek doesn’t hold water, Just Church, despite its half dozen sponsoring congregations, is as dry as a hole in the bucket. I say that with love, as I’ve also seen this resolution since its embryonic stages. It was always ideological. The idea was, for LGBTQ people and allies, to dream big. They are answering the question, “What does full inclusion look like?” They’ve done everything short of calling God transgendered–then again, they’re more concerned with ethics than theology. The resolution envisions (implicitly) a polity manual that uses third-gender pronouns; adding GLBTQ representatives to CLC alongside the other historically underrepresented groups who send delegates; giving LGBTQ students large scholarships to attend seminary; and flipping the proverbial temple tables so that non-inclusive churches become the ones at variance with the church.
Sounds crazy, right? It sounds crazy because coming from a position of powerlessness means always asking for less than what you want. Asking for an inch, because there’s no way in hell you’ll get the mile. For decades, GLBTQ people have been asking for inclusion by the inch. This is the mile. This is them putting everything on the table. And this is no small splinter group. Off the top of my head, I can name more than a half dozen congregations who are not on this resolution, but likely will sign on before the convention. This is a significant group of people asking to be heard out–all the way out.
That doesn’t change the reality that there are another half dozen churches (and more) who want to sign on to Lower Deer Creek’s resolution. That those voices feel increasingly vilified, and though they hold a position of power, they feel marginalized and vulnerable. That’s something we have to square with, in this abstract idea of being big-C Church together. That’s why I gave you the full rundown of all three resolutions–because you need all three to see fully where we are, to see why Chicago/Reba is so important. It’s the resolution that doesn’t offer any answers we don’t have. And I, for one, hope it’s the resolution that Executive Board finally sends on to the Delegate Assembly.