When City Church in San Francisco announced that it was altering its policies with regard to the inclusion of LGBTQ folks, they indicated that an important voice guiding them forward was that of Ken Wilson, founding pastor of the Ann Arbor Vineyard Church.
Yesterday Wilson preached at City Church, part of an ongoing conversation about what “inclusion” might look like (sermon audio here).
There were two parts of his sermon that resonate with some themes I have been working out here on the blog over the past several years. The one I want to engage today is this (I discuss the second theme in a later post, here):
Knowing what you believe about something does not tell you what you should do about it–especially with respect to people who do not share your conviction.
I have talked about this before as we have had some discussions about what it means to hold a traditional position in a society that does not identify as Christian.
The imperative to love our neighbor as ourself is a weighty one that demands serious introspection. What civil liberties would we want our religiously motivated neighbor to take away from us to keep us from going about life in the way that they think is pleasing to God?
The answer to that question (i.e. none whatsoever) should guide our own actions as we strive to love neighbor in the public sphere.
Wilson encourages us to ask this question of our life together in the church.
What’s happening in Romans 14 is not a call to affirmation. It is a call to acceptance.
There, Paul addresses issues of food consumption and holy days. The conservatives, the ones with the Bible on their sides, avoid meat (probably due to concerns over the meat’s association with sacrifice) and observe holy days. No doubt Sabbath is included here. That is, one of the Ten Commandments.
Wilson’s point, and historically I think he is correct, is that these were not dispensable “ceremonial” issues to the Jewish believers in Rome. These were core issues about fidelity to and worship of the only true God.
The point here is that the issues of dispute were ones over which “the weak” had the better biblical grounds. And yet, Paul calls the parties of the dispute to recognize in one another those who have also been gathered together under Jesus’s lordship.
Wilson did well to underscore that the weak are not being asked to abandon their convictions. And, on the other side, the “strong” who eat everything are not being called on to abandon their freedom.
Paul is presenting them with something else to consider in addition to their respective positions. Beyond, “What do you think, and how do you practice your faith before God?” is the additional question, “What does this mean for people who disagree with you?”
Here, Paul is saying, there is a vocation to express and live into the unity of the family. We don’t treat each other with condescension (ye strong!) or condemnation. We trust that each of us is striving to give faithfully, knowing that we will be answerable to our common Lord.
In Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul? I suggested that the one truly new thing that the church has to learn how to deal with is the presence of Jesus-following LGBTQ Christians. Although they have no doubt always existed, it is only in this generation that we are having to confront the reality that God is calling such people into Christ, and they are answering that call and following Christ–as LGBTQ people (sexuality and all).
This is what Wilson is asking us to take seriously: what does it mean to call people sister or brother, to see the Spirit of God at work in them, and then to begin the process of figuring out what this means for the composition of our Christian communities?
Contrary to our gut instinct (on both sides of many debates), scripture does not provide a clear directive that tells us to separate and create a people of purity every time we differ. And when the Spirit of God shows us that God is at work in people, the urge to differentiate ourselves must be contained and quieted.
Holding a certain view does not immediately tell us what we must then do with respect to those who differ from us. That is its own important, subsequent question.
This is the third way that Wilson is drawing us into: not one in which mutual acceptance is a concession to the progressives, but one in which we do no see our differing positions as reasons to impede the goal of God in Christ, to have one people, with one voice, glorifying our God and Father (Rom 15).