November 18, 2010

Relationships Leading to Understanding

I recently spent a day with approximately 70 other pastors in a day-long "sacred conversation" regarding homosexuality and the church.  We were all pastors of the same denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I'm pretty sure we were all from southern California, although there may have been one or two from neighboring states. We were not, however, of one mind when it came to the topic at hand.

Generally speaking, ours is a progressive denomination - well, more progressive than some, anyway - but it is also one that grants a great deal of freedom to clergy and congregations. This results in a great deal of diversity in theological viewpoints, which we do our best to embrace.

Our "sacred conversation" was not intended to promote a particular viewpoint. Rather, its goal was to bring clergy together in conversation, allow them to listen to one another, and affirm that, despite our differences, we are still one body in Christ; a body that, in all its diversity, can still gather together at the Lord's Table.

Perhaps it should not be surprising that a few pastors had a hard time with this. Some left early, unable to remain in conversation with those of differing views. Most, however, remained.

The most significant (and challenging) conversation of the day for me came when I was seated at a table with a person who, like me, considered himself open and affirming in regards to homosexuality. He candidly admitted that while he finds it easy to welcome gays and lesbians in the church, he would be uncomfortable if, one day, a transgendered person showed up to worship.

His honest admission forced me to do some self-reflection, and I quickly realized that I, too, would experience some discomfort. I asked out loud (even though the question was directed at me), "Why is that?"
After thinking about it for a moment, I realized that the discomfort would be due to a lack of familiarity. In my life I have significant relationships with a number of people who are gay or lesbian. However, I don't think I've ever had so much as a conversation with a person who is transgendered.

I then began to think of people I know who are so distrustful and prejudiced against people of other religions in general, and Islam in particular. In my life, and especially through my work on the South Coast Interfaith Council, I've come to know people of different religions, and thus have gained a greater understanding of and appreciation for the different religions of the world. That understanding and appreciation came about through the relationships that have developed.

In order to build a world of peace and understanding, we must build relationships. I'm thankful for the relationships I have with people of different religions and different sexual orientations. I'm also thankful for relationships and conversations with people whose theological viewpoints are different than mine.

Anyone want to start a conversation?

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