Last summer, after some 18 months of deliberate learning and discernment, my congregation joined the Supportive Communities Network, a group of congregations and organizations who are public and clear in our affirmation of LGBTQ siblings. The process for our congregation was good and holy, and our final vote was unanimous. We were both deciding to be who we already were out loud while also submitting ourselves to a continuing journey of transformation.
Since we joined SCN, I got to participate in a series of conversations for pastors of new-ish SCN congregations earlier this year. One of the topics of conversation was the 1983 Church of the Brethren statement on Human Sexuality. This statement is now almost 40 years old, and one of the questions we wrestled with was “If the Church of the Brethren were to write a new statement on the same topic, what should it say?”
Those statements are – ideally – products of faithful communal conversation, study and discernment. But our church has systematically excluded, silenced and shut out the people to whom that statement has done the most harm. I am new to hearing the heart-rending realities of this harm, not because it wasn’t being pointed out but because my own ears were sealed up with pride and privilege and a desire to belong. People in the Church of the Brethren have been naming, identifying, lamenting, calling out and rebuking this harm for decades. I get to know and love some of them.
When someone tells us that they are hurting, we are called to weep with them. When someone tells us that WE are the ones who have hurt them, we are called to humbly repent and work to repair the harm. This is the way of Jesus.
And yet, when LGBTQ siblings in our church name their pain and explicitly describe the ways that we, the church, our polity, our processes, our individual and communal actions have caused harm, we have chosen, over and over, through words and actions and processes and policies to DO MORE HARM. It is happening right now, in pulpits and Standing Committee meetings and private conversations and in the ways that this very blog post will be shared and maligned and held up as an example of all that is dangerous and sinful. I can guarantee you that my supervisors will receive at least one angry email about the fact that I, a denominational staff member, would dare to affirm the harm we have caused and be so audacious as to suggest that we work to repair it. It happens every time, because the ones who are doing the harm don’t want anybody to know how much pain they are inflicting.
What should a new Church of the Brethren statement on human sexuality say?
There are all sorts of things we could say, all manner of scriptural affirmations that bodies – all bodies – and relationships – all relationships – are holy, full of the promise of rich delight and faithful covenant. There are beautiful ways to speak about our desire for everyone to experience whole, healthy, committed relationships.
But if I were writing a new statement, repentance would be as far as I could get. There is such tonnage of harm that we have inflicted, such a massive weight of pain to hear and process. Until we listen humbly to the harm we have caused, until we participate fully in honest repentance, until we walk through real, intentional, invested processes of healing with those we have wronged – over and over and over and over again – we have no standing to speak into this question. No standing whatsoever.