This past weekend I had the opportunity to teach a couple of seminars at a conference called, “The Evolving Church: Amidst the Powers”. It was a pretty intense experience with some theological heavy-weights as keynote speakers. Stanley Hauerwas’ paper on “The Power of War” is something I’m still chewing on ….. and wish I could get my hands on the transcript (Dan – c’mon – give it up).
I had the opportunity to be a panelist in response to Marva Dawn who spoke on “Hope in a Crisis Time against and with the Powers”. As you might imagine, I asked Dr. Dawn about the divided realities within the Christian community. We don’t agree on what the powers are – so how can we stand together against them or with them? What do we do with the reality of “disputable matters” within the Body of Christ? Dr. Dawn responded with a reference to one of the texts I most often use when preaching on behalf of New Direction:
II Corinthians 5: 18 – 21
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Dr. Dawn’s response to the reality of division is to be an agent of reconciliation.
Now that is a word of hope.
You might think that a woman with four Master’s degrees and a Ph.D. would talk about what the “right” position was – surely, she has earned that right. But I was delighted to hear her connect these painful realities with the ministry of reconciliation.
It struck me as I participated in this conference, sat in the speaker’s lounge with folks much smarter than I and much more educated than my Master’s level, how rich the tradition of Christian thinking is. I was inspired, again, to reach higher, read widely, think more deeply. Brilliant, incredibly educated people – embodying a humility and grace, modeling a fierce Christ-centeredness and robust discipleship.
The topic of homosexuality is a complex one. In the last seven years of ministry – and prior to that as well – I have read widely on the topic. I have laid awake many a night, thinking deeply, praying earnestly, listening intently for the Spirit’s guidance. And I am profoundly humbled by all that I do not understand, do not know. Navigating through the plethora of hermeneutical grids alone is enough to give me insomnia. (That is …. how we interpret the Bible)
I live in the assurance of II Peter 1:3: His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
You don’t need a graduate degree to know Christ and live in His divine power. Christ is available to any and all completely independent of any ability of our own.
Yet, for those of us who take on the mantle of leadership, who speak publicly into a divided community, it is critical that we take seriously our responsibility to think deeply, study carefully, and be clear and humble about the limitations in our understanding. A seminary professor of mine used to say, “Wendy, for every hour in prayer spend an hour in your study and for every hour in study, spend an hour in prayer.” This has been a helpful corrective to remember when I’ve tended to lean to one side or the other.
Dr. Walter Wink was one of the keynote speakers at this conference. Dr. Wink, in his work on ‘the powers,’ has made a profound and rich contribution to a Christian understanding of how to engage culture around us. Given Dr. Wink’s health and the limitations on his ability to travel, I felt very privileged to have the opportunity to hear him speak in person. Dr. Wink has been a proponent of full inclusion of gay brothers and sisters in the church for many years. I have read scathing, dismissive critiques of this man from those who hold a more conservative theological perspective on homosexuality. How the world sees us biting and devouring each other. How our arrogance can erect dividing walls.
I, for one, want to be known as an agent of reconciliation – humble in the face of my own limitations. I, for one, want to be open to listen, learn, engage with love and courage – not fear.
For as Marva Dawn so delightfully reminded us on Saturday, we need not fear for God has already won, He will make all things right, and in the words of Colossians 3:3 “My life is hidden with Christ in God.”