Deep Calling to Deep, Part 3 – The Wrestle

The current rhetoric around faith sector inclusion of the LGBT+ community is disappointing.

It seems we are still a way away from understanding how we might hold different theological views but disagree respectfully.

Following a conversation with a few others of a view that faith sector leaders, ministers in local churches, were entitled, or perhaps even Biblically justified in excluding LGBT+ community from inclusive worship in Churches, I wrote the following poem.

I wonder if in a position of privilege and inclusion, from the perspective of a majority, exclusion and the impact of exclusion, is really understood.

This poem is one small snapshot of how it feels.

To members of the LGBT+ community and our friends and supporters, I say this. Grieve yes, it’s inevitable and necessary; but please, please do not walk away. Do not permit exclusion to become an acceptable norm. Stand. Stand up, together, join the conversation and we just might challenge the preconceptions. We will need to model how to disagree responsibly, respectfully and with grace.

I hope this video of the rehearsal for the Greatest Showman might inspire you.

The wrestle, Father

 

How can I be chosen for this, if no one here will have me?

How can I sustain this path, when the cost required breaks me?

Where can I go from here when my doubt threatens to swamp me?

The threat of displeasing you, the look in the eye of the other as they regard me.

I would prefer to retreat, to hide and to run

To leave this place to You

I am not what you think

I’m not big

I’m not strong

There is little left to renew

Yet I trust you and I love you, like there is nothing else

I give it all for you.

 

It brings me back, head bent,

With shoulders in-turned

Lost and alone

But with You.

I despair, I lose hope

I tremble and I fear

But I hear your gentle voice

You call to my heart

Remind me of where we have been

And encourage me to rejoice

 

Rejoice as I weep?

Rejoice as I wish

There was another path out of here.

Rejoice as I stumble

And fall to my knees

And beseech yet again

Why me?

Why here?

 

I hear that it’s not possible

That I can’t belong

Because of all that I am

And have been

 

You tell me there is hope

There is beauty

And redemption

You play the strings laid in my heart

 

And so, I rise to my feet

Though I cannot lift my head

Cannot believe that You really mean me

 

As I rise I know that our journey has been precious

That it enables me to see

 

To see hope and restoration

In the hidden and the buried

In the places no one else will call home

 

To see future

To see purpose

To see the power of restoration

To know a place that you have crafted as Your own

 

I see radiance and enormity

Become a glimmer and a trickle

To small heart and souls that reach to You.

Souls that are hidden and abandoned

Buried beyond recognition

But treasured and embraced by You.

 

And so brokenly I travel

I journey by Your side

Resting and leaning as I go

 

Learning to discern, through the gift of your light

Where to travel

How to reach You

To come home

 

I recognise a preciousness

Buried in the forlorn

Who recognise the limitations of here and now

 

They recognise Your Kingdom

And grasp it with both hands

As they reach for you, from here, on the ground

 

There is envy from the wise

And the rich and the brave

Who subsequently notice Your call

They do not sacrifice, they do not  crawl

They worship and they praise

With eloquence and elegance above all.

 

You value the heartfelt

Those earnestly searching

You value the humanity they bring.

They expect little

Have less purpose

Are lost in Your glamour

 

You radiate

They absorb

And they sing.

 

So I praise You

Your compassion

Your commitment

And your care

That makes broken hearts new.

 

I trust in your purpose

Resting fully in prayer

And I stand to

Breathe in

Only You.

 

Andrea King

Book Review: 4 Views on Pastoring LGBTQ Teenagers

I wrote this review for the magazine ‘Progressive Voices’, but as one of the authors is Affirm’s own Gemma Dunning, it seemed appropriate to reprint it here.

4 Views on Pastoring LGBTQ Teenagers

Shelley Donaldson, Gemma Dunning, Nick Elio, Eric Woods (Mark Ostreicher, General Editor)

The Youth Cartel

This is the first in a proposed series of books, published by the Youth Cartel, presenting different views on contemporary topics. Each author presents their thoughts in an individual chapter, which is then responded to by one of the other authors.

Don’t pick up this book expecting a unified view on the subject matter. Whilst it is apparent that each of the authors has a passionate and caring heart for young people who are exploring their sexuality, it is equally clear that they don’t always agree with each other’s position. Their responses to each other are compassionate, thoughtful and well presented – most of the time.  They each have a clear view of their own thoughts and debate strongly with each other, at times it turns into a bit of a bun fight as each seeks to examine their writing partner’s thoughts in the light of their own views and experience. I suppose that is what this book, and this series of books, is all about. LGBTQ teenagers need loving, caring, thoughtful pastoral care and each author has their own ideas about that.

Each author comes from a different background and brings their own personal understandings and religious background to the game.  Three of the authors are American, whilst Gemma Dunning, a London based Baptist minister, is the sole UK representative. Liberal and (marginally) conservative views are represented. Three have a holistically inclusive viewpoint and, in sometimes differing ways, want to support and accept all young people into adulthood, whatever their gender identity or sexual orientation. One author takes the view that ultimately sexuality can be ‘remade’. A position that many readers will find distasteful to say the least, but at least his position is represented here.

Editor Mark Ostreicher sums up with final thoughts and some useful appendices that provide practical advice and resources. The book as a whole is at times inspiring and at other times exasperating. You, as a reader, will inevitably find material here that is helpful and supportive, alongside some that is frustrating, but on the whole, it is a book that will promote debate and discussion within churches, among youth leaders, pastors and counsellors and this debate can only be healthy and promote a deeper understanding.

Andy Long

 

 

Public Statement Of Concern

We at Affirm have prepared a public statement expressing our current concerns regarding the discourse on human sexuality and gender identity within the Baptist Union of Great Britain.

A PDF version of the statement can be viewed or downloaded by clicking the link below

Affirm.April2018Statement.AssociationConcerns.

Please feel free to contact the team with any comments or questions

Regards

The Affirm Team

Book Launch Event – Gemma’s Book

Affirm Trustee Gemma Dunning has co-authored a recently published book ‘4 Views On Pastoring LGBTQ Teenagers’. Some of you will have been at the recent Two:23 event where the book was launched in London.

If you missed it there is another event taking place in Newport, South Wales and we’d love to see you there.

Details below:

Charlotte’s Story

This is the latest in our series of videos, please share the link and use the video n your own churches and home groups if you find it useful. We’d love to hear from you with your thoughts about this or any of our resources, get in touch through the contacts page.

Charlotte is the pastor of a small Baptist Chapel in the South Wales Valleys. In this story she tells us about the journey that the church has been on towards a full affirmation of the LGBT+ community, which includes offering same sex marriage on equal grounds with heterosexual marriage.

 

Deep Calling To Deep (part 2): Anna Rogerson

Following on from Part 1 of this series by Andrea King, here we can read Anna Rogerson’s story of God’s transforming work in her life.


Throughout my Christian journey my views on human sexuality have not been static by any means – then again, I have never really had to think too deeply about it. However, God has a way of reaching into our hearts and disturbing us, often unexpectedly.

About 10 years ago, I had a life-changing encounter with God, a physical experience of his presence that caused me to fall in love with Him all over again. I felt called to be baptized a few years later, and experienced another shift. This time it was a little different. I felt convicted and saddened by what I saw around me – broken marriages, broken lives, just so many things wrong with the world. And yes, an increasing acceptance of different lifestyles, one of which was same sex relationships, something I believed to be completely unbiblical.

At that point I pretty much knew what I believed, I was settled in my views, and didn’t really give human sexuality in a Christian context much thought. Because to be honest, I didn’t have to.

Until one day………WHAM! I did.

I’ll never forget the day it was announced – someone in our congregation, in a same sex relationship, was applying for church membership. We had never had to deal with a dilemma like that in our church before. I cried and cried and cried – the tension seemed too much to bear. Because on one hand, here was a woman who seemed perfectly nice, had been coming to our church for ages, and just wanted to be a member like everyone else. On the other, if we said yes, it would mean we – I – would be agreeing with what she believed.  Or saying it was ok. Either way, it would be something that would stretch my conscience so badly it would tear it. I would be doing something wrong. I couldn’t breathe. It was a time of stress, anxiety, and having multiple near misses in the car. All I could do was pour out my heart to God and seek Him.

There was already a culture of fear in the church because at that time many people were sick, and everyone was searching for answers. The devil can use people’s fears, can’t he – it’s one of his most effective weapons if we are not on our guard. Sadly it seems, we were not, as she left the church under what must have been an unbearably dark cloud of despair.

When she came back to our church a year later, my panic returned. All I could do was cry out to God and keep on searching. If only I could find something that would change my view, so I could just agree and be at peace. But no matter how much I prayed, read, or enquired of others, I just couldn’t find anything that made sense to me. No explanation of scripture that I hadn’t heard before, no moments of revelation. Then one day on a train, God spoke to me. ‘I’m not asking you to change your mind. The most important thing is to be in relationship with me’. That brought me some sense of relief, and was the starting point of a wonderful shift in my journey.

About a year after she was accepted into membership, I was on a Footsteps course, and during one of the sessions I had another all-encompassing encounter with God. I felt Him calling me to completely support her, to journey with her, even though it might cost me. Suddenly I was overwhelmed with love and excitement! It was literally like angels were rejoicing in heaven, difficult to describe. Needless to say, I didn’t learn much about Baptist History that day.

At church the next day, I tentatively approached her and tried to explain what God had put on my heart, hoping that she would accept it. Gracious, as always, she did, and suddenly it seemed a real friendship based on love and acceptance was possible. Before me I saw someone who was dedicated in prayer, had a passion for caring for others, and was filled with grace.

Inclusion is now one of the aspects of God’s character that is the most precious to me. One of the books I read in my search for truth was Matthew Vine’s book ‘God and the Gay Christian’. Though I still struggle to bridge the difference in our understanding of scripture, Vine’s vulnerability and explanation of the impacts of exclusion on LGBT people has helped me love and accept people just as they are, as cherished children of God. But it’s God who changes hearts.

Anna Rogerson

Deep Calling To Deep (Part 1): Andrea King

Deep Calling To Deep

Welcome to the first in a new series of blogs by Affirm contributor Andrea King

When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart (Jer 29:13)

Sometimes from the very best of intentions, through strong conviction or values, developed over many years or inherited from those we’ve trusted, we can unintentionally cause pain to others who are different to us.

We don’t intend to. We don’t set out to. But nonetheless, we can become so very sure of our conviction that we either do not stop to consider our impact, or perhaps at times, turn our faces away from the impact we might have; unable, or unwilling, to consider it. Sometimes we’ll provide rational arguments to justify an associated impact of discomfort or pain, perhaps seeing it as an inevitable consequence of staying true to our values or beliefs. That original good intention, our intention of trying to do what we consider to be right or appropriate at the time, becomes an unwitting foundation for harm. We’ve all been there.

It is difficult to know quite what we might do when polarised Biblical convictions create suffering, pain or rejection for some. How do we reconcile this with the Kingdom of God? It becomes a cycle of exclusion, fuelled by the best intentions.

Diversity is incumbent within the body of Christ, it’s a necessary and crucial aspect of reflecting Him more fully. Many members of the LGBT+ community find themselves supported and firmed up by individuals who affirm His unconditional love for all and often more specifically, see a reflection of Him in LGBT+ people of faith. Nonetheless, we cannot deny that the cycle of exclusion simply saps hope from members of the LGBT+ community. Many of us ebb and flow in resurgent hope, disappointment and pain. We often feel less entitled, or even sometimes disqualified, from a hope of salvation, freely offered. Our understanding of an eternal relationship with Him, which we understood to be bought at great price, seems somehow insufficient. It leaves us questioning where and with whom we might ever belong. It can be deeply painful, faith can come at great cost.

And so, I wanted to share one small moment from my ongoing journey with you. I have been attending my local Church for 11 years and about five years ago, having got to know many people within the Church and knowing that there was simply something I must do in Him, I sought membership. I offered to sit with those who had worries, concerns, theological objections and talk it through. A few sought me out. Of those that did, one was respectful in their enquiry. My lasting memory of that time is a few people turning their faces to the wall, literally, as I walked past and particularly of one individual simply saying that people were sick in the church because of that fact that I was there, stated slightly less politely than I’ve described it here. Theologically, this does not stand up, morally this is very simply unacceptable, but regardless, the impact was huge. I stepped away, respectfully. Internally I drew a line, ‘enough’, but if I’m honest, I’d lost hope.

All that was left was prayer. All I could reach was Him. It was raw prayer, no words, pure opening of heart, a cry of the soul.

Stepping away gave a period of time for everyone to reflect. It transpired, that a majority were supportive, card after card came through the door. It gave time for some soul searching. A year later, on Easter Sunday, I returned, due largely to the grace of two Ministers who did not, and would not, let me go, and who modelled grief. The community started to broadly recognise, perhaps for the first time, the impact strong convictions can have when we switch off our capacity to reflect and empathise. Nonetheless, individuals with strong convictions precluding LGBT+ inclusivity remained and with one of these individuals we commenced together on a new journey of sharing our faith, of prayer and mutual reflection together. What bound us both was Him. We both pray a lot, deep calling to deep, and maintained an unwavering commitment to seeking Him – it was our common ground. We respected each other, not seeking any change, just wanting to understand each other more fully, in Him.

About a year ago now –ten years after this journey first began – this individual who I am proud to call my friend, reached a point of revelation, in which the strongly held convictions she embodied were re-framed by Him in prayer, the linked to this, describes her story.

And so, I wonder, how might that help us journey together through the national debates about LGBT+ orientation within the faith community? I wonder how the principles of mutual respect, seeking first to understand each other, and crucially, keeping our eyes firmly fixed on Him in prayer might help?

It just might be that this theological debate is not within our power or skill to resolve, but it remains fully within His. It requires, trust, patience, grace and above all love, but it is without doubt possible.

 

I wonder, would you join us in the journey together, with Him? To seek first to understand, united in Him.

Andrea King

 

 

 

 

 

Some Responses to the Nashville Statement

This week a group of around 150 Christian leaders published The Nashville Statement, a set of affirmations and denials regarding sexuality and faith and in particular LGBT+ issues. This group, it must be said, represent a particular brand of conservative evangelicalism that this particular writer finds to be unwholesome to say the least.

I won’t post a link to the statement here, you’ll find it easily enough if you really want to read it.

There have been a number of responses to the statement online, many from the church and many from secular writers. I want to highlight two responses here that I found to be particularly helpful in presenting a more loving, inclusive and Christ-like representation of the broad spectrum of humanness .

Firstly the ‘Denver Statement‘ written by Nadia Bolz-Weber, an author of several ground-breaking books and a founding pastor of House For All Sinners And Saints in Denver, Colorado.  Nadia responds brilliantly to each of the articles and adds one of her own at the end.

Secondly from Christians United, a similar statement listing their own set of ten articles written in the same style as pairs of affirmations and denials, This statement has initially been signed by a broad spectrum of international Christian leaders and in this case there is an option for the reader to sign on in agreement to the statement.

Here at Affirm our purpose is to support the LGBT+ community, particularly those within the Baptist denomination, but in a wider sense to all those seeking to be at home in an inclusive, Christ-like church, it makes me sad to read the Nashville Statement, but I am encouraged by the responses and by the realisation that the love of Christ is all-encompassing and slowly, very slowly, his church is coming to realise that.

This post by Andy Long, website manager