A couple of months ago my husband and I got in a big fight. We both stated our positions and why we felt the way we did. We both had solid evidence to back up why we thought our opinion was correct. We used tangible examples and well thought out reasoning and still, we were at impasse.
Round and round we went, the cyclical argument going nowhere. But even though it was clear we were never going to land on the same page, I couldn’t stand not having closure—meaning, I couldn’t stand not having him on my side, seeing things the way I did and fully embracing where I was coming from. Agreeing to disagree was not an option. So I doubled down. I continued to be a messenger of the “truth”—at least my truth. And hoped and prayed that he would come around.
But he didn’t. He held his ground too.
Until one day I woke up with an idea. If I couldn’t get him to be on my side there was only thing left for me to do.
Craft a statement.
Draw up a document.
Let him know that if he couldn’t see it like I did, then he was making an essential departure from the marriage. The argument had nothing to do with anything we said to each other in our vows. But I didn’t care. This was a hill to die on. It was the ultimate trump card and I knew it. Sure, he didn’t have to agree with me, but refusing to would remove him from being in a covenantal relationship with me.
Genius, right? Take notes, young marrieds.
Actually, not so much. In fact, I sound like a jerk. Because everyone knows progress in relationships and movement in disagreements is not made when lines are drawn in the sand and threats are made about belonging and statuses in relationships are threatened. You may get the words you want from the person you want it from. But you won’t get the other person’s heart. You may do a really good job at making a point, but do it this way long enough and you’ll start to feel a chill in the air around you, because no one gravitates towards point makers. They prefer conversation have-ers. You may feel pretty good about your defense of the truth. But doubling down on your truth rarely produces the fruit of grace or humility or kindness.
The good news is, this didn’t happen in my marriage. The bad news is, this did happen—in the Church.
This week a “statement” was released from the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood addressing one of the biggest “issues” of our time in the faith. Sexuality. Judging on where and who the statement was coming from, I wasn’t surprised by the content. But I was surprised that it had to be said at all. That those in leadership felt the need to formally put in writing what most of the world already knew this particular group thought. That was what was so troubling. That the statement had to be made, because the point was to draw a line in the sand. To say, “This is what we think, and we are at an impasse with others in the faith community, and we are not okay with agreeing to disagree. That is no longer good enough. From now on, refusing to see it as we do is making an essential departure from the Christian faith.” In other words, never mind this sexuality issue isn’t in the Apostle’s Creed. That when we came to faith, we didn’t swear allegiance to the Father, Son, Holy Spirit and heterosexual marriage. Never mind that it wasn’t in our church vows. It is now. And it’s their way or the highway. You either agree with them—and you’re in. Or you don’t—and I’m so sorry. There’s no place for you here.
I’m married, and I don’t think I have it all figured out, or even close to having it all figured out, but I can tell you this. Choosing to interact with my husband (the man the church and God has declared me to be “one” with in my marriage) the same way this Council is interacting with other believers who don’t see eye to eye with them (the universal Church Jesus prayed we might be “one” with the night before his death) does not help the relationship.
I don’t need a marriage counselor to tell me the moment I begin talking in “articles” to my husband, and offering ultimatums in our disagreements, is the moment our marriage is doomed. Is the moment I care more about being right than I do about the health of the relationship. Is the moment I value my pride more than I value how to best serve and love the one I am in sharp disagreement with. I don’t need a professional to tell me as soon as I take the moral high ground and elevate making him think more like me over grace-filled reconciliation, mutual understanding, and steadfast kindness, is the moment we’ve lost sight of our mission, our purpose, our call to love one another at all costs.
Let’s take the theology issues out of the statement for a second. (Even though there is plenty of well-founded emotion surrounding what it says.) Let’s just stick to the means in which the message was conveyed. A “statement”. With articles. And stipulations. Church, this is not what we do. We are better than that. If we are more concerned with taking our stand in culture above all else, than we will forsake Jesus’ primary objective for us every time. To love one another. The apostle Paul’s pleading: to live at peace. The apostle Peter’s reminder: that love covers a multitude of sins. Even, I think, if the “sin” of getting it wrong on a theology—no matter what that theology is or where we land on it. Imagine how freeing that could be, if we really came to believe it?
I’ve stopped watching the news lately. I can’t. Maybe I’ll pick it up again soon, but for right now, it’s too much. The warring sides, the visceral reactions, the deep seeded aggression. The devastation we are causing one another. The natural devastation from a powerful storm that hovers over a battered and beaten down slice of America. It’s so close to seeming hopeless. And then this Nashville Statement shows up in my news feed, and I can hardly believe my eyes. We need hope these days more than ever. We need unity. We need a common ground and a common cause, and a sense that as much as there is that separates us and causes disagreements, there is something we can hang our hat on. Anything. I would settle for almost anything.
But this statement is the exact opposite. It is a hard and fast digging in of the heels on an issue that no amount of demands or signatures will bring resolution to in a time when the factions in our ranks of the church are already staggeringly many.
I don’t want to read one more thing that postures itself as righteous and truthful and grace-filled when it refuses to do the hard work of inviting dialogue, encouraging conversation, and bridging relational gaps between where we land in our thinking and where another Jesus-loving believer lands.
My favorite story in the Gospels is the one Jesus tells about the lost son. About the loving father’s generosity and the older brother who can’t get over it. About the son who leaves home thinking there is a world waiting for him outside the bounds of his family’s love, and discovered the world is actually much harsher than he expected and home much better than he remembered. About the dad who patiently waits, and lovingly keeps watch for his son, day in, and day out, and who, when the son finally comes to his senses and decides to return, the father runs out to meet—while he was still along way off.
I love it because stories do the best job of communicating a message, and the message in the humbled younger son and self-righteous older brother, and the present and tangible and available father is the story of us. Of humanity. Of those of us who think sometimes God may be holding out on is. Of those of us who think God couldn’t possibly be as good as we hope. Of those of us who wonder if we did decide to go in a homeward direction, if God is as patient as we need him to be. It’s the story of a Father who never goes anywhere. Of an older brother who wishes his father’s kindness had limits, and a younger brother who could nearly weep with the relief that it doesn’t.
When I read the Nashville Statement, strangely, I thought of this story. How the way the Gospel was portrayed in its 14 articles was nothing like a story at all, but a recitation of dogmas. I thought of how this story might be rewritten in this day and age, how, if those dogmas were played out in this tale of a father and two sons, how unlike “good news” it would sound. It would be the story of a dad not welcoming his son to the table, but asking him to leave because he couldn’t live up to the ideals he had for him. It would be the story of a dad who ran down a list of rules broken and failings evidenced, and shook his head in disappointment and shame when he saw his son was still a long way off—not running to meet him with the robe and the ring and the feast being prepared, so rich and bountiful, the aromas of cooked meat and tenderly created delicacies, but of a stern face, a prepared lecture, and firm stance. It would be the story of discord and fractured relationships and a dad who could maybe go to sleep confident he had taken a stand for the kind of behavior he would not tolerate, and certain his boys knew just who was boss, and an older brother feeling smug and satisfied, and superior, because finally his younger brother got the message he deserved. “There’s no room for you here. You have to go.”
I could talk for days about the ways I think this statement got it wrong. But I’ll stick with just this.
The church was misrepresented and failed at the one task we were trusted with when Jesus took his leave. To love one another, to show the watching world the love of Christ by how we loved each other. We had a chance to keep working on the fragile and tenuous binds between us, and instead we took a swift cut to the rope, for the sake of making our position known, and not our love. We thought our opinion on a piece of theology mattered more than a person. We fell prey to believing God cares more about landing on the right side of the argument than tangibly showing up for the people he declared and demonstrated his love for. We forgot Jesus didn’t die so we might have correct dogma. But he did die that we might let everyone who bears his image—that would be everyone, acknowledge by a “statement” or not—know of their worth and their significance in his eyes and our own.
The Gospel was misrepresented. It was added to. It was made to look like a person’s sexuality and a person’s opinion on someone else’s sexuality was a qualifier for participation and acceptance into the faith Jesus himself said was for the world. Period. And that’s not okay.
When my husband and I get in actual fights, we don’t double down on our opinions. Maybe we do at first, but after a little while we realize it’s a futile when we do that, we both lose—and the marriage loses most of all. Instead, we back up. Sometimes literally. We take a deep breath. We search for the lowest common denominator in our thinking. What can we agree on? Where do we see eye to eye? Where are we already on the same page? What can we begin to build on, and then go from there, piece by piece moving towards the argument that wrecked us, in hopes that starting with the things we share, we might be better equipped to talk through the things we don’t?
Prior to today I didn’t think the lowest common denominator of the church was so far down the rung. Maybe I was naïve. Maybe that’s why reading this statement today made me as mad/frustrated/sad as it did. Because we have even farther to go than I thought. Even so, this is what I know to be true. This is my lowest rung, the denominator I hang my hat on—and my faith on.
That the story Jesus tells of His father’s love is not one where the front porch is vacant of a dad waiting for his children to round the bend. Where the requirements to get in the door and wear the robe and eat the feast is nothing more than a willingness to show up. Where our being found is not a matter of change, but of presence, not of behavior, but a father’s declaration.
If we miss that, we miss the Gospel. And, like the older brother, we miss the feast. And I’m willing to bet, that’s a party we aren’t going to want to sit out. But like the story, we won’t be forced to show up. And we won’t be forced to get it together before showing up either. It really is up to us. Not some statement. Not some article. Not someone else’s opinion. Us.
When we catch site of the table and the food, of the wine and the bread, and hear the laughter and the music, and see a grinning dad, who stands at the door and motions us to come inside, what will we do? Will we go in?
I will. And I would like to think my willingness to extend the table to everyone here and now prepared me for the feast where people I may have never imagined being there, pull up a seat alongside me, and we stare at each other in wonder. Because God, Jesus, and all he has to offer is better than any statement made him out to be. And that is good news.