It’s a no-win for the voices of exclusion

World Vision may have set a table for us to gather around and begin the conversation we must have.

By Amy Butler

Controversy has died down a bit since what can only be called a public relations disaster at World Vision last week. After announcing a change of policy which would allow for the employment of married, gay employees, the organization, facing sharp public criticism from conservative Christian leaders, reversed its decision.

Like many of you, I had conflicting thoughts about the situation. I read myriad blog posts and columns by folks on both sides of the issue. I felt grief for the increasing numbers of people who feel alienated from the church and rejected by Christians everywhere. And I’ve been wondering about where we clearly divided Christians might go from here.

In the middle of all this thinking, I’ve been preparing for Easter — just two weeks away. Thinking about new life, resurrection, the constant invitation we’re offered to step boldly into new life, I’ve wondered if this World Vision situation might be an unprecedented invitation to conversation, to telling the truth, to voicing our doubts and fears, and to moving forward. Together.

So, today I’m not writing to vehement opponents making hateful public statements. I’m writing to honestly grappling people of faith. You know who you are: you attend a church where nobody speaks of such things but everybody wonders about them. You grew up in the church and you know your Bible well; talk of the Bible and gay people makes you feel torn. There are gay members of your church staff, but nobody mentions it. You work with colleagues who are gay, and you love and respect them. Your children or grandchildren are telling you they’re gay, but you can’t tell anybody because you’re scared of what they’ll think.

In your deepest heart, you’re conflicted about whether continued exclusion of our GLBT brothers and sisters from full engagement in the life of the church is the right position to take.

Here are some thoughts for you:

I know you’re afraid. It’s been pounded into us over and over by the voices of right-wing Christian evangelical playground bullies. “Be strong!” “Don’t compromise biblical standards!” And my personal favorite, “Homosexuality is a kingdom issue!” These voices are powerful influences; they use guilt, shame and fear to limit our vision of gospel possibilities.

But I think that you may be increasingly questioning these strident and disapproving voices. I know I have. Could they be wrong? Could institution and expectation and fear and power be motivating their words? What about your suspicion that the message of Jesus is always pulling us into unfamiliar and uncomfortable change?

In the church we share a cultural preoccupation with sex, gender roles and societal expectations for such. This preoccupation has limited our vision — we are often blind to the constant challenge of God’s love and welcome for all, blind to the holy expectation of gospel living, blind to the radical call of mercy, welcome, inclusion and love in the way of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

With this limited vision, we’re pretty clear what the party line is, but the party line isn’t ringing true anymore.

Don’t be afraid. Having the courage to voice these doubts, to welcome the conversation, will probably make people mad — as World Vision certainly did last week. It’s interesting to note that, were we to do that, we would not be alone. Jesus made people so mad they killed him.

But, here’s the thing. The voices of disapproval and exclusion will never win the day in God’s kingdom. Easter is just around the corner. It’s the constant reminder that God is ever re-creating, that new life and continuing growth is a painful process, and that the arc of salvation — God’s kingdom work in this world — is ever and always moving us toward love, mercy, kindness and radical welcome. We will inevitably get there.

Maybe World Vision’s public debacle can become another starting point, a table of grace. Around this table perhaps we can gather all of us: convicted, conflicted and scared. And maybe together we can join hands to take steps toward gospel: a more radical love and welcome that mirrors God’s love for the whole world.

There’s no need to fear the voices of conservative Christian playground bullies. Fear mongering and intimidation will always be strategies of the status quo. The call of Jesus is ever pulling us forward, an invitation to participate in the slow and steady process of God’s kingdom coming to be here and now.

So, let’s consider the World Vision situation last week an invitation. Let’s bring all our fears and doubts together, around the table, take off our blinders, tell the truth to one another and step forward with courage and radical welcome.

Instead of assuming what we’ve always thought is always the best way forward, let’s open ourselves to graceful possibilities for radical welcome. Because as we gather around a table of grace, we do so in the dawning light of Easter, pain-filled rebirth and opportunity for new life, our deepest gift and highest calling as followers of Jesus Christ.

If you’d like to think and talk further about these things, read a sermon I wrote on this issue and open conversation with someone who needs to know you’re ready for grace-filled conversation.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.