The Unity in Community: A Response to Bishop John Shelby Spong
John Shelby Spong’s passionate e-mail declaring his withdrawal from further discussion about GLBT inclusion in the church was brought to my attention at the end of an inspiring week of accompanying Lisa Larges to presentations and conversations at local colleges in the Pittsburgh area. Listening to Lisa talk about her experience in the church as an out lesbian and her decisions about how to proceed in following her call to ordained service definitely colored my response to his declaration that he “will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone.”
I wholeheartedly agree with Bishop Spong that over the centuries the Christian Church has mistreated “people of color, women, adherents of other religions and those designated heretics, as well as gay and lesbian people.” At the same time, I cannot find my way to join him in ceasing to discuss, listen and engage with people who disagree with the Gospel promise of inclusion for all people, including GLBT people, in God’s loving embrace.
Lisa’s approach, by contrast, is to reach out in the spirit of community and inclusion, inviting even those who would exclude her and other GLBT people from ministry to join her in witness and prayer — in other words, in being the church together.
During our time together, Lisa shared the direction she is taking That All May Freely Serve (tamfs.org). She spoke of the decades of struggle for acceptance of GLBT people in the PCUSA. She understands how, for many years, GLBT Presbyterians were intent upon knocking on the door of the church and asking to be let in. But no longer.
Lisa observes that the PCUSA has changed through the hard work of those who, faithfully, year after year, have struggled for inclusion. She sees that today’s young people fully understand that we are all equal in the eyes of God, and are turned off when the church does not treat our GLBT brothers and sisters the way that others in the church are treated. In our youth Lisa sees the future. In GLBT inclusion she sees the Gospel.
Lisa and TAMFS want to give our youth the opportunity to lead the conversation, calling everyone to join them — including all those people Bishop Spong has declared he will no longer be in dialogue with.
I invite Bishop Spong to join the joyful throng as well. Instead of defiantly refusing to talk with one another, may each of us strive to embody Jesus’ shameless love for all. And may we all accept Lisa’s marvelous invitation to come together in community.