Since the late 1980s, the Presbyterian Church has been asking, “Should we include LGBT people in our congregation, and to what extent?”
Perhaps that has been exactly the wrong question, because since the late 1908s the Presbyterian Church has been fighting over the role of LGBT people which has resulted in a much weaker denomination over the last 25 years of fighting. Individual congregations have pulled out by the droves, moving to smaller but “purer” denominations, and a leaving much weaker Mother Ship. Those who have pulled out have essentially alienated themselves from a large segment of the American public, the 51 percent who do not oppose same sex marriage. They may have shored up their base, but statistics show that very few ex-Presbyterian congregations have expanded that base.
All because we have been asking the wrong question.
Edwin Friedman, in his book A Failure of Nerve, recounts how the West was stymied in finding a route to the Far East after the fall of the Mongol Empire, because the Silk Road was no longer safe and open for trade. The fall of Constantinople made passage impossible. The West was stuck on the question, “How can we continue traveling East over land, using the Silk Road?” which proved to be a question with no answer.
As it turned out, a much better question was, “What happens if we go west to get to the East?” Columbus made his famous voyage, and the rest is history. (Actually it is all history.) This question opened up the Age of Exploration, and led to massive changes in the Western world. In fact, according to Friedman, they still got it wrong. It took a hundred years after they bumped into the New World to realize that the New World itself was the prize, not the obstacle. So an even better question would have been, “What else is out there?” Continually asking, “What is the best route to the East caused them to be blind to the treasure they were trying to get around!
In the small area where I live, two Presbyterian churches have pulled out of the denomination. My congregation is the only one in the town where I live. And to what effect? Disgruntled members from the other churches have come to my church, and the local denomination has spent hundreds of hours dealing with the departures, thus proving to the rest of the community that Presbyterians cannot get along with each other, much less with people in other denominations.
Fortunately the broader civic community has ignored our little spat, mostly because they don’t give two shakes of a mule’s tail what churches do. Our little squabble just proved how irrelevant we are to the world at large. And for reasons that are beyond my understanding, people in the churches think this is somehow important.
So what questions should we be asking?
I was talking with the pastor of “The Other Presbyterian Church,” one that pulled out, and he said we should support relationships that honor God. Now on the surface, I think he is dead right, but unfortunately what that means to him, and what it means to me are two different things. I believe the love between two people of the same gender can honor God. And heaven knows, there are enough straight relationships in the church that are as close to honoring God as East is from West.
Imagine if all the energy that has been expended bickering over what gay and lesbian people do was turned to finding ways to help ALL relationships honor God. Imagine if the question was “How can we help people love?” instead of “What are we going to do about the gays and lesbians?”
Ask a bad question, and you will get bad answers. Should we include LGBT people in our church is a really bad question. If Jesus was right, we can judge things by their fruit, this fruit is rotten.
Maybe our question needs to be bigger. I don’t know, but all this makes me wonder.
What question should we be asking?