Tuesday, March 05, 2013

[a brutal unity: personal case study]

This post follows up on a previous post on “a brutal unity explored”. I highly recommend that you read it first, as it provides the conceptual background for understanding this case study. The original post talked about brutal unity as an individual might apply it to their situation in a church or community context. This post takes a specific conflict at a real church and provides extensive discussion of how one individual (the author) is applying the concept of brutal unity to the situation, as well as some discussion of how the church in question might apply the concept within the larger denominational context.
the church

St. Pea’s Church, located in a large Canadian city, is part of a mainline denomination. While the whole denomination believes in the gospel and in evangelism, St. Pea’s specifically considers itself evangelical and Bible-believing. The leadership is conservative in its views and holds to a traditional view of marriage. While there is a range of views and perspectives on sexuality among the parishioners, the leadership is not affirming of LGBT people.

the church member

My family and I have been attending this church for the past eight years. I hold a more progressive view and believe in the true equality of LGBT people in the body of Christ. The rest of my family has a range of views which are left of center and would be considered gay-friendly. This belief, or standard, is at variance with that of the leadership and many of the parishioners. I can live with this because the community is good and because conservative views regarding marriage are not a focus of the church. Thus, I let my “standards be suffered” for the sake of the church community. This does not mean that I ignore, give up or deny what I believe. It means that I put these beliefs to the side in order to be in relationship with others who may not share my views on sexuality, but with whom I have much in common as we follow Jesus together.

the synod resolution and decision

Along with the other parishes in this geographical area, St. Pea’s is part of and comes under the authority of the diocese. In the early fall of 2012, the diocese held its synod (assembly), at which Resolution G-3 was presented:
Blessing Same-Gender Committed Unions: That Synod request the Bishop to grant permission to any clergy who may wish to offer prayers of blessing for civilly married same-gender relationships.
 In keeping with their conservative beliefs, delegates from St. Pea’s and another conservative church spoke against the resolution. Nonetheless, the resolution was passed by a significant majority of both clergy and lay delegates.

the church member’s response

My response to the passing of this resolution was two-fold. First, I was pleased that it passed, as it gives an opportunity for parishes to be more welcoming of LGBT people. Secondly, my hope was that our church would continue to focus on its mission of loving God and loving our neighbours and not be sidetracked by the resolution, especially as the resolution places no obligation on clergy who do not wish to offer prayers of blessing to civilly married same-gender relationships.

the church’s response

The passing of a resolution to which they objected does not oblige St. Pea’s to take any action. They could have chosen to keep moving forward with their mission of loving God and loving their neighbour. While keeping their views and not changing their practice in light of the resolution which was passed, they could have put their views secondary to unity with the body (in this case, the diocese which they are part of). The leadership was not able to do this. In my opinion, pressure from some of the more conservative members to “leave right now without any discussion” was an influence, along with the undue weight which many conservative people put on matters related to sexuality and especially non-heterosexual sexuality. And so without a vote from the congregation, a task force was struck to consider options, and specifically the question of “do we stay in the diocese or do we leave?”

Side note: it turned out months later that, according to the denominational rules, only the diocese may dissolve a parish. Of course, members of a parish may discuss what they want to do in terms of staying, going elsewhere, or starting a new church altogether. Nonetheless, for much of the time when we were talking about what to do, it seemed like the church might actually leave the denomination.
what if St. Pea’s chooses to leave?

If St. Pea’s chooses to leave the diocese, there are four options that I see for me to consider. The first one entails saying that it really doesn’t matter to me either way. This begs the question of how key is this for me? For starters, this is not a key tenet of faith for me, and in that regard I can easily let it go. However, I assume that if the church leaves the diocese that it will become more conservative. This is because there are very conservative givers who want this departure and at least some of the more progressive parishioners will not stay in the church. I envision the result will be a more conservative church that will not want to have any dialogue regarding LGBT people.

That matters to me because of my second question: does the standard undermine the dignity of others? In other words, does the view they hold result in people being treated with less respect? To me, a move toward increased conservativism means a greater degree of undermining of the dignity of others. I realize that some parishioners will disagree with this entirely, as their focus is that the Biblical standard of traditional marriage is upheld and some do not see homosexuality as being anything other than behaviour. But that is how I see it going.

my options if the majority of St. Pea’s members vote to leave
  1. Do I set aside the standard I hold to in order to stay in unity with the body? (this is brutal unity level 1). Not if they are moving away from dignity, which is how I see it. Thus, one option is ruled out.
  2. Do I hold on to my standard and go somewhere else more welcoming? This would be brutal unity level 2, where I leave the community I am in and stand in solidarity with those whose dignity is being undermined.
  3. Do I hold onto my standard and remain part of the community wherever it ends up, as a visible representative that there’s more to the kingdom than a conservative view allows for? This is brutal unity level 3.
 other factors

There are also other factors to consider in this decision. My wife and children have significant friendships at the church. When my wife was seriously ill, people were extremely supportive of us in prayer and in many practical ways. Overall the people are friendly, and there is a good sense of community. It’s not easy to start over again after eight years at one church. And then there’s the question of where to go. Many of the other churches in our denomination are small and have limited youth programs. We do not wish to change denominations. And finally, not all members of my family feel as strongly about this current matter as I do. Overall, for most other factors, it seems that it is in my family’s best interest to stay at the church. To me, this “standard” – valuing my family’s well-being – is important. Accordingly, I would also stay, which leaves me with brutal unity level 3 – holding to my standard and remaining part of the community as a visible reminder of those who are excluded.

what does this look like?

At a most basic level, it means being present as someone who loves and follows Jesus yet who does not share the predominant view. At least some of the members know this about me. It will be more difficult for them to discount other perspectives by labelling them as liberal or as being held by people who have given up on the Bible. It also means being someone who stands up for and speaks out for the LGBT community in a context which, along with different and opposing values, often has misconceptions and stereotypes about LGBT people. I will do this as opportunities arise when related topics come up in conversation or when someone acts unjustly. I will also do this via social media where it is normative to express one’s views without it being perceived as pushy or out of place.

One of the positive outcomes of these responses is that I become a resource and support. For example, if another church member comes into a situation where they would like a different perspective, they can speak with me. This could be useful if one of their family members comes out to them, if they have questions about interacting with LGBT colleagues, or if they are starting to question their own views.

conclusion

The intent of this article has been to give a practical, extended real-life example of how one person applied the concepts of brutal unity to a particular situation. Other people in the same situation might find that for them, applying the same concepts brings them to a different place. My hope is that through the concepts and practice of brutal unity, that the process will be more thought-out and intentional, and most of all, that there would be greater unity among those who believe in Jesus.



Do the concept of brutal unity seem useful to you? Are there times or places when it could be useful to you or your community? I'd love to hear from you.


Note: my response to the situation is subject to change as the situation evolves.

update (march/april 2013)

Based on contractual agreements, the church is not able to leave the diocese as only the diocese has the right to dissolve a parish. Therefore, as a congregation, we will not be holding any votes to leave or anything else of that sort. However, that does not prevent members of the church from leaving, nor from choosing to start a new church elsewhere. That is what is happening now. It is hard to get a sense of numbers, but about half of the members have left and a significant number of these have started a new congregation.

So the result for us as a family, is that we are staying. The church continues on as before in some ways -- pastors, programs, etc., though with many beloved parishioners gone. Thus, we are continuing with sadness in our hearts and with anticipation of what is ahead now that – while still a conservative congregation – we have become more moderate overall.

update (summer 2013)

Despite the church having decided to stay in the diocese, it seems that staying in the church is not working for at least half of our family members. This means many things, from "how can we as youth be asked to invite friends to youth group, when the grownups upstairs are splitting over same-sex blessings?" to the aftertaste of the conflict which remains and is toxic for some, and other concerns unrelated to the split. So we talked as a family, made our decision, and moved on with sadness, as we do have friends who are still at St. Pea's and there are many good families attending.

2 comments:

  1. This has provided a lot of food for thought, as recently I was offered a job with a Christian agency, who have a few beliefs that I can't whole-heartedly support. I've been affiliated with the agency for years, so I'm already part of the community. They have specific beliefs about the role of women which I don't agree with - and which they understand some of their employees don't agree with. There are enough people there who don't agree with it, that we definitely represent a reasonable size group, even though the official stance of the agency is different. So we hold our belief, remain part of the community. They know we are there and have a different viewpoint. I think I am okay with that.
    They also believe that the unrighteous will be subjected to eternal damnation, which I don't agree with. Does this relate to the dignity of people? Not in this life? Depending how it is applied - maybe it does. I totally understand that many people believe this, and realize I'd be in the minority. It will also unlikely to come up in conversation while working there. Is this a standard that I'm willing to set aside for the sake of unity and community. Can I sign the statement of faith with a good conscience?
    Hmmmm, no easy answers.

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    Replies
    1. Those are great questions you are asking! Thanks also for sharing an example which applies these ideas to a different area of life.

      With the role of women: you are holding your belief (viz., keeping on believing it) but you are also "suffering it" (viz., making it secondary to being part of the community). I would think the fact that quite a few other employees also disagree with the official view, might make it easier to stay?

      I think you are right in suggesting that the hell question might impact the dignity of people, depending on how it is applied. I also find that the things we believe frame the world for us -- so often it seems there is a divide between us and them, the saved and the lost, the clean and the unclean . How could such beliefs not impact us and our relationships?

      Blessings to you as you make your decision and live as part of that community.

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