Heartland Clergy for Inclusion

acceptance from the heart

Beyond the Sound Bite: A Fuller Version

June 15, 2011

In the vision of the Hebrew prophet Amos, the preeminent sign of God’s presence and power is found where justice rolls down like a river, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24). Today, with the banks of the Missouri River in full flood, the Heartland Clergy for Inclusion gathers with you to bear witness to another powerful flow that has been sweeping through Heartland churches – as quietly as this river yet no less dramatic in its effects.

For many years, Heartland clergy and their congregations have been prayerfully reexamining long-held assumptions with respect to homosexuality, and gender identity and expression.

They have turned to the scriptures for guidance, examining the precious few passages that some insist prove once-and-for-all that homosexuality is abomination to God.  Rather than closing their Bibles and pronouncing the issue settled, however, as others have, many in the Heartland continued to read, far beyond those few sentences.  They have set these passages against the backdrop of the entire witness of Scripture, evaluating their claims in light of the whole, not just a few isolated parts.

Heartland Christians have listened respectfully to the opinions of those who insist that their views alone reflect God’s truth with respect to homosexuality.  Only, they have not shut their ears after hearing just one perspective.  Rather, they have done what Heartlanders do so well: continued to listen until everyone has spoken their piece.  Then Heartlanders have weighed the merits of the arguments according to the relative wisdom displayed rather than the decibel level attained.

Heartland Christians have also turned to each other – friends and relatives, neighbors, fellow church members, and even those of other faiths – engaging in conversations that have not always been easy or lighthearted.  While some of these have stretched the traditional bonds of community, civility, and neighborly hospitality that characterize what it means to live in the Heartland, they have not broken them.  Thus, we have stayed in conversation long after others would have ended it.

Finally, Heartland Christians have turned to God, praying on bended knee for insight and guidance, willing to sacrifice pride before integrity, and to pray “thy will be done” before than “my will be done.”

Like snow collecting in distant mountains, this slow, unassuming process of reflection and prayer, deliberation and study, has quietly built into a formidable consensus among many Heartlands congregations and clergy.  This growing consensus has largely escaped the attention of the media.  Frankly, the vastness of this consensus has largely escaped the notice of Heartlands Christians themselves, since it has taken place organically, outside of large-scale, organized efforts.  And yet, like the mountain snow, just because it has been “out of sight and mind” does not mean its existence is any less real, or that its potential to make sweeping changes in the landscape around us is any less likely.

To everything there is a season and today, along with this river, we recognize that this is the season of warming.  Our silence has been broken, and today we join with many gay and straight persons throughout our great nation to let justice and righteousness flow as mightily as this river.   Today we join with over 150 fellow Christian clergy and congregations throughout the Heartland to joyfully announce that the Good News is better than what many have imagined.

For us, the debate is over.  The verdict is in.  Homosexuality is not a sickness, not a choice, not a birth defect, not a sin. After years of study, reflection and prayer, we find no convincing biblical or theological basis to condemn or deny the rights of any person based on sexual orientation.  While the silence of many – including ourselves – has allowed political and religious rhetoric to monopolize public perception, creating the impression that there is only one Christian perspective on this issue, now we speak with a united, and determined voice.  We joyfully stand with the LGBT members of our congregations whom we have baptized to embrace their full inclusion in all areas of church life, including leadership. We stand as well, with LGBT persons everywhere, advocating for an end to all religious and civil discrimination against any person based on sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression.

We call upon our fellow Christian clergy of the Heartlands to break their silence and join us in raising a voice of affirmation and inclusion of LGBT persons in church and society.

Finally, we would like to address our Christian sisters and brothers who will be troubled by the joyful words we share with you today.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, in addition to the affirmations we make today, we also wish to affirm our love and belief in you.  We worship the same God, follow the same Lord, and pray in the same Spirit.  Many of us who stand here today once believed with all sincerity that the opposite of what we now proclaim was true.  Yet we believe that each of our spiritual paths must continually be marked by repentance – throughout our lives – if we are to follow in the path of Jesus.

The word “repentance” has long been misunderstood in church and society.  “Repentance” in the New Testament Greek literally means, “to change one’s whole way of thinking.” Following the Call of God requires a change not only of heart, but of thought.  The fact that some of us once earnestly believed that homosexuality was a sin, and were supported and affirmed in our belief by our faith communities and certain scriptures, does not mean that God’s call to repentance to is any less urgent or real.

Whenever God speaks God’s word to us, it always requires a change of thought which contradicts what we had previously held to be true.

Our ancestors knew this well.  In American history, Christians have been called to “change their whole way of thinking” about slavery.  They have been called to “change their whole way of thinking” about the rights and roles of women, and about the church’s exclusion of divorcees.  Christians have been called to change their beliefs and assumptions concerning racial justice and equality.  Now, we are called, as Christians, to change our “whole way of thinking” about sexual orientation.

We understand why some of would grow weary of change, and wary of sliding into moral relativism and radical subjectivity.  It is not surprising that some Christians would wish to draw a line in the sand – even with God – declaring, “No more change!”

Yet we urge you to consider what our state of affairs would be if our most ancient forbearers had declared “no more.”  Had 1st Century Christians like Peter and Paul – or 16th Century Christians, like Luther and Calvin – not been willing to let go of, or reinterpret, certain scriptures and long-cherished traditions in response to God’s new revelation, none of us would be standing here as members of the Christian community unless we were of Jewish decent and adhered to Mosaic Law.  There would have been no Protestant Reformation, and the denominations we know today would never have been born.

“Changing our whole way of thinking” in response to God’s ever-expanding revelation is simply part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  It is therefore not a burden or hardship, but a privilege and opportunity which takes place within the Good News of God’s grace and love.  It is also a responsibility.

We stand here because God’s justice and righteousness has broken through the levies we had once built against it, flooding our hearts with joy at discovering that the Good News is even better than we ever imagined.  Our prayer is that this same joy be yours as well, and that you will join us, as sisters and brothers, not only in our repentance, but in the joy of working for a bright new future for LGBT persons in the Heartlands and beyond.

Written by Eric Elnes

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Welcome to the Heartland Clergy for Inclusion’s presentation of The Heartland Proclamation. Join us in an ongoing conversation about God’s unconditional love for all people and about advocation of justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.