Latest news: FPC-Session-Letter-September-2019
Our last all-day gathering for this season’s Gracious Family Dialogues was April 27th, 2019. Scroll down to read summaries of the large group gatherings and reflections from the small group studies, as well as Frequently Asked Questions.
See FAQs specific to FPC Polity around this topic:
Our church is passionate about learning how to best Love God, Love Others, and Help Others Love God. We are committed to digging into God’s Word together as well as not shying away from important issues in our culture that invite us to ask the question, “What is the good God is working here?”
We are entering into a season of asking important questions around sexuality and Christian faithfulness – recognizing in our church the topic has been pressed to the sidelines but can’t stay there much longer. We need to talk, and in today’s culture we especially need to cultivate the tools necessary to seek understanding from one another around issues that are often divisive.
Our hope is always to refine our witness to the world as Christ’s messengers of the good news of the Gospel, so our desire is to move forward together in unity, addressing conflict head on by listening to each other with gentleness and respect, allowing ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit.
You are invited to FPC’s
Gracious Family Dialogues:
LGBTQ and Our Church
As we live in discipleship together, we invite you to join with all of FPC to
Gracious Family Dialogues: LGBTQ and Our Church on:
Sunday, October 14th 1-5:30pm*
Saturday, November 10th 1-6pm*
Saturday, April 27th, 1-6pm*
Small Groups meeting January-April
At these gatherings,
We will not:
• Abandon the authority of scripture
• Judge each other for personal understandings
• Force others to change opinions
• Listen to each other with gentleness and respect
• Honor each other’s opinions
• Commit to the unity that we have in Christ with mutual forbearance
• Enter this process without a preconceived agenda,
seeking to discover God’s path for us
• Give this the time needed to proceed carefully, thoughtfully,
and prayerfully as the Spirit leads us
We embrace the words of Jesus,
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have
loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that
you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
Everyone is welcome!
*Parental discretion is advised. There will be childcare for ages 0-10 by reservation.
Contact Megan at firstname.lastname@example.org or (360) 734-5510
See letters from our Session leading up to these dialogues:
Click topics below to open and read more information.
How we spent our time:
“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” 1 John 1:1-4 (NRSV)
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
We were given some time to reflect personally on the passage, then shared with a person near us about what God was bringing to our attention. We then passed the peace with those around us, acknowledging one another as beloved children of God, with whom God is delighted.
Then we moved on to revisit the RESPECT communication guidelines, as they are the model we commit to using for the entirety of our dialogues.
We had a short review of what we learned from the first gathering, and then gave space to the first of three interviews for the day. Each interview was meant to offer a variety of experience, exposure and perspective on the topic of LGBTQ. Each was also centered around two questions:
- How does your Christian faith inform your understanding of LGBTQ?
- How is this topic personal for you?
Our first interview was with Dave and Jan Dougherty. In order to best respect the stories shared at our special gathering on Saturday, we will not recount the details given in the interviews. If you are interested in learning more, we encourage you to pursue some time to have a conversation with those who were interviewed.
Our next piece was for Joan to give a presentation on current understandings regarding Gender and Sexual Diversity. We were first asked to fill in the chart in the packet assessing our understanding and knowledge regarding gender and sexual orientation. Joan then proceeded to share information utilizing the handout titled ‘the genderbread person’ (Sam Killermann). We were invited to pair with the person next to us and share some thoughts around the presentation.
After a short break, we gathered back together again for our second interview, with Jeff Steensland. Following Jeff’s sharing, we moved into a teaching time brought by Doug and Becca exploring scripture texts which pertain to the topic of homosexuality. Many of the evaluations coming out of the first dialogue as well as feedback we’ve heard related to wanting to know more about what the Bible has to say on the topic specifically. To try and help shape our time, the space was focused around a main question exploring whether a same sex covenantal marriage is sexual immorality – this was done given the understanding that orientation is not a choice, and a Christian sexual ethic is of high value (which recognizes promiscuity as sinful in itself regardless of orientation).
The presentation focused on answering this question along the guidelines we, as Presbyterians, often approach any topic:
Looking to Jesus, looking to scripture, and looking to tradition (our confessions).
Here is a brief synopsis of what Doug and Becca shared – all of which we encourage every individual to spend time with God in, seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and be in conversation with one another about:
Looking to Jesus:
Jesus is practically silent on this topic. The only time Jesus’ words may be taken into account on this topic is during a conversation on divorce as Jesus talks to the Pharisees (Mark 10, Matthew 19). While Jesus quotes Genesis regarding a man leaving his parents to cleave to his wife, it is a rough call to say this was a direct statement from Jesus on the topic of same sex orientation in a covenant (marital) relationship. There is a ton that Jesus does and says that still has impact on this discussion:
~~Jesus speaks clearly about welcoming and loving others
~~He spent time with sinners and said he came for sinners
~~He also speaks clearly about not engaging in sinful behavior
~~Jesus commands us not to judge
An argument based on silence is not helpful. Christ’s example is what we all strive towards in faithfulness. So we continue on to where else in scripture we ought to look.
Looking to scripture:
Many in our congregation have asked the question – what does the Bible SAY about this topic? So Doug and Becca prepared to teach from scripture (in 30min!!) what the Bible has to say. There are only seven verses that explicitly address homosexual behavior in the Bible, and Doug and Becca proceeded to teach on the six that are the most controversial. The study of these texts was presented in the way that we engage any scripture:
~~What was the context of the passage?
~~How was it intended for the cultural reality of the time in which it was written?
~~What was the intention of the author given the context and culture of the time?
~~Given the context, cultural reality, and intention of the author, how does it apply today?
The texts are:
Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; 1 Cor 6:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:8-11; and Romans 1:26-27.
If you are interested in discussing the Biblical studies of these passages further, please contact either Becca or Doug who are more than willing to take a look at these passages together.
Of course scripture ought not be only bits and pieces taken in isolation, but read in context of each book as well as the full story of the Bible. We did not delve into the larger narratives at work as much as we would have like to.
In conclusion of the study presentation, we discussed acknowledging the lenses that each one of us often see this topic through. This is more or less a lens of tradition.
These lenses were discussed in terms of traditional and progressive. Such labels aren’t meant to make a judgment statement but merely clarify terms. Traditional would mean that people with this lens are not affirming of same sex marriages. Progressive would mean people that are affirming of same sex marriages. These lenses are often a mixture of how we understand Jesus, how we read scripture, and what our culture and traditions have taught us to engage with the world around us.
Traditional/Non-affirming individuals hold to these statements in their lens:
~~Same sex marriage is not the way Creation works. God created heterosexual marriage in that unions work with the equipment we are built with, as well it results in children. God’s intention for creation ought to be respected and maintained to whatever degree possible (after the Genesis 3, we strive for God’s best).
~~Marriage is used in the Bible to symbolize the union of Christ and the church, we ought to approach our own marriages with the same level of sacrifice and goals of holiness.
~~Passages of scripture which address homosexual behavior are clear and are never affirming.
~~The way forward for someone who experiences same sex attraction is a life of celibacy.
A great concern of someone who is non-affirming:
~~To affirm someone’s same sex pursuit of relationship seems to condone their recognition of their sexual orientation as the most important part of their identity which is dangerous and idolatrous. Participating in any kind of same sex sexual activity is a sin as outlined in scripture. Affirming same-sex marriage does not invite them to the sacrificial life God calls all of us into so that we may live fully into what God has in store if we were to put him first.
A challenge for people who are non-affirming is then:
~~People who experience homosexual orientation are just as valuable in the church as anyone else, and have experienced a devastating rejection of their worth in the religious community. If we as the church are saying the only way forward is celibacy for a Christ centered same sex attracted individual, how are we supporting their decision towards celibacy, and offering relationship as well as leadership opportunity on the same level as anyone else in our church who exhibits a vibrant faith?
Progressive/affirming individuals would hold to these statements in their lens:
~~Marriage is celebrated but it is not about sexual differentiation – it is about covenant fidelity.
~~In the New Testament, procreation is not the only reason to get married in the Bible – they would see a same-sex covenantal marriage as being a perfectly good symbol of the union of Christ and the church. It is about covenant and not being male and female.
~~The passages of scripture discussing homosexual behavior deal with egregious intentions in a very different culture which cannot be compared to Christ centered individuals of today who desire a covenantal marriage with someone of the same sex.
A great concern of someone who is affirming:
~~The church has long persecuted individuals for a reality of their lives they have no choice over. If we don’t recognize they are people and not an ‘issue’ we are limiting our understanding of God by not including them to the fullest within the church, and we don’t give show a sense of trust that their faith matters (or that conviction comes from God alone).
A challenge for people who are affirming is then:
~~Respecting and honoring the convictions of our faith community and the reality that the passages of scripture exist as well as the narrative of male & female balance in God’s order. In addition, supporting those who identify as LGBTQ but are committed to a life of celibacy because of their faith convictions.
We must exercise our ability to recognize the lenses we see through, as well as the lenses others see through, and ultimately leave it up to the conviction we each receive from the Holy Spirit. That being said, we are challenged with the task of considering whether this lands not within the area of ‘essential matters’ but instead ‘disputable matters’ as referenced by the Apostle Paul in Romans.
Our third interview of the day was with Andrea Day. Becca then discussed an insight into using Romans as a guide when it comes to divisive matters within the church. The Church of Rome was divided between Gentile converts to Christianity and Jewish converts to Christianity who could not agree on what was important to include in practices of the faith. We were then invited into a short study on Romans 14:1-9; 12-13:
“Accept those whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat everything, but another person, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted that person. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master they stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. Some consider one day more sacred than another; others consider every day alike. Everyone should be fully convinced in their own mind. Those who regard one day as special do so to the Lord. Those who eat meat do so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and those who abstain do so to the Lord and give thanks to God. For we do not live to ourselves alone and we do not die to ourselves alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. . . . So then, we will all give an account of ourselves to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.”
Groups were then dismissed to discuss the passage, and end together in prayer.
As we gathered back together, we addressed the invitation to have small groups in Jan-Mar for 6-7 individuals gathered together at someone’s house, all studying the same content. Invitations to the congregation will be finalized by early January and sent out for people to sign up. The final gathering will then be in April to assess where our congregation is a body, and offer insight to Session on what happens next.
Many people chose to participate in small groups that met weekly or bi-weekly for six meetings. The groups were mixed across generations and provided the opportunity to pray and study and discuss together in a smaller setting. FPC provided a study guide with themes, scripture, and discussion questions to explore, accompanied by three potential outside resources – each group chose which track they wanted to follow.
This provided a rich time to be in prayer and conversation with one another, as we seek God’s guidance together about what it means to be the church. At each of our large group gatherings in the fall, the small group time far and away was the favorite element of our time together, so these small groups extended the opportunity for building community and listening to each other around this topic.
The three tracks included:
1. Reading “Washed and Waiting” by Wesley Hill, an individual who understands himself to be gay as well as Christian, and feels convicted to live a celibate lifestyle. It is an invitation and challenge to the church to be encouraging to those who are single as well as faithful regardless of orientation.
2. Reading “Torn” by Justin Lee, an individual who understands himself to be gay as well as Christian, and finds convincing arguments for both celibacy as well as covenantal marriage to be Biblically founded. He offers an invitation and challenge to the church regarding what it means to be united as a body even if we are divided on the topic of marriage.
3. Utilizing a variety of resources – podcasts, articles, videos, etc. One per week pertaining to the focus of the week’s content.
See the small group study booklet here: GFDEbook
See reflection statements created by small groups after they met, reflecting on their exploration of this topic: Gracious-Family-Dialogues—Small-Group-Statements—LGBTQ
Our final Gracious Family Dialogue focusing on the topic of LGBTQ and our church happened Saturday, April 27th from 1-6pm. See the discussion handouts from this meeting here. We reflected on the year, alternating between large and small group format, asking a guiding question to shape our time: “What does it mean to bring Glory to God in all of this?”
Gathering back into the large group, we heard from Becca some summary views and ideas from what the six-week small groups had to say (click to read their reflections here). She then invited Kerrie, Harrison, and Fred forward to share how the topic of LGBTQ and our church impacts the ministry they do (Children, Middle School/High School, and College/Young Adults respectively), to speak on behalf of the younger generations not present in our discussion. She framed the space as a time to listen, and hold the ideas that they share – and to see what they share as an invitation of what it means to lean into our focus of “Sharing a Living Faith Across Generations” – recognizing there are hurdles and communication barriers in our midst, but that God is on the move.
Kerrie, Harrison, and Fred each shared from their hearts around what it means for the younger generations to not just hear our theology but to see and experience the love of Christ through each of us, in our welcome and in our walking alongside. We want every child to be welcomed in our church as beloved children of God. We must know that as they grow up, they will encounter others around them who identify as LGBTQ or may experience this in themselves, and we want them be anchored in the love of Christ and the power of the gospel as they interact with their community. We were challenged to shift from thinking about “what” we believe to thinking about “how” we believe what we believe, and encouraged to move from talking at people to listening to them.
Doug ended the large-group sharing time recognizing how culture at large has approached people who understand themselves to be LGBTQ over the past century in negative and oppressive ways, and that talking about this topic across generations is often like cross-cultural communication because of how culture has shifted in the past few decades. This does not mean we are called to bend to culture, but we are invited to find a way to communicate the truth and love of God in a way that we can actually understand one another.
Noting that we had just heard from representatives of the younger generations, Doug introduced a way for us to hear from generations before ours; namely, he illuminated a portion of text from the PCUSA Book of Order (our instructions in Polity) which helps govern our church, and which comes from past generations. We read a portion on Mutual Forbearance – in which we understand that people of good and sincere faith in Christ may disagree, and that we are not called to move away from each other but actually towards one another in it. We then broke into our small groups to discuss Mutual Forbearance and pray together what we hope to be and do as we share a living faith across generations.
We came together as a large group for some final reflection time, recognizing that Session is burdened with discerning the particularities of this topic in our policy, and we gathered around the members of Session and prayed over them for God’s guidance and blessing. We moved downstairs for dinner, starting our meal together with communion as a recognition of the overwhelming love Christ has shown to each and every one of us.
If you were not gathered with us that day, we are thankful for your prayers because it was a beautiful day of learning the joy and difficulty of believing and living together in Christ. Please continue to pray for our Session and staff as they prepare for the Session and Pastoral staff retreat on May 11th which will have more space to discern whether or not something needs to change in our policy. Whatever the outcome, we are a deeper and richer congregation relationally and spiritually than we were 9 months ago.
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions about this series of dialogues:
Why are we talking about this?
We feel over many years, this conversation has been happening in certain pockets, but not as a whole community. We also don’t feel this topic is meant to be the focus of Sunday worship or the mission of our church, but rather discerned as a community together in a separate space. This season has been initiated by Session and staff as an act of discipleship – leaning into where God is leading us with open hands. Session had the opportunity in spring 2018 to experience a time set aside to talk with one another about this topic, and wanted to recreate it for the entire congregation because it was so meaningful, and truly challenges us to consider what it means to love as Christ does. Their dialogue time did not try to change minds, but to simply listen better to each other.
Our current culture also reflects an inability to dialogue around things about which we may disagree. We feel it is important to hone skills and learn how to talk with one another, learn from one another, and understand each other better. We may or may not change our views on things, but we will come away with a better understanding of how to walk together. We are also talking about it now since the topic affects many people within our congregation (mostly regarding family members and friends) who have felt there hasn’t been a space to adequately address and discuss the topic as a church body centered on scripture, theology and God’s guidance. Refer to the April 2018 Session letter – see link above to see our current stance.
Won’t this just rip our church apart?
Honestly, we don’t know. That’s up to each of us. We hope that all who call FPC their church home will commit to staying together – walking this road of discernment together not knowing where it may lead, but trusting God first and foremost in the process. We want to study scripture together, in the open where we can discuss what troubles our hearts and how Christ meets us there. There has been underlying tension in our church for years regarding this particular issue in the faith community, and we feel it’s important to explore scripture with our church family in order to better understand our way forward. It does feel risky, but we feel it is the faithful path of discipleship.
What is our “end goal” after all of these conversations?
There is no predetermined agenda or outcome, other than learning how to talk about difficult issues. Our purpose is to gather for deep discussion, to better understand God’s leading as well as our own convictions. There is a reality that session may revisit our stance as a church regarding weddings and ordination standards (Deacons, Elders & Pastoral Staff) to reaffirm what it says, or possibly edit it accordingly as to how God guides us in these dialogues – see the Session Letter from 2018 for reference of current standards. We don’t go into this year expecting everything or anything to change on paper, but recognize we must hold our hands open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit so that we can truly be God’s witnesses as the church. We also don’t expect that everyone will land in the same place, but hope we can come to a consensus about how to operate as a church. At the end of the year, our governing body (Session) will listen to those who have participated in these dialogues, and will discuss and discern our way forward as a church. Another lasting benefit of entering this process is that we will have a way of discussing difficult topics within our church family in the future.
Is this an open forum for anyone in Bellingham to attend and hear these issues debated?
This is not intended to be a public debate, it is specifically a family dialogue. We intend these dialogues to serve as a safe, intentional gathering of those who attend and are committed to FPC, to help our Session hear and understand the positions of our congregation members so that we can move forward together in whatever direction God takes us.