FOR A TIME SUCH AS THIS
BY BISHOP STEVE BREEDLOVE
Sitting in my home office in Chapel Hill on this beautiful, surprisingly cool June day, my head is spinning as I reflect over the tectonic movements in American society in the year since the June 26, 2015, Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell vs. Hodges. Since that time we have been rocked with the unexpected phenomena of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, reality-show political debates and violent campaign rallies, the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, countless other smaller violent acts on our own soil, and finally, the tragedy of the Orlando massacre of 50 people by an ISIS-inspired homeland terrorist.
Laced throughout these soul-shaking events has been a radical shift in the conversation about human identity and sexuality. In a way inexplicable apart from spiritual forces, traditional Christian views on sexuality are being lumped together with the radical homophobia that inspired last weekend’s murder spree. (Both Anderson Cooper’s CNN reporting and Jeremy Peters’ editorial in the New York Times are drawing this connection. It’s as if one could not utterly decry and oppose the murder of a fellow human being while also disagreeing with their moral beliefs and practices. My good friend, Bishop Neil Lebhar, debunked such shoddy logic in a reflection on the Orlando massacre. He used John 8 as a specific example of Jesus actively preventing the execution of a person who was also living outside the bounds of biblical sexual morality. Jesus’ followers can and must follow his lead in such matters.)
These shifts in sexual beliefs and practices are shaking our Christian community. Evangelical leaders (such as Jen Hatmaker) are changing their message to fit society’s positions, yielding directly to Anderson Cooper’s logic. Everyday Christians wonder what to believe. Some have concluded that the Bible’s views are either culturally-specific (i.e., not universal) or simply wrong. Pastors in our Diocese engage people in the pew and leaders in vestry meetings who take exception to our Diocese’s position on marriage and sexuality. Clergy members themselves grapple with how to answer the challenge that has come upon us like a raging, wind-whipped California canyon fire.
Nevertheless, we have the “temerity” to say that the message of the Gospel, and specifically the biblical message of human identity and sexuality, is STILL Good News. In fact, we assert that it is more than ever GOOD news. We believe that Jesus is speaking the the truth-in-love when he says to his followers, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” It is fully appropriate to wrestle honestly with what the word of God actually says about these matters; but in the end, once discerned properly, we believe that God’s truth transcends time and culture.
No intersection of the Gospel and culture is more turbulent or relevant in this season than the conversation about human identity and sexuality. There is no practical street conversation more important for the Church today than, “What does the Bible say in these matters, and how is it Good News?” To that end, we believe that the Lord is inviting us into a serious exploration of this topic for our Synod, November 3-5, in McLean, VA.
The Synod meeting itself is technically limited to the morning of Saturday, Nov 5. That’s when we gather “in synod” to “do the work of the Diocese.” But leading up to that, registration of clergy and lay delegates happens on Friday afternoon: the Synod event starts with Eucharist and a banquet Friday evening. And prior to that, starting Thursday afternoon, November 3, we are offering three plenary sessions plus discussion groups aimed at equipping and encouraging our Diocese for mission and ministry. Clergy are required to attend those Thursday-afternoon-and-Friday-morning sessions, and laity (delegates, church staff, lay leaders, anyone!) are welcome and encouraged to join as well.
Our topic Thursday afternoon and Friday morning? "Mere Sexuality: Proclaiming God’s Truth with Clarity, Courage, and Compassion." Our speaker? The Rev Matthew Mason.
Matthew was the Associate Rector of Church of the Resurrection in Washington DC before returning home with his family to plant an Anglican church in Salisbury, UK. The biblical message of human identity and sexuality has intrigued Matthew for years. He’s done his homework with a passion to equip and teach the Church with “clarity, courage, and compassion.” He’ll be coming to us after serving as a plenary speaker on this same topic for the annual conference of the Center for Pastor Theologians, www.pastortheologians.com I have listened to some of Matthew’s messages on this topic, and I am sure you’ll be deeply encouraged (and even surprised).
Matthew’s plenary presentations will be punctuated by discussion groups led by clergy from within our Diocese, people who are learning to communicate the Good News at the vortex of this issue in their local ministries.
Please pray for the Synod as a whole, and especially for the Clergy-Lay Equipping Conference that starts Thursday afternoon. Pray, and plan to come: we need to learn, think, talk, and pray about this together as we seek to proclaim the Gospel in 2017 with clarity, courage, and compassion.