Sacred Conversations: What It Means to Be God’s Inclusive ChurchUsing the occasion of Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit fell upon “everyone,” Pastor Jim Nolan has challenged the faithful of St. John to “widen the circle” of God’s embrace to include those who love differently than society’s norms.
Recognizing that the topic of the Bible and human sexuality can be uncomfortable for some, Pastor Jim in a congregational meeting asked for a committee of three church members to work with him over the course of the coming weeks and months to develop a study of Scripture that would examine a series of “holy questions:”
- How are we to read the Bible?
- How is human sexuality – and matters of family, children and marriage – spoken of in the Old Testament?
- How are the same topics addressed in the New Testament?
- How are people of faith to respond to the seven “problem” passages in both the Old and New Testaments?
- What does the science of genetics say about homosexuality?
- What is the role of popular culture in development of conscience?
- How do we apply the teachings of Christ to the topic of gender identity?
Pastor Jim said small group discussions on these questions and others could take up to a year or more before the people of St. John could be ready to consider the question of whether to become an official “open and affirming” church within the polity of the United Church of Christ. Becoming an “O & A” church within the UCC means full acceptance of gay and lesbian people into full communion of the church, up to an including such actions as the willingness to call a gay or lesbian person as pastor.
Noting that he had officiated at one gay wedding in June, with plans to officiate at two more in July, Pastor Jim said he did not feel his calling as an ordained minister allowed him the option of saying “no.” But he said that his “yes” did not mean or imply the congregation’s affirmation. “Your ‘yes’ is entirely your ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ is entirely your ‘no,’ he said.
He concluded Sunday’s sermon by saying that the spiritual issue is more than a win-lose debate; it’s about engaging in a process that allows differing views to be fully embraced by God’s grace and love. He stressed that ignoring sensitive conversations is not the way of mature Christians who are always called to participate in “holy conversations.” “It is the conversations that are overdue,” he said, “not the conclusions.”