Last week, I received an email directed to local pastors from a fellow pastor. He wanted to draw our attention to the fact that the local elementary schools would be hosting an author whose most recent book features a family with two gay dads. He was upset that the author had been invited and upset that the school board and principals had not been more upfront about the invitation to the author to parents and the community. His email was an invitation for the clergy to come together to discuss what we might be able to do to voice our protest.
There were several things that alarmed me in the communication. First, as a pastor and parent, not only am I not opposed to the author coming, I am quite pleased that a non-heteronormative story is being featured in our schools. Second, and more importantly, I was concerned about a group of clergy gathering to present to the community the voice of the clergy – as though we are all of one mind. At first I thought I would email the pastor, and then I thought I should email the schools and board. But then I realized, no email or letter could fully express my concerns, and that kind of one-sided communication often leads to misunderstanding and assumptions. And so, I decided to go.
I did not make that decision lightly. I have many friends and family members who have a very different interpretation of the Bible and the issue of sexuality than me. I have engaged in some deeply hurtful conversations around those topics, and knew I could be walking into a lion’s den going to the meeting. But I kept thinking of my goddaughter, raised by two incredibly loving men, who have created a home that is a shining example of Christ’s commandment to love God and neighbor. And so, I went.
I suspected we were heading for trouble as I listened to people talking before the meeting about how Christian morals are being corrupted by the world. But when the meeting started, things shifted. The inviting pastor opened with scripture, and then asked us to pray for God’s guidance and for each member of the School Board. Out of those prayers came the same words I always use when talking about the wideness of God’s love: inclusivity, love, transformation, loving neighbor as self, being a witness to Christ’s love. I was fascinated to see how two opposing opinions could be rooted in the same biblical text and the witness of Christ Jesus. After our enlightening time of prayer, people began to speak. Some of the concerns were quite legitimate: a lack of transparency from the schools and board, a lack of intentional engagement with the parents around the choice of the author, and a lack of clarity around why the decision was made.
Of course, where we differed was in the result we desired. I braced myself and shared with the group why I was there. Much to my surprise, no one freaked out, no one condemned me for my different perspective, and no one shut down. Most of the other pastors and lay leaders were quite clear that they believe that scripture should be interpreted differently than I do, but there was no hate or malice. We even learned that another pastor in the room shared my viewpoint.
What I came away with from the meeting was a sense of hope. I have never seen such civility, such Christ-like conversation, as I saw that day. I have rarely seen people of radically different opinions be able to stay at the table without walking away. We did not change each other’s minds, but we also did not denigrate or disrespect one another. Suddenly it hit me: if we could take that kind of civil, Christ-like engagement out into the world, that would be a much more powerful witness of Christ’s love than pastors simply telling people to love each other without actually doing it. I could even envision the two groups peacefully gathered at a School Board meeting, calmly presenting our opposing views; not witnesses to whether or not an author should be invited into the schools, but witnesses to what holy conflict and conversation look like. It was a beautiful image, and a wonderful counter to our current political climate.
Now, I do not know if that image will ever come to fruition. I do not know if the relationship-building we discussed will ever materialize. But if nothing else, the meeting taught me that there is hope. There is hope that God can work in the midst of conflict and disagreement and transform it into something sacred. There is hope that we as a people can engage with one another respectfully despite our differences. There is hope that Christ can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.