Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Yes, but what do you teach?

Each fall a different set of students from Wheaton College (sometimes called the “Evangelical Harvard”) comes to study us at St. Paul Lutheran Church because of our “open and affirming” stance toward gays and lesbians. Needless to say, we offer the minority report on this matter in socially conservative Wheaton, so naturally we provide a valuable service for students needing to track down “the other side” for their research papers. (I do wish they would visit us more often for non-homework related reasons…)

This year, after I finished outlining about four different rationales folks in the congregation might be working with that have led them to a belief in unrestricted inclusion of gay Christians, as well as acknowledged continuing voices of dissent or discomfort in the congregation, one of the three inquiring students in my office, a young woman, asked, “Yes, but what do you teach?”

I admit I was a little stunned by her directness. She wasn’t asking what I believed personally; she was asking what I, as a pastor, teach to be true, and I had to stop and ask myself if I had somehow abdicated my duty by, in fact, not having really taught anything about “the church’s response to homosexuality” in the sort of top-down way she was suggesting. Mostly the other pastor and I both just give out tools for biblical interpretation and ethical reflection, and then facilitate conversation as the people have at it. So I said something to that effect, and then I think we were all a bit struck—or at least I was—with having unexpectedly hit on what is really a much more profound difference between us than our respective positions on homosexuality, namely, the question of how much authority a pastor is supposed to have and how he/she is expected to wield it.

Having spent a significant portion of my growing-up years in Evangelical Protestant environments and working in one now (contextually speaking), I believe this to be one of the most significant, if underappreciated, differences between how Evangelicals and mainliners operate. The popular understanding that Evangelical “Bible churches” are more committed to the truths of the Bible than their mainline counterparts is, if not a ruse entirely, highly exaggerated. What they are committed to most of all is entrusting their “teaching pastors” with the authority to determine and expound the Bible’s answers to whatever people want answered. Evidence abounds that this approach both attracts high numbers and exiles into the world an inordinate number of wounded sheep (not to mention a propensity for outright schism).

That said, we should be careful not to imagine this tendency only exists in one branch of the Christian family. In my own denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, it isn’t difficult to find congregations that are still following an inherited “Herr Pastor” model (probably not accompanied by much success retaining younger generations…), and there are significant elements in the church, for example, among the evangelical catholic block, that are longing for a stronger “teaching” authority—from pastors, but just as importantly, from bishops—to resolve the confusion over human sexuality, a confusion they perceive as being brought on by laity gone wild. Again, the deeper confusion here when Lutherans are found demanding more clarity on what “the Church teaches” is where this mysterious capital “C” Church is (Chicago? St. Louis? Wittenberg? The pastor’s office?).

Truly, one can justifiably lose patience on the other end, with a church full of moderators who don’t seem to be making much use of their seminary training. But I would rather err on that side any day. There is, of course, a better way of teaching that equips the baptized to humbly discover the answers, or something approximating answers, themselves. If the result looks like chaos rather than consensus, well, then let’s let God handle that—I hear God is pretty good at bringing order out of chaos.

Rev. Mark Williamson
Associate Pastor
St. Paul Lutheran Church
Wheaton, IL

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Update and a question

Good afternoon, good people. We had a great meeting on Monday night with some neat conversations between a couple who are starting a new spiritual community in the south Loop by (gasp) listening and being non-threatening without an agenda, an atheist who finds community that he needs at an emergent church, a Christian with a new take on Predestination, a pastor who started a new spiritual community by (gasp) listening and being non-threatening without an agenda and me. It was a delight to eat homemade Chinese five-spice WHO bread (wheat, honey, oat) with blueberry jam and peanut butter together with warm tea on a cool fall evening. Please join us for our next discussion night on December 7 at 7:00.

Also, I'm beginning to think that, as the facilitator of this local cohort, I might be able to offer you folks more than just discussion nights. If you would take a minute and respond to this post by telling me what you'd like to see more of, I'll do my best to accommodate the spiritual needs of the community. Would you like more author's events? More theology pubs? Volunteers opportunities? Stuff I haven't thought of? Do you like having something to read before you come? Do you like a more open format? This is your chance to help me be a resource to you. I have been so welcomed and supported by the Emergent community and I really want to provide that for others through these events. Please let me know what you're thinking. You can leave a comment on this post or send me an email at rebica at aol dot com.

Thanks. I hope to see you soon.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

More It's Really All About God.

Hi, folks. One of our cohort members has written a review of Samir Salmonovic's book, It's Really All About God: Reflections of a Muslim Atheist Jewish Christian. Although she wasn't able to make the discussion we publicized earlier, she has some good things to say. Find the review here.

I will try to post some thoughts from his talk a little later.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Navigate - November 10-12

Hi, folks. This time, a leader of another cohort has just alerted me to a conference that might appeal to you. In her words, she describes it as:
a conference targeted on helping hyphenateds (emergent minded folks who are apart of mainline denominations) find their way in the emerging, post-modern context. The conference is called Navigate and will be Nov. 10-12 in Florence, KY. The cost of the conference is $200 and includes leaders such as Dan Kimball, David Kinnaman , Lilly Lewin, Troy Bronsink and many others.

There are scholarships available and you can download their flyer here and visit the website here.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Playing for Change - November 3

Hi, folks. A member of our cohort just alerted me to a project called Playing for Change.Their website describes them:
Musicians from different cultures uniting together for the common purpose of peace through music is a powerful statement. For the past four years Playing For Change has traveled the world with a mobile recording studio and cameras in search of such inspiration. Throughout the journey we created a family of over 100 musicians from all walks of life. We connect these musicians together with "Songs Around The World." The Playing For Change Band is the next chapter in our story. Now people everywhere can witness first hand the transformational power of music and love that comes from the Playing For Change Band.

This looks really interesting and sounds even better. They will be playing on Tuesday, November 3 at the Park West and you can look at their website to get more information about tickets here.