once in a while i click on a facebook link that i sort of know i shouldn’t read but do anyway (you know that feeling?) and yeah, i usually end up groaning. sure enough, i clicked on the “there’s no third way” post by al mohler, who agrees with tony jones that when it comes to the issue of same-sex marriage there’s no third way for the christians. their premise is that people are going to have to choose. churches are going to have to split. people are going to have to draw their lines in the sand to hold their convictions and advocate for their own sense of biblical justice–even though they are opposing views of it.
the whole thing feels really nuts to me but i recognize the attraction of having things just one way or the other. the first or the second ways, fight or flee–are easiest, cleanest, most efficient. they make the most sense on a practical level. battle the scriptures until you’re blue in the face. stick by your guns and make your point clear. leave your church. be the God police. stay with your own kind.
for me, as a full and passionate supporter of marriage equality and full inclusion for all, i know there are some who do not understand why i co-lead a church with someone who holds to a different view on same-sex marriage. here’s why: because he’s my friend and i can’t just flee because we disagree on this issue. we’ve fought it out and we see it differently. and it’s not just me staying with him; he’s stuck it out with me, too, when he could have run away.
yes, there’s a cost. it makes it a little trickier for both gay and straight because there’s a mix of beliefs on this at the refuge as opposed to a more purely progressive church or a more purely conservative evangelical one. as a family the refuge met together–praying, discussing, and deciding how we would go forward on this issue; as a community we landed on a prevailing desire to allow for a space that honors theological diversity and for people to hold their individual views while upholding a collective view that our differences should be honored and valued as part of the body of Christ.
the first two ways–fighting or fleeing–is so much easier.
it quickly solves a surface problem. it puts us in company with people who agree with our views, no matter which side we are on. it is comforting. it make sense.
a long time ago when i was wrestling with why the refuge was so freaking hard all of the time, i remember a little sweeping-in-of-something-that-sure-seemed-like-the-Holy-Spirit-to-me. it was somewhere along the lines of “if it makes sense in the world’s eyes and is easy and clean and efficient, then it probably is not the way of Jesus.” i know that is a broad statement, but it resonated deeply and i often come back to it. it gave me a new lens to see some of this craziness through. and i can back it up not only with biblical examples but also with real-life experience, too.
i can’t think of one thing about the kingdom of God here on earth that is easy, clean, and efficient.
that’s because we don’t learn much that way.
when it comes to the issue of diversity and the church, there is definitely a third way.
the third way is the radical, doesn’t-make-sense-sometimes way of Jesus.
the way of deeper love than only agreeing on doctrinal beliefs.
the way of relationship and friendship.
the way of non-violent communication.
the way of listening.
the way of peacemaking.
the way of sacrifice.
the way of humility.
the way of the-world-will-know-us-by-our-actions-not-our-theological-checklists.
in the spirit of practice, instead of just words, i thought i’d share a few possible third way practices that increase the likelihood of unity, not uniformity, of oneness instead of division, of peace instead of war in the church.
1. stay in the discomfort. we fight or flee to relieve our anxiety & fear & discomfort. the third way calls us to live in the discomfort of our differences instead of opting for easy relief.
2. affirm the relationship above the beliefs. relationships are worth fighting for. theological sameness isn’t. i can’t tell you how much it has helped me when my friends who disagree with me say “i love you no matter what you believe.”
3. practice deeper dignified dialogue. listen to understand. walking humbly requires humble language. take “but God says” and “the Bible says” out of these conversations and shift to more helpful language like “my view of the scriptures are…” or “i feel God’s conviction that…” discover more of each other’s real stories. leave conversations “undone” and trust the long process.
4. acknowledge our diversity as a strength. diversity can be scary because it can feel threatening, but when we take a deep breath and recognize how much stronger it makes us in a deeper way, we can celebrate it. thank each other for our differences because they make our body stronger.
5. hold onto your integrity and allow others to hold on to theirs as well. we each have to hold onto our own personal convictions but it means we have to allow others to do that as well. i knew that i couldn’t be part of a community that wouldn’t allow me to marry my gay friends, but i also don’t expect others to do what violates their beliefs. we don’t compromise our integrity when we have a space for honesty and truth in the open.
6. embrace being a “learner.” this has helped me so much when i have wanted to run. embracing a “i have so much to learn” attitude is so much more helpful than “it’s all clear and i’ve got it all nailed down.” every day i am humbled by how hard it is to learn and practice so many hard things in community. but faith and practice has always been about learning, not having-it-all-mastered.
7. avoid attempts to make any of these things easy, clean, or efficient. yeah, that’s just not possible. i gave up trying a while ago (but yes, it still drives me crazy like so-many-ways-of-Jesus-do).
this is just a start; what would you add?
Jesus embodied a third way and calls his followers to the same.
and of course, it doesn’t make sense.
that’s why it’s the third way.
ps: i just read tonight after writing this post that rachel held evans is sharing this week on third way churches.a lot of you already read her, but if you don’t, check it out here.
and also, last week the monthly down we go column i write for sheloves magazine is up. june’s theme is “authentic” and this post is centered on showing up and telling the truth. kind of fits in this conversation, too, and would love to hear your thoughts.