weconnect – Audrey Connor Interview, Part 3

This post is part of my series on the 2014 Gay Christian Network conference. EEWC-Christian Feminism Today is partnering with GCN to present GCN’s 2014 weconnect Women’s Retreat. Complete information on the conference can be found hereMy introduction to the conference and the weconnect Women’s Retreat can be found here.

Audrey Connor
Audrey Connor, running in a half marathon.

Earlier this week I introduced you to Reverend Audrey Connor, the featured presenter for the 2014 GCN weconnect Women’s Retreat. Audrey and I corresponded via email early in December. She graciously provided thoughtful answers to my questions. This is the last of three posts.  Find the first post here, and the second post here.  My questions are in bold, Audrey’s answers are in regular type.

I found the post “have you experienced Jesus Christ?” on your Writing for My Life blog very thought provoking. In it you spoke of being approached by a young man on the street asking you if you had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I too am very averse to people with an agenda, people who do not know me, asking me about my faith. I get almost angry about it. Yet aren’t we called to evangelize? Aren’t we called to share the Good News, bring it up, open the discussion? Or are we simply called to live our faith and wait to be asked?

That blog entry has provoked more discussion with family and friends than most that I write.

I think we are called to evangelize, but I don’t think God wants us lining up to get more Christians.

Here is my take – the word evangelize comes from a Greek word meaning “Good News.” The good news that we are called to share is that God loves everyone and we all have access to that love – regardless of who we are. I happen to believe that Jesus made that love possible, but others do not have to believe it to make it so.

The story of Jesus is pretty awesome and compelling, and I am happy to share it with others. But it is not something that I think people need to hear unless they are curious or thirsty for it.

In divinity school, we read a theologian named John Cobb. I don’t remember a lot of what he said, but what I do remember is this: we Christians have an ability to do inter-faith dialogue better than followers of other religions because we profess that God continues to create anew through the Holy Spirit. I love this idea, and I believe it to be true. It means we can say that we know God is revealing God’s self all over the place, all the time—including in and through other religions. When I study other religions, I can see God revealing God’s self through all acts of compassion: caring for the widow, the orphan, the stranger. This is the Good News.

The idea that someone would tell another person the Good News by telling them that they are full of sin (if they are not Christian) upsets me. It feels so unchristian to me that it makes me write blog entries like that one!

The idea that we have to “accept Jesus as Lord and savior” to be “saved” is a rather recent phenomena in Christian history. It is not authentic to the Gospel at all.

Jesus came to say that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Light, and that means you don’t have to look for God in the law and in the pages of books. It means God is walking with us now. So many Christians confuse this teaching, and limit God to words on a page. Thinking that this one line is some kind of mandate is a misreading of the text, is insulting to God’s power, and is potentially a violent act against people God loves.

I was affected by a conversation I had this week with a patient. She shared her concern that we are the last generations of Christians. She shared that the Muslims are taking over the world.

She became dear to me in our conversations, and I was surprised to hear her say this (though she is not the first one to say it to me). I have had family members express the same sentiments, and I know there are media outlets encouraging this narrative to be part of people’s Christian understanding.

I do not think we are called to make people Christians. I do not think that God cares what faith labels we have. However, I do think that God desires for us to love one another.

I think of Matthew 25:31-47. Jesus tells the story of the sheep and the goats and the message rings true for me. “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” It is more important we care for the widow, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and feed the hungry than it is for us to convince them to believe that Jesus is the son of God.

Through both college and divinity school, I met people with very real and vibrant faiths that were fueled by a love of God and a love of neighbor who did not worship Jesus. It seems crazy to propose that in order to help people it is necessary to first take away their existing faith and insert a new one. It makes much more sense to just help them with their real needs.

While I’m sure it is apparent I am committed to this understanding of the Gospel, I usually do not talk about it much as a minister. It can get in the way.

It is important for each of us, as Christians, to examine our faith to ensure that our understanding of the Gospel is not hurting others. Too often, what passes for the “evangelical” understanding of the Christian faith communicates self-hatred to young Christians, halting their development as people and creating a divide between Christians and people of other faiths.  I pray for a spirit of inclusion to wash over all evangelicals and give rise to a loving understanding of LGBTQI Christians.   I pray that the fear will dissipate.  I already see this starting to happen, but I think the church has a long way to go.

Audrey Connor
Reverend Audrey Connor

In your post, “Don’t be Hatin’ ” you write about something that I think is very important but not often acknowledged. Namely, that some Christians are unknowingly causing injury to children with their anti-gay rhetoric. You state that when they denigrate LGBT people around children, or say God doesn’t approve of being gay or that one can’t be gay and be a Christian, they never consider that some of those same children will end up being gay. Could you say a few words here about why this matters? Some, I’m afraid, would say that children need to hear the prohibition, to keep them from even considering becoming gay, or acting out on any “inclinations” they might have.

I really like this question because I don’t know the first thing about how I would respond to those Christians. This is where I always end up: those Christians and I disagree.

I probably don’t need to say more than that. But I will . . .

Mel White said in a speech at the GLAD Alliance Banquet at our (Disciples of Christ) General Assembly in 2011 that we would not ask a little African American girl to sit at the table while we debated whether or not God loves her, so we should not allow children who just might be LGBTQI to do so either.

White believes the time for discernment is over. More and more, I agree with him.

If any Christians are trying to “inoculate” their young people from homosexuality, then they do not understand science and psychology.

There is no magic bullet that will get through to them, except the Holy Spirit. Certainly, my words will not get through to them. There are plenty of people out there making money by selling false information about sexuality. While the Exodus International leader, Alan Chambers, recanted his belief that it is wrong to be gay, the movement went on with another name.

When I write, I am usually writing to the movable middle. Those are the hearts that can possibly change.

We will not be able to convince those who are decidedly against homosexuality that they are wrong. But we can build up the group who know it is not wrong by reaching people in the middle.

But let me end by saying even our allies don’t fully understand the insidiousness of homophobia in their churches, their communities, their workplaces, and in our government.

Many Christian denominations are faced with the fact that embracing full equality and inclusion of LGBT people will result in schism. Progressive Christians who diligently advocate equality can sometimes be framed as trying to move the debate too quickly. “Change such as this takes a long time,” some would say, arguing that LGBT people and their allies should be more patient so as not to threaten the integrity of a denomination or institution itself.  

You have written on this topic here, and stated that perhaps it is not ideal for leadership to be so focused on the preservation of an institution, that perhaps a better focus would be to enhance the ability of the church of Jesus Christ to live together as a community of people. I think this is a brilliant sentiment and hope you might be able to say more about it here. 

I believe it was Martin Luther King, Jr. who said now is always the time to do what is right.

I have strong opinions about all of this. It is so funny how people worry about the integrity of their churches when I can’t think of a church with integrity that would not welcome the full life and marriage and service of an LGBTQI member or clergy person. But it is a reality; schism scares churches.

What comes to mind is how, in our United States, so many denominations divided during the Civil War. Some divided explicitly because of a stance about slavery. Ours, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), never took a stand on slavery because one of our leaders said, “Unity is our polar star.” But we divided anyway, breaking away from the Church of Christ, because they happened to be mostly in the south. I personally wish our leaders had taken a stand and said that slavery is wrong. I think this would have been a good reason to divide.

As it was then, so it is now. Dividing over the full inclusion of life, marriage, and service of certain sexualities or sexual identities is worth it. It is better than dividing over the wrong carpet color (as some churches do).

I know these are hard words for the church. I say they are hard words because I know the people who are affected. The church pays ministers to help take care of its ministries. These ministers are people who give their lives to God through the church, and I don’t want to see them hurt. But the sad fact is that division affects them the most. While it bothers me that these ministers are having to deal with churches and conferences and regions dividing over LGBTQI life in their parishes, the alternative is not to preach the Good News. And then what is the point of being church anyway?


 Related Content on Where She Is:

And There Was Singing (Sunday)
Rachel Held Evans’ Presentation Summary (Saturday)
We are Broken (Friday)
There Will be Some Tears (Thursday)
weconnect – Introduction to GCN Board Chairperson Susan Shopland
weconnect – Interview with Susan Shopland, Part 1
weconnect – Interview with Susan Shopland, Part 2
weconnect – Introduction to Featured Speaker Reverend Audrey Connor
weconnect – Interview with Audrey Connor, Part 1
weconnect – Interview with Audrey Connor, Part 2
Introduction to the Gay Christian Network’s weconnect Women’s Retreat

Links:

Audrey Connor’s Writing for my Life Blog

weconnect logo

GCN’s “Live It Out” Conference Website

Social Media:

Conference Twitter Feed Follow @gcnconf
The hashtags to use are #GCNConf and #weconnect
Gay Christian Network Facebook Page
Gay Christian Network Website

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Marg Herder
Marg Herder is the Director of Public Information for EEWC-CFT, a Christian feminist organization working for gender (and LGBTQIA) justice in Christianity since 1974. She is the content manager and developer of the organization’s website, Christian Feminism Today. Marg identifies as a trans* lesbian writer, musician, and feminist spiritual seeker. She works to draws attention to the ongoing violence directed at women and LGBTQIA people in this “Christian” society, the desperate need for an understanding of God that includes the Divine Feminine, and Christ/Sophia’s desire that each of us move deeper into our own practice of non-violence.

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