This week the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa took a very important decision - they have become decidedly more Christian by being a Church that seeks to welcome all those whom God invites and loves. Earlier in the week I wrote to some friends saying that I was praying for the denomination - their witness was on the line once again. This denomination is known as for having excluded persons based on something they could not choose. Of course in this instance I am talking about the fact that the Dutch Reformed Church excluded persons during the apartheid era based on their race. However, I am so thankful to say that the Synod of the Church is deconstruction that legacy, one brave and loving step at a time. Many Christians wanted them to once again opt for exclusion based on an attribute that persons do not choose. This time it would have been sexual orientation. Thankfully, they were wise enough not to choose that error again.
I am convinced of a few important points. First, the Church belongs to Christ. It is His body. As such He is the one who invites us. Our responsibility (in this regard) is to welcome those whom he loves and to facilitate a community of inclusion in which we grow together towards experiencing and expressing the tone of God’s Kingdom in our daily lives, and structuring it in society. You can read a little more about this idea in the following wonderful sermon that was preached by Samuel Wells - the Eucharistic table of the Lord is a wonderful metaphor to express unity in diversity, inclusion in grace, and the calling to extend the table of grace into the world.
Second, I am convinced that this is a faithful response to the message of the Bible. This week, as thousands of times before, well intentioned sisters and brothers have quoted passages from the Biblical text ‘at me’ to try and show me that I am error. I do my best to understand that their intention is loving correction, even though their method is betrays that they think either that I do not read the Bible, or don’t understand it. The former is not true. I read the Biblical text every day. The latter is true - I don’t always understand the content of Scripture, but I take it seriously and try to treat it as a critical and primary source for my spiritual, theological and ethical life. The texts that were quoted this week were more or less the same as those that others have presented to me for years and years. I find it so hurtful that persons who love God in Christ cannot love those who God loves and for whom Christ gave his life. How is it possible that we can use the Bible as a weapon of exclusion? I take the Biblical text way to seriously to abuse it in this manner. If you would like to understand how and why I hold my views on the inclusive nature of our Christian witness then please read this post I wrote in 2007 entitled ‘Lets Talk! Homosexuality and the Bible’, in particular please read the excellent article by Walter Wink on the Bible and homosexuality that is linked in that text. You can also read this chapter that I wrote for a text-book on Christian ethics called, ‘The Bible and Ethics’. Can I ask that if you are going to engage me on my views that you please respect the Bible enough to consider that there may be a variety of interpretations and understandings and that none of us is likely to ‘hold’ the whole truth? Can I also ask that you respect me enough to first read what I have written so that we can have an informed and open conversation.
Third, while I rejoice for the Dutch Reformed Church and give thanks for its faithful and courageous witness this week, my heart breaks for my own Church. The Methodist Church of Southern Africa was once a faithful and courageous witness to God’s love for all persons. Now, however, it is failing. The denomination remains in a protracted legal battle with my colleague and friend Rev Ecclesia de Lange who was dismissed from ministry because of her sexual orientation. I have been disciplined by the Church for blessing people who love God and long to be included in God’s blessing in their relationship. So, my own Church has a long way to go in its journey towards faithful Christian witness and ministry on this issue. Please pray for us, please help us, please don’t let us remain in error.