When I was a student at Vanderbilt Divinity School, I had a crusty professor of pastoral care who was a Southern Baptist. We were talking one day as I was contemplating becoming an Episcopalian, after having left the Church of God several years earlier. He said, “You know, Lisa, the thing about Christian liberals is they don’t reproduce.”
I have thought about that comment a lot over the years. Liberal/progressive Christians tend to value the individual rhythms of faith life and are loathe to impose their interpretations and faith practices on others—even their own children. To force another person to think, believe, or behave as we think is anathema. Part of respecting human dignity, from a progressive Christian view, is to allow persons to discover God in their own times and in their own ways. Free from coercion, individuals are free to respond to God’s action.
Some conservative Christians have no such commitment or difficulty.
This conflict in religious culture came home to us at St. Stephen’s last Sunday when we encountered David, our visiting protester. David showed up on our side walk wearing shorts and stylish sunglasses and proceeded to hold up a big sign proclaiming that “homosexuality is a sin.” He also shouted other things, which I did not get to hear. He was unashamed to put out there his interpretation of Scripture and to bear witness. He believed he had an active role to play in forming Christian belief and practice.
Our responses were varied. Some of us offered him water. Some of us shuffled on by without making eye contact. One of us called the police. Some of us defended his First Amendment rights. Others offered to pray with and for him. Some of us were convicted that we must be doing something right, if we were drawing protest and persecution.
I think as St. Stephen’s moves into a new phase of our mission by offering same sex blessings, we need to discern how we will be present with the Davids of the world. How are we to witness? How do we reproduce belonging and conviction without doing violence or being self righteous? How will we be one with Christians who are so radically different from us and still offer our authentic interpretation of faith and practice to those who are hungry for spiritual life?
Living into this ambiguity is the heart of the Christian life.
How do you think St. Stephen’s should respond to protesters?