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Above: Thesis 96 sponsored forum in April 2011. Dr. Benjamin Stewart (center) speaks to adapting liturgies to be more inclusive, while the other panelists, Drs. Ray Pickett, Ralph Klein, the Rev. Paul Landahl and Dr. Kathleen (Kadi) Billman look on.

(Photo by Jana Howson)

Features from "The Door"

Becoming RIC is not just about sex

by Lucy Wynard, M.Div. middler
This article first appeared in March 26, 2012 issue of The Door.

As we approach the end of this year and an important set of board meetings, the LSTC community is talking about whether and why we should become an official Reconciling in Christ seminary. In my own reflection on the topic, I’ve come to what might be a surprising conviction: The question of whether LSTC should become a Reconciling in Christ institution is not primarily about of our theology of human sexuality but about our ecclesiology.

Becoming a Reconciling in Christ institution is about acknowledging one another as us rather than them, as members of the one body and one baptism the writer to the Ephesians references. It means affirming that you and I may hold different theologies – even opposing ones which make us uncomfortable and angry. But we still belong to one another because we belong to the same Jesus, the same Spirit, the same Reconciling God. It means we welcome one another without the expectation that we will all be the same or share all the same beliefs. In fact, I hope that it means we welcome differences and diversity because we trust that in them we will get to see more, not less, of God’s image.

I had a sad epiphany this fall. A year and a half ago, when I transferred from a conservative evangelical seminary to LSTC, I hoped that I had left behind a narrow, exclusive definition of church and gospel. But this fall I realized I was feeling a familiar frustration – the frustration of hearing people lob labels and accusations across a divide, specifically the accusation that “they have abandoned the gospel.”

The verb changes – sometimes “lost,” sometimes “betrayed,” sometimes “missed” – but the sentiment is more or less the same: they don’t know the gospel, which means they are not part of us. At my former seminary words like “liberal,” “feminist,” and “homosexual” were coded words which labeled them – those people who didn’t know the true gospel. At LSTC I’ve discovered a different set of coded words sometimes at work: “conservative” Christians and “evangelicals” are homophobes and misogynists who don’t know the true gospel.

I get it. I really do - that urge to clearly separate ourselves from parts of the church, people in the church, who have given Christianity a reputation we now have to spend time and energy disproving. And I get the hurt of having been labeled out of the community. At my former seminary I couldn’t hide my gender, and the label “woman seminarian” also meant for many people I must be a liberal who didn’t take scripture seriously. I wasn’t one of them.

Rainbow heart

I know that my LGBTQ brothers and sisters have faced, and continue to face, labels which they haven’t chosen for themselves -- labels which isolate and exclude. The danger is that we will accept the premise that our theological differences create so great a divide that we do not belong under the same heading of “Christian.” That would be to abandon the heart of the gospel – that radically inclusive Word in which God says, “You are my beloved children and I accept you.”

In baptism are assured of God’s acceptance – screwed up as we are; biased, intolerant and even bigoted as we might be, we are welcomed. Yes, the gospel is about transformation too, but only after we are accepted. Part of our calling is to extend that acceptance which God has shown us in Christ to one another. Transformation and reconciliation in Christ happen in that uncomfortable community called the church. And just like family, we don’t get to choose who’s in the club.

I am hopeful enough to believe that, in a truly Reconciling in Christ community, people who otherwise would lob labels at one another, sending hurtful words across a great divide, can become true friends. LSTC is already committed to being such a place; taking on the label “Reconciling in Christ” is simply another way of holding ourselves accountable to that radically inclusive Gospel by hanging the welcome banner out. And hopefully people will hold us accountable to that – people from both sides of the divide.


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