August 22, 2016

Who is Welcome in Christ’s New Community?

            The simple answer is everyone.  I am returning from a groundbreaking conference on human sexuality that was held at our sister school in Yangon, Myanmar.  Co-sponsored by Central and Myanmar Institute of Theology, the robust gathering of faculty, students, police officers, and medical and legal specialists examined a key social justice issue in our day, which is: will the church find ways to include sexual minorities?  Many lives depend on find ways to welcome.

            We explored biblical texts, human rights documents, social practices, and scientific arguments over whether it is “nature” or “nurture” that produces persons who do not fit the heterosexual norm believed to be God’s plan.  Yet, in every culture there are 4-6 % of persons who do not “fit” this category, and the best scientific research concludes that being a sexual minority is something one is born with, not a sinful perversion of their innate identity. 
            A young transgender male poignantly ask people to raise their hands if he was really welcome at the gathering.  He said his mother was very affirming of the range of human sexuality—until he was born.  She could not welcome him, and he was banished from his home and family.  He was grateful to find a respectful community who was receptive to hearing his painful life story.
            As a Baptist seminary president I am aware of the level of discomfort conferences about human sexuality evoke—especially focusing on LGBT concerns.  Yet, I think it would be irresponsible for our school to ignore the suffering of the sexual “other.”  We are not a one-issue school, as some have insisted.  We stand against all forms of oppression as we follow the prophet’s exhortation to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.”

            I preached in the seminary chapel on Friday morning, reflecting on the narrative of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.  Early in the Jesus movement, a sexual minority is made welcome.  This remarkable story underscores how God creates space for those thought to be outside God’s covenant.  When he asks: “What is to hinder me from being baptized?” he is really asking: “Is there a place for me?” (I am inspired by Brian McLaren’s wonderful treatment of Acts 8:26-40).  Receiving the inclusive sign of belonging, baptism, the Ethiopian eunuch becomes an early witness to the grace of the gospel as he returns to his African home.
            The future of the church depends upon many things, not least of which is finding ways to welcome those we have previously shunned. It seems that God is much more inclusive than is our practice.  It is time we listen anew to this story of glad welcome for the sexually “other.”  It is right there in the Bible for all to see.

            Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares creative leaders for diverse ministry contexts.

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