Controversy over the boundary of God’s welcome continues

by Ken Sehested

            A decade or so ago I served on the board of an organization connecting the work of the several “welcoming and affirming” organizations within various denominations. At one meeting, as part of a self-assessment of the movement, one admitted that the “t” in “lgbt” was still not exactly welcomed at the table. The admission brought nods of acknowledgment around the room.

            Going further back in time, partly for personal confession, when in the early ‘90s the Baptist Peace Fellowship board first began intentional conversation on questions of sexual orientation, an initial draft of a resolution used the word transgendered and I, among others, had never heard it before.

            Though it clearly doesn’t yet feel like it to those on that margin, we’ve come a long way, in a stunningly short period of time, in attending stories from the queer community generally and from the transgendered in particular.

            We are mostly being dragged into that conversation, of course. There’s always stormy weather when frontal boundaries move through. You would think people of faith would have learned by now that turbulence is the Holy Spirit’s middle name, and fireworks are her calling card.

            Barely a year ago Caitlyn Jenner’s transition announcement was the stuff of tabloids, likely because of her celebrity status, previously as an Olympic champion (as a male) and more recently as part of the Kardashian family cabaret.

            Suddenly, transgender was added to the vocabulary of nightly news and polite conversation.

            Barely a month ago the North Carolina legislation, in a break-neck special session—twelve hours from origination to ratification—passed a sweeping bill criminalizing trans women’s use of female bathrooms; and, for good measure, barred all forms of legal recourse against discrimination—of any sort.

            On top of these measures, the bill eliminated all existing city ordinances—and local authority to do so in the future—establishing policies on everything from family leave to minimum wage.

            A number of other states are rushing through similar legislation—giving “states’ rights” constitutional arguments a whole ’nother twist.

            What we are learning, generally speaking, is that “nature” isn’t as uniform as we were led to believe. Naturalists have known this for a good while, having documented same-sex behavior in some 500 species, ranging from primates to gut worms.

            Part of the fearful reaction to these discussions is simply because any talk about sex, in any form, makes us squirm, especially in church houses. We swim against the current of a powerful cultural taboo. In my rearing, even using the word “pregnant” in public conversation was considered unseemly.

            What are we to do? Ironically, two things simultaneously: exercise both pastoral patience and prophetic provocation. Maybe not simultaneously, but in tandem, because it’s likely different actors will focus on one or the other of these twin callings. In the long run, substantial and enduring change will require skillful practitioners of both of these vocations.

            We already have biblical rationale and theological precedence* for persevering through this controversy. In the Apostle Peter’s daytime vision of “unclean” practices (Acts 10), followed by his dispute over genital politics (circumcision) with leaders of Jerusalem’s ecclesia (Acts 15). More recently, in his farewell address to that part of his Pilgrim congregation leaving England’s shores in the early 17th century for a frightful journey to an untried habitation, Pastor John Robinson assured his parishioners: "I am verily persuaded the Lord hath more truth and light yet to break forth from His holy word."

            These uprisings against settled tradition and fixed opinion are hard on our every attempt to establish reliable boundaries regulating where God will break forth next. In fact, the desire to master divine presence and purpose is the antithesis of faith shaped in the Way of Jesus. The Word of God is still a free-range movement. We follow as best we can, knowing that in the end we are saved by grace rather than by correct opinion.

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*See my “St. Peter and the Jerusalem Protocol: Commentary on Biblical Fidelity and Sexual Orientation.”

©Ken Sehested @