Last weekend, the Baptist Union of NSW/ACT passed a motion that churches, faith communities and pastors who refuse for any reason to affirm a heteronormative statement of marriage will be disaffiliated or disaccredited. It’s beyond appalling, and it’s tempting for me to dissect all the ways this decision is destructive for people, churches and society. But for us here at Sanctuary, who are not in NSW/ACT, this is the wrong focus just now. Instead, given the fear and concern it evokes in our own context, it will be more fruitful to remember who we are and what our work must be here.
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:7)
Sanctuary is and will continue to be a space for LGBTIQA+ people and allies to love and be loved, to be, to belong, to witness, to worship, to receive, to contribute, and to walk the life of faith together.
We are not a congregation of straight cis people who are graciously accepting of LGBTIQA+ folk: because that would be to place some in a position of power over others. Instead, as people made in the image of the gender diverse community of God, we are siblings in Christ in whom male and female and all other binaries have been reconciled; and we are called by the Holy Spirit to journey together on level ground.
On this journey, our work and activity and goal and culture is love. Indeed, the marker of faith is not theology, belief, righteousness, or ritual or moral purity, but love and only love: and this love is seen ‘not in words or speech, but in truth and action’ (1 John 3:18). And so the truth of our love is witnessed to in how we greet one another, listen to one another, celebrate together and share in life’s sorrows. It’s seen when we carry one another’s burdens and cook one another soup and share our abundance. It’s evidenced when our faces light up when someone walks into the room. It’s known when someone feels not just safe but cherished; it’s made real when all people’s relationships and pregnancies are celebrated, and all people are considered for leadership.
This all points to something else: we cannot love alone. Jesus promises to be present when two or more are gathered in his name: so we need each other for his loving presence to be among us and for us to share and experience his love. He also said that there is no credit in loving those who are already just like us; ‘even the Gentiles do that.’ (Matthew 5:46-47). To truly practice love, we need relationships with all sorts of people, both inside and outside the church. And so we here at Sanctuary are blessed to be a diverse bunch: because this helps us all practice, experience and witness to the bigness and boldness of love.
Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgement, because as he is, so are we in this world. (1 John 4:17)
The harsh reality is that LGBTIQA+ affirming people and churches are regularly judged; indeed, for many the day of judgement is every day. Many of us know this through personal experiences of condemnation and rejection and their ongoing internalized legacies. We saw the day of judgement more publicly last weekend over the border, when many Baptists voted to disaffiliate affirming pastors and communities; and although there are currently no public moves in Victoria to do likewise, as the pastor of Sanctuary I certainly experience judgement for my stance from time to time. And I’m fine with it. Why? Because ‘as he is, so are we in this world.’
By this I believe that, just as in his lifetime Jesus loved people beyond the religious pale, and ministered to them, and allowed them to challenge and change him, and publicly praised their faithfulness,* so must we. As he was accused by the religious police of breaking bread with sinners and reprobates, so are we. ‘As he laid down his life for us, [so] ought we lay down our lives for each other. ‘ (1 John 3:16). As he was thrown out of the city in a cruel frenzy of legalism and left to die, so might we be. And if that does occur, then just as he was raised to new life, so too will we know the power of resurrection.
Indeed, whenever we gather around the communion table, we already share in this resurrection life with him and with one another, and so we may have boldness: for in our love for one another, we abide in him and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, to fear. My friends, whatever the world throws at us, we have been called to journey together. So in all things, let us love one another, and let our love be a sign and witness to the vastness and grace of God’s love.
*The Roman centurion who desperately seeks healing for his young man / slave / lover (the Greek encompasses all these meanings); the Syro-Phoenician woman who expands Jesus’ sense of vocation beyond Jewish boundaries; the Samaritan woman who recognizes him as the Messiah and proclaims the good news …
For an excellent discussion of the NSW/ACT decision and why people like me are Baptist (and how the NSW/ACT is choosing not to be), read this. Emailed to Sanctuary 16 November 2022 © Sanctuary, 2022. Sanctuary is based on Peek Wurrung country. Acknowledgement of country here.
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