Third Way

The following is audio and text from the teaching given by Leah on October 25, 2015.  Feel free to listen online, download, or read.  This teaching is the fourth in our fall series, "Sailing the Blue Ocean."

I attended a parenting workshop this week that was organized around a theme that feels all too relevant for me these days: managing challenging sibling dynamics.  There was a time when things between the kids were pretty simple.  The kids were young enough that they didn’t all have the ability to articulate enough personal preferences to need to manage a lot of conflict.  By and large the older ones thought the young ones were cute and they were eager to help with the babies.  The younger ones looked up to their older siblings and modeled everything they saw.  And then they all got old enough to have their own opinions.

One of the most stressful parts of parenting right now is managing the amount of conflict our kids have.  Most of the conflicts take place over things that feel pretty trivial to Jason and I - who gets a certain toy, who touches the car first when we’re leaving the house, who gets to sit where at the dinner table - but the way the children interact, for them every one seems to be a high-stakes fight.   And while I came away from the parenting workshop with a few helpful tools for managing some of these situations, and keeping my cool in the middle of them, I also came away with a horrible sinking realization.  The kids are going to fight no matter what I do.  As much as it gets on my nerves when they fight, it’s not going to stop.  Sibling conflict is a normal reality.  I should not expect them to never fight.  My job as a parent is to help them learn to manage and resolve their conflicts in healthy ways, not to expect them never to happen.

Well, as we all know, siblings are not the only ones who get into fights.  We live in an era of increasing political and social polarization.  According to Pew Research, America has not been as politically polarized as it is today, since the Civil War.  Think about that.  And we see the consequences, right?  Washington is perpetually in gridlock as two sides become deeply entrenched and often seem more interested in scoring political points at the other’s expense than in finding common ground, upon which meaningful work can be built.  Our political candidates appeal progressively to the extremes, and willingness to compromise is seen as a weakness rather than a strength.    

Socially, we see similar phenomenons. It’s the era of “flame wars” where pitched battles are drawn online, often in the comments sections of articles and blog posts.  Many of us silently cheer on the folks willing to boldly champion our point of view, often attempting to eviscerate their opponent in the process, while quietly choosing to say nothing controversial on social media because we know where it will lead. We have to see some of those relatives with whom we disagree this Thanksgiving.

And guess what?  The church is not immune from squabbling.  Far from it. We’ve been talking throughout this series on what it means to be a Blue Ocean Church, about being a community of faith where all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds can experience connection with God through Jesus.  But as our politics and social media reflect, the more voices we have at the table, the more likely it is that we will hear voices we disagree with, sometimes passionately on issues we care deeply about.  And when it comes to the opinions we form on how we are to follow Jesus, our passion is right to be deep. 

On the one hand we want to make sure that we’re doing that well, that we are actually connected to a living Jesus that is leading us forward and not open to any other force that might want to blow us in some other direction.  But on the other hand, historically when the church has taken on the role of engaging in contentious theological disagreements, it’s at times gone to some pretty dark places.  Christians have fought wars with each other, violent wars, over theological disagreements.  During the Civil War there were Christians on both sides arguing for and against slavery based entirely on Biblical arguments, which fueled the passion with which they engaged militarily.  And then of course there have been many people throughout history who have suffered for their belief in Jesus at the hands of the church.  Joan of Arc, before being canonized and made a saint was burned at the stake for being a heretic.  

In our day, this has often looked like churches that have split, denominations that have splintered, or people who’ve had to leave their churches because they were no longer safe places for them to navigate their own journeys with Jesus because of a difference in belief.  Many of these folks stop going to church altogether. Usually religious fights eventually sort themselves out and the controversies of yesterday don’t impact us in the same way today.  But while they’re being wrestled through, real people are getting hurt.  And we have to wonder, is this what Jesus intended for his church?  And is it the only way forward?

Now I start talking about conflict and controversy, because this is the context from which our fourth Blue Ocean distinctive comes to us.  Our approach to controversial issues is Third Way.  So what is Third Way?  As I hope you’ll see today, the Third Way is meant to be a way of dealing with theological disagreements in the church.  It was forged by friends of mine, particularly pastor Ken Wilson of Ann Arbor, in the midst of what seems to be the contentious issue the church has been dealing with in our day: the issues surrounding homosexuality and inclusion of LGBT persons in the church.  Still, while this was the context for Ken to write a book offering this Third Way, we in Blue Ocean believe that the Third Way should inform not only our perspective on LGBT, but on any controversial issue that the church might tackle.  So, with that in mind, we’re gonna explore the Third Way that Ken and others have offered as a way of dealing with these heated topics, knowing that this is bigger than any particular issue.    

Today’s text comes to us from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.  Thus far throughout this series, we’ve spent a lot of our time in the gospels, or stories of Jesus (and rightly so if we’re a Solus Jesus movement).  But we also believe Jesus is revealed and can speak through all of the Bible in different ways.  One of the ways that happens in the New Testament is by looking at the letters that Jesus’ followers were writing to one another after Jesus had commissioned them and returned to heaven.  Like us, these early Christians were seeking to live out Jesus-centered faith in community.  So if our questions is, “how do we do this together as a community of faith that’s passionate about Jesus but might not always agree?” it makes sense to look at how the early church might have responded with the issues that were alive for them.  So today we’re going to look at the words Paul in his letter to the Romans, chapter 14 and 15.  

Now the church in Rome had it’s own form of diversity.  On the one hand, there were a good number of Jewish followers of Jesus, like all of the Apostles were, but there were also many who were now coming to faith as Gentiles, from a non-Jewish background, and so each group pursued their practice of faith with different cultural norms and expectations behind them.  And there was real tension between these two groups as they attempted to live out faith in Jesus in their distinct ways in the same community.  In this passage, we’re gonna see Paul name some of the issues that this diversity brought up, and we’ll see how he recommended that they handle them.  Fair warning: this is a bit of a long passage, but to really understand what’s going on here and Paul’s take on it, it’s worth reading.

14:1 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. 6 Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’”

12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. 14 I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.

19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.

22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin…

15:5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. 

So here Paul is addressing concerns that have arisen between the Jewish and Gentile groups within the church and he starts by classifying the issues he’s going to talk about as “disputable matters”.  So the real pertinent question for us off the bat is “what kind of issues was Paul addressing?”  If these “disputable matters” as he calls them are matters of really little concern, matters of indifference, basically, then this instruction probably doesn’t have anything helpful for us.  But if Paul was addressing issues that in his day were first rate controversies, issues of grave moral concern, than the way he proceeded might be instructive for how we should proceed when we have intense theological disputes ourselves. 

This is where some help from scholars and sources about the period can be helpful.  And most Biblical scholars agree that the issues Paul was addressing were not a matter of mere indifference for his audience.  It might seem that way to us, looking at the letter two millennia later.  But when you dig a little deeper, it’s clear there is more going on here is more than we might be aware.

In this passage there seem to be two core disputes that Paul wants to address.  These issues are clearly causing dissension between the Jewish and Gentile believers. The first has to do with eating meat.  What was the problem with eating meat? So some folks were vegetarians and some weren’t?  What’s the big deal?  We’ve got lots of dietary preferences in this group, and we seem to make it work. But for the people Paul is talking about, early Christians living in Rome in the first century, choosing to eat meat was a much bigger deal.  For many of them, that choice was about participating in idolatry.  Generally in Rome in that period the meat was butchered in pagan temples as part of pagan religious rituals.  Understandably, for some, particularly those from a Jewish background, to consume this meat could be seen as participating in the worship of idols.  The meat had been sacrificed unto Roman gods.  For many, this violated the first commandment. In addition, the meat wasn’t kosher, it hadn’t been properly drained of it’s blood, which for many centuries, was a really important thing to do if you were a good god-fearing Jew.  So for those who had spent their entire lives learning and embodying worship of God in these concrete ways - avoiding idol worship and avoiding meat that was not drained properly of it’s blood - it was natural to believe that faithfulness to Jesus should include these kinds of practices.

But not all the people in the church felt that way.  For some in the church, particularly Gentiles, the fact that the meat was sacrificed in a pagan temple didn’t seem problematic.  Those follower of Jesus might have said, “I’m just eating it, I’m not actively worshiping anyone other than Jesus, so I’m not going to be concerned with where my meat has been or what has been done to it.”  And they didn’t have the same cultural practices regarding kosher meat, so they could care less about the blood.  For them, their eating was not relevant to their faith in Jesus and worship of him.

Now maybe this would have been fine if it wasn’t for the fact that these churches were not unlike our own.  Churches in that day met on Sundays in someone’s home.  They worshiped together, they celebrated communion, they received teachings about Jesus, and then a central important piece was that they ate together.  So what do you do?  Do you serve meat at the communal meal or not?  The difference between those who were deeply offended by the meat and those who thought it was not a big deal would be starkly in their face every time they gathered and sat down to eat together.  This was a significant problem.

The second issue Paul speaks of has to do with “special days”.  Here again, most scholars think this wasn’t something trivial like do you celebrate a certain Holiday or Festival, but had to do with Sabbath observance. , Again for Jewish believers,  the Sabbath is a 10-commandment level moral concern.  The Sabbath has its origins in the creation narrative, all the way back to Genesis 1; God rested on the 7th day, and we should too.  And the observation of the Sabbath for the Jewish people for generations had been a key marker of what it means to worship God and be a part of his community.  Whether or not you observe the Sabbath in a certain way was for many Roman Christians a very big deal.

So these issues weren’t insignificant in Paul’s day.  These were first order moral concerns.  And how did Paul recommend the church treat the debate?

First and foremost in this passage, he advocates acceptance over agreement.  Paul makes an interesting choice here not to make a call on these issues, even though it becomes clear that he has an opinion himself.  Still, he refuses to assert his opinion in a way that settles the matter.  This is a guy who doesn’t usually hold his punches.  But here, he doesn’t make a call. Rather he asks parties on each side to accept one another.  He starts with it.  He ends with it. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”

For Paul, this concept of acceptance is not just a benign form of tolerance.  Now we are starting a church in Berkeley, which is known for being a liberal city where “tolerance” is one of the greatest ideals.  But for Paul, our need to accept one another goes deeper than a “live and let live”, hippy kind of ethos.  For Paul, our acceptance of one another is rooted theologically in our connection to the living Jesus.  Paul here is inviting us to recognize that it is not our religious performance which qualifies us for inclusion in the community.  It is Jesus’ acceptance of us as we are, and his welcome into the family of God that is our qualification.  Jesus’ performance, his sinless life, his sacrificial death were all about making that so.  It is true for each and every one of us that none of us deserve inclusion but Christ has included us.  Jesus has accepted each of us, and called us into a new creation kind of life in a new creation kind of community.  How can we not accept one another then, even as we disagree?  How can we not accept someone Jesus has already accepted?  What does it mean to call one another “brother” and “sister” if not that?

The second thing Paul does here is he challenges each side of the debate in unique ways. Paul names the two groups.  In what must have felt a bit galling to most of the conservative Jews of his day, he called them “weak in faith”, essentially because their consciences weren’t “strong” enough to handle eating meat, as he saw it. The progressives—mostly Gentiles—were the “strong.”  These categories bear a lot of resemblance to our contemporary categories of “conservative” and “liberal”.  The more scrupulous groups on an issue, the more conservative, here are called the weak; while the “strong” correspond more to our contemporary liberals.

Now personally, despite the loaded terms, I do not think Paul is trying to call this “weak” group inferior.  Even if Paul does not personally agree with this group, (as it becomes clear: he doesn’t) he understands their point of view.  He respects that they take it from a place of seriously trying to honor Jesus.  Paul seems to see that as a worthy stance that must be honored.  And Paul goes on to tell each group the problem he sees with how they are engaging in conflict.

In 14:3 he puts it like this: “The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.” So to the “weak”, to the “conservatives”, Paul says not to judge. He knows this is a prime temptation of theirs.  The more scrupulous in the group spend a lot of time identifying the right from the wrong and pointing out where their counterparts are falling short.  And sometimes they can get downright unpleasant about it.  One might think of Fox News and the Angry Talking Heads we see there.  To these folks, Paul says, “stop judging.” “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall.”

But Paul doesn’t stop with critiquing the “weak”.  He is challenging the “strong in faith”, too.  To the “strong”, to the “liberal”, he challenges them not to look at the “weak” with contempt.  To not look down on them.  He sees how those folks tend to roll their eyes at their more scrupulous brothers and sisters.  They dismiss them as being unenlightened, unsophisticated, backwards, old-fashioned.  How different is this from the liberal late night comedians in our day who make a killing giving voice to this perspective, albeit with a lot of humor?  Or to most of the op-eds written in Berkeleyside or other local media here in the Bay Area?  But Paul will not have it. Though he himself falls in the “strong” camp, he calls those in it to something different and challenging.  He points out that treating their brothers with contempt is also a form of judgement, just as harmful as the judgement of their more conservative brothers and sisters, and he calls them to lay it down.

The third thing Paul seems to be doing here is inviting all parties to center their convictions in Jesus, and hold firmly to them.  He is not asking anyone to change their mind or violate their own conscience.  He is not saying people should not care passionately about what their ethic is.  But he is asking all of them to root their ethic in Jesus Alone, and direct their observation to him and him only.  “6 Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God."

So don’t eat food or not eat food to prove you are a righteous person to others.  Don’t honor the Sabbath in a particular way to make clear you’re in Jesus’ bounded set. Remember that at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what your brother or sister believes of you.  Jesus alone is the judge.  Jesus alone knows our hearts.  Jesus alone is who we will give account to at the end of this age. Jesus alone.  And so if we extrapolate I think Paul’s teaching would say, eat meat or be a vegetarian, and believe what you will about creation or evolution, and join the military or protest for peace, and get gay married or live a celibate life not because your church has a settled position on whatever issue is in question, but because you are connected to Jesus Alone.  Do what you are doing because you are orienting your reading of Scripture toward him.  Because you're paying attention to the way you resonate with this scholar or teacher’s take on the issue verses this one.  Because you are mining the internal impressions, the groanings in your own spirit, the circumstances your life takes, and the way Jesus speaks to you through the Bible, through prayer, and through trusted friends and family members who know you and care for you, and desire to help you navigate your unique path to Jesus. Because your conscience is clear as you move forward. So you eat and you Sabbath and you do whatever else you do rooted in your experience of Jesus through this process and you do it to serve Jesus Alone. Solus Jesus.  Ultimately, our convictions about the life of faith are to be rooted in and lived toward Jesus alone.

Finally the fourth point is the other side of the third.  Do not impose your convictions on others, creating obstacles that keep others from walking their unique journeys to Jesus.  It’s not your job, Paul is saying, to define Jesus’ bounded set.  It’s not your job to force others to come to your way of thinking.  And it’s certainly not your job to create exclusionary policies that keep those who have a different perspective on the matter in question out of the church.  These exclusionary policies, that tell people that they are not fully welcome here, they cannot fully participate here, we do not fully embrace them: they create stumbling blocks.  They create barriers that keep people from walking a clear path to Jesus in community.  “Instead,” Paul says, “make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.”  How does he want them to do this? They bear with one another.  They create the maximum amount of space, and they take on some personal sacrifice to do so, so that all who are drawn to Jesus may worship him in the ways that they do best while in inclusive community, without needing to separate from one another or to come to uniformity on all things.

So this was Paul’s counsel to the church in Rome in the midst of their theological dispute: (1) Acceptance over agreement.  (2) Don’t judge or look down on one another.  (3) Center your convictions in Jesus and by all means hold to them. Certainly don’t violate your conscience.  (4) Don’t impose your convictions on one another.

The Third Way, in a nutshell, takes this Romans 14-15 perspective and it applies it to contemporary controversial issues.  It says we’re not taking this side or that side, we believe there is another way to proceed in conflict, a Third Way, a Romans 14-15 way.  But when presented with this Third Way, the natural question for many is, “If we’re going to try to apply this today, how do we know what constitutes a disputable matter?”  Is anything just up for grabs?  That can feel very loosy-goosy to some of us.  So before we wrap up, I want to quickly share some helpful criteria that can help us forge out if the topic we’re dealing with might fall into the “disputable matters” category.

The first criterion draws on the work of theologian Roger Olsen, who has developed a category distinction that many people have found helpful regarding three types of biblical Christian beliefs.

The first category of Christian belief is Dogma.  Theologians understand this to be truths essential to Christianity itself.  These statements are about who God is, and particularly who Jesus is.  The Apostles and Nicene creeds are the most central formulations of Christian dogma; to deny them is to follow something other than Jesus. But not all Christian belief is on the level of dogma.

The second level is Doctrine.  These can often be understood as beliefs that groups of Christians regard as the implications of their dogma. So the conservative Jews of Paul’s era would regard not eating meat sacrificed to idols as a key implication of their dogma of who God is. God is perfectly holy and so we, too, must maintain holiness. Not eating this meat would seem very tied to their view of God, to dogma. But that’s the key thing to realize—it’s tied to their dogma, but it is not the dogma itself. It’s an implication. It’s doctrine. Doctrinal disputes tend to be the things that cause Christian movements to splinter.  These are often the core things around which new denominations are formed.  How baptism should happen, how God is present with us in communion, how the Holy Spirit is manifest can all be examples of doctrine.

The third level is Opinion.  This is everything else.  These are speculative matters about which there’s really no consensus in the church.  What kind of worship music is the best, should church happen in large settings or small, are there particular styles of teaching that are the most effective…  We can have strongly held opinions that we feel passionately about and would happily argue over why our opinion is right and our friend’s is wrong, but even as we do, we have to acknowledge that our opinions are not on the same level as dogma - they are not central Christian truth.

Now, of course, this highlights the challenge with these categories. People dispute what belongs in each one. The observation over the last hundred and fifty years or so has been that theological conservatives are tempted to call everything dogma, even opinions. And that theological liberals are tempted to call everything opinion, even dogma.

But nevertheless, we’re gonna still work with this.

If we’re gonna develop criteria for what constitutes a “disputable matter”, the first criterion should be that it must not involve a matter of basic Christian dogma.  We’re not debating whether Jesus died and rose from the grave, OK? That’s off the table here.

The second criterion would be that the debate in question brings at least two biblical truths into dynamic tension.  So a debate could name a tension between mercy and justice, between law and grace, between free-will and predestination.  Both parties are making reasonable appeals to Scripture, but highlighting different aspects. In the case of meat sacrificed to idols, you could make a case that the two truths were purity and freedom—both major biblical themes.

The third and last criterion would be that otherwise faithful Christians disagree on the issue.  This is what makes it disputable, by definition. Thoughtful people who claim to love and follow Jesus and look to the Bible as a set of central documents informing how they live out their faith in Jesus, come to different conclusions on the matter.  They disagree.  Now some good will is required here.  There can be a tendency for folks who are on the hard edge of their respective camps to pronounce that the other camp is apostate, that they no longer believe, if they don’t agree on this issue.  But let’s be kind hearted here.  If we’re talking about two sets of people who have a lot in common in terms of their practice of Jesus-centered faith and they do not have consensus on a given topic, with enough heat that it threatens to divide them, then it looks like we’re in disputable matters territory.

So as we end, I want to name just two more things we must keep in mind as we seek to apply the Third Way to our contemporary issues, whether they be LGBT inclusion or any other difficult conflict that will come our way, because if history is a teacher, conflicts always do.

The first is this.  We err on the side of grace. If we are to err, we err on the side of grace. We err on the side of inclusion.  Every major debate we’ve had has taken time to sort itself out.  It’s taken time for churches to come to consensus on an issue or to finally take a step back and recognize it’s not worth dividing over.  We can’t rush the process, but we can choose that while we navigate, while there is any uncertainty, if we’re going to err, we err on the side of maximum grace and inclusion.  

For the meat eaters in Paul’s day, maximum inclusion meant abstaining from meat while all were together so that the Christians who couldn’t eat it in good conscience could still worship together.  For that particular issue, that was the means of maximum inclusion.  But different issues look differently.  In regards to LGBT, a Third Way would say, even if we do not have consensus on the matter, we practice full inclusion.  We recognize that our gay brothers and sisters are taking their own walks with Jesus seriously and making choices on how to navigate their sexuality unto the Lord.  They’re getting married unto the Lord.  They’re having children unto the Lord.  If you have concerns, by all means, don’t attend that wedding if it violates your conscious.  If you’re a pastor, don’t feel pressure to perform that wedding, if you can’t in good conscience.  But you cannot impose boundaries on our gay brothers and sisters that exclude them from full participation in the life of community.  Now I want to be clear: this is not “splitting the difference.”  You cannot split this difference.  To say “gay friends, you can be members but not leaders”, or “you can come but we won’t marry you” is ultimately to make a judgment, it is take a settled position, and say, “all same sex activity is wrong”.  Full inclusion means no stumbling blocks, no boundaries, no limits to inclusion.  We err on the side of grace.

The second implication is closely tied to the first.  We practice acceptance over agreement (or affirmation).  In the case of LGBT, specifically, there is an important distinction to tease out here.  Because the Third Way demands full inclusion of LGBT individuals, couples and families, some have said, “It’s the same as open and affirming.  It’s just a different name.”  But there is a subtle, yet important theological difference.  For churches that have taken an “open and affirming” stance to pursue full inclusion, implicit in their stance is a church-wide granting of approval on the practice of sexuality of the LGBT person.  Now we may in Haven Berkeley all land personally in an affirming of LGBT persons and marriages place.  Planting a church in Berkeley that’s inclusive from day one, that may actually be the case.  But whether or not it is, Third Way reminds us, that at the end of the day it is not our job to grant moral approval to anyone: gay or straight.  The only one who can grant moral approval is Jesus.  We are called to accept one another, not affirm one another.

My dear friend Emily is the co-Senior pastor of Blue Ocean Faith Ann Arbor.  She is also gay and last June I got to attend her beautiful wedding to her wife Rachel.  As we end, I want to read Emily’s words for you on why, as a gay pastor, it’s important for her to practice her faith, to serve and to work in a Third Way church, rather than an “open and affirming” one.

As a gay pastor, I actually prefer the Third Way to “open and affirming”” she says, “because of the subtle theological difference. I understand and appreciate the reasoning behind churches using the word “affirming,” since pervasive, condemning, oppressive practices have been the norm. However, in my mind, the Third Way shifts the power from the dominant group. I don’t need a dominant group to affirm me, because it communicates that they have the power to affirm or not affirm. They don’t have that power; the power to affirm me lies with God alone. The call of the fellow believer is to accept one another, just as Christ accepted us

The power to affirm each of us lies with God alone.  The power to affirm each of us lies with God alone. My prayer is that Haven will be a place where ALL people will find the full acceptance of their fellow Jesus followers, just as we experience the full acceptance of Jesus, and that here we will make room for Jesus to affirm all of the good he has placed and is bringing to more and more completion in each of us.  May we work together in a Third Way kind of way to build that safe, spiritual home that will be a Haven for all whom Jesus has accepted and is calling to himself.  Amen