First, I contest the assertion that there are two equal or similar extremes within the CoB. Sure, there are people who strongly believe that God is happy that people are lgbtq and straight, while others strongly believe that God is aghast that some people are lgbtq. Strongly believing something does not necessarily make one an extremist. There are people who believe that it is wrong to be lgbtq who are extremists – people who say that a congregation should be punished for asking Annual Conference to discuss a 28-year-old decision. That sounds pretty extreme to me. There are people who say that lgbtq people and allies are being led by the devil or are overtaken by evil. That sounds pretty extreme to me. There are people who stalk and photograph conference attendees who visited the Womaen’s Caucus booth. That sounds pretty extreme to me. There are people who send death threats to lgbtq church leaders and their allies. That sounds pretty extreme to me.
Now I hang out with some rather radical progressives, and I have never – not even in our private, uncensored spaces – heard anyone suggest that someone else be punished for their beliefs, or that the Devil is controlling them. I don’t know of anyone who strongly believes that lgbtq people are fully worthy of God’s love who stalks and catalogues the people who visit the Brethren Revival Fellowship booth – even though, if anyone had reason to fear the opposition it is lgbtq people and their allies, the ones receiving death threats – NEVER sending them. These two “extremes” are not even equal players: decades ago a seat at the table was given to the Brethren Revival Fellowship, but many homophobic (and undecided) Brethren have refused to allow lgbtq folks a place in their churches, a booth in the Annual Conference exhibit hall, or a place in the “body of Christ.” (Thank God, it’s not actually up to them!)
Second, if I am to be labeled an extremist because I strongly believe that I, and other lgbtq persons and allies, am a beloved child of God, I celebrate it! I follow the way of an extremist from Nazareth who was threatened, tortured, and killed for his radical upheaval of the social and religious structure. I am called to feast and commune on the margins, just as Jesus did 2000 years ago.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was called an extremist by the religious and political leaders of his day who feared the change he brought to our country. Sitting in a jail cell in Birmingham, King wrote these words:
Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”…was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand I can do no other, so help me God.”….So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?….Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists. (King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail)
Perhaps the Church of the Brethren and the world are in dire need of extremists who extend Jesus’ table to all – homophobics and lgbtq folks, war veterans and conscientious objectors, climate change-skeptics and climate change activists. And like Jesus, when we sit down for the feast, we honor each person but also compassionately tell the truth about God’s way.
Filed under: conferences on July 19th, 2011 by Anna Lisa