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Illuminations: Seeking Guidance of God’s Spirit

Several issues have become flashpoints in Christian communities.

One of these is the inclusion of LGBT persons in local churches and denominations.

On most of these issues, a figurative line is drawn in the sand and both individual and organizations are defined by where they stand.

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) has recently adopted a new policy dealing with hiring LGBT persons after many years of an exclusive hiring policy on this matter. I have several caveats on my comments about the new policy.

First, my husband and I are now members of a United Methodist church that has blessed our lives.

But CBF and Baptist ministries were a large part of my life, particularly my spiritual life. I still support and pray for CBF and will continue to do so.

It is also interesting that the United Methodist Church is currently in a discernment process about how to deal with similar issues of ministry and inclusion.

Second, I have experienced discrimination in ministry because I am a woman.

I was not allowed to lead the congregational singing in a worship service because it was not “right” for a woman to lead, even though I was substituting as the choir director.

So, I could lead the choir, but not turn around and lead the congregation. A different type of discrimination, but still discrimination.

Third, I have a cousin, Virginia Mollenkott, now in her late 80s, who is a lesbian in a committed relationship.

She has been at the forefront in confronting discrimination of homosexual folks, writing a book (“Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?”) many years ago.

Virginia has also been on the cutting edge of feminist theology, and she has had a strong influence on my development from an extremely conservative upbringing into one of more tolerance.

I am sure that those who served on the Illumination Project committee struggled, prayerfully and thoughtfully, with the implications of the earlier policy and the effects that the new policy would have.

And yet, and yet, and yet. How do we measure the lengths we go to in order to preserve the peace?

We live in a very conservative part of the country where feelings about our political situation can flare into arguments very quickly.

My husband and I have talked about how far we can go in standing up for what we believe without damaging the friendships and fellowship with those with whom we disagree.

Decisions such as these call all of us, on a local level, or on a committee such as the Illumination Project, to do so under the guidance of God’s Spirit.

We have friends and family, in addition to Virginia, who have been affected by anti-LGBT discrimination and rules.

As we talk about God’s love, especially during Lent, I believe it is difficult to justify a lack of equity for all.

This past Sunday, we did a social justice emphasis at our church, using a skit to demonstrate the difference between equality and equity as part of a United Methodist Women’s emphasis.

The skit was based on several illustrations of three people of varying heights trying to watch a baseball game over a fence that only the tallest can see. Bringing in a box for each of them to stand on is an equal solution to an unequal situation.

But until the tallest person gives his box to the smallest, not all three can see. God’s love calls on us to reach out with that kind of love to all.

Folks who feel strongly about a biblical basis for disallowing LGBT folks need to read, “This I Know: A Simple Biblical Defense for LGBTQ Christians,” a booklet written by Jim Dant, senior minister of First Baptist Church of Greenville, South Carolina.

Sara Powell is a former Baptist Center for Ethics board member and former moderator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia. She and her husband, Bill, live in Hartwell, Georgia, and belong to Hartwell First United Methodist Church. Her writings can be found on her website, LiftYourHeart.com.

This column is part of a series of articles on the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Illumination Project. Other articles in the series are:

Illuminations: Spiritual Equality of All Christians by George Mason

Illuminations: The Long Struggle Against Discrimination by Colin Harris

Illuminations: Agree to Disagree – Agreeably by Steve Wells