Thursday, 17 November 2011

Middle Ground - A Guest writes:

I have passed the pen over to a guest writer regarding her document on 'Middle ground'. Everything from here on is her work and you are invited to comment as you wish once you have read the various elements (to assist, all mM words are in italics):

With respect to LGBT inclusion, a number of folks on the blogosphere seem to report sightings of the Middle Ground (non-affirming but non-condemning) so if this is not a mythical country, it may be closer than we think. What would it cost us to pay a visit, pitch a tent there, buy a semi?

Also, given that many of us are not seeking to challenge church teaching on sexuality, but are questioning church practice on inclusion, how might the discussion evolve to enable us all to make some progress on this?

The document 'The Middle Ground' (which you will find below) no doubt raises more questions than it provides answers but it does make an attempt at addressing some of the concerns people may have about making a move. Also, it's good to talk. And think. And pray. And let's just keep asking the questions....

Welcome to the Middle Ground
While the current debate on the place of same-sex relationships in our churches is ongoing, the Middle Ground (non-affirming but non-condemning) should seek to offer safe space and a welcoming environment to all people:
• straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered
• celibate, single, in a relationship, civil partnered, married
• church leadership, lay membership, fringe members, non-church affiliated
We welcome any feedback on the following guidelines:

Our prime objective is to serve God’s kingdom purposes, to see people come to faith, be impacted by his Spirit, be transformed into the likeness of his Son, and for each individual to find God’s plans and purposes for his/her own life.
In our church community, as far as possible, we will endeavour:
To seek love, justice, mercy, unity, opportunities to extend grace and reconciliation, God’s invitation to faith and a personal relationship, offered to all.
To shun condemnation, criticism, false pride, attempts to evoke in others guilt, shame, fear, diminished self-esteem or alienation from God.
We acknowledge that we are all a work in progress and that the transformative power of the Holy Spirit is ongoing in each of us. We all have areas of difficulty, some quite personal, painful and private. We respect each other’s feelings, bear with each other’s failings and take seriously issues of mutual accountability and confidentiality.
With respect to Bible study and interpretation:
We will seek to widen our reading (looking at a range of theological writers rather than only those who support our current viewpoint) and we will seek to deepen our understanding, prayerfully seeking God’s revelation through our study.
We will seek unity in our fellowships and make every effort to keep the bond of peace. We pray for the Holy Spirit to highlight areas of weakness, criticism and self-sabotage and we will deal with these promptly, prayerfully and with humility.
We seek to be a community that models a non-ageist, non-sexist, non-racist environment in order that all our members may grow and flourish regardless of age, gender or race. We also take pains to eradicate a homophobic atmosphere, challenging prejudice and discrimination where they arise.
We acknowledge that for many of us, living in the Middle Ground is not stress-free. We will implement strategies to deal with this stress in exactly the same manner and with similar resources that we would use to manage heightened levels of stress created by our family lives, workplaces and neighbourhoods.
Where necessary we will seek help from others within the church or from other organisations to manage our personal levels of stress in order to avoid resorting to a fight-or-flight response, making a scapegoat of other church members, or undermining and being critical of church leadership.
Where differences of opinion (on issues of sexuality but also on any other issue) lead to relationship difficulties we will seek appropriate conflict resolution strategies (allowing some breathing space, open dialogue, and mutual listening). Where necessary, an impartial facilitator may be helpful in resolving conflict and working towards reconciliation.
We honour our commitment to our church communities, understanding that it is often through times of challenge that we may see the most growth in our own and in our church’s journeys of faith. We will commit to those churches that we believe God has called us to, ‘for better or for worse’, seeking God’s leading through particularly testing times.
We are thankful for the positive and supportive relationships we develop in our churches and we seek to be part of that network of support and encouragement.
We anticipate that our children (aged 4-11) will, at times, have questions regarding same-sex relationships and transgender issues. We will pre-empt our children’s questions as far as possible, having given consideration to age-appropriate explanations.
We will have entered into consultation with parents of children in this age group and arrived at some consensus on these responses, so that the children in our church may receive a consistent message from all its members.
We will be open to the process of change and development in our own church and seek to learn and grow from new experiences. We will be open to the possibility of sharing and learning from the experiences of other churches throughout our denomination and in our local area.
Where individuals still maintain a traditional viewpoint on homosexuality, it is to be hoped that they will nonetheless see the Middle Ground ethos as a Biblical response to our changing cultural situation.
We anticipate that our young people (aged 12-17) will, at times, have questions regarding same-sex relationships and transgender issues and will already be developing their own opinions. For some of our young people these will be quite personal issues.
We will seek to be supportive and non-directive and to that end, will be willing to reflect upon and discuss the multiplicity of approaches and responses currently operating within our churches.
Where appropriate, we will advise on further exploration of these issues via specific internet websites and other materials. Where requested, we will offer prayer support, counselling or mentoring.
We will speak of other church denominations with respect, avoiding the temptation to hold them in contempt for either (in our view) progressing too far or not progressing fast enough. Other church denominations are still ‘part of the body’, containing members who are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and who are similarly making sense of the tension in this unchartered territory.
We acknowledge the unusual circumstances that we currently find ourselves living through and we will ‘cut each other some slack’ as we make our ongoing journey.
Our hope is that many of us will view the Middle Ground as an adventure in faith, an ongoing opportunity to deepen spiritual maturity, to develop Christ-likeness and to partner with God in furthering his plans and purposes. We acknowledge that without God’s help, we will undoubtedly struggle, but with his help we will be encouraged, enriched and empowered to live out the Gospel message to all people in our community.

I was hoping to discuss each of these and put forward my own views but I have realised that there are some who make this impossible and so merely leave you with Jane's document above. If you wish to comment on any of them I am sure she will be happy to read them - just post them on the comments page.



Anita said...

It makes a lot of sense to me, Vic! It's something I could be comfortable with as an evangelical, who has gay friends, and understands a little bit of "where they are coming from." I doubt "the middle ground" will be satisfying to gay Christians though!

Clare Flourish said...

Thank you. I like this, I could worship in a community which sought to carry it out. But as a transsexual woman, if anyone says I am not a proper Christian for expressing myself as God made me, I would respond angrily and shortly and I would expect support on that, citing Romans 14:4, not neutrality. Also, rather than theological debate on the meaning of "arsenokoitai" a more likely threat might be little cliques over coffee after. Difficult.

Canon Andrew Godsall said...

"...but are questioning church practice on inclusion,"

Perhaps you could explain what this phrase means Vic? What are you referring to and what do you propose instead? I have no idea what you mean in this phrase.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

I'm afraid I can't for, as the title suggests, it was written by a guest.

Hopefully she, Jane, will read your question and answer for herself.

Sorry I can't be much help on this one, I merely posted the contents of her 'Middle Ground' document so other might read and respond to her.

I watch this space with interest,


Vic Van Den Bergh said...

To avoid any further confusion I have put my words in italics.


Jane Newsham said...

Andrew, thanks for your comment. I mean by 'church practice' the degree to which individual churches take positive steps to become just as welcoming to gay people as they do to everyone else. My experience is that within most churches this just 'evolves' if it is going to happen at all, but perhaps opportunities to discuss this constructively would be helpful to everyone, whatever their viewpoint.

The Underground Pewster said...

Can such a middle ground community ever really affirm anything?

Anonymous said...

Middle Ground is merely a nice way of saying we don't accept you or the way you are made but we won't scream or condemn you.

Only full acceptance is acceptable and anything else is to be opposed.

Anonymous said...

I find this comforting to those who are not necessarily on the middle ground, but are seeking to move towards it.

Lots of stuff I could subscribe to, if it were not maintaining a status quo, that is still not inclusive and doesn't seek to condemn exclusion.

It isn't affirming to those LBGT people who feel that they are considered to be second-class Christians and are only accepted on sufferance, not for their identity, as unique beings, created in God's likeness, as we all are.

Not sure that I would be able to remain in such a community.

Anonymous said...

It might have been good if you had completed the various sections and discussed where you stood on these Vicar. Why did you stop as I found your comments were revealing and encouraging?

My views are that, as a Gay man, the issues covered here don't go far enough and the only way is to be fully accepted and actively promoted. Anything else is merely words and I am fed up with listening to them. Accept and affirm of be forced to leave the church to those who will and will make it acceptable to all

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

I did start to dialogue internally and share it publicly but I'm afraid that it attracted comments from people who neither wish to see a middle ground or exhibit anything that might appear to be in the slightest bit Christian and so, rather than feed the morons, I have resisted.

Perhaps another day?

Thanks for comments - keep them coming,


Canon Andrew Godsall said...

Jane = thank you - that's most helpful. I agree that providing opportunities for constructive discussion would be extremely helpful. At its best, Inclusive Church have sometimes enabled that to happen.

Anonymous said...

well done "Vic the Vicar' for allowing someone who may well differ from your own position to put theirs.

If only all the Church acted as you do we might still have our differences but at least there would be respect and Christian love.

Well done you

Jane Newsham said...

Thank you to everyone who has posted comments here. My hope is that many Christians would consider a move to this position in order that we can all get on with doing what we are called to do – extending grace, without being judgemental. Then, somehow, we need to get that message out to our communities. These are exciting times, despite the tension, and we have some work ahead of us but also real opportunities to make positive changes in this area.