"God does not discriminate and neither do we"
Twenty years ago the Holy Spirit gathered dozens of people to charter a new Lutheran congregation in Westfield. New Joy’s vision was to be a congregation that “welcomes, accepts, values, and nurtures all people wherever they are in their relationship with God.” Welcome has always been a cornerstone of our life together. “God does not discriminate, and neither do we. New Joy happily welcomes all, without regard to race, income, or sexual orientation.”
This vision, these values were the starting line of our faithful walk as people of God. And it was a bold starting line for 2002! Before the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 2009 officially welcomed LGBTQ+ leaders into ordained ministry or honored the love and commitment of same sex couples, New Joy proclaimed an explicit and radical welcome to our LGBTQ+ neighbors and friends.
Our Lord's Radical Welcome
This welcome was rooted in the Gospel. Our Lord is one who welcomes all people into his grace. In fact, his ministry is marked by an explicit outreach to those whom society leaves behind or pushes aside. When custom dictated that he not speak with a Samaritan woman, Jesus not only spoke with her but blessed her to be an evangelist (John 4:1-42). Jesus often directed difficult words to the “proper” people – religious leaders and the wealthy (Luke 6:24-25; Matthew 23:1-36; Mark 10:17-31; among others) – and extended healing, mercy, and honor to those often cast aside – the hungry, the poor, the sick, the unclean (Luke 8:26-39; 17:11-19; 19:1-10; among others).
We have walked with Jesus for these twenty years, and the Holy Spirit continues to gather faithful disciples at New Joy to live into the joy and justice of God’s kingdom. In 2015, one year after I arrived as pastor at New Joy, we crafted and adopted a new mission statement. “Radical welcome” remains a cornerstone of our congregation’s identity
The Gift of Diversity
New Joy has been blessed by the faith and gifts of LGBTQ+ siblings in Christ. Many of you have family members and friends who are members of the LGBTQ+ community. More than one household has interviewed me prior to joining New Joy, making sure that my preaching and our walk of faith would not condemn their LGBTQ+ family but instead affirm them. Our younger generations are growing up in a world of greater diversity than most of us adults knew when we were young – a wide diversity of race, culture, religion, and sexuality. Our schools have Gay-Straight Alliance clubs, and Carmel hosts a festive Pride celebration attended by some of our New Joy households. This is a vibrantly more diverse world than the one in which many of us were raised.
The Gospel Confronts Prejudice & Animosity
Yet acts of prejudice – both overt and subtle – persist and increase in our community and our nation. As explicit prejudice and animosity continue to fester, explicit honor and welcome must rise to meet and exceed them. Christ our Lord is the “light [that] shines in the darkness, and the darkness [does] not overcome it” (John 1:5). We are the Body of Christ, shining light that scatters the injustice of prejudice and affirms God’s beloved children.
Reconciling in Christ
New Joy is on a path – a path of discerning the opportunity to become a Reconciling in Christ congregation. This designation is for Lutheran congregations who have accepted the call and adopted the resolve to explicitly honor and welcome LGBTQ+ members and households into their midst. Explicit rejection must be met with explicit honor, welcome, and love.
How does this work? Back in August about 15 New Joy members met with leaders of GLSEN of Central Indiana, a Westfield LGBTQ+ advocacy and support group. Following up on that initial conversation, approximately 30 members of our community have signed up to participate in a training this Thursday, December 8, with Indiana Youth Group, an Indianapolis organization that advocates for and serves LGBTQ+ youth and young adults. This training – dubbed “LGBTQ+ 101” – is intended to help us learn about “key issues facing LGBTQ+ youth and how those issues may create barriers” in our ministry of care and welcome.
After the New Year, we will hold a variety of small group conversations and Bible Studies to explore what an explicit welcome could mean for us and for our community. In these gatherings we will seek to engage a broad swath of our congregation to read Scripture and explore possibilities, listen for questions and concerns, and take note of our commitments and continuing questions as we walk this path. THIS work – with the widest possible participation of New Joy members and friends – will determine what happens next. Examples of next steps could include:
meeting in person or online with leaders of Reconciling in Christ congregations,
additional workshops on LGBTQ+ culture and welcome,
working with local LGBTQ+ groups and attending events,
a series of audits and reviews of our ministry to discover if and how our words and actions may unintentionally exclude LGBTQ+ believers, and/or
Bible Studies/lessons on human sexuality and Christian faith, including the oft-cited passages of Genesis 19:1-38; Leviticus 18:22; Leviticus 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:9-10; Jude 6-7
At some point this path arrives at a decision by the congregation to make explicit our welcome of LGBTQ+ neighbors and friends, and join the 1002 Lutheran ministries that are committed to Reconciling in Christ. Whether we become a Reconciling in Christ congregation, and when, will be determined by the congregation itself. Ultimately, any decision to become a Reconciling in Christ congregation would be made at a congregational meeting by voting on a resolution that requires a supermajority to pass.
This is not an easy process - it isn’t meant to be. These aren’t easy conversations. Yet we have confidence that our Lord is walking this path with us. Jesus is the one who carries our burdens – including the burden of difficult discernment – because his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30). Let us walk with Jesus, and trust him with our questions, hopes, and dreams for our mission together.
Peace be with you.
Pastor Chris Duckworth
SESSION 4 LGBTQ+ Welcome and the Bible. The fourth and...