A Third Way in the Desert

“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing: now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” – Isaiah 43:18-19

The Jerusalem exiles in Babylon were beginning to get comfortable in captivity and from Isaiah 43, it appears that the prophet was encountering some resistance to heading home to rebuild Jerusalem. The peoplehad built homes to live in and planted gardens producing fruit. The exiles had found an equilibrium, but for Isaiah it was no longer an adequate one. Yet, when you can’t clearly see the new equilibrium, it’s hard to get excited about leaving the old one. This is a familiar Biblical pattern in the movement from old equilibrium to new equilibrium. It isn’t relaxed because you have to go through disequilibrium. The journey from slavery in Egypt to the promised land required marching through the Sinai wilderness. So stressful was this disequilibrium, that in no time a Let’s Go Back to Egypt Committee was formed. Yet they persevered and God brought them across the Jordan River to something they could call their own.

Bethany Presbyterian Church has a well written Holiness and Leadership Statement that has helped guide her in leadership selection. As the congregation and Session have been Listening for God’s Leading in our discernment season, Session has realized that the Holiness and Leadership Statement is no longer adequate to guide Bethany into her future.

The recent draft of the 2017 Statement on Theological Unity and Diversity at Bethany (for congregational input) does not achieve a new equilibrium for Bethany. Rather, it is a third way in the wilderness.

It is a third way that empowers Bethany to be church together across our divergent views on sexuality. Some of us are convinced that Christians involved in same-sex relationships are not being faithful to their Lord. Others of us believe that the Biblical instruction against ancient Greco-Roman same-sex practices do not address the loving, committed, and monogamous relationships we see today among Christians in the LGBTQ community. The new statement allows us to do all three things: have freedom to follow our convictions; refrain from passing judgment on others; all the while embracing our LGBTQ brothers and sisters even as some of us cannot affirm every aspect of their lives.

I hope you have read the draft of the new statement and will engage with our elders in some way – offering support, questions, or suggestions – in the next two months. Lift up your leaders in prayer.

Without doubt, the desert is an unsure place. Yet in the Bible it is also the place of divine encounter, vocational formation and reformation. It is the place where God does new things. Could it be that God is calling us to a new missional witness where Jesus followers love across differences and strong conviction? Is this a moment for us to exhibit the Kingdom of God to a culture that is barely able to have conversations across boundaries, let alone love through them?

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