(in Part 1 of this 3-part blog series, I shared a little background on our movement, The Disciples of Christ. Today I share with you what I learned at General Assembly.)
So, what did I learn?
In short, I learned that one particularly sweet fruit of the gospel is diversity. And “diversity” in the Disciples isn’t just a catch-word or an idealistic dream. It is a beautiful, breathtaking – and yes, at times uncomfortably painful – reality.
At General Assembly, there was an astonishing array of diverse races and cultures. Disciples members are Caucasian, African-American, Asian, Latinx, Micronesian, Indigenous, and more. Each night we were privileged to worship to a wide variety of multi-ethnic and even multi-lingual songs. It was beautiful. It really did feel like a small taste of “every tongue, and tribe, and nation” worshipping together.
I met ministers who were 3rd or even 4th generation Disciples. I also met others whose heritage was Reformed, Pentecostal, Anabaptist, Evangelical, or Catholic before joining the Disciples.
This much diversity results in very different perspectives. Disciples’ convictions about God and politics are a rich tapestry of ideas and beliefs. I have met Disciples who are conservative, Disciples who are liberal, Disciples who occupy shades in-between, and Disciples who don’t fit neatly into any theological or political category.
This kind of wide-ranging diversity also means there are ordained Disciples of Christ pastors who would not be allowed to minister in many other denominations: namely, women and LGBTQ persons. Over the past two years, I have met and come to know many Disciples pastors who are women, and several who are LGBTQ. I have to tell you, I have observed that these individuals are some of the most Spirit-filled, inspiring, and effective leaders I have ever met.
To many of these individuals, the Disciples of Christ is a refuge precisely because of the commitment to welcoming everyone to a gospel that overcomes divisions and produces wholeness (that is, peace or shalom).
But as you can imagine, this also results in conflict. Not every person or every church in the Disciples movement believes that women or LGBTQ persons should be pastors. You yourself may not believe those things. And that’s okay. Our movement has always held dear the notion that each of us is responsible to our own conscience, and every church governs itself. Individual Disciples are never required to pass a test to prove they adhere to someone else’s notion of “right” belief; and Disciples churches can never be required to practice their faith a certain way. We all have liberty in non-essential things.
But that disagreement often produces debate. That’s not only okay, it is crucially important! Being in vigorous dialogue about our faith places us squarely within the great tradition of scripture! Because while each of us must answer to our own conscience, discerning the direction of God’s Spirit through scripture, tradition, reason, and experience must ultimately be done together in community.
That is very hard work. So how do we do it? In part, we do it by remembering the old slogan I shared in my previous post:
In essentials unity. In non-essentials, liberty, In all things charity.
We do it by committing to be unified around what is essential, and by giving each other freedom in what is not. In the DOC, we are united not by common beliefs, but by our common need for the grace and mercy of God as revealed in the person of Christ, and by our common commitment to follow him. That is what we consider “essential.”
Last week, this diversity was on full display with the historic election of Rev. Terri Hord Owens to be our General Minister and President (I took the picture above at her installation ceremony). She is the first woman of color to head a denomination in the United States, and the spirit in the assembly hall at her election was joyful and electric.
Gospel-empowered wholeness is extraordinarily hard work, but the fruit is sweet, satisfying, & healing to the community. In my third and final post on Monday, I’ll share with you some of the things I hope we can do as a church in our community to make that effort.