The Scandal of Grace and Discrimination

This is the first post in a series of blog postings about “The Scandal of Grace” and my experience navigating church and faith.  Enjoy part one – “The Scandal of Discrimination”.

country churchA couple of months ago, I traveled to my parents’ home in Missouri, where I sang the song, The Scandal of Grace by Hillsong United in my parents’ church.  I completely love singing in their church, not only because of the acoustics (I don’t need a microphone .. AT ALL), but because their church instantly “feels like home.”

In this small town Presbyterian Church of maybe 60 members, my mother is the church secretary, is trained by the Presbytery (a regional denominational governing body of the Presbyterian Church) to serve and administer communion.  They have no permanent pastor, but they have a regular Pulpit Supply (temporary) pastor, a gifted and trained elder serving from their own congregation, named Pam.

Recently turning 70, Pam was raised in a family of pastors.  Both her father and mother were traveling ministers when she was a child.  She has stories of going many places with her father, whom she always affectionately calls “Daddy” in her sermons.  She also told me once that her mother was the first ordained woman in the Methodist Church in the state she grew up in.  I’m always in awe of her history of experience when I visit and take an earful of her sermons.   When I sang “The Scandal of Grace” in their service, she made sure to have the song’s lyrics printed in the bulletin, and also centered part of her sermon on the topic of Grace and loving your neighbor.

My mother, aside from church administration, is also an Elder in the Presbyterian Church.  Elders in the Presbyterian Church USA are entrusted in determining the vision and direction of the church, in worship and leadership.  Pastors are not the head of the church.  They are selected by and serve at the will of the Elders and Deacons which make up the Session, or governing local body, of a church.

I was so incredibly proud to see my mom preside over the “table” of bread and wine (as we Presbyterians call the communion “altar”) on Easter Sunday.  The same Easter Sunday,  my father helped to cook the Easter breakfast in the morning with all of the men, and I sang a solo in the service.  This was one of the first times since before I graduated high school, that our whole family had significant leadership roles in day at church.  (We have the devil on the run, I hope!).

But back to the topic at hand – The Scandal of Grace, and the “Scandal of Discrimination” that I’m still seeing widely carried out in parts of the wider “Christian Church” today.

Since I live about 300 miles away from my parents’ home church, I can’t really commute to attend regularly.  Therefore, I’ve done quite a bit of “church shopping” and “church hopping” where I live in the suburban Twin Cities of Minnesota.

Most recently, I had been attending a very nice independent, more Evangelical church full of young people that has a wonderful worship band, a young 32-year-old pastor, house groups, and great summer classes that were free to attend.  My partner/spouse and I even attended one of these classes called “First Steps” which we enjoyed a lot.

Then I got hold of their constitution, and found out that they only allow men to be Elders in their church, and women could not hold higher positions than men, as it is written in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9.  I even emailed one of their elders, who confirmed this to be true.  (Did I mention that they also held the view that The Bible is inerrant in all things?  I’ll be sure to address the differences between “authority” and “inerrancy” in a future post.)

And then when it came time to write a check to support this home church with my offering – I just physically couldn’t do it.  Once I realized this, I knew in my heart that I needed to make the decision to “keep shopping” yet again for another home church.  I kept emailing their really nice elder named Jack (not his real name), and explained that I was married to a same-sex spouse as well.  While Jack did welcome me to continue attending, attend one of their house groups, etc. – he made it clear that their church only recognized marriage as between a man and a woman, and that homosexuality was considered a sin.  But – they “loved gay people all the same.”  I did let Jack know that I was thankful for our conversation, but that I would be moving on to another church.

Without thinking solely about myself, I thought about these wonderful women in the small town of Missouri that I love.  Pam the minister, who at 70 is leading a very vibrant and loving congregation – and my mother, whom I credit as having a vital role in my coming back to my faith.  I know at least three ministers who are Gay or Lesbian in the Twin Cities as well.  My thought was, “How can I support a church that actively discriminates when I have seen so much amazing love and leadership from women leaders (including my mother) and other LGBT leaders in churches that have influenced me?”

And when I asked myself that question, my inner response was, “I can’t.”

So I’m back to attending a local Presbyterian Church that’s close to my home, and when I can, I visit two other churches.  One of them is 25 miles north and has an amazing pastor and message of Grace, and the other, once a month, is this church that discriminates – because my spouse still wants to attend, and has even stepped up to join a volunteer team.

Apparently, this isn’t a new thing.  I’ve heard of other spouses who attend separate churches, and when they can, they come to their spouse’s church as a sign of mutual support in their individual faith journeys.  It looks like we’ll be joining this demographic.

Also, Pastor Paul Moore of Chain of Lakes Presbyterian Church in Blaine, MN, stated in a blog post of his:

I can’t imagine how diminished we would be if .. gifted women couldn’t be religious leaders. We have made tremendous progress in accepting women as leaders in the church; however we can never take this progress for granted. Over half of the people who attend a church in Anoka County [in Minnesota] this weekend will attend a church where women cannot be ordained.

Discrimination in the church is alive and well it seems.

It’s appropriate that I began this post talking about “The Scandal of Grace” – as I find myself needing to exercise Grace, even in the midst of discrimination, which I believe is wrong, and in my opinion, “un-Christian.”  We Presbyterians have a concept that we really like called “mutual forbearance.”  It’s basically a kind of “agree to disagree” attitude when two or more gather and harsh disagreements ensue.  It’s a different kind of feeling to ground yourself in this feeling of “forbearance and Grace” in the midst of discrimination, but maybe in my journey, this too is a lesson I’m meant to learn.

Why is learning sometimes hard, God?
What’s in your plan, and who’s right or who’s wrong?
Will this experience help me love your children more?

I’m listening.

For now, I’ll part with a video of Hillsong’s Scandal of Grace song for you.  Stay tuned for another post in this series soon!

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