As Christians we talk a lot about unity. We believe that we are all one in Christ. Yet why do we have a hard time sitting at the same table together? When unity actually happens, why does it seem as if everyone just wants to tear each other apart?
Recently there’s been press surrounding Fuller Theological Seminary’s decision to approve OneTable, a student group committed to supporting safe dialogue around issues of human sexuality. It’s been particularly interesting to watch the Christian response. Despite the fact that Fuller has not changed their community standards, some news organizations have insinuated that Fuller is caving to the “homosexual agenda,” or that Fuller has abandoned the faith. Still others have consistently misrepresented Fuller’s position on the issue.
Of course polarization is not something alien to the human species. It’s just that it’s especially difficult in the church; how many in church have experienced isolation, disillusionment, and even abuse? We have all the trouble of family without the blood and history to help hold us together. Staying together and loving each other as a community is a really, really difficult task for human beings.
Historically, Protestants are prone to division, and all the more so in Evangelical Christianity. Nowhere is this tendency to exclude more clearly expressed than in how evangelical churches treat the LGBT community. As somebody who spends a lot of time around LGBT Christians, I hear the same stories over and over again: “I was kicked out as soon as someone knew I was gay,” or “I am afraid to talk to anyone about who I really am.” We treat the LGBT community with more hostility and anger than we treat any other group.
Think about it this way: most Christians don’t question the salvation of couples who live together before they get married even if they think it’s wrong. Yet with gay brothers and sisters, just the fact of their attractions is often enough to end relationships. Over and over again, on websites and radio, and even among friends, Christians basically assert that the church and the world is under the control of some nefarious, all-powerful yet thinly-veiled gay mafia. These kinds of attitudes in Christians betray an utter lack of knowledge and charity towards LGBT individuals, Christian or not.
Political opinions have changed quickly in the United States. But until very recently, same-sex attraction meant exile from society for most individuals. It meant instability in employment, no possibility of a legal family, of children. It meant danger from others, physical danger that could even result in murder. In many states in this country, you can still be fired for being gay. No other reason is needed.
Today in the church, exile is still the norm. That’s what makes the discussion at Fuller so important. At Fuller, we are just as strange as anyone else. We have our politics, our angst, our typical quarrels. Yet we haven’t given up on being together. You see, at Fuller there are too many people from too many different backgrounds to start drawing a lot of lines around people’s faith. I walk across campus and I meet Catholics, Baptists, Methodists and (a lot of) Presbyterians. We have staff and students so charismatic you might be afraid they’ll fall over walking across campus and individuals so distilled in liturgy they think contemporary songs are a crime against humanity.
Both sides bring beautiful worship to our community.
We have Korean families, a Hispanic program, and every year more and more people from that most beautiful, rich, and diverse continent, Africa. We are all here together. We see the beauty of God reflected in each of us. Here at Fuller we work together because we have to. Nothing would happen at a campus like this unless we all sat back, took ourselves a little less seriously, and just listened.
So it’s pretty normal for us to have conversations.
Why is it unexpected that we’re having a discussion about human sexuality? We’re only acknowledging diversity that is already present. We already have gay members in our community. Even conservative estimates show that LGBT people are around 2-5% of the population:at Fuller, that means 50-100 people just on the Pasadena campus. Additionally, we are in the business of training future pastors and professors. It’s guaranteed that this is an issue they will encounter in the years to come; what better time and place to seek understanding of other people and of the forces shaping our culture? We’ve brought people out of the shadows, and we’re starting to be a little more honest about our lives to each other.
Recently we had a panel where we discussed gay marriage and the church’s response. Most on the panel were on the traditional side of marriage. Yet to a person, every single pastor and professor affirmed that couples legally married in a state would be eligible for membership at their church. If this is true, how much more gay students be able to come, to learn more about God, and more about faith?
OneTable wasn’t founded to advance a hidden agenda: it was founded on the idea that nobody gets left behind. It was founded because we’re all stuck here together, and we need to start listening to each other. There’s this crazy idea that the center of our faith is not our denomination, not our sexuality, but Christ. We are all here because Jesus changed our lives. Some of our members are gay; that doesn’t mean they don’t love Jesus, and that doesn’t mean we should pretend they don’t exist.
This kind of unity at Fuller can be horrendously hard. Every new person is an enigma, a complicated box of life experiences, joys, and pains. I have wounds…and I have wounded. But when Jesus prayed for his disciples, he prayed that they might united in him. He said that in unity the world would know that God is present, that something true and real and good is here. It happens when people from all different places and backgrounds unite in Christ, eat together, pray together, live together. We’re starting to learn a little bit more about what that word, together, really means.
We are on a journey, an experiment here at Fuller. We believe that Jesus meant what he said. We are talking, thinking, arguing and continuing in faith together. It’s a hard journey sometimes, and we fail a lot. But I think it’s something special. And I don’t think it should just happen here; it’s something I hope for in your church, in my church, and everywhere.
 I know this because Chelsea McInturff and I founded OneTable together in May 2012.