Human beings have a strong preference for “either/or” thinking when often “both/and” thinking better represents the truth. This is especially so in the Church, where we embrace the dual truths of seemingly contradictory statements all the time. Human and divine, three and one, transcendent and immanent, inspired by God and written by humans, sinner and saint, now and not yet, grace and truth. Our conflicts have more often been resolved by the genius of the and rather than the tyranny of the or.
The Gathering is a church that embraces another both/and. We are an evangelical, theologically orthodox, Christ-centered church, and we fully embrace LGBTQ+ people into the whole life of the church. Far from seeing these as contradictory truths, the embracing of both has led to a vibrant, growing church that is bringing thousands of new people to life in Jesus.
When we say we are fully inclusive of queer people, we mean it. Gay and straight, trans and bisexual, we invite all people to commit to a life of following Jesus. LGBTQ+ people join our church, have their children baptized, volunteer to serve, work with our kids, and lead small groups. LGBTQ+ people go through marriage preparation and are married in our sanctuaries by our pastors. They serve on our boards, preach, and work on our staff. We expect no gold star for this nor are we apologetic or embarrassed about it. It is the work of the church, and has been part of our DNA since The Gathering started 12 years ago.
When we say we are evangelical and orthodox, we mean it. We believe that the whole of scripture is the inspired word of God. We believe Jesus was more than a moral exemplar. He is the crucified Son of God, the one who forgives our sins by his death and gives us life through his resurrection. We believe that people are sinners in need of repentance, forgiveness, conversion, redemption and sanctification through the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus. We desperately desire to share the good news of life in Christ with all people. We are passionate about the church growing in breadth and depth as it works alongside God to transform the world. This, too, is in our very DNA.
Evangelical and inclusive. Orthodox and welcoming. High Christology and a belief that Jesus loves queer people for who they are. A passion for the authority of scripture and a deep belief that those same scriptures welcome queer people into the Kingdom of God through faith in Christ (and not through a renunciation of their gender or sexual identity). If it sounds simple – that’s because it is. Simple. Beautiful. True.
We are who we are because we believe that it is what the Bible calls us to be, and because we see and witness the Holy Spirit confirming it. But I’ll let you in on another secret. It also happens to work. The Gathering is only 12 years old but is the third fastest-growing large United Methodist Church in the country. We have four sites and more on the way. We are increasingly growing younger and more diverse. And we do it all in an area that is not growing demographically. It’s a myth to believe that embracing one side of the tension somehow sacrifices the other side. It is a lie when some claim that to be more welcoming leads to decline.
My more conservative friends will whisper to me behind closed doors, “Matt, we know you embody this tension, but you are unique. This is not what most welcoming churches believe. Most of them also have a low view of Jesus, disregard the scripture…” They are wrong. We may be more public about it, but there are hundreds of clergy and churches all over the world that also embrace the same tension. I don’t believe we are alone.
Instead, I believe this is the future of the Church universal and the United Methodist Church. We need to become more of both. Progressivism, if it is to remain vital, must become more evangelical, more biblical, and more passionate about inviting new people to find life in Jesus Christ. It cannot remain solely a project in social justice. Similarly evangelicalism, if it is to remain vital, must share the good news with queer people and include them in the promises of Christ and the community of the church. We need their gifts, their service and their witness to remain relevant and true.
We do not need to pick a side. We also shouldn’t fear breaking the long-standing and silly shibboleths about what it means to be progressive or evangelical. We are called to, and need more of, both. We are called to be passionate about Jesus, committed to the whole of scripture, eager to share life in Christ with all people. We are also called to a robust, bold and unapologetic invitation to queer people to be fully active at all levels in our churches. These two are not contradictory, they are not mutually exclusive, and they do not represent a compromise of any strong belief in God, scripture or Christ. Our present conflict over these matters will be resolved not with a winning side but with the discovery that God calls us to both.
Rev. Matt Miofsky
Reprinted with Matt Miofsky’s permission
- Evangelical and Inclusive, Orthodox and Welcoming: an Open Letter to The UMC - February 13, 2019