I suppose something to note up front is that I believe that my particular faith is the best. If I did not think my faith tradition was the best, I would go find another. I see no need to attend a church that I do not think is the best possible. I strongly suspect that is the case for everyone who reads this. “Your” denomination is the best. It has the closest thing to the pure Gospel possible as that fits with your own experience and theology. So I think that can provide a good common ground if everyone who reads this understands that everyone else’s faith is the best. Now, that said, what can we do to help other people find faith? Is my faith tradition always the best for someone else?
Certainly there are some, even many, in the LDS tradition who would say that our faith provides the only means of the highest exaltation in the Kingdom of Heaven. I would even say that I agree with that. However, I also think that the LDS Church is not the best option for some individuals. So what should be do in these cases? Perhaps this comes from my looking to become more of a multi-denominational minister through chaplaincy, but I’ve come to look at things from the view that I’m supposed to help lead people on THEIR faith journey, the one that gets them closer to God, rather than trying to get them into the place where I am taking my journey.
This idea comes from an experience that I had this past week. I had to speak in church last Sunday, the 15th, so I invited a coworker of mine to join my wife and I while I was speaking. Surprisingly, she said she would come. I say surprisingly because she is a lesbian and the LDS Church is not exactly accepting of openly gay individuals. I was not sure if she would come with her wife. She did not for a few reasons, none relating to how the Church treats LGBT folks. That said, though, I did feel the need to send my coworker, “Peggy,” (like from Mad Men, not my coworkers’ real name) a message just reminding her that I’m LDS and that, as a church, we do not have the most welcoming record for LGBT folks so if she did not think she would be comfortable in the church, I understood, and she certainly should not feel like she had to come. I wish I didn’t have to send a message like that. But she came and seemed to have an enjoyable time. Back at work, we were discussing church in general on either Monday or Tuesday, I can’t remember which though it doesn’t matter. Peggy started talking about how she was raised in a rather conservative religious household, though not as conservative as some, and how church was still important to her. What to do from here, I wondered?
As we were talking, Peggy talks about how church is important to her, how she wants her kids to be raised around a church community, but that her wife had not grown up in any church. She wants to make sure that whatever church they go to when she is able to take that leap into a church with her entire family is welcoming and accepting of them unconditinally as a family unit. So, what is the “right church” for her and her family? As much as I would like to have been able to sit there and say “hey, come to my church, we’d love to have you all” I know that is simply not the case, not in reality. How would they be treated in church? Certainly they would not be treated the same way that I am treated. Peggy’s wife knows fully well how they might be treated given that, as I hear the story, her LDS brother will barely speak to her after she announced her marriage to Peggy. I hear that story with mixed emotions of sadness and anger, but I suppose I do not know if there may be any additional details as to why this happened…although I can’t personally think of a reason that would cause me to stop talking to one of my siblings and I have to admit that I’ve given at least one of my own siblings pretty damn good reason to stop talking to me at least once; we still talk. So, given that I know that she and her family would be, at the very least, treated with a type of benign neglect, how do I proceed?
I have to consider that Peggy would have to get a divorce from her wife in order to be baptized into the church. So, do I really think that membership in a particular church that will not be exceptionally welcoming of them (well, I guess just her?) is grounds to break up a family? No, absolutely not. So, in effect, that rules out Peggy and her family coming to ‘my’ church. Whether I feel that I have enough knowledge on the subject matter to fully agree or disagree with the policy is different matter, but that’s another discssion. But where would they be accepted? Do I have the ability to help Peggy find a place where her and her family will be accepted? Certainly I do. I know of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches through a fellow student at United and that church is a LGBT focused minitry. I noted to her that I know that there is a congregation in Manhattan. I noted that some congregations of the United Church of Christ are listed as Open and Affirming in that they fully accept LGBT folks into the congregations and that there is a search feature on the UCC website that would allow her to search for only those congregations. I also mentioned that, at least some of, the congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are fully accepting of the LGBT community; I know this because I read Nadia Bolz-Weder’s book “Pastrix” and I know that she’s ELCA. So, what did I do here?
I helped someone to move forward along her own spiritual path. Her family is important to her as is mine to me. Christianity is very important to her as it is to me. However, she would not be welcome at all Christian churches, she and I are both aware of that fact. So, should I try to coax her into attending a church that is going to constantly call her a sinner, try to drive her towards some, probably physically and mentally unhealthy, form of repentance, possibly (probably) drive apart a family, but that will almost certainly see her walk right back out the door eventually? Common sense would say that is not the answer. So I have to help her on her own journey to faith. The path that she can come to love. The path that can lead her to the transformative Gospel of Jesus Christ. She has said that she wants that Gospel. I can do a little something that might help her to find it. That is a big deal.
So, maybe some questions for thought:
–Is my path or “your” path to the Gospel the best for someone else?
–If Christianity is about community and Christian practices, isn’t it significant that someone is a part of the Christian community?
–Does it matter if that community completely agrees with my personal theology? (That’s a very broad statement, BTW, because, at the very least, all those churches do not agree with my theology of God/Godhead/Trinity, regardless of anything else)
–When we talk about religion and Christianity with someone, do we think about the religious path that is best for them or the one that will make us feel the best about ourselves? Should those two be the same?