WE should be mature congregations in the Lord, able to respectfully hold to our differences and still love one another. A fact that pastors need to wrestle with is this: same-sex marriage, couched in terms of ‘marriage equality’, is already a divisive issue in the church. If it hasn’t actually surfaced yet in your congregation it’s only a matter of time before it will.
There are a myriad of concerns that people have.
Those who are anti may experience frustrations — even if only inwardly at present — at the rate at which thought seems to be changing. I observed two News’ reports on the same-sex marriage issue within weeks of each other; the first showed two homosexual men kissing passionately, whilst the next report — after both major political parties are known to be considering changing the law — featured seven such embraces. That’s significant. This dormant issue is going to explode soon. The only way of stopping this juggernaut is for an inarguably compelling reason to be found — not one-hundred compelling reasons that can easily be argued. The test of inarguability rests in its seeming digestion, acceptance and resonance with the secular community who are, it seems, highly sympathetic to ‘marriage equality’. I’m not sure there is such an animal as one compelling reason to stop this runaway train.
People, especially conservative Christian people, will be abhorred by such demonstrative passion — alight on late-afternoon television. For some, it won’t be safe to watch the News anymore. For others, it’s “So, what?” But the point is there is a shift taking place; this issue is in our faces so-to-speak. Pastors need a pastoral response for people who are dismayed and even inconsolable. And a response like, “Don’t worry about it…” or “There’s nothing much we can do…” won’t really cut it. Listening does help, however. Perhaps listening is the only help, especially when the reality is we can’t do anything but accept (the best we can) what’s changing. People need to be heard. People need a sounding board. That’s the pastor’s job; to absorb the heat, the pressure, the frustration, the sadness, the incapacity of their congregants — anyone in their orbit.
It’s not good enough that people — anyone really — criticise or judge people for having an ‘intolerant’ response to this issue. We are getting this from secular people and even from Christians desperate to connect to the secular world with ‘Christ’s love’ — a love they see as all-accepting. So a lot of Christians don’t feel they have a voice anymore, because they’ll be tainted as bigots and judges. There doesn’t seem to be the space for free speech in this arena. Even those Christians who are very liberal in their approach will find they have nowhere to voice their passionate views — their Christian friends will not approve and they may not have the connections with the community to air their views. There is frustration mounting. Unfortunately, it’s social media that becomes our venting platform, and, just like with road rage, the media of electronic means (like that of being in the cocoon of a motor vehicle) falsifies the experience. Too quickly hurtful things are said that we would not say face to face with people. It is appallingly sad that people who have committed their lives to love and advocacy and goodness — the fight against evil — are now the targets of hate campaigns, and are labelled ‘haters’.
Now we have to consider those in our congregations who are actually part of homosexual society, or who have struggled in this area secretly and silently. Can we have any other response than compassion, here? Surely as we consider we are all prone to an area (or areas) of sin (think one or more of the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, sloth, envy) we can identify. (And quickly I’m thinking we are judged for even surmising that homosexual tendencies are sin — forgive me for a traditional viewpoint that has been part of our psyches since time began.) How do we meet those with the very tendencies and proclivities that are hot in the press and will be for some time? In many ways, they are the ping-pong ball being hit from one side of the table to the other — it could be quite an emotive time; hope on the one hand and despairing, many times, on the other. How do we meet these people pastorally? There is likely to be a complex source of fear to hear. “What are people saying about me?” “Surely they know now.” “Why do people speak so insensitively about people like me?”
Probably the most important focus of all at this time is to reassure people that God is still in control; that all we need to do is love the person in front of us the best we can; that grace covers the rest. Life can get too hard otherwise. If people can come to church or to their pastor and leave a little lighter, considering the plethoric burdens in our world, then pastors have achieved God’s will. This is not about providing answers. It’s more achievable than that. It’s simply providing space for people to be; to be at peace; to find a space where they will not be bombarded.
Of all things pastors and churches can provide it is space to be; to be safe from the wiles of Satan and the world.
All of the foregoing will often place pastors in tenuous situations, given that they have their own material, their own brokenness, and their own views to deal with. How hard is it to be a pastor — who has covenanted to help people — when to help them is to speak directly cross-grain, at times, to a pastor’s own views? Sometimes that’s required of a pastor; to button the lip.
And how is the pastor to get his or her own care? This is very important; who cares for the carer, or, more poignantly, how does the carer care for themselves? It is even more important than ever for pastors to have their own pastor they can go to.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.