There’s a famous song by John Lennon that summarizes my reaction to the withdrawal by Howard Schultz – CEO of Starbucks – from the Willowcreek Leadership Summit. (See CT article here). It is “Let it Be.” I love this song. I find myself humming it all the time when I need to return to some serenity in my life. To me it’s an ascent to the Lordship of Christ – Let it be Let it be. John Lennon, I’m sure would be horrified.
I have long chastised us evangelicals for our anti-gay rhetoric – for our public campaigns against LGBTQ sexual relations. We should cease and desist from our culture war campaigns. It makes no sense. Instead I advocate “Let it Be”. Let God work out the redemption of our society via communities of faithfulness sorting out what sexual faithfulness looks like on the grounf under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Let God’s salvation forged through the cross and the resurrection take shape in our sexual lives in real communities. And quit trying to control the sexual lives of others in their respective communities. In other words “Let it Be.”
Of course the other side of this challenge is the hostile militant actions of LGBTQ groups against Christian groups. In a way we Christians are getting what we deserve. We are getting a militant reaction to our own militancy. And so when Howard Shultz is forced to withdraw from speaking at the Willowcreek Leadership Summit because “The church has long practiced dangerous conversion therapy to ‘cure’ people of their sexual orientation,” it speaks to the antagonism engendered by the culture tactics of evangelicals over the past thirty years. And so again, I also plead with the gay/lesbian communities, “Let it Be.” Let each community self determine out of its own convictions how to lead a life worthy of those convictions. Let the results then speak for themselves.
To me the episode at Willowcreek this week illustrates 3 things about this direction we need to go: the direction of “Let it Be.”
a.) This episode illustrates that : neither side really knows what the other means when it talks sexual relations or sexual formation. And so when Asher Huey dubbs Willowcreek’s attempts at gay/lesbian spiritual formation as “conversion therapy” he is inciting all sorts of ideological angst. Indeed, any attempt at any kind of sexual formation (including the sexual formation necessary for heterosexual/lesbian/gay folk to live out monogamous sexual life) could be dubbed “conversion therapy.” Does Huey even understand that for us evangelicals, “conversion” is part and parcel of our own identity in Christ? But this all illustrates how this conversation gets ideologized instead of worked out on the ground by real people asking real questions and seeking real redemption in our sexual lives. It’s the same non-sense when we start dubbing our churches “welcoming and affirming” or “welcoming and not affirming.” We do not know what we are affirming, nevermind what other communities that claim the LGBTQ label think we are affirming. So let’s put an end to this ideologizing, put a moratorium on policing each other, and allow our sexuality to be worked out as part of our way of life in local commiunities. In other words “let it be.”
b.) This episode illustrates that: we need to acknowledge there is nurture and formation in whatever sexual stance we are seeking to live out in our culture. Whether it be LGBTQ, American heterosexuality, Christian sexuality, whatever, there is a nurture involved. Even if we affirm 100% that sexual orientation is genetic, no one can seriously deny that our communal culture shapes our sexuality, what it means to have sex, how our bodies shape and move with that (genetically given) desire, how we relate to gender. When we work with heterosexual therapies to re-shape destructive sexual habits in marriage, when gay/lesbians argue for monogamy as a chaste practice (see Eugene Rogers on this for instance), when we prohibit pornography for under 18 year olds, etc. etc, we are all recognizing that sexuality is formed in some way shape and form. Each community should therefore be allowed to foster the spiritual formation of sexual life within its own beliefs and practices. Again, we shouldn’t try to police each other with accusations of “conversion therapy” or the stuff that conservative Christians sling at LGBTQ communities. LET IT BE. Can we then please allow our respective communitiues, including Willowcreek, to have its spiritual formation practices around sexuality. If so-called “conversion therapy” is abusive it shall bring forth an abusive way of life. It will become apparent in time. Likewise, the pluses and minuses of LGBTQ sexuality will bring forth its fruit. And for the “Christian LGBTQ” communities likewise. The beauty, truth and compellingness of each community shall be revealed in its way of life.. Til then, can let us live alongside each other in peace, let God’s hand work in the world, and “let it Be”!
c.) The episode illustrates: The church should give up trying to call the shots on this country’s morality. Instead, we should as communities of faithfulness seek to nurture a redeemed sexuality in our respective communities. This will be the witness we seek. It will speak for itself. N. America (the U S and Canada) is not a Christian Nation. The U.S., more so than any other country, is a country built on the so-called “freedom” of each individual to satisfy him/herself “as long as you don’t hurt anyone else (whatever that might mean). With this being the predominant mode of moral reasoning and ethos, it is fruitless to try to influence the country’s morality on these terms. It will always turn into a coercive (and therefore unChristlike) exercise. Instead, let us live faithfully spending our times working out what a sexual way of life is that is faithful to the salvation we have received in Jesus Christ. Then let us live peacefully alongside other communities, in love and care for them. allowing each community to nuture shape its own sexuality in line with its deepest convictions. Our lives will bear witness to the redemption God is calling the world to. We will learn from others as well. And God will do what God will do to redeem the whole world. It will surprise us. So Let it be!
d.) The episode illustrates (similar to c.)): We should resist trying to control what other communities say and do in the practice of their respective sexualities. Every time we speak a judgment, it sounds like an insult. When we try to control the other in ideological debates, we reveal the insecurity in our own way of life, our own vision and practice of sexuality as worked out in our lives together. This goes for evangelicals. It goes for the LGBTQ, it goes for whoever whenever. Churches (including denominations) need to discern together their our sexual practices and vision for life under Scripture, the Holy Spirit and the gifts in community. We need to do this peacefully, in submission to one another in reverance for the Lordship of Christ. (there’s a 1000 pages to be written on this). We need to do this listening and in dialogue with those who challenge what we are doing. This too, is another part of “Let it Be.”
I am disappointed in Shultz’s decision to withdraw from Willowcreek Summit. To me it speaks to the need for a “Let it Be” stance in our culture. Perhaps Willowcreek can be the lead voice in calling for such a position. By so doing, we say Jesus is Lord of the world, and that as we work out what that means in terms of God’s call on our sexual lives, the resulting redeemed way of life will be compelling enough to speak for itself to the world of what God is doing in the area of sexuality.
What do you think? Can you be an advocate of the stance of “Let it Be”? Travelling to Canada for the next few days, so don’t know how much internet I’ll have. But I want to hear the conversation.