A Theologian’s Thoughts on the Public Hearing

These thoughts come from the strange brain of Matthew Gallion. They are not necessarily representative of the congregation or individual members of National Avenue Christian Church and do not represent anything more than the musings of one member of the congregation.

Last night, City Council held a public hearing in its ongoing debates about the recommendations made by the Mayor’s Council on Human Rights. Specifically, the issue on the table was whether or not the city should adopt a nondiscrimination policy that protects its citizens’ rights to employment, housing, and public accommodations with regards to sexual orientation and gender identity. A litany of speakers came forward, each offering their earnest thoughts on the matter. In the end, the speakers came from two camps: First, there were those in favor of the city’s proposed policy (though some resented the council’s addition of a religious exemption). Second, there were those who felt that it would lead to increased crime or—in one explicit case—direct punishment from on high.

Though I intentionally chose not to speak myself, I found the rhetoric of both sides ringing in my head throughout the night. When I woke up this morning, I couldn’t help but feel that the world felt the same tension I did, with a harvest moon lingering in the west and the rising sun splashing the east with a kaleidoscope of pinks and blues.

Last week, my good friend Phil Snider shared a joke posted on the Guardian’s website in 2005: 

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump.

I said, “Don’t do it!”

He said, “Nobody loves me.”

I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?”

He said, “A Christian.”

I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?”

He said, “Protestant.”

I said, “Me, too! What franchise?”

He said, “Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”

I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

The fact of the matter is this: Faith is deeply personal. If we dug deep enough, we’d find some point of departure from just about everyone on something that we consider significant. Many last night seemed to insist that there is a strong dichotomy in the relationship between truth and sexuality. That one simply must choose sides. To my own great dismay, both sides suggested that their version of the truth was superior to the other and that their opponents misunderstood the ancient text, the Christian tradition, and so-called “basic morality.” But I’m not convinced that these kinds of answers are so easy to come by. Instead, I tend to think that the exploration itself is the part where life happens. It’s in the hammering out of our thoughts, our lives, and our philosophies that we are open to be interrupted by the lingering traces of inexpressible beauty—to be disrupted by Life itself. This process to me is deeply collaborative, and competitive claims towards the truth are just plain silly. It would be the equivalent of setting up camp right at the trailhead of a large and beautiful forest and considering yourself truly adventurous. But if we would only take the time to hike in a few miles, we might truly begin to experience the depths of life within the world and within ourselves on—or even off—the trail. I truly believe that our only obligation to one another is to journey together. For me and my community of faith, our commitment rests on the commandment of Christ to love one another. To celebrate one another. To walk with one another. This kind of life together means much more than any theology.

But it wasn’t only the theological underpinnings that left me so unsettled. The concerns that City Council is attempting to address with this policy are not doctrinal; they are civil. We live in a society that protects our religious freedoms by not allowing the government to dictate what citizens should believe or to enforce a morality based solely on the religious convictions of any one particular group. The rights to employment, to housing, and to public accommodation are fundamental rights protected by the Constitution for all citizens. So, regardless of one’s own position regarding Christian theology and biblical interpretation, the issue at hand is this: Is the city of Springfield going to allow any of its citizens to be discriminated against because of their identity? Will the city endorse the perpetual violation of its citizens’ rights when its primary purpose is to protect those rights? Matters of faith aside, the City Council must make its decision based on the laws of the land and not the nuances of faith. A deeply held Christian conviction, which has represented the majority a good number of times in American history, is not the only religious belief protected by the Constitution. Though it may seem like a violation of religious freedom to some, the truth is that passing this policy is the only means through which the city can protect religious freedom for the rest of us.

Conor Wadle on Hilapo Dos

National Avenue has attracted people for a lot of different reasons. We’re accepting of  all ideas, beliefs, and people. We continually have a close community, which is shown every Sunday during Passing of the Peace or in the Coffee time following services. And we continually work with a large multitude of charity organizations, making sure we not only talk about our beliefs, but act on them. All of these things put together make us a unique church by itself. But yet again, we break out of another mold through the work we have done in Hilapo Dos, Nicaragua. This time, breaking the mold of everything we have done in the past.

What we have done in Nicaragua was no small feat for us. We, as a church that has less membership compared to some, were able to raise over $100,000. And while that was a hard number to get to, we’ve changed the lives of so many people irrevocably. On my trip down to Hilapo Dos last fall, I fully understood one part of how amazing this is. Throughout the years we’ve partnered with Hilapo Dos, we’ve tried to make it clear that that’s what it is; a partnership. We understand that when we are sending money, or building houses for the people Hilapo Dos, we’re not just sending money, but we’re continuing a partnership, or in essence, a friendship. And once we understand that we’re helping people just like us, people who have just been born in a different part of the world, it opens up a new level of caring that many people, including anyone who has been down to Nicaragua understands.

For example, the fourth day of my trip to Nicaragua will always stand out to me. That afternoon we stayed in Hilapo Dos, wanting to spend some time with the people and the kids there. And with us, we brought some baseballs and kick balls. I had the time of my life playing kickball with those kids. Even though I’m terrible at kickball, and they surely enjoyed laughing at me, it was so much fun. To see them smile as they played, to hear them cheer when Neil would kick yet another home run, or to watch them all give high fives to each other and us. Later that same day, I was pushed into dancing in front of the village, with a girl around my age, Karen. And even though they enjoyed watching me struggle, it made me realize one important thing. We aren’t people that are better than them. Instead, it was our population at National Avenue helping our friends in Hilapo Dos, Nicaragua. Not because we feel like we have to, but instead because we understand that we should, and that we are simply helping human beings, who need it.

So as we look at this huge triumph our church has completed, building 25 homes for families who are used to mud floors and plastic roofs, we need to look towards the future just as much as we should celebrate. Because what we did in Nicaragua was groundbreaking and changed the lives of tons of people. But at the same time, this shows us what we’re capable of. As a congregation, as one working church body, we have the ability to instill change in the world. This amazing housing project has shown us that we have the ability to do amazing things in the world. So as we look forward, we must continue to be a church that breaks the mold, and continues to promote justice throughout the area, not because we feel like we must, but because we should.

Why I Don’t Do Lent by Louise Jackson

I never give up anything for Lent and I don’t do anything extra either. It isn’t that I’m not mindful of the liturgical emphasis and what it represents; I am. But I simply don’t get the idea that it’s good to give up something or start doing something for only forty days. Perhaps it’s partly my Southern Baptist background, one in which we jokingly said, “This year I’m giving up watermelon for Lent,” all the time knowing that, in the days before international importation of out-of-season fruit, watermelon wasn’t available anyway. Or, perhaps it’s my “Martha personality” that finds positive action to be better than self-denial and that now is better than later.

It has always seemed to me that if something is important enough to give up for a season, we probably ought not to be doing it in the first place. And if something is important enough to do for a season, we ought to be doing it all year long.

Even as I say this, I admit to having deep respect for those to whom denial is a means for spiritual growth. Good for you. Go right ahead. Just know that I won’t be there.

I simply don’t feel, personally, that even ritual self-flagellation has any particular value for my soul. Instead, it seems to me that one ought to examine one’s lifestyle on a continuous basis and not wait for a liturgical season to suddenly decide to “be better.” To the extent that I am able, I try to focus on what I ought to be and to do as a professing Christian every day, all year long. Why wait for Lent? If I need to give up something in my life, it’s up to me to get busy and learn to give it up. If I ought to be doing more as a Christian, I should begin to do it now. Otherwise, why bother, just because it’s a custom?

Thus, I will worship each Sunday with intent, bearing in mind the upcoming Passion of Jesus the Christ, but I will not consider the 40 days of Lent to be anything more than a reminder that living a Christian life is not always easy but is infinitely worth the daily effort, 365 days a year.

P.S. I expect, and even invite, rebuttals to this short essay. Please take the time to argue, agree or comment.