Being a Pastor in a 5-4 World

Unless you’ve not been paying attention to anything going on in the world, you know that this week was a landmark week in the United States, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could no longer ban marriage between same-sex couples. In many ways, the way the decision was reached and the response on social media are more indicative of the current state of our culture than the decision itself. It was a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court, and the justices were very divided in their writings on the decision. If you’ve been reading social media (and who hasn’t?), you’ve seen incredibly divided responses as well. I have good friends, people of faith, who fall across the spectrum on their response to this ruling.

The question I’m pondering this morning as I prepare to head to church is this: How do you pastor a congregation in a 5-4 world?

The fact of the matter is that we are a divided nation, a divided people. In today’s culture, every possible division between people is emphasized and expanded and exaggerated and exploited. Everything is turned into an “either/or” scenario. Either you agree with me, or you’re a bigot. Either you agree with me, or you’re completely immoral.

This week, there are people who, in the midst of their story and their struggle are celebrating equality. But this week, there are also people who disagree, people who have a different story and a different experience. The reality is that there are not “two sides” on this issue. There’s not a singular gay experience or a singular straight experience. Each of us has a different story, unique experiences, particular struggles, and when we make anything a simple “either/or,” we greatly miss the mark. When we proclaim from our soapboxes that you’re either in favor of this decision or you’re a hateful bigot, we’re being shortsighted. When we say you’re either against this decision or you’re championing immorality, we’re failing to understand the complex reality in which we find ourselves.

What I’m feeling this morning as I prepare to head to worship in such a divided time and cultural landscape, is a deep sense of gratefulness that I believe in a God who loves all people. I’m thankful to be part of a church that has an open table: all people are invited to sit at God’s table. Which means, by the way, that people with whom I strongly disagree are loved by God and invited to sit at God’s table. People who are and have been hurtful to me are loved by God and invited to sit at God’s table. After all, Jesus died for bigots. Jesus died for the immoral. Jesus died for all of us.

Every single one of us in the family of God is a mix of saint and sinner, of struggle and victory, of lost and found. None of us, singularly, have it all figured out. We need each other, the people who think and act like us, but maybe even more particularly the people who are different from us. For it is in our difference and diversity that the body of Christ finds its true strength.

As a pastor, I’m a pastor to both the 5 and to the 4. I’m a pastor to people who sharply disagree with one another. And the bottom line is this: all are welcomed in my church and loved unconditionally by God. And every one is asked and enabled to become more than what they were when they walked in the door – a person who is continually growing and transforming into the likeness of Christ. I am grateful that this morning, at my church, there will be space for everyone; all are invited.

From Ephesians 4: May we all be rooted and established in love, completely humble and gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Remembering that there is one body and one Spirit, and one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

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44 thoughts on “Being a Pastor in a 5-4 World

  1. Well written, and I agree you are in a difficult position. However, what isn’t addressed is what is the church’s stance on marriage? If two males or females wanted to be married at BUMC would it be performed?

    • Paula, thanks so much for your question. You’re right that I did not address this directly in the post. The official stance of the United Methodist Church is that we do not perform marriages for same-sex couples. This has been the long-standing stance of the UMC, and the Supreme Court ruling does not automatically change the stance of the church. This continues to be a place of deep prayer and conversation within our denomination. I’d be glad to try to answer any other questions you may have. Thanks again for reading and commenting!

  2. Awesome words Travis – thank you for framing what has been difficult to frame in a loving way that embraces the challenges. Be blessed!!

  3. You have written a beautiful truth. Sadly, with this issue, the swords are sharp. There are clergy who will not be in conversation with me, and in the worst cases not sit at a table to share food. That saddens me because we do serve all people in all circumstances. I am a ‘people’. I suppose in the long run, I have learned how it feels to be disavowed; and I have a better understanding of how it feels.

  4. I am very grateful for your words of Pastoral leadership as I struggle to be a friend, mother, wife, sister, co-worker and most importantly a Christ-follower in a 5-4 world.

  5. Wise, pastoral, theologically steady. Splendid image — a pastor to both the 5’s and the 4’s!! That’s hard work, isn’t it?!

  6. I preached inclusion that Jesus is more inclusive than we are. “Everyone who is down with you ain’t down with your program/ministry.”

  7. An excellent statement and thought. In such a troubled and changing world, we need to be a refuge for all.

  8. This is a well written piece, similar in nature to many than I have read over the past few days. The problem is that you said a lot without really saying anything that all. You seem to want to have a foot in each camp and just say Jesus loves and died for all of us, just love each other and it will all be okay; but that’s not the whole story. The real question for you Travis is, WHERE DO YOU STAND? Not where does the UMC stand, not where the majority stands; Where do YOU stand? Not taking a position, is a position in and of itself. Do YOU affirm same sex marriage/relationships as good, right, and true in the eyes of God? Are YOU staunchly against it and feel it is a sin and an abomination? Calling ones sin, sin, does not mean you love them any less, but affirming their Sin and calling it not sin can send that individual on a path to eternal separation from God!

    I am reminded here of a few appropriate versus here:

    James 3:1, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment.

    Matthew 7:13-14 Enter by the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction and there are many that go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

    The truth is that we can show love and share truth of the Gospel at the same time. You can tell someone that they are welcome to come sit in your congregation and share with them what the Bible calls sin (not just homosexuality, but adultery, coveting…) and still make them feel welcomed and loved without affirming their sin as not sin. If you fail to take a position and just tell everyone that they are welcome and love, what will compel them to change who they are and what they do. Repentance isn’t just asking forgiveness, but also a turning away from your sin; once that happens then real change can begin in the heart.

    In love…

    • Jesse, thank you so much for your comments. I appreciate someone who is willing to respond in love and continue to wrestle with Scripture and it’s implications in this conversation. I think we need more forums for honest conversation and questions, particularly places where people with differences of opinion can come together, grow together in relationship, and speak honestly and openly in love. Thanks for both your comments and the spirit with which you made them. I posted a follow-up on this topic today.

  9. I agree you should be a pastor to everyone who comes to your church or anyone’s church, and that we now have to live in a nation that is ruled by 5 earthly Supremes, but what do you now tell those in your church who may think gay marriage is “acceptable Biblical behavior in God’s eyes and in His Church?”

    • Joseph, thank you for your comment/question. I think following the example of Jesus would lead me to first build relationships with people, particularly those labeled as “sinners,” to listen, and to try to understand. From what I can tell in reading the Gospels, Jesus saved his harshest most direct and judgmental critiques not for those people who were considered sinners, but for the religious people who made it almost impossible for people to come into contact with the redeeming love of God because of their rigid postures of judgment toward those who didn’t follow the religious rules to a “T.”

      I posted a follow-up today about the importance of disagreeing well in the context of relationship. Thanks again for your comments, this conversation needs people who are committed both to Scripture and to healthy, open dialogue.