Unity of the Spirit

Most of us have probably had the experience of going through the security checks before boarding an aircraft. The routine goes something like, keys and coins out of pockets, belts off, laptop out of bag and all items placed in trays before they are x-rayed for any security risks.

I was recently at an airport going through this routine when out of the blue a security man looked at me and said, “What is the Uniting Church’s view on homosexuality and what is your personal view?”

He caught me completely off guard. Not wanting to hold up the queue or totally avoid the question, I said something like, “We are engaged in respectful conversations about this sensitive issue, and at this moment, I am not prepared to share with you my personal view.”

He was, after all, a complete stranger and I did not want to delay the flight.

This encounter unsettled me. Normally, I am very keen to talk to anyone about what Christians believe and why. I have had some great conversations about life and faith with hairdressers and taxi drivers. However, I felt like I blew it. Why didn’t I remind him of God’s love for all people? Why didn’t I say that homophobia is sinful and that the Uniting Church values people from all communities, including the LGBTIQ community. I was caught off guard.

Avoiding difficult conversations is not good for any of us, whether in the airport, home, workplace or church. Greater misunderstanding can begin to emerge when we shy away from the hot potato issues.

Our recent Assembly resolution on same gender marriage urges us to hold together two very different views of marriage. For some, the resolution is a cause for celebration and a good way forward. For others, the resolution is deeply troubling. It is good to remember that in the early church (see Acts 15) there was a red-hot debate over who was in and who was out of the church (circumcised or uncircumcised). It could have split the church down the middle.

Before Jerusalem Council even began, the discussion was so lively that it “brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate” (v2). Thankfully, through warm hospitality (v4), much discussion (v7), respectful listening (v12), and reflection on Scripture (v15), the Spirit (v28) led the fragile church forward into new and uncharted territory. This did not guarantee future unity.

Later, Paul and Barnabas “had a sharp disagreement” and “parted company” (v39). The Jerusalem Council did however show that even when there are strong differences of opinion, the church, at its best, can find its way and maintain the unity of the Spirit.

May I urge you and your congregation or faith community, wherever you stand on this controversial issue to, in the words of the Basis of Union “declare our readiness to go forward together in sole loyalty to Christ.. open to constant reform under his Word… to acknowledge one another in love and joy as believers in our Lord Jesus Christ… united by mutual submission in the service of the gospel.”

May God give us extra grace as we celebrate the gift of marriage and learn to live faithfully despite our differences.

Rev Steve Francis, Moderator of the Uniting Church WA


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