A ‘Larbert Statement’ (memoirs of a gift of grace)

Yesterday morning I left home early, apologising to a neighbour for the state of one of the children I was leaving with her, and drove to a nondescript dormitory community in central Scotland called Larbert. I had agreed to spend a couple of days there in a confidential meeting with a group of church leaders helping them to talk about sexuality.

I traveled with a heavy heart. My ears and mind were full of deadening words and shrill responses that had echoed across the Atlantic the day before. I knew just one of the people I was going to meet—liked and respected him, to be sure—but wondered if I was going into another blue-on-blue battle that would leave us all exhausted, wounded, and discouraged.

I prayed as I drove, parked, pushed open a dark wooden door, and walked in. It was an impressive group of people—more than half, I think, were national leaders in one network or another—and an impressive group of contributors—At least four have a significantly higher profile in this space than me.

But impressive people can still, perhaps can especially, wound and kill.

We disagreed amongst ourselves. Over biblical interpretation, and patterns of leadership, and mission strategy. We told honest stories, questioned each other sharply, defended our convictions stoutly, worshipped, prayed, openly acknowledged how we each had been challenged by what we had shared, and then broke bread.

We failed to agree.

We succeeded in rekindling each other’s hope. We succeeded in helping each other to increased commitment to Jesus even when we understood his call in different ways. We succeeded in making mission more possible, more imaginable, even when we found the goal of mission less clear. We succeeded in respecting each other’s commitment to Scripture, even when we disagreed about how to read or apply it.

I drove home this evening with a lightened heart. I wondered if I could capture what we had shared in some poor pastiche or parody of a position statement; this is my best attempt (it is entirely inadequate):

1. Orientation
Jesus.

The first word we need to say.

Jesus.

The only word we want to say.

Jesus.

You are the centre. The centre of everything.

Of our lives. Of our ministries. Of our mission. Of our communities. Jesus. You are the centre.

The centre around which everything else must orbit, endlessly pulled by the gravity of your love.

Lord Jesus, we who know your love cannot but love every person we meet with love that flows from yours.

We do not say you ‘call’ us to do this; it is as inevitable as a stone falling. Gravity does not ‘call’ the stone.

But falling is easy. Loving is hard.

In this broken world, Lord Jesus, falling is very easy, and loving well is very hard.

2. Context
Lord Jesus, we few leaders have gathered to talk with and about our LGBT+ sisters, brothers, friends, neighbours, strangers.

People you have died for. People you now live for. People you have always loved. People you now love.

We assert (we confess, we believe) that the gravity of your love holds them at least as strongly as it hold us.

(And we pray: increase the gravity, Lord—pull them (and us) out of orbit to spiral into you.)

We confess (we admit, we bewail) that we have failed and struggled to love adequately, to love as you love.

(And we pray: enlarge our imaginations, Lord—expand us until our hearts can embrace them (and the rest of us).)

We bewail (we contemn, we abjure) any and every suggestion that they are less worthy of your love or our love than we are.

(And we pray: increase our contempt—let those who despise or denigrate the least of these always be hateful to us (every one of us).)

3. Scripture
Lord Jesus, we are wrestling with your law revealed in Scripture, and with each other. We love you so much that we cannot, we dare not, step away from your Word. We love you so much that we cannot, we dare not, pretend that we have mastered Your Word.

Wrestle with us until the Day breaks, Lord, we pray. Let us never be satisfied with partial or provisional truths. Wound us as we read so that every step we take is shaped by our wrestling with you.

Never let us agree, Lord Jesus, because then we might feel safe substituting our agreement for your Scriptures. Keep us wrestling, keep us fighting, keep us focused on your Word (and on you, the Word).

But forgive us, Lord Jesus, when we love Scripture so much that we wound each other, or any other, in our wrestlings.

And keep us, we desperately plead, Lord Jesus, from ever again wounding even one of our LGBT+ sisters, brothers, neighbours, friends, strangers, as we wrestle with your Word.

4. Ministry
Lord Jesus, you have called each one of us here to lead a congregation of your people.

You, Lamb of God, are the True Shepherd. We are under-shepherds, called and sent by you, responsible and accountable to you.

We delight in the variety of people you have given into our care.

From Scotland and Iran and America and Nigeria and Canada and Korea and Australia and Brazil and New Zealand and Malawi and Chile and China—some even from England.

Babes in arms and toddlers and school kids and teenagers and young adults and parents and mature adults and grandparents and elderly singles.

Scientists and street-cleaners; checkout operators and accountants; landowners and tenants; migrants and homemakers and nobility; members of so many other careers.

Transgender, bisexual, queer, straight, lesbian, gay, questioning, confused.

People who fit no box we have yet imagined.

You love each one, and you have sent us to love each one.

You died for each one, and you have sent us to proclaim the gospel to each one.

You call each one to holiness, and you have sent us to help each one to holiness.

We confess that too often we have sought to pastor categories, not people, because it has seemed easier. We see that this has been a betrayal of your call, and we repent and humbly seek forgiveness.

As we walk forward, we plead, keep on teaching us to see every person as they are and to love every person as they are.

Where there are planks in our eyes still, help us to see around them to at least glimpse the person we would find it easier to ignore, to imagine what a step towards holiness might mean for them, and to help them take that step.

5. Mission
Lord Jesus, you have sent us into all the world to make disciples. You go before us, and you empower us by your Spirit.

In the world we see before us there are LGBT+ people, as there are many other people, and there are LGBT+ communities, as there are many other communities.

We confess that ‘all the world’ must include these people, and these communities.

We confess that, too often, these are people that are strangers to us, communities that are strange to us. We admit that this is our failure.

We acknowledge that many of these people, and all of these communities, have been denounced and damaged in the past by our Christian brothers and sisters.

We confess any and every complicity we have in that. We ask you for your forgiveness, and we ask you to graciously lead us to a place where we might be able to ask these people and communities for their forgiveness.

We pray for the power of your Spirit to empower our missionary work as we seek to be present with LGBT+ people, to love them, and to model you to them.

We pray especially for the grace to find the right words when asked the hard questions, so that we might not add bricks to the walls between the LGBT+ community and your church, but rather add sticks to the dynamite piles under those walls.

We pray—we long; we beg—that, despite our so may failures, our LGBT+ friends and neighbours might be open and willing to hear your truth.

6. Envoi
Lord Jesus, send us out in the power of your Spirit to live and work for your praise and glory.

Lord Jesus, keep us close and help us.

Lord Jesus, hold us when our grip is failing.

Because ‘Jesus’ is the last word for all our lives.

Jesus—the last word we want to say

The last word we need to say.

Jesus.

 

 

[minor edit 3/9/17 to add clarity on a point several folk asked me about. SRH]

10 Comments

  1. Ruth G
    Sep 1, 2017

    Thank you

  2. david
    Sep 1, 2017

    I wish I had been there. Such discussion would benefit us all.

  3. Chris
    Sep 2, 2017

    Thank you for this piece of writing. Our identity is firstly in Christ. That is the label that really counts.

  4. Rev'd Alasdair Kay MA TSSF
    Sep 2, 2017

    Thank you, thank you, thank you …. If I could sign this statement I would. My prayer is that other Evangelicals take this as their mantra.

    Pax et Bonum

    Alasdair TSSF

  5. Tim
    Sep 2, 2017

    Thanks Steve that’s great.

  6. Martin
    Sep 2, 2017

    Thanks for this

  7. John oliver
    Sep 2, 2017

    Much appreciated Steve, so grateful for sharing this – so reflective of where I find myself (and others I think.) Shalom salaam.

  8. Dave
    Sep 3, 2017

    Steve, this is a great statement.

    If possible, without breaking confidence, could you say if any of the people at the meeting were (a) LGBT and/or (b) supportive of LGBT relationships and SSM ?

    The reason for asking is that the church is often happy to make statements about LGBT people without actually involving them in the discussions, which to my mind is a very bad approach.

    • steve
      Sep 3, 2017

      Hi Dave, thanks for acknowledging the need for confidence, and recognising that it does constrain what I can say. If I say in very general terms that the organisers were clearly very aware of the ‘don’t talk about us without us’ principle, would that be enough?

  9. Mary
    Sep 4, 2017

    This was a gift. In Australia I find sadly parts of the Christian community not doing well in how we speak of people, to people, and with people.

    And likewise with dear friends in the USA where I lived 18 years.

    Your writings are a precious gift to the church at this time if we are to be who we need to be in Christ for the sake of the world.

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