As our local and global dialog has engaged more directly with queer culture and expansive and non-traditional sexual communities, the above question often comes up surrounding the vision and mission of the church. The question behind the question is of a binary nature—is The River affirming of the queer community and expansive sexual communities in general, or non-affirming? Here’s how we think about this important, but complex question …
Firstly, we acknowledge that the Church has largely failed those who exist in the non-traditional, non-binary places of sexual expression. Discrimination, disgust, and blatant condemnation and exile have been served on behalf of the Church, where Christ's love, mercy, and charity ought to have been delivered in great love.
We have years and miles of road to repair.
Secondly, we resist an either / or, binary approach to spirituality and Christian community in general, which is an oversimplification of the life of faith, wherein many lifestyles, beliefs, cultures, and ways of being and behaving exist in an often beautifully complex tension.
Thirdly, The River embraces what we call a Third Way philosophy.
The question of sexual / lifestyle affirmation often boils down to two choices; Hospitality—will all people of all walks of life be welcomed at all times?—or Holiness—should we establish a certain space for a certain brand of personal / sexual practice that some people may find themselves on the outside of?
Our Third Way philosophy again resists an either / or approach and suggests a third path through a binary choice—that we embrace BOTH radical hospitality and a serious (if imperfect) dedication to a lifelong pursuit of personal holiness.
The Gospels are clear in their teaching of the 'radical welcoming' of Christ,—we are to open our lives, wallets, and even our very life and limb to every soul we travel the world with, particularly those who are unlike us. Also, the call to entrust every aspect of our lives to Christ is an equally present directive. As we pursue wholehearted devotion to Christ on our spiritual journey, our personal character and holiness is a central focus, even as we stumble, learn, and fail. Furthermore, the specifics of what is right and true for humankind are set and defined by God, not churches, governments, people groups, legislation, or Earthly powers.
When we take communion together each week on Sundays, we often say something like "we practice an open table at The River, all who desire more of Christ are welcome to approach the table and celebrate communion." That's probably a good way to articulate something like an answer in light of our Third Way stance. If you are a pilgrim traveler trudging in earnest toward the mysterious teaching of Christ and a loving Creator-God, you are one of us, and you are welcome. Our denominational affiliation prevents us from performing same-sex unions. Nevertheless, our community is diverse in terms of sexual orientation, gender identity, and theological perspective. Our great hope is that the presence and amazing grace of Christ is powerful enough to hold us together. Each of us are seekers, or were seekers at one time, and The River was founded as a welcoming place for all seekers, and we remain committed to that founding principle.
We are always learning, exploring, and refining our Third Way philosophy, and we invite our community into that dialogue and exploration. We regularly engage the topic with guest speakers, roundtables, fishbowl discussions, book studies, film nights, and other events throughout the year. We have an open, learning posture and we invite you into that practice with us.
Click the player below to listen to Pastor Brad outline a vision for Third Way thinking.