Thursday, May 25, 2017

An Open Letter to Fellowship NWA Leadership

When I first moved to NWA, the church I SAW first was Cross Church in Rogers, because it has the giant crosses, and you drive past them between the airport and Fayetteville. They're pretty striking.

But the church I HEARD about first was Fellowship NWA, because when I stopped at the mall to grab some pants at Eddie Bauer, the clerk there was a Fellowship member and VERY happy to talk about it's church and its ministry. Since then, I've repeatedly heard about the widespread impact of this congregation on our community, and its reach around the world.

I've often been impressed with many things about Fellowship, including their distributed form of leadership, their commitment to global mission, and their community groups.

Which is what makes their recent move against the transgender community so unfortunate and worrisome.

Christians, including members of Fellowship themselves, need to have the courage to call out what can be viewed as a politically expeditious message that serves to consolidate a base by denigrating a small and vulnerable population.

Why this population and why now? Feels like an easy (and therefore unfortunate) target.

A public message from such a prominent church in our community (and world) only serves to influence the public mentality of further prejudice against an already vulnerable population.

Here's my letter to the pastors and elders of Fellowship, to which I have not yet had a reply other than acknowledged receipt from one elder:

Dear Pastors and Elders,

I recently had the chance to read your doctrinal statement. To see what I'm discussing here in this letter, I recommend you read the whole statement again briefly:

I’m reminded of the song I learned growing up from Sesame Street: One of These Things (Is Not Like the Others). I’m sure you know it also. It’s a game where you compare objects, realizing one of them just isn’t like the others.

In your doctrinal statement, I believe you have an outlier that, by expressing it in the place and way you have, harms an already hurting and marginalized community.

Your list of doctrinal statements covers the classical loci of Christian theology: Scripture, God (as Trinity), Humanity (which you call “man”, but that’s another discussion); Salvation; the Church; Eschatology, and then the outlier: Marriage.

Now, all those primary loci are shared priorities of the Christian community. They’re historically covered in most church constitutions, and in documents like my own Augsburg Confession (the Lutheran confessional text). We may differ theologically even in these areas, but we all agree they are part of the core doctrinal statement.

However, you include marriage in your list, and focus on same-gender marriage, while intriguingly saying nothing about divorce and remarriage.

Even that falls somewhat within the realm of our shared exegetical and doctrinal heritage. But then you add one more: you call out the transgender community, calling transitioning immoral and sinful. You reference that peculiar text in Deuteronomy about women not wearing men’s clothes and vice versa, which I think if you ACTUALLY applied in your church would be pretty controversial—no women wearing pants, no men with long hair.

But the more significant implication is this: you are singling out a minority community, a tiny community of people, and naming their social issue, while disregarding, at least in your doctrinal statement, the vast array of other social issues one might name in such a document. You do not call out the sin of avarice or gluttony. Nor do you acknowledge that Scripture itself has a much more fluid sense concerning gender (see Galatians 3, Christ’s teachings on eunuchs in Matthew 19, and the dialogue with the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts).

The hyper-focus on transgender does two things: it elevates gender binary to a heretical position in your core doctrines, and it ostracizes, alienates, and harms actual transgender people.

I call on you to revisit your choice of this doctrinal statement. Please do a better job of supporting and loving a community of people who already struggle with so much judgment from neighbors and family. If you’d like to engage in further dialogue, I am open to it, as are many of my transgender Christian friends.

Your neighbor, in Christ,

Pastor Clint Schnekloth

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