So if Thursday was about laying the groundwork for the conversation, Friday was about getting into the actual conversation. And let me tell you, that has been long, hard work. It was a full day, and a long day.
Friday continued Thursday’s model of plenary sessions followed by brief breaks and meetings with the Covenant Communities, the small groups in which we are debriefing this experience. If I have a critique of the organizational aspect, it is that we’re cramming an awful lot of deep spiritual and theological work into a relatively brief amount of time. We heard 8 presenters today, which is a lot to take in and process. But, by the same token, the presentations all fit very well into the continuum of the day. Today’s plenary sessions were:
Ancient & Contemporary Voices: What Do Christians Think God Thinks About Sex?
In a lot of ways, this felt to me like a review session for my Formation of Christian Traditions class last semester, and I mean that to be a good thing. For us to figure out where we’re going, we have got to remember where we’ve been. And that includes ancient history of what embodiment meant to Augustine, Tertullian, Paul, and Jesus, brilliantly discussed by Melissa Browning, as well as what is generally defined in the church today as the “traditional” perspective on marriage, presented by Coleman Fannin. All of the history, as well as recognition of where many of the people in the room are coming from, plays into a better understanding on our part of what we’re addressing and where we’re going with it.
Covenant 101: What Are the Ties that Bind?
Covenant 201: What Are the Boundaries of Covenant?
Our conversations about covenant have been fascinating to me, because it seems like we’re not even that sure what we mean by covenant. Coming into the conference I wasn’t entirely sure what I thought the organizers of this meeting meant by the word “covenant” either. At the end of the second day, I think we’re going to come out of this conference with more questions than answers. And I think that’s okay, because at least now we’re asking the right questions, and one of those questions is, “What do we mean when we talk about a covenant relationship?” In order to have the more specific discussions about the contexts and boundaries of covenant, about if boundaries can even exist in covenant, we first need to have figured out what those “ties that bind” are that make up the covenant itself. It’s not necessarily an answer that can be found at an institutional level either. Hopefully this conference is helping ministers and lay people develop tools for addressing these questions in their own congregations.
There’s definitely not enough time or room to talk about every single speaker we heard today, but I need to give a shout out to Cody Sanders, who I’ve never actually met in person, but was profoundly impressed by. He presented during the evening plenary about the boundaries of covenant. The presenters on this topic discussed a few groups of people for whom, for a variety of reasons, a legal or full covenantal relationship is not available, possible, or preferable. Cody was quite open in telling his story of coming out and working in the church. What I truly appreciated was the way in which Cody addressed the involvement of LGBT individuals in local congregations. There are certainly those who find themselves needing to take some time away from church, but many, many people within this population are in the pew every Sunday. Cody made it clear that these are not a people out there, they are among the people in here. I think it’s something that everyone who is engaging in this conversation, at the conference or in general, needs to acknowledge. When we have these conversations, we’re not talking about abstract ideas, but the real life of a significant number of people in the pews every Sunday. For the conversations we’re starting this weekend to continue effectively, we simply must understand that we are talking not about people, but with people.