Beginning a Church Wide Conversation – The Human Sexuality Task Force
Who talks about sex at church?! Well, we do. In the late spring of 2016, nine NPCC members plus our three pastors came together to design and facilitate a process for the congregation to talk together about issues of sexuality. The members of this Human Sexuality Task Force (HSTF) were chosen in part to bring a variety of views to our understanding and planning. Our goal was to help the congregation move toward a shared vision of “what vibrant, gospel welcome and relationship with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters can look like here at North Park Covenant” (as Co-pastors Libby and Jeff expressed it in the September 2016 Narthex newsletter). And we began with the awareness that we have LGBTQ people in our neighborhood and, most likely, within our congregation. The questions are not theoretical—they are real and current.
First, we needed to know what the congregation’s views are on these questions, so we started with an anonymous online survey. The response by our members and active friends was greater than we had even hoped for, and the high participation allowed us to trust the results. We compiled the results, made the report available to the whole church, and sponsored small-group meetings to discuss the characteristics of our church that emerged.
Two of the areas of question most often raised in the discussions and on the surveys were (1) What is the Evangelical Covenant Church’s position on issues of sexuality, and how is our relationship to the denomination affected if any of our church’s views are different? (2) What Bible passages are relevant to these issues, and how do we learn to interpret them faithfully?
In response to the questions regarding the ECC, we held a discussion with three members of NPCC who hold or have held leadership positions in the larger church. To explore the biblical issues, we held two programs, with a third yet to come. The first was a presentation and discussion of three perspectives (hermeneutics) through which pastors and other theologians can interpret scripture; the second was a video of a discussion on reading the Bible between a Covenant pastor from Minnesota and a Task Force member who teaches at North Park Theological Seminary. Our final program, to be held on October 1, will be a discussion of several Bible passages chosen to represent a relatively conservative perspective and a more open one.
On another level, in this whole process, we as a church—beginning in the Task Force—have been learning something about how to talk together about difficult subjects on which we hold different views. This was a second goal that we identified from the beginning; a hope for our church to grow in our respect for each other and in the bonds of trust that can enable us to become vulnerable even at some deep places.
To make space for that growth to take place, we adopted the church’s “Covenant for Our Life Together,” a product of a planning process in 2010. The Task Force took this covenant as our own guide from our very first meeting and began all of the congregational programs by reading or referring to it. Discussion events were held following Sunday worship, with lunch and child care provided, to enable the widest participation and set a context of fellowship. Questions or comments from the members during the events were submitted on paper to the pastors, who facilitated the discussions. Events opened and closed with prayer.
The Task Force was sponsored by the Executive Council. All of us involved felt this accountability was important in order for the Task Force to represent the whole church. Members of the Human Sexuality Task Force are Lisa Applequist, Karl Clifton-Soderstrom, Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom, Jeff Hunter (co-pastor), Sally Johnson (convenor), Jay Oleniczak, Lisa Peterson, Libby Piotrowski (co-pastor), Blake Thomas (youth pastor), Christine Thorpe, Peter Thorpe, and Chuck Wiberg.
A Different Track – The Petition
Not long after our process got underway, another development was presented to the council. Using a provision in the church bylaws, a group of 25-30 church members signed a petition asking for the Executive Council to convene an official business meeting at which the church would take action to adopt (or reject or amend) three statements regarding LGBTQ participation in the church:
- Everyone who otherwise qualifies to participate in the life of our church, as worshipers, members, leaders, or staff, are welcome into the life of this church regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, whether single or married;
- All who in faith seek baptism or dedication for themselves or their children are welcome to be baptized or dedicated in our church, and all who in faith seek to participate in the sacrament of communion are welcome to receive communion, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, whether single or married;
- Pastoral counsel and care shall be equally available in our church for all members and friends of the church, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, whether single or married.
While the leaders of the petition initiative felt an urgency about the church taking action, at the request of the Council, they agreed to defer that expectation for a time while the congregational process led by the Task Force continued. In fall of 2017 two congregational events took place: (1) a discussion about the petition, what it means, and what actions can be taken with it, and (2) a church business meeting to act on the petition.
The Resolution Rewrite Committee
On November 12, 2017, the congregation held that church business meeting to act on the petition that had been brought (The original resolution can be read here). The result of that meeting was a motion to refer the resolution to the Resolution Rewrite Committee who was charged with rewriting the petition and returning it for vote by June 30, 2018.
The Unanimously Approved Motion from November 12, 2017
“I, on behalf of several of those who signed the original petition in February 2016 that led to this meeting, move that the resolution proposed by that group be referred to a committee appointed by the church chairperson, Bill Werner, and comprised of seven church members who hold differing views on the original petition and represent varying demographics of the congregation. The committee will be charged with rewriting the resolution on matters of gender identity and sexual orientation as they relate to our church members, friends, and surrounding community. The committee will prepare a final recommendation for the congregation’s consideration by no later than June 30, 2018.
- The chairperson will advise the new committee to follow the guidelines below:
- The new committee will work in a manner that is inclusive of the members and viewpoints of the congregation.
- The new committee will make all reasonable efforts to develop a resolution that is easy to understand in agreement with the North Park Covenant Church Constitution, Bylaws, and NPCC procedures in effect as of January 1, 2017.
- Resolution proposed to the congregation shall contain the following elements:
- A stated purpose and reasons for resolution.
- Statement of scriptural support.
- Proposed procedures, guidelines, and effective dates.
- FAQs, references, and resources.”