What does that mean? In gambling, it means, “I’m out of this hand or the game.” In family life, it could mean, “I’m out of the house running errands.” In the LGBT community, it refers to being “out of the closet,” being open about one’s sexuality and lifestyle. I’m not saying any of those things. I’m saying, I’m out of the box. I’m outside the box. I’ve known this for a while; it certainly wasn’t a secret to Dean Cogdill, my Divinity School dean. To this day, I’m still not sure what he saw in me that had him labeling me his “outside the box thinker.” I really had never thought my cognitive processes were all that different from other people’s.
It was fall semester, 2004, and I was in my last semester of Divinity school. The last semester is rather anxiety-provoking, because every student in their last semester has to complete a Senior Synthesis paper, a lengthy (save often!) discourse on his or her entire Divinity school experience – every discovery, every growing edge, every field experience, every mission trip… Everything! To accompany this epic tome comes the Senior Panel. This is a closed-door meeting with two professors and that semester’s Senior Synthesis professor, and each student gets to have a say in his or her choice of professors. I put my choices in – Drs. Jones and Harmon, my professors of Hebrew and Old Testament, and Theology and Ethics, respectfully. Soon before the panels were scheduled to begin, the list of panels came out and was passed around the room.
It didn’t take long for the mutterings to start. “Whoa, Sara! What did you do?” “Oh, Sara, you’re gonna get it!” Oh lordy, I thought, waiting for the list to get around to me, how bad is it? Finally, the list came to me, and scanning down to my name I discovered that I didn’t get either of my choices on my panel. Instead, I got both deans. BOTH. DEANS! My professor said, “No one else got both Dr. Cogdill and Dr. Powers.” “Yea. Lucky me,” I replied. Truthfully, I was terrified and humbled and honored, all at the same time.
There was history there. As a Religion minor in the days before the Div school was chartered, Dr. Cogdill was chairman of that department, and, of course, I’d had some classes with him. I’d had Dr. Powers for one undergraduate class. In a lively discussion on the role of women in the home one day in Church and Family, Dr. Cogdill had had to get on me about my comportment during class discussions (I guess heavily insinuating that the guy I was addressing was misogynistic wasn’t very mature of me), an incident that, thankfully, he’d forgotten by the time I had applied for Divinity school.
As I sat in the conference room on the day of my panel, I remember the warmth and encouragement flowing from Dr. Hoyle, Dr. Powers, and Dr. Cogdill. The last question Dr. Cogdill asked me was, “Sara, how will you stay outside the box?” Um… Uh… Duh… Crickets. I was outside the box? Really? OK, that’s pretty cool, but it’s not something I’d ever done intentionally. I was still young enough that some parental/family/social approval was a big deal to me.
That was ten-and-a-half years ago, and I am so completely out of the box now with age and maturity that I often forget there is a box filled with so many people. See, here on the outside, it’s really spacious – not very crowded at all. It’s great, but getting here can be quite scary. Sometimes staying here is quite scary. So how am I staying outside the box?
My heart still yearns to fulfill my ministry calling from so long ago. As I have encountered more and more people, it has become glaringly apparent to me that we need more love and less judgment in this world. People don’t need to hear a laundry list of their wrongdoings while we’re thumping our Bibles at them. They need to hear just a few simple truths: God loves you. Jesus has something amazing in store for your life. I love you. Focus on that, so sweet, so simple, and the rest will fall into place perfectly.
Long before the Supreme Court determined that equality for gays and lesbians who wish to marry would be protected under the 14th Amendment, I began to think, Why shouldn’t they marry if they wish? I mean, so many of them, without marriage, are living together in long-term, committed, monogamous relationships, and isn’t that pretty much what marriage is? I lose nothing by them having the same civil rights that I do. It’s not going to negatively impact my faith, my marriage, or my family life. It simply means that gay and lesbian couples can now be legally happy together instead of illegally (for lack of a better word) happy together. So… Since they also have been created in the image of God, just as I have, and since God loves them, just as He does me, shouldn’t they also be welcomed into worship with us and welcomed to join us at the communion table?
Then my thoughts spread to another group, one that a friend of mine is in: The BDSM group. In speaking to my friend, he conveyed that “people like [them]” aren’t welcomed into churches, that churches tend to take a hard stand against them coming in. Yet, this guy misses communal worship. Years of being married to a Presbyterian minister accustomed him to the liturgy of worship and the inclusion into the family of faith. If he misses church, would not others in the BDSM community miss it, too? So why not establish a church where those other churches shun are welcomed? Maybe being gay or enjoying some consensual kink is a sin; I don’t think so, but then again, I’m not God, and I’m not ever going to presume to put words in the mouth of the Almighty. What I do know is, the Kingdom of God is for all of these people, just as much as it’s for the straight-laced, buttoned-down, very conservative people who sat on the pews this morning for worship. I know that God loves them, and I am also called to love them. And if the people following these lifestyles are sinning, it is not my job to judge them; the Holy Spirit can condemn them and lead them to repentance if that’s the case. See, at the very least, these folks would hear the gospel message of sacrificial love and sacrificial living; and at the most, they would be convicted of their sins and make a lifestyle change (whatever the sin might be). That looks like a win-win, whether you’re in the far-right evangelical camp, the left-leaning evangelical camp, or somewhere in the middle. Who loses out here? Nobody, by my reckoning.
Staying outside the box means raising children who also think outside the box, but that’s a post for another day. Stay tuned.