Back in the day, we baby-boomer Jesus freaks with questionable personal hygiene crashed the party of a Lutheran Church in a declining neighborhood of Detroit. A lame party until we arrived, we thought. Dick Bieber, the quietly neo-pentecostal pastor there, had eyes to see us for what we were: other sheep being sent into his fold. And he rolled with it.
"And there are other sheep I have that are not of this fold and I must lead them too." (John 10:15)
Over three decades later, we're the insider sheep. Perhaps we need to be reminded that one group of "other" sheep after another will bust their way into our fold. And that as they arrive the shepherd will spring into action and lead them, believing he must.
This might allow us to relax a little when we are in the middle of whatever social-political-cultural-moral-theological controversy has us by the collective scruff of the neck. Must slaves be freed? Can women teach? Should the remarried be ordained? May the professor of evolutionary biology be trusted with our kids?
Add our controversy de jour to this long list, "Should the covenanted gay couple cease from sex?"
People who are gay, lesbian, and transgender have been in our fold all along, of course, but in hiding, for fear of expulsion, stigmatizing, shaming. Some, a few, are now emboldened to be among us as themselves. Saying the shepherd who gathered them will lead them, believing he must.
It's tricky because some say the shepherd is leading them to celibacy, the option we have preferred (for them, not us) for a very long time. Others say they are being led to accept themselves as is, to find and stay with a partner of the same gender. We "non-other" sheep are confused. Which among these other sheep is being led by the shepherd?
It's not as though we don't live with this tension all the time on many other questions. Consider that friend who went through a messy divorce--not abandoned by his former spouse or cheated on, but treated badly in other ways--and is now remarried. Did the shepherd lead him to remarry, and if so, what about the texts, until recently upheld by universal consensus as binding, that indicate he is now in a state of ongoing adultery? Should the pastor have been part of the wedding ceremony? Should your friend remain at his post on the church board?
Or consider that other friend who owns two gas guzzling SUV's, rattles around with her two kids, husband, and low-allergen dog in an oversized McMansion, consuming more than her fair share of available resources by a factor of seven (whereas you and I over-consume, by a mere factor of four.) Is she greedy, and thus sure to be excluded from the kingdom of heaven unless she repents? Should you say something to her? Should you sell your second car first? If using way more than one's fair share of limited natural resources isn't greedy, what is? Who decides? The pastor in the same possible greed-boat as the rest of us? The bishops being urged by their pope to cool it on the material excess? Or the poorest members of the global body of Christ?
We are not, of course, consumed with anxiety about these questions, because ... well, because, our collective conscience is unbothered.
Again, we can step away from the blinding light of controversy long enough to say, "The shepherd can sort this out, so determined is he to lead them." And this can help us do what controversy insists we may not do: be less anxious.
During the controversy, partisans on opposing sides insist that there can be no fold in which the two camps can peacefully co-exist. Insulting, I would suggest, the shepherd whose fold it is. This shepherd who seems to take great delight in gathering very different sheep together into one fold.
Perhaps it is our job, we insider sheep, to take our eyes off the controversy and place them on the shepherd, who may be not so much seeking our opinion on the matter as executing his own.
Ken Wilson is the founding pastor of Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor and author, most recently, of A Letter to My Congregation: an evangelical pastor's path to embracing people who are gay, lesbian, and transgender into the company of Jesus (ReadTheSpirit 2014).