Granted, RfA’s decision to launch a roster of welcoming and affirming RCA ministers might seem risky. We knew some might say the list only adds to the polarization that already exists in the RCA. So why did we do it?
We offer three ways to answer that question, the most direct of which is, “Because we were asked.” And we were, a few days after General Synod 2016.
The second reason being, the roster is consistent with our mission to support, educate and advocate. Of those objectives, advocacy can take the form of public action, or as one of our supporters puts it, “protests of joy.” What are we protesting, and where’s the joy?
This past Synod meeting felt like a game-changer, both in terms of rancor and implications. For the past three years, Synod delegates have heard reports from various working groups on homosexuality that lifted up the value of listening across lines of difference, of seeing Christ in the other, and affirming our shared identity as children of God. Most recently, the experience of the Special Council confirmed the transformational power of listening. Regrettably, such encouragement seemed to fall on deaf ears this year; in fact, it was rejected. Impatience on the part of some to be “done with this for once and for all” was palpable. The LGBTQ and ally communities were given notice, in so many words, that proposed changes to the BCO around same-gender marriage would either force them out of the RCA or back in the shadows.
RfA and our supporters are not willing to be pushed into the shadows. We are unashamed of our participation in the inclusive work that the promised Advocate, the Holy Spirit, continues to do in the RCA; in fact, we’re compelled by it. In the aftermath of Synod, the Board discussed ways to demonstrate encouragement and signal to the LGBTQ community and affirming ministers that they are not alone. RfA protests the assumption that our advocacy will be silenced, and we reject the shadows by living joyfully. Joy is our protest against authorities and powers that seek to fence the inclusive love of God made known to us in Jesus Christ.
In that light, the events of General Synod have proven, once again, to be a “loss forward” for Room for All. A few days later, we received this message from an RCA-ordained minister: “Has RfA considered a roster of open and affirming ministers, elders, deacons? In addition to churches? I’m curious because, for example, we in [name of congregation] are not all together, but we’re finding a way to be together, moving forward through conflict and love; they know where I am, etc. So my church and consistory isn’t together, but their minister is there and they know it and we’re doing it.”
Coming on the heels of Synod, this pastor’s idea was a much-needed dose of hope; here was a congregation whose members aren’t in agreement, but whose minister feels the freedom to publicly state his personal affirmation of LGBTQ inclusiveness, strengthened by the love of his congregation and the example and support of others for the road ahead.
That gets to the third reason for the list: it’s biblical. Throughout Scripture, name lists are employed to encourage the faithful in times of challenge, to remind them to persevere, to assure them that God is at work through the prophetic witness of others. Perhaps the most stirring litany of names is found in Hebrews 10-12, invoking a “great cloud of witnesses” in whose company we are inspired not to abandon hope. As of this writing, 189 “witnesses” have signed this roster of encouragement and hope. Therefore, we embrace this protest of joy, knowing that joy is contagious, and hope does not disappoint.
“I really appreciate that you all are putting this list together. I think it will speak volumes, and hopefully help those of us who are open and affirming to be encouraged knowing we’re not alone here in the RCA!”