Historic New Monastic Community Embraces a Third Way for LGBT Christians
Reba Place Fellowship (RPF) has decided that both sides in the difficult debate over LGBT inclusion should “wash one other’s feet.”
After a “slow conversation” that took three years, the community embraced a position that allows gay people to marry the same-sex or serve in leadership positions, and supports gay members who live celibate lives out of principle as well as members who remain non-affirming out of conviction. While the community has many members on both sides of the issue, in the end, no one left as a result of the decision.*
The fellowship, which began in 1957, is a group of families and single people who live in intentional community. Currently it has 50 adult members and 16 children.
Pastor Sally Schreiner Youngquist reflected:
I have progressed from fear to greater faith. I emerge with more hope that God can and will keep us together, helping us come to a better place collectively than we could reach separately as we incorporate the diverse gifts and perspectives of the body.
Sally led the community in seeing the conversation as an opportunity to grow in their understanding of Scriptural authority, sexuality, and hospitality toward the marginalized. While the process was demanding in terms of emotional energy and time, the community decided that it was what God had given them to do. While questions about LGBT inclusion are tearing apart churches and denominations, Reba believed it could model a better way—a way which shows that Christians can remain in unity with each other even in the face of the most divisive issues.
RPF’s experience of a positive process around the LGBT conversation is somewhat rare. Some churches discover that when leaders begin considering the conversation, the proposed topic leaks to the congregation, and members respond out of fear and anxiety. Other churches report that when the topic is broached, members entrench themselves in their respective positions in order to “win” and a brutal argument ensues. When it is over, many members have left and the remaining members feel emotionally and spiritually exhausted.
RPF began the process with some advantages. It has already negotiated difficult topics such as women in leadership and marriage after divorce. Given that history, members weren’t overly intimidated by conflict, and understood it to be part of living with other passionate, committed Christians. Beyond that, the fellowship encourages deep commitment to one another, and years of relational history with each other allowed them to stay connected to each other in spite of disagreements over important matters. Finally, the church emphasizes a “radical discipleship” which means that each member engages in practices designed to teach patience, perseverance, enemy love, forgiveness, simplicity, and hospitality.
Members of RPF are concerned that others not just jump into the details of their agreement concerning how to live out a “Third Way.” Instead, they encourage churches to walk through a process together as a flock in order to learn how to shepherd one another through difficult terrain. In order to respect that wish, here is a summary of the process. At the end of the process summary is the agreement they eventually reached. Hopefully other fellowships will find that Reba has cleared a path that will benefit and bless them.
*Since publication of this article, one former member has said that he left in part due to his disagreement with the way RPF was headed. He did not stay until the end of the dialogue.