taking the words of Jesus seriously

In a day’s time, two men have been turned out of institutions they have long been a part of. The star of A&E’s Duck Dynasty was suspended indefinitely after making a few comments about his stance on LBGT issues, and the Reverend Frank Schaefer was defrocked by the United Methodist Church for officiating his son’s marriage to another man and refusing to recant after a thirty-day period to reconsider. Schaefer has stated that he will not voluntarily surrender his credentials as a reverend and will remain a prominent activist in the struggle for equal marriage rights in the UMC.

In my social media feeds, the Duck Dynasty fiasco has been getting a lot more play than Schaefer’s church trial. Maybe because it involves a wealthy television personality. Maybe because a funny show about endearingly crazy duck hunters somehow mutated into the Evangelicals’ trump card in the culture wars. Maybe because people just can’t get enough of that scraggly beard.

All of the vitriolic comments and memes about Duck Dynasty have somewhat overshadowed Schaefer’s defrocking. But both stories need to be brought to light and laid side-by-side. Together, they have something important to teach us.

Related: Duck Hunting, Defrocking a Minister, and Other Gay Tidings

Here we have two men, reading the same Bible, professing the same faith, claiming to follow the same Messiah,  that have come to completely different conclusions. And they have thrown themselves into a sea of controversy to defend their totally opposite views.

It’s time for Christians to wake up, look around at each other, and realize we are different people with different experiences, different ways of interpreting the Bible, different ways of understanding life and the world around us. We don’t all share a collective Christian conscience—Robertson’s suspension and Schaefer’s almost simultaneous defrocking make this plain. How does this happen? How can we all come to such different beliefs while practicing the same faith? How can we be unified as a Body if we believe such totally different things? Now isn’t the time for “share this if, ” “retweet if, ” “sign this petition if…” Now is the time for dialogue.

While many Christian denominations claim to be “accepting” of LGBT members, in my experience that generally means “we won’t chase you out if you want to come to our church.” A lot of (though not all) churches seem to have a hard time opening themselves up to a transparent, two-way dialogue about sexuality and faith. And that needs to change.

It’s time for all Christians to sit down at the open table and join a discussion that some of our number are already a part of. Gay Christians and straight ones, United Methodists and every other denomination, clergy members who are comfortable performing gay marriages and those who are not. We all need to be a part of the conversation about why we believe what we do and how we can still be a community, even if we interpret the Bible differently. We need to approach each other with humility—admitting that no one has all the answers and we all struggle interpreting the Bible—and with love—remembering the second greatest commandment and that we are all part of the human family.

Also by Neely: Why I Didn’t Leave the Church, Thoughts from a Real, Live Millennial

So put down the vicious words, lay down the self-righteous swords and the “buttheBiblesays..!” arguments. Listen to opinions you disagree with at first and ask yourself what you can learn. Befriend people who are different than you. Study Scriptures prayerfully for yourself and then read a variety of commentaries that interpret Scripture differently. Live with the tension—learn that sometimes there is not an immediate, clear answer to our questions. Remember that we are dealing with humans—real ones, with hopes and dreams and fears of their own—and that they deserve our respect, patience, and undivided attention as they tell their stories.

We are sitting at the open table. And we are driving out division and ignorance and fear by getting to know one another, listening, and forming a unified community out of different beliefs.

Will you join us?

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