Thanksgiving Dinner and Overcoming the Scourge of Religious Intolerance

In a few days, many of us will gather for Thanksgiving dinner with extended family and remember what an odd and glorious thing a family is. Family! Nobody is born or adopted into a family they have chosen. We get assigned, like roommates in a freshmen dormitory. And often we find ourselves thrown into close proximity with people we seriously wonder about.

Uncle Harry has religious and political views that we deem crazy, even dangerous. Cousin Mildred has made some life choices that make us cringe. And yet, at least once a year, we share a large meal with these people and mostly survive to eat another year.

To stay together, communities of faith must learn to do the same. And there is wisdom to do so in a much-neglected portion of Scripture, chapters 14-15 of Paul's Letter to the Romans. Paul introduces a category he calls "disputable matters," which in their time, were toe-curling controversies over big-ticket moral issues. He says that the good news of Jesus lays some demands on us when we're dealing with Uncle Harry and Cousin Mildred.

First, we've got to stop judging them because, well, that job has been taken and the Judge has no plans to retire. Plus we've got to drop the curled lip of contempt when we think of these misguided family members. There's no accounting for taste or conscience convictions sometimes, and it's our duty to regard the conscience of another as sacred property -- their property, not ours. And then, here's the hard part. We have to accept them as they are. Just as we have been accepted by a God who puts up with a whole bunch of our boo-honkey.

That means we can't say to our sister, Janice, who invited us, "I'll come just as long as Uncle Harry isn't allowed to say the grace, and Aunt Mildred doesn't carve the turkey." No. No. No. This is a family. If you're part of it, you've got all the rights, privileges and responsibilities that go along with it, for better or worse.

I made a modest proposal last year that the church could end all harmful exclusionary, stigmatizing and discriminatory practices aimed at LGBTQ people, by simply doing what old St. Paul advised the Roman house churches to do. This is part of a much bigger project: making religion good news when so many devout people are producing much more than indigestion with their inability to exercise a little loving tolerance. It got, as you can imagine, mixed reviews, this simple idea.

But it's nothing more and nothing less than what most of us do all the time to make Thanksgiving dinner possible.

Ken Wilson is co-pastor of Blue Ocean Faith, Ann Arbor and author of A Letter to My Congregation: An Evangelical Pastor's Path to Embracing Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender People into the Company of Jesus (ReadTheSpirit 2014).