I’ve written about Diana Butler-Bass on this blog a lot. So let me use this space to tell you about the time she was speaking at an event I helped organize and someone in the audience stood and shouted out in the middle of her presentation. Yeah, that happened.
“I’m sorry Diana!” she abruptly shouted from the balcony, and every muscle in my body tensed up. I knew something like this might happen here, on this second evening of our national conference, when, concurrently, Butler-Bass would be addressing a sanctuary of over 700 people and two presbyteries on the east coast would be casting potentially decisive votes to ratify 14-f, the amendment that will give PC(USA) clergy permission to perform same-gender marriages. We warned her beforehand that, should news of a decisive vote hit Twitter during her talk, there could be some disruption.
I knew it could happen, and still everything in me froze. It felt wrong and rude and like a derailing of something I’d worked on. I sighed a deep sigh as the interruption continued. “Amendment 14-F just passed. Everyone can marry!” Immediate applause. Almost as immediate standing ovation, an ovation that lasted well over a minute.
With each passing second of that ovation the tension I felt between decorum and consideration on the one hand and righteous celebration on the on the other hand relaxed and reclined into celebration. We firmly believe in creating space in the middle for people who don’t agree to feel heard and respected, and some feared that this celebration compromised that middle space. But I think the middle has moved on us, and trying to hold this space is like holding a hotel reservation long after the band has left town.
Diana was gracious. She welcomed the Presbyterians on behalf of the Episcopalian Church, which is years ahead of us in recognizing same-gender marriages. Then she incorporated the event into her presentation like it was planned all along.
I heard someone denounce the celebration as evidence that NEXT has made up its mind on this issue and is not truly neutral. But the NEXT church was always going to be about inclusion, inclusion as a practice and an ethos, though, and not simply an Issue. This gathering normalized inclusion in concrete ways; preachers told stories about transgender members and about their same-gender partners. And, of course, the entire assembly stood and cheered the achievement of marriage equality.
I don’t think that celebration compromises NEXT’s ability to be a space for people who disagree or who aren’t lauding 14-f’s passage. It seemed to me an authentic response that demonstrated the heart of the Church that will be NEXT.