And so as we came to the end of the [Baptist] Conference on Sexuality and Covenant today, we get to the big question….well, one of the big questions. What is the church supposed to do with all this? Saturday morning’s plenary session was titled “From Fear to Hope: How Congregations Lead the Way.” Three presenters talked about the ways in which the church can address some of the conversations we’ve been having this weekend regarding sexuality and covenant. Lindsay Comstock spoke of how the church can be prophetic on the subject of human trafficking, and how that issue is related to our concerns about sexuality. We have the ability to do significant work in that area, but the fears surrounding all our conversations about sex and sexuality hinder our ability to truly take that step.

Wendell Griffin highlighted the way in which his own church has approached issues of sexuality and covenant head on, encouraging churches not to be “afraid to grow.”

And LeDayne Polaski came to the same issue from the perspective of conflict transformation, highlighting the ways in which conflicts such as these can be like the burning bush, immensely powerful but not consuming or destroying. The conversations these issues provoke have the potential to be highly divisive; but if approached in the right way, they have the potential to be highly transformative for a congregation, far beyond the specific issue of the conflict itself.

And then we had one more small group session, a worship service, and departed. But departed to what, is the question. The organizers of the conference were careful to highlight the way in which they hoped we would take this conference back to our congregations, encouraging us to place everything in its appropriate context. I was initially a bit bothered by the apparent need for a disclaimer attached to the conversation we have had, but in a way, I see his point. For those of us who have been involved in the three days of this conference, the conversation has been a slow, methodical, thought out progression through some very difficult topics. Taking what has been said out of that context could be problematic; but quite frankly, there is a high likelihood that this will happen over the coming days and weeks. So those of us who were here have the responsibility to fully and fairly represent everything we’ve seen and heard.

But more importantly, we have the responsibility to do something about it, and that’s what I think Saturday’s plenary was driving at. The conversation does not end here; in fact, it has barely started. How our churches lead the way, and how we as participants in this conference lead the way, is incredibly important. Because the conversation must not end here. We must build on what we have learned, and continue inviting more people into the conversation. We must not be “afraid to grow,” as Wendell Griffin said. We must embrace the burning bush that is this potential for a transformed conflict, as LeDayne Polaski encouraged us. And as Lindsay Comstock stated so well, “Hope and justice is hard work. So I say let’s get to work.”

We were sent off with this message in the benediction: “So do we go from this place to welcome all who cross our paths, all who join us, all who are already with us. For God has called us all to be one family in Christ.”

As a member of a welcoming and affirming congregation, over the past three days, I have been frustrated. I have been joyful. I have been everything in between. But as I leave this place, I am hopeful. I am hopeful that when we say we want to continue this conversation, we mean it. So my message to every single person who has been here, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship-affiliated or not, is this: please mean it. Be the voices that keep us moving forward towards a better understanding of what we mean when we talk about sexuality and covenant. Because this conversation absolutely, positively, must continue.

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Lauren McDuffie is a student in the Master of Divinity program at Vanderbilt Divinity School.

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