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Living with Disagreement | An Open Invitation to Discuss a Difficult Topic

On May 13, 2014 the church in which I serve as the associate pastor decided to perform same-sex marriages. That was the day my wife walked out of the church and hasn’t come back.

This has been an awkward, confusing, and painful year, and I’m ready to openly reflect and write about it. I haven’t spoken or written publicly about the decision much in the past year. I did post a statement immediately following the decision, and it received a whirlwind of responses. Many people from my past publicly announced their disbelief and disappointment that I would be a part of something like this. I lost my financial support for school because of it. I nearly lost my wife over it. Public controversy and condemnation is never fun for me, so I’ve kept quiet.

While I have not spoken much about the decision, I have definitely not said anything publicly about my wife—Lona—and her decision to leave the church or how it has affected me. I love Lona and I never want to paint her in a negative light or put a public target on her back. However, not speaking or writing about it openly has been part of the awkwardness of my past year.

Lona and I both decided that it would be a good thing for me to start blogging about this difficult situation. It might prove helpful to other people who are struggling through disagreement in their families and/or churches.

I intend to start a new category on the blog titled “Living with Disagreement.” My hope is that this will be an open conversation with you, the reader, in which we can create a productive dialogue regarding the difficulty of maintaining the bond of covenant relationship (marriage, family, church) while sharply disagreeing about important topics. It doesn’t have to be the LGBT topic. It can be any heated, polarizing topic that riddles our culture today. The purpose of the dialogue is not to debate the topics and decide who is right and who is wrong. The purpose is to discuss the difficulty of loving each other while disagreeing and seeking to find that “third way” of God’s love and peace in the midst of it.

So, I invite you to reply in the comments section, enter the conversation, and invite others who you think might benefit from it.

Let me begin the discussion with a brief reflection:

The past year has been extremely painful for me as a husband, father, son, brother, friend, pastor, and teacher. My family system has been thrown into disarray. There was a three-hour window of time last summer in which I thought Lona was going to leave me. She didn’t. We worked through that rough patch and came to a mutual understanding of disagreement. Yet, we no longer worship together and there is that nasty elephant in the room that often tends to stomp on family conversations.

Last week Lona and I had an intense, tearful, and productive conversation. It had to do with the next step of our journey. I have completed my PhD work and this summer brings me to the proverbial fork in the road. Who am I now that the intensity of school is finished? What is God’s calling on my life? Her desire has been that I would be called to somewhere other than my current church, so that we can be together in church again. I do not feel that call right now. Further, no matter where I go, I will still be an ELCA pastor and we will still disagree about the issue of the LGBT community and the biblical teaching about homosexuality (I will write more about our different opinions in another post).

imageThis is where the tears came. We simply disagree on this issue.

Couples disagree all the time. It is usually no big deal. But, what do you do when you disagree about a particular topic that happens to be one of the most volatile and divisive topics in the church? Further, what do you do when the disagreement impinges on your life’s work and calling?

Do I leave the church to honor my wife? I told Lona that I am willing to leave in order to put our marriage first. Her response was that I would just resent her for the rest of our lives if I left. That may be true, because I do not feel called to leave. However, I acknowledged to her that this is not just about me. She has just as much reason to resent me. I have betrayed our covenant. No, I haven’t cheated on her. I’ve changed. I am definitely not the same 17-year old kid that she met at Moody Bible Institute in 1986. I have been on a theological odyssey that she did not sign up to take. She married a conservative evangelical kid who did not want to be a pastor, but wanted to become an animator. Since the day we packed up and moved to Las Vegas on May 20, 1990 I have asked her to follow me into one uncharted adventure after another. We went from the caricature business to being a seminary student and a pastor in a Mega Church, to the house church, to homeschooling, to losing everything and moving to Minnesota, and, now to the Lutheran Church and a PhD. Change is a big stressor for Lona and the changes that I’ve asked her to make could be grounds for all kinds of resentment.

She has been willing to make all of these changes with me, until now. The acknowledgment of same-sex marriage goes too far for her. `The simple fact that I am willing to stay at Grace has crossed a line that she is not willing to cross. And now we find ourselves living with disagreement.

That has led us to the tearful conversation of last week and to the opening up of this online discussion. So, I ask two questions in this post:

  1. Do you think this is a conversation that many people would find helpful to have?
  2. What are your stories of disagreement within a covenant relationship?

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Comments
  • Terry K May 27, 2015 at 9:19 am

    Yes, I think open conversations help tremendously. Having grown up in a family where you kept the skeletons in the closet and where you couldn’t discuss the problems in life, I have found that open conversations helps us to come to a mutual understanding and acceptance of the feelings of others.
    My question to you Steve is; What about about your kids, where are they at with all of this. They are a part of this triune family structure and I believe that their thoughts do matter. They do need to be apart of the conversation too.

    • Steve Thomason May 27, 2015 at 10:44 am

      Terry,

      You raise a really important aspect of this conversation. My kids are invited to join the conversation as they feel comfortable. Three of them are adults and can do what they want. I do not have permission to bring any of them into the conversation at this point, and I must respect their privacy, as I have Lona’s for the last year.

      Thanks for asking.

  • Debbie Brown May 27, 2015 at 6:08 pm

    Wow bravo to you for authentically sharing such a personal experience. Prayers to you and your wife as you continue to find your way together. My husband and I disagree as well on that same subject. I know what I am “supposed” to say and all the scriptures used to prove the point but what do you do when what you are told and what you believe collide. I to believe there is a third way.

    • Steve Thomason May 28, 2015 at 2:06 pm

      thanks, Debbie. I appreciate you taking the time to contribute.

  • snvarbor May 28, 2015 at 1:22 am

    I remember Lona as being a person of great discernment and someone who says what she thinks straight out, when I had a question about a book my study group was looking into and the book bothered me with this vague feeling of unease your wife was able to get right to it “it’s blasphemy” she said, 🙂 nothing mamby pamby or beating around the bush about it. I had never encountered such a nice person with so great a spiritual conviction. It may be your work is not yet done where you are, there might still be stuff that needs you there to be done right, but if my Steve left a place of worship I would take notice of why and think on it very seriously. As a matter of fact we were at a similar crossroads this last year with CRCC’s messing with the AWANA program. As I and the others in our CoOp spent this last year hanging on by our nails Steve was all for “let’s please get away from these people” and it took me some of the rest of the group’s leaders the whole year to finally have it be too much, I just really loved the kids in my group. I’m figuring you all must have been praying much for direction and if there are other doors on your future. You spoke of having seen your group of kids through their conformation classes, that may have been your tie. Do you really believe in what your church is doing with the SS Marriage thing? or did you just not want to go yet because you are not ready.
    PS We at Amy’s house church (the last part of APEX Fish House) are greatly enjoying the study on your Hebrews. You write good stuff.

    Valete’
    SuZan D Reed
    Happy wife to my Steve since 1985
    Happy Homeschool Mom to my Blessings:
    Sweetgirl Cassia ’94 Homeschool Grad now at UNLV
    Beanyboy Benjamin ’97 Homeschool Grad this year, Yay
    Totkins Aaron 2K Not done yet.

  • Mary Q May 28, 2015 at 7:46 am

    Steve and Lona, I’m sitting here re-reading your blog and I am still thankful for you both and your willingness to speak, discuss, and write on deeper things. Things that require us to wrestle and not settle for the convenient answers. It was one of my favorite things under your leadership to be able for long periods of time to sit around the table and talk, push back, discuss, and deeply want to know more….and better. I’m looking forward, Steve, to your posts you mentioned re: the stance you both take on the issue of same sex marriage and beyond. I’ll be honest. I still am wrestling. Still listening. Still praying for clarity but more so for the wisdom to know what would He have me do and be with ALL people. Love is primary. Love is first. Beyond that I’m a student still. The one thing I want to throw out there is my first inner response. The question you posed seems to be resting in how we handle or move through the disagreement. How do we do that respectfully, within covenant, with love. Needless to say we will disagree and not always come to resolution. But I am wondering about the disagreement in and of itself. I wonder if the question needs to take a step back and ask, what is this disagreement asking of us? Or more so, what is the Spirit telling us in this disagreement? God is a God of unity and we all know even so, His people do not come together in perfect unity! But within the sacred relationship you and Lona have and we should all pursue, the fact that there is a great divide causes me to ask what is He saying? Before any steps or decisions are made, in the wrestling, God what are you doing here in the deepest parts of ourselves? I do not believe that He is waiting for one of you to “simply submit”. You both are very wise and biblically solid people. So it makes me think there is more to be said by His Spirit and more wisdom to seek. I know you are asking for comments on the bigger picture than just re: you and Lona because this is not just the struggle of the two of you. All I have to offer is that when one is speaking, deeply troubled, desires His will, I think He’s using that to lead and guide. Not to just live in the disagreement but to wrestle and search and seek for something new. I’m looking forward to more conversations like this. Thank you and love you both!

    • Steve Thomason May 28, 2015 at 2:10 pm

      Thanks, Mary. I remember those days fondly as well. I appreciate your words regarding love and the Spirit. It is often difficult to discern what the Spirit is doing and where the Spirit is leading. It is a process, and God’s love is the ultimate guide through it all.

  • graycrampton May 28, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    Steve, I concur with what both Mary and SuZan have written. The SS issue is one all followers of Christ need to wrestle with because we must be able to interact with culture and present biblical truth in a way that is compelling and winsome; however, the larger issue of living with disagreement we also, as couples and individuals, need to wrestle with as well. Where is the line as to what is an ‘acceptable’ disagreement – where we can agree to disagree without breaking fellowship. Mary is right, God is a God of unity, and anything that breaks or hinders covenant relationship cannot exist permanently.
    You’ve spoken of possible resentment and all the times you’ve created life-change. The fact that Lona was always on board with those changes, I feel speaks to God’s call on both you’re lives as a united couple – the call was for both of you. Her agreement with those changes served as a confirmation that they were indeed part of God’s calling. The fact that Lona is not on board with this current change, would be a huge red flag for me, if I were in your shoes.
    I know you two well enough that you’ve moved purposefully and prayerfully through this disagreement, and Mary (one of the wisest people I know) is right, where is the Spirit guiding and asking of you two. Perhaps you’ve thought of this already, but how would you counsel a couple dealing with a disagreement where they were not able to worship together?

    • Steve Thomason May 28, 2015 at 2:15 pm

      Thanks, Gray. It’s been a long time, friend. You raise an important question regarding worshiping together. The tricky thing for anyone in full-time ministry is how complex things get when work and community are so intertwined. For most Americans, church is simply a voluntary association that can be joined and left at will. It really isn’t a covenant relationship in practice. A couple that disagrees over the issues of the church–no matter what they are–can easily choose a congregation that will be a better “fit” for them as a couple. When you are the pastor, and you feel called to a place, and your family’s financial well-being is also tied to it (aka, it’s your job) it becomes infinitely more complex. Granted, I have left places and trusted God to take care of us financially in the past, and God always has (not saying it was easy or fun…).

      I look forward to taking this journey together. Thanks for contributing.

  • Terry K May 28, 2015 at 3:16 pm

    Steve, I wanted to add something that I read yesterday from Richard Rohr, which I think is appropriate for this conversation. He wrote, “Moral outrage at the ideas of others hardly ever serves God’s purposes, only our own. Non-polarity thinking teaches you how to hold creative tensions, how to live with paradox and contradictions, how to not run from mystery, and therfore how to actually practice what all religions teach as necessary: compassion, mercy, loving-kindness, patience, forgiveness, and humility.”

  • ajhanson May 28, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    Living with disagreement is a part of life and it is so much harder in a marraige. Especially so when one person is very passionate on their view. Doug and I have things we see very differently on. We joke that we really don’t need to vote because we just cancel our votes out. We do our best to discuss our points of view with respect, but there are times when one or the other may feel bullied or not heard which is so frustrating. We’ve learned to say, I can’t talk about this right now. We also aren’t dealing with disagreements that are so intertwined with work and home. For me personally, what I’ve learned from our hard times that I can’t let hurt feeling fester. Even if we can’t come to resolution, talking with Doug with respect and Grace does help. I look forward to reading more perspectives.

  • […] first post in this conversation generated quite a bit of discussion. I opened the topic by sharing my own […]

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