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Nov19ThuA new resource will help Salvationists engage difficult topics in ways that bring us together. November 19, 2020 by Aimee Patterson
I’ve often heard it said that we live in a society that talks about sex a lot—perhaps too much—and that the church doesn’t talk about sex enough. The Salvation Army has taken this statement seriously.
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You may recall the words of General André Cox (Rtd), then the international leader of The Salvation Army, in a Salvationist interview: “We need a greater ability to simply listen to people’s experience, to walk in their shoes and understand their realities before we’re swift to condemn. I think our understanding on the whole subject of sexuality is growing. We realize that it’s a very complex topic, and we shouldn’t just weigh in with absolutes, but be willing to listen and dialogue.”
A Bit of Background on “Let’s Talk”
So, in 2015, General Cox called on the International Moral and Social Issues Council, the International Theological Council and the International Social Justice Commission to provide resources for Salvationists around the world to address issues of sexuality and sexual relationships. Their first task was to develop topical materials for conversations on sexuality. The result is a series called “Let’s Talk.” This effort has since been boosted by the appointing of Lt-Colonel Julie Forrest as the international liaison officer for dialogue on human sexuality.
“Let’s Talk” resources adapt a conversation method called faith-based facilitation (FBF) that The Salvation Army has used internationally in versatile ways, such as in community development, social work, evangelism and administrative decisions. The aim of FBF conversations is to engage people in exploring and responding to issues together in the light of Christian faith. As the title of the 2010 FBF guidebook says, it can help “build deeper relationships.”
After endorsing the use of the “Let’s Talk” series in the Canada and Bermuda Territory, territorial leadership called on the members of the social issues committee to become trained facilitators, and to promote conversations at all levels and settings. To date, there are about 30 people in the territory trained to facilitate conversations on divorce and remarriage, married life, partner abuse, pornography, same-sex relationships, sex outside of marriage and singleness.
What Happens at a “Let’s Talk” Conversation?
Ideally, the five-step conversation is held by a group small enough that each participant may contribute and large enough that several different experiences and perspectives are represented. First, to get everyone on the same page, we identify the topic under discussion. For instance, if the topic is sex outside of marriage, are we talking about cohabitation? Marital infidelity? Casual sex? The second step calls us to describe and analyze the topic. Here we move beneath the surface to develop a comprehensive account of the topic based on the information we bring to the table.
In the third step of reflection and evaluation, the conversation gets more personal, perhaps even more sensitive. We may be wrestling with difficult questions. Perhaps differences of perspective have been voiced. Together, we engage in prayer and reading Scripture, listening for what God’s Spirit might be saying to us. We may have a “kairos experience,” a sense that this is a special moment, “God’s time,” when we gain insight on what it means to live as Jesus would have us live. While the third step is often seen as a moment ripe for kairos, the diagram places kairos in the centre, reminding us of God’s continuous presence and the importance of integrating belief and action at all times.
Next, we decide and plan. It’s a dynamic step, and outcomes depend both on the topic and the group engaged. The final step, act, takes place following the conversation in response to our decision(s). An action may be to change a practice or behaviour. It may be to set up another conversation on a different topic or to address the same topic at a deeper level.
Will this Lead to Official Changes for The Salvation Army?
There’s no avoiding the fact that sexuality and sexual relationships have become polarizing. “Let’s Talk” conversations do not signal official changes. Rather, they are designed, in part, to address division and help Salvationists build capacity to engage each other in ways that bring us together. When I am part of a “Let’s Talk” conversation, I am reminded of how Jesus responded to those who approached him. Jesus listened. Listening helped him understand who they were and where they had come from. Walking a mile in their shoes didn’t separate Jesus from people; it deepened relationships.
It’s my hope that, instead of walking away from each other, we learn to live together in gracious love, accepting that it’s possible for faithful Christians to come to different conclusions.
Interested in a “Let’s Talk” conversation? The Ethics Centre can provide more information.
Dr. Aimee Patterson is a Christian ethics consultant at The Salvation Army Ethics Centre in Winnipeg.
Photo: PeopleImages/E+ via Getty Images