30 January 2023

International symposium: 'It's not about "my Army" but God's Kingdom'

Bethany Gibson

A photo from the International Symposium on Human Sexuality of delegates sitting around tables and making notes while listening to a speaker on a stage

In the spirit of living with difference, Bethany Gibson reflects on her experience of being a UKI delegate at IHQ's Symposium on Human Sexuality, which took place in Singapore last summer.

The symposium’s theme was I am a Child of God, which made me remember a tweet from the Archbishop of Canterbury: ‘The Christian belief that we are all made in the image of God means that the person I disagree with may have something to teach me.’

I want to acknowledge that I have an affirming theology and long for same-sex marriages to be celebrated within our Church. Of the 99 delegates at the symposium, I knew this view would be held by a minority. I also knew that, if I shared my personal views, I needed to let people know that it was one of a range of views within the UKI Territory. I arrived with a lot of anxiety about what I should share.

A wooden heart with the words 'I am a child of God' and a graphic of a small hand in a bigger hand

I was blessed to spend up to three hours each day in a small group with Salvationists from other territories. The trust established in the group enabled me to share my personal views and experience of supporting people who are sexuality diverse. I felt heard and respected. I witnessed people graciously wrestling with each topic as they processed their own theological understanding. I believe that by the end of the week views were expanded.

When we discussed what being a child of God meant, we found that we had different foundational theology. Some believed humans are born children of God, whereas others believed we only become children of God when we are saved.

Lieut-Colonel Karen Shakespeare’s words helped me process such conversations. She quoted theologian Rupertus Meldenius: ‘On the essentials, unity; on the non-essentials, freedom; in everything, love.’

This helped me reframe what it means to be ‘One Army’, which many think is about uniformity instead of unity. While I have an affirming theology, I have to accept not everyone does and the reasons for this are complex. I need to work harder to listen to other voices. Good disagreement seeks to preserve relationships and gain understanding, not win arguments or convert opposition.

It can’t just be about seeking justice – as our territory’s mission priority states, it’s also about reconciliation. It’s not about creating ‘my Army’ but an Army that reflects the nature of God and his Kingdom, something that will always be beyond my understanding.

The symposium humbled me to recognise the messiness of faith and church life, it inspired me to be confident yet sensitive when I share my perspective and challenged me to trust God to reveal what loving him and loving others looks like for each Salvationist and context.

Written by

Bethany Gibson

Bethany Gibson

Regent Hall

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