The apostle Paul spoke of his “thorn in the flesh.” Many theologians and Adult Sunday School leaders have postulated what Paul’s thorn in the flesh may have been. Doug Anderson describes one’s thorn in the flesh as “our uncomfortable place.” The thorn in the flesh for us takes us to a place that we do not want to go. One place many Christian bodies do not want to go is full inclusion, the acceptance of all persons regardless of gender preference. For many of us the prophetic word, spoken to a resistant church, is our calling. We feel called by God to be a thorn in the flesh to the established, institutional church which refuses to practice full inclusion.
I spoke to members of a local church who had decided to leave their church home because their denomination did not practice full inclusion. These lay folks had been engaged in this battle over full inclusion with church leaders for more than 30 years and they were sick and tired. There appeared to be no other choice than to leave. “It is a matter of being faithful” one parishioner told me, “I cannot sit in the pews of a mainline Christian congregation that excludes people.”
“Sure you can,” I responded, “As a matter of fact, God may be calling you to be thorn in the flesh of your denomination as you insist on institutional change for full inclusion! If everyone who champions full inclusion were to leave then there would no longer be pressure on church leaders to change! You love your church, don’t leave it now, become a thorn in the flesh!”
One more thing…. To be an effective prophet inside a resistant institution you must first let the people of that institution know that you love them. I am much more inclined to hear the urging for me to change from someone I know loves me and will listen to me. Engage in dialogue, holy conferencing, to hear the voice of others and they will, in turn, eventually hear your prophetic word of full inclusion.