I was a high school kid, telling an anecdote about something outrageous after church, standing in the center aisle...and slipped up and said "damn it." "Jenny! You're in church!" came the shocked response.
A couple years ago, Joe asked us to share our most joyful moment as we prepared to celebrate the Eucharist together. Everyone in the church shared something about the most joyful moment in their lives, and then it was my turn. I described how it felt to pee on that little stick, wait 2 minutes, and look at the little blue plus sign. "OH shit. We've done it now," is what I said in that moment, and this time, my church family didn't censor me at all--just joined in the sense of stunned wonder I felt as I realized I was responsible for nurturing a whole new life in this world.
See, I go to a church where you can say anything. Even "shit."
But all churches--even mine--have to work hard to be places where people can say what they really think, really believe (or don't), really feel. But if church isn't the safe place where people can be honest and vulnerable with each other--what the hell is it? And if the people who are part of your church don't feel safe in expressing what they think and feel and believe, how in hell is someone who's not a part of the church going to feel like it's a safe place to walk into?
In my church, we have to work hard to make sure that those still struggling with how to read the Bible and understand it on the topic of human sexuality know that they can say so, without censure. We have to work just as hard at that as any conservative church in the midwest has to work to make sure that the lone gay marriage supporter in its midst knows she is still welcome, even if she's not understood.
Because that's what unity is. That's what bearing with each other means. That's what living in community takes. And it's worth it. As we struggle through the conflicts of opinion and disagreements in doctrine, we each bear witness to the gospel--to each other. And often, out of dissensus comes greater understanding of what living the gospel really means. But we can't bear witness to each other in this way unless we're free to speak our minds, unburden our hearts, and live our convictions. We can't bear witness to each other, if we're too busy censoring each other's statements.
And if we can't bear witness to each other, how can we bear witness to the rest of the world?