Each Monday (1/21-2/18) we are highlighting in turn the six “Responses to Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom, ‘Covenant Freedom: Freedom for All or Free-for-all?’” published in the most recent issue of the Covenant Quarterly. We invite you to engage directly with the authors in the comments section below (comments policy).
The term “covenant” holds both complexity and possibility. Tracing the invocation of covenantal language throughout Scripture reveals God’s perpetual presence and desire to be with humanity. Covenant is faithfulness that is reciprocated and mutual. And yet in Scripture covenant is at times paradoxical. It is irrevocable and constant, but it also cannot be completely known. Fundamentally, covenant is not simply about law, about what to do and what not to do. Covenant is about relationship, about how we are with God and with one another. Covenant is sometimes about who we are with. Sometimes that means exclusivity, and sometimes it means radical and scandalous inclusion, but these facts are never static. They shift and slip along a deeper claim about what it means to be with God and for God to be with us. In Scripture, whenever Jews who confessed Jesus as Lord began to define covenant around questions of what and who, God seemed to insert the troubling question of how into the image of what faithfulness could begin to look like.
This struggle to account for the faithfulness of those whom we encounter lies at the center of the covenantal how. Whether Ruth or Rahab, the Ethiopian eunuch or Cornelius, Scripture points to the possibility of faithfulness, of God’s covenantal how, being reflected in those who were seemingly excluded from the covenantal who or what. In a very real way, Scripture is a testament to God’s faithful dissent—God’s refusal to allow those whom God loves to be hemmed in, confusing the how for the who or the what.
As Clifton-Soderstrom has pointed out in her article, it is more likely than not that we will disagree in how we answer the above questions. At the same time, it is entirely possible that we will also begin to see new possibilities for connection and fellowship. We might even discover the possibility of a fellowship of freedom that allows some congregations and persons to discover the how of covenantal freedom in ways that are faithful even as they differ from others.
I came to the Covenant with more conservative views regarding LGBTQ people. I came to the Covenant because of its deep commitment to racial reconciliation and the ways the denomination sought to foster an image of racial and ethnic diversity in God’s kingdom. But in order to do this, questions of culture and theological heritage had to be reimagined. Faithfulness was not simply about certain hymns or church policies or gatherings. What made this openness possible was a willingness to recognize the ways different people embodied faithful responses to God’s presence in their lives and in the stories they held. While many may see questions of race/ethnicity and sexual orientation as fundamentally different, I wonder whether we can separate them any longer.
As the Covenant continues to wrestle with questions of marriage and inclusion of LGBTQ people in congregations, I wonder if we might also struggle with more than law, more than dogmatic notions of sex and gender. I wonder if we might become more open to the ways those very people who were seemingly outside the covenant also display marks of faithfulness, that their perpetual presence might reveal to us all just how radical and ordinary God’s covenant is. In the end, I wonder whether the Evangelical Covenant Church’s belief in a freedom centered in how we are together in Christ might become a critical way forward in displaying what God’s faithfulness in us might look like.
Read Bantum’s full response here.