Editor’s Note: What difference does Summit make? Why should you send a student? For the next week, I’ll be posting alumni stories, originally printed in our monthly newsletter The Journal. These stories illustrate the difference Summit is making in the lives of it students, and the difference they’re making in their communities.
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Elizabeth Knopp (originally printed in June 2012)
In the wee hours of April 24, 2012, rocks slammed into nine windows of a 103-year-old church building in Portland, Oregon. Two century-old stained glass windows were ruined in the attack.
The shattering glass ignited a media storm, thrusting the young congregation inhabiting the building, Mars Hill Church Portland, into the spotlight. Since the church’s official launch in January, congregants had found themselves in the midst of controversy. Their church building is positioned in Sunnyside, a neighborhood populated by many homosexuals. At the church’s launch service, angry crowds greeted church attendees by hurling insults, names, and declarations that congregants would burn in hell because of the church’s stance against homosexuality.
Summit alumna Elizabeth Knopp was one of those members and now works as assistant to lead pastor Tim Smith. She has maintained an active, front-and-center role in Mars Hill’s ongoing dialogue with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Portland. That dialogue didn’t start with the April 24 vandalism, for which an anonymous group calling itself Angry Queers later claimed responsibility. The dialogue between the church and the LGBT community began when Mars Hill’s pastor reached out to Logan Lynn, public relations and innovations manager for the Q Center, a Portland homosexual support center.
Every month, sixteen representatives from Mars Hill and the Q Center gather to talk with one another about the differences that divide them. Knopp said much of the first few months has been spent listening to each others’ stories, and the discussions are often tense. Mars Hill doesn’t back away from the belief that homosexuality is a deviation from the original created order. “It is heated,” Knopp said. “We love each other, but it can get controversial.”
Lynn and Smith said on a recent radio broadcast that they’re not sure where the series of talks will take their groups. There are no delineated goals for the dialogue. But Knopp said she’s learning something powerful about truth and love, which must be part of any cultural engagement of the Church, as she attempts to practice the principles she learned at Summit. “[Before the dialogue] I would often hold the truth on a higher level than I would hold love,” she said. “I don’t want to be the person who goes around blasting truth without love. We’re called to love one another, especially those who oppose us.”
Knopp emphasized that Christians ought to recall the imago dei in every person, even in the midst of heated debate about truth and identity. “Despite their skewed views of sexuality, they are image-bearers of God. Everything I do has to reflect worship toward God, so my interactions with them are part of my worship.”
Knopp said the Q Center has actually received more negative feedback from their own community than Mars Hill has; many gays and lesbians see Lynn and his colleagues as selling out by engaging in dialogue with Mars Hill. Standing in solidarity with the Q Center — not on the matter of homosexuality, but in the interests of neighborliness — can open doors for the deeper conversations about identity and the power of the Gospel to heal brokenness of all sorts, Knopp believes. In fact, many members of the Q Center came to help clean up Mars Hill after the vandalism.
Knopp has gleaned some practical wisdom from her recent experience that other Christians may find helpful when engaging in such divisive issues:
- Don’t engage alone. Church is a body, a community, so we should engage with fellow Christians supporting us.
- Don’t make assumptions. Listen and ask questions of the other person before making assertions.
- Truth and love go together. “Don’t hold one higher than the other,” Knopp said. “They’ve got to match each other.”
- Don’t fear the outcomes. “Shattered glass doesn’t change the Gospel. Someone being homosexual doesn’t change the Gospel. It will always be that Jesus Christ came to seek and save those who are lost.”