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Monthly Archives: September 2010

Donald Miller is Wrong

Donald Miller is wrong.

Kind of.

I like Donald Miller a lot.  I love his writing and almost always agree with him.  He wrote an interesting piece on his blog about the evangelical church’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” fiasco approach to the issue of homosexuality.  He is 100% correct in that assessment.  Pretending that there are not gay people in our churches who love Jesus is not a formula that is going to work.

Miller also blames people like Ted Haggard and Eddie Long for the graceless culture of the church and the church’s anti-gay homophobia.  Not all people who hold a traditionalist view on homosexuality are anti-gay homophobes; but many are.  He blames the hypocritical teaching of Haggard, Long, et al, for this… and here is where I think he is wrong.  

Miller writes:

“In my opinion, the reason Christians become marginalized for being open about their homosexuality is because of people like, well, Ted Haggard and Eddie Long. And not because both men have been accused of being gay. It’s because both men actually created the attitude that judges them in the first place.

Both men, perhaps acting out of insecurity and self deception, trained the mobs that attacked them. They are the ones who brought a black-and-white, judgmental attitude about the issue to the table, and then got cut on the knife they sharpened.

I heard Ted Haggard speak at a conference in Austin two years ago, and he got a round of applause when he took a stab at his staff back in Colorado, saying he only did one thing wrong, and they wouldn’t show him grace. Mr. Haggard, with all due respect, buying drugs from a prostitute and having sex with him while leading the nation in a stand against homosexuality and also being married yourself is not one little thing, and also with due respect, that no-grace attitude amongst your staff came into existence under your leadership. You taught them to think that way. If you would have taught them grace, they would have shown you grace. Who exactly was their leader in the first place?

Miller blames Haggard and Long (and those like them) for the lack of grace in the church, saying that the church is simply doing what they have been taught by their leaders.

It is is easy to make that case by looking at the two examples in question (Haggard & Long), but less easy if you include other examples of closeted gay evangelical pastors who have been outed in scandal and lost their ministries.

The standard script is easy with people like Haggard and Long — ultra-conservative, anti-gay, republican, hypocrites.

But the script only works if we don’t look at other examples.

Now I am rarely happy to be compared to either Haggard or Long — I think the differences in my situation and what happened when compared to theirs is considerable.  For example, I was not a mega-church pastor, so no one outside my congregation really cared (this was a good thing!)  And more importantly: I was single and unmarried, no kids, never denied the accusations when confronted (I actually went to my Board to tell them — under pressure from my accuser, of course), what I did was 100% consensual with an adult friend, there were no prostitutes or drugs involved, no international flights or teenagers… so my case is not that interesting.

And some other differences: I never preached an anti-gay message in my life, I never opposed civil unions nor condemned homosexuals. When the issue came up, I did hold a traditionalist theological view (one I no longer think is the best reading of the scriptures), but always spoke about it with compassion, grace and nuance.

Again, he wrote:

If you would have taught them grace, they would have shown you grace. Who exactly was their leader in the first place?

My case disproves (or at least mitigates) against this assertion.  Miller argues that the church lacks grace because its leaders have not taught grace. I think it is a more fundamental problem. The church lacks grace because people fundamentally misunderstand the radical nature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If there was one topic — besides the Lordship of Jesus Christ — that I taught, preached and modeled as a pastor for over 10 years it was the centrality and significance of grace in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I taught on grace.

I preached on grace.

I practiced grace with my staff, volunteers, leaders, members and community.

I modeled grace in every aspect of our church.

Grace was one of our core values as a church — “believing that having received unmerited grace from God we are compelled to extend unmerited grace to others.”

The grace I taught on and extended to people included issues of sexual immorality and other moral failures. I taught and believed that no one was outside the radical, restorative and redemptive grace of Jesus Christ — and that the church cannot have higher standards than Jesus in terms of who gets grace, who gets to be in the church and who gets to serve in the church.

Does practicing and extending that kind of grace get messy or complicated sometimes? You bet. It is messy and complicated and often there are no easy answers.  But grace demands that we get our hands and feet dirty sometimes — as Jesus did.

So I taught, preached and modeled grace in our church. And, if I can say so humbly, I did it well.

And yet, I can honestly say, in the 15 months since my life exploded and I left the church, I have not received any grace from the church I led.

Have some individuals extended grace and forgiveness to me?

Yes, and for that I am deeply thankful for it is always healing and powerful.

But the church-as-church has not extended any grace to me, and whenever they had the opportunity, denied even small moments of grace.

I have detailed out some examples of this before, and most of the examples I have never written about and probably won’t.  My point is not to accuse or rehash those issues.  One of the things about grace, is that by definition you do not deserve it and therefore cannot expect or demand it.  And so I neither think I deserve it, I don’t expect it… I only continually hope and pray for it.

My point in this post is simply that Miller’s assessment that the problem is that church-goers have not been taught grace (and therefore do not extend it) is not true — at least in my situation. To the contrary, despite years of experiencing grace, they chose not to extend it likewise

WHY?

I am still not 100% sure.  I have some ideas… some theories… some thoughts.  But I don’t really know and honestly was surprised by it.

But I think we should resist easy answers and the blame game… it is much more complicated than that.  Haggard and Long both produced the culture that led to their fall, but just as much were created by a culture that made their fall at some level inevitable.  In other words, the church has a lot of work to do on the
se issues still.

If I had to posit an answer?

I think the problem is that people — beyond my circumstance or church,  both pastors and pew-ers — don’t believe Jesus. They don’t take him at his word.  The Gospel teaches that we are always to extend grace, that grace is radical and transformative, that no one is beyond grace or redemption, that we are never to give up on or abandon people.  This is the GOOD NEWS — and for many, it is too good to be true.

The Bible also teaches that church is a family.  This is not a metaphor — it is a reality.  And there is no mechanism to get out of the family… grace keeps you in the family, even when it is hard and even when you have messed up royally.  That is what family is about and that is what grace is about.

Simply put, people don’t really believe in grace.  They believe in a modified legalism of look-good-do-good-be-good — the kind of “gospel” Jesus explicitly rejects.

Or at least that is my best guess… I am open to other explanations and interpretations.

Thoughts?

 

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

A Thousand Questions

(From the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit 2010)

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

The Inevitable Question

At some point, it is inevitable that someone will ask me why I left my position as a pastor to become a full time chef (taking a 66% pay cut in the process).

It is often the when current ministry comes up that people ask — such as when I preach at a local church, officiate a wedding, etc.

The most recent question came from one of my supervisors at work just this week.

Each time I am asked I have to decide how I will answer the question.  I can avoid it (“it was just time” or “it’s complicated”), give some kind of generic answer (“burn out”), blame the church (“they were jerks”), or be honest about what happened.

Depending on the person, I tend towards either avoidance/generic answer or just being totally open.  If I don’t know the person well, I am likely to go with the avoidance/generic answer — in some ways it is nobody’s business.  But when I know the person pretty well (as in this case), I find more and more I am simply going with the honest explanation. So I say something like, “I slept with someone I wasn’t supposed to. A friend who was a member of the congregation. That is a no-no in the church world.  Oh yeah, and it was with a guy — so that is a double no-no…. and so here I am.”

There is risk in that approach, but I am finding that simply being honest about who I am is really the best approach.

The risk is both in the confession (“I was involved in a sexual scandal which was my fault”) and the acknowledgment that I am gay.  We still live in a world where homophobia and bias against LGBT folks is not limited to the church.  Homophobia and discrimination are real.  And in the uber-macho environment of the commercial kitchen, this is still very true.

But I have no interest in pretending to be something I am not.  I don’t where it on my sleeve or advertise it — again, my sexual orientation is pretty much no one’s business — but I also am not ashamed of it or feel I need to hide it.

Almost always the response is one of grace and gratefulness that I trusted them enough to tell them the truth.

That was the case here. And it was a nice moment of grace.  And I think it probably made our friendship closer.  Personal revelation tends to do that.

And it continually astonishes me how much more grace I experience outside the church, than inside it.  

But I will take grace wherever I can find it these days.

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

The Institution of Marriage

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It is not uncommon to hear people bemoan the ways that the institution of marriage is being weakened, abandoned or undercut in this country.

I couldn’t disagree more.

I have had the privilege of officiating at two wonderful weddings for wonderful couples recently.  Both couples — though very different — are a testimony to the strength of the institution of marriage.

I know of several other couples just recently married for whom I can say the same thing.

Marriage is — and always will be — a central institution of human community and society… and that is a very good thing.

Marriage is a gift. It is grace. I believe it is sacramental.

Very few things bring me greater joy than getting to be a part of people’s public proclamation of their love and covenant. 

It is always a beautiful and powerful thing!

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Christians in the Diaspora

According to wikipedia, a diaspora (in Greek, διασπορά – “a scattering [of seeds]”) is the movement or migration of a group of people, such as those sharing a national and/or ethnic identity, away from an established or ancestral homeland. When capitalized, the Diaspora refers to the exile of the Jewish people and Jews living outside ancient or modern day Israel.

Growing up, the idea of diaspora — a wandering community in exile — was very much part of Jewish identity.  It was in the meaning of the Passover Seder (“Next year in Jerusalem!”), the memory of the Holocaust, and in what it meant to be a Jew.

Ian Cron, one of my favorite pastors and writers, has a great post on his blog about Christians in exile — that is, Christians in the diaspora.  Here is part of what Ian writes:

I’m sitting in Starbucks in downtown Franklin, TN, talking to a new friend. He was once a well known Christian musician and songwriter, now he plays for a legendary artist in the secular music industry. He tells me early in the conversation that he doesn’t go to church anymore and there are lots of people just like him in Nashville.

“We’re ‘legion’,” he says, laughing.

“Why’d you leave church?” I asked.

It’s a question I probably could have answered myself. I’ve heard the same story over and over from friends all around the US and Europe. I’ve heard it more in Nashville than just about anywhere else.

“Our church became an echo chamber where the only voices or opinions we could hear were our own. People who questioned our brand of Christianity were considered suspect or dangerous. One day I went off the reservation and started reading books by thinkers I’d been told to watch out for. Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, and Stanley Hauerwas were some that blew me away.

“Then what happened?” I asked.

“One Sunday I walked out of church and never went back,” he said. “I want spiritual community, I just don’t think the church as it is right now is where I’m going to find it.”

Most of the people I meet who are leaving church aren’t young. They’re in their forties and fifties. After years of reading off the same theological script they began yearning for deeper, more open conversations about faith that included considering diverse perspectives and conversations that widened rather than narrowed their souls. Their churches were either threatened by these folks or unprepared for their emergence.

You can keep reading his post here (it is worth it)…

What are your thoughts?  Can you connect with what Cron is talking about? Or know people who do?  Why do you think people are leaving the church?  What are they looking for?

I have some thoughts on all those questions, but would love to hear your thoughts…

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Speaks for Itself

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(Thanks Nancy for the link)

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

DADT Nonsense

I never want this blog to become primarily about politics or even advocacy around particular issues… but sometimes the topics are unavoidable.

Yesterday, Republican Senators — led by John McCain — filibustered a military funding bill that also included the reversal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.  What was most striking about the filibuster is that (a) the military brass generally supports the change, and (b) the change is pretty much inevitable (as shown by the recent Federal appeals court ruling).  So the only upside to the filibuster, apparently, is political.  That is, Republicans seem to think that being anti-gay is good politics.  Bizarre!

But here is the part I don’t get and wish someone could explain to me: how is forcing young men and women in our military to lie to their peers and superiors possibly good for unit cohesion, troop morale or national security?

We know that gay people serve in the military now. But in theory, you don’t know who might be gay or lesbian? (so it could be anyone).  How is this a better scenario for homophobic troops who are terrified of being around gay people?  I don’t quite get the argument?

Anyone want to help me out with this one?

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

 
 
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