I don’t want to write too much about my meeting with the Board of my former church on Tuesday, but since many of you were praying and have been asking, I will give you a quick update.
Overall, I would say, it did not go very well.
Let me break it down by “act”.
ACT I: ARRIVAL — this could have been awkward, but was actually fine and even pleasant. Most of the people on this current Board, I have not had any contact with in 18 months. None of these folks were on the Board when I left. But this time was fine.
ACT 2: MEETING — charitably, I would say this was almost a total disaster… a shipwreck. At times I thought I might have to simply end the meeting and leave; at other times it felt like a complete waste of time; and at times it felt like this was surely the last time I would ever meet with these folks.
ACT 3: DEPARTURE — I think, frankly, almost everyone involved with Act 2 felt like I did… or at least felt like it was “off”. Several members of the Board took time to talk to me 1-on-1 in the parking lot after the meeting. These conversations were all good and filled with grace and made going through Act 2 worth it.
ACT 4: PROLOGUE — After the meeting, I was able to spend some 1-on-1 time with the pastor (who was the associate pastor and my best friend when I left the church). We hung out, had a beer and pastrami sandwiches, and were able to talk more. This was good.
So I guess overall you would say it was a mixed bag. The primary agenda was simply that I wanted to once again ask forgiveness from the CHURCH and to receive that forgiveness from the CHURCH. Up until now, that has not happened. (I have confessed and asked, but forgiveness had not been extended).
It didn’t really happen in the meeting. I again confessed and then the meeting turned into a discussion about lots of issues (this blog, was I really sorry, gay issues, theological differences, etc — mostly stuff that had little to do with the sins I was seeking forgiveness for). The meeting ended with a nice liturgical confession/absolution from the Book of Common Prayer. Again, this was nice, but the focus was on me confessing my sins to God and being forgiven by God — something that I have already done and do on a regular basis. There was never a moment where the Board, on behalf of the church, said “we forgive you”.
This did come later as I talked with the pastor. He did say “on behalf of the church, we forgive you.” So ultimately that was accomplished — and to me a really important thing. Up until now many individuals had expressed forgiveness, the congregant involved extended forgiveness, the pastor had personally extended forgiveness… but the church had not. So I do feel good about that part of what happened Tuesday. I feel like I have been unbound from the church, which is good.
Why did the meeting go so poorly?
I have been reflecting upon that the last two days and trying to figure out why.
I think part of it is that in 18 months since this all happened, this was my first meeting with the Board. While I have offered all along to meet with them, answer any questions, address any concerns/issues, that never happened. So in some ways there was probably a preliminary meeting that needed to take place — and should have taken place months ago — before we could get to forgiveness.
At this point I do not know if that meeting was the final — and rather unsatisfying — closure to an ugly situation, or the first step towards maybe eventual peace. Sometimes the only closure you get is that there will not be a satisfactory resolution. Some wounds are never fully healed.
I feel like at this point like I have done everything I can to seek peace, which I believe is the always the heart of Jesus. I am open to further steps forward, but that decision is squarely with the church. I will wait on them.
Let me say a couple of other things…
– Despite the bitter taste the meeting left me with, I think all the people on the Board are good people who love Jesus and love the church. Individually, I deeply respect (and like!) all of them.
– There are a lot of red herrings out there… and people attach easily and quickly to them. In an effort to avoid the real issues, they make these into the issues. I don’t think the Board has done this as much as others have and the Board has had to manage that. But I do think it is part of the problem.
– Some people (it was expressed to me again) feel like I have accused the church of being anti-gay on this blog and implied that the reason I lost my job is because I am gay. Let me say again, I have never said that and don’t believe it to be true. I think this is one of those red herring issues. I have said that I think the issue would have been dealt with differently had it been opposite sex (and the conversation Tuesday night confirmed that belief for me). I also think that the culture that created the situation where I had to lie about and hide my sexuality is the culture that made my fall almost inevitable. That does not change my responsibility for my sin — and frankly, I was very much responsible for allowing that culture to persist. This is not an accusation, but an observation. And I think it is fair to say that all churches — especially those with traditionalist theologies on this issue — need to think through how they are creating space for people to be authentic, to encounter Jesus, and to become part of a community fully devoted to following Him. Even gay people.
– To reiterate, I don’t think the church is anti-gay, homophobic, etc. I have never said that and do not believe it.
– Last issue to address here… it was again raised at the meeting the issue of whether I freely disclosed to the Board or not. I feel like I have written about this 1000 times, but for the sake of clarity, I will do it one more time. The congregant (my friend) came to me and told me that he felt like we should tell the Board what had happened between us. He also said that if I did not, he would send them a letter. This all came out of left field for me and as you can imagine, was a lot to process. I asked him for some time to figure out the best thing to do. At the time, the church had just launched a second campus, was in the midst of public hearings around a building project, was about to land a major financial gift, and was growing rapidly. As the leader, I knew that things were about to blow up — I was trying to figure out the least damaging way to do it. During these few days, the congregant decided to move forward my involving a 3rd person (a counselor) who also included a 4th person (another pastor) who came and confronted me. Based on that conversation, I disclosed to Vince and the Board and immediately went on a leave of absence. The congregant never had to send his letter to the Board; Vince and ultimately the Board heard it from me. Would it have been better had it not been compelled and under fire? Yes. But the reality is that, under pressure, I went to the Board. That is as accurate a description of what happened as I can give you.
– Last thought (or two)… as a leader, I was trying to manage the situation — and the situation was unmanageable. That said, I regret taking the advice from the counselor and pastor. I think they gave poor advice that ended up hurting the church much more and creating an unhealthy process moving forward. I wish I had done that which I was leaning
towards doing before the pastor/counselor intervened. My plan was to first talk to the Board chair that week; then talk to Vince; then the whole Board; and then call a membership meeting where I would honestly lay it all out there on the table and we — as a church family — would have discerned how to move forward. I think having the members hear from me directly would have been healthy and helpful; I think allowing them to be part of the discernment process would have also been healthy and helpful. In reality, the ultimate results (me stepping down as pastor, etc) would have been the same, but the process would have been much healthier for the members and the church.
There are other issues that were raised and may be worth addressing in the future, though many are red herrings and many are ones that we will simply disagree upon. So perhaps not much fruit addressing them all.
Anyway… some will think I have written too much here. It is always the danger of transparency.
But mostly, let me say, to those who were praying for Tuesday night — THANKS! I felt your prayers and the presence of the Spirit. And while Act 2 (the actual meeting) did not go well, there was much grace and goodness in Acts 1, 3 & 4 — and I attribute that to your prayers and the work of the Holy Spirit. So thank you!