Category: gay ministers

Love Don’t Live Here Anymore

2019-General-Conference-Logo-2070

Well, the Special General Conference for the United Methodist Church is done.  For those of us who are LGBTQ and allies, the result was shocking and hurtful. I want to share some observations about the event and what it means for the church as a whole.

 

A few caveats:  I’m not Methodist, so this is an outsider’s perspective. But, this issue matters to me as a gay man, an ordained minister and most importantly, as a Christian. Second, people will not like this post for various reasons.  This is not a blog post trashing one side, there are a lot of other blogs that can give you that. What I want this post to be is a way how church in many ways is ceasing to be church. Just as the wider culture has become polarized, with no middle ground, the church is showing those same sides.  Instead of being an example of unity in the midst of diversity, we are simply following culture and what happened in St. Louis is Exhibit A.

 

One more thing. My underlying point here is that we, the church have to learn how to have hard debates in ways that respect one another.  What happened in St. Louis is just a microcosm of what is going on in the larger culture. Beyond all the nice words, we really don’t respect one another and we feel that the other side is evil.

 

I say all of this not as someone who is above the fray but as someone that has “picked a side.”  I am gay. I am married to a man. I do believe the church is called to welcome folks like me. I saw what happened at the General Conference and felt sadness and shock.  So yes, this is personal.

 

But I am also a Christian that is called to love even those I might believe are my enemies. I know that there are people who I strongly disagree with on this issue who are good and faithful people. I know this because I’ve met them and engaged them.  I know that this is also a personal issue to them. So how can we talk about this important issue and still be church? How can we be an example, a witness to the wider society?

 

With that, here are some of the salient points:

 

The Traditional Plan Sends a Clear Message.  It was quite telling that of the four plans that were offered, One Church Plan, the Simple Plan, the Connectional Conference Plan and the Traditional Plan, the one that was approved was the only one that did not allow a place for LGBTQ Christians in the church.  I know that there are those who will say that gays are welcomed in conservative churches and I do believe that. But the enhanced penalties that are now in place against gay clergy and same sex marriage send a message that conservatives might not think they are sending: the message that any LGBTQ Christian is not really welcome in churches.  That sense of not being welcome is born out in the fact that conservatives didn’t seem to even want to be in the same denomination with LGBTQ Christians. Nevermind that some of these plans allowed both sides freedom to do their own thing; there was no desire to even have to deal with LGBTQ Christians. It’s hard for me to believe that I would be welcome in a church when you can’t even think of having me in the same denomination.

 

A Gracious Exit that Wasn’t So Gracious. This is an issue I am most familiar with.  I worked for the local jurisdiction of the Presbyterian Church (USA) for seven years.  In 2011, the denomination approved allowing gay and lesbian Presbyterians to become ordained and serve in PC(USA) churches.  This was not something that more conservative Presbyterians could support. Presbyteries worked hard to draw up “Gracious Separation” plans that allowed some path that would allow for dissenting churches to leave with their property. It makes sense to have some kind of plan that dealt with the separation of dissenting churches because it would lessen the chance that church bodies would end up in court against departing congregations. This is what happened to the Episcopal Church after the consecration of a gay bishop in the early 2000s. The plan that was approved by the Bishops, the One Church Plan, didn’t have an exit plan.  I don’t know why and there didn’t seem to be much talk about adding a plan. The Traditional Plan did have what is called a “Gracious Exit.” On the surface this seems like offering more progressive churches room to leave if they can no longer abide by the rules. It seems compassionate, but I’m starting to wonder how gracious it really was. It feels more like what is being said to moderate and progressive churches is, “here’s the door.” It looks like they are the good guys in offering dissidents a way to leave, but it could also be interpreted in a negative way.

 

The Bishops lost authority. The Council of Bishops endorsed the One Church Plan.  In an earlier time, the delegates to the General Conference would take that endorsement to heart and would probably pass it up the bishop’s recommendation. But General Conference basically ignored the Bishops’ advice and passed a plan they didn’t endorse.  I’ve heard that Methodist bishops are more powerful than bishops in other Protestant traditions like the Anglicans. However, after this vote, the bishops have lost any authority. The General Conference not only passed on their recommendation, but they picked the plan that was the exact opposite of the One Church Plan. Will the bishops be listened to in the future? I don’t know.  But any illusion that they have power is now gone.

 

We don’t know how to talk about social issues. Why is it  that when it comes to issues like homosexuality we don’t know how to talk about them without wanting to go our separate ways? In the early 1990s I attended a Baptist church in Washington, DC.  At the time it was an odd church; it had both liberal and evangelical members. An ordained pastor who belong to the congregation was called as a part time Associate Pastor, but there was a catch, she was an LGBTQ ally. During the debate, an evangelical member spoke in favor of calling her. The two had a relationship and she might have disagreed on the pastor’s stance, but at the end of the day, they were friends. That’s an example of how to disagree and yet be united.  Unity was some kind of afterthought to the opposing sides. Conservatives thought the One Church Plan enforced a fake unity. Progressives never didn’t seem to see conservatives as people they should respect. As fellow Disciple minister, Douglas Skinner noted, progressives never listened to theological conservatives. No one was interested in talking in a way that respected the other. Instead, people talked at each other.

 

False humility. I remember seeing an image of a tweet written by a Democrat on election night 2016.  The person wrote thinking, like many people did, that Donald Trump would lose the election about the need to come together and all of that.  A few hours later when it became certain the Clinton would lose and Trump would become President her attitude changed. The next tweet was angry at conservatives swearing up a storm.  

 

I remembered that when I read retired Bishop William Willimon’s article after the vote.  I’ve always respected him and love reading his blogs and books.  But his writing after the vote was like the second tweet, a mask of civility fell revealing a sense of rage. He asks God to smite the other side and exhibits what I think is a rather racist attitude when he says that the global Christians who voted for the Traditional Plan will have to deal without that money from American Methodists which provided the income for the denomination.  His advocacy for LGBTQ people is admirable, but the attitude towards fellow Christians tarnishes his support. He displayed some a kind of false humility because he believed his plan would win the day. When it didn’t that mask fell revealing his true face.

 

Listen, don’t come talking about wanting the Spirit to move and then get mad when it seems the Spirit didn’t go your way. Willimon had a false kindness that was only based on his side winning. It’s hard to see someone I have respect seem to be so petty and shallow.

 

The Global Church was heard…and Progressives and Centrists didn’t like it. The United Methodists are different from most American mainline churches in that they are a global denomination and not just limited to the United States. That means there were people at the General Conference from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe.  In most of these places the view regarding LGBTQ people is…well, not as affirming. But they deserved to be listened to. One of the problems that progressives have is that they don’t know how to deal with Christians in Africa and other places. Either they speak down to them or they think they are the unwitting tools of American conservatives.  What became very clear in the aftermath of this debate was the underlying racism coming from progressives. Both Willimon and another Methodist I hold in high esteem, Adam Hamilton, have written blog posts that basically assert that American Methodists are the ones that fund the church, which is basically saying that American pay for the church so the Global Church should be grateful.  I’m sorry, I respect both Willimon and Hamilton, but such assertions can’t be described as anything but condescending to persons of color. It reminds me of what happened in the Anglican Communion during the Lambeth meeting where Bishop John Shelby Spong, a progressive bishop in the Episcopal church called African Christians “superstitious.” For some reason, that didn’t go over well, with African Anglicans.  I want to believe Willimon and Hamilton were speaking out of the immediate hurt and anger and that this isn’t what they really think about people from outside America. People have every right t to be angry; but don’t patronize your sisters and brothers from outside the States in doing so. Progressives have to come to terms to the fact that Christians in Africa or Asia or Eastern Europe probably don’t share our views.

When we think of Africans we tend to think they are being deceived by evil evangelicals here in America.  They have come to their own beliefs on their own. They have their reasons for why they believe how they do.  Disciples pastor Jeff Gill explained why at least Africans might not want to relax sexual standards:

 

…Africans are not interested in relaxing standards on sexual activity from where they’ve been. For this, they’ve been demonized in social media and by advocates of the changes proposed; perhaps worse, it’s been repeatedly implied they’ve just been manipulated by cash and propaganda from American conservatives. When I read this stuff, I ask myself “have they actually ever met and talked to any African bishops?”

I have. I had a series of life-changing conversations with one, in this country, in 2005 and have kept up with him, and alongside him some mission and ministry partners in North Katanga on the eastern edge of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. What they have said repeatedly is this: our society does not have any guardrails. Next to none. Polygamy is common, exploitation rife in our cities and villages.

Christian preaching is often the first message many men in Africa have heard, I am told, about the need to treat women with respect, and to live their family lives as something other than a series of conquests. This is, they tell me, still an ongoing struggle. The boundaries of their church are pretty much all the guardrails they have for defining family and relationships in any form other than through power and force as their defining qualities.

So the African Methodist delegates are not interested in relaxing any standards right now. And I hear them. I also see the conflict in this country perhaps more clearly than they do in Africa, and I acknowledge the pain felt by those who see our society making lane changes and resetting some road markers, opening up acceptance and support of same-sex relationships, but then seeing some churches, perhaps their own faith tradition say “we are not making those shifts.” Not now, maybe not ever.

 

You don’t have to agree with this viewpoint, I don’t. But you need to understand it. You need to know why Africans other international members think the way they do. Progressives need to engage these people and also realize that the black and brown people that they admire don’t always see eye to eye on this issue.

 

And to borrow a tired phrase, Progressives and Centrists need to check their privilege.

 

Where do we go from here?  There are some people who think that things will remain the same.  Since the Traditional Plan has to go through a judicial process, it might be rejected outright.  But I think a line has been crossed. Both sides came to St. Louis, not to have a conversation, not to find unity amidst diversity; no to listen to each other.  They already had divorce on their minds. As the old saying goes, it was all over but the shouting.

 

My guess is that by the time of the next General Conference which is next year in Minneapolis, the United Methodist Church will not be whole.  My guess is the Progressive and Centrist factions will split from the main church to create something news. Adam Hamilton has said there will be a big meeting at Church of the Resurrection after Easter to talk about the future of Methodism.  

 

I would also keep an eye for what is happening with the Western Jurisdiction of the church.  This includes all the Annual Conferences in the Western United States and it tends to be the most liberal.  I could see the Western Jurisdiction becoming the basis for a new denomination. There is no desire in the church to try to heal fissures. For LGBTQ Methodists and their allies, the passage of the Traditional Plan was the last straw.  There is no going back. That’s probably the best option for the sake of LGBTQ Christians. But I think the Methodists missed a chance to show the world how to deal with difficult issues and still remain united.

 

I am reminded of the song, “Up on A Cross” by 80s Contemporary Christian group, Degarmo and Key. It’s a song about all of the different flavors of Christianity and how they are divided.  The last chorus ends with an extra line that sums up what is behind some of the division:

 

Up on a cross, He died for sinners
Up on a cross between two thieves
Up on a cross, He died for you and me

I heard the Devil’s voice today

 

I feel somewhere the devil is laughing.

Let Africa Be Africa

china-africa-france-discourseRecently, there was a report on National Public Radio about how China is coming into Africa and making deals in various nations. The story focused on Chinese business ventures in Zambia and Tanzania, but widens it’s scope to the entire continent which will be come a market of 3 billion by the end of the century.  A question was asked where the United States was when it came to investing in Africa.  Here’s how the interviewee Howard French answered:

One of the things I came across is the existence of American funding through the Millennium Challenge Account. These are projects whose financing is guaranteed by the American government. Very large-scale projects – $200-million projects to build a new airport, or some road system or something like that. And I was stunned to discover American companies simply didn’t bid for these projects. And so in a city like Bamako, Mali, I was stunned to emerge from the old airport and see right next-door, with this American funding, the Millennium Challenge Account, a Chinese company was constructing a new airport.

You know, the American media, by and large, doesn’t cover Africa in terms of a place of economic activity. We think of Africa, typically, as a place of disaster and conflict and humanitarian interests. And so our own public is not conditioned to think, as the Chinese have come to think, of Africa as this place of huge demographic expansion where much of the growth of the future may occur. We’re sort of stuck in a old, outmoded view of Africa, and if you don’t have a vision of opportunity, you’re not likely to pursue these sorts of things.

In short, we Americans see Africa as a basket case, a place that needs aid, not investment.

For a few years now, we’ve been hearing stories about how American evangelicals are spreading their homophobic policies to African nations like Uganda.  I don’t doubt that there aren’t some church people here that are stirring up the pot on the African continent.  But what has bothered me greatly is that the media and others spin this story that presents Africa as a poor defenseless waif being manipulated by the evil evangelical.  In essence, in the same way that the American media and business community write Africa off, Africa is not viewed in some parts of the America as a moral actor that can do good or bad things.

I also have some related reasons for being bothered by this.  In the same way that gay activists here in America are focusing on white evangelicals exporting their gay-bashing to Africa, some gay activists have said that African Americans have been influenced by white evangelicals to hate gay people- as if African Americans are incapable of homophobia lest some white person tell them so.  A lot of the homophobia I faced as a kid was not because whitey wanted to keep me down.  It was because there is homophobia present in the African America community.

African nations have had a problem with gays long before evangelicals arrived.  Luckily things are slowly changing or will change in the future.  No, you can’t hold evangelicals blameless, but we should also condemn African leaders who support restrictive policies.  These are not puppets, but leaders trying to keep in power at the expense of LGBT populations in Africa.

So, let’s let Africa be Africa.  And instead of sending aid, let’s send investors and open up markets.  Because the more African economies are open to the world, the faster attitudes on homosexuality will change for the better.

But we need to let Africa be Africa.

The Anger You Don’t Understand

gay_s640x427One of the bloggers that I love to read is Rod Dreher.  While we share some similarities politically, we are on different sides of the same-sex marriage issue.  Rod has written a number of posts on what he sees as the coming troubles facing social conservatives as the opinion on gay marriage changes.  I decided to comment on a recent blog post.  One of the things he is bothered by is the meanness on the pro-SSM towards social conservatives.  While I agree that there has been a lot of spiking the ball on our side, I thought Rod needs to understand where some of that anger comes from and it doesn’t come from nowhere.

Before I share the response, I want to add that I do appreciate Rod.  He is one of the most honest people I know striving to honor God in the best way he can.  He has helped me see that not all social conservatives are horrible monsters.  So, while I am offering a bit of pushback here, I don’t do it out of anger.  I just want to him (and others) to understand a little about our side and what might be fueling the anger. 

Rod,

Part of the issue that needs to be addressed is the bitterness that many in the gay rights community has towards social conservatives. A lot of this comes from the pain we have experienced from people who were religious and yet treated their sisters and brothers with cruelty. One of the things that Ross Douthat shared in his Sunday column is the abuse LGBT folk have suffered in the past. I think it is important for social cons to at least admit that some of this vitriol is a knee-jerk response to some of the things we have faced.

The other issue that is a problem is how social conservatives are viewed by the larger society. When I was coming out in the 90s, the image I saw was Pat Buchanan venting at the 1992 GOP Convention in Houston. The image most gays and allies have of social conservatives is one of hateful people bent on destroying LGBT people. It’s not a true image, but it’s there. My view of social conservatives have changed for two reasons: one I take the call from Jesus to love our enemies seriously. Second, I’ve met many social conservatives and see that they don’t have five heads and eat gay babies. Because American society is so fragmented with like-minded folk clustering together, most gay folk have never encountered a social conservative and see them as complex beings instead of caritactures. And because we don’t know you, hence the hostility.

I don’t know what the answer is. I have used my blog to express that social conservatives are not all monsters, but I have also got pushback from people who write me talking about the pain they have faced and how it makes no sense to show mercy. The negative image of social conservatives is ingrained in many gay people and their allies and that is what keeps them from showing and sense of forgiveness and love. Gay people can and should speak up and maybe even seek out social conservatives and befriend them (somthing I’ve tried to do). But I think the only way this is going to change is when social conservatives themselves reach out and be Christ to gay people. When gay people can see that social conservatives are people, things will change. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but realize that a lot of the anger is warranted. Trust has been broken. LGBT people like myself can and should reach out, but until gays and trust social conservatives such hostility will continue, even if it is not right.

By the Time I Get to Arizona

ArizonaAbout a week ago, I wrote a post on same-sex marriage and how those of us who support it should act towards those that oppose it.  Can we be good winners to the losers?

Some of the response to that post got me thinking (and agonizing) over this issue.  In two states, Kansas and Arizona, bills have made their way through the state legislature that would give people the right to refuse service to gays.  I think both bills are unconstitutional on their face and bring to mind the dreadful memories of Jim Crow.

That said, these laws are the signs of a way of being that is passing.  I as said in my previous post, those in favor of same sex marriage have won.  But there is still something nagging me.  How do we live with those who are the losers?  How do we deal with those who say their opposition to gay marriage is based on religious teachings?  Do we ignore them?  Do we try to stamp them out?  What is deemed as religious (even if we think it is weird) and what is not a religious practice?

The issue of a baker or florist refusing to serve a gay couple brings out conflicting emotions.  I do think at some level there is the potential of bigotry behind that refusal.  I also think that having laws where people can refuse service could cause chaos in our economy.  But then I think about how someone who is a social conservative would see this.  There’s something about compelling someone to do something they don’t agree with because of their interpretation of the Bible that bothers me deeply.  Those of us on our side tend to see this simply as case of bigotry.  Bigots don’t deserve protection and they should shut up and do their job.  After all their “religious objection” is just a smoke screen for their hate.

But the thing is, seeing homosexuality as a sin was considered the normative teaching in our society until recently.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong, but we have to take in account that tradition is not something that you can easily dispose of.

The tactic that I have shared at times is that it’s okay to believe what you do in private, but in public you have to set your beliefs aside.  But upon thinking on this, I found this reasoning to be bothersome.  We are basically saying that their faith is a hobby that can be pursued at other times, but not when we enter the public square.  For the faithful, religious belief is not something that is private, but very public.  It orders every part of one’s life.  I think it would be difficult for someone who might think that same sex marriage to have to set their belief aside.  In fact, it wouldn’t make sense.  Why would they knowingly put themselves in a position to sin?

About three years ago, writer Jonathan Rauch wrote about the change that was heading our way on marriage.  He called on the LGBT community and allies to not immediately try to challenge the other side when it came to issues like refusing service to a gay couple.  To do so would be to make social conservatives fears come true and would basically play into their hands.  He writes:

…gay rights opponents have been quick, in fact quicker than our side, to understand that the dynamic is changing. They can see the moral foundations of their aversion to homosexuality crumbling beneath them. Their only hope is to turn the tables by claiming they, not gays, are the real victims of oppression. Seeing that we have moved the “moral deviant” shoe onto their foot, they are going to move the “civil rights violator” shoe onto ours.

So they have developed a narrative that goes like this:

Gay rights advocates don’t just want legal equality. They want to brand anyone who disagrees with them, on marriage or anything else, as the equivalent of a modern-day segregationist. If you think homosexuality is immoral or changeable, they want to send you to be reeducated, take away your license to practice counseling, or kick your evangelical student group off campus. If you object to facilitating same-sex weddings or placing adoptees with same-sex couples, they’ll slap you with a fine for discrimination, take away your nonprofit status, or force you to choose between your job and your conscience. If you so much as disagree with them, they call you a bigot and a hater.

They won’t stop until they stigmatize your core religious teachings as bigoted, ban your religious practices as discriminatory, and drive millions of religious Americans right out of the public square. But their target is broader than just religion. Their policy is one of zero tolerance for those who disagree with them, and they will use the law to enforce it.

At bottom, they are not interested in sharing the country. They want to wipe us out.

He continues writing what should be our response:

In a messy world where rights often collide, we can’t avoid arguing about where legitimate dissent ends and intolerable discrimination begins. What we can do is avoid a trap the other side has set for us. Incidents of rage against “haters,” verbal abuse of opponents, boycotts of small-business owners, absolutist enforcement of antidiscrimination laws: Those and other “zero-tolerance” tactics play into the “homosexual bullies” narrative, which is why our adversaries publicize them so energetically.

The other side, in short, is counting on us to hand them the victimhood weapon. Our task is to deny it to them.

I think we have to decide what level of discrimination is acceptable and what is off limits. As James Antle notes in his latest article, that at least according to the 1993 Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, there has to be a compelling interest for the state to force someone to violate their religious conscience:

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 seems to have this much right. Freedom of conscience isn’t absolute. But the government can only override religious conscience to serve a compelling interest and then must pursue that interest using the least coercive means available.

So even if there is a compelling public interest in ensuring access to contraception, if contraception can be made affordable and readily available through means other than forcing the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for contraception or contraceptive coverage, than those other less coercive means should be employed.

The same logic would seem to apply to participation in same-sex marriage services. If we can allow conscientious objectors to refuse to fight in wars, we can surely make some allowance for people to who don’t want to bake cakes, provide floral arrangements, or take photos at a particular wedding. A case could also be made that same-sex couples should prefer to send their business to vendors who share their values.

A sense of proportion matters here. It’s unlikely that we are talking about very many businesses, and even fewer large companies. In some parts of the country, at least, vendors who take this stand risk being picketed out of existence. A few news stories about a same-sex couple who was refused service in their town could easily attract a flood of free wedding cakes, floral arrangements, and photography offers from other more supportive businesses.

He also brings up something that I’ve been thinking about. The analogy that has been used likening these proposed laws to segregation doesn’t really work:

Should gay business owners be forced to provide services to Chick-fil-A, Phil Robertson or organizations that lobby against same-sex marriage? Should gay advertising executives be compelled to write ads in defense of the Defense of Marriage Act? Freedom of conscience applies here too. So does the market’s ability to punish irrational discrimination and a business’s willingness to turn away paying customers.

If a Muslim fundamentalist car dealer refused to sell automobiles to women on religious grounds, even if it was not against the law, he would almost certainly go out of business. (If he didn’t, then immigration laws might need to be revised rather than the First Amendment.)

This is where the Jim Crow analogy, used by Kirsten Powers and others, fails. People often argue for or against the civil-rights laws of the 1960s on the basis of abstract principles, pitting generic equality against generic freedom of association, but they were in fact a reaction to a very specific set of circumstances.

Jim Crow was a system of extensive discrimination, not isolated incidents. It relied on the state enforcement of laws requiring racial separation and the non-enforcement of laws banning private acts of violence when the victims were black. It denied blacks’ constitutional rights and was rooted in state government coercion and social customs so powerful they were largely impervious to market forces. The federal government had repeatedly attempted to remedy these problems through more modest measures.

It is theoretically possible that allowing a New Mexico photographer to refrain from taking pictures at a same-sex wedding ceremony—or more plausibly, allowing the Kansas legislature to enact the previously mentioned bill—would create conditions like this for gays. But it is not very likely.

I would agree. On the surface the two seem the same, but not in context. The Jim Crow that my father lived through in Louisiana was not simply one person refusing him service, but an entire system that was placed into law. There is a difference between the two, not that refusing a gay couple is okay, but it is not backed by a system of laws, at least not in every state but Arizona it seems.

The point of my rambling is that those of us in favor of same sex marriage and those opposed have to find a way to tolerate each other.  Those who have a traditional understanding of sexuality have to understand that being gay is becoming more and more normative.  LGBT folk and their allies have to understand that the other side isn’t going away anytime soon and in many cases they are compelled to follow what they interpret to be from God (even if we think this is pure hogwash).  We have to learn to coexist, because this tit for tat war of stigmatizing is futile and for those of us who are Christian not very Christ-like.  We have to learn to love the other even if we think they are wrong.

I want to end with the words of fellow pastor Trevor Lee who has this to say about tolerance:

Tolerance now means completely accepting viewpoints that culture, and especially the media and TV/movie industry deem correct. Many of these viewpoints are against traditional moral stances. So those who hold to the “outdated” views are intolerant. Yet this has almost nothing to do with tolerance. In fact, very often those who rail against those “intolerant people” are being intolerant in the process. Here’s what it comes down to…

You do not tolerate someone or something you agree with.

The dictionary defines tolerance as “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from [emphasis mine] one’s own.” So the only people and opinions we can logically tolerate are those we disagree with. If we change our opinions and beliefs we would now be tolerant by continuing to respect and treat with dignity those we used to agree with. I am for tolerance (really I’m more for love than tolerance, but we’ll get to that in a minute), but this is teetering on the edge of being a useless word in our culture.

I pray for more tolerance in our society. On all sides.

Building a Bridge with Beer

beerA few weeks ago, I sat down for a beer with a fellow pastor.  Actually, I had hard cider- he had the beer.  The pastor is theologically conservative and sees me- a gay pastor with an orthodox theology as a bit of an enigma.

We had a very good discussion talking about church and life and where we might agree.  I had the opportunity to share why I am this odd duck.  There is always a bit of uncomfortableness in breaking bread with someone who disagrees with you, but it was a good time and I hope to do it again sometime.

The interesting about my experience is how rare it’s becoming.  The church is in many ways polarizing in the same way the American public is polarizing.  There is less that brings people together.  In many mainline denominations, you have liberals doing one thing, while conservatives do another.  Each side views the other with suspicion if not downright hostility.

Middle judicatories try using various tactics to bring people together.  But the fact is most of them are gimmicks and the two sides go back to arguing over time.

As we look at the mess that’s taking place in Washington, it would help to have some background.  Up until the 90s, work rules in Congress were such that the entire families of a Representative or Senator would move to DC and set up shop.  This allowed for more mingling with persons from another party, which in turn made for law based on compromise.  When the work rules changed, you had Representatives fly in on a Tuesday and leave Thursday/Friday.  Families now stay back home and there is little to no time for people of opposing views to gather socially.  As the institution of Congress waned, we start to see the rise of various outside groups that benefit from a hyper-partisan Congress.

Something like that has happened within churches.  Denominational bodies like the Presbyterian Church (USA) are deteriorating, while outside affinity grow in power and influence.  Liberals stay with liberals and conservatives with conservatives.  The end result is that we stare at each other accusing the other of being unfaithful to God.

As a gay man, I’ve been involved in the arguments concerning the role of gays and lesbians in the life the church.  While I’m still working for inclusion of LGBT persons, I have grown weary of not engaging the other side, of only seeing them as “bad” people and not trying to listen to what they are saying.  I’m trying to learn why a conservative believes the way they do.  I’m not going to change my mind, but I need to know why they believe something because I might find out points of agreement.

This past summer, an evangelical Presbyterian mused about the recent selection of a Transgendered person as the director of More Light Presbyterians, the LGBT group in the PC(USA).  Jodi Craiglow wanted to be angry, but realized the anger wasn’t there:

I’m SUPPOSED to be writing a thesis right now.  In fact, it’s due at the end of this week, and I’m only about a third of the way done with it.  The problem is, that story has been gnawing at the back of my head all day, and I won’t be able to concentrate on what I need to do until I work through my thoughts.  So, I figured I’d share them and see what happens.  I know that, by all rights, the news of a transgendered Presbyterian taking the vanguard in advocating for LGBTQ issues in the denomination should make my little conservative soul writhe in agony.  I should be ANGRY, darnit!

But that’s the problem… and that’s why I’m probably going to get in trouble for this post.  I’m trying to get mad — and I can’t.  I search my heart for righteous indignation, and time and again only come up with sacrificial love.  Do I agree with the lifestyle that Alex is holding?  No.  Do I believe that God calls us to uphold the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman?  Absolutely.  Does that give me license to spew vitriol and drive even more nails into the body of Christ?  For the love of God, no.

I’ve thought and prayed and thought and prayed, and what I keep hearing is, “I love Alex.  And you should, too.”  Yep, there’s sin in Alex’s life — but there’s plenty of it in mine, too.  And for me to say that my sin is in any way less severe or makes me any less deserving of eternal condemnation is to set myself up as the arbiter of moral righteousness, a job that makes me quake in my boots just to think about.  God created Alex — and for that matter, all the folks over at More Light and Covenant Network and all those other affinity groups that I’m supposed to be at war with — fearfully and wonderfully as bearers of His image.

Does that mean that I’m going to spend every waking moment with the people with whom I disagree?  Probably not.  But, at the same time, I dare not retreat off into my little evangelical ghetto, surround myself only with people who think exactly the same way as I do, and complain about all those “liberals” (who, incidentally, I’ve never actually met) who are ruining my denomination.  If Jesus had only spent time with those who agreed with him, the incarnation never would have happened.  My sins would have never been purchased, and I’d have had to exist in eternal separation from the Source of Life.  Who am I to suggest a different course of action than the one espoused by my Lord and Savior?

Issues can and have divided congregations.  They tend to create gaps between people.  I don’t think we can avoid that there will be times when we will disagree with each other- when a gap appears.  The problem comes when we don’t try to build a bridge and reach out to the other.

It’s not easy trying to close the gap.  It’s far easier to stay in our respective ghettoes and it’s far more comfortable.  Except, I don’t think Jesus calls us to be comfortable.  We are called to stand in the gap and work towards building bridges.

I hope to have more occasions to share a beer with someone from the other side.  God seems to do awesome things in those liminal places.

These Aren’t the Evangelicals You’re Looking For

A few years ago, I was invited by a Lutheran friend of mine to take part in a group of church planters.  I knew these folk came from an evangelical background and my “shields” went up.  Would these people accept me?  Did I have to go into the closet here?

After a while, the woman who was leading the group noticed my hesitancy.  “Dennis, are you gay?” she asked.  She didn’t ask the question in a mean or menacing way, but more to get at what was making me so shy.

Having grown up in an evangelical culture where being gay wasn’t good, the old tapes were playing in my head.  But this woman never turned me away after I told her.  She and her husband welcomed me.

I learned a important lesson that day.  I learned that not every evangelical is out to get gays.  I learned that things had changed in the nearly 20 years since I left evangelicalism.  I learned that there is far more nuance of evangelicals than most progressive Christians are willing to admit.

Recently, evangelical author Skye Jethani wrote a blog post about the reaction of evangelicals after the two Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage.  Jethani was fascinated by the media coverage because it didn’t match what he was experiencing:

One would assume from media reporting that evangelicals are obsessed with two things: politics and homosexuality. In my 30 years of involvement with evangelical churches, parachurch ministries, and mission organizations, I cannot recall hearing a single sermon about homosexuality. In addition, my role with Christianity Today connects me with evangelical congregation all over the country. Politics and gay marriage may arise in my private conversations with pastors, but I’ve never heard them engaged in a worship service. That does not mean these topics are never broached in a church setting, but they reside very, very far from the spotlight. And what about this past Sunday after the “culture shaking” ruling by the Supreme Court? Nothing. I did not hear a sermon, a comment, a prayer, or even a conversation in the church foyer about it. And this silence isn’t limited to LGBTQ issues. In three decades I’ve not heard what I would classify as a political or partisan sermon. Given the lack of politics in my evangelical church experience, why do 75% of young non-Christians say evangelicals are “too political”? How do we explain this gap between what actually happens in evangelical communities and the media’s portrayal of evangelicals? There are two possible explanations. Either my church engagement is wildly outside the norm, or perhaps evangelicals aren’t as devoted to political social engineering as the outside culture seems to believe we are.

So why is there a disconnect between what he has seen and what culture perceives?  Jethani thinks part of the problem is media perception:

…the presence of socially conservative, politically rabid evangelicals fits the narrative advanced by the news and entertainment media. With 24 hours of airtime to fill each day, finding more extreme voices, to say more outrageous things, and incite more conflicts has become the mission of the news media. That’s why last Sunday’s “Meet the Press” pitted MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow against the founder of the Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed. Are these the two people you want on your news program for an intelligent, respectful conversation about gay marriage? Not likely. These are the people you want at the table when making the news is more valued than reporting it.

I think Jethani is on to something here.  For mainline Protestants, most of our perception of evangelicals tends to be from what we see from the media.  We don’t really hold much interest in getting to know evangelicals with the exception of those that tend to be more progressive.

Last spring, writer Brandon Ambrosino wrote a touching essay of his coming out experience, which happened to take place at Liberty University- the institution founded by Religious Right superstar Jerry Fawell.  If you are expecting a horror story of how Brandon was mistreated by fundamentalists, you will be surprised.  Many of the adults he encountered were incredibly loving towards him.  They might have disagreed with the whole gay thing, but they loved the flesh and blood being standing in front of them.

Last fall, I wrote about how my opinion of social conservatives has changed.  I still disagree with them, but I stopped looking at them as abstractions and more like real people, people you might think are wrong, but people you will still welcome at your table.

I wonder at times if the church needs to be a place where we are able to reach out and befriend each other.  I know it’s hard for lesbian and gay folks who were traumatized by the church to turn around and be forgiving; but I wonder if part of our healing and reminder that God loves us includes reaching out to those that might disagree, not with the intent to change their mind, but to just be present with them.  What if we could spend some time listening to them and visa versa.  Minds might never be changed, but hearts just might be.

I wonder what might happen if we let go of the need to be right and try to be more loving of those with whom we disagree.  I’m not saying we abandon our work for justice, but what if we were able to chat with someone who doesn’t see things like you do and yet remain friends?  What would that say to the world?

 

Learning to Live in the Tension

pcusa dividedI haven’t really blogged about what’s happening in the Presbyterian Church (USA) when it comes to changes in its ordination standards for a simple reason: I get paid by them.  I know people who are more conservative and opposed the change and liberals who supported it and I haven’t really wanted to offend folks or get people upset.

But I also know that most people just have to look at my Facebook page to know where I stand.  And that doesn’t change how I would work.  My job is to serve the whole church with love and grace, not just those who happen to agree with me.

That said, I would like to say one thing to those people and churches that are leaving or thinking about leaving.

I wish you would stay.

I wish you would stay because we need your witness in the larger church.

But I have a more important reason that I’d like you to stay: I want you to get to know gay folks like me; especially those us who happen to be or want to be pastors.

I know that’s uncomfortable.  I know that might even go against what you understand in the Bible.  I understand.  I know you take the Bible seriously and want to live a righteous life.  I also know that you already feel that you aren’t really welcomed in the PC(USA) as it is.  I think sometimes you have been treated poorly for your beliefs.  I don’t think my side has always treated you with love , let alone respect.

But I wish you would stay and be willing to be a bit uncomfortable.  That you would try to live in this changed environment and see what God might do.

Yeah, I know it’s hard.  I get that.  But I want you to remember this.  People like me, who are gay, well, we’ve had to live in the tension ourselves.  We’ve had to put up with laws and rules that we didn’t like.  Some of us got tired and left, but a lot of stayed even though it was uncomfortable.  We waited to see what God was going to do, what God is doing. And while I can’t speak for every gay person, I want to be a bit uncomfortable myself and get to know some you more.

I’m not under any illusions that you will change your mind.  But I do think if you got to know us, you’d learn that we love God as much as you do.  That we gay folks can take the Bible as seriously as you do.  It might be a different verse, but in a lot of cases, it’s the same song.  Maybe if we live together in that tension, we will learn to love and respect each other even when we don’t see eye to eye.  Maybe we can learn to do mission and ministry together instead of in our little silos.

I know that I’m not even Presbyterian.  But my own denomination, the Disciples of Christ, is having a big debate this summer.  I can imagine there will be a few people who will want to leave if the vote goes my way.  I want them to stay too and learn to be a bit uncomfortable for the sake of the kingdom.

You see, I think the Christian life is about living in tension.  We live in the now and the not yet.  We are saints and sinners.  And in honor of the late Will Campbell, we are bastards and loved by God.  The Christian life is kind of messy at times and doesn’t always make sense.  Sometimes things are clear, and sometimes things are a bit cloudy.  Maybe the Christian life isn’t always a birthday party, maybe sometimes it’s that uncomfortable Thanksgiving dinner.  Either way, God is there and might just surprise you.

I tend to think that heaven is going to be a shock for all of us.  We’ll be thinking to ourselves “God let him in?”  Which means heaven might be a bit uncomfortable at first as we get used to God’s truly amazing grace.

So, we might as well start practicing now.

Repost: I Miss the Old Mel White

The following is a post from June of 2012.

I recently read an interview with Rev. Mel White. Most of you know him as someone who grew up as an evangelical, was a ghostwriter for many big evangelical stars and then came out as gay. I remember hearing about him in the mid-to-late 90s and back then he was kind of the SpongeBob Squarepants of the gay community. I mean that SpongeBob thing as a compliment, because he just seemed so darned positive, when it seems like most gay men were known for snark and bitterness. He was kind of a breath of fresh air to me and I was amazed and applauded his attempts to meet and even persuade his some of the people he used to work for. Yes, it might have been hopeless, but there was something wonderful about how he really tried to do that whole “love your enemies” thing that Jesus talked about.

This leads me back to the article I read. The positive Mel White of old is long gone. What’s left is a man that’s pretty pissed off at the church and when I say church, I mean the whole church. White is angry not just at evangelicals, but also more mainline denominations that either still haven’t voted in favor of equality (like the United Methodists) and those that have recently allowed for non-celibate gays to become ordained (like the Lutherans and the Presbyterians):

For example, in the United Methodist Book of Discipline homosexual behavior is labeled, “incompatible with Christian teaching.” The Methodists—with their misleading logo, “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors”—have voted against us for approximately 40 years and yet they are the largest and most progressive of the mainline churches. Changing the basic statement of the mainline churches from anti to pro has been the activist’s primary goal for decades with very little to show for it…

After debating the issue for almost half a century in recent years the Lutherans and the Presbyterians have finally voted to ordain lesbians and gays, but the United Methodists still refuse to ordain us. In fact, they still have on their books that local clergy can even deny membership to gay and lesbian Christians…

Again, after at least a decade of futile debate, the ELCA (Lutherans) voted to ordain and marry us, while the Presbyterians and United Methodists continue to deny us the rites of marriage. Even the liberal Episcopal Church is losing local congregations because this most progressive of the mainline denominations appointed an openly gay bishop.

On one level, I can understand his frustration. Many Methodists are upset that even a measure stating they agree to disagree failed, and rightfully so. Living in Minnesota, I know a lot of Lutherans and I know a lot of them either had to live in the closet or face ecclesiastical courts before the ban on gay clergy was lifted.

But the fact is, whether we like it or not, change like this moves slowly. Always does. It moves slowly in society and it moves slowly in the church. It takes a while for people to change their mind or see another way of looking at things. That’s frustrating, but I’ve come to learn that justice comes in its time and till then all you can do is press on making the case for change.

Another thing we have to do is love our enemies. Some times we can love them close and maybe even be friends. Sometimes you gotta love them from afar. White used to at least try, but it seems like these days, he’s just sticking to those who agree with him:

Christian fundamentalists, like fundamentalist Jews or Muslims, read their “holy books” literally. For fundamentalist Christians the Bible is clear: homosexuality is a sin. “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.”

Trying to build bridges with fundamentalists is a game I’ve played—a war I’ve fought—for 20 years and I’ve lost almost every battle.

Fundamentalists don’t listen to facts let alone to personal experience. What the Bible says to a fundamentalist Christian parent is more significant, has more weight, than what they see in the lives of their own children. I have stopped even trying to build bridges with fundamentalists. When one of them asks me, “Have you read Leviticus 20?” (a verse when taken literally demands that men who sleep with men should be killed) I reply, “You’ve confused me with someone who cares about what you think of Leviticus 20.”

Evangelicals see salvation as an act of faith, a very personal encounter between the believer and his/her God. The more historic churches see salvation as a sacramental act, through receiving the Eucharist. Most fundamentalists are evangelical but all evangelicals are not fundamentalists. There are many examples of progressive, even open and affirming evangelicals and we should go on trying to build bridges with every progressive evangelical we encounter.

And, needless to say, we should go on trying to build bridges with the liberal or progressive churches but if the label can be trusted, if a church or denomination is correctly described as “liberal” or “progressive” they are already working with us. Unfortunately, we continue to call the historic mainline churches “liberal” and “progressive” when on our issue they are neither.


Okay, but we aren’t really building bridges if we build them with people who already agree with us. It’s not bridge building; it’s building an echo chamber.

I don’t think trying to reach fundamentalists/social conservatives is a waste of time. Maybe I’m an idiot, but I have tried to reach out to social conservatives. Some folks aren’t ever going to listen to me and I tend to “love them from afar.” But others, I do try to sit and listen to them and have them listen to me. I don’t expect to change their minds; I leave that up to God. And I truly believe that God is powerful enough to change minds. But that’s not my end goal- my goal is to love them as God loves them even if I disagree with it. That’s not a waste of time to me- it’s what being a disciple of Jesus is all about.

I can understand some of the bitterness found in White and in many of my fellow gay folk. When you live in fear that people don’t like you or worse, it’s easy to have a chip on your shoulder and ready to do battle.

Maybe I’m a coward, but I also think that as a Christian, I have to learn how to also learn to love others- even others that might hate and revile me. The Old Mel White had that Christ-like love that allowed him to meet with Jerry Falwell in the long-shot hope that Falwell might repent. It was a foolish and extravagant love that I was amazed to see.

The New Mel White is not so foolish. Some would say he has the righteous anger that Jesus had turning over the moneychangers’ tables in the temple. I would agree we need that passion at times. But we also need that crazy, stupid love that White showed towards his enemies as well, and I think the world is poorer for losing that Mel White.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like A Bigot?

punch a bigot

It was about 15 years ago that I saw firsthand how love of enemy and justice for the oppressed clashed with each other.  I was in seminary at the time and one Sunday afternoon, I went to a discussion held at a local Lutheran church.  The then-Bishop of the St. Paul Area Synod of the ELCA, Mark Hanson (who is now the denomination’s Presiding Bishop) was in attendance.  The topic was on LGBT inclusion.  Bishop Hanson was trying hard to stress the unity of the church amidst diversity.  He tried to talk about how churches that were opposed to having non-celibate gays as pastors and those who advocate for it are brought together and have a place at Christ’s table.

The audience gathered was having none of this happy talk.  A few in attendance talked about LGBT folk they knew who were no longer in the church.  More than once I heard this phrase which was accompanied with tears: “People are dying!”

I never knew what that phrase meant.  Was it literally or figurately?  I don’t know. What I did know is that the people wanted some sense of justice for LGBT folk right now-unity be damned.

In the ongoing debates on the role of LGBT persons in the life of the church, we normally see these two important aspects of our faith, love and justice, collide into each other.  What I’ve observed over time is that you can’t really bring these two concepts together or at least not perfectly.

This collision of two Christian values comes into focus for those us who favor LGBT inclusion.  Many of us tend to use an early struggle as our template-that struggle being the issue of race.  There was a time when I could see the parallels.  Actually, I still see the parallels, but part me wishes I couldn’t.

Why?  Because I can see where such thinking leads, I don’t know if I want to go down that road.

Let me explain.  Methodist Pastor Adam Hamilton wrote an oped recently in the Washington Post expressing his changing opinion on homosexuality.  He likens some of the objections to objections made by those who supported slavery:

There are a handful of Scriptures (five or eight depending upon how one counts) that specifically speak of same-sex intimacy as unacceptable to God. Conservatives or traditionalists see these as reflecting God’s timeless will for human relationships. Progressives look at these same scriptures in much the same way that progressives in the nineteenth century looked at the Bible’s teaching on slavery. They believe that these verses capture the cultural understandings and practices of sexuality in biblical times, but do not reflect God’s will for gay and lesbian people…

For many Christians today, particularly young adults, the handful of Bible verses related to same sex intimacy seem more like the 100 plus verses on slavery than they do the teachings of Jesus and his great commandments to love God and neighbor. Their gay and lesbian friends are people, just like them, in need of love and community. I believe that in the years ahead an increasing number of Christians, not only progressives, but also conservatives, will read the Bible’s passages regarding homosexuality as all Christians today read the Bible’s passages on slavery. And the sermons preached from America’s pulpits decrying the rights of homosexuals today will sound to future generations much like the pro-slavery sermons sound to us today.

I understand where Hamilton is coming from and I tend to agree with him.  But I am also hesitant because what is being said in this article is that those who oppose homosexuality are bigots.  That may well be true, but we should stop what we mean when we say explicitly or implicitly that someone is a bigot for opposing homosexuality.  To paraphrase a Simpson’s line, the word bigot can be used so much that it loses all meaning.  But the term is not one that should be used lightly.

As Megan McArdle said recently, our society has rightly deemed that being a racist is something reprehesible.  I would add that bigot falls into the same category.  In a good post about crime, McArdle notes that there are consequences for calling someone a racist:

Some crimes should be viewed as so morally horrific that they cut one off from decent society.  But society also needs to be careful about who it cuts off.  It is very terrible to let a child molester keep working on new victims.  But it is also very terrible to destroy the life of an innocent adult–to brand him with a label that will probably keep him from ever associating with decent people again.

This does not, by the way, apply only to legal crimes.  We’ve stigmatized racists in much the same way: to be a racist is almost by definition to be a terrible person, or at least, a person who has very terrible thoughts.  But now liberals complain that they cannot have a discussion about race with conservatives without the conservatives taking horrible offense and acting as if the accusation of racism were worse than racism itself.

But this is the natural result of making racism into something so terrible that to utter an obviously racist remark is to brand yourself as an outcast.  You can’t have it both ways–say that racism is so terrible that even subtle manifestations deserve to be stigmatized by all right-thinking people, and then turn around and say that everyone’s a little bit racist and you’re just trying to have a conversation about how we can all pull together to build a more race-tolerant society.

That taboo is a good thing in many ways; I believe that social sanction keeps quite a bit of racism from being expressed, or acted upon.  But the flip side is that there is no such thing as an accusation of “mild” racism, any more than there are moderately bad child molesters.  If you call someone racist, you are invoking a huge social taboo.  (Something that, I must confess, I don’t think all the complaining liberals are entirely unaware of.)  But inherent to a taboo’s power is the fact that it’s only rarely invoked.

I’ve seen this when we talk about sexuality.  On the one hand people like to talk about how everyone is welcome at Christ’s table, even those who disagree.  But we also say that the church needs to repent of its homophobia.  We aren’t yet at the point where being a homophobe is equal to being a racist, but we are close.  If we call someone a homophobic bigot, aren’t we saying that they are on par with slaveholders or a segregationist?  Would we really welcome such a person in our congregation?

Social conservatives usually get a bit ruffled when someone calls them bigot or compares them to Bull Connor.  It’s easy to blow this off, but I think they understand stakes.  They know a racist is a horrible person and they don’t see themselves as the modern equivalent of George Wallace.

Rod Dreher, a social conservative that I read often, understands this as well.  Here he talks about how newspapers view folks like him:

I remember once speaking with a senior executive at another big newspaper about his paper’s agenda-driven reporting on homosexuality and the marriage issue. This wasn’t an accusation on my part; he admitted the bias, and was proud of it. I brought up the likelihood that his paper’s bias could alienate many socially conservative readers, at a time when all of us who worked at newspapers were hemorrhaging readers. The executive said, indignantly, “We don’t need bigots for readers.”

Well, he certainly has a lot fewer of them today than he did when we had that conversation. So does the Washington Post. I wouldn’t claim that newspapers have lost readers because of their bias on reporting the marriage issue, but to the extent readers have lost confidence in the ability of newspapers to report the news with as much fairness as is possible (knowing that total fairness isn’t possible), and are therefore unwilling to spend their money to be lied to and to have people like themselves defamed, then yes, it plays a role.

Over the years, talking to fellow conservatives about media bias, it has usually been my place, as one who worked in mainstream media, to tell conservatives that they’re wrong in some significant way about media bias — not its existence, but the way it works. Most reporters and editors, in my 20 years of experience, do not set out to slant stories, and in fact try to be fair. The bias that creeps into their coverage is typically the result of a newsroom monoculture, in which they don’t see the bias because everybody, or nearly everybody, within that culture agrees on so much. In the case of gay rights and the marriage debate, though, they don’t even make an effort to be fair. I have heard some version of the “error has no rights” claim for years now. They honestly believe they are morally absolved from having to treat the views of about half the country with basic fairness in reporting. And they are shocked — believe me, they really are — that these people view them and the work they do with suspicion, even contempt.

Dreher can be overly dramatic, but there is some truth in his bluster.  If we are equating folks like Dreher to racists, then frankly, I can’t talk to them or read their blogs.  I can’t do any of that because being a homophobe is taboo and people like Dreher has crossed the line.

Which is why I’m hesitant to paint those who might be against same sex marriage as bigots.  Because doing so is serious.  The Great Evangelist Charles Finney barred slaveholders from receiving communion because owning another human being was crossing a line.

Maybe this is the wrong choice.  Maybe I shouldn’t care what social conservatives think.  I just don’t know if I’m ready to tell people that they are no longer welcome because of their refusal to repent of their sin.  Because if I’m calling someone a bigot, that’s exactly what I’m doing.

Sunday Sermon: “No Do Overs”

This is a sermon I preached in 2007 for the Baptism of Our Lord which is next Sunday.  I happen to be preaching next Sunday.  No, I won’t be using this sermon.

“No Do Overs”
Isaiah 43:1-7, Luke 3:15-22
January 7, 2007 (Baptism of Our Lord)
Community of Grace Christian Church*
Minneapolis, MN

Did you ever have one of those experiences where you are playing a board game and you made some kind of mistake? Someone usually has pity on you and you get what is called a “do-over.”

I live for those moments.

Do overs can be great, I mean you get another chance. I really like them when I was playing some kind of athletic game as a kid. Since I was not blessed with physical prowess, this meant that I had another shot at getting it right.

Getting a do-over in say, kickball, is a good thing, but do-overs don’t work so well in the life of faith. In fact, they might do some damage.

Today is what is commonly called The Baptism of Our Lord. It is on this day, that we read about Jesus, the Son of God, the one who had no sin, coming forth to be baptized. Baptism has always been a touchy subject for me. As many of you know, I come from the Baptist tradition, so people tend to get baptized later in life than someone from a tradition that practices infant baptism. Baptists as well as Disciples believe in something called “believer’s baptism,” which means that the person usually makes a profession of faith before they are baptized. I got baptized in December 1976 at New Jerusalem Baptist Church in my hometown of Flint, Michigan. I was seven years old and didn’t understand everything that was going on. Anyway, I did get baptized and went on to grow up in the church and learn about God and about how God loved me.

As I got older, I started to have doubts. I would hear many preachers talking about making sure we were saved by God and I would fret about this. Did I really believe? It didn’t get any better when I was in college. Back then, I shared my concerns with my campus pastor. His belief was that in my case, I might want to get baptized again since I wasn’t sure. When I shared this with my mother, she looked at me as if I had just turned purple. I never went through with it and over time, I put my fears to rest. That was until about five years later when I was looking to join a Baptist church in Washington, DC. I was chatting with the pastor, and he asked if I had been baptized. I said yes “Was it a believer’s baptism?” he said. I tensed up. All the doubts came back. You see, he believed that the “believer’s baptism” was the only true way to be baptized and had “re-baptized” those who came from traditions where they were baptized as children. Despite my doubts, I told him I had been baptized. Continue reading “Sunday Sermon: “No Do Overs””