July 17, 2018

Why I am an Ally – Part 6 – When your views don’t match

Welcome to part six in the series.  If you would like to catch up on other posts in this series, or on anything else I have written, Internet Monk keeps them all here.

When your views don’t match

Two weeks ago we had some questions from JohnB. I rephrased his questions and put them so some of my pastoral friends who are largely in conservative and/or evangelical communities. We will deal with these questions and responses over the next couple of weeks as I have just started getting responses in.

Three of the responses to one of the questions really struck me, and I thought we could deal with them early as a bit of a side topic. One of my last questions to the Pastors was:

Are any of your answers… constrained by the fact that you are in a particular denomination?

Here are the responses:

First,I would not allow the denomination or church that I serve in to dictate their opinion of this issue. There are issues that I would, but this is not one of them. If I were in conflict with my church’s position and there was no give I would leave.

I still don’t know this particular Pastor’s position, as he will be responsding in detail later, but I must say that my curiosity is piqued.

Pastor #2 had quite a different response:

I would consider myself to be an ally, but… [have not] been able to publicly say so… Denominational restrictions… essentially make it impossible to be supportive of LGBTQ people… unless one wants to be fired. That being said, there is definitely a need for more courageous people than myself to take such stands, especially when there’s such a digging-in of collective heels within neo-evangelical camps to maintain “family values” (which is essentially code for conservative, moralistic, anti-gay patriarchy). However, the issue of livelihood seriously complicates matters and unfortunately when one’s job is on the line, it makes it tricky/risky to be completely affirming within most church/christian contexts.

Pastor #3 told me:

While I would like to be more open to LGBTQ within our congregation, I have chosen to be credentialed and serve within [his denomination] and so have chosen to abide by the restrictions that they put in place.

I will be talking about all their responses to all their questions over the next week, or possibly two, but the thought struck me today that one of the big advantages of being in the “Evangelical Wilderness”, and while attending a church, not being in leadership in a church, is that I feel freedom. Freedom to write what I want. Freedom to believe what I want and express it. Freedom to be wrong.

Yes, I will show some self restraint. I don’t want to hurt people. Relationship IS more important than being right.

Right now, I am just so glad to be in a place now where I have that freedom. I have been in a circumstance similar to that of Pastor #2, and the inner turmoil was crippling. I don’t know how a Pastor could sustain it for long. Yet the response of Pastor #1, “to leave”, isn’t that easy either.

Four and a half years ago I wrote this on Internet Monk:

Like Michael Spencer, I find myself looking over my shoulder. I find myself at increasing odds with my church on both theological and philosophical matters… There have been many times when I have wanted to speak my mind on an issue, comment on Facebook, or even like a post, but have not done so. Primarily because I know that doing so will create conflict and hurt feelings within the church, and probably lead to my removal from leadership of my small group. It is my love and care for those in my small group, and others in the church, that causes me to bite my tongue. To quote my lovely wife, “being right isn’t necessarily always the most important thing.” I wonder though if my convictions about various topics will reach the point where I will no longer be able keep quiet.

For now though, I soldier on, but it seems like I am marching on a finer and finer line. One foot in the church, and one foot in the wilderness.

It feels SO good to be free of that. And yet, I miss my old church SO much.

So here is my question for our readers. What has been your experience in being out of step with others in your church? What did you do about it? And what was the eventual outcome? How did you feel during and after the conflict?

As usual your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Comments

  1. Klasie Kraalogies says:

    The comments by Pastors 2 and 3 are saddening. And they remind me of the discussion we had here Monday, about the church as instiution vs people. I answered Seneca with a quote from Terry Pratchett which is relevant here too, it seems:

    Belief shifts. People start out believing in the god and end up believing in the structure.
    – Terry Pratchett, Small Gods

    If we want to consistently try and be good, and reasonable, we will discover ourselves to be outsiders from time to time. Our decisions then will show us where our loyalites lie. Could be church – or party, or State even.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      Frank Schaeffer years go wrote in “Crazy for God” about how Evangelical leaders get locked in, and have to toe the line set by the big donors or lose their livelihood. It’s a fascinating read, and helped me better understand modern Evangelicalism.

      • Michael Z says:

        That happened to my denomination: thirteen years ago they received a huge gift (about a million dollars, and for a small denomination that’s a lot) for church-planting. It came with strings attached: the gift couldn’t be used to fund church plants that allowed gay lay leaders. (Established churches were, and still are, allowed to permit gay people in lay leadership roles, although the denomination as a whole takes the traditionalist position.)

        This happened at a time when congregational giving to the denomination was declining, so they were becoming increasingly dependent on large donors. And it turns out that many of those donors are conservatives with an axe to grind – including “refugees” who had left other denominations like the UCC and ELCA when they became affirming, and who came to our denomination specifically because they were looking for a non-affirming but otherwise progressive church.

        Anyway, the leadership quickly recognized what side their bread was buttered on and began making more and more restrictive pronouncements on human sexuality in order to appease those conservative donors. In the process they managed to hurt a lot of lifelong members who were used to a much less authoritarian leadership style and didn’t understand why this was the hill we’d chosen to die on.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > The comments by Pastors 2 and 3 are saddening.

      And I’m afraid it is not uncommon. There are others who write about this regularly, like Skye Jethani.

      I experienced this in the first church I left as an adult. It was not over The Big Issues – and it was non-denominational so at least the “theological” tent was large-ish [we called it Southern Baptist Lite]. There was quite a bit of low-level good-old-boy corruption, and always a little sex scandal here and there to be covered up, and a pastor would express to me that he needed to “tow the party line”, even when it meant some degree of personal betrayal. Sometimes just Cultural Appearance [which was HUGE in that church] can become a Bit Issue, operationally. I had a very good time there, made some life long friends, but ultimately I feel sad about the place.

  2. john barry says:

    I agree with Klasie K., about Pastors 2 and 3. It is not only sad but confusing as if they really believe in their position what is the problem? Have they not heard they are on the right side of history? There are many mainline churches that would welcome them and they could spread their story . Should they add the old Platters hit “The Great Pretender” to the worship music playlist, to give their church a clue. Change the old saying, practice what you preach to how about believe what you preach.

    I have visited many a church , many I would not join as I would be out of step with them. However once you join or regularly attend a “church” either you abide by their teachings/beliefs , on major issues, or you do not attend or you move on.

    If I went to a church where they performed same sex marriages and had a homosexual Bishop who divorced his wife , married a man and then divorced him , I would not join that church and I am sure they would all say Amen. However, I would not ask that church to change their beliefs to accommodate my viewpoint and I am sure they would welcome me to attend their worship services if I so wanted to but why would I ? There are other places that would welcome or at least tolerate John Barry but they would have to sing the original version of Amazing Grace or not be graced by my presence. Some things cannot be comprised.

    Either your beliefs change you or you change your beliefs.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      There is, however, a structural difference between how a conservative and a liberal church deals with disagreement on such issues. Conservative churches have a long history of purges, often after the conservative wing took control of what had previously been a less conservative church. The LCMS went through this back in the ’70s, and the SBC more recently. This doesn’t happen in liberal churches.

      The ELCA had a conservative wing for decades. The conservatives didn’t gain any traction at synod meetings, but neither was there any inclination to kick them out. They left pretty much en masse about fifteen or twenty years ago of their own volition, in response to softening of the ELCA’s official position on the gay issue. The thing is, the conservative ELCA churches weren’t being forced to do anything they didn’t want to do. They weren’t forced to accept a gay (or female) pastor, or to perform gay weddings, or even to accept gay members. ELCA congregations have a lot of autonomy. An ELCA congregation that loudly rejected gay members would produce nothing more than eye rolls from nearly congregations, who would happily take in those gay members.

      The urge to purge, if you have the power to, or leave, if you don’t, is a conservative trait. They see it is maintaining purity, but it sure looks a lot like not playing well with others. And once you decide that you can only associate with the pure, you start finding disagreements with your fellow conservatives. This is why conservative denominations tend to splinter into small sects. Liberal denominations are happy to have a large tent, including any conservatives that want to be there.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > between how a conservative and a liberal ….

        And what you describe is true of political coalitions, groups, and parties as well. All I need to do search-replace LCMS/ELCA with a variety of other names to create a very recognizable narrative.

        > This is why conservative denominations tend to splinter into small sects

        This. On the other hand the cohesion within those sects is tight [except at the moments of rupture].

      • Richard, I would disagree with you on your conservative versus liberal narrative. I was a conservative in the Episcopal church and once my views were know was told that I should go to another church that held my views. So my only point is that it swings both ways.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          The dynamics within a single congregation are different from those of a congregation within the denomination. There are and always have been conservative parishes with in the Episcopal Church. Even within a given parish, it would be very weird for a congregation to have a de facto “no Republicans allowed” policy. I cannot help but wonder how much weight “once my views were known” carries here.

        • Clay Crouch says:

          I’m sorry you had that experience in your parish. Whoever suggested you leave did themselves and your parish a great injustice.

          Our parish has a broad spectrum of members. Republicans, Democrats, gay, straight, young, old, conservatives, liberals, and me – right down the middle. I think it is a credit to our rector that we have maintained a decorum that is welcoming to any and all during his 15+ year tenure. No one stands up on her soap box and demands that we all toe a particular political/cultural line. I certainly don’t want to attend a church where everyone believes the exact same thing. There’s no fun in that!

      • Will Berger says:

        I think that is an accurate description of the conservative wing in a mainline denomination. My own experience in my Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) follows the pattern exactly. I would add an additional category within the conservative wing of those of us who were self identified as conservative who were committed to the larger church and to learning modern scholarship who over time accepted the progressive outlook and left conservative evangelicalism behind. For some of my friends that meant capitulation and the very thing they warned against when it came to cooperation and the dirty word compromise. But, many viewed the openness in a more positive light (of course, they often changed their outlook as well). I will also add that it was my conservative college that encouraged me to sympathetically understanding other points of view.

      • Will Berger says:

        I think that Richard gives an accurate description of the conservative wing in a mainline denomination. My own experience in my Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) follows the pattern exactly. I would add an additional category within the conservative wing of those of us who were self identified as conservative who were committed to the larger church and to learning modern scholarship who over time accepted the progressive outlook and left conservative evangelicalism behind. For some of my friends that meant capitulation and the very thing they warned against when it came to cooperation and the dirty word compromise. But, many viewed the openness in a more positive light (of course, they often changed their outlook as well). I will also add that it was my conservative college that encouraged me to sympathetically understanding other points of view.

    • Michael Bell says:

      John,

      What if you have been in a church your entire life, member for 40 years, serve on the board, have life long friends, have no issues whatsoever with the Pastor, or the people in you church, and the denomination changes its stance on something to something else that you don’t believe in? Say for example they have gone from an Armenian position to a Calvinist one, or vice-versa. Would you stay and be quiet, stay and try and fight the change (after all it is your church), or leave.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        My personal response is that the local congregation is what matters. I was a member of an LCMS congregation for a few years in the early 90s.. I moved to a smallish city with just a couple of Lutheran churches. I bounced hard off both ELCA churches. I can’t even say why at this point, but I remember going to each just once and having no doubt whatsoever that this wasn’t the place for me. I was about to try the Episcopalians, but first I went to the LCMS church. And it was just fine. It felt like home. When the time came, I had the chat with the pastor, who requested a letter of transfer from my previous, ELCA, church. A few years later I moved across the country and joined an ELCA church, which requested and obtained a letter of transfer from that LCMS church.

        I’m pretty sure the LCMS hierarchy would have been appalled. That LCMS congregation was pretty liberal, by LCMS standards. (Upon reflection, I think the ELCA churches I rejected were so liberal they had fallen off the edge. It happens sometimes.) I have wondered how it is now. Denominational stances have hardened, so I would not be surprised to learn there had been a crackdown.

        The point is that to me, the individual parishioner, what the denomination did only mattered to the extent that it affected with the local congregation did. If the hierarchy comes in and starts telling you what to do, and if they have the power to enforce then, then you have a problem. Otherwise, what difference does it make if some other churches somewhere else have a sign out front similar to yours, yet hold different theological opinions?

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > If the hierarchy comes in and starts telling you what to do,
          > and if they have the power to enforce then…

          Absence of any kind of authority to call on when a leader goes bonkers, or when there are systemic ethical issues, can also be a serious problem. I’ve seen both these happen; one situation **theoretically** had hierarchy [it was a denomination in mid-stage deterioration] , and the other had none [independent non-denom]. This is something that is challenging to get right, especially for institutions who will not consider secular wisdom.

      • john barry says:

        Michael Bell, There are some beliefs that cannot be comprised and I went to a church that changed their foundational and core beliefs and teachings I would leave. I believe in the natural law/order and that it was established by God for the good of man.

        I believe that as followers of Christ that marriage is sacred and between a man and woman. If my church changed its teachings and beliefs on this that would be a deal breaker. Now if my church was openly hostile to homosexuals, thought they should be prosecuted in the secular world or not welcome if they were trying to repent, by that I mean change and accept Christ that would be a deal breaker also. So again , who changed and why? Then we get into the “weeds” that need to be gotten iinto if more justification is needed to satisfy your belief.

        Again the issue is never the issue and gay marriage was one of them but that is a secular discussion but if the people of faith do not stand on their beliefs who will? It seems many secular people are more firm in their belief system and have more faith in the goodness of man than Christians have in the foundations of their faith.

        • Michael Bell says:

          I don’t think you answered my question. The issue of “Eternal Security of the Believer” is an important theological tenet. What is your position on it? What if your church changed its position, and you no longer agreed with an item in your churches statement of faith? Why would this be, or not be, a deal breaker for you?

          I am trying to move this particular discussion today beyond the LGBTQ questions?

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            It is not an issue I would leave a church over. However I suspect a shift of that kind would drag with it other baggage that might invoke a different answer.

            I lean Wesleyan/Arminian as Rick Ro. says; but it is not a hill I would die on. It is in the category of Theological questions I consider Important, yet potentially above the moral pay grade.

            If I was a pastor/teacher I might feel compelled to have a stronger position.

            • Adam Tauno Williams says:

              correction: above the MORTAL pay grade

            • Radagast says:

              Adam,

              Arminian – your half-way to Catholic…

            • Rick Ro. says:

              –> “I lean Wesleyan/Arminian as Rick Ro. says; but it is not a hill I would die on.”

              I would ALMOST die on that hill, especially if it was a choice between that hill and the Calvinism hill, BUT…

              There are certainly enough verses in the NT to suggest some elements of Calvinistic theology are close to truth, so I can’t throw those out, either.

              What I don’t understand are people who hold one or the other as ABSOLUTE truth.

          • Radagast says:

            Michael,

            The direction of your question is actually very relevant to practicing Catholics today… not that question in particular but the spirit of the question. There have been times when a particular movement within the Church gathers momentum and media makes it seem like things are about to change (when in reality they are not.) This is seen today in topics like divorced Catholics and the Eucharist, practicing gay Catholics etc. About 20 years ago there was a Marian movement that wanted to make Mary Co-Mediatrix … almost like a fourth person of the trinity so to speak. It took a priest to talk me off the ledge because in my mind that would be heresy. I would have struggled with my faith. Man-made rules like clergy celibacy would be less of an issue (though it would cause all sorts of other problems and certainly married clergy in the Episcopalian tradition has not solved their flight issues).

            For Catholics we just don’t have a lot of changes on core issues. But if we did, serious Catholics are built differently… we may hop parishes from time to time but unless we are cultural Catholics in name only, or generational Catholics that never took the faith as our own then we tend to hang with our tradition. We are also not hung up on the Priest as cult-of-personality partly because we are there for the Eucharist.

            Point is… I get your point….

          • john barry says:

            Michael Bell, I always try to answer the Bell. I believe that you cannot lose your salvation based on what I have learned, my understanding of the Bible and my belief system. Who can remove you from the hand of God? Now there are many nuances and paths to ponder and even “debate” about being truly saved and so forth . So if my church stated that salvation was based on other than accepting Jesus Christ as Savior I would have to leave the fold. It is catchy and new but I would tell them In Christ Alone.

            I would not attend a church who in my opinion and belief system “added” to what one must do to be assured of eternal salvation. My go to reference in the Bible is the thief on the cross, who we must assume led a sinful life, who was guilty of secular sin and accepted his secular punishment so how did he get the ticket from Jesus, He believed and confessed that he believed that Jesus Christ was his personal Savior. As Porky Pig said so well , that’s all folks.

            The prodigal son left the home and love of his Father, the Father never stopped loving his son , no matter what and was always willing to say Welcome Home. There is only one unpardonable sin and that is to deny Jesus Christ as Savior. The prodigal son rejected what the Father offered.

            If church got into works or whatever as a condition of salvation I would have to leave. I guess I could not use my old bar joke , I have better thrown out of better places than this.

            Or if the young ladies in the establishment do not meet my standards I will lower them. Churches should not do that.

            I do believe in the natural law and there has to be a foundation more than ———————————————–shifting sand .

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          “””Again the issue is never the issue … but if the people of faith do not stand on their beliefs who will?”””

          So – the issue is the issue? What you say here sounds like classic Yes-But “logic”, which is used to deflect from the direct answer – which is No [“no”, is what Yes-But means].

  3. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    > What has been your experience in being out of step with others in your church?

    My first church – large non-denom – I attended as an fully emerged adult gave me a lot; several life-long friends, a lot of wisdom, and experience. The out-of-step wasn’t any of The Big Issues, the only fire-brand issue I remember coming up regularly was Abortion; and I’ve never respected the arguments of either “side” so I was comfortable ignoring it. The issue I did not even see at first, being young, were the powerful cultural expectations. As I got older they mattered more; one was meant to go to a proper school [and those that did were shuttled right into leadership, their immaturity – particularly sexual – ignored until it blew up], live in the right kind of neighborhood, have good children, etc… They were very serious about this. It was clear I, and then my wife, did not have a place in their world. My feelings leaving were mostly sadness, I had had some great years there, but to stay was to be on the fringe forever; I did not want the life-style they approved of.

    It was at the next [and last] church that I really learned what keep-your-head down meant. It was smaller, denominational, friendly – and had a much lower median income. If it had issues they were quaint: people squabbling about music [I hate talking about the music], some people **still** raging against rock-n-roll. In hindsight I can see the seeds of what would happen next; hindsight works that way. 9/11 happened. And the right-wing beast which had been quietly locked up in the basement, slumbering for decades, thundered to life. It was fear, fear, and more fear – literally demons-in-the-sky talk. Then everything needed to be questioned, including my wife and I were were running their high-school group. We dreaded going every Sunday and to every meeting; it was be-quiet-and-keep-your-head-down. So we stopped going. I had volunteered to repair and clean the old church building, my wife and I had been nearly the grand total of their high-school leadership, I was even on the board of trustees. And . . . not a single person called, not a single person came to my door. Message received.

    Here in western Michigan I feel I could walk up to a stranger on the street, tell this story, and have a good chance I would get a nod of been-there-done-that recognition. At least I know I am not alone.

  4. My childhood spiritual experience was … complicated. Pluralistic is the only way I can really describe it. Mostly it was as chaotic as the rest of my childhood. As a result, most of my real association with a church has been as an adult, and give the highly anti-Christian nature of my late teens and twenties, most around thirty and older. While I’ve volunteered in a number of different roles and capacities over the years, my livelihood and that of my family has never depended on my association with a church. That’s an entirely different context.

    While white supremacists and white nationalists have been making a concerted effort for decades to gain employment in law enforcement in general (and it makes sense that ICE would have been a natural target when it was created in the 2000s), the outright ones still can’t be more than a minority. Many more, of course, will have leanings or even unacknowledged biases in that direction. That’s a societal issue with very deep roots here. But some percentage are, I’m certain, people who are deeply horrified by the policies of torturing children (the things they are doing inflict lifelong trauma, neurodevelopmental harm, and even lasting biological harm — which is why the APA, america pediatric society, and just about every other group with any standing in the US has denounced those actions) but who feel trapped and helpless. While the situation is much, much overtly worse than one a pastor would feel, some of the same dynamics are in play. If you leave, if you take a stand for what you believe is truly the right thing, how will you survive? Or more importantly, since people tend to be stronger when it’s just them, how will your family survive? What impact will your action have on your children? On your spouse?

    I can appreciate the challenge such situations pose. It’s easy to say everyone should live out the conviction of their beliefs when it’s somebody else’s life at stake. It’s a lot harder when it’s your life and the lives of the people you love most and who depend on you. I don’t have answers for those forced to live in that tension. I don’t honestly know what I would do if I had to make a choice like that. We all want to believe we’re strong and I’ve certainly endured much in my life. I’m no stranger to hardship and pain. But I had no choice in much of it. Choosing hardship for noble reasons is a different story. And because I know firsthand just how hard it can get, the question of what my actions would do to those I love, even if they support me and share my conviction, would loom even larger in my mind.

    • I’ve always thought I was a man of principle who wouldn’t back down from a fight. I had an opportunity to make some very public statements that could have put people I love in jeopardy. I chose to back down. Had it been me alone I wouldn’t have thought twice. It ain’t so easy when it’s real.

    • Robert F says:

      The willing self-sacrifice of a Bonhoeffer will always be the exception, and even he went to great lengths to make sure that his family were not implicated in his anti-Nazi activities (in fact, one of the things that bothered him most was having to lie to his friends and family about so many things he was involved in, so that they indeed wouldn’t be implicated). It will always be so.

  5. Radagast says:

    I tend to fall in the John Barry camp of thinking though I believe he is a non-denom and I am Catholic. I follow the beliefs and traditions set forth by my faith community. We even have a large book that specifically defines what we believe. That being said I know in my heart the Church does not turn anyone away. It just doesn’t meet them all the way based on changes in the secular world.

    We can argue semantics about Communion and the like, but as a Eucharistic minister (I am not the Priest) I would not turn someone away from communion if I had fore-knowledge…. its not in my pay-grade.

    There are those here who demand that things change. I tend to look at more of a historical view. I also consider myself a thoughtful conservatives and many here have a dim view of those of us who share that outlook. But just think of what the world would be like without us… you wouldn’t have anyone to rail against.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      If I have anything like a Church Affiliation today, it is with the Catholic church, as there is where I go when I do. And they don’t turn me away.

      I admire their seriousness and the breadth of issues they engage.

      I admire their consistency on “Life” issues, even if I don’t agree. They honestly struggle to hold a coherent ethic; which is rare for ANY tribe. Compared to the Protestant tribes where these issues are a wilted salad of particularisms.

      I admire that their Priesthood is set apart, and at least in my city seem to be there for the community – while the Catholic priesthood, celibacy, what not, get a lot of criticism . . . compared to the Protestant model . . . it is an unmitigated win. I hope they stay the course. The Pastor’s Family as sideways royalty is a disaster; may God have extra mercy on a pastor’s children.

      I have no interest in asking them to change something, those are their arguments to have. It seems unlikely I will ever have formal participation in a church again.

  6. I realize the question is in regards to my church experiences, but I have to honestly say that, although we changed churches several times in our marriage (33 yrs), the harassment, the disagreement, the disappointment, came more from family members than church members.

    For the most part – someone said it above – churches and church members don’t care if you leave….for any reason. We’ve always left amicably… benign reasons, and wrote letters as to why, not attacking, just saying thank you and if you want to have a conversation we’re open to that…and no response. Yup. BTW, evangelical churches of a varying degree.

    BUT, it’s the family on both sides that questioned everything regarding church, and still do. Sooo annoying, cuz we’ve been clear…but they’re ‘right’ cuz they’re evangelical/fundamentalist, and must agree with them, and really…they think they can dictate where we worship?

    You’d think we lost our salvation.

    And that’s not even getting into the issues that Mike is addressing in his post(s).

    I just want to say, or ask: where are these mega evangelical churches going to be in10 years when they’ve put millions of dollars into building a ‘site’ for the club (aka, church)…especially when built on a pastor with a ‘name’ and with a diminishing population, and a diminishing Christian population?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > going to be in10 years when they’ve

      My answer: right where they are, stable.

      > with a diminishing population,

      Mega-churches do not generally exist in places with diminishing populations. Most, at least in my region, are conveniently located next to interstate exits on the borders of the UZA (UrbaniZed Area). If they needs some big cash out they can sell their large – now very valuable – property holdings [on which they’ve paid no taxes] and jump a few exits further out, build another dressed-up pole barn, and resume operations on what will, by then, be the new UZA edge. It is an impressive business model.

      > and a diminishing Christian population?

      It may be diminishing, but not rapidly enough for them to worry about for another 20+ years. They still have plenty of smaller congregations – which are the ones dropping like flies – to absorb. Also like flies, there are LOTS of them, so they can “drop like flies” for another ~10-15 years. I do not foresee an Evangelical Collapse, the machine is built on a sound fiscal model – with train loads of cash coming in from their political apparatus.

      • Robert F says:

        No collapse, but likely a heat death down the line. But progressive or liberal impatience for that eventuality will not make it hurry, anymore than our impatience can hurry up the ways of God, or assure that the blue wave will wash away the red wall. No one can read the tea leaves, or be certain of the time and season.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          IMnHSO, the Blue Wave is a pipe dream. Data from primary elections does not demonstrate an uptick in engagement.

          • Robert F says:

            I don’t know the data, but from what I can see firsthand, you’re right on the money. I just don’t see the blue wave out there. And if it’s not out there, no amount of wishing that it was can conjure it.

  7. Rick Ro. says:

    –> “…the thought struck me today that one of the big advantages of being in the ‘Evangelical Wilderness’, and while attending a church, not being in leadership in a church, is that I feel freedom. Freedom to write what I want. Freedom to believe what I want and express it. Freedom to be wrong.”

    Amen, brother! While I’m not necessarily in the wilderness, being around so many who are or have been has allowed me to grasp the same freedom. And while I’ll measure myself in some settings, in others I’m a bit looser with my theology. This REALLY helps when with non-believers!!! It allows me to shed pretty much everything an evangelical might feel “compelled” to share so I can stick solely on the basics: God loves, wants a relationship with you, Jesus is an amazing savior.

    Freedom allows for bridge-building with those who need the bridge, while theologies are usually wall-building and not overly beneficial to those on the outside.

    I shared this a couple of months ago, but a middle-aged man dropped into my Saturday morning men’s group one day, clearly interested in talking about theology (Wesleyan/Arminian kinds of stuff, which tends to be my own take on things). After letting him share for a bit, I gave him a bit of history of the group. I told him that about six months ago, I asked the men this question: can people lose their salvation? I then asked him, “What do you think the response was?”

    He said, “Well, since this is a Nazarene church and you believe in Wesleyan/Arminian theology, I would hope that the answer was Yes, you can lose your salvation.”

    I told him that the group was split exactly 50-50, half said Yes, half said No. I then said, “We don’t think theology is important here. Oh, we chat about it now and then, but this group operates a bit differently. We’re here to study the Bible and discuss, and theology takes a back seat to that.”

    He remained with us for the remainder of the session, but he hasn’t been back, and it makes me sad to think people will let their theology get in the way of good discussions and friendship.

  8. Stephen says:

    Don’t rock the boat! An oldie but goodie.

    The saddest thing I have ever seen was right before Obergefell, a group of Black ministers here in DC speaking out against gay rights. Consider this – a group of folks who had known discrimination not for anything they had ever done but for who they are advocating discrimination against other folks not for anything they had ever done but for who they are.

    I think the movement for LGBT rights is directly analogous to the movement for civil rights for African Americans. I was a kid back then but I remember how the issue roiled the southern evangelical churches. Now the little country church I grew up in is totally integrated and nobody even thinks about it.

    No, it’s not important for me to “be right” but it is important for me to do the right thing.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      The saddest thing I have ever seen was right before Obergefell, a group of Black ministers here in DC speaking out against gay rights.

      JUST BECAUSE YOUR GROUP GOT STOMPED ON IN THE PAST DOESN’T MEAN YOU’RE NOT CAPABLE OF TURNING AROUND AND STOMPING ON SOME OTHER GROUP.

      This has a lot of historical precedent — during the flood of immigration in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, one group of immigrants would come in, get stomped on by racism by the “Native Americans” (19th Century definition), then a generation later when they assimilated would stomp on the next group coming off the boats — “America for REAL Americans!” What we’re currently seeing on the Mexican border is just the latest iteration/incarnation.

      • Christiane says:

        even the ‘alien’ children (including babies and little ones) were tromped on . . . . (pardon the pun)

  9. senecagriggs says:

    “Conservative churches have a long history of purges, often after the conservative wing took control of what had previously been a less conservative church. The LCMS went through this back in the ’70s, and the SBC more recently. This doesn’t happen in liberal churches.” Richard H.

    OF COURSE it happens in Mainline denominations too; The Episcopal Church purged themselves of their conservative base.

    Let’s not say human nature is found only in conservative circles. Because that is simply not true.

    • Given that I have personal experience both with Episcopalians and Episcopal churches and SBC churches (among others) going back to childhood, that assertion is nonsense. The Episcopal church didn’t “purge” its conservative members at all. Many left of their own volition because they found the changes in the church untenable, but I’ve been in Episcopal churches here in Texas this year. I can assure you there are still conservative members who choose to remain even if they disagree with a number of official positions. And unlike conservative churches, I know that’s true because they can express their belief. Doesn’t mean they won’t get push back from others, but they won’t be forced to leave either.

      Contrast that with SBC churches. In the most dramatic example that comes to mind, several families were told to leave by the staff. A detailed refutation of some of the things they believed were made the subject of multiple sermons. And everyone was told they were heretics, basically, and nobody should associate with them. Staff members were told it was a matter of their job and no volunteers could continue without disassociating themselves. This was a church with at least several thousand members on the rolls at the time and probably about 1,000 person weekly attendance, not some tiny church. And that’s not the only such instance I’ve personally seen in different places. Heck, at a small SBC church as a teen parent, I was personally told to take my sleeping infant daughter out of the service so her presence wouldn’t disturb the good upstanding members present.

      The mindset, experience, and actions play out very differently. It’s almost delusional to pretend otherwise.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      “The Episcopal Church purged themselves of their conservative base.”

      False

    • Clay Crouch says:

      Seneca, there was no purge. Those parishes that left, left of their own accord. No one was thrown out. No one, layman, deacon, priest or bishop was required to violate their own conscience regarding LGBTQ or same sex marriage issues. That still holds in ECUSA. The big stink was over property and, in the state of SC, the right to be called the Episcopal Church. As to the property issue, no parish or diocese owns or has ever owned property. It is held in trust by the national church. I hope that clears up your misunderstanding.

  10. Dana Ames says:

    I’ve made a big switch of faith communities twice, both times due to what I believed were irreconcilable differences between what I was taught in the community and what I found in Scripture. The first was when I left the Catholic Church because the E’ical interpretation of Scripture in many areas made better sense to me. It was the height of the Jesus Movement and I was in my late teens/early 20s… That was very sad, and with the potential to cause a real rift in my family. Thanks be to God, that rift never happened. The last Catholic priest I talked to before I left was somewhat exasperated with my reasoning, but on a personal level he was respectful of the dictates of my conscience. I also retained friendships with Catholics because I never turned into an anti-Catholic sort of E’ical. I was receive warmly into E’ism, and stayed there without too many theological bumps for +20 years.

    There weren’t many personal/personality bumps along the way. Most of the time I changed churches because I moved to a different area. The first theological bump in E’ism developed over my existence as a female. Others developed as I experienced other aspects of life. The last time I changed as an E’cal, leaving a church I had attended for 10 years, I was very grieved; many people from the church helped us move house from one side of town to another when our children were small, but when I left, only 1 family maintained a friendship with me. Nobody was hostile (except perhaps the pastor, but never to my face, so I don’t know for sure) – people were nice enough when I saw them in the grocery store, etc., but otherwise it was if I had dropped off the face of the earth, I can only assume because I changed to what seemed to them to be a “liberal” church. People in my last Protestant church, a “conservative” PCUSA congregation (yes there are such) didn’t understand why I was leaving for EO, but they knew it wasn’t because of relational problems. Both the pastors blessed my move – “If that’s where God is leading you, then it will be good.” My Catholic family members have been the most understanding, though they’re still a little confused 🙂

    I had to leave the Western expressions of Christianity because the teaching of Western Christianity has slowly, from about the 10th century through the Reformation, developed into something that ultimately denies the goodness and freedom of God. Again, it was about interpretation, not only of Scripture, but of what it means to be the Church. This theological ball of wax became another matter of conscience for me. In addition, toward the end of my time as a Protestant, I observed from hanging out with progressive Christians (good people whom I still respect) what I could sense was shaping up as a divide between those who take Scripture and the history and teaching of the Church seriously, and those who, in their quest for a kinder way of being Christian, kept turning more and more away from the teaching of Classical Christianity – and I’m not speaking only or even primarily of “pelvic issues”. What I wanted was a kinder way of being a Christian within a community that holds to the teachings of Classical Christianity and worships a God who is truly Good and not forced to do anything (especially to punish). That’s what I found in Orthodoxy, esp as it’s expressed in my parish (the mileage of others may vary – Orthodoxy in the US is still pretty much a patchwork quilt in terms of parish experience).

    I am extremely blessed that I can talk to my pastor about anything. In EO, we’re allowed opinions, doubts and questions. The farther away I moved from conservative E’ism (my Vineyard church excepted on most counts) and into Classical Christianity, the more I felt I could finally breathe.

    Apologies to those for whom this is yet another long rehash of mine. OK with me if it’s TL/DR.

    But please!!! It’s ArmInian, not Armenian. The Armenians are a people of the Caucasus. ArmInians – followers of the teaching of Jacob Arminius – are Protestants with a different soteriological slant than Calvinists. I know the writers and most of the rest of us at IM know this… so please and thank you for the proper spelling differentiation!

    Dana

    • Michael Bell says:

      “Armenian” – I hate it when I misspell that one!

      • Stephen says:

        I was an adult before I heard the word Arminian used as a descriptor. I was raised in a country SBC church by what I suppose could be described as “free will” Baptists. Anybody could be saved but of course you had to do it our way, the right way. We were real Christians and everybody else wasn’t really saved. Life was so much simpler in those days.

        Has anyone asked the Armenians if they’re Arminian?

  11. senecagriggs says:

    Editor note: Deleted for being off topic.

    • Clay Crouch says:

      There you go again. I hope you read my response to your false report about the Episcopal Church.

  12. Michael Z says:

    Part of why affirming pastors might stay in a non-affirming denomination is that in the grand scheme of things, a church’s beliefs on human sexuality is a minor secondary issue of doctrine. It would be a different matter if the church were disagreeing about the historicity of the resurrection, the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, or some other core tenet of Christian faith. Even doctrines about baptism or the presence of Christ in the communion elements or the nature of the atonement are much closer to “core” doctrine than a church’s opinion on whether gay people can marry.

    Of course, there’s some asymmetry: it seems that there are *far* more traditional folks than affirming folks for whom human sexuality is the shibboleth by which all churches and Christians should be judged. Even among gay Christians, there are many who say they would be open to attending a non-affirming church as long as they were welcomed and not mistreated there. On the other hand, I’ve met plenty of traditionalists who say that they wouldn’t even be comfortable in a church that takes an agnostic position on human sexuality, let alone the affirming position.

    • Michael Bell says:

      This. Please read and reread.

      • Dana Ames says:

        Except that the expression

        “beliefs on human sexuality is a minor secondary issue of doctrine”

        seems to me to be a reflection of Enlightenment dualism – “Only the SPIRITUAL matters, not the physical; our bodies aren’t really that important.” This is a huge contrast to Classical Christianity and the Judaism from which it sprang. A human being is an ensouled body/embodied soul. If the fullness of both components isn’t there, there isn’t a complete human being. That’s the reason why death (without bodily resurrection) is so terrible: we’re left as incomplete ghosts after the corruption/dissolution of our bodies; or, should some other form of animation take us over, a la Dr. Frankenstein’s creature, we’re left as incomplete zombies. (There’s a reason why we categorize stories that arose about gollem, vampires, ghosts, etc. as Horror Stories.) In CC and Judaism, it matters what we do with our bodies, because we are a true union of the Material and Immaterial, which was God’s intention for us from the beginning, and because of Christ’s Resurrection this union will be re-actualized with the General Resurrection when Christ returns. What we do with our bodies isn’t simply with regard to this life alone; it is about the Christian view of anthropology and what our telos is as Human Beings – created both in the image of God and with sexed bodies – and that telos is far larger than “sex”.

        And from there it’s a short step to the issue of whether the Second Person needed to assume a human body at all in order to deliver and heal us – which is indeed a very Core Doctrine of Christianity. So it really is all of a piece.

        For me, the issue isn’t about affirming or not affirming. ISTM that if one isn’t a Christian, there’s no problem; do whatever you want. And Christians don’t need to impose our way on anyone else. What we need to do is to live what we believe, the best we can in our communities, and by that life show forth what is real. May God help us all, for we fall so very short of this sort of life as we are foundering in the mire of the Individualistic Consumerism of our outrageously wealthy and comfortable time and place.

        I know it’s very difficult and painful for LGBT+ people who want to follow Jesus; I would never denigrate that pain. I see all the facets of these questions as parts of a pastoral issue, not an issue of Morality per se.

        That’s as far as I’m willing to go in a blog comment.

        Dana

        • Robert F says:

          Dana,
          I don’t think we have adequate understanding of what either body or spirit are, I think we labor under many misconceptions about both, and consequently I don’t think we can place as much confidence as you do in the ability of traditional conceptions of sexuality and sexual probity to know how things work out or should work out in life as it is lived. Tradition claims to know too much, in areas where it is not master and not only has incomplete knowledge, but some things completely wrong.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > seems to me to be a reflection of Enlightenment dualism

          Not an all; it is an argument about what makes Humans Human; and that is not sexuality. Not believing in a deep essential quality to sexuality is nothing near Gnosticism. It is a belief that what makes Humans Human is not what they share with a rutting bull.

          • Stephen says:

            But one of the essential insights of biology is that at least part of what does make us human we do share with a rutting bull.

        • Michael Z says:

          @Dana, what I mean by “secondary matter” is that if I were to describe to someone what it means to be a Christian, my views on human sexuality wouldn’t even be on the list. Instead I’d say that I believe God walked among us in the person of Jesus, showing us how to live as a human being while also showing us the true, loving nature of God. I would say that when Jesus died, whatever we need to be free from died with him; that when he rose again, he won the victory over death and evil; that when he ascended, he lifted our humanity up with him into God; that when he comes again, he will set all things right. (In other words, basically what you’ll find in the ecumenical creeds.)

          That story didn’t stop being true when we stopped using the Bible to defend slavery. It didn’t stop being true when we (some of us, at least) decided that women can preach the gospel. It didn’t stop being true as churches have had to find ways to acknowledge and deal with the realities of domestic abuse and divorce. And it won’t stop being true if churches stop trying to make gay people pretend to be something they aren’t in order to win our approval, and instead begin to imagine how we could create space for them just as they are.

          The Gospel is *far* bigger than these secondary issues of Christian practice and ethics, and our messy humanity isn’t going to make the Gospel fall apart that easily.

        • Now that brings in a crucial aspect of the discussion, but one that introduces only further complexity rather than answers. The dichotomy between body and spirit never held any attraction for me. I was able to entertain a fundamental principle of maya, but we are fully embodied beings who cannot be separated from our bodies. The ways our bodies develop shape who we are and the things our bodies experience shape and form who we are, often quite literally. The science of childhood toxic stress from adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and the ways it changes the brain and bodily systems which in turn influences behavior illustrates that truth. And that’s just one example of many. As an autistic person, I’m deeply aware of the connections between the way my brain functions, my experience of the world around me, and who I am. It’s something intrinsic to my being. If you could somehow magically alter all the structures and functions of my brain so it looked and acted like a non-autistic brain, I would cease to exist as the person I am. Whatever and whoever remained wouldn’t be me. We cannot be divorced from our bodies.

          So what about the great argument I hear over and over that our bodies and brains are somehow bimodal, either male or female? Nothing in biology, anthropology, sociology, or neuroscience supports that contention. If anything, they show the opposite. On the neurological side, everything everyone has identified to date represents a mostly overlapping spectrum. Yes, at the very edges of that spectrum you will find examples where nobody identified as female will fall and vice versa. But mostly the results are overlapping, so when any measure is applied to specific individuals a ‘female’ can easily measure more ‘male’ than a specific given male and vice versa. And that’s true across mammals and indeed across more species than not. Some species even change reproductive organs.

          So how do we decide that some things are ‘male’ and some are ‘female’? Sociology and anthropology tell us that’s mostly a function of culture and social context. That’s what people mean when they say that gender is a social construct. The definitions, associated behaviors, and social demands have varied a lot from culture to culture, though things like child-bearing and greater physical strength, in aggregate, have also led to some commonalities, many of them less than positive. There’s also been a long history, expressed differently in different cultures, of groups that do not fit the gender norms.

          Theologically, when I think from a Christian perspective, I hear the verse of being created in God’s image, after a narrative that keeps shifting gender in the references to God, describing a God of oneness in perfect communion, saying that male and female this particular God created them in their own image and likeness not as a description of bimodal creation in which we each have some piece of God’s image, but as an individual description. To greater or lesser extent, many of the things we associate with both ‘male’ and ‘female’ exist in all of us. And that aligns more closely with everything we can see in biology and neuroscience.

          I still hear my youngest daughter’s question when she was teen, “What even is gender, anyway?”

          In part, at least, it’s a starting point for discussion. Perhaps the fact that my particular brain doesn’t absorb social information easily makes that so clear to me. And when you understand that gender is not a clear bimodality at all, it puts all the questions about sexuality into a different context. However much we might want to create them, there are no easy boxes into which we can put people. Efforts to do so are almost always toxic and harmful.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > a church’s beliefs on human sexuality is a minor secondary issue of doctrine

      +1,000. Although it can be problematic if those beliefs bear on how they treat people . . . and at some point on the scale it is hard to imagine they would not.

      • Burro (Mule) says:

        I swear it. I must be Satan.

        What we do with our bodies matters. What we believe about what we do with our bodies matters. If I have trouble, real trouble, with beardless priests, how am I not going to have problems with interfermoral friction (or worse) as a sacrament? And I’m as clean shaven as a Marine recruit.

        Its turtles all the way down for me. I care much less about Calvinism vs Arminianism. I’m not allowed to believe that God created anyone for Hell, so that is off the table. Same with men marrying men and women marrying women. Like my priest said ‘what are they gonna do to us? shoot us? Put us in prison? Been there. Done that. Last century.’ Ackshually. being considered retrograde and being on the ash heap of history’s better than going to the Gulag. That’s pretty moderate treatment.

        As far as mistreating people, there’s a difference between being nasty, rude and insulting (as I often am and Dana never is), and not agreeing to do something you know your spiritual ancestors would not have countenanced for a moment.

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