Photo by Justin, "Sphere Within A Sphere" by Arnoldo Pomodoro
In email correspondence to Jeff @ Emergent Village, a request was made by him for me to add my voice to the conversation of Christianity, as well as the world in general, about my experience with my former church (Outlined in my previous post). I have told my story in my previous post, but now want to move along to explore some questions that Jeff left me to think about. Here is a copy of that portion of the email:
Awesome Justin, so glad to hear what's happening and to see you are earning your stripes in emerging land by being fired for trying to love someone! We need your voice in this conversation - what motivated you to befriend a gay person, how it felt to be confronted on it and then to get to the level of being fired? How it is that your faith evolved differently than your colleagues or bosses? Then the whole story in the future of how this new community evolves.
To clear up that last line, I am helping to begin an Emergent style discussion group in the Apex/Holly Springs, NC area. This group is focusing on those that have been disenfranchised by the local church, and the goal is to be a safe place to come and explore spiritual ideas based on everyone's personal experiences. This will be a SAFE place to come and join in DISCUSSION about whatever we are talking about each week without fear of being chastised if your beliefs differ from someone else's. IN FACT, we hope to draw people from all walks of spiritual life, and we hope that by SHARING ideas in a PEACEFUL COMMUNITY, that our spirituality will grow both individually and corporately. This group is not a "church", but rather a community that does not seek to become a church or compete with the Church. Again, it will be a safe haven in which to gather and openly and honestly discuss each other's lives! if you think you might be interested being a part of this type of community please email me for more info at email@example.com).
The first question deals with my motivation in befriending a gay person. I want to say, that although my church only found and focused on a singular friend who is gay, i have several homosexual friends. Unlike most Christians I have worked with over the last 9 years in ministry, I had no ulterior motive for befriending anyone in the gay community. These people that I am friends with are simply people that I have met on my journey of life. I love them for who they are and have placed no restrictions on our friendship (meaning I do not expect them to change in order to gain my friendship! That would be a very arrogant view of myself and the value of my friendship)! When asked by my church if I thought homosexuality is a choice, I replied that I have done the research and if you put it all together (both the credible and the not-so-credible) it comes out to 50/50%. As with all people that the Church has seemed to have forgotten (be it on purpose or not...not just homosexuals, but everyone who is in need in this world that we have a responsibility to love and aid), I accept each person as they are, without expectations or motives other than loving them and aiding in the fulfillment of their basic needs (I am speaking in the context of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs).
I believe that when we work towards the "Shema" (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), or the "Greatest Commandment" (Matthew 22:36-38), Loving God, and Loving Neighbor, with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength; that there is no room left in our lives to be judgmental! Judgment is reserved for God and God alone. I in no way want to be accused of taking that forbidden power from God. I believe that this more than implies meeting a person's basic human needs! In addition, according to my psychology background, and Maslow's Hierarchy, love/belonging IS a VERY BASIC HUMAN NEED. The Church as a whole has done a very poor job on helping to fill this need in the homosexual community. Homosexuals have become the modern day lepers whom we have cast out of the Christian life by our piety and judge mentality! So, I befriend everyone I meet in order to love them as I am supposed to love, and accept them for who they are.
Note that this is my personal belief!!!! I do not mind someone disagreeing with that belief, and as a minister I believe in teaching people to think for themselves and forming their own beliefs, not CONFORMING to mine or anyone else’s. I have never taught this in any church at which I have been a part. Note there is gray area in my theology, but I am fine living in the gray! I don't claim to know God's mind on this subject and anyone who does make such a claim is only fooling themselves into idolatrous thinking. I do not believe however, that a homosexual is going to hell, and I have been too exposed to studies in psychology and genetics that if i were to choose a side, I would choose that homosexuality is not a sin, but rather has a genetic or environmental correlation. If I am to error in my theology, I would rather err on the side that allows me to love unconditionally and free myself from a judgmental point of view! I have held this belief for a long time, and this is not simply a reaction to the church outing me for having a gay friend!
How did it feel to be confronted about this, and eventually (4 days later) being fired? Well, I have to say that I was very upset and angry at first. Mostly I was angry at the way I had been treated. However, I moved to pity. I can understand and respect someone that thinks homosexuality is a sin. I know all of the verses and "logic" used to make that case, and Conservative Evangelicals have been making their case loud and clear for years! I have to say that I was dumbfounded at the fact that anyone could be upset that I simply had a friend who was gay (my only words of defence to terry and my youth adult committee was simply "yeah, I have a gay friend, we are called to love everyone."). If we are called to love everyone, I couldn't understand the outrage of me simply having a friend who was openly gay. I have now moved to sadness and disappointment! I am disappointed that there are so many people that not only believe homosexuality is a sin (again, I respect that personal belief as I respect all personal beliefs), but to outwardly hate and judge is religious prejudice and piety at its finest! I feel sad for these people because they have been brainwashed over many years and generations into this kind of "racism". I am disappointed in our churches for not battling this kind of outdated and unchristian thinking! It is amazing how much like the pharisees American Christians have become!
As for the being fired portion of the question, I have to say being “asked to resign” (since that is how churches do it) is never easy. It has put my wife and me through more pain than we knew we could feel. We loved the people at my former church, and to be torn away like that has hurt more than anything I’ve ever experienced. HOWEVER, even in the midst of this, Alison and I have never been more proud of ourselves. We were able to leave with our heads held high because even in the midst of this terrible situation, everything that we said or did, we acted out of love! We did not compromise our own convictions, and we never argued or forced our beliefs on anyone! At no point do we feel like we did not honor our understanding of God, and compromise our mission to love others. That kind of pride (not pious pride, but the kind of pride when you know you weren’t selling out) brings a peace, joy, and humility like we’ve never felt before. It is this “pride”, along with our wonderful support system, that helps us through this hard time.
How it is that my faith evolved differently than your colleagues or bosses? To be honest I’m really not sure, and I hesitate to answer my gut feeling as not to sound condescending. I think that my faith has evolved because of my education. I AM NOT SAYING I AM SMARTER THAN ANYONE INVOLVED!!!!! However, I continually challenge myself and my beliefs through the publications and teachings of people who ARE far more educated than me. I give credence and respect to all beliefs and ideas that I am confronted with. I listen to what others have to say, and try to understand how their beliefs were formed in their own personal experiences. I once asked the pastor why he called out certain Christians in the academic world as being “not worth listening to” from the pulpit (among them were Spong, Crossan, and Borg). His actual statement from the pulpit was “when I see that a news program dealing with religion is going to have one of these people on as an authority, I go ahead and change the channel because I know the program isn’t worth listening to.” His answer to me was that the faith of those in the pews was too shallow, so they have to be told what and who to avoid. I asked, “isn’t it our jobs as the educators of the church to help everyone to develop a deeper ‘owned’ faith where they can listen to anyone’s views and struggle over it on their own, prayerfully? Isn’t it our job to teach them to come to us when they experience something that challenges their faith, and allow us to help them through to form their own beliefs?” The answer I received was essentially “no, it’s too hard, and they don’t want to think for themselves, they want to be told what to think!” Can I say that I disagree with that wholeheartedly?
Again, I am not saying that I am smarter than the pastor, Terry, or anyone in that church. I am humbled by the amount of things I don’t know! However, unlike MOST people who fall on the fundamentalist/conservative side (please do not read any judgment into that! In fact I hate and shy away from the use of those kinds of inaccurately used labels, but find these words needed to give the best picture of what I am going to say…), I am willing to read and listen to people whose beliefs fall all up and down the spectrum. I find it interesting how a person will call out a name in public and chastise them and their beliefs when they have never picked up a book, or sat in on a lecture by that individual. Yes, they may have heard a sermon or statement by that person, but to read a book that gives a comprehensive view of that person’s beliefs and thoughts is unthinkable. If I only read and listened to those people who agreed with me, I would never grow in my faith! I think that is the difference in where my faith is/has evolved compared to where the faith was\is in the people mentioned in part 1 of "In Repair".
I hope that this sheds some light on the questions asked, and that I have humbly added my thoughts to the conversation! IT'S OK IF YOU DISAGREE WITH ME, but please feel free to comment! If I can clarify in any way, let me know and I will do so! If you post a disagreement, you will not be met with me trying to persuade you otherwise, nor will you find me deleting your post. ALL COMMENTS ARE WELCOME HERE!