mjkimpan  —  March 13, 2015 — 11 Comments


this evening as i awaited my flight out of atlanta, i succumbed to the tantalizing temptation of twitter.

scrolling through my feed, i stumbled upon two tweets from al mohler ::

i immediately clicked the link, and was surprisingly pleased to find the following excerpts from an online letter from the pastoral staff and board at City Church in san francisco ::

Dear Friends,

I want to speak with you on behalf of the Elder Board of our church about a pastoral conversation we have been having over the past 9 months. In May of 2014 the Board asked me for a book that was clearly grounded in Scripture that we might study on pastoring our brothers and sisters in Christ who are part of the LGBT community. We read Ken Wilson’s A Letter to My Congregation. The book is rare in that it shows great empathy and maturity to model unity and patience with those who are in different places on this conversation, all the while dealing honestly with Scripture. Since our church already lives in the reality of a multiplicity of viewpoints held with humility, this book seemed to us a good choice. I want you to hear where we have arrived as a Board and invite you into a conversation and healthy discussion about how we arrived there…

Our pastoral conversations and social science research indicate skyrocketing rates of depression, suicide, and addiction among those who identify as LGBT. The generally unintended consequence has been to leave many people feeling deeply damaged, distorted, unlovable, unacceptable, and perverted…

This is simply not working and people are being hurt. We must listen and respond…

While members of the LGBT community have always been welcome at City Church, we prevented people from joining our church if they were unwilling or unable to practice lifelong celibacy. As a Board we have been asking the central question “What does the gospel require?” At the heart of the gospel are these questions: “Who belongs to Christ’s body? And how do they belong?” We believe the thrust and focus of the gospel is the breaking down of former boundaries of exclusion and the expanding of the welcome of Jesus to all…

If Jesus were the pastor of City Church, what would he say to the people who are asking if they can belong?  As we consider the life of Christ, his example of love, his call to embrace the outsider and cast down, and his patience with those earnestly seeking him, what is a Christ-like response?

Summary: What has actually changed here?

On one hand, nothing. This aligns with our existing core vision: the doors of this church are as wide as the arms of the Savior it proclaims. We remain passionate about having as many people hear the gospel as possible. City Church will continue to receive into membership all those with a credible profession of faith and expect the same commitments represented in their membership vows.

On the other hand, we want to be clear what this now means. We will no longer discriminate based on sexual orientation and demand lifelong celibacy as a precondition for joining. For all members, regardless of sexual orientation, we will continue to expect chastity in singleness until marriage.

Going Forward

The Board would like to invite you into this discussion in safe settings where all can voice disagreement, concern, push back, agreement, and discovery. We recommend the book we’ve read entitled A Letter to My Congregation by Ken Wilson. The book is not a “take sides” approach but a more honest pastoral-level acknowledgement of what many churches, including ours, are like: diversity of opinion, respect for one another, living in unity.

I want to be clear. I’m not asking you to change your mind. I am asking you to be willing to engage in dialogue about fulfilling one of our core commitments: to be a church not just for ourselves but also for all those who God brings through our doors. I realize that this kind of dialogue is hard, even painful. A disagreement among friends causes tension. Our pastoral staff and elder board hope to be models of this engagement and supportive of your participation in it. Our shared value of looking to the Scriptures for every aspect of faith and life will be our guide…

We want to talk about this difficult subject in healthy, responsible, biblical, and even personal ways. As a church that is 18 years old, with a diversity of opinion on everything, I believe we can do this. We can hold our views with humility and respect the views of others. Let’s give the watching world something they never see…grace, understanding, listening, loving, and yes disagreeing, driven and undergirded by the gospel of grace. I call us all to this higher road, and am confident we can do it!

you can read the entirety of the post here.

i think that’s beautiful. but it’s unsurprising that al and his pals would define this welcoming posture as ‘tragic’ – they’ve said as much, and worse, before.

but my question is…why? why is this such a tragedy?

as traditional marriage – previously defined by our culture as a monogamous arrangement between one man and one woman (note – it hasn’t always been defined that way, even in scripture – and still is not defined as such in other cultures globally) – legally shifts to a monogamous arrangement between two consenting adults (regardless of gender), churches across the country will be forced to deal with the inevitable legal shift which will likely take place this summer when SCOTUS finally rules on same sex marriage.

presumably, many churches will be forced to re-examine their policies surrounding membership as their definition of appropriate christian sexuality dictates their members only engage in sexual activity within the confines of marriage.

with the definition of marriage changing hanging on the horizon, many pastors are already scrambling to bolster their policies to reflect their conservative convictions (snarky sidetone :: while they’re at it, they may want to spend some time reflecting on the validity [or lack thereof] of membership policies in the first place).

clearly City Church has been, as many other churches are, spending time thoughtfully reviewing their policies on membership in light of the cultural shift regarding same sex relationships. they’ve determined to (in their own words) ‘talk about this difficult subject in healthy, responsible, biblical and even personal ways’ while they give the world an example of ‘grace, understanding, listening, loving and yes disagreeing, driven and undergirded by the gospel of grace.’

this conclusion (in al’s own words) is tragic.

that makes me wonder, al…

what makes it tragic that a church be known as a place which welcomes those who disagree on this issue?

what makes it tragic that an LGBT person, or a gay couple, can be welcomed into a worship service and permitted to participate just like everyone else?

what is it that’s tragic about extending full membership toward these individuals?

we can make an educated guess at why al would call such a move ‘tragic’ – and i anticipate in the days following we’ll see a large number of self-proclaimed evangelical gatekeepers making their biblical arguments for the necessity of keeping the bride of christ ‘pure’ and ‘without blemish’ by demanding conformity to God’s law for their church members.

the faith community of which i was once a part laid out that position this way ::

‘We will not affirm for membership or accept in any ministry or staff position any who have willfully chosen to ignore or disobey God’s design for sexuality – as fidelity between a man and a woman in the context of marriage or chastity in singleness.

All of us struggle with sin, yet the Scriptures do address pre-meditated and unrepentant sin as something that must be confronted. We will seek to be consistent in following this policy for any in the church who are involved in other forms of intentional sin.’ 

now, pay attention. this post isn’t about changing the theological position of conservatives whom hold a traditional interpretation of scriptures surrounding sexuality – as is true for every other post i’ve written on the subject.

i’m disinterested in proclaiming that my personal position is superior to anyone else’s, and have dear friends on both sides of this conversation. great scholarly work has been done by God-loving, christ-following individuals with a high view of scripture with both conservative and progressive conclusions, and orthodox individuals land on different sides of this great cultural debate.

however, i think it’s dangerously disingenuous – and intellectually dishonest – for folks like al mohler and others to claim that this particular ‘sin’ (in their view) serves as a litmus test for whether or not one actually takes scripture – and their faith – and jesus himself – seriously.

here’s the problem with that…

it is hypocritical to claim that evangelical churches like City Church in san francisco (or EastLake Community Church in seattle, or Gracepointe in nashville, or Blue Ocean Faith in ann arbor, or Highlands Church in denver, or New Heart Community Church in los angeles or the host of many other evangelical churches around the country whom are reconsidering their position on the question of equality) have abandoned the gospel.

it’s pharisaical to conclude these churches and their pastors are no longer preaching and teaching and living out the good news, or that they’ve abandoned the ‘authority and integrity’ of scripture, as mohler claims.

how can i be so bold in my accusations?

all one has to do is check the roster of membership for the churches whom these leaders approve.

are there any individuals accepted for membership whom have a propensity to lie or gossip?

any children who regularly disobey their parents?

any board members or pastors who regularly over-eat (sometimes it shows, so you can often tell!)?

any ‘accepted’ church members have a short temper?

any that don’t tithe regularly?

any high school students students who flirt, or college-aged students who spend more money than they make (one could make the argument that accepting student loans is quite contrary to paul’s command to be ‘indebted to no man, but for the debt of love)?

is anyone in these churches selfish?

does anyone speak unkind words to others?

is anyone watching pornography?

is anyone jealous?



anybody divorced? remarried?

do any church members grapple with greed?

does the pastor refuse to sell all they own and give the proceeds to the poor?

does the chairman of the board waste time on the internet, spending hours clicking through social media profiles or binge-watching Netflix?

is any accepted member falling short from the standard of perfection?

even if a church’s theological perspective dictates the leadership views same sex relationships as less than God’s ideal for gay and straight folk alike, that does not give them a foundation from which they can exclude others (at least not with even an incremental amount of integrity) from belonging to their ‘club of christianity’

…not unless they do the same for every other so-called ‘sin.’

which they won’t…because nobody could meet the expectation of perfection.

this isn’t tragic, al. i call bullshit.

what do you think?

  • Nathan

    Just FYI, Blue Ocean is a totally new church plant. Wilson left A2 Vineyard.

    • i know ken personally (as well as all the other pastors of congregations mentioned in this post) and am familiar with their stories… while he left the denomination officially (as implied by the use of ‘formerly known as…’) the fact remains a number of the folks who are now a part of that church are from the previous congregation.

  • Nathan

    Not trying to pick a fight, just reads like vineyard left the denom and called itself something different.

  • Nathan

    But i agree. This isn’t a litmus test for evangelical identity.

  • Jeff

    Slight correction: The vineyard church in Ann Arbor still exists a separate body than the blue ocean faith church in Ann Arbor. It was a split from the VCAA due to the requirements of the VUSA national board to remain a Vineyard church. The “third way” approach of Ken’s book failed in its practical working out in VCAA partially due to a failure in leadership to work out its implications. Many in VCAA are in agreement with the contents of this post (those I’ve talked with anyway) but remained at VCAA due to a variety of reasons and remain committed to accepting the LGBT community with the Spirit of Jesus. Jeff

    • thanks, jeff. while i’m aware of the difference between the two congregations and how blue ocean faith came about, it seems that the way i’d phrased it in the post caused a few folks (you, and some others) to either make or seek clarification – so i went ahead and changed it.

      thanks again for your comment!

  • I see one point of agreement between Dr. Mohler and City Church: “agree to disagree” is an untenable approach to the conversation about the sanctity of gay relationships.

    From that common starting place, they diverge radically.

    Dr. Mohler insists that anyone who views gay relationships differently than he does has rejected the authority of scripture. He intentionally breaks communion which is, in my understanding, decidedly unbiblical. The invitiation to the communion table isn’t ours to revoke.

    City Church, on the other hand, has agreed to engage in robust dialog – coming alongside their siblings in Christ with differing views and discussing them openly as they walk towards shalom together. That is the biblical model of Church; a body of believers who fight to stay in communion regardless of major disagreement (like circumcision or eating sacrificial meat).

    Further, City Church has acknowledged the demonstrable harm inherent in the traditional teaching (the teaching of contempt for gay people as David Gushee recently characterized it). That’s a vital first step for all churches.

    By adopting a legitimization-view policy (i.e., both traditionalist and revisionist understandings are theologically valid), and agreeing to withhold judgement of those who believe differently; they are, as a church, now able to recognize (if not affirm) the full humanity of people who are gay…even while they continue the conversation.

    • i expect we’ll see a number of evangelical churches following suit on this – these aren’t stand alone events, but rather part of a swelling of congregations and pastors around the country who are no longer comfortable with the practical implications of the status quo – treating LGBTQ people like second class citizens.

      this doesn’t mean that everyone in the congregation is affirming – but, as you say in your comment, agree to withhold judgment toward one another in their diverse beliefs as they process through robust dialogue together.

      doing so requires a commitment to the tension and a humility i think that can only be seen as evidence of God’s spirit. it’s good to see this happening.

  • SurvivorGirl

    I know of 2 pastors in my city who were caught sexually abusing women in their congregations, yet they weren’t asked to leave the church. (And they represent a mere 2 grains of sand in the sandbox on this issue). We KNOW how God feels about this kind of sinful behavior, since He took Eli’s sons to task for it, yet it’s rarely-to-never addressed from the pulpit. I think we can guess why. But welcoming LGBT people into their congregations – especially the monogamous, sexually active ones? Let’s make THAT the litmus test for authentic faith and the REAL abuses be damned!

  • Valerie Van Kooten

    I love to believe that the “third way” can work in evangelical churches, but I doubt it will be able to. We as evangelical Protestants are way too quick to “take our ball and go home” by splitting into ever smaller, more segmented congregations. I think the Catholic Church has long been more able to agree to disagree than we are. In my own denominational persuasion–Reformed–there are more than 26 different flavors, all of which believe pretty much the same things.