Don’t pin a medal on the “affirming” Methodist pastor just yet

February 6, 2015

Owen Strachan writes in the most recent First Things about a species of pastor with whom I—as an ordained elder in the last mainline Protestant denomination to adhere to orthodox Christian doctrine on human sexuality—am well-acquainted: the “affirming pastor.”

Strachan has noticed their tendency to trumpet their own heroism:

The affirming pastor traveled through fire and wind to get where he’s landed. Long did he wrestle with Stubborn Paul, with Unbending Church History, with Steely-Eyed Jesus. Heroically did he (or she) weep over the Unmoved Apostles, pleading with Peter to soften his tone—to lower his pitch, and use an inside voice—against false teachers and their compromised sexual practices, their correspondingly corrupted sexual ethics. Again and again the affirming pastor threw himself against the wall of Christian witness, imploring it to fall, to fall, and to fall, but it would not.

As examples, he cites the words of affirming megachurch pastors like Ryan Meeks of EastLake Church in Seatttle and Stan Mitchell of GracePointe Church in Franklin, Tennessee. Strachan quotes Mitchell and writes the following:

“Could you be a church in Selma and not march, just handle your own community?,” Mitchell queries rhetorically. “I don’t think I can do that. We are on the front edge of a movement that means so much.” Those lonely few pastors who embrace what Scripture abominates are in Mitchell’s mind just like the civil-rights activists who suffered, bled, and died to advance racial equality. Never mind that few of those righteous activists called for personal attention. Never mind that their own activism called the church to own Scripture, not abuse it. Never mind that they are in many cases unknown. Today, we have many heroes, but so little heroism.

Let me cite the words of the United Methodist pastor Wade Griffith, whom I wrote about on Monday, as one more example for Strachan. At the end of his “coming-out-as-an-affirming-pastor” sermon in 2013, he said the following:

When I was in high school I had to take a class in Alabama history. I don’t know if they do that anymore. But part of the curriculum was the civil rights movement, and we studied about the water fountains, “colored” and white. Did anybody ever see one of those? I never saw one of those. So I went home that day and Mom was cooking supper. And I said to her just totally out of the blue, I said to her, “Mom, did you ever drink out of the white water fountain?” She said, “I did.”

I couldn’t believe it. Your parents are like, they can do no wrong. Until you get to a certain age, they can do no wrong. They define what’s right. I was like, “Mom, how’d you do that? How could you do that? That’s so evil.”

She said, “Wade, I didn’t know any better. That’s all I knew.”

One day, my sons will ask me if I drank out of the “colored” water fountains. [Long pause.] And I plan on being able to say “no.”

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.

I think he meant to say “white water fountains” that last time, but never mind…

His point is that “non-affirming” pastors like me—who, like him, stood before God, our bishop, and our fellow Methodists and promised that we believed in our church’s doctrines—are now no better than racists in the Deep South during Jim Crow, except worse, because what excuse do we have? Aside from—you know—the Bible and not to mention the unanimous consensus of nearly two millennia of Christian interpretation of it.

As I said on Monday, these words give the lie to Griffith’s earlier, conciliatory words about how our view of homosexual practice is a “non-essential” about which Christians of good faith are free to “agree to disagree.”

Agree to disagree, nothing! Not if we’re no better than Bull Connor with his fire hoses and attack dogs! Are you kidding me?

But before we go pinning a medal on Griffith for being able to say he never “drank from the white water fountain” of bigotry and oppression, remind me again what exactly he’s done that’s so heroic? Preached a sermon? 

Big deal!

Meanwhile, he continues to give his money—and his church’s money—to support an institution that practices widespread discrimination, which causes such harm, as he insinuated earlier in his sermon, that kids are committing suicide because of it. He continues to refuse to perform LGBT weddings. He continues to support a system in which “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” are unable to get ordained.

Honestly, while we’re on the subject, did he not read MLK’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”? All those white clergymen to whom King addressed his letter—some of them southern Methodist bishops—already opposed racial discrimination. That wasn’t the issue. The issue for King was that the time for passively waiting for change was over: it was time for action!

But no, says Griffith, we will continue to support our Discipline. We will continue to “agree to disagree” because this is, after all, a non-essential of our faith.

Good heavens, man! Don’t you see you’re still drinking from the white water fountain, whether you admit it or not?

Don’t misunderstand: I’m happy that he continues to do so. But just how strongly does this affirming pastor believe what he affirms?

18 Responses to “Don’t pin a medal on the “affirming” Methodist pastor just yet”

  1. Josh Says:

    Amen. I have been in clergy meetings where these sort of folk speak out openly and the egotism just comes shining through. It happens on a local church level too. You get folks who apparently need their ego stroked so they act like they’re the saviors of the church . . . got to fight the world, fight pastor who doesn’t know what he’s doing, got to make a stand for what’s right . . . oh Lord, what would this world come to if it wasn’t for them. And these are the same people who won’t do crap to serve in the church or witness in the world. You can tell them to shut up and make sure that they’re talking matches their walking . . . and guess what, they don’t get offended and leave. They stick around. They’re not going anywhere. They’re too scared to follow their convictions . . . maybe they don’t have convictions at all. Maybe they just like their ego to be stroked.

    I really don’t respect the actions of people like this. I know that it is politically correct in the UM for us to sympathize towards libs/progs who just “want to love people.” But in most cases, I don’t. A lot of it’s just a bunch of B.S. I have seen firsthand that justice and love are not the primary motivations – if they are motivations at all. A lot of has to do with egotism, fear of not fitting in with church culture, and a non-existent spiritual life with Christ. If some of these people would allow God to give them worth, they wouldn’t go around trying to find it in egotistical behavior. They would only worry about an audience of One.

    • brentwhite Says:

      This resonates with me: “A lot of has to do with egotism, fear of not fitting in with church culture, and a non-existent spiritual life with Christ. If some of these people would allow God to give them worth, they wouldn’t go around trying to find it in egotistical behavior. They would only worry about an audience of One.”

      • Josh Says:

        Thanks Brent. And please take my comments with a little salt. I’m very passionate dude – Christ saved me out of drug addiction and gave me a wonderful life. Sometimes I go back and read what I write and think, “Dude, you need to chill out a little.” But that’s just me. Plus, I’m on steroids for a sinus infection. So, yeah . . . take my comments with a little salt. Blessings

      • brentwhite Says:

        No worries. Passion is a good thing.

    • victorgalipi Says:

      Josh, I resonate with what you are saying here. The North Carolina Conference has what is supposedly the longest running string of “holy conversations”, at least annually and now a few times a year at least, going on at least since the early 90’s. They have for some time been called “Unity Dialogues” and they are neither one. They are very one-sided, stacked strongly in favor of Bible revisionists (so-called progressives”), with it being made very clear that opposition is frowned upon and seen as out of step, on the wrong side of history, etc.

      In the last one I went to, late last year, I sat at a table with a bunch of very angry “advocates”. To them, people who did not agree with them were evil incarnate, bullying and hateful people.

      There was no dialogue, just a bunch of Bible revisionist presentations which we were not allowed to question or discuss. There was one dissenting orthodox presenter, who was clearly looked on with strained tolerance at best.

      At that point I made up my mind going to these “Unity Dialogues” or any kind of so-called holy conversations was a waste of my time and energy. So I wrote this blog post that might interest you:

      Also I address your comments about the liberal/progressive “love” for homosexuals in my general post below.

      Thanks for your helpful comments.

  2. Grant Essex Says:

    And then, there are some of us who just think that homosexuality is unnatural and immoral. I don’t hate homosexuals. I don’t persecute them. I try and interact with them in the same way I do with anyone else. However, I am not happy about having homosexual sex shoved in my face by virtually every other show or film I see. (I don’t much like the heterosexual stuff being shown either, though.) I have read all of Adam Hamilton’s arguments regarding this issue. He is articulate and persuasive, but it just doesn’t work for me. However, it is very clear that both the secular world, and much of the protestant world is going to go in that direction. I am on no crusade to “turn back the tide”. It is going to happen. However, I do not plan on affirming that which I think is wrong either.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I have been deeply disappointed in Hamilton for a while. I wrote this blog post in response to his “coming out” sermon. I don’t find his arguments persuasive, mostly because “feelings” are not an argument:

      • Josh Says:

        Hamilton let me down too. It’s sad to see folks go down that road. There’s been several evangelical leaders and pastor to say that God has changed his mind and is now just fine with homosexual activity. And I don’t get it either. I mean, there’s like thousands of years of consistent Judeo-Christian sexual ethics about the issue . . . but hey, that’s no big deal is it? And there’s also the very clear testimony of scripture.
        Grant, you are not the only one who is sick of the gay agenda being pushed on the general public. I have two young boys and if somebody comes to my house and tells them that their identity is rooted in what their loins yearn for they are going right back out the door quicker than when they first came in. I’m wondering how long it takes the general public to kick back against it.

    • victorgalipi Says:

      If you want to know what I think about Adam Hamilton’s 3 bucket approach to Bible interpretation, besides to just say his buckets don’t hold water, I refer you to this, the 3rd in my 4 part blog series on Biblical interpretation:

      Grant I respond to your comment about not hating homosexuals in my general comment posted today. You make very good points. Thanks.

  3. Grant Essex Says:

    It’s nice to know I am not alone.

  4. victorgalipi Says:

    The comparison between blacks and homosexuals is tiresome and it is false.

    Blacks were born that way and it is not a sin to be black. Homosexuality is a sin, and there is no proof whatsoever that people are born homosexual. To say people are born homosexual is to say that God creates people to be a certain way then tells them it is a sin. That is a sick view of God.

    Also tiresome and false is the “heroic progressive vs the bullying right-wing conservative” narrative.

    There is nothing heroic, prophetic or in any way right about just doing what is politically correct. Where were these “heroes” when science and medicine considered homosexuality an anomaly and a disease?

    Furthermore, with the exception of one person online, on a couple of occasions, I have yet to see an orthodox Christian bully homosexuals, and that person actually was bullying those who tell people being homosexuals is not a sin, not homosexuals themselves.

    Meanwhile, I have seen and I have experienced plenty of bullying. However, most of it has not been by homosexuals. Most of it has been name calling and personal attacks by those who are their supposed “advocates”, who by the way don’t know me from Adam. Advocating meaning telling them that their destructive lifestyle is okay. Which I don’t think is advocacy at all. Advocating, I would think, would involve trying to really help someone.

    While I’m on this, I also find tiresome and false the claim by Bible revisionists (so-called progressives) that telling homosexuals that what they are doing is good and even blessed by God is an expression of the love of Jesus, and we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.

    Well, the love of Jesus says “Go and sin no more.” The love of Jesus tells people to “repent and believe the Good News”. The love of Jesus says to go and make disciples and teach them to observe all that Jesus commands. To love like Jesus is to truth in love. Love without truth is just humanistic feelings and fuzzy ideas, that seem to conveniently line up with whatever is politically correct at the moment.

    • brentwhite Says:

      In my experience, I can’t argue with (even) fellow clergy without the their resorting to ad hominem attacks. The most frequent one is that I obviously don’t know any homosexuals, or it hasn’t affected me personally, or that (I love this) it’s just an “intellectual exercise” to me—as if I’m being too logical, too reasonable.

      • victorgalipi Says:

        Brent, fellow clergy are the worst. I dropped off of two sites on Facebook populated by in one case all and in another case mostly clergy, mostly UM. Another one I was kicked off of for as far as I could tell being too truthful, no explanation given.

        Most of the clergy on these sites were Bible revisionists, though some claimed to be so-called centrists. Many of them were regularly rude and bullying, resorting to name calling and personal attacks with no action taken by the moderators.

        This wasn’t borderline stuff, it was hateful stuff, though whether they actually hated me or not is hard to say, for sure they didn’t know me.

        This name-calling and bullying, along with changing the subject and distracting, are the tactics of people of whom I can only conclude that they had no reasonable or supportable response to the things I said. Otherwise, why resort to venom?

        When I write something and people respond with this tactic, I may try once to reason with them. But so far I am finding that a useless exercise on a couple of different blog sites. So from this point on I will likely just ignore them. Such behavior is not worthy of a response.

      • brentwhite Says:

        I just contributed something to the “United Methodist Clergy” Facebook page. You know how productive that can be!

        But, yes, I know just what you mean. Lord, deliver us from the United Methodist “centrists”! A UM centrist is someone who wants to change church doctrine but is willing to bide their time.

        I’ve been accused of treating this issue like an “intellectual argument,” in part, because I refuse to make it personal. Let’s argue about ideas and principles, I say, not personalities. Revisionists, at least the ones I’ve encountered, can’t stand this. They attack my character by implying that I lack compassion, that I’m at least partially responsible for kids’ killing themselves, or that if I had a son or daughter who was gay, I’d change my tune. I’ve heard it all.

        The truth is, while I argue without making it personal, I’m not made of stone. I get my feelings hurt. Recently, for example, a clergy friend stopped returning my calls (literally) and dropped me from his Facebook friend list over this issue. Even though he and I both (not too many years ago) said we agreed with our UMC doctrine (or, you know, were at least “conflicted”).

        Speaking of which, what happened to the “conflict” my fellow clergy were feeling when they went before the Board of Ordained Ministry? It’s all so cut-and-dried for everyone as soon as they get ordained! Did they all experience some mass-conversion on the issue?

        Victor, I graduated from Candler in 2007 happily liberal on the subject, like most of my classmates. I moved to the right on the issue, however, because of my strong conviction that I was wrong… Among other things, I believe I failed to hold scripture in high regard. I repented. I had something like a conversion experience. I’m ashamed of some of the things I used preach and teach. So, you see, I’m a bit hard-headed on the topic… I know all the arguments on the revisionist side because I used to make them myself, and I think they’re terrible, frankly.

      • brentwhite Says:

        Having said all that, I have to remind myself constantly that these clergy, while I sincerely believe they’re wrong, are not my enemies.

  5. victorgalipi Says:

    Ah yes the UM Clergy Facebook page. One of the ones I left. One elder there told me to crawl back under my rock. And that was one of the nicer things he and some others said there, in “discussing” homosexuality or abortion, or rather the authority of Scripture.

    Like you I refuse to make it personal when I argue this issue and that seems to upset people. That’s where I think a lot of the bullying comes from. I know some people have just tried to bait me. “I don’t know any homosexuals” is a fairly common accusation from people online who don’t even know me. I know homosexuals, I just don’t have the problems with them that I have with some of my fellow UM clergy. The man most instrumental in leading me to Christ was a repentant and former homosexual.

    One reason why I have started just ignoring people when they start making personal attacks is because while they may consider me an enemy, I don’t consider them enemies. That’s why I don’t get all personal about it.

    “Did they all experience some mass-conversion on the issue?”

    Brent, I love it. It is disingenuous to hide your true beliefs until you can get your bully pulpit, not to mention your salary and pension. Of course I doubt now that many are turned away no matter how open they are about it.

    And speaking of conversions, thank God for yours! Having been “on the other side” and having made all of these arguments yourself puts you in a unique position.

    I did not become a Christian until my early 20’s, and I have always been very orthodox and held a very high view of Scripture. Of course I was influenced by a Wesleyan Bible college and then after 8 years as a Wesleyan pastor Asbury Theological Seminary before I became UM. You may have noticed I’m just a bit hard-headed about these things myself. 🙂

    I also get sick of the “you hate homosexuals” line. What is hateful, telling people the truth in love, sharing the Good News of salvation through repentance and faith? Or lying to people and telling them their sin isn’t sin and they are okay, in fact blessed by God for their sin.

    I’ll stick with the truth. That’s what people need.

    • brentwhite Says:

      “Repentant and former homosexual.” I’ve been told those people don’t exist! Was I lied to?

      I know just what you mean… I’ve heard all those things myself many times.

      I once (naively) asked Jason Micheli, a Methodist pastor in D.C., whose blog posts often get re-posted by Scot McKnight (after careful editing to remove the parts that would anger us evangelicals), if he spoke so freely and candidly about his convictions regarding homosexuality when he went before the Board of Ordained Ministry. He said that most of his board feels exactly as he does, so why wouldn’t he? And I thought, “Of course! What was I thinking?”

      I agree that our fellow clergy in social media are the worst. Just this week I had a lengthy argument on this blog with a regular atheist reader (we go way back), and it was so refreshing! Even in his effort to ridicule my ideas, he never made it personal the way our fellow clergy do. Isn’t that something?

      • victorgalipi Says:

        Yes, Brent, you were lied to. 🙂 And he’s not the only one I know, either. I know of a pastor of a conservative church in this area who is a repentant and former lesbian. It’s just that Bible revisionists don’t like such stories being told, and they sure wont’ tell them. Such people are outcasts who don’t fit their agenda. They are not “politically correct”.

        On Facebook, a friend of a friend, an atheist, got into some lively discussion with me about abortion. He was also respectful, and finally admitted to me that his views on abortion changed through our conversations online. He became one of my Facebook friends.

        It’s a poor witness that some Christians and UM clergy can’t be as open-minded and respectful.

        And it’s no wonder so many non-believers don’t see why they should become Christians.

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