Can the Fallen Church Fall to Grace?
Of course, things didn't necessarily come together right away. There was a struggle. I went to a twelve-step program and worked on my drinking, and eventually I went into ministry.
Did your past ever cause you to question your calling, or your ability to be a minister of the gospel?
The part of my past that most affected my sense of calling was probably the bitterness I felt for a long time toward the church and toward Christianity in general. It seemed to me that Christians made authentic Christian living impossible. They always put in place rules and regulations that didn't make sense. I didn't want to play those games anymore. So for the first few years I was still wrestling with my anger toward the church.
That was tough. I didn't feel that the church was being what it was supposed to be. Eventually, with some good friends, I was able to leave the bitterness behind and move forward.
How did you eventually forgive the church?
One day at a time. Speaking and preaching and doing ministry out of anger wasn't helping me or anyone else. I realized that I was talking a lot about grace, but not giving grace to the church. I had to extend the same grace I had received, and I had to put this bitterness behind me in order to communicate grace to people and give them the same chance that I was given when I learned what grace meant.
Still, sometimes those feelings come back. When I see pastors playing games, or when people call to tell me about their frustrations with the church and the ways in which the church has wronged them, those feelings return. Some people run their churches like Fortune 500 companies, and the politics get nasty. It breaks my heart. That's not what the church is supposed to be.
But for the most part, I've dealt with that bitterness and healed by knowing that I need grace just as much as everyone else does. And my experiences have put me in a position to minister to others who are disenchanted with the church.
A lot of pastors' kids who go through a prodigal son experience in the way you have wrestle with a sense of unworthiness, or even self-hatred. Has that been a struggle for you?
I've wrestled a great deal with self-hatred and feeling unworthy. But it didn't have so much to do with my parents as it did with sermons I had heard preached or the way the church treats people. I also felt a lot of insecurities growing up. It seemed that I could never quite add up to what was expected of me.
I think almost everyone goes through this, not just preachers' kids or people raised in the church. A lot of people have to deal with negative attitudes toward themselves because of unrealistic expectations that are placed on them.
Your mother became an unlikely icon for the gay community, and you've been outspoken in your view that the church is wrong not only in condemning homosexuality but also in mistreating homosexuals. Have you been surprised by the response you've gotten for these views?
No. I've gotten a lot of negative responses, and some really great positive ones, but it's more or less what I expected. I would say that the church doesn't seem quite ready, except one cannot speak about "the church" in such a blanket statement. Some people are ready to be affirming, but many of the loudest are not ready.
I lost some speaking engagements when I announced that I was an affirming pastor, and I had to let some of my staff go when a supporter withdrew. But nothing much surprises me anymore.
Dr. Timothy Dalrymple is the Associate Director of Content at Patheos, and writes weekly on faith, politics, and culture for Patheos' Evangelical Portal. Follow him at his blog, Philosophical Fragments, on Facebook or on Twitter.