Two nights ago I got this email:
My name is [X], and I am/was a Pastor of [Super Cool-Sounding Job Title] at a church here in [Big American City]. My wife and I have both been very grateful for your blog, and it has spoken to us many times. Thank you for the work you are doing, for using your voice and following Jesus in the way that you do. Your courage has/is inspiring me.
I’d like to share with you what’s just recently happened in my life. I’ve been serving as the Pastor of [Awesome Job Title] at [Church Name] in [Big American City] for the past five years. My wife and our two boys (at the time; our fourth is due in December) moved here from [State] to join [Church], which at the time was a small church of two hundred. Now it is a thriving community of over 1500 people committed to [Slogan That Could Be Easily Googled to Identify Church].
However, four weeks ago, all that changed. Four weeks ago the discriminatory law of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was finally abolished. Even though no one in my church community was aware of my views on homosexuality (I have been intentionally tight-lipped about it, knowing how divisive that issue is), and I’ve never talked about it, I felt like it was good to celebrate the end of discrimination. So I posted a link to an article about the end of DADT on my Facebook page. I made no commentary on the article–which was not about the “issue” of homosexuality at all. [He shared the article to which he linked: written by a leading politician, it simply could not be more innocuous.–J.]
Over the next few hours, several people from my church started commenting on my wall: “How can a Christian be pro-homosexuality?” “Why is a pastor actively promoting the gay-lifestyle?” and so on. Even more people were calling/texting/emailing our lead pastor and the chair of our elder board. What resulted over the next six days was not fun.
The chair of the elder board called for an emergency board meeting to deal with me. I was summoned to the board meeting, where I was forced to give my stance on homosexuality (even though the church has no official stance on the matter, and has never before talked about the issue). And even though I reminded them that we all agree on our church’s statement of faith, ultimately, when they learned that I don’t view homosexuality as a sin, and that I would be in favor of two gay people being allowed to get married, they came to the conclusion that I was unfit to be a pastor at [Name of Church]. And within a week of posting the article on FB page, I was fired from a church I’d served faithfully and helped to build for five years.
On the topic and issue of homosexuality (a word which I’ve wearied of saying over the past month), over the past five years I have journeyed with Jesus, and undergone a shift in my beliefs about people being born gay (versus merely “choosing”), about the Father’s posture towards such people, about their inherent right to love, and the beauty in their loving, committed, monogamous relationships, etc. No longer do I believe it is a sin to be gay. And my heart and soul hurts at the rampant discrimination towards the GLBT community all around the world. I mourn that the church is not a safe place for them. I mourn that the church has chosen to alienate and in some cases attack them. I mourn that ignorance has clouded people’s judgment. I wish that people could open themselves to hear what other people are saying with regards to what the Bible says (and doesn’t say) about this issue. What science is showing us. What the GLBT themselves are saying. How being a follower of Jesus ought radically impact our posture towards the GLBT community.
Right now, three weeks after being fired, I have so many conflicting emotions. I’m devastated at being fired. I’m angry at the process by which it was done. I was just eliminated almost immediately. In the eyes of the church body and the staff I essentially just disappeared. I was there one week, and not the next. It’s made me feel like a leper, like someone who committed some heinous sin and had to be “dealt” with. I’m disappointed that the church I’d loved and served and believed in ultimately came up short. I desperately wanted [Name of Head Pastor] to stand by me, and say to the board and to the negative people in the church, “[Guy’s Name] and I agree on what it means to follow Jesus. We agree on the essentials of the faith. And we have done ministry together for five years, and I want to continue to serve alongside him. We disagree on things, on non-essential elements of the faith—and you know what? That’s okay! We celebrate our unity in the faith, and we welcome different viewpoints and beliefs.”
That’s what I wanted; that’s what I hoped for.
Moving forward, I have no idea what’s next. I’m only a third done with my Master’s of Theology program at [Name of Seminary]. All our family is back in [State], and so that draws us. I don’t think I can (nor should) hide my left-leaning beliefs, and search out another church to be a pastor of. So right now my wife and I are just waiting on the King for a sense of what is next. About twenty families from [Name of Church That Just Fired Him] would like us to start our own faith community, as they are all very disenfranchised at the moment with [Church]. Not just what they did, but the statement that they have made in doing so. But [Name of Wife] and I struggle with the idea of planting a church from a situation like this—and yet the idea of planting has always been enticing to us.
Ugh! What to do!? I have wished in the past few weeks that I had someone like you in my life. A mentor, adviser … someone who could understand what I’m going through. Someone who shares some of my beliefs, and can help me sort through this mess. I’m not really asking anything from you, so please don’t feel pressured or obligated to respond. Just knowing you took the time to listen means a lot. By now, if you’ve made it all the way to the end of this email, I think you deserve a gold star. Thank you for your ministry. Your writings. Your teachings. God bless you and keep, and may God’s face ever shine upon you. Thank you, John.
So. There’s that. I’ve seen a couple of videos of this young man preaching. He’s fantastic. He’s a tall, handsome, earnest, passionate, unpretentious, articulate communicator, with clear knowledge of the Bible. I wouldn’t be surprised if his chickenshit pastor—one of those worn jeans-wearing, gelled-hair-perfectly-mussed, shirt untucked, telegenic hipster poseur pastors—let him go because he was jealous of him.
The author of this letter and I exchanged a couple of emails. I told him that twenty families is a lot; I encouraged him to consider the possibility that God arranged this so that he could start a church that is in keeping with the message Jesus came to deliver.
But we’ll see. Right now he’s leaning towards returning to his home state, where he and his wife have family and friends. And of course that makes sense.
When I asked the young man if I could share his letter here, he said sure. But he also asked me to take care to remove any identifying information within the letter. You know why? Because his church told him that if he at all spoke or wrote about what had happened, they would withhold the modest severance package they’re giving him.
They’re strong enough in their convictions to fire this pastor, but not so strong that they want anyone knowing that’s why they fired him.
Jesus must be so proud of them.