In Defense of Brian Zahnd

In Defense of Brian Zahnd November 19, 2018


Back in 2015, I posted an article called “Not A Sin?” on my previous blog site called ‘Subversive1’, after several weeks of showing the post to a handful of people I respected, and especially those who were members of the LGBTQ community. My concerns were two-fold: One, I wanted to be sure that my response was solid from a scriptural standpoint, and Two, I really wanted to be careful not to inadvertently insult or belittle my friends who were not straight.


Edits were made based on those conversations, and literally a few of them were actual phone calls where I was extended immeasurable grace for some of the language I had used without thinking about how it would come across to people outside my frame of reference.


Still, posting that first article on my blog was – for me – a very big deal. In a way, I was “coming out” along with my gay and transgender friends, because I was stepping out of the shadows and standing alongside them, for better or worse.


After that, it got a bit easier to share my thoughts on this subject – and it is one where I am still really processing and learning and growing, to be very honest.


But, even just a few days before I posted that first article, I was not sure where I stood with the topic of gay marriage. My wife Wendy and I would take long walks around the block together and during this time our topic of conversation was very much about this question: Is it ok for gay people to be married?


Now, I know that for some of you, this isn’t even a question. Of course they should be married! [Well, duh.] But, for someone who is honestly wrestling through the question, it is not really that clear or that easy to answer. In other words, it takes some time to logically, and theologically, cross that line in your heart and mind.


So, just the other day, a friend of mine, author and pastor Brian Zahnd, took some heat from yet another friend of mine, Chuck McKnight, for a Tweet he had made about gay people being fully accepted into the Body of Christ, but mentioning that his church does not perform same-sex weddings. [Full disclosure: Brian Zahnd wrote the Foreword to my latest book, “Jesus Unbound: Liberating the Word of God from the Bible.“]


That article, also posted here on Patheos, was gentle, thoughtful, and sincere – as many of Chuck’s articles tend to be. [Full disclosure: Chuck and I are currently co-writing a book together for Quoir publishing]. In the response, Chuck was careful to mention his connection to Brian, and to me. I do understand where he’s coming from, and why he felt the need to write this. However, I was disappointed with the overall post – and mostly with the reaction to the post rather than the post itself.


Reading Chuck’s article made me remember how, early on in my own process and development around this topic, it might have been counterproductive for me to have received a similar rebuke like that one.

But reading the comments and reaction to Chuck’s article gave me even greater pause. I can understand that Brian’s position is hurtful to many people – especially those in the LGBTQ community who have looked to him as someone they believed was on their side. I get that. I can understand the disappointment and the betrayal they must feel (and Chuck’s article does a great job of shedding some light on that).

My concern was mostly with the direction that some of the comments were going and that’s why I felt the need to write this post. Not as a correction to Chuck’s post – which I love – but more as another voice in this same, ongoing conversation.

When I was still in the study and research phase of this whole question about LGBTQ relationships, it wasn’t easy to navigate. Honestly, it was the kindness, and the grace that was extended to me by my very patient and loving LGBTQ friends that helped me change my way of thinking on this issue. If I had been blasted for not being all the way across the finish line, I may have decided to give up completely.


In our house church family, we developed a mantra of sorts that says “everyone is in process” and by that we mean that not everyone is on the same page, or in the same place, theologically. So, we have learned to have extreme grace for one another – especially if we encounter someone who believes something today that we once believed ourselves only a few years (or months) ago.


As for me, I’m mostly very proud of Brian Zahnd for taking the stand that he takes on this issue, because I know that it’s not easy or comfortable to stand where he’s standing. So, he affirms and loves the gay Christians in his own church, and he allows them to participate fully. However, he does not [yet] perform same-sex weddings.


Is that full inclusion? No. But, it’s also not “anti-inclusion” either. It’s an uncomfortable spot in the middle ground, but – I would argue – it’s a point along the curve that is bending towards full inclusion.


Now, I do hope and pray that one day very soon he may continue to process and progress and eventually he may turn the corner on this issue – as most of us are hopeful that he will – but, until that day, I’d rather show support for Brian’s progressive momentum in the right direction, even if he’s not all the way home, yet.


Please understand: I’m not saying I agree with Brian’s decision not to perform same-sex marriages. That’s not what I’m saying. Not at all.

What I’m saying is: Let’s affirm the steps that Brian has made so far, and let’s encourage him to continue to think – and rethink – this issue in light of Christ and the radical inclusiveness of the Gospel.


However, if you feel the need to demonize and scapegoat Brian for his failure to have arrived at the same spot in the road where you happen to be, then please remember that there may be areas of your own theology that are as equally underdeveloped and lacking.


Think about the grace you would like to receive from the rest of us as you make your way down that path, and then try to extend some of that same wonderful grace to Brian Zahnd, and other pastors and teachers just like him, who have made positive steps towards full inclusion, and one day – with your love and grace – may soon arrive at the place where you’ve been standing for a while now.


That day will be so much sweeter for all of us if we’ve modelled a spirit of love and grace to one another along the path.

Trust me.


Keith Giles was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church 11 years ago, to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. 

His new book “Jesus Unbound: Liberating the Word of God from the Bible”, is available now on Amazon and features a Foreword by author Brian Zahnd.

He is also the author of the Amazon best-seller, “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb” with a Foreword by Greg Boyd.

Keith also co-hosts the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast on iTunes and Podbean. He and his wife live in Meridian, Idaho, awaiting their next adventure.

BONUS: Want to unlock exclusive content including blog articles, short stories, music, podcasts, videos and more? Visit my Patreon page.


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Beautifully said as always Keith!!

  • Superb article. And can I also point out that the early Church took a good while to change its ideas on a lot of the former Rules that held it in bondage. Brian is in good company. Sometimes, and especially in Chrch issues, changes need to be made gradually, else they will never happen at all.

  • Chris Criminger

    Great and balanced Keith. Chuck maybe in his own frustration says he’s done with progressives who more agreed with Brian than being consistent for supporting the marginalized. I doubt he meant you but Christians need to stop writing off their own. I respect Chuck and I count him a brother in Christ even though we disagree over some issues. Why do we have to write people off who are in different places theologically or are still processing things on their faith journey? ( I also understand Chuck was referring to people who say they are supportive on this issue but from his perspective are not supportive enough). I know this is a sensitive issue for many Christians but people on the right and left are marginalizing their own or people on the way to a similar place and this is counter productive.

  • wakingdreaming

    Nowhere in this blog post do you ever mention empathizing with the LGBT people who are hurt by Brian Zahnd’s words and his position. You just defend the person in power and beg that we show him grace.

    As a straight, cis male, you need to stop appropriating the language of coming out for yourself. Stop it. You letting people know you consider yourself an ally of LGBT people (and you’re not even a very good one) is not at all analogous to LGBT people coming out about their identities.

    Maybe other people are saying that Brian Zahnd needs to get with the program and perform same sex marriages immediately, but Chuck did not say that. He said that Brian Zahnd needs to be entirely honest about his position and stop saying he’s fully affirming when he’s not. You can’t be fully affirming and not perform same sex marriages, if you’re a pastor.

    Do better, Keith.

  • Ellen Hammond

    Well said, Keith. We all need to remember that each of us has to wrestle with our own faith in our own way. So we are all at different places in our journeys. Patience, love, and understanding go a long way in helping others to see things in a new light. But criticism and accusations, can make others take a step back instead of moving forward. Just because Brian Zahnd is in the public eye, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t cut him some slack, since he too is just a human being, who is still learning and wrestling with his faith. If he was perfect he wouldn’t still be in this world.

  • notrandal

    “However, if you feel the need to demonize and scapegoat Brian for his failure to have arrived at the same spot in the road where you happen to be, then please remember that there may be areas of your own theology that are as equally underdeveloped and lacking.”

    If there are areas in my own theology that are similarly underdeveloped and lacking, especially if they have the potential to cause real harm to innocent people, then I hope to God that I get called out on them, and fast. This would be even more important if I were an influential leader.

    Zahnd is using his influence and privilege to give legitimacy to an exclusionary theology, and you are using your own influence and privilege to defend him and divert attention away from the voices of the oppressed — those who have been and are still affected by this theology and who are holding him accountable and calling for his repentance. You could use your privilege to amplify our voices, mourning with those who mourn, but you have chosen otherwise (all the while reassuring us that you affirm us 100%).

    Scripture tells us of prophets who held influential leaders, including religious leaders, accountable for their harmful actions and called for their repentance. I imagine those leaders also had friends who jumped to their defense, accusing those prophets of intolerance, demonization, and scapegoating, and insisting that those prophets should instead look at themselves since there may be areas of their theology that are “equally underdeveloped and lacking.” But we know through whom God was speaking.

  • notrandal

    But was the early church lacking in voices holding it accountable and calling it to repentance? Were those voices demonizing and scapegoating the leaders of the churches they were addressing, or did they have legitimate concerns?

  • David Cyril Marlatt

    I don’t have simple answers for this complex topic, but we can be liberated by the fact that the Bible makes no attempt to format or mandate that any pastor, priest, minister needs to ever do a wedding in the first place. It was always a civil activity and presumed to be between a man and woman. Of course cultures shift and adapt, and whatever the civilization asks for will be attended with both positive and negative results.

  • Aaron Acton

    Wow, you can’t win Keith! Fortunately I know that’s not your goal. Here is a question for everyone though, “Could I be wrong”? – About Keith, about Brian? Chuck? This subject? Then pray that Jesus Himself reveal the truth to you.

  • Jimmy Malate

    On my, so many words. All I needed to hear was at the very beginning the two straight men were debating amongst themselves who is “aaa; owed in the Body of Christ. Done, Peace and OUT.

  • Fair points but I don’t think ‘repentance’ meant the same back then as people understand it now. Accountability is also a different issue because nowadays everything is distributed electronically and instantaneously; communication back then was of course very different and ideas and concepts were far less widespread.

  • Jazzy Lopez
  • James Duchscherer

    Hebrews 13:8 states: 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

    It never ceases to amaze me how today’s church feels that the christianity needs to change to follow the times instead of how society needs to change to follow the living Word of Jesus. Are we to have God change to fit our image or are we to change to fit the image of God, as stated in the Bible? (Genesis 1:26-27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.) The modern Christian needs to stop trying to pander to the “flavour of the month” and root itself in the scripture and the sacraments. Do not try to conform God to our image but conform our image to God…Basic Christianity 101

  • I see your point…but I would mention that Christianity has changed its viewpoints on many, many issues down through the ages. I’m sure you don’t need me to make even a short list 😉 Yes, Jesus is indeed the same yeterday, today and forever, but church doctrine does change. Also, the emphasis on various ideas and whatnot does vary from one denomination or group to another, and change as new understandings of the Scripture, new archaeological data, and even different interpretations of the same Scriptures but by different people, occur. Some of that change is simply superficial difference; however some of it is seen as vitally important doctrine by one group while another might not see it sas that important. The shades and nuances are manifold. I am therefore not personally surprised that church principles change over time. Even those things, which in one age are held as hard-and-fast doctrine, do change with time. Just, as I said in my comment above, it takes a *long* time.

    Also, our picture of God changes, both personally and corporately, and in the wider church too. This is a highly Biblical idea in that the revelation of God, as seen by, say, Moses or Abraham, is vastly different from that shown by Jesus and realised and developed by the Apostles and early Christians. While the canon of Scripture is indeed closed, it should be no surprise to us that God continues to reveal Himself to us on a daily basis. Jesus said ‘I have so much more to tell you, but you can’t bear it right now’. As we become able to ‘bear it’, He reveals stuff to us. The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him – and that conversation with Him is ongoing in my experience.

  • Nope, that one must have escaped me….