Question Mark: Q&A with Mark Sandlin

Question Mark: Q&A with Mark Sandlin July 7, 2014

Question Mark — Week of July 6


This is a new series I’m trying out on the blog. From time to time, I’ll ask for questions on my personal Facebook page (feel free to friend request me). Based on nothing in particular, I’ll pick five of them to answer. (This time I almost selected, “Should I switch to Geico?”.)

Admittedly, most of the questions deserve much more consideration than I can give them in a few paragraphs, but I think this could be a good place to start conversation and possibly to challenge some long held beliefs of what a Christian must believe. It might even be something you want to share on your various social media outlets in order to start conversations there.

So without further ado, I give you this week’s questions.


1) When pushing back against the hateful, how do you avoid becoming hateful in unhealthy ways yourself? (from Adam Young)

For me, this goes back to a concept I was first introduces to in a book by Neal Donald Walsch called Conversations With God. He called it the “sponsoring thought.” Think of it as the motivation behind why you do things.

Are you trying to “win”? Or are you trying to express a more loving perspective? Are you angry at the person for saying the things they are saying? Or are you trying to understand how a person could believe it? What is you “sponsoring thought”?

I find that if the root of where my pushback comes from is a place of love that only wants to see a better world for everyone, including the person I’m talking to, it is surprisingly easy to not give in to the dark side. (May the Force be with you.)


2) As a gay Christian, how do you balance the dislike you sometimes get from both sides? (from Clayton King)

First, let me say, it is hard for me to know because I’m not gay and can’t pretend to understand what it is like to get that kind of response based purely on sexual orientation.

I do, however, know what it is like to get it from both sides. Being a progressive minister in the South is just one of the places in my life where I get stuck in the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” reality. Frankly, it can get to the best of us.

My first line of defense has been community. Finding support and like minded people online has kept me sane more times than I care to remember. I also find it helpful to step back just a bit and realize that, in the end, the dislike isn’t actually about me. In most cases, they don’t know me. More times than not, it is about their fears which tend to be based on a lack of understanding.


3) I think about the story of the woman getting caught in adultery and being brought before Jesus to be stoned- he said let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Jesus didn’t throw a stone. We also know he was baptized when John was baptizing for the forgiveness of sins. – do you believe Jesus ever sinned??? (from Samantha Jo Haub)

This one will get me into trouble with some folks. Maybe subconsciously, that’s why I picked it?

I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was fully human. I believe he needed his diaper changed as a baby and that he probably picked on his siblings at times and, yes, I believed he sinned – after all, he’s human.

Biblically, I think we have an accounting of one of those times. There will be folks who adamantly disagree with me on this and they may even light up the comment section about it. When Jesus basically calls the Canaanite woman a dog, which was a racial slur meant to belittle a person, I believe he sinned — he allowed something in this life to get between himself and the love of God. To her credit, the woman called him on it. To his credit, he recognized his short falling and praised her for her faith.

I kind of like that fully human Jesus. I find him to be a much more hopeful note for us than the divine Jesus who faced human reality wrapped in heavenly knowledge. I should add, I do think there is a point at which Jesus becomes divine, but that’s for another post.


4) Is there anything you’ve learned in seminary but hesitated to preach? (from Jonathan Harwell)

Yes and no. (I’d make a good politician, huh?)

Seminary is a very academic world. Sure there’s spirituality there, but it is very much a intellectual pursuit. Ministry is more of a balance. It is a tension between prophet and priest, between teaching and pastoring. Some of the things you learn at seminary, while really interesting, would simply get in the way of the pastoral side of ministry.

That being said, I did preach a sermon in seminary to which my professor responded, “Can you preach that sermon in a Presbyterian church?” My response? “Not if I want to keep my job.”

I did preach that sermon. Probably not directly related: I am looking for a new call. Honestly, I think my gifts just lean much more heavily to being willing to push boundaries when the path leads that way. That’s probably always going to be a challenge.


5) Do you believe atheists can go to heaven? (from Mark Nebo)


Some folks would call me a Universalist in my way of seeing this. I think that’s far too much of a generalization. I see my perspective as being a bit more nuanced than the standard Universalist position.

Whatever heaven is, I don’t believe that it is a place where we are divided into the haves and have nots. I don’t believe it is a place where we can’t be with our loved ones and, as Christians, we’re called to love everyone. You can read more about my take on the afterlife in this post: Hell: Yeah, I’m going There -or- Hell Yeah, I’m Going There.



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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • DrRick65041

    Excellent answers Mark. Thanks for sharing.

    • Mark Sandlin

      Thanks Rick!

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  • Greg Strong

    I enjoyed this Q&A very much. Looking forward to more of them. I might even have a Q (or 2,000) myself. 🙂

    • Mark Sandlin

      Most Excellent! Thanks for the feedback. I’ll look forward to the questions!

  • Martin Heward-Mills

    Mark… I don’t really know where to start on this one. I was suspicious when you spoke of conversation with God. Major Alarm bells started with the Jesus sinner statement… But the most interesting one is Atheists go to heaven… I think in just one QnA you called God a liar and then made Jesus death redundant. I am all for pushing boundaries but I don’t know how your believe any of what you have written.

    • Mark Sandlin

      No worries Martin. We all have to follow the path God sets before us. “Conversations with God” is an interesting book. I don’t actually buy into the premise but there’s still some wonderful perspectives in it. As far as the Jesus/sinner question — well, I did say there’d be those who express strong issue with my take. I’ve read back through, I definitely didn’t call God a liar. I’m not think of any of it as pushing boundaries, just doing my best to follow. Maybe God is big enough for people to follow different paths. I suspect so. Thanks for reading!

      • Martin Heward-Mills

        I think it’s tough. To agree that the Bible is the word of God and then directly say that Jesus sinned when he is in so many verses said to be without Sin or Blemish is calling the Bible untrue or a lie. I mean no disrespect but I don’t know how you get around that. Re different paths absolutely but again the Bible speaks of one way to God… So that eliminates that option also. I am not of the opinion that every book that’s not the Bible is foul. And also agree that far more happened that wasn’t recorded in the Bible… But when we use any premise from a book such as conversations to form points of view we see strange things come in. But I just wanted to mention

        • Mark Sandlin

          I think what we have hear is a difference in the emphasis we place on the importance (in terms of degrees) of printed words (including the Bible). I’m always interested in new perspectives that are helpful in my walk with God regardless of their source. I don’t have to buy into the full premise for parts of it to hold true. To speak of the Bible as the word of God because the Bible says it is, is an odd sort of circular logic that I’ve always found problematic. It is, for me, the single best resource for understanding God (on several different levels) that I will ever have and, because of that, it is a holy text for me — but not infallible. It was written by humans and has frequently had mistaken (or possibly manipulated) translations of words, and certainly had very specific intents and audiences when it was first written that also have to be taken into consideration.

          • Martin Heward-Mills

            I agree that if this is human words it’s infallible. If it’s human ideas it’s subject to interpretation. And if it’s soely on their inspiration then it’s cannot hold. However that’s a massive assumptions because if it’s the word of God and as such God doesn’t lie. If it’s the word of God and he designed the end before the start of creation and knows everything past present and future… Then the audience and time and cultures have no bearing for truths he wants to communicate forever…. I think it’s slightly mischievous to pick and choose what we take to be God and what is not. Because what that does is gives us freedom to be our own God which is what humans have always wanted however that’s not possible.

          • Martin Heward-Mills

            And when I say not possible I mean not possible to do so and remain Christian

          • Mark Sandlin

            Well we will just have to agree to disagree on what the Bible is and who gets to be Christian (and who decides who gets to be). It’s an important topic, so it’s really not a surprise that there is a difference of opinion. PEACE!

  • Lindsay Lauren

    What I really like about your answer about atheists going to heaven is that you phrase it as what you personally believe. I think all too often, the conservative Christians make absolute declarations about who is in and who is out. And I think the most important thing for all of us to remember is that we don’t really know. We have our best guesses, and that’s it until we die and find out for sure. I noticed in another’s comment that same sentiment of an absolute, which I personally believe none of us have the authority to declare. Thank you for your careful choice of words (and for a bunch of other stuff that you do).

  • ANYONE can go to Heaven, I believe.

    But it will be Jesus who makes that call for each and every person.

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    Terrible theology, just terrible!

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  • Pastor Dave Clark

    Mark, thanks for your article. I’m excited to find an articulate expression of progressive Christianity. My friends in Iowa need to learn about your blog and I’m happy to help them find it.