Wednesday, May 20, 2009

unChristian

The unChristian series of posts will relate, not to the book of the same title, but to my personal struggle to live as a follower of Jesus in a flock that often forgets what that truly means.

A few months ago, I was invited to a round table discussion between the church pastors, elders, their spouses and the three students attending the first year of Global Missions Training Institute; Charlie, Rachel and Craig.

To start, I was a bit taken aback to find I was the only person given this special invitation and also that the invitation came from three of the four members of leadership. I was strongly urged to attend with the pitch that the subject was of vital importance to our church's ability to effectively minister.

I now realize the invitation came from each source for a specific reason. Charlie and I are the only people Pastors Mac (new senior pastor) and Floyd Jr. have ever seen disagree strongly with Apostle B (longest tenured pastor in the church's 21 years) and not only remain close but stay with the church.

Pastor Mac has been an elder since the church was founded. Stepping from the role of assistant herder to shepherd is a huge change for him. It's the first time he's carried the staff and full weight of responsibility for a flock.

Floyd Jr. is Apostle B's son... so yeah... he's had 50 years of hearing "this is how it is done." so no matter what his position on anything, he knows his dad and the futility of convincing him anyone has greater wisdom or experience this side of Heaven.

Apostle Earl was the other leader at the meeting that night. He's only been a part of the church and leadership for a year and is still learning to navigate our particular pasture's minefield of sheep dip.

Pastor Floyd Jr. knows from our own conversations that Charlie and I are fully aware of Apostle B's tendency to spout his resume (one of the founders of what became the 700 Club) and his 50 years in ministry whenever he runs out of rational or truly biblical arguments.

Pastor Mac saw me challenge the way homosexuality is addressed from the pulpit the night last winter when he and Apostle B came to speak to the youth about the upcoming leadership change. Maybe it would have been wiser on my part to address it privately but I know these kids and their issues... and the timing... well, I still say that was God. When Apostle B opened the door, I strode right through it.

Where Apostle B appeared personally offended at what he considered a public rebuke and abruptly ended the discourse, I saw the tears in Pastor Mac's face when I told them point blank that the choice of words from the pulpit had not only wounded already hurting people but the youth and I all knew people who would never return, nor likely listen to another christian because of what they had heard come from our own pulpit.

Side note: "Love the sinner- hate the sin"and the word "abomination" no longer have a place in Christianity. They have been used and abused until the Body as a whole should no longer be trusted with them until we can truly grasp the Spirit over the letter.
Also, if I hear the words "homosexual" and "agenda" used together again, I'll probably start throwing things.

Anyway...

I say this without malice, bitterness or even gloating... but I think Pastors Mac and Floyd Jr were secretly hoping for the discussion that occurred the night of the round table. I'm sure they were hoping for a less volatile version... but they knew the conversation needed to happen and called on us to make it happen.

Poor Apostle B... I'm fairly certain he and Mrs. Leona thought it would be a forum where they would receive unconditional leadership support when The Feathers ended up needing "correction" in our beliefs about how we are meant to live the example of Jesus.

I know it was never intended to be an "Us & Them" situation but come on. You put the entire leadership of a church on one side of a long, rectangular "round table" and four congregants on the other side, that will happen. Especially if the four congregants are made up of three incredibly strong-willed people and one young man with a heart for real ministry.

Long story short... things went very well despite almost total differences of opinion between the three generations represented. It was understood and accepted by all that the Church as a worldwide Body... and our little part of that need to change in a huge way, or lose yet another generation.

Things went well until Charlie and I brought up the subject we knew in our hearts we were there to address... the attitude that homosexuality is somehow the greatest sin that has ever or will ever exist and that the GLBT community should be treated with a different, less accepting version of the Gospel.

Tempers flared.

In the midst of doctrinal debate, Rachel very bravely shared her struggles and that had Charlie or I given her a choice about attendance when we started back two years ago, she'd have never attended long enough to get past the rhetoric to the Message. Apostle B asked her if he'd ever personally treated her as if he didn't love her. When she didn't answer but sat quietly with tears pouring in rivulets from her chin, he sat back with a self-satisfied "humph".

That was the moment the pile of sheep shit exploded.

At one point in the tornado of words that followed, I pointed out that "in my 50 years of ministry" was no longer a valid or rational preamble to any statement nor an acceptable excuse to malign people you claim to love. After that, I focused primarily on prayer and not allowing the words "arrogant fuck" to escape my lips. Mama Bear had awoken and it was all I could do to keep her from verbally gutting the one who had wounded her cub.

Apostle Earl and Craig did probably the wisest thing possible. They prayed every moment they weren't actually speaking aloud. Apostle Earl, with his hulking frame in one corner of the table and Craig's gentle giantness at the other, next to Rachel, holding her hand, prayed for the entire situation.

When Charlie pushed back his chair and stood up, the so-called debate ended and the long needed frontal attack of the Pharisee mindset began.

I'd love to say the evening ended with lots of hugs, tied up all nice and neat in a comfortable bow for everyone... but in reality... there was a lot of fleece and chunks of ram's horn all over the place. Apostle B was distant for a few weeks and one of his last messages as Pastor addressed the need to respect leadership... but it's gotten better.

It did mark the end of a long, cold, wilderness winter and the dawn of a tentative spring.

I know I have to be patient but the seeds of change we've been hearing so much about have finally begun to sprout. In fits and starts... light, warmth and new growth are appearing all over and for the first time in years, I look to the horizon with hope and expectation.

This might just become a pasture we can live in.