Why I Talk So Much About These Things

Recently someone asked me why I talk so much about LGBTQ people in sermons, in blogs and just in life. It was a great question. Three things came to mind.rsz-do-we-talk-about-lgbtq-cannabis-inclusion-enough-1

The First Reason I Talk So Much About These Things

The first is simply the domino effect of being a pastor with a gay son and talking openly about that experience. I’ve come to realize that pastor’s usually don’t do that.

After my son Timothy came out, I talked about it to my friends and family, I wrote a BLOG about the experience, and our church convened the Study Team to talk through the questions around LGBTQ inclusion in the church. At the front end, I mostly needed lots of space to think, to ask questions, to find support, and to process a whole bunch of emotions.

As I talked about the questions, the confusion, and the differing theological perspectives – I tried to do so in a way that honored both progressives and conservatives.

And then word got out.

It turns out, people have gay children, bisexual spouses, transgender parents, intersex friends, or are gender fluid themselves (as it turns out, yesterday, I connected with people who fit each of those descriptions). And they don’t know where to process the impact these relationships have on their faith. But they desperately want to do so. It just has to be in a safe, non-judgmental space where they can explore their own questions and feelings and still stay connected to God.

The Second Reason I Talk So Much About These Things

I just tipped my hand as to the second reason I talk so much about these things: there’s a massive need. A week ago, each day I jotted down just one of multiple interactions that day around LGBTQ people in the church. Here they are.

Friday: Even though Fridays are my day off, I conducted the funeral for the father of a lesbian woman who hasn’t been to church in years (decades?). She couldn’t find a pastor to officiate the funeral so her coworker (who is in a church group I lead) connected us. She said afterwards that she was surprised to be treated so well by a pastor. Hmm… seems like there might be some stories there.

Saturday: At a function in a different city I ran in to three people (all straight, cisgender). The first was a woman I’ve never met who walked up to me and said, “You’re Bill White. I’m E. from Florida. I’ve read your syllabus on conversations about LGBT people in the church.” The second was a denominational leader who a year ago was part of a team that tried to disband City Church and defrock me because we did not hold the same theological position as he does around LGBT people in the church. He and I chatted amiably for a few minutes and caught up. The third was a friend who wanted to set up a meeting with me because a family member told them the previous week that he’s transitioning to become a woman.

Sunday: I met for coffee with a straight couple who were new to City Church of Long Beach. The wife said to me, “Last month I committed to never going to church again because churches are so hurtful and exclusionary.” Fortunately, the Spirit convinced her to try once more. She came (with some lesbian friends) and was shocked to hear a testimony in the sermon about Jesus’s radical call to love our enemies that was shared by a humble, gracious transgender woman. This couple declared over their lattes that they’d found a church home at last.

Monday: There’s a lesbian couple who has sought me out. They attend a local evangelical church and are experiencing a lot of pain because their church’s leaders will neither conduct nor attend their wedding. Early Monday morning I had coffee with one of the lesbian’s parents, who attend a different conservative evangelical church and have been struggling with their daughter’s wedding and needed someone to process with. So I listened, asked questions, shared some stories, and prayed with them.

Tuesday: I got coffee with a gay man to talk about some of the ways God’s been speaking to him through his marriage (to a man). He’s a new Christian and he was so excited to explore the idea of being discipled by an older Christian I know because, he told me, “I want to learn how to talk to God.”

Wednesday: As I was eating breakfast at my kitchen table with a friend who came out to me five years ago, he shared about connecting with a local LGBT Community Center to help him find housing. I remember the night he came out to Christians for the first time – in a bible study I was leading – and the remarkable outpouring of love he received from others in the group. I wished that could be connected in a group like that these days.

Thursday: I caught up with a long time friend who is gay and who serves as an elder at another church. He’s conservative theologically and remains celibate because of those convictions. Because of the way Christians have treated gay people, he’s decided not to come out, except to me and one other person (who no longer speaks to him). So that means I’ve gotten more than one late night phone call from him talking about the sexual temptations and severe loneliness he’s facing. In our interaction I felt no need to change him or his theology, but it breaks my heart even now that there’s no one in his church or even his entire city who he thinks he can safely share his journey with.

Do you see the need? And I could have told two dozen more stories from that same week. So it’s hard for me not to talk about the deluge of conversations like these that I’m having all the time. In part I need to process them, in part it’s just what God’s up to in my life. Which brings me to…

The Third Reason I Talk So Much About These Things

This ministry is not something I planned or even wanted, but it seems to me that God has a call on my life to love and serve LGBTQ people and those connected to them.

I say “call” because God keeps opening doors and God keeps producing good fruit. I say “call” because this is one of the key places in my life where I feel humbled and challenged daily to grow to become more like Christ. I also say “call” because I am beginning to see how the LGBTQ community is saving the church, and I want in.

Reflections on the Queer* Christian Conference

*For those unused to the word ‘queer,’ let me start off by saying that it’s become the preferred umbrella term for those who are sexual or gender minorities, so that’s why I use that term here. And let me tell you, if you had told me five years ago I’d be in Chicago in January 2019 at the Queer Christian Conference worshipping Jesus with over a thousand queer Christians, I would have said you were crazy. Funny how God works, isn’t it?

conf1The conference hosted a REALLY diverse group of people – gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, asexual, and all sorts of others, including both theological progressives and conservatives (HERE are stories of some leaders in the organization).  One of the first things that struck me was all the pain in the community. Everyone there (except the few straight folks like me) had pretty much been run over by the church, bullied by kids in school, outcast by society, and quite often rejected by family. You could say that the entire crowd were ‘the poor in spirit’ that Jesus blessed, telling them that ‘theirs is the kingdom.’ And, as you could imagine from a group of such people gathered around Jesus, there was a ton of kindness, empathy, and even joy. 

There were three highlights for me.

#1 Learning – it’s so humbling to sit at the feet of teachers who are wise, gracious and radically different than you. For example, I went to a workshop on “Sex and Shame” led by David and Tino Khalaf who are contributors to the prestigious Gottman Institute on marriage and authors of a new book about marriage. So here I am, a straight guy who’s been married 26 years crammed into a seminar room in a sea of maybe fifty gay and lesbian couples, who’ve had state-sanctioned marriage for only 15 years (if they are from Massachusetts) – otherwise, it’s been 3 1/2 years. And there was nothing but love for me there – not to mention the wisdom. I had so much to learn about how to talk about sex, how to disentangle sexual shame from God’s good creation, and how to think clearly about God’s design for healthy marriages. Sure, I learned lots about issues connected to being queer, but I also learned a lot about how to be married myself.

conf2#2 Timothy – I’ve been around the church enough to know what a rare gift it is for a father to get to attend a Christian conference with his son. Worshipping together, deep-dish Chicago pizza together, debriefing sessions together, and talking long into the night about everything from sexual ethics to summer internships to family secrets – it just doesn’t get any better than that. The mere fact that my 19-year-old son wanted me to go with him to the conference, wanted to sit with me, wanted to process with me, and wanted to pray with me is enough to make tears well up in my eyes, especially considering the myriad stories I heard of broken family relationships, kids getting yelled at and kicked out of their parents’ home, and pastors humiliating kids in their congregations and their own families. 

#3 Hope – Although the evangelical church is pulling itself apart at the seams over sexual ethics, as a thousand diverse voices lifted in praise to Jesus at the conference I couldn’t hold back the wave of hope. Adrienne Maree Brown writes about how “reclaiming the right to dream the future, strengthening the muscle to imagine together” is a revolutionary activity, and it felt like there was a revolution afoot. Queer Christians are refusing to be silent and refusing to condemn each other, even those with whom they disagreed theologically. Instead, they were connecting with Jesus and his mission to redeem the world – and that was enough. What a model for the church today.

Dinah and #MeToo

One of the gifts that the LGBTQ community has given me over the past few years has been an invitation to see things in scripture that before I glossed over. It was so easy to dismiss the uncomfortable, the offensive, the confusing. And yet it’s all right there in our bible.

I was invited to write a blog for The Twelve, part of the Perspectives Blog. So I wrote it on one of the many passages that has struck me afresh these days. Here is that blog.

Hardship Isn’t Always Bad

A friend of mine from church took a job five hours from here and moved his family out of the city just before City Church of Long Beach started our LGBTQ Study Team. He was so glad to get out just in time. I can relate. It was a hard two years.

Out of the blue he wrote me a long email this week. It captures so much of the process for us as a church and how good our journey has been. Not easy, but good.

I thought I’d share it with you as well, so here it is.

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Bill,

I was just flipping through the church website for the first time in a while and scrolled across your “letter to the church” video about the wrap up of the LGBTQ discussions you have been having.  That focus began shortly after we moved out of town and stopped attending on a weekly basis so we have largely been spared from the divisiveness that I know this conversation created.

My first reaction when I heard what City Church of Long Beach was doing was a relief that I was not going there and that I didn’t have to address that type of conflict head on with a lot of people I love.  My heart has always been torn on that issue as I was always raised very traditionally and to take the Bible at face value in many ways; but my heart has always felt that the way the LGBTQ community is treated by the church is wrong.

At the same time, I can’t say I really know or am friends or acquaintances with anyone in that community either.  I really don’t feel comfortable around openly LGBTQ people and I wish that weren’t the case.  I still don’t really know which side of the fence I find myself on with LGBTQ morality issues, but I do know I fully agree with what City Church came to –  that all ought to be welcomed and included.

“I realize that while we were spared the divisiveness, we also missed out on a great opportunity to learn and grow.”

After watching your video, I realize that while we were spared the divisiveness, we also missed out on a great opportunity to learn and grow.  When we keep ourselves protected from difficult things, we may not hurt, but we certainly don’t allow ourselves to grow.  We don’t grow by relying to on the habits or the traditions or the things that we feel we have figured out in our lives… we grow by realizing that all we have learned needs to be broken apart as God calls us to new uncomfortable places.  As God calls us alongside him in his mission, then that completely destroys the lives we want to live… even the lives that we think we are living as “good Christians.”

Bill, you are a fantastic example of what that looks like to me and to everyone around you.  While I know you are flawed and have your struggles like the rest of us, you clearly allow yourself to be molded by what God is calling you to do, even when that means embarrassment, judgement, frustration, and probably even some hate from those around you… from those who you considered friends.  I obviously don’t know all that pain that has happened in City Church over the recent years, but I can imagine there were plenty of moments where everyone in leadership questioned whether or not they were on the right path.  I am incredible thankful that the team continued on and saw these tough conversations to some form of completion (not that any potentially divisive issue is ever brought to completion.)

I just wanted to say that I truly miss you and although we have found a wonderful church home here, I still miss and long to be a part of CCLB.  Thank you for your daily devotions.  Thank you for being different than other pastors.  Thank you for your leadership.

I wish we were still close enough for an impromptu game of Dominion!

God bless you,

A.

LGBTQ Study Team Conclusion

sacredheartI began blogging over a year ago to share why City Church of Long Beach started our Study Team regarding LGBTQ people in the church. The blog really took off as I shared some personal stories, including about when my son came out.

Our Study Team has now concluded. It’s been a long run – almost two years looking at things like how the early church handled conflict over questions of inclusion, how scholars view key passages like Romans 1, and thinking through how to understand what Paul calls ‘disputable matters’ in Romans 14 (listen to this amazing sermon about it).

On January 21, 2018 we shared our conclusions with our whole church in the context of our vision to be a radically welcoming community, on a journey towards Jesus, joining him in the renewal of all things. I want to share with you what was shared then.

First, I read the this letter to the church summarizing the key insights, tensions, and sorrows of our journey.

 

Then the Study Team shared our theology behind our vision, which is on the ‘About’ page of our website (just scroll to the bottom).

I am so grateful for the journey we’ve been on. Along the way, God’s clarified my call to focus my energies on pastoring City Church Long Beach so I will be posting only infrequently in the future on this blog.

Grace and peace to you in Christ,

Bill

How To Disagree and Still Be Friends

At the recent Q Commons event in Long Beach (Oct 26, 2017), my friend Eric Carpenter and I gave a 14 minute talk about how to disagree about important issues and still be friends.

The particular issues we disagree about center around the place of LGBTQ people in the church. Here’s the video in case you’d like to watch it.

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Good friends, strong disagreements. Eric and me at the Q Commons event in Long Beach, CA

 

Sabbatical Blog Interruption

I’m taking a sabbatical this summer from June 5 to September 3, graciously granted by the Pastoral Team and Financial Oversight Team of our church.  I’m very grateful for time for rest and renewal.

In an effort to surrender my pastoral work this summer, I’m logging off Facebook, not checking email even once, and even changing my phone number during my sabbatical! And in keeping with that effort, I’ll be holding off on blogging as well. The City Church of Long Beach LGBTQ Study Team will also be on hiatus this summer, to resume in September.

I’m looking forward to extended times of silence and solitude this summer, including kicking it off my sabbatical this coming Monday with a 7 night, 8 day retreat of silence at a monastery. My hope is to ‘come to the end of myself’ as my spiritual director says – to let all of my anxious energy, all of my drive to achieve, all of my concern about what people think of me to be sloughed off like an old snakeskin. Who even knows what will be found underneath. Ultimately, I’m just hoping to meet Jesus there and to journey a little closer with him.

For those who haven’t been on my blog much, if you’re interested, these have been some of the most read posts:

When My Son Came Out
How the LGBTQ Community is Saving the Church
What If I’m Wrong?

Until September…