Friday, October 26, 2012

Losing My Religion, part 1

The first church I was a member of as an adult was Family of Christ in Lakeville. We started out as not much more than a dozen families meeting at what is now Kenwood Trail Middle School off highway 50. That would've been in the spring of 1988. The church grew over the next few years and we eventually built on a piece of land in an undeveloped area south of 185th street just east of the freeway where it remains today.

As part of any new church, there were formalities we needed to follow in the organizational process and one of those formalities was in officially calling our pastor to the position of Pastor of Family of Christ. Dell had been serving in that capacity for around four years so I assumed this was a no-brainer of a decision. But it wasn't. To my surprise, one woman stood up and voiced dissension with the nomination. I couldn't believe it. What was Kathleen thinking?

I was totally oblivious to what had been happening there behind the scenes. It would take a couple more years to fully play out but in the end, Dell would be forced to step down in disgrace. My desire for organized religion suffered a hit and I would walk away with much disappointment.

Churches are like that though. Ask anybody who works on the inside and sees firsthand the turmoil that too often plays out behind the scenes away from the image that the general public is treated to. We all come with our faults, even those who stand before us Sunday morning and minister.

It would take several years but I would eventually make my way back to church but not to Family of Christ. (An interesting blog post if you have the time.)

Hosanna, where I still attend is what you would consider a mega-church. Their approach appeals to the masses but I'm not sure that that's always a good thing. Hosanna used to be a part of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) until we broke from them 3 years ago after the ELCA took the stance that they would allow gay clergy to serve in the church.

I was troubled by this move, not so much that we'd no longer be under the umbrella of the ELCA because that to me didn't really matter. I was troubled by what prompted us to leave. We took a vote as a congregation which left no doubt about how people felt. The congregation voted 97% in favor of leaving the ELCA. To me, that vote was as much a vote about church members' repudiation of the gay/lesbian lifestyle than anything else. I wondered then how welcomed any gay couples among us at Hosanna must've felt. Not very.

Two Sundays ago our lead pastor, Bill Bohline, stood before us to speak about the same-sex marriage amendment we'd be voting on in a few weeks and to remind us that by not voting on the amendment, for whatever reason, it would count as a 'no' vote. The implication was clear. He was encouraging us to vote in favor of the amendment which would ensure that there could be no same-sex marriages in our state should current law (which makes them illegal) ever be overturned. My heart sank as I listened. Why, why, why?

I waited a week before emailing Pastor Bill about my thoughts...

Greetings Pastor Bill,

This is a letter I'd meant to write two or three years ago when we broke away from the ELCA. Your message from last week sort of brought back some of those same feelings again. I appreciated very much your delivery in talking about such a difficult topic but still, your words left me wondering if your approach toward the GLBT community isn't maybe lacking.

Why did you feel it necessary to speak out in favor of the Marriage Amendment? It was clear to me through your words that you will be supporting the amendment, going so far as to remind us that not voting on the measure counts as a 'no' vote. Isn't it enough that same-sex marriage is already illegal in Minnesota? Was it really necessary to add your voice to those who are piling on? Do you realize that the person who brought this amendment to our state is himself divorced? Does that not seem just a little hypocritical to you?

In your sermon last week you were very careful to assure those in the GLBT community that they're welcome at Hosanna but how many do you really feel you were speaking to? I can only imagine that the vast majority of them left a few years ago when we voted as a congregation, (I believe) 97% in favor of breaking from the ELCA. That vote to me was much more a vote on the repudiation of the GLBT lifestyle than it was about leaving the ELCA. I say that considering what prompted us to leave the ELCA.

What troubles me is your focus on persons in same-sex relationships within our congregation and how you tend to single them out...that their sins are somehow greater than the sins of the rest of us. I've been coming to Hosanna since '97. I was here when you dismissed Missy and her partner from serving at Hosanna. I have to wonder if their sin is somehow so much greater than the sins of others among us that you felt you needed to purge them from our ranks? Gluttony is a sin is it not? Do you have any overweight people serving on your staff? It would seem to me that their sin is at least a choice unlike those in the GLBT community. Correct?

You lifted up a tidy verse in Genesis to make your case for one-man-one-woman marriage. Moses also wrote in Numbers 31:15-18, defining marriage as between a conqueror and his plunder. The Bible also gives plenty of examples of marriage being defined as a relationship between a man and many women in addition to his concubines. Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 22:28 where he defines marriage as between a rapist and his victim. Easily the most difficult verse in the Bible for me to come to any sort of understanding of and one which leads me to conclude that some of Moses's writings were his own interpretation of how things should be and not necessarily from God. The God I worship I'm quite sure would've instructed the people of the community to rally around the victim in this case and provide for her, not allowing her to become an outcast to be shunned. My God would not banish her to a life of torment at the hands of her abuser.

I think we would better serve the GLBT community if we would simply welcome them with open arms and allow God's word to move them if that is what he truly wants for them. We don't reach them by singling them out as you've done and making their sins to seem somehow more than the sins of the rest of us because none of us are being singled out in such a way. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'm missing something really important here which has left me ignorant of your understanding. Please feel free to correct me because I'm really struggling with some of this and have been for some time to the point where I feel as though my desire to be involved in Hosanna is suffering more than ever.

I'm torn about whether or not to send this to you because I would guess you've heard enough push-back from those like me.

I'll leave you with a video. Please watch this through to the very end.

Thank you very much for your time, Pastor Bill.


Kevin Gilmore

This is getting lengthy and I have more to write so I'll finish it tomorrow.

Losing My Religion, part 2


Anonymous said...

Kevin, consider this: one of the most poignant images of The Lord in the Hebrew Scriptures is a cloud, or pillar of smoke. (Exodus 13) Consider how apt an image this is. Smoke appears to become more clear as you get into it (your visibility improves). But try to grasp it, and it eludes you. But so many fail to get that part of God. Instead of realizing the "ungraspability" of the Lord, they get closer, and feel that they have Him. They have a handle on Him. And that leads to a false certainty about who God is. Maybe your pastor suffers from this illusion, as many of us do. Instead, The Lord calls us closer, and as we see better as we come closer, we find that God's Truth is even harder to grasp, not because it's a cruel game, but because of the unfathomable depth to the truth. people who see it as black and white are missing God, the God who led His people as a cloud.

Kevin said...

Thanks, Tom. That's an interesting way of looking at our God that I've never heard expressed before. I like it.

There's so much about this which to me is anything but black and white although there was a time when I truly felt it was much simpler. I don't want to be one who continually questions what I read in the Bible but neither do I want to be one who goes with first, second or third impressions either. There have been too many times in my life where I've had to rethink things that I thought I either agreed with or knew to be true but weren't.

I hope all is well and thanks for your comment!

Andrea said...

I think there are a lot of people at Hosanna that support gay marriage. I'm one of them! I am hopeful that as the younger pastors move into power that change will take place.

Kevin said...

Hi, Andrea,

I hope you're right. I'd be curious to see how a vote would turn out today among the congregation with respect to gay marriage.

I'll have nothing to do with the church as long as Bill is still at the helm. He (his actions) is (are) too much of a distraction for me..