Honest Thoughts

Over the last few months, our community of Newberg Friends Church has been fracturing. It’s been painful for us all, in an almost infinitely different amount of ways. There is always hope of something new and good coming out of this, because we serve a God who redeems and resurrects. Grief for what we knew and loved is a normal part of loss, and grief is what I have been feeling. There is also the realization that we have not been a perfect community and some things do need to be different. We, as individuals and as a community, need refining.

In our gathered meetings, things have been said that I do not agree with, that do not describe how I experience Christ and the bible. Hurtful things have been said. I’ve had broken moments before God, because as a pastor and one in leadership, we did not stop hurt. I apologize, and I have asked for God’s forgiveness and direction for the future.

One step I am prompted to take is to share some of my honest thoughts. These are my thoughts; you are free to disagree with them, as I offer them with an open hand and not to coerce. These are my thoughts; I would ask that you not assume that I speak for other pastors, or elders, or anyone else.

Over the years, I’ve changed how I think about what it means for LGBTQIA people to be faithful to Christ. In last Sunday’s meeting, there was a statement that pastors have not given reasons for a change from Faith and Practice that are biblically based. It has been challenging over the last year to be in a different place than our Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice, and I’ve sought God’s direction for how to both have integrity with what I believe and submit to my community. I have not always got that right. Some believe my changes are evidence that I have left biblical faith in Jesus Christ, that I have been influenced by culture. I want to say that from my perspective, these changes have come because of my faith and how the message of the gospel has shaped my life.

Back in January, I surrendered my recording (similar to ordination) with Northwest Yearly Meeting. I want to share the letter I sent at that time as a partial explanation for where I stand. May God help us all in these difficult days. May we all share our beliefs with humility as we strive to listen, discern, and care for each other. May God be faithful to lead us all.

January 30, 2017

To the NWYM Board of Elders,

I am surrendering my recording with Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends Church.

I am grateful for all the ways this community has nurtured me, mentored me, and taught me. I am grateful for all the ways my family has found life and guidance and has experienced the presence of Jesus through the people and ministries of NWYM. You’ve been a huge part of my development as a follower of Jesus, and I will always be grateful for that. I am sure that many people within NWYM will continue to shape my life.

But I can no longer remain a recorded minister with NWYM.

I no longer support our Faith and Practice statement on human sexuality. This has been a long journey for me. In the last year, I have come to the personal conclusion that I am welcoming to all and affirming that same sex marriage is a viable option for followers of Jesus Christ. I am ready to be part of a church community where LGBTQIA people can openly and honestly be themselves and fully participate. I am ready to be part of a church community where LGBTQIA people are not excluded from membership, leadership, or pastoral ministry based on their sexual orientation or on whether a commitment to celibacy is made. I believe the criteria for membership and leadership should be the same for everyone: a commitment to Jesus Christ, evidence of the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit, and obedience to Christ’s calling.

More than that, I believe the way we have interpreted and enforced this part of our Faith and Practice over the last five years has had the result of excluding and shaming people. It has opened my eyes to the culture of secrecy that our belief and our practice has created, a secrecy that is not in keeping with our Jesus, the proclaimed Light of the world. This secrecy, necessitated by our statement and its enforcement, is having devastating effects spiritually and emotionally and physically, as evidenced by the high suicide rate for LGBTQIA youth.

But surrendering my recording is far broader than one issue. I see NWYM increasingly embracing a holiness theology and practice that is based on purity and separation. Whatever is deemed as sinful or wrong; whatever people, actions or beliefs do not fit within the purity system are to be removed and excluded. This is not consistent with how I interpret scripture. I have not found this way of dealing with sin to be effective in my experience. The power of Christ’s gospel is that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) The power of the incarnation is that God took on frail, human, marginalized flesh, identified with us, embraced us in all our weakness, and redeemed us. The power of the cross is that once and for all, the sorrow and the sin and the scapegoating of all human experience was swallowed up by our suffering Savior. The power of the resurrection is that Jesus is the firstborn of a new family, a new nation, a new community; a community not bound by narrow limits of purity or obedience but consecrated by a person’s commitment to the living Lord.

Our salvation came because Jesus bore the wrath of the holiness purity system with his violent death. His death demonstrated that system’s failure, by rejecting and crucifying God’s Messiah. His resurrection demonstrates God’s power to do a new thing, a permanent thing…an ushering in of the reign of God, “bringing all things in heaven and on earth under one head, even Christ.” (Ephesians 1:10). The holiness purity system has been proven wrong. God’s clear plan and purpose now is one of unifying, not of separating. Why are we as an institution going against what God has done and is doing in Christ?

I’ve watched the Yearly Meeting draw boundary lines which exclude not only LGBTQIA people, but also any who might believe or teach something against Faith and Practice’s statement. This does not match the practice of Jesus, who broke all the boundary lines and purity standards of his day. He ate with tax collectors, let prostitutes touch him, ate and drank with “sinners”. This radical acceptance, I believe, is what made it possible for people to come to repentance and be changed by the Holy Spirit of God. I’ve heard many say: “Yes, but Jesus also said ‘Go and sin no more.’” I would remind that it was Jesus who said that; not the disciples, not the religious leaders. I believe it is the present Jesus Christ, it is the Holy Spirit today that convicts of sin and empowers true change, not our boundary lines or proclamations of sin.

Northwest Yearly Meeting and other Quakers taught me the power and beauty of a wide open, bold pursuit of God’s truth. I learned that all of life was sacramental. I learned the positive power of giving testimony to God’s work in us as opposed to the restrictive power of creeds. But over recent years, I’ve received many messages from NWYM that as a pastor, as a recorded minister, I should not voice my perspective if it did not fit within Faith and Practice. I’ve heard messages that it is dangerous for people to hear something contrary to what has been defined as truth. My perspective is completely opposite. I believe God’s Holy Spirit is active and powerful. I believe it is in the bold asking of questions and listening to other perspectives that the Holy Spirit is able to guide us into all truth. I want to live in a community where we boldly question as we seek God’s truth, trusting the Holy Spirit, the scriptures, and the community to keep us on the path of discipleship. It is discipleship, not purity, to which we are called.

In addition, the recent decision to initiate a reorganization into two Yearly Meetings without asking for approval has clearly demonstrated to me that I no longer belong as a recorded minister of this Yearly Meeting. We are obviously divided. Yet a small number of people have made the decision to define what Northwest Yearly Meeting will be. I left the ECNA church to join Northwest Yearly Meeting for many reasons, including a model of communal listening together to the Spirit of God. I’ve valued waiting and silence, wrestling and churning with my community as we do the hard work of discernment. I’ve grieved our inability to live that out over the last three or four years as a Yearly Meeting.

So it is with regret that I surrender my recording to you. I love the people of Northwest Yearly Meeting. I will do my part to keep relationship open. My hope and prayer is that we all together will seek Christ.

Sincerely and with love,

Gregg Koskela

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10 thoughts on “Honest Thoughts

  1. Thank you, Gregg. Like you, I have changed my mind on this issue in recent years, and also like you, I have done so because I believe the message of scripture, not because I have abandoned it. I recently read David Gushee’s book, Changing our Mind, and see that he — a leading Christian ethicist and theologian — has also come to a similar conclusion.

    I admire your courage, Gregg, knowing that this has been a difficult journey for you as our church has been in great tumult over this issue. You have carried the stress and the loss with humility. I am grateful for your compassion and faithfulness.

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  2. The comments you made above indicates you’ve changed your mind about what you think about homosexuality. Unfortunately you didn’t give me the reasons or the sources that have caused you to change your mind when i met with you and Steve. As someone who has known you from back in the eighties, (student at Fox and an RA in the group that I was in charge of on Walkabout and pastor of my church, I’ve been a Christian/believer since I was a teen and have attended NFC over 50 years) it seems to me that it’s reasonable that you give me the clear reasons why you have changed you convictions. Hopefully it’s based on the Holy scripture as that is the primary source for what I/we as Christians base our convictions and beliefs on.
    I feel serious sadness as I see those of us who believe in God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus our savior and the Holy Scriptures who are attempting to deal with the way sin is sneaking in the back door of our organization and the lives of those our leaders and a significant number of church members. I will appreciate a rational and responsible response from you.
    Have been and am praying for the Holy Spirit’s guidance and direction for each and every one of us who are attempting to do what is right, reasonable and responsible. May His presence in our lives bring peace and harmony among us and to all those in the greater world whom we are trying to reach with the Holy Gospel and the peace of God.

    Peter Snow

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    • I think it really helps to start looking at exegesis and context rather than looking at an unnuanced translation (when a word needs two sentences of explanation, well, you’re going to mess up the flow of your translation).

      There are passages used against gay people that are part of the rules for the Levitical priesthood, not the general population. Some stuff about temple prostitutes among the pagans.

      And there’s that word Paul used that has no other usage anywhere, and some translators say means “homosexual,” and others say “sexual idolator,” but all that’s really clear is that it’s something about sex.

      And the part about people being “given over to unnatural desires,” that well, the cause and effect in that sentence is that some poor guy who used to think his wife was smokin hot has in a lightning flash suddenly become interested in dudes because God is punishing him by making him all confused. Keep in mind that “unnatural” in that sentence is “contrary to one’s own nature” (or “uncharacteristic”) versus “against the laws of nature.”

      Overall, it just doesn’t seem like the Scriptures really speak to the issue of loving same sex couples at all. But what the Scriptures do speak to is that it is better to marry than to burn with desire.

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  3. God bless you, “Good and Faithful Servant”. You have been an inspiration to many of us through the years, faithfully and forcefully delivering with love the messages that God has given you for us. God will open the way for your continuing ministry to others.

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  4. Dear Gregg, my heart has broken over this, and I am so thankful for your words that strengthen my soul. Not knowing who has expressed which, has made this so much more fracturing as it is nearly impossible to step in faith with courage when the risk is so severe. Thank you for your faith and courage and journeying up front for those of us needing encouragement! May the light of Jesus continue to light your path and shine as beacons in your eyes. Hugs to you! Joe Lynne

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  5. from the first time hearing “are we really going to talk about…?” and you approached sexuality in all its forms–this was about gosh, almost 10 years ago… your taking up the challenge to use words to express complex, nuanced and often difficult to convey (controversial) ideas has been appreciated. it is again here in writing and thinking, but most of all — appreciate the clear spelling out of the path that leads to what has been for me more an instinct than something I have ever put down to words. “This radical acceptance, I believe, is what made it possible for people to come to repentance and be changed by the Holy Spirit of God. ” yes. “It is discipleship, not purity, to which we are called.” and one may beget the other but it is not for people to oblige, exclude, judge or otherwise involve themselves in what is the sole territory of He who is not us. that’s what i think today. thank you.

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  6. While reading your words it brought to memory a church from my old town. The city bus used to stop in front of it traffic light. And the words inscribed above the door were, “this is a saying you can trust, Jesus came to save sinners”. The passage of courses from Timothy but it doesn’t represent even the whole verse which ends “of which I am the worst!”. This is the difference between purity code faith in the faith of the disciple. The one mind in scripture for rules and regulations that will keep us safe from the wrath of God. The other seeks a more holistic answer, one that hopefully will help practitioners grow day by day more and more like it’s Teacher and Lord. You seem to chosen the better path.

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  7. As a born-and-bred Free Methodist, I want to be proud of a church whose early days were steeped in social justice. In a time when scripture was used to justify slavery, FMs stood up and said no. When other churches were selling pews to make some extra coin, FMs said no. And, influenced by the great evangelist, Phoebe Palmer, BT Roberts wrote a book in the 1860s to make the case for ordaining women when others couldn’t conceive of it. Holiness — the expression of love for God first and others second — was paramount. The early FMs knew they could not evangelize without lifting others up, so they founded colleges and hospitals and orphanages, etc. It was this group that honored scripture, but lived within the Wesleyan tradition of holding scripture equal to reason, tradition and experience. They were not merely “lovers of the word,” but “lovers of the Word.”

    Then, of course, the church decided to quantify holiness. How will WE know someone is holy? So rules were created — no dancing, no drinking, no smoking, no jewelry, etc. If you followed them, you were holy. Didn’t matter about the condition of your heart at that point, just who was in and who was out of the holiness club. The church version of separating the sheep from the goats, which, as we all know, is not our job.

    The day I faced the fact that, despite my objections to God, I was hard-wired for intimacy with women rather than men, I had to also face the fact that the church who called and ordained me to ministry would no longer have a place for me. I, too, turned in my “papers” with profound sadness. And, despite the fact that I was a very high profile minister in my conference, very few church people remain in my life from those days, mostly family members. If they do think of me, I’m sure it’s with profound sadness at my “falling away.”

    All this to say, Gregg, that your words are like water to this thirsty evangelical heart. Yours and others like you. Years ago, I ran into one of my former SPU professors, a former Nazarene, who was now pastoring in the UCC Church. I asked him how HE reconciled his new church being open and affirming. He sighed and said, “Oh, Susie, I think God has so much more to worry about than what we do with our gonads.”

    I read a book years ago (can’t remember the woman author), written by someone who also felt exiled from the church. She had sneaked into a church one Sunday where they were having communion. It occurred to her, as she was listening and watching, that the church gets it wrong: we are all of us nothing more and nothing less than guests at the table, and we act like we’re the host.

    I believe in a God who loves people who seek to know more of God, to find community with God’s people, to love more completely, to do good and walk humbly with their God. I grieve for NFC. It’s a great church where I have felt the Spirit’s presence, important for those of us who continue to wander in the worship wasteland.

    That said, for this girl of middle-class white privilege, I suppose it’s been a good life lesson to be the victim of church heterosexual privilege. I just never imagined that the church’s windows would be the ones I would be pressing my nose against.

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