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,