I recently heard that a few folks at my former church in Iowa felt like I duped them. The claim is that for the ten years I pastored at Good News Community Church, I was an occasionally-provocative-but-mostly-biblically-faithful pastor and teacher. Then, when I moved to DC, my "true colors" came out as a gay-affirming, pro-vaccine, anti-racist progressive liberal that had been a wolf in sheep's clothing this whole time.
I reviewed my files and looked at my sermons, social media posts, and journal entries from 2010-2020. Here's what I found.
- A sermon on John 8 (The Woman Caught in Adultery), imploring the church to take the posture of Jesus when encountering LGBTQ people: protect them, put yourself between them and those throwing stones.
- A blog on the evils of Trump's zero-tolerance immigration and refugee policies, calling Christians to repent of supporting such a policy.
- Successfully advocating for our non-affirming church to take the step of accepting LBGTQ people as members.
- Teaching Helping Without Hurting and Toxic Charity to explain why many churches' mission and crisis-relief efforts are counter-productive without advocating for systemic policy change.
- Writing to the newspaper and advocating for removing racist and Confederate symbols from a local business.
- Pushing back on the Obama birther conspiracy and Hillary Clinton conspiracies and calling on Christians to not repeatedly fall for utter nonsense.
- Calling for racial justice in Sunday services prayers and litanies after the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner.
- Calling for the removal of the Second Amendment after Sandy Hook.
- Routinely preaching and writing on the Bible's egalitarian stance towards men and women and denouncing the harm that patriarchal and hierarchical systems create, namely sexual abuse and rape.
- Preaching that if someone is complaining about Political Correctness, that's a sign that just like being rude and mean to people in public.
- Advocating a (pre-pandemic) pro-vaccine stance, connecting love of neighbor to getting vaccinated (causing at least one family to leave!)
- Routinely preaching against sub-Christian or non-historic theology (such as Rapture/Tribulation end-times stuff; prosperity gospel and word of faith; Biblical inerrancy; Penal Substitutionary Atonement; American Nationalism; and the excesses of Pentecostal/Charismatic leaders)
So, if all of the above is true, how could someone possibly say I "duped" them?
Well, I think a few things are probably happening.
One, people don't always pay attention. After 15 or so years of preaching, I know that many sermons and conversations go in one ear and out the other. So, I'm sure some folks saw me as the loud, piano-playing worship leader but didn't necessarily pay attention to what I was preaching.
Two, while I didn't hide any of my convictions, I was pastorally sensitive enough not to bring them up all the time when I knew it would be a distraction. We lived in a very Red county among folks who grew up in deeply traditional Christian homes. It would have been pastoral malpractice to push every controversial button all of the time and think that would be an effective way to love and care for people. Just as it would be pastoral malpractice to let people sit comfortably in their beliefs and never challenge them. Have I become more vocal about my (supposedly "progressive") points of view since pastoring The Table? Sure. There are perspectives I have that aren't particularly controversial here at The Table that would have been deeply controversial in Northwest Iowa. But did I hide those points of view completely? No, not at all.
Three, though it's part of a larger social trend, thanks to the rise of Trump and the descent of the GOP into madness, differing perspectives on race, sexuality and gender, and social policy have become coded as more inflammatory and entrenched in identity and partisan politics. "Vaccines save lives" is a fact, not a partisan statement—except now it is. Saying "Black Lives Matter" is a fact that shouldn't be controversial—except it is. So earlier, a few folks may have found my preaching and teaching merely naive, annoying, or irrelevant, but now broader social pressures have elevated it to dangerous, divisive, and demonic.
Now, hear me on this—I'm a flawed pastor. I can be defensive. I can use my intellect to shut others down. I struggle with creating long-term strategies and go with my gut too often. I can be conflict-avoidant and care too much about what others think of me. I get anxious when I make phone calls and can get intimidated in the foyer when meeting newcomers.
But if there's one thing I hope to never become as a pastor, it's duplicitous. Double-minded. Two-faced. So to be told that I duped people is, I admit, deeply hurtful. And, I'm glad to say, just untrue.