I Opposed Gay Marriage, and I Repent

In 2004, when I pastored a fundamentalist church in Michigan, I stood before my congregation and said something to this effect, “Regardless of what party you belong to or how you normally vote, I think we can all agree as Christians that the Bible clearly teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman. I want to encourage you to sign the petition in the welcome area of our church to get the defense of marriage amendment to the Michigan state constitution on the ballot in November. I also want to encourage you to vote for that amendment in November.”
I collected signatures. I voted “yes” and urged others to do the same. The measure passed with nearly 60% of the vote … and 8 years later, I repent.
I was wrong when I said that the Bible clearly teaches a traditional definition of marriage. I was wrong to be insensitive to the lives and struggles of gay and lesbian people. I was wrong for perpetuating state oppression of a group of citizens. I was wrong and I repent.
The Bible and Marriage
I have come to recognize that reading and understanding the Bible isn’t nearly as easy as I was taught it was in Bible college. The older I get, the more I recognize that simply applying a few hermeneutical tools to a passage isn’t necessarily going to give me a crystal clear interpretation of what God definitely wants for my life and the lives of others. It can be difficult sometimes to know when the Bible is being descriptive, simply describing the way things were, and when the Bible is being prescriptive, prescribing the ways things ought to be. Is Paul’s use of husbands and wives as an analogy for Christ’s love for us descriptive of most marriages in his time or prescriptive of what marriage should be always and forever?
In the debate about same sex marriage, much has been made about the definition of marriage. Does the Bible actually define marriage or does the Bible simply describe what has been most common, though not exclusively, in human history? People on the traditional marriage side of the debate often argue that they want to preserve the traditional definition of marriage. But isn’t it pretty commonly accepted that the definitions of words evolve? Language is living and dynamic. Shouldn’t our theology be as well?
Further, even if one argues that Bible “clearly” teaches that homosexuality is a sin, does that mean that in a pluralistic society people who engage in such behavior should have certain legal rights or privileges revoked or limited? The Bible “clearly” teaches that gluttony is a sin. Parents who are gluttonous often raise their children to be gluttonous. Should fat people have their right to become parents be revoked because they are engaging in sinful behavior?
Even further, just because I accept the Bible as authoritative for my life, does that give me the right to expect others to do the same? If I believe that the Bible “clearly” teaches that I should not cheat on my wife, should it then become a crime for all people to cheat on their spouses? In a pluralistic society, which ours is, can we really appeal to prooftexts from the Bible as the standard for what our civil laws ought to be?
Gay and Lesbian Friends
In 2004, I didn’t really have any gay or lesbian friends, that I knew of anyway. My world, and therefore my perspective, was very cloistered. I had not listened to the stories of LGBT people. I had not heard their perspective and didn’t care much about what their lives were like. I was insensitive to the struggles, pain, and heartache they have faced at the hands of pastors like me, churches like mine, and the culture I sought to preserve.
I am a white, straight American male. I have all the power, all the privilege. I don’t know what it is like to be an outcast. I don’t know what it’s like to be bullied for something over which I have no control. I don’t know what it is like to be excluded or shunned. I don’t have any idea what it’s like to live in a society that codifies my inequality.
I now know differently. Well, I don’t really know in any experiential sense, but I have a better idea. And that has changed my perspective. I realize now that those in the LGBT community are people, not the butts of jokes or political enemies advancing an agenda. As a follower of Jesus, I believe that people, all people, are to be loved, not made fun of, bullied, opposed, or ignored. I also have come to believe that my comfort with a particular version of our culture is not more important than the people who live in our culture. The victory of my political party is not more important than people. My sense of right and wrong is not more important than people. Nothing is more important than people.
God Is On the Side of the Oppressed
I now read the Bible much differently. I see it not as a collection of prooftexts to bolster my arguments, but as a story, a story in which I find both God and myself. The narrative of the Bible presents a God who is on the side of the oppressed. God watches out for those who have been forgotten, for those who have been discarded, for those who have been rejected.
God heard a banished maidservant crying and delivered her and her rejected son.
God provided sanctuary for the illegal alien within the Jewish legal system.

Jesus touched the untouchable outcasts.
Jesus talked to and spoke up for the shunned and judged.

The church is home for the lowly, the despised, the have-nots.
The church is a family for those with no family.

The kingdom will be made up of people from every walk of life.
The kingdom will be for all.
Who today is rejected, outcast, and condemned? 
Who today is without a family? 
Who today is discarded and forgotten? 
Certainly, we could answer these questions with a laundry list of Christian cause celebes: Orphaned children in Africa. Victims of sex trafficking. The unborn. But couldn’t we answer these questions with LGBT people as well? Haven’t they been rejected, outcast, and condemned as well? If so, doesn’t that mean that God is on their side as well? And if God is on their side, shouldn’t I be as well?
I Repent
And so, I repent. I repent of seeking to preserve a culture I was comfortable with at the expense of love for people. I repent for putting my theological and political heritage ahead of grace. I repent for perpetuating a church culture of oppression. 
I repent.
From here on out, I will speak up for the rights and privileges of all people.
I will speak up and vote for the dignity of all people.
I will seek to befriend and love those whom in the past I had rejected.
I will seek love and grace for the sake of Jesus and his kingdom.


What I Learned in My, Albeit Short, Foray Into the Job Market

On October 24, the company where I have been employed for half-a-decade announced that it would be closing at the end of the year. (Ironically, that day was my 5 year anniversary with the company.) The owner’s readiness to retire coupled with upper management’s belief that the death of the book in education is imminent spelled doom for a textbook wholesale company. After the announcement was made, I walked back to my cubicle dazed and confused, just like all of my coworkers. In the intervening weeks, the story has changed a bit. We were for sale with several very good potential buyers, and we would only close if we weren’t sold. Uncertainty reigned.

On November 17, three and half weeks later, I accepted a position at another textbook wholesaler. Starting in December, I will be the Director of Business Development for them, doing a lot of the same things I’ve been doing for the past 3 years. But I’ll be working from home with a team that is much more bullish on the future of textbooks in education. When I informed my boss, I knew what would happen next … I was escorted out of the building, a necessity since I had signed on with a competitor. Just a few goodbyes to my teammates who were still in the office. No opportunity to say “thank you” to the people who believed in me and gave me the chance to succeed. More than a day later, I’m still feeling sad about that.

In the three and half weeks of work limbo, I learned (and re-learned) some important things about God, life, and work. Here are some thoughts about it:

You Can’t Manage Results, But You Can Manage Activity
I read this line in EntreLeadership by Dave Ramsey. He was talking about how to manage people, but I applied this lesson to myself as I was suddenly thrust into a job hunt. The results were clear: I needed interviews that would lead to job offers. But there was very little I could do to make that happen. I suppose I could have occupied some office and demanded a job, but the results I was after were the decisions of other people. I can’t manage those. But I could manage my activity that could contribute to those results.

So, each day, I made a to do list of activities I could manage. In the first few days it said things like: rework resume, update cover letter, confirm references, write reference letters for team. As the days dragged on the same activity-oriented items appeared on my to do list: think through network, visit online job sites, send thank you email for interview, troll LinkedIn.

The atmosphere in the office was one of mutual support; we were all rooting for each other to get a job. We would joke around with the person who showed up for work obviously wearing interviewing clothes. But I was amazed at the people who did nothing. I would ask them how their job search was going, and they would say they hadn’t really started. “I need to update my resume. I need to get to it.” I would always walk away from these conversations wondering where they would be come December 23 … our collective D-Day. As much as I wanted the best for them and myself, the only thing I could really do was manage my own activity. And so that was my daily focus.

The Power of Network
I could only imagine my resume coming across the desk of an HR person: seminary degree, Bible college, pastoring. When we first moved to Arkansas, it was worse, but I still wondered if I would be taken seriously by anyone looking to make a hire. When I sent my resume off, virtually anonymously through monster.com or one of the other sites, I did so with a lot of realism. I didn’t think I was going to get a call back from any of those HR managers. And I didn’t.

But … if a friend who knew me, knew what I brought to the table, knew how my skills and experience translated to different business needs recommended me to a hiring manager, that would be a whole different ball game. And it was. Within hours of the announcement, I was reaching out to friends, asking for their help. I was amazed and humbled at what it produced – sincere offers to help from both people I knew and strangers, meetings with significant business people in Northwest Arkansas, interviews, second interviews. Results.

A week or so ago, I heard Dave Ramsey on the radio reference the book The Power of Who and say that just about everybody in this job market was getting hired through the power of networking not by responding to ads on the job sites. I knew I was on the right track.

The Roller Coater Sucks
I love roller coasters at amusement parks. I hate them in other parts of life. During our company limbo, the roller coaster went up and down: We have prospective buyers. Things fell through. Another company is coming in next week. Customers are abandoning ship. Tell customers that we are optimistic about our ability to continue serving them. Up and down, up and down.

More than once, a coworker sat in my cubicle, red-faced and insistent that we shouldn’t give up. I agreed, but I also didn’t believe that we could do much to influence the company being sold. And if it did sell, we couldn’t bank on our jobs still being there. I just wasn’t going to get on that roller coaster. It wasn’t that I was being negative. I was trying to be realistic. And I wanted my team to be realistic. And honest with our customers.

The wisdom of Proverbs says that hope deferred makes the heart sick. I struggle enough with anxiety-ridden pain around my heart. I didn’t want to add to it by riding the roller coaster of unfounded hope.

Positive Support
In the past three and half weeks, I’ve had days when I felt utterly hopeless about my prospects of getting a job. I imagined myself standing in line at the unemployment office in January, humiliated and hopeless. That’s the situation of 1 in 10 people in our country; why would I be any different?

I consistently had the positive support of Vanessa, friends, and the community of Vintage. All of them were encouraging, not offering cheap cliches, but putting their arms around me and saying that they loved me and were behind me. They participated in my personal ups and downs. They rooted for me when I had interviews. And they shook their heads encouragingly when I got those “thanks but no thanks” emails. This time would have been a lot darker for me without them.

Is it cheesy to believe that God in his grace actually provided the job I accepted? Here’s the thing. Back in August, Vanessa and I were expressing to the Vintage Oversight Team what we were hoping for related to my employment: a bit more money, a bit more freedom, a bit more influence over my own success. The job I accepted gives me all of that. I don’t know why I was blessed with this opportunity while so many others struggle to find work in this bad economy. I certainly don’t feel like I’ve earned this. And that leaves me with only one explanation – grace.


Clumsy During a Growth Spurt

We’ve always been able to tell when Mattie is about to grow. Her sweet little cheeks get all chubby. And she gets clumsy. She walks into things, falls down for no reason, gets hurt in unusual ways. It’s like her body can’t keep up with itself, like she’s trying to adjust to her new size. It’s been this way since she was a toddler, and we still see it now that she’s on the brink of being a “double digitter,” as she calls it.

What is true physically for her is true spiritually for me. When God is up to something in my life, when I am on the brink of big changes, I tend to get a little clumsy. I’m not as careful as I should be with my words. I am even more easily annoyed. I don’t think well of people as I should. Normally, I end up tripping into the people closest to me – Vanessa and the kids. Sometimes I even stumble into a friend.

Being clumsy sucks. But it also gives me hope that maybe I’m growing.


Where Is God?

Bad things happen. No one really expects otherwise. We know that one of these days, the shit is going to hit the fan, and we’re going to be covered in it. I’m not sure if I’m like most people, but I always have some vague sense of impending doom, like at any moment the happiness is going to be shattered and everything I’ve been working to build is going to come caving in around me. … And I consider myself an optimist.

Whenever bad things happen – the diagnosis, the dreaded phone call, the foreclosure notice, the offended friend – I’ve observed that people react to God with classic fight or flight tendencies. Some will take the opportunity of bad things happening to run from God, shaking their head and walking away muttering like Robin Williams in Patch Adams, “you’re not worth it.” Others will argue with God, debate with God, wrestle with God, trying to make sense of what God is up to or to trying to convince God to do what they want him to do.

Either way, most people end up asking the question, “Where is God?”

The idea is that if God were here, this wouldn’t have happened. It’s another way of saying, “Why would God allow this to happen?” We try to convince ourselves that the famous Footprints poem is correct, that eventually we’ll find out that God was walking with us and even carrying us all along. But still we wonder. Where is God?

I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but my church background taught me to think of God as standing in the past. God elected, predestined. He chose and willed. We had the idea that everything is settled, that God ordained it, that one day he sat down and decreed all that should come to pass. With this mentality, when we face hard times, we comfort ourselves with phrases like “God is in control” and “God has a wonderful plan for your life.”

But this approach, when taken by itself, can lead to some unfortunate side effects. It’s easy to develop a rather fatalistic attitude. We’re just robots. Everything is settled, so why bother? Or, when things don’t turn out OK, we are left searching for the grander purpose and reason in our tragedies. God must have some reason to give us this trial, we tell ourselves. But what happens when we can’t figure that reason out? Do we end up blaming God? We end up blaming God, not just for keeping us in the dark, but for preordaining the bad things to happen.

If God is standing in the past, aren’t we moving further away from him with every passing day?

In recent years, it has become popular to think of God as being exclusively with us in the present. Some theologians, in an attempt to answer the question, “Why would God allow bad things to happen?” have suggested that God experiences those bad things right along with us. Since he is bound by time, living in the present. He not only hasn’t stood in the past and ordained what would come to pass, he’s not exactly sure what will happen in the future.

This approach is supposed to comfort us by letting us know that God is as deeply wounded by, disappointed about, and regretful of the bad things that happen in our lives as we are. He feels our pain. He’s sorry we’re going through what we’re going through. But does it leave us with a God who is merely wringing his hands, ultimately helpless, neutered by the infinite options that leave him unable to make a difference in our lives?

If God has no better vantage point than I do, what’s the point?

I’ve come to think of God as residing in the future. This doesn’t replace for me what is valid in the other perspectives, but it augments them with a fresh way of thinking. I now think of God as one who has a dream, a vision, of what the world – his kingdom – is to be like. And I think of him as having a dream, a vision, a goal for me. Maybe we could picture an artist with a masterpiece in mind that is presently being pieced together. I think God is there in the future, drawing me toward himself, inviting me to participate, to move toward him with hope for what could be.

This approach reverberates throughout the biblical story. Jesus told us to “follow him,” saying that he is going on ahead of us to prepare a place for us. Also, in Ephesians and other places, Paul repeats a theme of fulfillment and fullness, indicating that God is moving things along toward a final destination in which all things are brought to completion in the kingdom of Jesus.

So when bad things happen, I don’t need to hunt for all the hidden answers and purpose, nor do I have to either blame him for ordaining this or defy logic by somehow letting him off the hook. When things go wrong, I don’t have to put my arm around God and comfort him because he’s so upset too. Rather, when tragedy strikes, I need to keep moving toward God. When I’m asking “Where is God?” I need to keep reminding myself that he’s up ahead. I need to remember that he is up to something in my life and in this world. I need to keep journeying, to keep taking steps in his direction by responding and reacting as kingdomly as I can. And I need to keep hope.

Wolfhart Pannenberg said, “God is the power of the future.” For me, that’s the most comforting thing of all.

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