Love Don’t Live Here Anymore

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Well, the Special General Conference for the United Methodist Church is done.  For those of us who are LGBTQ and allies, the result was shocking and hurtful. I want to share some observations about the event and what it means for the church as a whole.

 

A few caveats:  I’m not Methodist, so this is an outsider’s perspective. But, this issue matters to me as a gay man, an ordained minister and most importantly, as a Christian. Second, people will not like this post for various reasons.  This is not a blog post trashing one side, there are a lot of other blogs that can give you that. What I want this post to be is a way how church in many ways is ceasing to be church. Just as the wider culture has become polarized, with no middle ground, the church is showing those same sides.  Instead of being an example of unity in the midst of diversity, we are simply following culture and what happened in St. Louis is Exhibit A.

 

One more thing. My underlying point here is that we, the church have to learn how to have hard debates in ways that respect one another.  What happened in St. Louis is just a microcosm of what is going on in the larger culture. Beyond all the nice words, we really don’t respect one another and we feel that the other side is evil.

 

I say all of this not as someone who is above the fray but as someone that has “picked a side.”  I am gay. I am married to a man. I do believe the church is called to welcome folks like me. I saw what happened at the General Conference and felt sadness and shock.  So yes, this is personal.

 

But I am also a Christian that is called to love even those I might believe are my enemies. I know that there are people who I strongly disagree with on this issue who are good and faithful people. I know this because I’ve met them and engaged them.  I know that this is also a personal issue to them. So how can we talk about this important issue and still be church? How can we be an example, a witness to the wider society?

 

With that, here are some of the salient points:

 

The Traditional Plan Sends a Clear Message.  It was quite telling that of the four plans that were offered, One Church Plan, the Simple Plan, the Connectional Conference Plan and the Traditional Plan, the one that was approved was the only one that did not allow a place for LGBTQ Christians in the church.  I know that there are those who will say that gays are welcomed in conservative churches and I do believe that. But the enhanced penalties that are now in place against gay clergy and same sex marriage send a message that conservatives might not think they are sending: the message that any LGBTQ Christian is not really welcome in churches.  That sense of not being welcome is born out in the fact that conservatives didn’t seem to even want to be in the same denomination with LGBTQ Christians. Nevermind that some of these plans allowed both sides freedom to do their own thing; there was no desire to even have to deal with LGBTQ Christians. It’s hard for me to believe that I would be welcome in a church when you can’t even think of having me in the same denomination.

 

A Gracious Exit that Wasn’t So Gracious. This is an issue I am most familiar with.  I worked for the local jurisdiction of the Presbyterian Church (USA) for seven years.  In 2011, the denomination approved allowing gay and lesbian Presbyterians to become ordained and serve in PC(USA) churches.  This was not something that more conservative Presbyterians could support. Presbyteries worked hard to draw up “Gracious Separation” plans that allowed some path that would allow for dissenting churches to leave with their property. It makes sense to have some kind of plan that dealt with the separation of dissenting churches because it would lessen the chance that church bodies would end up in court against departing congregations. This is what happened to the Episcopal Church after the consecration of a gay bishop in the early 2000s. The plan that was approved by the Bishops, the One Church Plan, didn’t have an exit plan.  I don’t know why and there didn’t seem to be much talk about adding a plan. The Traditional Plan did have what is called a “Gracious Exit.” On the surface this seems like offering more progressive churches room to leave if they can no longer abide by the rules. It seems compassionate, but I’m starting to wonder how gracious it really was. It feels more like what is being said to moderate and progressive churches is, “here’s the door.” It looks like they are the good guys in offering dissidents a way to leave, but it could also be interpreted in a negative way.

 

The Bishops lost authority. The Council of Bishops endorsed the One Church Plan.  In an earlier time, the delegates to the General Conference would take that endorsement to heart and would probably pass it up the bishop’s recommendation. But General Conference basically ignored the Bishops’ advice and passed a plan they didn’t endorse.  I’ve heard that Methodist bishops are more powerful than bishops in other Protestant traditions like the Anglicans. However, after this vote, the bishops have lost any authority. The General Conference not only passed on their recommendation, but they picked the plan that was the exact opposite of the One Church Plan. Will the bishops be listened to in the future? I don’t know.  But any illusion that they have power is now gone.

 

We don’t know how to talk about social issues. Why is it  that when it comes to issues like homosexuality we don’t know how to talk about them without wanting to go our separate ways? In the early 1990s I attended a Baptist church in Washington, DC.  At the time it was an odd church; it had both liberal and evangelical members. An ordained pastor who belong to the congregation was called as a part time Associate Pastor, but there was a catch, she was an LGBTQ ally. During the debate, an evangelical member spoke in favor of calling her. The two had a relationship and she might have disagreed on the pastor’s stance, but at the end of the day, they were friends. That’s an example of how to disagree and yet be united.  Unity was some kind of afterthought to the opposing sides. Conservatives thought the One Church Plan enforced a fake unity. Progressives never didn’t seem to see conservatives as people they should respect. As fellow Disciple minister, Douglas Skinner noted, progressives never listened to theological conservatives. No one was interested in talking in a way that respected the other. Instead, people talked at each other.

 

False humility. I remember seeing an image of a tweet written by a Democrat on election night 2016.  The person wrote thinking, like many people did, that Donald Trump would lose the election about the need to come together and all of that.  A few hours later when it became certain the Clinton would lose and Trump would become President her attitude changed. The next tweet was angry at conservatives swearing up a storm.  

 

I remembered that when I read retired Bishop William Willimon’s article after the vote.  I’ve always respected him and love reading his blogs and books.  But his writing after the vote was like the second tweet, a mask of civility fell revealing a sense of rage. He asks God to smite the other side and exhibits what I think is a rather racist attitude when he says that the global Christians who voted for the Traditional Plan will have to deal without that money from American Methodists which provided the income for the denomination.  His advocacy for LGBTQ people is admirable, but the attitude towards fellow Christians tarnishes his support. He displayed some a kind of false humility because he believed his plan would win the day. When it didn’t that mask fell revealing his true face.

 

Listen, don’t come talking about wanting the Spirit to move and then get mad when it seems the Spirit didn’t go your way. Willimon had a false kindness that was only based on his side winning. It’s hard to see someone I have respect seem to be so petty and shallow.

 

The Global Church was heard…and Progressives and Centrists didn’t like it. The United Methodists are different from most American mainline churches in that they are a global denomination and not just limited to the United States. That means there were people at the General Conference from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe.  In most of these places the view regarding LGBTQ people is…well, not as affirming. But they deserved to be listened to. One of the problems that progressives have is that they don’t know how to deal with Christians in Africa and other places. Either they speak down to them or they think they are the unwitting tools of American conservatives.  What became very clear in the aftermath of this debate was the underlying racism coming from progressives. Both Willimon and another Methodist I hold in high esteem, Adam Hamilton, have written blog posts that basically assert that American Methodists are the ones that fund the church, which is basically saying that American pay for the church so the Global Church should be grateful.  I’m sorry, I respect both Willimon and Hamilton, but such assertions can’t be described as anything but condescending to persons of color. It reminds me of what happened in the Anglican Communion during the Lambeth meeting where Bishop John Shelby Spong, a progressive bishop in the Episcopal church called African Christians “superstitious.” For some reason, that didn’t go over well, with African Anglicans.  I want to believe Willimon and Hamilton were speaking out of the immediate hurt and anger and that this isn’t what they really think about people from outside America. People have every right t to be angry; but don’t patronize your sisters and brothers from outside the States in doing so. Progressives have to come to terms to the fact that Christians in Africa or Asia or Eastern Europe probably don’t share our views.

When we think of Africans we tend to think they are being deceived by evil evangelicals here in America.  They have come to their own beliefs on their own. They have their reasons for why they believe how they do.  Disciples pastor Jeff Gill explained why at least Africans might not want to relax sexual standards:

 

…Africans are not interested in relaxing standards on sexual activity from where they’ve been. For this, they’ve been demonized in social media and by advocates of the changes proposed; perhaps worse, it’s been repeatedly implied they’ve just been manipulated by cash and propaganda from American conservatives. When I read this stuff, I ask myself “have they actually ever met and talked to any African bishops?”

I have. I had a series of life-changing conversations with one, in this country, in 2005 and have kept up with him, and alongside him some mission and ministry partners in North Katanga on the eastern edge of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. What they have said repeatedly is this: our society does not have any guardrails. Next to none. Polygamy is common, exploitation rife in our cities and villages.

Christian preaching is often the first message many men in Africa have heard, I am told, about the need to treat women with respect, and to live their family lives as something other than a series of conquests. This is, they tell me, still an ongoing struggle. The boundaries of their church are pretty much all the guardrails they have for defining family and relationships in any form other than through power and force as their defining qualities.

So the African Methodist delegates are not interested in relaxing any standards right now. And I hear them. I also see the conflict in this country perhaps more clearly than they do in Africa, and I acknowledge the pain felt by those who see our society making lane changes and resetting some road markers, opening up acceptance and support of same-sex relationships, but then seeing some churches, perhaps their own faith tradition say “we are not making those shifts.” Not now, maybe not ever.

 

You don’t have to agree with this viewpoint, I don’t. But you need to understand it. You need to know why Africans other international members think the way they do. Progressives need to engage these people and also realize that the black and brown people that they admire don’t always see eye to eye on this issue.

 

And to borrow a tired phrase, Progressives and Centrists need to check their privilege.

 

Where do we go from here?  There are some people who think that things will remain the same.  Since the Traditional Plan has to go through a judicial process, it might be rejected outright.  But I think a line has been crossed. Both sides came to St. Louis, not to have a conversation, not to find unity amidst diversity; no to listen to each other.  They already had divorce on their minds. As the old saying goes, it was all over but the shouting.

 

My guess is that by the time of the next General Conference which is next year in Minneapolis, the United Methodist Church will not be whole.  My guess is the Progressive and Centrist factions will split from the main church to create something news. Adam Hamilton has said there will be a big meeting at Church of the Resurrection after Easter to talk about the future of Methodism.  

 

I would also keep an eye for what is happening with the Western Jurisdiction of the church.  This includes all the Annual Conferences in the Western United States and it tends to be the most liberal.  I could see the Western Jurisdiction becoming the basis for a new denomination. There is no desire in the church to try to heal fissures. For LGBTQ Methodists and their allies, the passage of the Traditional Plan was the last straw.  There is no going back. That’s probably the best option for the sake of LGBTQ Christians. But I think the Methodists missed a chance to show the world how to deal with difficult issues and still remain united.

 

I am reminded of the song, “Up on A Cross” by 80s Contemporary Christian group, Degarmo and Key. It’s a song about all of the different flavors of Christianity and how they are divided.  The last chorus ends with an extra line that sums up what is behind some of the division:

 

Up on a cross, He died for sinners
Up on a cross between two thieves
Up on a cross, He died for you and me

I heard the Devil’s voice today

 

I feel somewhere the devil is laughing.

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Introducing Chronicles of God Bible Studies

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A few years ago, I started a Bible Study based on the Narrative Lectionary because I couldn’t find anything for adults.  It became the Story of God.
I created the Story of God (which is now called the Chronicles of God) for three reasons: first, there were few Bible Study resources based on the Narrative Lectionary out there and what was available was rather expensive. If your church is one that like to have a Bible Study or Sunday School class match what is being taught with what is being preached that Sunday, this is the resource for you. If you are looking for something that is easy to use without a lot of time for preparation, this resource is for you.
But there is another reason that I created the Story of God that has nothing to do with the Narrative Lectionary and yet it has everything to do with it. Being African American, I’ve always been interested in the African role of the grio. The grio was a storyteller that preserved the traditions and geneologies of the tribe. I think African American pastors have tried to preserve the Christian faith, as well as how God has worked in the lives of African Americans, from slavery to civil rights to the present day.
The story of God is entering a story. It’s about preserving this story of God bringing salvation to all of creation.
While the Story of God based on the Narrative Lectionary, it can be used at any time.
This is why I created the Story of God. If you want to try before you buy, please download this study. When you want to buy, go to the store page. Happy reading and may God’s Story infuse your life.

The Beloved Community in Mahtomedi

 

 

Diversity_Logo_SidebarA few weeks ago, a retired Methodist pastor and his wife came to visit the church. At the end of the worship, the pastor said mentioned something about our church as a “beloved community,” and how that was different than most churches in the area.  At first, I thought he meant that we were a small community and so I responded talking about how we are a mighty church in spite of our size.  It was only when he repeated that phrase again that I got it through my thick head that he wasn’t talking about the size of the church.  Instead, he was talking about the beloved community as Rev. Martin Luther King believed.  The pastor was never talking about the size of the church, but about its diversity.  For a small church, we are a pretty diverse bunch.  Diversity can become a fetish among people in a way to show that people are committed to religious and ethnic diversity. But First tends to live it out with little fanfare.  It is so much a part of who we are that at times, I tend to forget it.

Diversity has been part of the DNA of the congregation for decades.  The church had a Southeast Asian ministry that welcomed refugees from Southeast Asia in the aftermath of the Vietnam War; indeed, for a few years after I came, we were still printing the scripture of that day in Vietnamese.  These days, we have African Americans, Asians and Africans who make up our small church.  Our cantor is part of the “Glocal” initiative; a ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America that helps musicians learn music from other cultures. She has been able to share songs from around the world and that has expanded our hymnody.

But I wonder if diversity is an asset where the church is located.  You see, about 20 years ago, we moved from near downtown St. Paul to the northern suburbs.  In the years that I’ve been the pastor, we haven’t had a large number of people from nearby attend.  That could be for many reasons, but if there are few churches like this in the Eastern suburbs of the Twin Cities, is it something that is not appealing to people?  I don’t know.  I can’t say for sure.  I know our diversity is a positive for us; I just wonder if it is a positive for others in the area.

 

Autism Alone

 

peerrejectionofautisticchildren1For a long time, I always felt like I was treated differently.  People never got close to me. People were friendly, but I was always kept at an arm’s length.  I used to wonder what was going on with me.  Was it because I’m black? Over the last ten years or so, I’ve learned that race was not the reason people weren’t getting so close to me.  It was because I’m autistic.

One of the things you learn about being autistic is how socially isolating it can be.  You don’t feel close to anyone.  People don’t always go out of your way to get to know you. You start to wonder if you are doing something wrong. It’s already a task to get to know others even though that is what you want. You are afraid at times of talking to others because of this fear that you are going say something wrong.  When you are in a conversation with someone, you have to think of things to talk about and even though it might be a good conversation, you want to stop this talk because it feels like there is so much you have to do be a good conversation partner and not some freak.

I’ve learned that the issue is that people tend to be uncomfortable around autistic people– which makes social isolation even worse:

Autistics make other people uncomfortable, and we do this almost instantly upon meeting. In my communications classes, I teach about the 50 to 500 milliseconds during which most people develop first impressions. These impressions are difficult, nearly impossible, to counteract with evidence and familiarity.

Knowing us doesn’t undo the initial discomfort of meeting usThat is the cost of autism.

This paragraph from a person on Reddit puts the issue in stark relief:

I am socialised to show “support” for autistic people or I’ll face backlash. So here is me, and my true off my chest. You cannot force social change or change me by down voting me here.

I do not want to be friends with them. I do not want to date them. I don’t want to sit next to them on the bus or metro. I don’t want them as my colleague. I don’t want them as my neighbors.

Their actions can get disturbing and scary. From pushing people on the metro (yes I recognised the autistic children because of their school uniform), grabbing my hair (I happen to pass by a stop near a school for autistic children, it was really out of the blue) and making weird noise and hand gestures.

I also dated one once (didnt know he was autistic, we met online) and his lack of facial expressions is scary. Never mind dating etiquette, dating should be fun and all I felt was I am holding on to a robot with emotions and feelings….But the face is neutral and fixed.

I am sorry. You can hate me but you cannot change me. I’ll continue being a “bad human being” until I feel safe around autistic people.

Having autism means that making friendships, having connections with people is always a fraught exercise, and that has reprecussions in life. For example, some statistics say that only about 14 percent of individuals on the spectrum have jobs. One of the reasons that number might be so low is because of the difficulty of “connecting” with people. Interviews are as much about what kind of chemistry you have with the interviewer as it is about skills. When you are in the job, having a relationship with your supervisors and workmates can make the difference between getting a promotion or getting fired.

It shows itself in other ways. I’ve engaged people in fundraising over the years for churches and other groups I’m apart of. No matter how persuasive my writing is, the end result is always few if any donations. It’s not that people don’t like me, but asking for people to part with their money means you have to be able to make a connection with them. I know all the technical skills of writing a persuasive letter, how to present the request visually, but if I don’t have the “people skills” needed to make it happen then paraphrasing a passage from the Bible, I’m a clanging gong or loud cymbal.”

Can any of this change? Can I become learn now behavior that can make me more social and someone that doesn’t make people uncomfortable. The study which started this off would say that people need to be more accepting of the other ways people present themselves socially. Is that going to happen? I don’t know. What I do know is that the study seems to say that even before I go into that interview,or meet that new friend, people have already scanned me and made a decision.

I think at the end of the day, all I can do is try. That’s frustrating and it will not improve my situation. I guess you have to learn how to deal with rejection and learn how to move on.

I Miss Blogging

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It’s interesting how things can alter our ways of life.  A decade ago, no one knew what a smartphone was, let alone imagine using a phone like a laptop, but now we are.  The advent of the light bulb made life after the sun went down possible.  Another thing that made life possible was air conditioning.  In the American South, it was an unbearable place to live until AC made it tolerable for people to live and want to live in the South.  Now we can order a pizza or clothing from a desktop or a phone.  Twenty years ago, Amazon was just starting and no one predicted it would sell more things than just books. We didn’t imagine we could do our whole shopping without having to go to the local mall, but shopping changed because of Amazon.

Social media has changed things in our world as well.  One of the things it has changed is the demise of the weblog or blog.  Until a few years ago, blogs were a way for people to get ideas out to the wider world.  People were able to share their views in a way that took time.  It took time to write those posts and it took time to read them.  A number of my friends blogged and if you were to go back to the mid-aughts, you would see a rather prolific blogger opine on religion and politics.  I loved blogging, but over the last few years, I’ve blogged less and less.  There are many reasons for this, but I think I, like so many other former bloggers, gave up blogging with the rise of social media.  With Facebook and Twitter, you no longer had to write a long post on an issue; instead, you can point at an article and write a short and sweet post that includes the word “this.” We link to an article, but we don’t expound any further. We’ve practiced how to be snarky instead of how to better reason a specific issue.

But social media and blogging are two different things, using two different parts of the brain.  Blogging tends to be more thoughtful. Yes, it can be emotional and overwrought, but it is a space where reason and intellect can be put to use to explain an issue.

Social media, on the other hand, is totally a reptilian brain kind of thing.  Twitter and Facebook are places where we emote, where we express ourselves.  We aren’t thinking as much on social media as we are feeling.  One only need to see how our current President uses Twitter- it’s not based on thoughtful sentences, but on pure emotion.

It’s not that you can’t be reasonable on social media, you can.  But I think more than on blogs, the temptation is to respond with emotion and not with reason.

The other thing is how social media seems to focus more on showing off.  It is not a place to be vulnerable, but a place to show off.  People don’t share when they feel depressed or how hard it was to get out of bed this morning, but they will talk about how mad they are at this politician.  A number of the blogs I followed over the years shared vulnerability, they showed their real selves.  Social media lends itself to virtue signaling, but not to be honest with others.

Social media tends to be again more about reassuring your friends that you share their same views instead of trying to change minds.  MAD Magazine has a not-funny comic about children and gun violence that is making the rounds.  Those who are favorable to gun control see it as emotionally gut-wrenching.  But will it persuade those who are skeptical or against gun control?  No.  The whole point is not to change minds, but to reassure like-minded folk that their cause is just and those who don’t share those views are just wrong if not out and out evil.

I’m going to try to blog more over the coming months, but what I really wish is that folks that used to blog start up again.  I’d love to be able to take in people’s viewpoints instead of seeing the latest screed on Twitter about what have you. Social media has changed us as a public, but just because it can change us doesn’t mean we can’t reverse it.

My Mixed-Up Religious Election Day Story

 

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Most of this was written on election day 2018.

I voted today and I would be lying if I didn’t say I am invested in the vote. (You can read an article I wrote recently about why I voted the way I did.)  I think voting is important partially because it wasn’t that long ago that people who look like me weren’t allowed to vote.

But I have mixed feelings about the election today.  I think current political situations make it more important than usual, but I feel at times that politics (in which I mean partisan politics) is nearing idolatrous levels.  We look at our political parties as vehicles of salvation that will bring about some kind of utopia.  Someone I follow on Twitter put this tweet out this morning and I have to say it speaks to me:

But there is also something about the quote that bothers me. Politics doesn’t “save” people, and yet it can. I remember watching a the movie “Selma” a few years ago. For those who haven’t seen the film, it tells the story of Martin Luther King and other leaders in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s pushing for voting rights. It shows the many protests that took place and how the white leaders and police beat the protestors, especially on what was later called “Bloody Sunday.” The end of the movie sees President Johnson pushing for the Voting Rights Act which was passed in 1965. Politics can’t save our souls, but it can save people caught in unjust situations.

But the tweet still has merit because of the nature of our civic life these days or lack thereof. We live in a time where civil society is very thin. Organizations are on the wane, political parties are weaker. But we are invested in identities; not just racial or based on sexuality, but also ideologically. The irony is that as political parties have grown weak, we are far more polarized. Writing for the digital magazine ArcDigital, Jonathan Peter Schwarz laments the loss of a participatory culture in America and how that has changed politics and life in America for the the worst. We tend to think democracy is simply going to the polls and voting, but that is only one part of what makes a democracy. Our current non participatory culture makes citizens into consumers:

American politics cannot currently be recognized as a participatory republic. Politics is now a national spectacle where citizens sit passively and watch with little ability to impact the proceedings. Our politics is no longer about participation. It is about manipulation. Political consultants slice up segments of the electorate into identity groups, isolate wedge issues to instill fear and rage, and turn the political process into a perpetual branding campaign.

In our current context, the church has become less of a civic organization in society, than another interest group. We can see that among the many evangelicals who have placed their support for President Trump, but it is found among progressive Christians as well.

I think when it comes to politics, some think the church should be detached and not be so invested in partisan politics. In college, my evangelical church group told me  that Democrats were the godless party (not from my parents, they were dyed in the wool Democrats).  Now I hear how voting for Democrats and against Republicans is virtuous.  The church these days can be very biased on either side, producing far more heat than light.

When the last vote is tallied, we will still be a very divided nation.  Can the church be a place that can bring together people from accross the class, political and racial spectrum?  I think for that to happen, we have to adopt a theology of the table.  We have to see the importance of the Lord’s Supper and how in every church at every table, we need to see a place where everyone can come to God’s table and we try to stay at the table and break bread together.

There’s a lot more I could say about this, but let’s leave it there for now.

 

Why I Can’t Give Up the Mainline

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A recent article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune got attention nationwide.  It focused on the closing a rural Lutheran church this coming summer in particular and about the Mainline Protestant Church as a whole.

The long decline of the Mainline denominations is nothing new. It’s been happening for decades, but it’s speeding up.  Over the years, I’ve agreed with some that the Mainline churches tend to at times de-emphasize the gospel to the point that the church offers little to the general public. Anyone who has read this blog over the years know that I have issues with my own denomination and the mainline church and I think those grievances are legit.

But even though I sometimes feel adrift where there is a strong focus on social justice but very little at times on the spiritual, even though there might be churches and denominations where I could find a better fit, even though there might be churches where the theology is sounder and not feel like its being tacked on to whatever cause, even if there are places where I feel like evangelism is viewed as important as social justice, I will stay in the mainline church for one very important reason:

It is the only place where I can worship God openly and safely as a gay man.

This is something that sets me apart from other people who might be evangelical, conservative, orthodox or traditional (ECOT). They can happily leave, but I can’t.  Because even though there might be places that have the “correct” theology, they are not places of welcome for me or other LGBT people. For example, I’ve always been impressed by the Evangelical Covenant Church, especially in how the deal with racial justice (there is a very good interracial church in Minneapolis focused on racial and ethnic justice), but it is not ready to accept any church that is openly welcoming of LGBT people. A lot of the more conservative churches are places where I could never be a pastor, and in some cases not even be a member.

Paul Moore, a colleague and Presbyterian minister, is also familiar with decline.  But he has also been involved in revitalizing one church and planting another, in a time when the Mainline is declining he has been a planting seeds of revival.

As someone who helped redevelop a Presbyterian church and who started a new Presbyterian church virtually from scratch, I live and breathe the question(s) of how to build a church ministry from a Mainline perspective that is appealing to the wider community.

Do I think it is possible to build a growing, vibrant, mainline congregation in 2018?  Of course I do!   I’ve seen it happen in the two contexts I’ve served.  And more importantly God hasn’t changed in the last 18 years; the stories of Jesus haven’t changed in the last 18 years; the possibility of individuals and the wider community having their lives transformed in the last 18 years haven’t changed either.

I don’t think that the path to building a growing, vibrant, mainline congregation is easy. And the ways to do this are many.

I do believe that one essential way to growth is to adapt continuously.

One of the strengths of liberal, Mainline churches is that they have been willing to welcome those that have in the past been banned or restricted. Not just gays, but allowing women to become ministers and be able to fully listen to their call. It was in the forefront of the civil rights movement, helping the nation finally live up to the promises it said it followed in the Constitution.

What has made Mainline churches go into decline is not liberalism. Instead, it is what a pastor I know has said: mainline churches are no longer good at communicating the gospel, let alone explain the role faith has in their lives. This is where evangelicals shine, because they know what they believe in. What I think needs to happen is that pastors in mainline congregations have to begin preaching the gospel, Jesus Christ and merge that with it’s social liberal outlook.

So, I want to stay to build up the lost vital center in mainline churches. We have to find ways to be strong on social justice and evangelism. We have to help people know what they believe and use their faith to preach liberty to the captives.

I believe the mainline church does have a future. It has to, for my sake. I remain, hoping to help change the church for the better, because it is the only faith home I have.

With all the problems it has,with all the ways it seems out of step with my faith, I want to stay in the mainline church. I want to stay to reform it, since at the end of the day, it’s my only home.