The New Orthodoxy and Me

rainbowcrossFor the last few years, I’ve been impressed with a growing number of writers and bloggers, mostly from Methodist circles, but from some other traditions as well who seem to be carrying the Neo-Orthodox/Post-Liberal banner that had seem somewhat dormant for a while. I’ve been attracted to this stream of Protestantism after finding both evangelicalism and liberal Protestantism wanting in different ways.  Writers like Allan Bevere, David Watson, the boys over at Via United Methodists and others echo some of the same feelings I’ve been thinking about God, Jesus and the church.  They show a different way of being within mainline Protestantism.  It is more focused on the importance of salvation, atonement, sin and grace which sadly has become a counter-movement against the spiritually relative ethos in the mainline (at least among the elite).

But while I am thankful for this small movement, I am also left with some wariness about this movement when it comes to the issue of sexuality.  Is there room for LGBT people in this movement?

I’m probably an odd duck: a gay Christian that has an orthodox theology. That’s not how it usually goes: most churches that tend to be gay-friendly, also tend to be quite progressive in their theology.  Many gays would tend to have a more liberal theology.  (Small-o orthodox doesn’t mean conservative.) But I’ve never felt comfortable with the standard liberal theology.  Post-liberal theology is a far better fit for me. ( I know that I’m not the only gay person that doesn’t fit the usual profile.)

But a good part of these writers haven’t said much about sexuality.  Some writers, like the late William Placher, were gay friendly.  But what about other bloggers?  I understand there is still disagreement on this issue and I’m not asking that this movement start excluding those who have different views on sexuality.  But I am wondering if there is room for me.  So, how does sexuality fit in this neo-orthodox/ post-liberal milieu?

I’m looking forward to your answers.

Why I Need Church

First Christian Church of St. Paul.

First Christian Church of St. Paul.

I’ve been reading all the post that have been written in the wake of the recent survey by Pew Research on religion in America.  While all sectors of Christianity have fallen, the mainline churches have again, had a steep decline.

Around the same time, there has been some talk about ecclesiology or the study of the church.  What is our theology of church? Why does church matter?

To put a more blunt question: why do I go to church?

Of course I could be a smartass and say “because I’m the pastor,” but I want to give a real answer.  Why do I go to church?  Why do I need church?

I need church because it has and continues to save my life.

When I was in my tween years (we didn’t call it tween way back in 1981), I remember going to the weekly Awana meeting and memorizing verses.  I also went to a Christian elementary school where we had to memorize passages as well. It was around this time that I remember learning the Romans Road, a number of verses in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome that centered around salvation.  There was one particular verse that I tended to cling on to; Romans 5:8.  I can still remember it: “But God commendeth his love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

I don’t think the people who taught me to memorize this verse knew it come in handy a decade later when I came to terms with my sexuality.  While it took a while to accept myself, I never thought God hated me.  I knew I was loved by God no matter what.  I could only learn that in church, not on a mountain.

I need church because I need to hear God speaking in the sermon and in the songs sung.  Yes, I know God can speak in nature and we should be attentive to this.  But it is in church that I hear God.  It might be through the pastor’s sermon.  Or maybe it was the hymn of the day.  At some point, I hear God.  God of course, can be heard anywhere, but it is at this particular place that I expect to hear God.  Maybe they are words of assurance or a word to get up off my behind, but this is the place where I have the clearest reception.

I need church to learn that life isn’t about me.  The danger of 21st century living is that it is centered around one person: Me.  Our daily lives are all about having the best post or tweet- or having the best car or house.  But it is at church, we learn about a man named Jesus that gave up his own life for others.  I learn that I am to go and do likewise, to live for others.  Yes, you don’t need to go to church to feed the poor.  But it is only church where the sacraments and my life intersect.  It’s where I’m called to be like Jesus, who lived for others.

I need to church to remind me that this isn’t all there is.  The big temptation in life is to believe that there is nothing beyond this reality.  No heaven or hell. No God or Jesus. No miracles.  The world tells me this world is all there is.  It tells me to be merry, because this is all we have.  But church reminds me that there are things in creation that we can’t explain.  It tells me that there is something more to this life than making money.  It asks me to believe that some hippie guy from Galilee was really the son of God, the one that gave us all freedom through his life, death and resurrection. It tells me that water, bread and wine mean more than just water, bread and wine.  It reminds me that one day I will be resurrected just like Jesus.  The world says this is all there is.  The church tells me no, there is more, so much more.

I need church to tell me that the church is made up of all kinds of people.  When I was an Associate Pastor, I remember dealing with Ernie, an elderly man that is mentally impaired.  Ernie had no “inside voice” so he will speak up during Sunday worship and he can sometimes bug you to no end.  But he also has a wonderful smile and laugh.  Ernie reminds me that he is a child of God.  He reminds me that the church is made up of all kinds of people, some you like and some not so much.  But in church I can’t self-select and pretend that the kingdom of God isn’t not for them.  No, we end up with people we can’t stand, but God reminds us they are children of God as well. In a society where we can create a world via social media where everyone agrees with me and look like me, church is one of the few places where you have to you are forced to learn that they uptight Republican from the burbs or the granola Democrat from the city are our brothers and sisters.


Finally, I need church because I’m a sinner.  I know that word isn’t very trendy these days.  But the reality is, I am a sinner.  I make mistakes.  Church is like an AA meeting in reminding me that all is not well with me.  I need Jesus. I need my sisters and brothers in Christ to help me become more Christlike.  Church is a place where I can’t pretend everything is okay, because it’s not.  It’s a place where there is love and grace, but it is also a place that pushes me to be a better person, not because that’s what I need to do, but out of love for Christ has done for me.


So there you have it.  I don’t know if it’s be best list, but that’s why I need church.  Church matters.

Sermon: Resumes and Eulogies

Romans 6:1–14 | Seventh Sunday of Easter/Ascension Sunday | May 17, 2014

“If we are called to live as if sin is dead in us, then we are going to need help- we can’t do this on our own.  This is what church is all about; it’s a place where we learn from each other, where we pray for each other, where together we strive to be better persons, to be the persons God created us to be.”

Read the sermon text.

Sermon: Kick At the Darkness

Romans 5:1-11 | Sixth Sunday of Easter | May 10, 2015 | First Christian Church

|Mahtomedi, MN | Dennis Sanders, preaching

“Paul wanted to remind people that they are not alone.  Suffering can be just as isolating as having a serious illness like cancer. The hope isn’t that everything will be wonderful, but that we aren’t alone, that God is with us, that in the death of Christ, God understands suffering and stands with us.”

Read the Sermon Text.

What Does It Mean To Be Prophetic, Part Four


About a week ago, the church I am pastor at voted to become an Open and Affirming congregation, meaning it openly welcomes LGBT persons into the life of the church.  I think it was a big step for the church.  It might help people who were thinking of visiting the church to take a second look.

But while I think it was a good thing and while I think it helped stressed God’s love for all, I don’t think it was a prophetic move.

Do I think we were trying to witness to the world our intent to be like Jesus and seek out those on the margins?  Yes.  But that doesn’t mean it’s prophetic.  It means we are trying to be faithful.

And therein lies a problem.  These days, if a pastor says something edgy on race or sexuality, or if a congregation is exhibiting “radical hospitality,” we somehow think this is prophetic.  But I wonder if at times this is a big misunderstanding.  Are we giving ourselves too much credit?

For one thing, most of the prophets of Israel were chosen by God.  And they were chosen by God to say hard things to people.  And the thing is, they usually aren’t happy that God chose them. Read the story of Elijah or Jeremiah and you find people who don’t really want to be doing this job. When Jonah (as in Jonah and the “Whale”) was so excited to be go a preach repentance to the people of Nineveh, that he ran- in the other direction.

Prophets were sometimes called to do odd things like the prophet Hosea who was called to marry a prostitute.

What I’m trying to get at is that the people who were called to be God’s prophets were not eager to be prophets.  They didn’t want to be picked.

The problem with modern Christians who want to see themselves as prophets is that they have taken the whole role of a prophet out of context.  Instead of trying to understand what the role of the prophet was in ancient Israel, people just plop it into modern America without a thought.

But that’s not all.  The prophet is then made to fit the person’s political ideology, so that the prophet strangely is saying all the things you would say regardless.

I think God still sends prophets.  But just because you believe #blacklivesmatter doesn’t make you a prophet, no matter how worthy the cause. Theologian David Watson reminds us that prophets probably didn’t have many friends on Facebook:

The prophetic life is not an easy one. In fact, it is likely to be quite difficult, even painful, because the prophet will inevitably conflict with a world that does not acknowledge the identity and demands of the one true God. Think of Elijah despairing in the wilderness. “He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors’” (1 Kings 19:4). Think of the sad fate of John the Baptist.  If you find your message lines up nicely with the values of secular culture, you’re probably not being prophetic.

I’m not a prophet.  I don’t think I’ve ever been prophetic.  And there is nothing wrong with that. What I am is a disciple (and a Disciple).  I try to follow God, to do justice and love mercy, but I’m not Amos with a laptop.

My job as pastor is not to be a prophet, but to be a disciple that helps make other disciples for Christ.  I will leave the prophet business to God, since God is the one that raises prophets anyway.

Read past posts in this series by going here.

Tiny Violins


Some of the responses to to a recent post as well as some extra reading has me back at the keyboard again to share something thoughts about this rapidly changing situation in Indiana. I want to focus on one issue in particular: the demand by social conservatives to push for tolerance . So here goes.

Let me be clear: I am arguing for civility and love of enemy here, but I am not blind to the fact that social conservatives have never been accomodating to gay and lesbians. If you read blog posts, like the this one from Rod Dreher, you would think that they had never done anything wrong. They were just sitting around minding their own business when WHAM! those bad pro-ssm folks came and started taking away their rights. As Jacob Levy notes, the general public is having a hard time hearing the social conservative’s tiny violins right now:

…as I’ve said before, the newfound desire for opponents of same-sex marriage to defend pluralism and compromise rings very hollow.

The anti-same-sex-marriage movement during its ascendancy in the 1990s and 2000s was viciously and hatefully maximalist. Imagine the different history of America if conservatives in the late 1990s had energetically supported civil unions provided that they not use the word “marriage,” instead of pursuing the most aggressive and restrictionist DOMAs they could get away with in each context, such that where conservative majorities were strongest even ordinary contractual rights that might seem too much like marriage were prohibited, instead of mobilizing boycotts of firms that offered same-sex couples employment benefits! As it is, their defense of private sector liberty and the pluralism it makes possible is many days late and many dollars short. It kicked in only when, starting in the mid-2000s, the political tide turned.

That shouldn’t change our view of the right outcome; some particular cake baker shouldn’t lose his religious liberty because the movement that’s defending him now makes hypocritical arguments. But it does mean that the violin I hear playing when conservatives complain about the supposedly totalizing and compromise-rejecting agenda of same-sex-marriage supporters is very very small indeed.

So, I’m not ignoring that fact and it needs to be said outloud to our social conservative sisters and brothers. In my case, my desire for civility is not because they deserve it, but because I don’t want to act like they have to people like myself.

Beyond the social right claiming victimhood, there are some issues that really do need to be addressed. Ross Douthat shared recently a post where there might be some need for some clarification of what is okay and is an extention of someone’s faith and what is out of bounds. Douthat’s lists includes the following:

  • “Should religious colleges whose rules or honor codes or covenants explicitly ask students and/or teachers to refrain from sex outside of heterosexual wedlock eventually lose their accreditation unless they change the policy to accommodate gay relationships? At the very least, should they lose their tax-exempt status, as Bob Jones University did over its ban on interracial dating?”


  • “In the longer term, is there a place for anyone associated with the traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic view of sexuality in our society’s elite level institutions? Was Mozilla correct in its handling of the Brendan Eich case? Is California correct to forbid its judges from participating in the Boy Scouts? What are the implications for other institutions? To return to the academic example: Should Princeton find a way to strip Robert George of his tenure over his public stances and activities? Would a public university be justified in denying tenure to a Orthodox Jewish religious studies professor who had stated support for Orthodox Judaism’s views on marriage?”

This goes beyond the “baker-florist-photographer” issue. At this point, we don’t know where that line is. This means a lot of discussion to hammer out a new agreement.

This leads to a final thought: Why did the Legislature and Governor decide to craft legislation without gay and lesbian voices? Did they really think such a law would stand when we all know it was passed because of the changes in opinion? The federal RFRA was passed with bipartisan votes, but the reason it did is because it wasn’t aimed at a certain population.

There are legit issues concerning religious liberty. They need to be discussed. But such discussions need to have everyone at the table. If gays and lesbians are excluded from this, well we will know that social conservatives still see us more as part of the problem and less of the solution.

Making the Sale?

Romans 1:1–17 | Fifth Sunday of Easter | May 3, 2015 | First Christian Church | Mahtomedi, MN | Dennis Sanders, preaching

“The two women had a conversation where life was shared.  That’s what it means to be sent out, to be called by God to share the good news.  It is when we share God in our daily lives, when we are not willing to keep quiet, but we aren’t willing to disrespect our family and friends as well. ”

Read the sermon text.


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