Repost: I Miss the Old Mel White

The following is a post from June of 2012.

I recently read an interview with Rev. Mel White. Most of you know him as someone who grew up as an evangelical, was a ghostwriter for many big evangelical stars and then came out as gay. I remember hearing about him in the mid-to-late 90s and back then he was kind of the SpongeBob Squarepants of the gay community. I mean that SpongeBob thing as a compliment, because he just seemed so darned positive, when it seems like most gay men were known for snark and bitterness. He was kind of a breath of fresh air to me and I was amazed and applauded his attempts to meet and even persuade his some of the people he used to work for. Yes, it might have been hopeless, but there was something wonderful about how he really tried to do that whole “love your enemies” thing that Jesus talked about.

This leads me back to the article I read. The positive Mel White of old is long gone. What’s left is a man that’s pretty pissed off at the church and when I say church, I mean the whole church. White is angry not just at evangelicals, but also more mainline denominations that either still haven’t voted in favor of equality (like the United Methodists) and those that have recently allowed for non-celibate gays to become ordained (like the Lutherans and the Presbyterians):

For example, in the United Methodist Book of Discipline homosexual behavior is labeled, “incompatible with Christian teaching.” The Methodists—with their misleading logo, “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors”—have voted against us for approximately 40 years and yet they are the largest and most progressive of the mainline churches. Changing the basic statement of the mainline churches from anti to pro has been the activist’s primary goal for decades with very little to show for it…

After debating the issue for almost half a century in recent years the Lutherans and the Presbyterians have finally voted to ordain lesbians and gays, but the United Methodists still refuse to ordain us. In fact, they still have on their books that local clergy can even deny membership to gay and lesbian Christians…

Again, after at least a decade of futile debate, the ELCA (Lutherans) voted to ordain and marry us, while the Presbyterians and United Methodists continue to deny us the rites of marriage. Even the liberal Episcopal Church is losing local congregations because this most progressive of the mainline denominations appointed an openly gay bishop.

On one level, I can understand his frustration. Many Methodists are upset that even a measure stating they agree to disagree failed, and rightfully so. Living in Minnesota, I know a lot of Lutherans and I know a lot of them either had to live in the closet or face ecclesiastical courts before the ban on gay clergy was lifted.

But the fact is, whether we like it or not, change like this moves slowly. Always does. It moves slowly in society and it moves slowly in the church. It takes a while for people to change their mind or see another way of looking at things. That’s frustrating, but I’ve come to learn that justice comes in its time and till then all you can do is press on making the case for change.

Another thing we have to do is love our enemies. Some times we can love them close and maybe even be friends. Sometimes you gotta love them from afar. White used to at least try, but it seems like these days, he’s just sticking to those who agree with him:

Christian fundamentalists, like fundamentalist Jews or Muslims, read their “holy books” literally. For fundamentalist Christians the Bible is clear: homosexuality is a sin. “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.”

Trying to build bridges with fundamentalists is a game I’ve played—a war I’ve fought—for 20 years and I’ve lost almost every battle.

Fundamentalists don’t listen to facts let alone to personal experience. What the Bible says to a fundamentalist Christian parent is more significant, has more weight, than what they see in the lives of their own children. I have stopped even trying to build bridges with fundamentalists. When one of them asks me, “Have you read Leviticus 20?” (a verse when taken literally demands that men who sleep with men should be killed) I reply, “You’ve confused me with someone who cares about what you think of Leviticus 20.”

Evangelicals see salvation as an act of faith, a very personal encounter between the believer and his/her God. The more historic churches see salvation as a sacramental act, through receiving the Eucharist. Most fundamentalists are evangelical but all evangelicals are not fundamentalists. There are many examples of progressive, even open and affirming evangelicals and we should go on trying to build bridges with every progressive evangelical we encounter.

And, needless to say, we should go on trying to build bridges with the liberal or progressive churches but if the label can be trusted, if a church or denomination is correctly described as “liberal” or “progressive” they are already working with us. Unfortunately, we continue to call the historic mainline churches “liberal” and “progressive” when on our issue they are neither.


Okay, but we aren’t really building bridges if we build them with people who already agree with us. It’s not bridge building; it’s building an echo chamber.

I don’t think trying to reach fundamentalists/social conservatives is a waste of time. Maybe I’m an idiot, but I have tried to reach out to social conservatives. Some folks aren’t ever going to listen to me and I tend to “love them from afar.” But others, I do try to sit and listen to them and have them listen to me. I don’t expect to change their minds; I leave that up to God. And I truly believe that God is powerful enough to change minds. But that’s not my end goal- my goal is to love them as God loves them even if I disagree with it. That’s not a waste of time to me- it’s what being a disciple of Jesus is all about.

I can understand some of the bitterness found in White and in many of my fellow gay folk. When you live in fear that people don’t like you or worse, it’s easy to have a chip on your shoulder and ready to do battle.

Maybe I’m a coward, but I also think that as a Christian, I have to learn how to also learn to love others- even others that might hate and revile me. The Old Mel White had that Christ-like love that allowed him to meet with Jerry Falwell in the long-shot hope that Falwell might repent. It was a foolish and extravagant love that I was amazed to see.

The New Mel White is not so foolish. Some would say he has the righteous anger that Jesus had turning over the moneychangers’ tables in the temple. I would agree we need that passion at times. But we also need that crazy, stupid love that White showed towards his enemies as well, and I think the world is poorer for losing that Mel White.

Now That We’ve Won (Maybe)…

526563_10151536092120549_414515262_nThis week’s drama over the issue of same-sex marriage at the Supreme Court has been nothing short of historic.  American society is at a point that I thought wouldn’t come for several years, if not decades.  Same sex marriage might be legal in most of the nation in a few short years. Here in Minnesota, it might be that by the end of the year we might have the right for gay couples to marry.  It means that I can have my relationship with my partner Daniel, recognized by the state and therby able to receive benefits that heterosexual couples have enjoyed for a very long time. There’s been a sense of celebration among my friends, as we see places like Facebook ablaze in the red equal signs with people showing support for same sex marriage.

But there has also been a darker side.  I’ve seen friends kind of using this moment to make fun and belittle those who have opposed same sex marriage.  Of course, when you are on the winning side, especially in the culture wars, it’s very easy to start “spiking the ball;” enjoying the tables turning.

But before we pop another bottle of champagne, those of us who all ourseleves Christians need to make sure we are offering love and grace to our opponents instead of spite.

On Good Friday, we see Jesus on the cross  surrounded by soldiers and religious leaders laughing and taunting Jesus.  It is a total hatefest.  Now, Jesus had every right to ask God to send down angels and put this obscene display to a fitting end.  But Jesus didn’t seek revenge.  Instead, he said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

It’s pretty common in the gay community to not always be so gracious to our enemies.  After all, we see them as the equivalent of modern day segregationists, and why should anyone treat them with kindness?

And let’s be honest, there are a lot of gay folks who were hurt by people who called themseleves Christians.  Those hurts take a long time to heal, if ever.  You can’t blame folks if they don’t feel charitable to people who may have hurt them.

As Christians, gay or straight, we are called to love our enemies.  I am to love those who might still think being gay is a sin, or who might disapprove of same sex marriage.  I know I’m right about this issue, but it is also equally important in my view to be loving as well.

And this all matters because people are watching us.  They are wanting to see how we act.  If go around calling everyone a bigot because they don’t see things our way, we will be seen as a poor witness.

A few years ago, I shared a blog post about an elderly man I encountered at church.  He and I didn’t see eye to eye on being gay.  I shared what happened one day between the two of us:

I had just graduated from seminary and was doing my CPE at a local nursing home. I was still involved at the church where I was an intern and was asked to serve on the church board. It came to a vote and I was voted in nearly unanimously. I say nearly because one person voted against me. I knew who it was and so did many others. It was an elderly member of the church. He had some idea I was gay and many people assumed that was why he voted against me. After the meeting concluded, he asked me to come with him into another room. He explained that he prayed and studied the scripture on the issue of homosexuality, but his conscience was not swayed in favor. As he said this, he began to cry.

I was and still am touched by this guesture. He did have to speak to me to explain his actions, but he did. He might not approve of who I sleep with, but he did treat me with respect. This wasn’t simply about being right for him, but about being loving.

Yeah, I know that his actions were hurtful. Yes, it would have been nice had he voted in favor. But I could respect his decsion even if it was wrong, because he valued me enough to respect me.

That experience told me that even though some people might not approve of me, they are also human beings and need to be treated with love, not judgement.

People are watching to see what gay Christians will do.  Can we show love to our enemies?  Can we allow for grace to breakthrough?

This might be the biggest test for gay Christians in America.  Will we pass the test?

Salvation for Jerry Sandusky?

John Meunier opines on the Jerry Sandusky verdict according to Wesleyan theology:

God wants to save Jerry Sandusky. God can save him. But unless Sandusky turns toward God, he will be under God’s wrath. Even if he turns to God and receives assurance of his salvation, he will remain tempted powerfully by the sin that remains in him. Growth to holiness takes time and the help of others.

Although universalism is quite popular these days, I find it far more likely that Sandusky will not feel conviction for his sins. He will not repent. He will not be born anew or receive the assurance of salvation or go on to perfection. He will remain in darkness for eternity.

I do not rejoice in that prospect because no Christian should ever cheer the damnation of a soul.

So, I close with a simple prayer. May God have mercy on his soul. May God bless and comfort his victims.

Death Penalty PR

The following post is adapted from a post on my political blog last month.

In all the hubbub surrounding the execution of Troy Davis, there was little mention of another execution taking place in Texas on the same day:

As Texas prepares to execute one of his father’s killers, Ross Byrd hopes the state shows the man the mercy his father, James Byrd Jr., never got when he was dragged behind a truck to his death.

“You can’t fight murder with murder,” Ross Byrd, 32, told Reuters late Tuesday, the night before Wednesday’s scheduled execution of Lawrence Russell Brewer for one of the most notorious hate crimes in modern times.

“Life in prison would have been fine. I know he can’t hurt my daddy anymore. I wish the state would take in mind that this isn’t what we want.”

Brewer is scheduled to die by lethal injection after 6 p.m. local time in Huntsville, Texas.

His pending execution comes 10 years after Governor Rick Perry signed into law the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, strengthening punishments for hate crimes.

An avowed white supremacist, Brewer, 44, was one of three white men convicted of capital murder in the kidnapping and killing of Byrd Jr., in June 1998.

The death of James Byrd Jr. made national headlines in 1998, but the death of one of his murders was barely mentioned.

I’ve been wondering in the midst of all the hue and cry against Troy Davis’ execution, why we didn’t hear anything from anybody on this death.

I think I know the answer.

Troy Davis was portrayed as a sympathetic character. It also helped that he was African American and let’s face it, the American penal system seems to like to lock up, if not execute black people more than whites.

And let’s face it, Lawrence Brewer wasn’t a loveable character.

It’s easy to feel sadness for someone that has been characterized as someone that just might be innocent. Death penalty opponents are good at finding people who people can feel a pang of sympathy for and connect with. Focusing on the Troy Davises of the world helps people see the cruelty of capital punishment.

But the fact is, most of the folks that come before the electric chair or lethal injection are more than likely guilty as sin like Brewer was. Davis makes people wonder about the legitamacy of the policy. Brewer confirms in the minds of many that this is the right thing to do.

So for those of us who oppose the death penalty, how do we deal with the fact that some of the people who are facing the needle are actually guilty? How do we deal with the fact that some of these folks are really mean and nasty people. How do we oppose the act and still stand with the victims of this crime?  Jesus called us to love our enemies, but that doesn’t mean we should over look the sin.

I guess I wish that Christians who oppose the death penalty would deal more with these “hard cases.”  I wish that we would realize that the way of Jesus is frickin’ hard and at times seems damn unfair.  It’s easy to preach love and forgiveness when it’s someone like Troy Davis- it’s damn hard to do that when faced with a racist like Lawrence Brewer.

In the end, I still can’t support the death penalty. One reason is that we can never be totally certain that someone is guilty. But another reason is that I think killing by the state is something that has to be done sparingly (such as war or law enforcement). I would rather take away someone’s liberty than take their life even if they are reprehensible.

Forgive and Forget. Not. (Lectionary Musings on September 11)

Thirteenth Sunday of Pentecost
Matthew 18:21-35
September 11, 2011

1Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if
another member of the church sins against me, how often should I
forgive? As many as seven times?”
22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.



I found out about it on the bus.

On that late summer morning 10 years ago, I was on a bus heading towards work. I had graduated from seminary the previous May and was getting ready to do my 9 month experience in Clinical Pastoral Education in a week. As the bus made its way past the University of Minnesota and towards downtown Minneapolis I heard the news about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. I didn’t think much about it, at first. I thought about the incident in the closing days of World War II when a military plane crashed into the Empire State Building and thought it was just a small plane that got lost.

But we now know that what happened on September 11, 2001 was not just a little event. Hell opened up and swallowed us whole on that day.

It’s interesting that the gospel text this Sunday is about forgiveness. It seems like an odd that on the day we remember the horror that took place in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, we are faced with a question: how many times can we forgive?

How do we forgive when someone offends us?  How do we deal when someone is hurtful to us?  How do we learn to “forget” the other’s sin?

God calls us to be a people who are forgiving, but it’s hard to be forgiving in a world where people hijack airplanes and drive them into buildings.

Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Webber notes in her blog post on the lectionary text that the ability to forgive is not in our human nature and she’s right.  The natural response to being hurt is to not forgive, to not forget.  We want to remember our hurt and we want to lash back. Forgiveness is not about being moral, it is supernatural.

Jesus calls us to being a loving and forgiving people.  God call us to be a people that doesn’t remember people’s sin.  But the fact is, we fall short and with good reason.  We can’t forget that hurt and we want to hurt back.

It’s only in Christ that we can forgive and love.

We can’t forget September 11.  We can’t forget the hurts that we are dealt in life.  We can’t do it.  We just can’t.

But because we are forgiven through Christ, we can forgive and live as a forgiven people.

So on this Sunday when we stop to remember the past, let us also remember we are forgiven, give thanks and then live in that forgiveness.

Go and be church.

Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.

Crossposted at Theobot