We have saved the best for last. In this recent installment of The Everyday Missionary Podcast, I sat down with my son to talk about what it’s like to come out as gay in a Christian pastor family. Our hope in this was not simply to offer a glimpse into the challenges and closeness that can emerge, but also to display how the Christian and gay community can communicate with one another in a spirit of kindness, empathy, and understanding.
How does a teenage son who is gay and his Christian pastor family begin to find their new normal after his coming out?
Had you asked me that question 6 years ago I probably would have had a tidy theological answer wrapped in a cavalier bow. Today, however, our reality forces us to navigate the messiness of maintaining our faith’s code of lifestyle while equally upholding our faith’s greatest command to love, be it your enemy, neighbor, fellow believer or yes, your 17-year-old unbelieving gay son.
In Part 3 of The Everyday Missionary Podcast, I look at our progress as parents from Gray’s resolved coming out in October of 2017 until now (also, you won’t want to miss Part 4 next week where I talk with my son – Part 3 is incomplete at many levels without Part 4). What you will notice, if you haven’t caught it already, there exists much trial and error in moving toward the high ground of mercy and breakthrough. At times in this series, I’m sure I’ve said things that make both the Christian and LGBT community wince in disagreement (especially in this episode), be it for different reasons perhaps. However, I have intentionally chosen the clumsy, unscripted and unedited format so that the raw humanity of parents and kids can be displayed, both for the good and bad. My heart throughout this is finding a new way forward where the two communities (especially within families) can learn to display neighborly love toward one another even in the midst of our core differences.
As a side note, I have sincerely appreciated the gay men who have interacted with me after hearing of this podcast, all of which opened by describing themselves as “a gay atheist.” I mention this simply to highlight there was more than one area of difference or worldview in the mix. I want to thank you publicly for your willingness to interact in the spirit of what I hope this creates; the ability to discuss, empathize and understand the “other side” while still holding to the convictions of “our side.” This embodies the spirit of true tolerance which Google Dictionary defines as, “the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.” You have all been gracious, kind, intelligent and open despite some deep wounds. Thank you!
Three months ago our 17-year-old son shared with us that he no longer held to our Christian faith and that he was in a relationship with a young man. However, our journey with our son and his sexuality began far earlier than a fall day back in October. In this episode of The Everyday Missionary, I have sought to retrace our steps as a family from 12-years-old until that autumn afternoon. In doing so, I seek to highlight some of the things I believe we did thoughtfully as parents in light of our faith, but also some of the things I know I handled badly. Equally, I share how there were things Gray did right in this process, but also things he handled poorly (though I share no specifics regarding Gray since that is his story to be shared in Pt. 4). My hope in this series is that our experience can act as an aid to better handling such events in life with grace, truth, awareness, compassion, seeking and granting forgiveness, and love even in our differences.
Three months ago our 17-year-old son Gray shared with the family that he is gay and does not hold to our Christian faith. As you can imagine, being a very close Christ-centered family (and also being a pastor), this presented all of us with a new set of realities. As parents and siblings we needed to wrestle with, “How do we honor the beliefs of our faith while also investing in our son and brother whom we deeply love?” And for our son, he needed to discover, “How do I maintain a sense of connection to a family that I deeply love while no longer sharing their faith culture?”
So far we have not solved all those realities, but by God’s grace, we are seeking to do so as a family, and directly from the context of our biblical faith. In light of this, I have dedicated the next four weeks of “The Everyday Missionary Podcast” to sharing how we are seeking to go about this. Pt. 1 will be about the big picture. Pt. 2 will traverse our life with Gray from 12-17 years old. Pt. 3 will be about life since he came out three months ago. The final episode will be an interview with Gray and myself where we discuss the challenges and realities of coming out to your Christian family while still living in the home.
I don’t presume that everyone will agree with everything we share. Nor do I believe I have managed to share everything as clearly as I would like. Yet, our heart is to share our story with others so that perhaps others can learn to better navigate these types of moments “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Six years ago this month Redemption Church was planted out of chaos and in hope. Since that time, Jesus has seen fit to not only keep us alive, but has stirred us to thrive. It has been a season loaded with times of uncertainty, yet consistently each uncertainty has been upended by the gracious incursion of God’s provision.
One of the most amazing things is related to how God put all sorts of crazy pieces in place to make it possible to purchase an old bank building along with two adjacent lots on the main street of our city. We are not yet able to use the space for Sundays, but it’s trending that direction within the next two to three years – which is incredible since just two to three years ago we thought there was no way possible we would ever have a building of our own in our city. God still does BIG things.
In becoming property owners, we also wanted to face bigger questions as to the use of our property. A component of our mission statement is “for the good of our city” as highlighted in Jeremiah 29:7. How then would our space fulfill that mission? What things could we do to show our love for the city? To show our commitment to the cares and needs of the community? How could we be good stewards, not only of the facility and finances related to it, but also to exist for the welfare of the city Jesus put us in? So far we’ve come up with a lot of ideas, many of which are already underway in the space as it currently is. But one of the truly novel things we came up with was an added step that I’m not certain I’ve come across before; we proactively decided to voluntarily pay property taxes. Crazy, right? Maybe. But it’s missionally crazy, and if you’re going to be crazy you might as well do it for missional reasons. So why have we chosen to do this? Here are the 5 core reasons.
1) To Display Solidarity with Our Community
Communities need resources to be communities. In the case of cities and counties these resources come in many forms, but one of the key elements is fiscal resources that are acquired by taxing the members of a community. Thus it was our conviction that we could display a heart for “the welfare of our city” by making the conscious decision to contribute, as an organization, in a way that is similar to the inhabitants of our city. Some may find this an odd way to display solidarity, or they may say there are better ways to spend money on community needs. But we believe there is a different form of generosity that is displayed when you let another party that is commissioned to lead a community to decide the best way to use resources for that community. In this way we display that we are in the community like everyone else.
2) To Show Goodwill toward Our City
Believe it or not, being a city official is difficult work. Whether this is an elected official or an employee of a particular department, there will always be the stress of a collection of citizens with different views on how a city should be managed. This stress is compounded by how the city is going to pay for it. This is why to some degree city and county officials don’t get vigorously excited when they hear that a church wants to buy up 5-500 acres for a new campus. It’s not driven by opposition to religion. Rather, there is no revenue for a tax-exempt building and as long as it is a church it will not generate revenue. Thus in a strange sort of way, not only are churches not paying customers, but they take up the space of something else that could be. Therefore, if we are in this “for the good of our city” then one of the ways we can truly stand behind this conviction is to invest in a way that puts tax money where our mission mouth is. In fact, it’s been fun to see how quickly pleasant surprise come across the face of community officials when they discover our position. In this way we display that we are concerned with the concerns of those who lead our city.
3) To Remove an Understandable Area of Criticism
I will assume that most of us have come across some meme on social media that shows a picture of the most ornate church cathedral or megachurch with the caption “tax churches now”. While as a pastor I know that this is a provocative image dislodged from a whole plethora of facts, there is another fact that still remains; the unbelieving communities that we are seeking to reach see this exemption as odd and unfair. It’s a perk for churches, but it’s equally a stumbling block for those not in churches. And if our mission is to remove unnecessary stumbling blocks for the sake of Christ, then for us it made sense to remove this stone in the path of our mission field. In this way we display that the souls that we hope to see saved matter more than the money we can save.
4) To Govern Our Own Sense of “need” vs. “want”
Churches have a strange pull to want more than they need. More staff, more supplies, more tech, more budgets, more of more. This is also true when it comes to space. We tend to believe that bigger buildings will equal bigger crowds, even though we’ve all been lectured ad nauseam to the contrary. We have still blazed ahead with multimillion dollar debt loads that we can’t easily manage since “we built it and they didn’t come – just like everyone told us from the get-go”. Now, I’m not saying big is bad. Nor am I saying that there are not legitimate space needs in churches that are growing. But I do believe churches would make more conservative decisions on buildings and debt if they also had to consider the taxes on the facilities they were building. For us, our future expansion looks to maximize a footprint that is efficient and effective without being intrusive or ostentatious, especially as we look toward future generations which may be more inclined toward minimalism and outward investment. In this way we model that restraint is a virtue that allows for the freedom to pursue opportunities God places before each generation.
5) To Prepare for a Possible Future
Quite honestly, the odds of property tax exemptions sticking around in our post-Christian climate are not in favor of churches. Already we know that the question of the constitutional legality of exemptions for clergy are working their way through the court system. Some project that property tax exemptions for churches will be next to follow. In light of these strong possibilities, we opt to prepare ourselves in the present for the future. By including property taxes in our budget now we have been able to adjust our overall budget so that we are acclimated to this particular cost of doing ministry in our culture. If that day ever comes, we will have already been doing it far before that day. In this way we proactively mitigate sudden budget hikes that would harm our missional priorities.
In the end, am I saying all churches should do this? No. Am I saying that we are more missional, trusting, godly, sacrificial, (fill in the blank) for doing this? No. Is this a creative way we have been led to connect with and build bridges within our community that most churches have not considered? Yes. Ultimately the question for all churches is not what they are required or free to do in matters such as this, but what is Christ leading them to do in order to display commitment toward the welfare of their city?
One of my “insider” interests is learning how other pastors handle sermon prep. What I have discovered is no two pastors are ever exactly the same except that all have a process, every step in the process is intentional and the whole thing begins with with an initial Monday morning panic, “Can I make a message out of this by Sunday?”
My process isn’t terribly novel. In general terms, I prefer to preach either expositionally (through books of the Bible) or theologically (some people call this “topical” and yet my focus is more on the theology of a theme than merely good advice giving). Where I may differ from many of my fellow preachers is that my prep is sliced into two distinct environments. It begins in the lab of my study and ends in the field that is a bar.
In The Lab That Is A Study
I recently read an article that said pastors should not have offices, but studies. I like that. So I have a study. My study is like a lab; a controlled environment with everything I need for the task of research. I begin in the lab by copy-and-pasting a double-spaced version of my biblical text for the week into a Word document. I then read the passage over and over, identifying patterns, scribbling notes, logging insights and asking random questions with each pass. I would guess I scan and scribble through the passage around 20 times, usually finding that the most valuable insights hit around the 15th pass. From there I do my exegetical work. For those unfamiliar with our hip clergy nomenclature, exegesis is when we seek to understand the meaning of a book of the Bible in its original language, culture and context. It may sound dull, but for Bible nerds this is the biblical peanut butter to our theological jelly. Once that is complete, I pile my desk with books and read till I feel I need to unbuckle my mental belt like its a post Thanksgiving Day dinner.
As the above process unfolds I regularly shake out the cramping in my right hand. I’m feverishly jot down informational aggregate on my narrow rule TOPS white legal pad, using my Pentel 0.7mm mechanical pencil and rotating through my pile of Ticonderoga Emphasis highlighters (shameless product placements) to mark varied themes with various colors (yellow is technical, green is illustrative, pink is pithy, orange is for us today, blue is transitional and purple is key points). Finally, I figure out the key breaks in the passage that will act as transitions through the sermon and I put each of those sections into a PowerPoint build. By the end of my time “in the lab”, I have logged around 20-30 hours and piled up anywhere between 10-20 pages of notes. With my lab research done I grab my ESV Bible, research notes, TOPS pad, Pentel pencil and head to a bar.
In The Field That Is A Bar
Labs are pristine, antiseptic and protected. That gives us the ability to research in ways that are ideal, controlled and precise. Field research is messy, inconvenient and unpredictable, yet true to life. A local bar (a cantina technically) is my field research. It is the last stage in my process and the location where I put the majority of my sermons together.
As I walk in, the familiar Latino bartender greets me with our customary ritual, “Amigo! Mac and Jack?” Mac and Jack’s is hands down the best African Amber on the planet and is brewed just over the hill. I give him my usual thumbs-up and find a place to sit down. My table is the far back corner. It gives me the best view of the room.
On this day there are two middle-aged women at the far booth. Each has a margarita the size of a kiddy pool. They are loud, animated and angry – at a man. The one on the left is mad at her man. The one on the right is mad at the same man, but only as a show of solidarity for the friend across from her. Hell hath no furry like two angry women with a gallon of margarita between them.
I smirk and think, “I’m glad I’m not that guy.” And I write.
Further to my right, two men sit at the bar. One is retired, has a cane, wears a veteran hat and is eager to initiate a conversation with anyone who sits within three seats. A couple seats down is a young guy, blue collar, no wedding ring and looks like he came straight from moving a mountain of dirt with his bare hands and then used his face as the wash cloth. He’s sipping Fireball, watching the soccer game and riding that fine line with the vet of being just polite enough to keep conversation at arms length without being disrespectful.
I’m like the younger guy. I’m sad for the older guy. And I write.
Closer to my immediate left are two young women in their 20’s. I can hear how the one feels betrayed because she just found out her boyfriend has a porn issue. Her friend seeks to console her, assuring her of how the boyfriend in question doesn’t deserve her. Suddenly one of the the two loud margarita ladies unexpectedly shouts, “Men Suck!” and the consoling 20 something responds, “Amen!” (Yes, you would be surprised how much “Amen” comes up in a bar). The laughter and camaraderie cuts away the anger and betrayal for a few brief seconds before reality returns, and with reality the conversations.
I grieve. I pray. And I write.
Behind me around the corner is the restaurant area. Just within earshot I can hear a family. The newborn baby is crying and big brother (who may be all of 4-5 years old) is repeating, “I’m bored! I’m bored!” Dad must be lost on his phone because of the terse female voice that comes next, “Are you going to deal with your son?”
I remember. And I write.
After a few minutes a third man appears at the bar. I’ve seen him a few times before. White collar, wedding ring, never really talks. He sits at the bar for one drink in a small glass and leaves. It seems to be his soft space between stressful worlds.
I look. I ponder. I pray. And I write.
It is in this immersive environment where I begin to construct my final thoughts; pushing what I have studied through an ether vastly different than the atmosphere of my study. As I do my mind bends toward various questions as the message unfolds:
How would people in a bar understand this?
Would people in a bar know what to do with this?
Do people in a bar even care about this?
What biases might the two younger women have about the importance of this?
What words or ideas would the unmarried dirt covered guy be unfamiliar with?
What questions would the married business guy and his one drink have about this?
What confusion might be stirred up for the worn out parents with their two young kids?
What objections would the loud margarita ladies have about this?
What conclusions would the retired veteran have about this?
What humor, illustrations, word pictures or pop culture references can I use that most of the people in a bar would instantly understand?
What religious clichés are so loaded that they might sabotage what I believe people need to understand regarding this?
How can I do all of this and still ensure that Jesus, above all else, is honored and pleased with what I say?
Now obviously I don’t systematically walk through these questions after every point. They are more the natural consequence of the environment as I compile the sermon. Completing my message in a bar forces an awareness of and sensitivity to people in real life. It unlocks the questions in a way far more authentic than anything I might duplicate by just imagining people in the isolation of my study. And I do this, not in the hopes of understanding the “lost”, but so as to understand people; not the least of which being the “saved” ones. The bar is a transparent microcosm of the same realities, challenges and conversations “saved” people face. A bar is filled with the same kind of demographic diversity that a church seeks to create. And ultimately a bar is popular for the same reason a church; because people are looking for a safe place in which some seek to hide, others want to connect and still others invest to belong.
Mind you a bar isn’t a perfect place, but neither are people. Praise God that His Bible, His Gospel and His Grace always is.
My cultural tribe is of the evangelical persuasion. And within my tribe there is an interesting and sometimes entertaining nomenclature related to the social life of the tribe. We say things that others who are not from within the tribe may fail to translate properly. For example when an evangelical says, “I echo that” it has nothing to do with shouting into valleys or performing a medical test. When we say, “She found Jesus!” we don’t imply that Jesus is the Waldo of the world and people try to find where He is, but rather we mean just the opposite in that the “she” was lost and Jesus found her. Yeah, it can be a bit confusing at times, especially in an election cycle.
It seems every four years (because let’s be honest, who gets excited about off-year elections) evangelicals begin ramping up with phrases such as “vote your conscience” or “vote biblically” or my favorite “it’s your obligation to vote.” Now everyone one of these in and of itself isn’t a wrong idea. I actually find myself sympathetic to all of them in some form. But the challenge Clan Evangelical faces is that most of these phrases are pre-loaded with a particular implied meaning. Thus when the expressions are used the implied translation is, “and by that we mean vote for the conservative Republican that espouses our social priorities since all other options are neither biblical nor conscionable.” In other words we all know what constitutes a truly “Christian” vote (insert wink and nod here), but let’s use ubiquitous words such as “conscience” and “biblical” as code for politically conservative voting.
Now believe it or not this is not where I find the problem. I do believe there are times where particular politicized issues reflect transcendent Christian virtues. But voting biblically (which should be concerned with matters far deeper than ideology alone) is not as simple as a matter of assessing platform or party. In fact I would venture to say that what might even be more critical than the platform of a candidate is the character they display. And when that is factored in you may find yourself in a biblical conundrum when a person with questionable character who advocates a more “biblical” platform is running against a person with stronger character and yet a weaker “biblical” platform. So then which is the more biblical vote, the vote for character or policy? Or to complicate it more, what happens if we find that both sides are a mix of biblical and unbiblical policy and character (also known as the Republicans and Democrats)? Should we want to claim that we are voting biblically when we know that our vote also empowers unbiblical priorities at times?
Perhaps toughest of all what happens when both candidates are unbiblical, but for different reasons? This is where we employ a new phrasing, “voting for the lessor of two evils.” Now for the record I don’t think it’s an easy case to make that voting for evil is biblical, even if it’s a lessor one. Yet I think this phrase occurs because we are told, “it’s your obligation to vote” implying that to refrain from voting is in and of itself more unbiblical than casting a ballot for Mr. Sinister to stop Mrs. Wicked.
Now there are some, in order to fulfill their binding obligation to vote but not wanting to vote for evil, stay with their model of voting based on their conscience and they write in a “really-quality-biblically-minded-totally-obscure-never-will-win-but-has-great-values” candidate only to be told by others how they threw away their vote and thus bare a repentant-worthy culpability in handing the country to Mrs. Wicked. I experienced this first hand when confronted by my fellow evangelicals for “throwing away my vote” in 2012 when I voted for JESUS in the Presidential election. It’s a weird experience when you vote JESUS and you’re told by fellow Christians that you sinned against the country and squandered your vote. It was there I found that within our evangelical jargon voting “biblically” according to “conscience” only counts if it’s also realistic and practical.
I could go on, but all of this illustrates the problem of exiles seeking to vote with a biblical conscience in Babylon – it’s not as clear-cut as it first seems.
- For some, voting biblically will mean looking at the personal character of a candidate more than their platform.
- For some, voting biblically will mean backing the platform of a particular party even if the person who represents it is lacking.
- For some, voting biblically will mean centering on just one single topic because they feel it’s a topic God is profoundly clear on such as life, poverty, peace or family.
- For some, voting biblically will mean casting a vote against a greater evil by invoking a lessor evil.
- For some, voting biblically will mean voting for someone who cannot win but who is honorable and thus they are honored to support them.
- For some, voting biblically will mean writing in JESUS as an act of prayer and offering to God asking that He might heal our culture.
- For some, voting biblically will mean not voting at all because they feel to vote is to endorse and to endorse is to give approval to that which they do not approve of.
- For most, more than one of these methods will be employed in an election cycle as their options thin out and thus their biblical vote adapts.
And I would say that all of these are legitimate ways in which Christians can properly vote with a biblical conscience since the Christian conscience is not a one size fits all. In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul faces this very problem and asks, “Why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?” Indeed! How Scripture, Spirit, context and conscience collide in regard to culture can have different outcomes for different Christians and yet each still remains biblical in their orientation.
However what is not biblical is when our vote is motivated by fear, greed, anger, bigotry, idolatry, guilt or power. Thus it’s equally possible to vote for the most biblical platform in the most unbiblical way. For to be truly biblical in our earthly citizenship is to remember that we must be loyal to a greater eternal citizenship. This world should receive from us primarily gospel, grace, service and love of neighbor and enemy alike because we know the systems of this world are frail, broken, unreliable and ultimately doomed to judgment. Therefore where we have the opportunity to be most biblical in our personal vote is in our awareness of and confidence in the truth that God is sovereign over the affairs of humanity in the collective electorate. The consistent narrative of the Bible is that God alone “removes kings and sets up kings” for a larger sovereign purpose. In this way, to vote most biblically is to cast a ballot with confident joy in His provision and then respond with courageous contentment regardless of the outcome. Or as Paul put it in Philippians 4,
10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
To vote biblically is ultimately to vote unto the glory of God without relegating our hopes, fears or faith to the politics of man.
 Here is a list of passages that shows God Himself is ultimately the one who sets up the kings of the world. Daniel 2:20-22; 37, 4:13-17; 25-26; 31-32, 5:21, John 19:10-11, Luke 4:5-8, Romans 9:17; 13:1-6, 1 Peter 2:13-17 and Revelation 17:17.