Pastors and the “F-Word”: A Conversation with J.R. Briggs

According to J.R. Briggs, “the elephant in the room for pastors is that many of us are afraid of failure, and we don’t feel as though there are safe spaces to talk openly about it.”  Which is why J.R. organized the Epic Fail Pastors Conference and why he authored one of the most important books I’ve read this summer, Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure. 

J.R. serves as Cultural Cultivator of The Renew Community a Jesus community for skeptics and dreamers in Lansdale, PA. He is the founder of Kairos Partnerships an initiative that partners with leaders, pastors and church planters during significant kairos moments in ministry. As part of his time with Kairos Partnerships, he serves on staff with The Ecclesia Network and Fresh Expressions U.S. and coaches leaders, pastors and church planters across the country.

I’ve long admired J.R.’s take on ministry, so it was honor to talk with him about what it means for pastors to serve with faithfulness, regardless of the outcome, in a culture that idolizes celebrity and success. I hope it will be an encouragement to all of you, but especially those of you in ministry. 

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RHE: First of all, thank you so much for this book. I know it’s not easy to write with such honesty and vulnerability about your own struggles and failures, but it’s such a gift to people who would otherwise feel alone in their experience. This has to be especially true for pastors, who are often held to impossibly high standards and for whom “success” can be especially hard to gauge. I think you’ve started a really important conversation here, and it took guts to do that. 

So, to start, tell us a little about the Epic Fail Pastor’s Conference. What gave you the idea to do that? And what was the first one like? 

J.R.B.: Thanks for your kind words. I do hope the conference, and now the book, can prompt honest and significant conversations among pastors (and truthfully, among all people) regarding failure and how we respond to it with hope, grace and freedom.

The Epic Fail Pastors Conference came about almost by accident. Previously, I was on staff at a large church in a very visible role. By all accounts, people would have believed I was “successful.” Then, God called my family out to plant a church with little resources and few people. It was an incredibly dark and painful season for me. The thoughts of failure were right in front of my face. 

During that time, I realized that most of the ministry conferences around the country were oriented for – and run by - “successful” pastors at “successful” churches. I found myself leaving these conference feeling either guilty that I wasn’t doing church “the right way” or like I couldn’t relate to the speakers and their context in any way. I am sure they were kind-hearted and loved the Lord deeply, but I wondered if what we were doing, whether we knew it or not, was worshipping at the altar of our American-defined ideal of success, only in the setting of a local church. 

Shortly thereafter, I wrote a satirical blog post suggesting that someone host an “Epic Fail Pastors Conference” where we put our “worst foot forward.” I wrote that instead of talking about our successes, the speakers should be required to only speak of their failures – and, to follow up, share how God showed up anyway in the midst of the failure. I suggested in the blog post that no speaker should be a pastor of a church larger than 200 people, that we should call our speakers “Experts on Failure,” and that there should be no green room, lanyards, merchandise tables or honoraria, and that we would end the event with communion. 

Ironically, the satirical idea took off. People contacted me from all over the country asking when and where we were hosting this counter-intuitive event. It shocked me. We had no serious plans to do so, but after talking about it with a few ministry friends, we decided to pull the trigger. We hosted our first event about four years ago in my community, a northern suburb of Philadelphia, in the upstairs of a gritty bar that used to be a church. It was a raw and beautiful experience of healing and grace. So beautiful, in fact, we felt we needed to steward this idea wisely and continue to host these spaces. We’ve hosted Epic Fail events around the country over the past few years and continue to do so. (For more, check out www.epicfailevents.com).


RHE: I have to say, the statistics from Chapter 2 of Fail shocked me. I had no idea how many pastors struggled with depression and frustration regarding their ministry roles. You write that 80 percent of pastors (and 84 percent of their spouses) are discouraged in their ministry roles, that 40 percent say they have seriously considered leaving the pastorate in the past three months, and that 70 percent say they don’t have a single close friend. Those are some really astounding and sobering numbers. And yet, this reality is so rarely talked about—in church, at conferences, in books. Why do you think that is, and why is it important that we change that? Why must we talk about failure, (or the sense of failure), among ministers? 

J.R.B.: Yes, ministry can be brutal. One of the most sobering statistics I found in my research is that for every twenty pastors who enter the ministry only one will retire from ministry. The irony is that so many pastors think about failure, but so few have spaces to talk openly and courageously about it. As I’ve listened to the stories of numerous wounded and hurt pastors I’ve realized that the less we talk about failure the more we feel it, but the more we can talk about it the less we feel it. 

The biggest barrier to talking openly about failure (or the sense of failure) is fear. Pastors are always wondering, if I talk about this, will this cost me? Will it cost me my job? Will it hurt my family? How badly will my reputation be damaged if I share how I’m really feeling? Will people hold it against me? Will people be disappointed and leave my church? 

We have to talk about failure because if we don’t we perpetuate the façade that the pastor has it all together. Masks are readily available for pastors and when we refuse to be honest and go into hiding, we’re tempted to reach for a mask to give the impression we’re someone that we’re not. And there are numerous ornate ministry masks available to pastors. But when we put on the mask we put aside the cross. The irony is that we bear the message of grace, where Jesus says that no perfect people are allowed. Even though we preach grace from the pulpit – that we’re all messy, broken, sinful, spiritual high maintenance people – that doesn’t always get into our bloodstream. If we don’t talk about failure and brokenness in appropriate ways, we perpetuate the priority of religiosity, the very thing that Jesus came to put to death. If we perpetuate religiosity and refuse to embrace grace, we are hypocritical and unfaithful to our calling as ministers of the gospel. But when we model and embrace grace, it’s certainly messy, but it’s also incredibly beautiful and attractive to others around us.  

It’s important to state that pastors are in need of both wisdom and courage. Talking about our wounds, failures, sin and brokenness takes courage. It’s only when we’re vulnerable that we grow. But we also need to exhibit wisdom to know when, where, with whom and how much to share about our brokenness. Finding the right balance of wisdom and courage in addressing our brokenness is crucial.


RHE: I once wrote a post entitled, “Dear Pastors, Tell Us the Truth,” and was heartbroken by how many pastors responded to it by saying they would never feel comfortable being that honest with their congregations. Why are so many pastors afraid to tell their congregations the truth—about their fears, their doubts, their ideas, and their failures? 

J.R.B.: I remember your article well. It struck a chord because it was so refreshing to the hearts of many pastors. As I mentioned above, there’s a lot of fear of what it will cost pastors if they tell the truth. This inability and unwillingness to talk about fears, doubts, ideas and failures leads to isolation, performancism and loneliness. Being with many pastors as they tell me their story, one of the main words I would use to describe their lives is loneliness. The Evil One loves this. If you isolate the life of a pastor, all sorts of significant damage can be done. It’s healthy when the pastor needs a community as much as a community needs a pastor.


RHE: What are a few things parishioners can do differently to support and encourage their pastors better? 

J.R.B.: There are many I would suggest, but I’ll stick with three. 

The first is to never forget that pastors are people before they are pastors. The expectations churches often place on pastors can lead them to believe they have to be super-human. It is important to remember pastors have bad days, feel “off,” need a break, and need friends and safe spaces where they can let their hair down. When parishioners have this perspective it can be a gift for pastors and their families. Don’t ever forget that your pastor is in need of as much saving grace from Christ as you or anyone else in the church. When we forget this, we miss out on understanding the gospel and we set pastors up on pedestals; and when this happens it is dangerous for both the pastor and the church. 

Second, commit to regular prayer and ongoing encouragement of your pastor and his/her family. When people in our church tell me that they have committed to prayer for me, I tell them it is one of the best gifts they could give to our family. Pastors don’t always do it right or preach amazing sermons or respond in the most gracious way. Pray for encouragement for your pastor, pray they would have a deep intimacy with the Lord, a deep understanding of grace and protection from the Evil One. 

Lastly – and this may be more for the leaders or elders of the church – cultivate a culture that encourages rest, health and healing. Seldom do I meet well-rested leaders. Even more rare is a well-rested pastor. Make sure time is allotted for vacation and time away for their families. Require that your pastor practice Sabbath as a way of taking care of mind, body and soul, as well as modeling healthy rhythms for the congregation. Some churches I know pay for a spiritual director or a counselor for their pastors, not because they think their pastors are screwed up, but because they want to make sure there is healthy support in place since ministry can be brutal. I’m certainly not suggesting you pamper your pastor unnecessarily, but creating a culture that cares for your pastor ultimately leads to your pastor caring well for the congregation. 


RHE: How has our success-oriented culture and the “celebrity pastor” phenomenon within Christianity negatively affected everyday pastors? 

J.R.B.: The phrase “celebrity pastor” is a contradiction of terms, but it feels somewhat normal to us in our cultural context because the mindset is so rampant. Unfortunately, the Church in North America has been co-opted by the corporate business approach to success and efficiency. It wasn’t the corporate world forcing it’s way onto the Church; we brought it on ourselves. Because of that, the church now uses the same metrics as the world.  The psyche of the average pastor is concentrating on metrics that the world uses: bigger, better, more efficient, more influential, bigger platform, etc. 

More simply, we tend to measure our effectiveness as pastors on the three B’s: buildings, bodies and budget. If these three B’s are strong, we’re tempted to think, well then, we must be successful. Conversely, we think that if those are down, we must be failing. The problem is that this is dangerously different from the heart of Jesus and the kingdom he came to declare: small, on the margins, ordinary, obscure, focused on faithfulness and humility that requires dying to ourselves. What happens when we adopt the world’s way of counting is that we think more like spiritual managers and church entrepreneurs than shepherds and soul gardeners. When we manage people’s spiritual lives we can think of them as problems to be fixed, issues that need to be tweaked and a system to be fine-tuned. This is not ministry; people know it when it happens. They get the sense that the pastor is using them to accomplish his/her grand vision. 

I’ve shared this quote from Eugene Peterson (from the Introduction of his book Working the Angles) with dozens of pastors because it gets to the root of the issue at hand. It’s so important that I keep it tucked away in my Bible to remind me of my calling: 

The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. It is this responsibility that is being abandoned in spades.”


RHE: When we look at national trends, it becomes apparent that churches in the U.S. are indeed seeing an overall decline, and no denomination has been spared from that. It seems to me that this might provide a sort of death-and-resurrection moment for Christians—a death to the old ways of measuring impact by money, power, numbers, and influence and a resurrection into the ways of Jesus, where the focus is on the hard work of discipleship, healing, fellowship, etc. What does “success” look like for pastors at a time when the Church is changing so dramatically and when most can’t brag about impressive numbers? 

J.R.B.:  Many have asked me a similar question: “If it’s not about the three B’s, then what am I after?” As we study the gospels and learn of Jesus’ challenge for us to seek the kingdom first and teach others in the Way of Christ, we see the dominating posture is faithfulness. Jesus will never say, “Well done, my good and successful servant.” In some ways this is encouraging; in other ways, it means a more difficult road. Faithfulness is the basis for ministry.

In the book I mention four shifts we need to engage in as we think about a new way forward. The first shift is from product to process. Instead of focusing on the end product or on hard numbers, we focus on the journey. So much of what Jesus did was with people. Pastors are on a journey with together toward Jesus. 

The second shift is from prioritizing results to prioritizing relationships. When we focus primarily on results we exhibit a spiritual management posture, instead of ministry. When we’re rooted in trusting relationships with others centered in Jesus, the kingdom is present. It may not put pastors on a national speaking circuit, but is that the goal of ministry? 

The third shift is from a focus on numbers to focus on stories. When we focus on numbers we dehumanize people. When we focus on stories we give people dignity and value. It helps people know their part in the story and know how to live into that calling. 

And the fourth shift is a move away from efficiency and toward congruence. The faster we move toward progress we feel less of a need for relationships. I certainly am not suggesting we strive for inefficiency; instead, what we strive for is effectiveness - or, a better way to put it, fruitfulness. I love the word congruence. When things are congruent they jive. They fit. The parts work together as one. When the heart of a pastor – and the hearts of the people in a local church - is congruent with the heart of the Father, the kingdom is present. 

These shifts are messy and take sacrifice and a great amount of unlearning, but it’s what leads to freedom, faithfulness and obedience – which are at the heart of the gospel story we are called to boldly proclaim. 

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Be sure to check out Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure. And you can find J.R.’s blog here. 
 

 

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“Why I Use Birth Control”: 11 Women Speak Up

Contraception has been in the news lately in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that closely-held corporations whose leaders object to contraception for religious reasons can opt out of covering contraception as part of their employee health care plans. (Though the Hobby Lobby case focused on just four forms of contraception, the Court has clarified that the ruling covers all 20 forms of contraception protected through the Affordable Care Act.) Considering the fact that around 90 percent of corporations are closely-held, the ruling could affect a lot of women. 

Opinions about the ruling aside, I’ve been stunned by some of the misinformation circulating around social media about contraception, the most unhelpful of which characterizes women who use contraception as “entitled,” “sluts,” “moochers,” and “whores.” 

I’ve shared my own thoughts on contraception in a post entitled “Privilege and the Pill,” but today I wanted to yield the floor to ten women whose stories challenge these unfair caricatures. I am incredibly grateful for their bravery and honesty in stepping forward to tell the truth of their experiences. Please, listen: 

Samantha Field 

Samantha

Samantha

I had my first hemorrhagic cyst when I was just fourteen. After a barrage of tests to eliminate insulin problems, my doctor diagnosed me with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and prescribed hormone therapy to manage it.

Over the next six years, I experimented with a variety of “birth control pills” trying to find one that wouldn’t cause migraines and nausea. Eventually I discovered the NuvaRing, which worked amazingly—except that in graduate school, I couldn’t afford it anymore. This meant I had to deal with periods that were so debilitating, prescription narcotics couldn’t touch the pain. It affected everything in my life. 

Once, during the middle of a lecture I was assisting, I felt a sudden, breathtaking surge of pain. I stumbled out of the classroom, half-blind, not even really understanding where I was going except away. I collapsed in the hallway and went into shock, and my boss had to call an ambulance. I waited in the ER for fourteen hours before a doctor told me what had happened: a cyst had ruptured. 

Today my medical insurance covers the NuvaRing for free; my periods have returned to something approaching manageable, and I haven’t had any cysts for the last two years. I don’t know what I would do if my employer suddenly stopped covering my treatment.

Rachel McGlone Hedin

I am a pro-life lactation consultant and public health nurse. I use birth control because I love my husband and three kids. I have had three cesarean sections due to a congenital uterine malformation, and the risk of uterine rupture is too high to get pregnant again.

I never used birth control prior to having kids, though I am a supporter of it for many reasons. Using birth control now protects my life and my family. 


Heather Barmore 

Heather

Heather

In 10th grade I had my first incredibly painful period. The cramps were excruciating and I was vomiting. I spent two days at home in the fetal position, wishing my womanhood away. The only things I used to alleviate the pain were Midol and a heating pad. 

It wasn't until college, during another month of severe cramps that I resorted to birth control. At the time, I was one of those people who believed there was no need for birth control if I wasn't having sex. Let's just say that ignorance isn't too blissful when you're crumpling in pain once a month. 

I use birth control not for precautionary measures—though that is a nice side effect—but because I cannot spend one week out of every month immobilized in bed. I use birth control to improve my health and the quality of my life.

Erica March Menard 

My 15-year-old daughter suffers from ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune disease. She was diagnosed at the age of 9.  Before starting birth control, her monthly periods (which exacerbate the chronic pain she experiences, especially while in "flare") were so unbearably painful that she couldn't even walk.  I'll never forget picking her up at school, where she—a stoic, proud and reserved girl—told me that she had to limp to the nurse's office, in full view of her classmates and with tears running down her face, because she was in such agony.  

If my daughter didn't have access to birth control, she would be unable to attend school (or get out of bed to go anywhere else, for that matter) for five days of each month. 

Jen Buck 

Jen

Jen

I first started using birth control as a 16-year-old teenager to help with migraines. There were added advantages that it helped clear up my acne and eased my menstrual cramps.

I was celibate until I was married at age 27, and I took contraceptives that entire time, not for the purpose of birth control. 

Now that I am a married woman, I still use birth control because my husband and I feel convicted by God to adopt children. We believe there are more than enough children in the world that need a home, and we want to become parents through adoption rather than biologically. 


Kristen 

I use birth control because I don’t want to get pregnant. I’m 33 and have been married for six years, and I don’t want to have a child right now—neither does my husband. We use birth-control methods that allow us to carefully and responsibly plan our family. For now, that family is planned for two people, and we’re taking up both slots!

Heather R. Owens 

Heather

Heather

Just a couple of days ago, a friend of mine put on her Facebook page a disturbing status about how women who are on birth control are all sluts. Little did she know I use birth control because my uterus is misshapen, causing it to have pockets where blood gets caught.

This makes my periods ten times worse than most women's. Birth control allows me to go about my life without being interrupted by three to five days of being completely bedridden.

Dianna Anderson 

I am no longer on birth control for medical reasons (higher risk of clots in my family), but when I was on it, I used it because I didn't want to get pregnant while working full time, writing full time, and living as a single woman.

My insurance covered it (for a short time) with a $25 co-pay at Planned Parenthood.

Jenna 

I'm a virgin. On birth control.

As a 20-something single, I know I'm going against the norm, even as a Christian. Almost everyone my age has "done it" at least once. But I believe sex is best saved for marriage.  I just have seen too many friends hurt and too many lives fall apart to seriously consider sleeping around. Plus, I actually live a pretty great life as an independent single woman and have no desire or plans to change that anytime soon.

So what's with the birth control? Last October, as the sweltering Southern summer faded into a cool autumn breeze, I noticed my friends were getting out their jackets and scarves. I was still burning in my short sleeves. As everyone else shivered in the winter, I started having shaking episodes at least once a day while feeling like I was in an oven. I was suddenly extremely sensitive to sugar and got so lightheaded that once I almost passed out after eating a few M&Ms.

After months of lab tests and doctors and "here, try this medicine and see if it works," I still had no diagnosis. I mentioned to my endocrinologist that I had also become really emotional lately. My anxiety was higher than ever and I was occasionally depressed. I would get angry at nothing or overwhelmed with nondescript emotions taking over my mind and heart. He suggested we try putting me on the Pill for a few months.

I never got an official diagnosis of polycystic ovary syndrome or anything. We eventually gave up trying to find a label for whatever causes these symptoms after testing everything he could. But I can say without a doubt that my life is better because I'm on the Pill. 

The shaking episodes have stopped. The hot flashes (that never seemed to "flash" off) are greatly reduced. I'm no longer afraid of passing out in public. Best yet, I'm back to being in control of my emotions instead of drowning in them. I refused to believe the lie that these emotions were "just part of being a girl" or typical "female crazy" as stereotypes would have me believe. My boss, mentors and friends all remarked that this new moody irrationally paranoid girl wasn't the real me, the me they knew before last fall. 

Thanks to the Pill, I'm me again. I can live a normal life. Well, normal for me anyway. I'm still a happily single 20-something virgin. Who happens to rely on the Pill to be healthy.


Neely Stansell-Simpson

Neely

Neely

I recently saw an article that said birth control can be purchased for as little as $9, so health insurance coverage for contraception should be a nonissue. However, not all birth control is the same, and women use birth control for a variety of different reasons. 

When I was taking birth control to control ovarian cysts, I had to take a specific type, which was $60 out of pocket, $20 with insurance. $60 is a third of what I budget weekly for groceries. So I definitely want it covered by insurance, especially since I'd much rather take birth control for ovarian cysts than have an ovary removed or get a hysterectomy. 

After my daughter was born, I began using an IUD because I was breast feeding, and breast feeding mothers can't use hormonal forms of birth control. An IUD costs $1,000 without insurance. Luckily, my insurance plan at the time covered IUDs. So, I only paid $500. I'm just sayin':  this stuff is expensive, y'all! So is health insurance. You know what else is expensive? Babies.

Emmy Kegler

I had painful periods beginning almost immediately at menses at age 13.  They got progressively worse, to the point at which (at age 16) the maximum dose of over-the-counter pain medication still couldn't give me relief.  Two days a month, I was in immense pain, spending hours cramped up in the fetal position, curled around a hot pack, or soaking in a scalding bath -- trying to get some kind of relief.  

I was on Vioxx (rofecoxib) and Tylenol 3 (with codeine), maxing out the daily dosages.  I saw three specialists, all of whom were certain it was endometriosis, but after three separate exams, no evidence could be found.  The final doc sent me back to my GP, who wrote a prescription for oral birth control -- "the pill", as I knew it then.  After a few months, my periods were significantly reduced in pain; just an Advil could take care of the cramps and back pain for a whole day.  I was amazed.  I spent four years on the pill entirely to regulate that unmanageable pain, and I am so grateful for the doctors who made it possible.

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Also, be sure to check out Ellen Painter Dollar’s excellent piece, “How Having an (Insurance-Covered) IUD is Saving My Life,” where she writes: 

Because of my IUD, I hardly get periods anymore. This is convenient, but it’s far more than that. My periods were horrible, painful, long, irregularly constant (as in, I would sometimes bleed all but three or four days a month), copious, clotty, hideous things. I am deeply grateful for the reproductive goings-on behind even my horrible periods, because they allowed me to conceive and carry three children. I am also deeply grateful to no longer have my vision narrow to a pinpoint in the throes of menstrual cramps or bleed out of my vagina more days of the month than not. (Sorry to be graphic, but I want you to understand from what sort of captivity I’ve been freed.)

More important, because of my IUD, I carry no anxiety about an unwanted pregnancy. My desire not to have another baby is not just because we have three beautiful kids and that feels like enough, just right. I don’t want another baby because I’m convinced that carrying and giving birth to another baby would damage me, and secondarily our entire family, in deep, perhaps irreparable ways....read more.

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If you are using, or have used, contraception, please feel free to share your stories in the comment section.  If you haven’t, maybe consider just listening for a while. 

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Jesus Jukes and Why We Need To Know Where You Stand (by Ben Moberg)

A couple of weeks ago, I engaged in an interesting conversation on Twitter with my friend Ben Moberg and several others about Christian leaders who hold their cards close when it comes to their positions on same-sex relationships and LGBT people. It became clear that such a conversation was worthy of more than 120-characters, (as important conversations often are), so I invited Ben to share his thoughts here on the blog. 

Ben is a Christian gay man from Minnesota. After spending his life in the closet within a conservative evangelical culture, Ben, at last, came out and found love and freedom patiently waiting for him on the other side.  Ben is a brother to four siblings, the youngest son, the very best uncle, a world traveler, and a painfully slow writer. Between his part-time jobs, he is writing a memoir about finding God in the hardest of places. Be sure to check out Ben’s fantastic blog and his Facebook page. 

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Ben and his adorable nephew

Ben and his adorable nephew

A couple months ago, Jen Hatmaker did the impossible: She wrote that same-sex marriage is sinful and yet left me in layers of love. It was a startling and confusing moment for me. 

What I respect most about her article is that she didn’t brush the issue off. She didn’t shy away. She said: “To the degree it rests on my transparency as a leader, I bear responsibility for the conscience of others, and it is unfair to withhold.” Furthermore, she offered up a compassionate and grace-filled way forward for traditional marriage supporters and reminded them that many Christians disagree with their position, but they are no less godly, smart, or loving for doing so. And for all that, I so appreciate her. Even though I believe she is dead wrong. 

In the pack I run in, most of my friends are slightly right of center. And when it comes to the issue of same-sex marriage in the church, they are committed to ambiguity. It’s brought up in conversation and they look at me, warmth in their eyes, and say: “You are you. You are not an issue to me. To be honest, I just don’t care about the theology stuff. You’re my friend. That settles it.”

Because I know their intent is good and it certainly sounds sweet and affirming enough, I nod and let it go. Yes, I am happy that I have not been cut down to one characteristic, and yes, I am happy that I am your friend and that you love me no matter what. This is all good news for me.

But just underneath the surface, I rebuff a little. There’s a tic. Something doesn’t feel right, because from my vantage point, there is a world of difference between I don’t know and I don’t care. 

To not know is human. It’s where we all begin. There’s nothing shameful or wrong about not knowing where you stand on same-sex relationships. The Bible is a thorny book, chaotic with its thousands of translations. We have to gage cultural contexts, unearth a hermeneutic, parse through the Greek and Hebrew, deal with the anonymous books, the hyperbole, the question of what “God-breathed” actually means, the question of the Gospels’ authority over all the other texts, and the fact that each generation has interpreted Scripture from a different slant, passing the message down like a game of telephone. 

Unearthing the truth out of all that is an act of faith in and of itself. Those who’ve done the hard labor ought to be celebrated, no matter where they wind up.

On the one hand, to not care is to have no concern for your brother, your friend, who, depending upon your conclusions, could be stepping off into the abyss of sin, perhaps never to return. On the other, to not care is to be apathetic to the oppression of both the Church and the state on my life. To not care is to think both of these scenarios are unworthy of time spent in study, in prayer, in speaking to God. To not care, in a way, is to not love. 

Many Christian leaders that offer up the ambiguous "I Don’t Care" response follow with a suggestion that not caring about this is somehow the way of Jesus. They say they’re more focused on what Jesus did, which was “lovin’ on people” and making friends and all that. In these moments, my “Jesus Juke” detector spikes, as does my blood pressure.

You know the Jesus Juke, right?

Well, it’s quite handy actually. It’s a wormhole that can be opened and jumped through when one is faced with a contentious and complicated issue. The Juker says, for instance, that since Jesus didn’t talk about gays, I don’t need to either! He says that since Jesus talked mostly about poverty, justice for LGBTs is a big distraction, a nuisance, a we’ll-get-to-it-when-we-get-to-it sort of thing. Pushed to the end of his patience rope, the Jesus Juker will inevitably say something like this: Jesus is our unifier. His is our center, so please, for Pete’s sake, DROP IT!

But for me, I can’t. It’s my life and this is our friendship. You are my pastor, you are my teacher, you’re my favorite author, you’re a highly visible voice with influence. You are someone I want to trust. If you can’t trust me enough, love me enough, to be transparent over a rather large part of my journey, then how am I to still trust you? 

 All I am asking is that you stop sidestepping, that you stop saying, “I choose not reveal, because the culture war is so bad already [and so on and so forth]” when the truth is, you actually haven’t arrived at a conclusion.

If you do know, if you’re in a place of peace with your convictions, then as a leader, you have a responsibility to come out. You don’t get to withhold. That’s the burden of being a leader.  

If you don’t know yet, then say that. Don’t Jesus Juke. Don’t claim abstention. Grab a Bible and some commentaries, grow a hermeneutic, and then go figure out what your role in this conversation is going to be. 

Unless, that is, you actually don’t care. Then disregard this message altogether. Let us all know, so we can move on to someone who does. 

***

Thoughts? Do Christian leaders have an obligation to share their position on same-sex relationships? How do you respond to those who say that since Jesus didn’t address homosexuality, they won’t either?  Would love to get your feedback. Please be respectful. 

If you want to hear more from Ben (and trust me, you do), check out his blog. He also writes for Deeper Story. 

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