Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Getting Paid by a Church is Stupid

I talked with my spiritual director last week about some of my issues with getting a paycheck from a church, and I'm really unsettled about a lot of it, so I'm going to free write a bit and pop off some ideas that are bugging me. I haven't thought through any of this fully, so it's entirely possible I won't agree with anything here in the future. 

It's honestly probably unwise to write about any of this, as currently my family's one and only source of income is my church paycheck.

Whatever. I'mma do it anyway. Let's bite the hand that feeds.

I guess what's irritating me is twofold. 

First, our church does a lot of work with unhoused folks in our neighborhood, but while the St. Johns Village has been an incredible blessing to houseless people in our community, more and more unhoused folks remain on the street. Dozens are in our neighborhood right now. Our church could do a ton more to help, but our budget is pretty tight.

And $40,000 of that budget each year goes to me.

What if it didn't, though? $40,000 is a lot of money that could help a lot of people. It seems like it would help people living on the street waaaaaayyyy more than it helps me.

Second, I know the financial situation of many of our church members, and it's pretty bad. The idea that my paycheck comes on the back of people who are themselves struggling....it doesn't feel great. I think about the disciples sitting in the temple with Jesus, and Jesus telling them to beware of the teachers of the law, who pray lengthy prayers and "devour widows' homes." And then a widow shows up and gives all that she has to the temple. The disciples watch in action as a widow's home is devoured by the teachers of the law.

That's really crappy. I don't want our church to be like that. I don't want any church to be like that.

I was screaming about all of these things to my spiritual director, and I was like, "I'm going to find a different job. The church can use this money better." But almost immediately I realized, if I gave up my paycheck, the first thing the church would immediately do with that money is to raise everyone's salary.

Because that's how churches work. Extra money goes to salaries. Nearly every church in America would do it that way. That's what churches do.

It's annoying.

And like, I know that, were I to quit, a lot of church folks would be unsettled. After all, if I'm doing another job, I'm not able to do church stuff as much. I couldn't be there for some of our people in the way that they might need.

I totally get that. My therapist quit a few months ago and I'm still pissed at her for it. And I really, really don't want to do that to any of the people at SJC.

Still, given the choice between my consistent presence and the ability for houseless folks to survive a cold winter, the church should probably go with the latter.

Given the choice between my constant presence and the ability for some of our church members to be able to make their rent payments, the church should probably go with the latter.

It's weird and uncomfortable and awkward to talk about any of this, because I actually really love what I do. I'm grateful to get to do it. And I think I'm pretty good at it (maybe that's debatable). None of this is about me wanting to leave my role here.

Maybe this is just my own guilt about receiving a paycheck from a church. It probably is.

You know what, though? I don't want to ever work for a church and not have that guilt.

I don't know, dude. I don't know what I think about any of this. All I know is that I'm unsettled about being paid by a church; about the idea of Christian leaders receiving their main salaries from a church. I've been unsettled about it for years, and it's only gotten worse.

Maybe I'm the only one. I don't think I am.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

I Wrote a Book and Then Forgot to Talk About It On This Blog

Hey, so I wrote a book, told everyone I know about it, and then totally forgot to post about it on here.

It's called Scrappy Flock of Sheep, and it's the story of our tiny little north Portland church's attempt to help the homeless.

We were often really bad at it, but we tried.

It's also a deep dive into the dark, depressing mess that is my brain. So that's fun.

You can buy a physical copy at the following links, or download the epub or mobi (Kindle format) ebook files for free below.

No guarantee about quality when it comes to the ebook files. The words will all be there. The formatting...well....who knows.

Physical book:

Free downloads of epub, pdf, and mobi (Kindle) files:

I hope you read it. I hope it makes you a little bit uncomfortable at times.

I don't really know well how to advertise my own crap, so I'll just finish this with a short little story about our journey as a church. We started this housing project in early 2019, and at roughly the same time, another church in town began work on a much different (but equally important) project to combat homelessness in the city.

Their project got protested by angry neighbors a few months later. Ultimately the community pressure caused that project to shut down.

This book was an effort to encourage ministry leaders doing Jesusy work to keep going, so that angry neighbors will no longer shut down the work that God is doing.

I wrote the following near the end of the book, and it sort of sums up everything that I tried to get across:

Don’t stop. 

The work that you are doing is good. 

It is needed. 

It is indispensable.

In a world that contains both billionaires and the penniless, God’s justice is needed.

Your work is needed.

Don’t stop.

For the sake of the world, don’t stop.

For the sake of the houseless among you, don’t stop.

For the hard hearts in your community that need softening, don’t stop.

For the people among you who need to see that houseless people are not all “drug-addled parasites,” don’t stop.

For the people in your church and in your city who need to see that this type of work is possible, don’t stop.

For the sake of the other churches and community leaders who are quietly watching you to see if this work can be a success, don’t stop.

You can make it to the finish line. You might be bleeding and bruised, but the work can be completed.
It may take years, but it can be done.

It may bleed your church financially, but you can do it.

I was in a therapy appointment a few months into our project when I came to a realization: If we fail, God can still use it for good. Were our project to fail, the whole community would see it. The whole city would notice that our community shut down a little church who was trying to help the houseless, and likely that failure would spur others on to action.

Strangely, that idea kept me going.

Whether or not we were successful, God was going to use it. Therefore, we should keep going.

I’m glad we did.

I hope you keep going as well.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Terrible Parables

The 2020 pandemic has been awful.

Like, super awful.


It's also caused me to do some weird things, one of which is to try and write parables like Jesus told.

Mine suck, though.

Jesus' parables were great.

Mine are not.

I kept trying, and my parables kept getting weirder and less coherent.

Anyway, one thing led to another, and I compiled them all into a book.

I think I'm proud of it.

I might be ashamed.

Can you be both proud and ashamed of something?

Anyway, if you want a copy, you can get one here.

You can actually read the whole book on that page without ordering a copy.

You might as well do that. I don't care either way. I don't make any money off of the book.

I just wanted to make it.

And I did.

It's stupid.

It's really stupid.


Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Oriented to Faith - Ch. 3 & 4

At the church I attend, we often refer to one another as "brothers and sisters in Christ." We also use the term "Church Family" regularly. When I was growing up, I distinctly remember that the typical term used was "Church Body." I still hear the term "Church Body" used here and there, in our church and in others. However, there seems to be a growing use of the term "Church Family" lately. Maybe I'm imagining the greater frequency of this term, but I honestly don't remember its regular use in my childhood or adolescence.

I wonder if this is due to some of the family brokenness seen in the world today. 
I wonder if divorce, distant parents, and siblings who never interact has people looking elsewhere for family.
I wonder if the Church implicitly saw this desire and moved to meet the need for a familial bond, thus using the term "Church Family" with more frequency.

It's a good term for the Church to use.
But how much does the Church actually act as a family?

For many of us, especially in the Western world, people in churches are friendly toward one another, but certainly don't live as family with one another. Many of us simply check in with one another once a week. We don't know about the struggles and joys that our fellow church members experience during the week--the difficulty with the co-worker, the night terrors, the delicious meal on Friday evening, the drawing the child made on Tuesday, the afternoon spent cleaning out the basement, the depression, the illness, the wonderful silent walk together through the woods, the situation with the bully at school, and the trip to the grocery store. We might share some of these stories, but we haven't lived them with one another.

We aren't able to see into a person's soul in the way family is able to do so. If I'm depressed, my wife knows it. If my brother or sister is going through something difficult, I can tell.
The same is not necessarily true for two church attenders.

So what would it take for a church to function as a true church family

In these chapters, Tim Otto points out that the "biblical family" was not the same as our modern conception of a "family"--a house with two parents and a few kids. It included dozens of people in a small village together. This kind of family was necessarily, because many people were needed to grow food, raise livestock, and work together in the family business. Elderly parents needed care.

Today, though, we have cars. There are elderly care facilities. People can find their own jobs and buy their own food at a store that has it all laid out neatly for them. The practical need for a large family village is no more. The task for modern families, therefore, is reduced to the emotional bond. And if that emotional bond is lacking, things like divorce will follow. There's no longer a practical reason to stay together.

Otto lays out this issue with the modern family in order to make a point: true family requires practical self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice for the good of neighbor is something to which Jesus calls his people, and as the family of God, we need to act in self-sacrificial ways for the good of one another. This requires closeness over a long period of time, and it also requires doing acts of service for one another. As Otto says:
"Maybe loving as Jesus loved isn't in spectacular acts such as hanging on a cross, but in serving one another by washing the pile of dishes in the sink and cleaning the toilet. Yes, Jesus asks for radical self sacrifice, but he often expresses this in small things. Perhaps in the daily tasks of living with one another, bearing with one another over the long haul."

What if the Church was like this? What if church members knew one another well, because they were with one another through the highs and lows. What if church members did small acts of love for one another regularly--not merely when they were asked, but because they know themselves to be family?

Maybe that's what it means to be "brothers and sisters in Christ."

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Oriented to Faith - Ch. 1 & 2

I was invited to a book club that I am only sporadically (if at all) going to be able to attend. Still, there's a lot of wisdom in the pages of this book, so I'm going to write some thoughts on each week's reading on this blog.

That's the plan, anyway. I'm terrible at blogging with regularity, so we'll see what happens...

With all of that said, here are some thoughts and stories that came to mind after reading chapters 1 and 2 of Oriented to Faith by Tim Otto.

Tim Otto makes clear early in this book that he is not going to answer the question, "Is homosexuality sinful, or should the Church affirm gay relationships?" Rather, the underlying question of his book is "How is God working for the good?" What is God doing through the debates about LGBTQ in the church? How is God working in the lives of LGBTQ Christians? How is God working through the disagreements found throughout the Church today about gender and sexuality?

As Otto says: this question forces us to consider the perspectives of others, rather than simply focusing on whether or not our own perspective is correct.

In an effort to help us understand the perspectives of others, Otto shares his own experience of growing up gay and Christian; as well as he and his friends' experiences in ex-gay ministries. It's a raw and painful read, punctuated by this statement:
"I wish that somehow...I could have found myself in the arms of the church. I wish the church had communicated to me that it could be trusted with my deepest secret, with my sense of alienation, with my self-loathing. I wish in the church I had found myself loved."

wrote a post last month about my current perspective on LGBTQ. Much of my effort in that post was to detail my own change of heart and perspective on the issue. This change was partially due to the relationships that I've built with LGBTQ Christians and the stories they've shared with me over the years. So many of my friends' stories mirrored Otto's story. People were pushed out of ministry positions, or in some instances were pushed out of their church families altogether.

These stories affected me. They changed me.

I wonder what may have been different in the lives of some of my friends, were some of their churches to privilege the question "How is God working for the good?", rather than "What is our position on homosexuality?"

I wonder what may change in our churches today if we start asking the question "How is God working for the good?"

Honestly, I wonder if it's even possible for churches today to move away from such a primary focus on policy and position statements about LGBTQ.

My church's leadership has been seeking discernment on this issue for years. Currently I'm affirming of LGBTQ relationships, but the rest of the leadership isn't in the same place. I kind of love that we're okay with being in a different place. I love that the leadership at our church doesn't see this one issue as the single issue that will define our church.
And yet, I wonder how it's going to work. If it's going to work.
So many churches today desire complete consensus on this issue.

I get it. There's so much pressure to have consensus.

So can 21st century churches orient their ministries around the question "How is God working for the good" rather than working toward a quick policy position and calling it a day?

I honestly don't know. I hope so. But I don't know.

What I hope will happen in my church and in others is that people will begin to listen to and learn from one another.
I hope that some Christians who hold a traditional view of sexuality will listen to the faith and experience of LGBTQ Christians.
I hope that LGBTQ and affirming Christians will listen to the faith, belief, and the strong commitment to holiness held by more traditionalist Christians.
I hope all Christians will acknowledge the ways in which the Church has hurt people.
There's so much wisdom and growth that the Church desperately needs right now.
I think these conversations will help us all.

This is not an easy proposition. But I think it's possible. At least, I hope it's possible.

It's a lot more time-consuming to pursue faith and relationship over policy positions. It can be painful to enter into these kinds of conversations.

But these kind of honest, faithful relationships could potentially give Christians like Otto the kind of trust and love that he desired from the Church.

I think it's worth it.

Monday, April 8, 2019


A note about this behemoth of a blog post: these are my personal convictions on this issue that have come from years of prayerful study and conversations. My position is not shared by the rest of the leadership at my church. However, we've decided to continue having further conversations about this issue moving forward, and are comfortable with this disagreement as we do so. None of us see this issue as an essential of the Christian faith. The following walks through my personal journey and my current beliefs.


I have never wanted to write something less than what I've written below.


This is a conversation that normally contains very little nuance and very little grace. I hate entering into those kinds of conversations.

However, I'm a pastor, and this is a pastoral matter for members of my congregation. It's my pastoral responsibility to share the word of God with honesty and integrity to the best of my ability. Know that my journey to this point has included years of prayer and conversations, and hundreds of hours of Bible study and reading. For years I was back and forth on this issue. Some weeks I was certain that one interpretation of the relevant texts was correct, and other weeks I leaned toward the opposite understanding. However, over the past few years I have committed hours upon hours of prayer and effort to best understand God's thoughts on the matter. As I moved through days and weeks and months and years of work on this, I've only become more and more sure of the matter.

I think same-sex relationships that are monogamous, lifelong commitments can be holy before God.
I don't think God is opposed to people who are LGBTQ.

I've remained relatively quiet on the matter over the years because I wanted to be absolutely sure of where I stood. I have learned that this particular issue is more explosive than any other in the minds of many Christians. Christians make room for disagreement on a whole host of issues--from divorce, to war and violence, to heaven and hell, to wealth, to abortion, to environmentalism, to tithing, to the military. People make space for discussion on most divisive issues. However, when it comes what one believes about LGBTQ, there seems to be no space for discussion in the minds of many.

As a pastor, I knew that my own understanding and belief carried more weight than most. This issue had the possibility of dividing the church. I didn't want to add to this potential without being absolutely certain that this was where I landed.

I did some work on this topic many years ago, and found that the relevant texts around homosexuality did not talk about the kind of same-sex relationships that many people seek to pursue today. They did not talk about two people who are in love, committed to one another, and desire to share their entire lives together while putting the needs of one another above their own. All of the relevant texts were about relationships that involved power imbalances and extramarital affairs.

However, I was never entirely satisfied with these conclusions. The only sure conclusion that I could make regarding LGBTQ people is that the church has deeply wounded them over the years, and has led to many people leaving the church and feeling ostracized. I knew that the church needed to do better in its posture toward LGBTQ people, and I was committed to refrain from adding to the hateful rhetoric that has permeated so many churches in the past. I intended never to discuss homosexuality from the pulpit, understanding that most gay people already know how the church tends to feel about them.

However, as pastor of SJCC I am often approached by people who want to know "my position" on the matter. Maybe I was naïve before, but I didn't expect so much interest in this topic. Of the people that approach me about my "position," I've found that there seem to be two categories of people who look for my opinion on homosexuality. The first group are people who want me to draw a line in the sand so that they can know that their church and their pastor is "right" on these matters. This is culture-war talk, and I'm simply not interested in it. The second group, however, tend to be people with LGBTQ children, siblings, or friends who are concerned about what their pastor might say about their loved ones. Normally these questions are spoken through tears and quivering voices. As I heard more and more of these stories, I knew that I needed to do some more work. This issue affected people under my care.

I decided to begin seeking out LGBTQ Christians. I wanted to hear from them about their faith and church experiences.
How did they respond to hearing sermons preached about the sins of homosexuality?
For the past four years, I have sought out and cultivated friendships with LGBTQ Christians. I have listened to story after story of people who realized as a teen or young adult that they were gay, or lesbian, or transgender.
I realized quickly that I came into these relationships with a lot of preconceived ideas about why people are gay. I expected to hear stories of abuse or distant parents. There were of course some of these. If you talk with a bunch of people, some of them will have difficult pasts (this would be true for both gay and heterosexual people, of course).
However, I heard many more stories of people who had fantastic relationships with both parents, and never experienced any abuse or neglect in their lives. They simply hit the age of 13, and realized that they weren't attracted to people of the opposite sex.

Some of these conversations included tearful stories about being asked to leave their church.

Some people were told that they were abominations.

Someone told me that he was convinced for years that God hated him.

Some people were kicked out of their homes by their Christian parents.

I began reading and listening to story after story of people driven into depression and therapy because they were disowned by their Christian parents and their churches after coming out. I read stories of  LGBTQ teens and young adults who were driven to suicide because of their experiences with the church and family. There was so much pain and so much suffering.

I read articles about Exodus International, the premier ministry for reparative therapy, and how its founder admitted that "change in orientation was not possible or happening." I read stories of people whose lives were hurt or shattered because of ex-gay ministries like Exodus.

I don't think the church has done a good job owning their part of these suicides and these kids suffering from depression.

We have the blood of those who believed themselves to be hated by God and took their own lives on our hands.

We say things like "Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin" (a problematic phrase in itself) but make no actual effort to show Christlike love to LGBTQ people. So their view of Christianity becomes people holding up "God hates f---s" signs and screaming into megaphones. Their view of Christianity is a group of people saying "I love you, I just don't like your lifestyle"--even though their "lifestyle" is actually their orientation, something they can't change about themselves (a bunch of them have tried and tried).

I realized as I talked to more and more people that the Church needs to own its role in the depression and suicides of many of God's children.

When I studied the texts about homosexuality years ago, I did it solely to find "the right answer" about what God thinks regarding LGBTQ people. I never came to a completely satisfactory conclusion, other than "we should love people and stop focusing so heavily on this one issue" (still true, by the way). I was working completely on a theoretical basis.

But I had never before talked to a single LGBTQ person about their faith or their church upbringing.

However, now I was faced with a pastoral difficulty. People under my care were concerned about their loved ones, and new friends of mine had experienced devastation, depression, and suicidal thoughts because of leaders in their previous churches. This topic required a greater amount of study than I had previously given. It required more time.

If the Church's traditional view of homosexuality was right, then that's fine. But if we'd traditionally been wrong about homosexuality, I owed it to these families to find out. I owed it to these new friends to find out.

Thankfully, in the past few years, many more resources have been released about homosexuality and scripture; better ones than I had available in the past.

I read and read and read and read and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and talked and talked and talked and talked and listened and listened and listened and listened.

For years.

I read things from all across the board. Tons of Bible commentaries, books from the most non-affirming authors to the most affirming authors. People from conservative backgrounds and liberal backgrounds. I dug into the biblical background of these texts. I really wanted to get this right.

If it was even remotely possible that the traditional view of homosexuality was wrong, we needed to know.

And if it was right, fine. But still, I owed it to the families at my church to do the work.

Over the last four years, as I've done more and more work on the subject (mostly in private, because anytime I'd bring some of these things up with people, I was met with fierce debate), I realized that I was more and more confident that the biblical texts associated with homosexuality were absolutely not talking about people in monogamous, covenantal relationships.

There were always lingering questions that I had, but I was definitely leaning more and more toward the idea that God was probably not opposed to LGBTQ persons.

The tipping point came for me over the last couple of months. My daughter recently turned seven. It dawned on me that in around six years, there is a non-zero chance that she is going to come out to my wife and I. I imagined my reaction, were she to do that. I knew, based on my hundreds of hours of study and prayer, that I would be fine if she told us that she was gay.

I know that this may be upsetting to some members of my church, as well as other friends and colleagues of mine. I know that this is likely to spark some fierce debate. I've already seen friendships suffer because of these ideas. However, as a pastor, I've been tasked with presenting the Bible with conviction and integrity. My conviction and integrity is that the traditional understanding of LGBTQ people is wrong.

Know that I am convinced, convicted, and as certain as I can possibly be that I am correct on this issue. I do not take my responsibility to seek out and communicate God's truth lightly. I know that if I am wrong about this, I will stand before Jesus one day and will be held accountable for my mishandling of scripture and of my pastoral responsibilities. I have spent many sleepless nights considering the weight of these convictions.

Yet I cannot be silent any longer, because I am convinced that the arguments for affirming LGBTQ individuals are better than the arguments against. 
And there are people under my care who have suffered greatly for a long time because of the way the church has spoken about LGBTQ individuals.

At this point I'm going to walk through my current understanding of scripture, and allow you to see where I'm coming from.


To begin, I'll say that I get frustrated with the level of explosiveness associated with the homosexuality debate in Christian circles today. This is the single most heated debate in the church today, despite the fact that it is addressed in five (some would say more, I argue five below) verses out of around 31,000 in the Bible. I don't think a less than 1 in 6,000 ratio warrants the focus that many Christians seem to have on this one particular issue.

Don't get me wrong. It's important. I don't think it's as important as many Christians seem to think it is.

This is going to be a very brief overview of the texts often associated with same-sex behavior, and why I have not found them to be a convincing rebuke to covenantal, lifelong same-sex relationships. There are numerous superior resources out there. None of this work is my own. I'm drawing from many other sources. I would point to some of the books listed below as some good resources for further reading. (For the most in-depth resource, I would recommend Bible Gender Sexuality by James Brownson. It's a heavy read, but it's worth the effort.)

The bottom line in the following rundown of the texts used to condemn homosexuality is that I don't find any of the texts convincing in terms of condemning two men or two women who are committed to a lifelong covenantal relationship that puts the needs of the other above their own. The greater contextual meaning behind each of these texts points to something other than a covenantal marital relationship.

I've been told by some that my interpretations are akin to disregarding scripture or considering it not authoritative. I've heard that these interpretations are merely "following the whims of culture instead of reading the scripture as-is." I disagree. Scripture always needs to be interpreted and reinterpreted in light of new information and changes in society. People today often cite Bible verses about "the sword" when they debate gun use in the modern day. Guns weren't around in the first century. Can we  really use a text that refers to a weapon with a range of one foot to talk about a weapon that has a much longer range?

We have to reinterpret scripture constantly based on what we experience in the world.

Another example--"You shall not murder"--but what if someone breaks into my house and I kill him? Does "murder" refer solely to premeditated murder? I clearly meant to do it when I killed the guy who broke into my house, but I didn't plan it for weeks ahead of time. So did I break God's law or not?

I'll talk about divorce a little bit below, but here I'll simply say that no scripture allows for divorce and remarriage because of abuse. So what do we do when someone has been physically and emotionally abused in the past, but has moved on, fallen in love, and plans to commit themselves to a new partner for life?

Galileo was condemned for saying the earth revolves around the sun, when scripture says the earth "cannot be moved."

Slavery was long defended by people arguing that "scripture is clear."

Interracial marriage was long condemned by people arguing that "scripture is clear."

You get the point. We interpret scripture constantly. Things that change in our world force us to look anew at scripture and discern whether our previously held understandings were correct. That's what I'm trying to do below.

I'm in no way undermining the authority of scripture. I still maintain that scripture is authoritative for our lives today.

A word of warning: I'm going to attempt keep the frank talk about sexuality tasteful and to a minimum, but obviously I can't keep it out altogether. Honestly, how could I? We're digging into Bible texts about sexuality.

All of the following scripture breakdowns come from many sources. I'll have a list of recommended resources at the bottom of this post.

Sodom (Gen. 19):
The story of Sodom is not a story about homosexuality. It's a story about rape and assault.

The term "sodomy" is used by many to refer to gay sex. Thus it is assumed that the sin of Sodom must have been homosexuality. However, it only takes a cursory reading of the story of Sodom to understand that one cannot make a 1 to 1 comparison between this story and two people who love each other and want to live a committed, covenantal existence with one another for life. The story of Sodom is a story about an attempted gang rape (there is a very similar story in Judges 19 as well). God plans to destroy the city of Sodom in Genesis 18 (which interestingly occurs before the story at hand), and when Abraham pleads for leniency, God sends two angels to the city who look like men. All of the city, young and old, demand that the two men be given to the mob so they can "know" them. The story is a horrifying account of attempted sexual assault.

Were the angels in the form of women, no person on earth would say, "Clearly this story is about the evils of heterosexuality." We recognize the difference between rape and consensual sex.

In addition, no other reference to Sodom in the Bible refers specifically to homosexuality. Ezekiel says that the sin of Sodom is that it was "arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy" (Ezek. 16:49). "Sexual immorality" in Sodom is sometimes mentioned in scripture, but not same-sex behavior.

The story simply does not refer to the types of loving, committed relationships we see in our world today. It is a story about attempted rape and assault--things that all Christians should still find abhorrent.

Levitical law is difficult to parse, because there are clearly some laws in Leviticus that are cultural and are not binding for all time. This can cause problems for those questioning whether Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 are eternally binding or were cultural laws for the people of the time. One argument for the eternal validity of these verses is the word "abomination." If homosexuality is said to be an "abomination," then that must hold true for all time. However, other modern common practices are called "abominations" throughout scripture (lending money and charging interest--Ezek. 18:13; eating pork or shellfish--Deut. 14).

Another argument advocating that these laws still apply today is that their punishment is death. However, charging interest on a loan (again, Ezek. 18:13) and working on the Sabbath (Ex. 35:2) carry the same punishment. Many Christians today have taken out bank loans, and would not consider the bank teller worthy of death. Most Christians have worked seven-day weeks at some point in their lives. Do they consider themselves to be worthy of death? No. We've contextualized these verses based on how our culture works today, and have deemed them not to be binding for all people for all time.

The fact that sexual laws in Leviticus are still seen as valid by many is also used as an argument for continuing to honor these laws. But Lev. 18:19 prohibits sex during menstruation, which is normally not prohibited by Christians today.

Societies in the ancient near east, including ancient Israel, were patriarchal. In these societies, men being treated like women would have been degrading. Male same-sex intercourse was seen as degrading in these cultures because one partner has to take the passive, feminine role. James Brownson points out that in the Leviticus texts, "the wording itself suggests that treating a man as if he were a woman is the core problem" (Bible Gender Sexuality, 83).

In context, these texts appear to point to something different than the kind of loving, committed relationships that gay and lesbian people seek out today. The prohibitions in these texts appear to speak against dominance and shame in sexuality. In a culture that devalued women, dominating another man as if he were a woman shamed that man.

In context, the cultural prohibition is against using sex as dominance.

A prohibition against using sexuality for dominance and shame is one that I fully endorse. A view of women as inferior to men is one that I fully reject. I cannot view these laws and endorse their validity for all time if they were written to a world that viewed women as inferior to men, and saw homosexual intercourse as problematic because it put a man into a feminine role.

When viewing New Testament texts on homosexuality, it needs to be noted that the overwhelmingly dominant forms of same-sex acts of the Greco-Roman period were exploitative and dominating. As Matthew Vines points out, "There are no ancient examples of lifelong monogamous same-sex relationships between equals." Even the most loving examples of same-sex relationships involve hierarchies and power differentials. Pederasty (adult mentors sleeping with minors they are mentoring), temple prostitution, and master/slave sex were some of the most predominant kinds of same-sex acts--all of which Christians today would find deplorable (and, you know, criminal).

There was also an assumption in the Greco-Roman world that homosexual acts were committed by those who gave in to their unrestrained lust. Same-sex acts were seen as excessive, and committed by those who abandoned heterosexual lust and gave in to excess.

Much like those who first use alcohol in moderation, then drink more and more heavily, and finally step up into harder and harder drug use, same-sex acts were a move into excess. Pederasty, prostitution, and master/slave sex were the forms of homosexuality on display in the first century. It was promiscuity and excess.

This kind of thinking is seen in the Romans 1:26-27 passage, which refers to men "abandoning natural relations." Because there was an assumption in Paul's world that heterosexual relations were satisfactory and homosexual relations were "excess," Paul is addressing those who have given in to excessive lust.

Paul didn't have in mind two men or two women who loved one another and wanted to commit themselves to each other in a covenant for life, because these kinds of relationships did not exist in his world. The modern understanding of sexual orientation was entirely foreign to the world in which Paul was writing. Today, most of us know people who are gay. We know people who are not attracted to the opposite sex, but the same sex. These people are not in search of someone to spend their lives with because they suffer from perverse excessive lust. They want love. They want romance. They want commitment. They want to walk through life together. They want to put the needs of the other above their own needs. Paul in this passage does not condemn these kinds of relationships, because they didn't exist in his time. He condemns the excessive lust that searches beyond self-sacrificial committed unions to other avenues.

In context, this passage does not appear to condemn the types of unions that we know today. I absolutely affirm Paul's condemnation of excessive lust. I condemn those who search beyond their own marital bed and seek out fulfillment with an affair. I condemn those who use their positions of power to have their sexual needs fulfilled from a subordinate.

A move from monogamy, commitment, and covenant into excessive lust is not what I believe God has in mind for our sexuality.

Context matters when looking at biblical passages, and the context of this passage does not appear to condemn the type of relationships that many gay and lesbian Christians seek.

1 Corinthians/1 Timothy:
It's again imperative that we remember that there are no instances of gay or lesbian couples who were monogamous and seen as equals in the first century. Pederasty, prostitution, and master/slave sex were the dominant forms of sexuality between two people of the same sex. These were all exploitative and/or had power differentials at their core. So when we see a word translated "homosexuality" in a vice list, we need to ask ourselves 1. how is it translated?, and 2. what does it mean? As Ken Wilson says, "the mere listing of adultery in a vice list doesn't help us understand whether remarriage after divorce or lusting after a woman constitutes adultery. For that we need more than a vice list and Scripture provides it, offering many specific examples of adultery. These relevant examples are missing with respect to same-sex relationships" (Letter to my Congregation, 73).
The word often translated "effeminate" in 1 Cor. 6:9 and (only the word "homosexual" in) 1 Tim. 1:10 is the greek words malakoi. Malakoi has been translated "effeminate" often, but technically means "soft." It's a difficult word of which to parse an exact meaning. It can refer to a passive partner in a same-sex act. It can also be an attack on a man's masculinity. It's also been translated "weakling," "wanton," "debauchers," and "male prostitutes." The exact meaning behind the word literally translated "soft" is difficult.

The word translated "homosexual" in 1 Timothy 1:10 and 1 Corinthians 6:9 is the Greek word arsenokoitai. Arsenokoitai has a lot of possible meanings. It has been posited by some to refer to the active partner in a same-sex act. This is possible. But a few uses of arsenokoites outside of scripture refer to economic exploitation and power abuse. It's a difficult word to understand, especially because it's a word that Paul seemingly made up.

Whatever the translation, we need to remember that it likely does refer to exploitation, because the kinds of same-sex acts that happened when Paul was writing were exploitative things like pederasty, prostitution, and master/slave. So when talking about sexuality, it would be exploitative forms of sexuality.

Again, the kinds of same-sex acts in the first century are not what is found in a modern committed, life-long union--because these kinds of same-sex unions didn't exist when Paul was writing.

I would call exploitative forms of sexuality, as well as pederasty, master/slave sex (well, slavery altogether), and prostitution/idolatry to be sinful today. I consider extramarital sex to be sinful.

These were the kinds of same-sex unions that were present in the first century. I still find them sinful today, whether they're committed homosexually or heterosexually.

The Bible is still authoritative. Scripture holds up. But context when reading scripture is extremely important. I don't see the Bible, in context, speaking against the kinds of lifelong, committed, covenantal, same-sex unions that LGBTQ Christians seek today.

When the Bible talks about marriage, it only describes heterosexual unions. This is true. However, we need to remember again that monogamous same-sex relationships didn't exist when the Bible was written. James Brownson points out that when Genesis 2 talks about two people becoming "one flesh," and when Adam says that Eve is "bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh," that scripture is talking about a kinship bond. Other times that "bone" and "flesh" is used in the same way are not in reference to male and female (Judges 9:2, 2 Samuel 5:1, 2 Samuel 19:12). These other passages are referring to kinship. There's no sexual difference in these passages. It's about kinship, not sexual coupling. Marriage is presented as the ultimate kinship bond.

When Jesus talks about marriage in Matthew 19, he references Genesis 2. He is talking about the ultimate kinship bond that is marriage. He speaks prohibitions about divorce in that passage, and says that the breaking of the bond of marriage is tantamount to adultery, because it's the breaking of this kinship bond that God has brought together.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians, "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, 'The two will become one flesh'" (1 Cor 6:15-16). Again, Paul is speaking against the breaking of the kinship bond of marriage. He's saying that uniting sexually with your body needs to be coupled with a uniting of lives.

I don't see marriage between two men or two women as negating this kind of kinship bond.

If the argument is that men and women need to be different in order for a marriage to work, I don't see that as being the case. First off, Galatians 3:28 claims that male and female are no more, because all are one in Christ Jesus. Furthermore, the covenant of marriage is said biblically to be a committed bond, an intimate bond, and a bond of self-sacrifice. I believe that couples of the same sex who are absolutely, honestly committed for life, committed to intimacy, and committed to joyfully put the needs of the other over the needs of their own can live out this marriage covenant.

(I should state again that none of these points are my own. I have a list of resources for further reading at the end)


At this point I'd like to point out a bit of hypocrisy that I've seen from many modern Christians.

I've officiated weddings that were attended and supported by people who are extremely opposed to homosexuality. These particular marriages were second marriages. The first marriages from these folks sometimes ended because of physical and emotional abuse. Sometimes they were due to addictions by one party, and that party was unwilling to find help.

Before performing these weddings, I got to know the couple and would listen to the stories of their previous marriages. I also would hear about their faith journeys, and we talked about the covenantal nature of marriage--the commitment and fidelity that was required in a biblical marriage.

I happily performed these weddings. The thing is, however, I didn't have a biblical basis to do so. Divorce because of addiction, physical abuse, or emotional abuse, isn't something that's endorsed in the Bible. Adultery is the only valid reason for breaking a marriage according to scripture.

However, I've read enough about abusers and the nature of abuse to know that I would never suggest someone get back together with an abusive spouse. Not without years of rehabilitation and therapy, at least. I also wouldn't push someone back with an addict who has no plans to give up their drug use. Could God heal a relationship with one party who is a former abuser or addict? Of course. But I would never force that on a person, because abusers and addicts rarely change, and there is a genuine danger and concern there.

I officiated, endorsed, and celebrated the second marriages of these folks, as did some other Christians who attended the weddings--Christians who are vehemently opposed to same-sex marriage.

My point here is twofold. First, many Christians seem to have a double standard when it comes to the Bible. These Christians may say that divorce and remarriage due to addiction or abuse is acceptable (even though that's not given as an acceptable reason by the Bible), but they say that same-sex marriage is not acceptable. I'd invite my Christian brothers and sisters to prayerfully consider this double standard.

Second, if we can consider remarriage in certain circumstances to be God-honoring, can we at least give thought to the possibility that same-sex marriage in certain circumstances could potentially be God-honoring? One of the most common arguments I hear from people who are against gay marriage is "You can repent from individual sins, but remaining married to a person of the same sex is a lifelong unrepentant sin." However, this same argument (I would argue a much stronger biblical argument) can be made for those who have been divorced and remarried. Yet many of us allow ourselves to consider context and a person's experience when considering whether divorce/remarriage is acceptable, but we won't grant the same grace to the thousands of committed Christ-followers who find themselves attracted not to people of the opposite sex, but their own.


I wish I would have come to this understanding sooner. I wish I would have been as confident in my belief that same-sex marriages can be holy before God years ago. It has taken me a long time to fully get to this place, but I'm convinced that my early beliefs about homosexuality were wrong. I am convinced that scripture is not opposed to LGBTQ people.

It has taken me years to get to this point, and I don't expect that my words will change anybody's mind immediately. I imagine that these words will cause some difficulties in many of my relationships. However, I've been tasked by God to study and present his Word carefully and thoroughly. While my change of heart and mind may be costly, I cannot betray my convictions.

Moreover, I have a duty to my LGBTQ friends who have experienced so much pain from the Christian community. To those of you who have been hurt by people like me in the past, know that you are loved, and you have a place in the church today.

These words are not meant to shame Christians. However, it is important that we admit our part in the pain of so many people. It is important that we admit our hypocrisies wherever they are found. It is important that we admit when we've pulled specks out of the eyes of others while ignoring the logs in our own.

With that said, here's a list of things I'd like to see from the church, especially the conservative Christian church today

There are a few things that I have noticed from some Christians that I think are harmful and should really stop immediately. Even if you believe that homosexuality is a sin, and even if that belief is never going to change, here are some changes I'd like to see.

First, when the topic of homosexuality comes up, I've heard Christians say (an astonishing amount of times) one of the following three things:
"It's no different from any other sin, like pedophilia."
"It's no different from any other sin, like beastiality."
"It's no different from any other sin, like murder."
Let's move beyond the fact that comparing gay and lesbian people to pedophiles or people who have sex with animals is super offensive (and it is offensive), and instead point to the fact that Christians almost never compare their own shortcomings with murder. Or pedophilia. Or beastiality. I've never once heard a Christian who admits to having told a lie, and said "Well, I messed up. But it's just like any other sin, like murder." Internally, they might believe that no sin is worse than another, but the comparisons they make in conversation present an implicit hierarchy of sinfulness.
That's how it's communicated, anyway.

Second, jokes have a cost. If you make a joke in a room of people about which bathroom to use, or a joke at the expense of gay and lesbian people, it's probably going to hurt someone in that room. In a room full of people, there is likely an LGBTQ person present. There is also very likely someone with an LGBTQ family member in the room. Christians have made jokes like this for many decades.

I used to make them. All the time.

LGBTQ people have been pushed away from the church for a long time. Jokes like this just add to people being pushed away. Marginalized. Driven to depression. Driven away from the church. And if you consider yourself to be a follower of Jesus, driving people away from the church is probably the last thing you want to do.
Even if you think the joke is funny, it doesn't need to be told.
In fact, it needs to not be told.

Finally, meet with LGBTQ Christians. Get to know people of faith who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer. Take them to lunch. Continue to take them to lunch. Talk with them. Listen to them. Talk with them, not about them. Hear about their faith. Hear their stories. Your ideas about LGBTQ people might change like mine did. Or they might not. However, you'll definitely hear the pain that the church has caused them in the past. Your compassion for them will grow. And you'll learn how to be more loving and more Christlike toward a group of people that you may not have given much attention to in the past.

Showing love to someone begins by knowing that person.

Get to know some LGBTQ Christians.

I know how some people are going to feel about me going forward, knowing where I come from regarding LGBTQ people. I read the Nashville Statement. I know that in the eyes of some, my beliefs about LGBTQ people preclude me from being a Christian. I strongly disagree with that assessment (I very much agree with Ken Wilson, who calls this a disputable matter in line with what we see in Romans 14), but I can't stop people from believing what they will. However, I've made a commitment with my life to follow Jesus with every fiber of my being, and to be as honest in my interpreting of scripture as possible. I continue to do both of these things. I believe that I've done so here, and I'll continue to do so in the future.

Regardless of where you ultimately land on this or any other issue, may we constantly remember to be people who show the love that Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 13.
A love that is patient and kind.
A love that is not envious, boastful, or proud.
A love that is not selfish, angry, or score-keeping.
A love of protection, trust, hope, and perseverance.

May we show this kind of love to the LGBTQ community.
May we show it to one another.

Further Resources:
  • Absolutely, positively, without question, the first resource I would point anybody to is Letter to my Congregation by Ken Wilson. It's an incredible work of pastoral care and biblical study. I couldn't recommend it more. One of my favorite books of all time.
  • As mentioned above, Bible Gender Sexuality from James Brownson is an excellent examination of the biblical arguments surrounding homosexuality. It's a dense read, but a great one. Read it slowly. If you want to hear his thoughts in video form, he did a four part series that's on YouTube. 1234
  • Torn by Justin Lee wrecked me. He talks about his realization as a teenager that he was gay, despite having a loving, non-abusive upbringing and being such a committed Christian that he was nicknamed "God Boy." He discusses his experience with ex-gay ministries, and his efforts to truthfully and honestly interpret scripture and live accordingly.
  • Matthew Vines' God and the Gay Christian is a solid resource. His foundation also put out a sort of CliffsNotes version of his work called How to Talk About the Bible and LGBT Inclusion, which is an easy read and a nice resource to have on your shelf.
  • Changing Our Mind by David Gushee is fantastic.
  • I've read a number of non-affirming writers, and most of them are steeped in culture-war rhetoric, which I find unhelpful. Preston Sprinkle's book People to be Loved is different. Obviously I come to some different conclusions than he does, but his research and exegesis is solid. Much more importantly, he really drives home the point that Christians are called to a radical one-sided love, no matter what they believe regarding homosexuality. He also calls out hypocrisies that Christians have exhibited historically. I've read the book three times. It's great.
  • There aren't a lot of solid resources about transgender Christians (I've read many terrible ones), but Transforming by Austin Hartke is quite good.
  • There is also some good material in Understanding Gender Dysphoria by Mark Yarhouse. He's not affirming, but is sympathetic to the struggles and difficulties of people who are transgender. Like Bible Gender Sexuality, however, this is a dense read.
  • I liked Us Versus Us from Andrew Marin a lot. It's a sociological study of LGBTQ individuals and their history with faith. Chapter three in particular will really shift your perspective.
  • A narrative resource that I loved was Does Jesus Really Love Me? by Jeff Chu.
  • These four videos from Justin Lee: Parents: What to Do When Your Child Comes OutHomosexuality, the Bible, and NuanceCan you be Gay and Christian?, and Who's Right About Sodom?
  • This conversation at a church in Florida shortly after the Pulse nightclub shooting, where people genuinely wrestle through these issues with a whole lot of grace: Elevating the Dialogue on LGBTQ Inclusion
  • These stories from Vicky Beeching and Julie Rodgers.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Making a Game About Depression that isn't Depressing

There was a long period of time last year that I had no desire to do anything at all.
Each day I would wake up and go to work, and I'd come home late in the afternoon.
I might play a short board game with the kids and help put them to bed.
And then I'd do nothing. I might watch a bunch of movie reviews on YouTube. Some days I just sat on the couch and stared off into space for hours.

My wife would ask if I wanted to watch a movie and I'd decline. 
She would ask if I wanted to play a game. Nah.
I just wanted to sit on the couch or lie on the bed and do nothing.
I didn't want to see or talk to anybody. Not my family, not my friends. Nobody.

I was declining social gatherings. I decided not to go to events that had been on the calendar for months--events I'd been excited to attend.
Friends called me wanting to hang out. I turned them down.

This became my basic routine for weeks. Months.

I also felt less and less like I was in control of my life. It's terribly hard to explain, but it felt like my body was acting, (showering, getting dressed, going to work), but my mind had little agency in how I was living my life.
Many mornings I'd look in the mirror, and I felt like I was looking at a completely different person.

None of it made any sense.
My wife and I weren't having any big marital issues.
I wasn't terribly overworked; no more than usual, anyway.
It didn't feel like burnout.
Nothing too tragic or overwhelming had happened in my life.

I told my therapist about all of this. She responded simply,
"Sometimes depression keeps you from living your life like you'd like. But that's okay. It's normal. And it can get better."

"Wait, back up. Depression? You said I had anxiety. That's what we've been working on this whole time."

"Well, they often go together. People might have one, and the other joins in."

So anxiety and depression are having a house party in my brain.
That's fun.


Last year I spoke with Marc Davis from The Thoughtful Gamer about a small solitaire card game that I designed to help work through my anxiety (you can read about that game here). We talked about gaming, mental health, and faith. During the conversation, I joked that he and I should make a follow-up card game called Depression, and turn this into a whole series of mental health card games. 
That joke became less of a joke. We actually had a couple of emails back and forth about what a Depression card game might look like. However, 2 people with busy schedules trying to design a game on opposite sides of the country turned out to be difficult. Go figure.

Still, I thought there might be something there. So for a while, I kept working on it.

I fiddled with different ideas for about six months. The game went through dozens of iterations. At times it was a deckbuilder. For a while, it was a blatant rip-off of Splendor. Then it became a simple numbers game that really didn't fit the theme at all.

Eventually I got frustrated and punished the game by putting it in Time Out for a while.

These are just some of the cards and ideas that didn't work. There are so many more.

Shortly after the conversation with my therapist, however, I pulled the game back out. With Anxiety, I wanted to make a game that caused the player to feel the way that anxiety made me feel.

I wanted to do the same thing here. I wanted a Depression game to feel like depression.

The idea of fighting against a lack of motivation remained the goal of the game. I realized that there were basically three tiers of things I wanted to accomplish on a given day. There was personal care, work responsibilities, and social/family responsibilities. Most days, I was able to handle the personal care stuff. It was the rare day where I didn't want to shower or eat anything and stayed in my pajamas all day (although those days did exist).

Discard abilities help you finish Goals without burning through the deck and losing the game

Work responsibilities were more difficult. Planning and leading meetings, writing sermons and lessons, and all of the other responsibilities I had as a pastor became more and more taxing. Some mornings I would have ambition and drive, and other days I had no desire to talk with anybody or to accomplish anything.

(As I type this, it sounds like I'm describing laziness. It's not laziness. I know laziness. This was different.)

As I mentioned before, the biggest difficulty was following through on my responsibilities as a friend, a husband, and a dad. At my worst, I didn't wanted to see or talk with anybody, including my family.

I realized that this should be the direction that I take this game. The player would progress through a short period of time (a day or a few days) of someone experiencing depression. The goal would be to try to accomplish personal, work, and social tasks while simultaneously fighting the depression that tries to keep a person down.

The goal of the game is to complete six Goal cards of increasing difficulty--one personal task, two work tasks, and three social/family tasks. As you complete Goals, you get some help for completing future Goals. However, whenever you draw a Depression card, they immediately cover up previous Goal cards, and you have to discard cards from your hand to remove them.

Depression cards impede your progress

But sometimes, you'll clear a Depression card, only to draw three more.

Because that's how depression is some days.

Sometimes you accomplish a little, only to fall apart again.

Sometimes you get everything done that you set out to do.

Some days you're so low, you spend the whole day in your pajamas.

As I said about the Anxiety game, I really only made it for myself, to help me work through some of my mental health problems.

But if you want to give it a whirl, you can buy a copy here.

And if you want to see how to play, here's a video. The cards in the video are prototypes, and some art has changed, but the game play is the basically same as in the final copy.