I don’t know when life begins. But I know it begins…

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Chances are, you’ve at least heard about the video that everybody is talking about online (maybe you’ve seen it), the one about Planned Parenthood, abortions, and the “selling” of fetal body parts.

I rarely discuss the topic of abortion online.

Personally, I don’t like abortion—but does anybody really like it?—I don’t think so.

But I’m slow to speak up about this topic because…

1) I’m a guy. And I think it’s very easy for a man to rage against abortion.

2) I know that abortion, regardless of which side you’re on, is a deeply personal issue to many people and I desire to respect that…

And 3) despite being an advocate for life—life before birth and life after birth—if my wife and I were put in a situation in which the life of our baby put the life of my wife in danger, if I’m honest, I would want us to have the ability to make a choice. I’d want options. And I wouldn’t want to have to jump through any state regulations or church hoops in order to have those options, either. If somebody I know and loved was raped and became pregnant, I’d want her to have the power to make a choice, whatever choice that might be.

Moreover 4) despite believing that God creates life, I do not believe that my religious understandings should control other people’s choices.

But having said all of that, I watched that undercover video about Planned Parenthood and I was grieved by its content.

Yes, I know it was made by a right wing group that looks for every opportunity to bring down Planned Parenthood and paint them as devils.

And yes, I do think that video was misleading in how it was edited. It felt choppy from the beginning. It was clearly made by people with an agenda.

And no, I do not think Planned Parenthood is actually selling fetal organs. However, I do think that the health care organization’s practices should be thoroughly investigated.

But despite the right wing spin, that video is still quite telling. The casual manner in which Deborah Nucatola, a Planned Parenthood director of medical research, talked about her processes for extracting a late term fetus was disturbing and seemingly callous.

Now, I’m well aware that Planned Parenthood performs numerous procedures that have nothing to do with abortion, and often these practices are provided to low income families. So I’m certainly not going to pan an entire organization based on Nucatola’s uncaring demeanor. But my heart ached when I listened to Nucatola describe in gross detail her careful process for aborting a fetus without harming its organs.

In fact, I haven’t been able to get her words out of my head.

Which is why I decided to say something about how her words made me feel. Yes, I’m progressive. Yes, I’m not as hardcore on this issue as evangelicals. But I care about life, all life.

While I know that many Christians seem certain beyond all reason that life begins at conception, I’m frankly unsure when life begins. Maybe life does begin at conception. Or maybe it’s a few days or weeks later.

But at some point it does begin.

And certainly, by all accounts, Nucatola’s words were describing a life.

Maybe dehumanizing the procedure is the only way she’s able to perform it. Or perhaps, like many doctors and medical professionals, she’s fallen prey to all of those years spent discussing health care using only medical terms. Whatever the reason, the blunt manner in which she talked about what to “crush” and what to preserve felt terrible, a verbal scene that broke my heart.

It still breaks my heart.

I waited until now to speak up because I do not trust most right wing pro life groups. I think they’re dishonest. I think the makers of the video in question were being dishonest in how they sold their narrative. That video wasn’t ever really about “selling organs”—that was just a headline they used to get people to hear how heartless Nucatola sounded as she described her methods.

I think many pro life groups’s tactics, memes, and political strategies are terrible—often dehumanizing and mean spirited. Furthermore, I believe if they were half as concerned with life after birth as they are with life before birth, we might actually reduce the number of abortions that happen in this country, which I think all of us can agree would be a very good thing. It’s very easy to be ultra pro life when that life is unborn. All it requires is a strong point of view and a sign. Being pro life after birth is much harder and actually requires more skill than the ability to be obnoxious.

And that’s why I waited to speak up. Because almost every organization and influencer that talked about it on Tuesday did so not as ambassadors for life but rather as @ssholes with an agenda.

However, I’m not going to let the right-to-lifers’ tendencies to be terrible keep me from speaking up for all of those little baby boys and girls who Nucatola referred to as “livers.” Or “hearts.” Or “lungs.”

Sometimes both sides get so hung up on the what—whether it’s the fight against abortion or the fight for the right to choose—we far too often forget the who involved, a mother, an unborn child, a family who may or may not know their loved one is pregnant, and even a medical professional like Nucatola who seemingly has grown numb to what the procedure entails…

We like to add our own stories to all the whos involved. And in most cases, we really don’t know the stories. We too often don’t care about the stories. We simply hate abortion. Or we simply support abortion.

But at some point amid pregnancy, life does begin. Maybe that’s at the beginning. Maybe it happens later during the gestation period. I don’t know. If we’re honest, none of us know. We might believe we know. But we don’t know for sure.

However, at some point, abortion becomes a procedure that takes life away. And if nothing else, that video about Planned Parenthood reminds us of that. And we need reminding of that. All of us. Women. Men. Conservatives. Progressives. Believers in God. Non believers. All of us need to remember that…

I know I’m a guy.

I know I’m talking about an issue that is deeply personal and I respect that.

And I know this issue is layered and involves a multitude of stories, most of which I’ve never heard.

But at some point, abortion is an issue that involves a person who has no voice. She’s not a liver. Or a heart. Or a pair of lungs. She’s a life.

I must speak up for her. 

Get ‘God Made Light’ for only $10! Why? Because a publisher finally said yes!

Last October, when I self published God Made Light, I told you that the reason Jessica and I released the book ourselves was 1) because we believed in it and 2) because 11 publishers said no.

In January, a couple weeks after Ezra was born, I started writing children’s book number 2. For 9 weeks, I worked on the new book’s prose and then spent 3 more weeks fine tuning the rhyme and meter.

And I’m happy to report that just a couple of weeks ago, I was formally offered a 2-book deal by one of my favorite publishers! In addition to releasing the new book, they’ll also be re-releasing God Made Light. And I can’t even explain how excited I am.

But one of the drawbacks to signing this book deal is that this first edition of God Made Light will soon be out of stock and unavailable for quite some time. I’ll be working with a new illustrator for both books, so when God Made Light is released in 2017, it will look very different.

Which means… there are only a few copies of God Made Light (THE ORIGINAL) left!

And all the copies left are now on sale for only $10. And yep, if you’re a Prime member, you still get free shipping.

Click here to go buy a copy!

 

Let there be light!
That’s what God said.
And light began shining and then started to spread.

In flickers and flashes,
In spills and in splashes,
Shine began shining across nothing but blackness.

Light glared and glimmered.
It flared and sparked.
And wherever light shined,
Dark stopped being dark…

The Part (still) Unknown: my review of Anthony Bourdain’s ‘Close to the Bone’ live show

Dinner wtih Anthony BourdainJessica and I went to see Anthony Bourdain last night at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC). Though my wife is familiar with Bourdain’s show on CNN, the tickets to his Close to the Bone show were a Father’s Day gift for me. As an avid traveler, I find Bourdain’s Parts Unknown to be a richly honest and interesting commentary on the world’s people, places, and cultures. As a chef and sincere lover of food, Bourdain’s brilliance is in how he utilizes his gourmet passions to showcase the stories of those he meets in countries all over the world. In Parts Unknown, Bourdain’s raw and authentic presence is masterful in many ways, and rare, too. Bourdain entertains. Bourdain is unafraid to be educated on screen. And at times, Bourdain drops his cool and comfortable persona and gives us a glimpse of a vulnerable human who is sometimes uncomfortable in his surroundings. No other show offers such an honest picture of the world around us, showcasing how we are unique and how we are the same.

I didn’t know what to expect from an Anthony Bourdain live show. I only know his work on television. I haven’t read his books. And I only knew a few small anecdotes about his personal life. Would the stories and rants we experience in the theater be similar to what we encounter on Parts Unknown? Or would we be introduced to a more extreme version of Bourdain’s television persona? I couldn’t wait to find out…

Upon introduction, Bourdain walked casually out on stage to the cheers of an adoring fan base that consisted of college students, hipsters, culinary professionals, travel geeks, and a number of folks who looked like the kind of people who listened to NPR and almost voted for Ralph Nader a time or two.

Bourdain began by telling us how nervous he was. Which I think was true. Nashville was not only the first stop on his 10-city tour, but his first live gig in years. He told us he hadn’t been sleeping, which he said was a symptom of a medication he was taking. The meds were also giving him terrible dreams. 

And then he told us about last night’s dream, a nightmare in which Bourdain was being held captive in a foreign prison and sharing a cell with Guy Fieri, the celebrity chef who hosts like 12 shows on the Food Network. In his dream, Guy had Bourdain pinned down and was pouncing him on his back and head. And then Bourdain told us he suddenly felt creamy white stuff all over his back and head. “I think it was ranch,” quipped Bourdain, “f*ck, I hope it was ranch.”

That’s how Bourdain’s show in Nashville began, with a retelling of a dream in which Bourdain is possibly being sexually assaulted (raped?) by the host of Diners, Drive-Ins and DivesThat began Bourdain’s nearly 30-minute raunchy and passive aggressive roast of nearly every past and present celebrity chef on the Food Network. He bashed everybody from Emeril and Bobby to Paula and Alton and several more in between. When discussing Alton, Bourdain said, “It’s true; that dude eats a lot of dick. He loves it.” But Bourdain saved his most vile critique for Guy, offering the famous chef a complete tongue-whipping, one that felt like it was an inside joke and only a handful of the people in attendance were in on the joke. 

But that was one of the biggest takeaways: Bourdain loathes Guy.

Amid his rant, a long and uncomfortable diatribe that at times seemed very much planned and other times seemed to be off the cuff, Bourdain used the word f*ck no less than 100 times, as a noun, as a verb, as adjectives and adverbs. 

Anthony clearly had a plethora of f*cks to give… and give… and give again.

He used the word so often it almost came off like a tic. It was distracting and really undermined his brilliance, which was already difficult to experience considering his bitterly expressed rants about Food Network’s celebrity chefs. And too, his crass quips about hookers and anal sex and his numerous punch lines about blowj*bs often (even most of the time) fell very flat.

He tried desperately to be funny. But I wasn’t working. For instance, during a rant about how much he hates the show Man v. Food Nation, Bourdain told us that the Travel Channel show was huge in countries like Yemen, Iran, Syria (he mentioned several Middle Eastern nations), joking that in these countries the TV show was basically an ISIS recruitment promotion. That joke might have worked (MIGHT HAVE) had he not mentioned ISIS two or three more times. His delivery, especially in regards to his humor and punch lines, came off very unrehearsed, poorly timed, and worst of all, only occasionally funny.

To be honest, he sort of seemed high.

In his hourlong performance there were a couple of moments in which we saw a more vulnerable and likable Bourdain. His stories involving his daughter were sweet and human and gave us a glimpse of the 59-year-old as “dad.” And on a couple of occasions, when his stories took us to one of the distant locations that he has visited, a thoughtful, much more interesting Bourdain was revealed.

But sadly those moments were few and far between. I wanted to love Bourdain. I wanted to become engulfed with interest in his stories, experiences, and passions for food. But his negativity made that nearly impossible. I mean, the man spent 10 minutes bemoaning America’s love revolution with food. Later, during the Q&A portion, he told us how embarrassed he was to have played a role in helping our country’s food trend happen.

Despite most of the people in the room being fans of Anthony Bourdain and believing there was something really cool about the guy, Bourdain said he’d stopped trying to be cool years ago. “I’m no longer cool.” 

He said he realized his attempts at being cool were finished the moment his daughter was born. “That’s when I knew I had to stop wearing my Ramones teeshirt.” And yet, even that seemed to contradict the persona on stage donning skinny jeans.

And then he opened up the floor to questions… And that’s when we all became enthralled with the Bourdain we knew and loved. He told stories and offered behind-the-scenes tidbits about events that happened on the show. Bourdain talked about Iran and Cambodia. He dissed beer snobs and sweet things. He talked passionately and devoutly about his love of Japanese food and how Tokyo was the city where the best and greatest food was created and served. He still said f*ck like an actor in a Quentin Tarantino movie and made a couple more jokes about fellatio, but those things weren’t driving his narrative. He still offered blunt opinionated rants about a various number of topics (patriotism and gluttony included) but he also stopped talking like a bitterly spoiled brat who was deep down jealous of Guy. During the Q&A, he even spoke beautifully of Rachael Ray. During those final 30 minutes in which the conversation was driven by the audience’s curiosity to get to know Bourdain’s likes and dislikes, favorites and least favorites, bests and worsts, we all got a bit closer to a seemingly more comfortable and relaxed and interesting Bourdain.

And those last 30 minutes even offered his best line: When asked about a story he wouldn’t share in a book or put on the show, he said, “I’ve snorted coke through uncooked penne.”

But what struck me as odd was how, during those 90 minutes, Bourdain didn’t talk about himself at all. In fact, it was shocking how little time he spent discussing any part of his personal narrative. Oh, he talked about his accomplishments and his Emmy awards and his glorious experiences with foods in various geographies. But candid stories about himself involving where he came from or who he loves (other than his daughter) or about mistakes in which he learned valuable lessons were all but avoided. He told a joke or two in which he was the point of reference. But that was rare.

During those 90 minutes, I learned more about Bourdain’s hatred of Guy Fieri than I did about Anthony Bourdain. His 60-minute planned show was nearly void of anything remotely helpful, thoughtful, or personal. But perhaps Bourdain doesn’t like talking about himself. Maybe becoming vulnerable with his own story feels foreign, a place he’s unwilling to visit or share, a part of his life that he feels is better left unknown.

My kids don’t understand poverty. But they know the word ‘help’…

On a hot summer day when I was 9 years old, my younger sister and I decided that we were going to set up a lemonade stand at the end of our driveway. Upon telling our father about our plan, he grimaced slightly. Now, Dad wasn’t exactly against the idea of Elisabeth and me selling mediocre lemonade to the people who drove by our house, he just worried that our backroad wasn’t an ideal location for that to happen.

But Dad’s concern didn’t stop us from making a couple of signs, mixing together water, sugar, lemons, ice, and more sugar, and setting up a card table at the end of the driveway.

Unfortunately, Dad ended up being right. Only a few people drove by our house. And not one of them stopped to buy our lemonade. A couple of them waved. In the end, only one person bought our lemonade—our neighbor, Mr. Vandyke, who I swore my father had called because he felt sorry for us.

A few weeks ago, as my wife and I were preparing to have a garage sale, Jessica looked at me and said, “What if, during the rummage sale, Elias and Adeline have a lemonade stand? They could use it as a way to help World Vision! Don’t you think that’s a good idea?”

As a child, Jessica loved having lemonade stands during the summer months.

At first, perhaps because of my own childhood failure selling lemonade, I might have grimaced at Jessica’s question. But then, after the kids thought it was an awesome idea and had already started making their first official lemonade stand sign, I easily warmed up to the idea.

My kids just turned 7 and 4, so while they know the names of the children that we sponsor through World Vision and Jessica and I try to explain why we believe God calls us to sponsor them, Elias and Adeline are still many years away from having any idea about the devastating hardships that the kids we sponsor experience every day of their lives.

But despite their young minds not being ready to grasp concepts and realities like unclean water, trafficking, malnutrition, stunted growth, malaria, or any of the other terrible symptoms of poverty, they do understand the word “help.”

On the day of our garage sale, as people browsed through our old stuff looking for “steals,” I heard Elias say to one lady, “Would you like to buy a cup of lemonade?” And without missing a beat, Adeline added, “We’re helping World Vision kids!”

It’s never too early for kids to learn what it means to “help” somebody in need.

 

Last year, when 11-year-old Tyler Brunst from Loomis, California launched his very first lemonade stand, he did so because he’d realized how many kids worldwide don’t have access to clean water. Upon telling his mother that he wanted to raise money to help build clean water wells in Africa, his mother smiled and happily agreed.

With his first lemonade stand, Tyler raised $400, eventually raising $16,000!

Like Elias and Adeline—and like Tyler—anybody can do something seemingly small and make a big difference.

Including you.

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Through World Vision’s social fundraising platform, we provide you with all the tools you need to start a lemonade stand or other project to raise money for clean water! Do something small and make a big difference this summer. Click here to get started right now!

I might be progressive and not very patriotic, but I love America. Here’s why… 

 

I love America. 

I really do. I might not be patriotic in the way my father’s generation is patriotic. But I still love my country. That said, I don’t believe this country is the best or perfect. Clearly, we as a nation have a laundry list of issues–big and small issues–that make life in this country very difficult for a lot of Americans. And that’s not okay. That will never be okay. Still, I love America. 

Amid all of the debates, fights, and conversations surrounding the social, political, economic, and spiritual divisions that exist in this country, I think it’s easy to forget the numerous liberties and privileges that a United States citizenship offers us. We have the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly and the freedom to celebrate God however we deem appropriate or if we don’t want to celebrate/believe in God, not at all. And while in some cases those freedoms have been amended to protect the rights/freedoms of individuals/minorities and oftentimes, prior to enjoying those freedoms, you have to fill out lots of paperwork and/or seek permission, those freedoms exist. 

Sure, some Americans take advantage of those freedoms. Some Americans use those freedoms as a way to limit or hurt or make life difficult for other Americans–a frustrating symptom of being a free people. But the large majority of the 330 million Americans–despite disagreements or varying ideologies–celebrate and honor those freedoms with sincere dignity. 

And that’s a beautiful thing.

Many of us complain about our government–and my gosh, there are certainly good reasons to complain–but as somebody who has a U.S. passport and has, over the last 10 years, traveled to numerous countries around the world, I’ve started to realize just how much our national, state, and local governments get right. While our laws and leaders are hardly perfect (in some cases, they’re corrupt), most do provide and manage for the majority of us a very functional way of everyday living. And while some may not like admitting this: our governments are pretty awesome! I mean, because of our governments, we have people who build roads, people who fix roads, and people who work to ensure that those driving on the roads are doing so safely and according to the laws. While mass confusion on the highways is unavoidable at times, because of our government, those instances are somewhat rare and when they happen, people show up to guide traffic in a safe and orderly manner. Because of our governments, we can dial 911 on our iPhones and in most cases have an entourage of trained professionals show up within minutes to help us navigate any number of emergency situations. And while that might not seem like a big deal to those of us who live here, the majority of the world’s people don’t have access to that kind of help. They don’t have people to call. They don’t have processes and people that are paid and/or volunteer to come assist them. Sure, sometimes the systems breakdown or a person fails to do their job, but again, those instances are rare. When we’re in trouble, a rescue team is sent. When we are sick or hurt, we’re taken to amazing hospitals where we are served by trained health care professionals who not only help us to the best of their abilities, they wash their hands before and after. 

For all that is wrong in America our governments, our laws, our freedoms make living here pretty awesome for the majority of us. And even when people and processes fail, usually there’s a method in which one can engage to make it right. 
I love America. Yes, wealthy people seem to have special privileges in this country and in many cases, that sucks, but here in America, we’re also blessed to have a wide variety of welfare programs available to help people in need or people who are down on their luck. In America, we have shelters and housing programs to offer people a place to stay or, in some cases, a place to live. In many cases, here in America, we have programs available to help people who are fighting addictions, processing grief, overwhelmed by debt, unable to find jobs, being abused by a loved one, and the list goes on. Here, when we notice something that isn’t right, we usually have somebody to call to complain to, to ask for help, to complain to and then ask for help. Again, these programs and processes aren’t always managed perfectly, but we have them in place and for many people in a variety of circumstances, they work. 

America might not be perfect, but we have public schools, public libraries, NPR, national and state parks, rest stops, monuments, the FDA, the FBI, interstates and freeways, bridges and tunnels, scenic highways and overlooks, public beaches and bathrooms… And we have signage! Do you realize how lucky we are to have signs–road signs, warning signs, tourism signs, etc.? Heck, in some cases, we have signs that are just there to make you aware of future signs. That’s amazing.

I get frustrated when I hear people say that America is going to hell in a hand basket because a law has changed or because a new people group is given equal rights under the law. Because I, like many of you, have met people around the world who live in places that look, feel, and smell a lot like hell and many of them would give up a whole lot in order to have the privileges that one experiences just because they’re an American. That’s one of reasons why I thank God for our freedom to protest, our freedom to picket, and our freedom to speak out against America when we believe that’s necessary. I love America because I believe this country has the capacity to change, to unite, to make progress, and when necessary, to change again and sometimes divide in order to make progress. It’s not always pretty and it’s not always quick. But most of the time, we have a voice and if we combine with other voices, we can make changes. 

For all that we get wrong in this country, we often showcase an ability to evolve, to make our wrongs right, and to change our laws when somebody or lots of some bodies aren’t being treated equally under the law. 

Sure, we have a long way to go. And we’ll never be perfect. 
But let’s not allow all of our country’s flaws keep us from realizing, celebrating, and putting to good use the numerous liberties and privileges that most of us enjoy as Americans. 

I’m not very patriotic–I mean, if I’m honest, the Pledge of Allegiance makes me squirm–but that said, I do love America. And I will always do my best to acknowledge, celebrate, and utilize the liberties and privileges that my country provides me to better what I can, to speak up for those who can’t, and to empower my children in hopes that they will do the same. 

I might be progressive. I might not be overly patriotic. I might hate that Lee Greenwood song. But I love my awesome but imperfect America.

Happy Fourth of July… 

Do you disagree with SCOTUS’s decision about marriage? I have questions, so many questions…

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According to that Supreme Court decision on Friday, marriage is now a fundamental right for all couples, regardless of orientation, gender, and/or state  of residence. While a host of Americans have spent the last few days expressing no less than jubilation over SCOTUS’s decision, other people have mourned as if they lost their firstborn in a remake of the first passover. Though the people in that latter group lament in a variety of ways—from outright anger in all caps to tear-drenched, emoticon-filled sorrow to loud and noticeable silence. But there’s one common thread among the majority of Americans who believe the high court made a terrible decision: Jesus.

While a good number of people who follow Christ are celebrating marriage equality, most of those —nearly all?—who disagree with SCOTUS’s landmark decision profess a strong love and devotion for Jesus.

I have a few questions for those people—those Jesus-loving folks who seemingly believe that they own the copyright on what God thinks about marriage. While I doubt my questions will change anybody’s mind on the matter at hand, I do hope my inquiries will at least cause some people to pause long enough to think about their actions, their words, their posture, their faith…

What if you’re wrong? I know that, for some of you, that’s likely impossible for you to even imagine. But if your life is truly driven by faith, a concept of belief that is, at its core, built upon the possibility that you might be wrong, then you should be able to at least consider the chance that you might not have life all figured out. Faith without doubt isn’t faith; it’s cultural certainty, little more than a lifeless creed you can shout at the top of your lungs behind pulpits, write in all caps in online comment sections, and whisper under your breath like a curse whenever challenged. It’s fine if you’re not willing to even consider the chance that you could be wrong. But your stubbornness isn’t because you possess faith, it’s because you’ve anchored yourself to a system of ideas and it scares the shit out of you to even consider any other possibility.

But the fact remains: you might be wrong. Think about that for a moment. What if all of your “God inspired” declarations about the LGBTQ communities are incorrect? What if all of those Bible verses you point to in defense of your opinions don’t mean what you think they mean? Or what if they do mean what you think they mean, except they were written with context for a particular people during a particular time because of particular circumstances. What if those laws you bind yourself to are like those other laws that you don’t bind yourself to? You know, the ones that you laugh off with some mention of “grace” or “that’s Old Testament”… Like that law about eating shrimp or pork or the one about wearing clothes made of two different fabrics or that law that prohibits you from letting your livestock roam in the same field as other people’s livestock. Or for those of you who have invited the Apostle Paul to live in your hearts, do you adhere to his other New Testament laws with the same passion that you promote his very vague words about “homosexuality,” words that might actually not be about homosexuality at all. In other words, are you a male with long hair? Are you a woman who wears jewelry or makeup? Do promote the practice of women covering their heads when at your church talk? Do you start talking about context and timeframe whenever the gift of tongues is brought up in conversation?

Straight Christians love putting homosexuality on a pedestal.

But what if you’re wrong? What if all of the blatant statements you’ve made against gay people are little more than wasted words, spiritualized hatred that you’ve mistakenly packaged with Christ? What if all of the time/energy you’ve spent fighting/debating/proclamating is just lost time/energy that could have been used for some other, more life-giving activity.

Being passionately wrong has consequences, and that’s true regardless of whether or not you present your views hatefully or with so-called Christian love.

What if you’re right? What if God loathes anal sex between men as much as you do? What if, upon learning about the Supreme Court’s decision to extend marital rights to all people, God did exactly what you suggested on Facebook that God did? Because it’s certainly possible. What if, just like you, amid heatedly debating topics and ideas regarding homosexuality, God starts daydreaming about the End of the World? And that, maybe just like you, God has to fight the temptation not to smile? Why? Because God knows just how much pleasure you’ll feel when, amid Heaven’s wrath reigning down, every one of your Facebook friends will realize that you were right about God all along. 

Would you really be okay with being right about God? Before you answer that, consider what you’ve said about God, the words that you’ve put in God’s mouth, the slight relief (perhaps joy?) that shoots through your veins every time you consider the day when your God finally declares to Planet Earth that you were right. Do you want to be right about God? Would you be okay standing before the God that you’ve erected at church or in conversation or online? What does your personalized deity suggest about you, about God?

And what if you’re right about God? What if, like so many Christians suggest, God really is a grandiose being with borderline personality disorder, either the best and the greatest God ever or the worst and the most terrible God ever?

Still, even if you are right, does mimicking your version of God on Facebook help your God or satisfy you?

If you’re a parent, what is your reaction to Friday’s verdict teaching your kids? What has your child learned from watching your actions and listening to your conversations over the last few days? Does he/she have more faith that God will take care of them no matter what or are he/she filled up with fear about the dark, ugly future you’ve been not-so-subtly advertising? Has your demeanor showcased a belief that God is faithful no matter what or have you communicated that God is angry and that judgment or “The End” is soon coming? Whether you want him/her to know what you’re thinking or not, they more than likely do. And what they’re soaking up is creating a foundation for how they will think and feel in the future. They will either mimic your fear-filled or faith-filled actions or they will be put in a position in which they are forced to overcome the foundations you’ve helped inspire.

What if your child is gay? That thought might terrify you. Still, what if they are? What if they’re sexuality is fluid, somewhere on a spectrum between straight/gay? Has your reaction created an environment in which he/she will be free to tell you what they’re feeling or have you set yourself up to be the last one to know?

I’ve seen a lot of vile reactions from Christian parents over the last few days. In some cases, their thoughts have foretold just how great they fear for their kids. As somebody who grew up in a pre social media culture, I knew every time my parents were fear filled, worried, anxious… and even when I didn’t know why, I almost always felt fear, worry, and anxiety whenever they did.

Who have you silenced? Many Christians who are supportive of marriage equality remain silent because they fear the harsh backlash from Christian friends and family. Because among Christians who are vocal about their disgust for marriage equality, creating backlash toward believers who might feel differently than they do is considered holy. On Saturday, a friend sent me a DM: YOU’RE IN FAVOR OF GAY MARRIAGE? I almost just ignored his inquiry, knowing that any answer except “heck no” was going to create drama that I didn’t feel like engaging. And I was right, his answer to my “yep” was utter shock and disappointment, as if all of my spiritual, personal, relational worth was hinged on me hating marriage equality as much as he does.

Have you ever thought about how many people you silence? Push away? Exclude? There are countless pastors across the United States who personally have no problem with SCOTUS’s decision. But they can’t say that aloud in a public forum, at least, not if they want to keep their jobs or their churches. Because in evangelical churches, the Christians who often come off as bullies toward anything involving LGBTQ are rarely willing to agree to disagree. They almost always will fight the cause, threaten some form of church-oriented coup, $top their $upport, or seek to have the gay-affirming pastor or the gay-affirming assistant pastor or the gay church volunteer removed.

Do your words keep your friends in the closet? Do your opinions silence potential LGBTQ supporters? Does your certainty about what God thinks regarding gay people paralyze the good work of God?

What are you losing in this fight? Because chances are, whether or not you’re willing to admit this, you’re losing, missing, not experiencing something because of this impassioned fight you’re engaging. And if it hasn’t happened, there’s a good chance it will. Are missing out on knowing and loving some amazing people? Are you gambling with the future relationship between you and one of your children? Are you so distracted by this mission that you’re failing to engage what’s truly important in life? Is it worth it? In the grand scheme of this life and even the next life, is it really worth it?

Is it because you’re afraid? Are you bored? Are you so intoxicated by your religion that you’ve lost the ability to just love people, even if they have no plans on eventually agreeing with you on this one?

Isn’t God, even the God you believe in, big enough to handle this without your commentary? Does the answer to that last question scare you?

It’s okay. It scares me too.

Matt Chandler, TVC and Karen Hinkley make peace…

This is just in. And it seems to be good news–very good news. I hope this is a beginning toward healing for all involved. Peace, MPT.

 

According to The Wartburg Watch

 

Here’s the statement from the church. Karen’s statement follows this one.

Statement to The Village Church from Matt Chandler and the Elders

Covenant Members of The Village Church,

We want to update you regarding our review of The Village Church’s current care and discipline process, specifically our desire to repent where we have sinned against those we have not treated with the love and care we are called to give as shepherds under the authority of a holy, loving God. If you have not already done so, we encourage you to watch or listen to the sermon “W​anderer/Restorer” ​from May 31 before reading further. This email will review one specific situation and then give a brief update on the elders’ current work related to care and discipline at The Village.

Over the past few weeks, you received two emails explaining a sensitive and tragic situation involving Jordan Root and Karen Hinkley. Those emails were intended to provide clarity and insight into a fragile and complex series of events. Since we sent those emails, we have had the opportunity to gather more information, have more conversations and hear from more people.

Early on the morning of Wednesday, May 27, Matt Chandler sent a personal email to Karen asking to meet with her face­to­face in a place of her choosing. The following afternoon, the church sent an email to all Covenant Members in order to communicate our belief that we owed Karen an apology. Karen responded to Matt a few days later noting that she was encouraged but cautious and wanted time to seek counsel, pray and process before agreeing to a meeting. During weekend services on May 30­31, Matt’s sermon reiterated our desire to repent, ask forgiveness and seek out genuine reconciliation with anyone we treated unlovingly.. After the sermon was posted online, Karen responded with an email communicating her desire to meet with Lead Pastors Matt Chandler and Josh Patterson. On Wednesday, June 3, Matt and Josh met personally with Karen and a couple of Karen’s close friends. Karen’s friends extended gracious Christian hospitality by offering their home for the meeting.

Matt and Josh started the conversation by telling Karen that they were not there to defend the actions of The Village but to ask forgiveness. Matt and Josh specifically told Karen, after further review of her situation, that she did have biblical grounds for divorce or annulment, that she should have been released from Covenant Membership as she requested and that she should not have been put under church discipline. Matt and Josh reiterated that they were not there to defend the actions of The Village but simply to repent and hear from Karen directly. Karen’s response was seasoned with faith, hope and love. She graciously accepted the apology and extended forgiveness. This beautiful exchange set the tone for the rest of the day, which was spent trying to unwind stories, clarify confusion and discuss next steps. By the end of the meeting, Karen was satisfied that we had heard all of her concerns and was eager to see us follow through on some specific items.

In the days following the meeting with Karen, Josh and Brian Miller met with Dallas campus elders and staff to further examine our interactions with Karen and Jordan in a new light. As a result of these conversations, The Village Church is taking the following actions:

We are apologizing more specifically to Karen in front of you, our members. While Karen is no longer a member, we are doing so with her permission and cooperation. Some of the information in our original Covenant Member email sent on May 23 was insensitive and did not reflect the fuller picture we have learned through our subsequent meetings and conversations. We are sorry for our error and how it affected Karen.

While the gospel is certainly for all sinners and grace is available for Jordan, we believe that the nature of his sin requires treatment that is beyond what The Village has been able to offer—and we should have recognized our limitations earlier. Based on an external referral, we have engaged a Licensed Sex Offender Treatment Provider to counsel Jordan Root. We will vigilantly follow the recommendations of this counselor regarding necessary next steps.

We reached out to several individuals at SIM, including the president, to apologize for times when we did not fully heed their counsel and were perceived to be threatening. Also, we are working with SIM to continue in our long­standing partnership to take the gospel to the nations.

As we communicated in our previous emails, we believe that the policies and procedures that are currently in place at The Village Church to protect children and families are strong. However, that belief has not stopped us from diligently moving forward with a thorough assessment of our abuse prevention and reporting processes across all campuses. In the months to come, experts will be analyzing everything we do in this regard to ensure that we implement best practices across the board.

The elders have also already had several meetings, both small and large, to review our current practice and procedures. There will be definite changes to our system based on these meetings, including a much more patient process before a member enters formal church discipline. We also want to recognize that there is a time and place for specialized treatment that goes beyond the kind of care that we, or even a qualified biblical counselor, can offer. We are working on these new policies and procedures and will update you when they are complete.

As Covenant Members of The Village, you know that the Church is comprised of people who have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. As a result of this divine reconciliation, we have also been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18). We are also called to an ongoing ethic of confession and repentance. Our hope in sending this email is to show you we are, by God’s grace, trying to do both of these things and to update you on the specific steps we are taking to repent and change. Reconciliation is often hard and painful, but it is always beautiful. Thank you for your patience and grace in this time. It is an honor and joy to serve you.

###

Statement from Karen Hinkley

As I laid in bed the night of December 16th, I wondered if I would wake up the next day and find myself in the middle of a crisis of faith. But by the grace of God, every morning since I’ve woken up with my faith intact and even strengthened. I believe that the only feasible explanation for this is that God had a plan for me that required me to trust Him. In His goodness, and in answer to the prayers of many of His people on my behalf, He has sustained my faith during the most trying of times, and He is now bringing this chapter to a close for me in the most beautiful of ways.

I woke up to an email from Matt Chandler the morning of May 27th. He apologized and sought forgiveness for not reaching out to me sooner, and asked if I would consider sitting down with him and Josh Patterson face-to-face, with the sole purpose of hearing from me about the hurt I had experienced at the hands of The Village Church and what they could have done better. Naturally, I was skeptical at first, and I wrestled with whether I could trust his motives due to the timing of the email. But I decided to take a few days to pray, process, and seek counsel.

By Sunday, May 31st I had decided to take a leap of faith and meet with Matt and Josh. I knew it was a risk, but I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to bring about repentance and reconciliation, and I felt that God was leading me to be willing to hear my brothers out. That evening I watched Matt’s sermon from the weekend online and was further encouraged in this direction. I sensed sincerity in his confession and apology. I emailed Matt, and we set up a meeting for Wednesday. We both communicated eager anticipation for what God might do.

As Wednesday approached I wasn’t sure what to expect. I chose to keep the meeting under strict confidence at that time, sharing it with only a few trusted friends so they could pray. I thought the meeting would have the best chance for success if it wasn’t a public spectacle from the beginning. Two of those friends graciously offered to host the meeting in their home and provide lunch for the five of us. It was clear to me that God was at work.

After sharing a meal together on Wednesday, the conversation turned to the reason we were there. Matt and Josh looked me in the eyes, apologized, and asked for forgiveness. They told me that they felt awful about how I had been treated. They said I had biblical grounds for annulment or divorce, that I should have been granted my withdrawal from membership immediately, and that I never should have been put under discipline. They wanted to hear anything I was willing to say about what had happened, and they promised to do everything they could to make it right and make sure that what happened to me never happened to anyone again. I thanked them for their obvious sincerity and forgave them.

We spent the next several hours talking about what had happened to me and what my concerns were. By the end of the day, Matt, Josh, my two friends and I were delighted to realize that we all wanted the same things for the same reasons. Matt and Josh promised many changes to come, and I have watched with joy over the past week as they have kept their word and begun to implement those changes. I believe the elders of The Village Church are showing fruit of genuine repentance, and I believe God will use them powerfully in the days to come.

I am praising God for what He has done, and I continue to be amazed by the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to bring about reconciliation in the most unlikely circumstances. God is good, God is mighty, and God is faithful. All the time.

I know this is not the end of the story for many, but I believe it is the end of the story for me. This has been a long and difficult road both for me and for those who have walked closely with me, and I still have quite a bit of healing left to do. I believe it is time for me to move on in peace, trusting God to finish the good work He has started at The Village Church. I believe God is using what happened to me to do something beautiful, in His time and in His way, and for that I am exceedingly thankful.

In the Name of Jesus and for His sake,

Karen Hinkley

***

Your thoughts? Special thanks to the Wartburg Watch for allowing me access to this story.

Regarding Matt Chandler’s sermon/apology, here are my thoughts…

preacher-black-and-white-silhouette-600x410This is the question that people keep asking me: Have I watched Matt Chandler’s sermon from last Sunday? Most of the time, that question is followed by this one: If you have, what did you think?

Well, the answer to the first question is yes. I watched Matt’s sermon. In fact, parts of his sermon I’ve watched several times.

Now, so far, I’ve avoided answering the second question because…

1) I wasn’t sure that a response from me was really necessary. And honestly, that still might be true.

2) If I was going to write a response, I wanted to live with the sermon for a few days to avoid making the same mistake I did last week, offering an opinion way too soon and ended up having to retract it a day later. Again, I’m very sorry about doing that. It was shoddy blogging on my part.

3) I have friends, colleagues, and readers on both sides of this conversation. And sometimes, whether you can believe this or not, I can be a bit of a people pleaser, especially when it comes to my close friends. And honestly? Six days ago I had no idea how many good friends of mine either count Matt Chandler and his wife, Lauren, as close friends or good acquaintances.

All of that said, since last Sunday when the feature I wrote for The Daily Beast went live, I’ve received a lot of feedback—from sincere appreciation to sincere critique. Unlike other stories I’ve written about that cause people to offer their feedback, with this story, most of the comments/critique I’ve received has not been presented unkindly. And for that I’m grateful, especially considering that presenting my own point of view without the use of snark and/or sharp wording is a difficult task at times, especially when I’m writing a story or idea or an opinion that I’m passionate about.

So about Matt Chandler’s sermon…

I wish I could say that I loved it. I wish I could say that I felt the exact same way as one of my Facebook friends felt. Upon sharing a portion of Matt’s sermon, she wrote: THIS is the kind of man/leader I would gleefully follow….

Needless to say, I didn’t feel that way, not even close.

That said, I do recognize that there’s something very likable about Matt. While he and I would likely disagree on a host of theological and social ideas, I do think—a couple friends even swear this would be true—he and I would get along. Because even though he’s the head of a church organization that tends to practice a type of church that often creates unhealthy spiritual environments, I find him to be far more humble and gracious and non-Driscollish than any of the Acts29 pastors that I’ve met over the years.

Friends who I adore tell me that he and Lauren are lovely charitable people. And I honestly don’t doubt that in the least. Sometimes I’m often far too quick to define people by their theological beliefs as opposed to seeing them as humanity.

So even though Matt’s sermon wasn’t an apology to me, I do believe him when he says that he’s sorry. I believe he’s being honest when he openly says that his church has made numerous mistakes. And I do believe that he really does desires something (maybe several things) to change at The Village Church.

I suppose that you might say that, as I listened to Matt’s sermon, I felt prayerfully skeptical about what I was hearing.

And here’s why…

1) I’m prayerfully skeptical because whenever churches apologize in broad strokes without referencing any actual circumstances or situations in which mistakes were made or the people who made these mistakes, the apology seems incomplete. 

Or at least, still in progress.

In other words, that sermon-apology was instigated by a huge problem, a huge problem involving real people, real people who work for the church and real people who are members of the church, real people who abused their power and real people who were hurt by that abuse of power. The majority of people on Facebook who are raving about Matt’s sermon-apology did not need any apology from TVC.

2) I’m prayerfully skeptical because I know (and you likely know, too) that remedying a worship environment with church-abuse tendencies is a grueling, often impossible, task.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking, “Sure, change inside a church is extremely difficult… but God.”

And you’re right. But my response to that would be… “but male elder board.”

Few things eradicate God changing a church’s functionality like an elder board. This could be true of any elder board at any church. But it’s especially true of a church that has an elder board that borders on being like The Sanhedrin. Change inside most churches is a long aggravating process. But change comes especially slow inside a church that’s led by pastors and elders who are 1) emboldened by a church membership covenant, 2) empowered to issue church discipline to laypeople, and 3) known for often crossing lines or abusing their positions to uphold and honor the membership covenant and church discipline process. Guys, these kinds of elder boards are rarely known for fixing Titanic-sized problems. There’s too much politics involved. Too many egos involved. Too much fear among some elders/pastors to not piss off the wrong elders/pastors. And when you’re a church that is held together and guided by a person-man-written membership covenant, those politics involve how something is worded, how hard-nosed one person is about one verse of scripture compared to somebody else being hard-nosed about another verse of scripture. Elders/pastors come into meetings about CHANGE with their own lists of pet rules and pet ideas, often believing that what they believe is in fact, what God wants them to believe because God believes the same exact thing.

3) I’m prayerfully skeptical because I have a difficult time believing that TVC’s male-dominated environment could ever be a truly safe place for women to disagree with leadership. 

Nearly every single story of church abuse that I’ve been sent by both past and present TVC members–and there are a couple doozies–involves a female who dared to challenge the ideas or rules of a pastor or elder at TVC. Again, Pastor Matt might be awesome! But Pastor Matt didn’t take part in anything that happened regarding Karen Hinkley. In fact, Karen was never called or contacted by Matt or his wife, Lauren. Now, I’m not saying that they should have contacted her. I’m just saying he’s not the awesome person making a majority of the decisions involving people who challenge the church’s membership contract. And when it comes to churches who hold oppressive theologies toward women, they usually hold that value up on a pedestal. They might bend on a few small things. But to give up their whole stance? It would likely cause the church to split.

Moreover, considering Karen’s story and one of her major concerns, a similar argument could be made regarding TVC and the safety of children. In light of recent events, there’s a valid need for parents with small children who attend TVC to ask the elders: What are you doing to keep my kids safe from sexual predators? And what information are you withholding from your members for fear that full-disclosure would make us feel like TVC is an unsafe environment for our children? 

4) I’m prayerfully skeptical because any change that Matt Chandler makes or even tries to make at TVC doesn’t simply affect TVC, it also affects the hundreds of churches that make up the Acts29 Network. 

Now, some people might think, “Yay! Maybe if TVC loosens up, other churches will follow suit!” And while that’s a possibility, the likely scenario is that those outside forces and influences would limit the depth of change and amending that TVC is even allowed to do/make. Acts29 churches are known for being strong-willed congregations that take their theologies and doctrines very seriously. As the leader of the network, Matt’s church cannot make vast change in a vacuum without relational and political repercussions. Am I speculating? Yes. Am I completely off in left field? Heck no. If you’ve spent anytime at all watching what happens at Acts29 churches, then you know that my reasons for speculating are not uninformed. And yes… But God.

Then again, but the Acts29 Board of Directors… 

5) I’m prayerfully skeptical because church abuse is an all-too common reality, a major problem within all kinds of congregations, a problem that, all too often, we see left unfixed to fester and hurt more people.

Eradicating a toxic worship environment and setting the stage for true congregational healing requires huge sweeping changes in not only how a church is run/managed but also who is running/managing it…

And even when that kind of change happens inside a church, it happens slowly… which leaves the door open for new offenses to occur.

Many of you might not believe me when I say this… but I hope that Matt Chandler and The Village Church prove me wrong on every point. I really do. And while some people will likely balk at that statement, those of you who have been abused or hurt by a church or pastor or elder board know I’m telling the truth.

That’s because we know that church abuse hurts. It hurts the deepest part of a person’s being. You lose your friends. You lose your community. You lose your ability to trust. You often lose your identity. You sometimes lose yourself.

And I wouldn’t wish that on anybody…

And yes, I am skeptical. Considering what we know and have experienced, it’s wise to be skeptical.

But I’m also prayerful… and hopeful…

 

 

 

So, can we discuss that ‘apology’ from The Village Church? Because it really missed the point.

apology
Yesterday’s statement from TVC was a mouthful, a carefully written, meticulously worded, and likely meticulously reworded mouthful. (Read it here.)

It was kind. Or maybe it was just nice. Either way, its tone wasn’t terrible. That much I’ll give them. But honestly, most of their communication toward Karen was presented with what can be perceived as kindness.

And I’ll give them this, too: it seemed to be humbly expressed.

But humbly expressed what is still what; it just requires one to actually ask what, process the what, and then ask again what.

So, now that I’ve lived with the response for several hours, I must ask: WHAT?!

I mean, first of all: WHAT were the reasons for offering an apology?

Sure, they offered a humbly presented apology to Karen, but they actually don’t apologize for anything that has, for the last 5 months, been a thorn in Karen’s side.

Rather than apologizing for acting like jackasses, they apologized for not presenting their jackassery with greater clarity.

Rather than apologizing for treating a victim whose life was just turned upside down with dignity and equality, they apologized for not offering a clearer perspective regarding what they deem acceptable and unacceptable divorce. How many times must one tell the elders at TVC that Karen wasn’t getting a divorce. She was getting an annulment. There’s a difference. A big difference.

Rather than apologizing for spiritually and emotionally harassing her for the last 5 months, they apologized for not “leading her toward repentance”! What the hell? I mean, seriously friends, what on earth does Karen have to apologize about? For not wanting to be married to a man who is sexually attracted to 4-year-old girls? For not falling in line and following their advice?

DING. DING. DING.

That’s why TVC believes she should repent. Because she didn’t follow protocol. Because she dared to challenge TVC’s male-led religious establishment. Because she was strong. Because she stood her ground. Because she didn’t submit.

And they blame themselves for all of that, because they didn’t “lead her” correctly.

What?

That’s not why you should be sorry, TVC. Karen didn’t need you to apologize for any of those things.

People in your church might have. Your friends in high positions might have liked hearing that. But Karen, the reason why you issued that statement–she didn’t need to hear any of it.

Since there seems to be some confusion as to what you did wrong here, let me offer a few reasons as to why you SHOULD apologize to Karen.

You need to apologize for harboring, protecting Jordan and making Karen feel like the perpetrator.

You need to apologize for all of the misogynistic language that you used in your Jesusy-sweet communication to Karen.

You need to apologize for acting like jerks regarding Karen’s desire to seek an annulment. Those are my words. Not hers.

You need to apologize for silencing Karen’s story and for turning her into the enemy because she believed the church needed to know the full scope of Jordan’s confession…

You need to apologize for even thinking about putting her through that godawful church discipline process.

You need to apologize for all that b.s. you proclaimed about Karen in the “membership update” on May 23… I mean, seriously, you defamed her in front of your 6000+ members… and you didn’t apologize for that…

She didn’t need you to be better leaders.
She didn’t need you to clarify your theology.
She didn’t need you to be more prepared.

She didn’t need you to express a pseudo apology using the anonymous pronouns “we” and “them”….

The truth is, she didn’t need you.

Which was the problem from the beginning. Her non need of you scraped against your spiritual maleness.

And yet, the more you tried to force her submit to your authority, the more you made her excruciating circumstance more excruciating.

But then again, that apology really wasn’t an apology to Karen was it, TVC? It was a public relations move to calm down the members of your church, right? Am I close? Just a little too close…

Again, kudos to TVC for being kind and seemingly humble.

But you put a good woman who really loves God and trusted you guys through hell. I mean, seriously, think about it… Karen was evangelizing Jesus in East Asia, all alone without family and good friends when she found out her husband and fellow missionary was a pedophile…

And what did you do? You put her through hell. She’d already been there. But you made her ride the hell coaster one more time…

And you didn’t apologize for that… You didn’t apologize for that.

And so, sure, your statement was kind/nice and perhaps humble. But it completely missed the point.

But you knew that already.

Matt Chandler, The Village Church offer apology to Karen Hinkley

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THIS JUST IN: Matt Chandler and the elders of The Village Church have listened to the public outcry regarding their actions toward Karen Hinkley and they have responded…

In fact, they apologized specifically to Karen. Here’s the update in its entirety…

Covenant Members of The Village Church,

We recently sent you an email regarding Covenant Members Jordan Root and Karen Hinkley that explained a tragic and heartbreaking situation, including a review of how we got to that point and where things currently stood. Since that time, we have soberly and prayerfully reflected on all the details of this situation, along with others in our past. We have also received feedback from people both inside and outside The Village, which has helped us evaluate ourselves.

Sometimes dark and difficult situations cause us to take a magnifying glass and look through the lens to see deeper than we normally can. That has absolutely been the case in this situation, and we wanted to let you know where we are with everything, specifically some areas we are still evaluating and some areas where we have clearly failed and need to repent.

When it comes to protecting children, we believe we have strong procedures in place and feel confident in how we’ve handled allegations and confessions regarding child abuse in any form, specifically in the situation with Jordan Root. In examining ourselves in this area, we have been affirmed in the policies and processes we have in place to protect children. That said, in the weeks ahead, we will do an external audit to confirm we are doing everything possible to protect children and to evaluate how we handle child safety, abusers, abuse victims and other related matters in a biblical and legal manner.

Regarding Covenant Membership, we have not changed our theological or philosophical convictions on our Membership Covenant, member care and church discipline. These are beliefs rooted in Scripture, and we strongly believe they are necessary for our health and faithfulness as a church. However, in looking closely at the way we have handled some situations, we realize that there are clear and specific instances where we have let our membership practices blind us to the person in front of us, in turn leading us to respond in a way that doesn’t reflect our desire to be loving and caring to our members. In these situations, there have been cases where we have clearly not communicated the gentleness, compassion and patience that we are called to as elders of the church.

We are deeply sorry for failing you in this way and are taking steps to follow up with the individuals we believe we have hurt so that we can apologize specifically and directly to them. We are also in the process of creating a new care and church discipline plan and hope to have it approved and in practice very soon. Regardless of all that we’re trying to do to improve in this area, though, the most important point is that we recognize that we must never allow our processes and procedures to take precedence over people, specifically those we are called to love, care, protect and sacrifice for as elders of the church. In everything our actions and tone must reflect the gentleness (Gal. 6:1) and humility (1 Peter 5:1-3) to which Scripture calls us. As James 2:13 says, mercy should triumph over judgment.

In receiving more information and considering the way we’ve ministered to Karen specifically, we believe that we owe her an apology. Specifically, as it pertains to her desire for an annulment, we know that it would have served her better to have a clearer understanding from us as to what we do and do not consider biblical grounds for divorce or what we understand the Scriptures to define as divorce. In hindsight, we wish that we would have provided clarity to Karen in an immediate fashion and are saddened by our unpreparedness.

Though the deep theological convictions that informed our initial response haven’t changed, this is a situation where we unfortunately allowed our practice to unnecessarily lead us rather than us leading our practice with patience, gentleness and compassion. We did not lead Karen and the church to a place conducive to peace, repentance and healing. Please know that we are reaching out to Karen and giving her this apology, and we have also made the decision to move forward in releasing her from membership. We will continue to support her financially through August as we committed, and our hope and prayer for her is that God would guide her to another gospel-believing church, where she can find healing and restoration.

In receiving this email and hearing how we have and are responding to this situation, we understand that you may be wondering why this type of change in heart has happened now. Is it because of the media stories? If so, why have we let these stories make such an impact? The answer is basically what we began this email with: Sometimes it takes a difficult, unique and trying situation to help us realize our mistakes and move us to change. Naturally, these situations also bring more feedback to the table, and we have sought to humbly hear that feedback, be willing to see the log in our own eye and repent where necessary.

Given the nature of the situation with Jordan and Karen, we also want you to be prepared for the potential of many media stories about our church to be published over the next several days. We are aware of this likely outcome and will not address members or former members specifically in any communication since we do not release this information to the public. This weekend, Matt will speak generally about member care and church discipline because the conclusion of our James series is providentially focused on this topic, but he will not speak directly to the situation at hand.

In all of this, we are deeply grieved by the way this situation has brought reproach to the name of Jesus. Our hearts are heavy and broken over the things that have been said about our good and faithful God. We often talk about the “ongoing ethics of confession and repentance,” and as your elders, we know that we are not exempt from these ethics. In every way that we’ve mishandled this situation, along with others in the past, we repent and ask for forgiveness. As a church, we talk regularly about the power of the gospel to forgive all our sins, past, present and future. In this moment, we are clinging to that truth, knowing that we and everyone else involved in this situation desperately need the grace and mercy of Jesus.

– The Village Church Elders

I mean, this is about as good as it gets when it comes to a conservative church responding…So… this is pretty big step, a step that many did not expect. I’m not sure I did.

Yes, I think church contracts and church discipline are unnecessary tactics. They create environments ripe for abuse and pedestals and other such religious b.s.

And according to many who have reached out to me via email, there’s a lot of all that happening at TVC.

And honestly, even biblically, contracts and discipline are a stretch at best. And most of the time? They’re tools for abuse.

BUT.

The churches that do have these practices in place don’t usually respond like this… this email possesses a mostly gentle and humble tone, something that we don’t often seen when churches retract big statements.

So, for that, I am grateful–very grateful.

But you know what I’m most grateful for? That TVC is now thinking about their congregation’s kids–their safety, their protection, their well-being. My gosh, I bet they heard from a multitude of concerned parents! And they should have! Their actions were awful…

But dear God… thank you.

And to you who helped make this issue a big deal on Facebook and Twitter… thank you. Because it’s indeed a BIG DEAL. And for once a church seems to be willing to agree and try to correct their mistakes.

So thank you.

UPDATE:

When I posted this update last night, I’d read through the content one time. And I did so quickly, with kids around. While the tone of this message is humble, on my second, third, and fourth readings of this message, I started to get a different view of the church’s messaging here. While I can’t offer much of an explanation now–I’m on a tight deadline for a story about TVC, Karen, and Jordan for The Daily Beast–I’ll say this: This update wasn’t written for us. And it wasn’t meant for Karen, either. This update is damage control to calm the storm inside TVC. And some of its language, though gentle, still is laced with control. I’ll try to write more later. But I wanted to offer those who have questioned this blog post a heads up that I agree. I posted this in haste. And I apologize for that.

UPDATE 2: 

Some thoughts on this apology.