Okay folks… this is part three of the long overdue review of Ken Wilson’s A Letter to My Congregation (ALTMC). Please stop emailing me, sending me messages on Facebook, or sending me text messages asking me when it’s going to get published! Listen, I had a baby! Okay, fine… I didn’t have a baby, my wife did. But having a new baby (#5) takes quite a bit of work. Wait. My wife’s parents have been here doing everything… so I basically have no excuses. I’m sorry.
Anyway, as I’ve already written an introduction and review of the first chapter of Ken’s latest book, ALTMC, I wanted to start my review of the second chapter simply by making note of two things: First, I am only going to provide a couple observations of this chapter because, quite frankly, it’s broken into ten separate parts and I neither have the time nor the energy to interact with every detail that I disagree with. Second, in the next part of my review (part 4), the meat and potatoes will begin. I’ll begin to engage Ken’s “closer look at the prohibitive texts” and explain why his exegesis/hermeneutics are, in my opinion, flawed. And just by way of a reminder, when someone publishes a book in the public square, they are opening the door for critical evaluation. We can and should constructively evaluate what is placed before us. So please stop abusing Matt. 18:15-17 if you think that these reviews should be conducted in the “private sector” behind closed doors. The book is on amazon, folks!
The positives of chapter 2
Again it must be noted that Ken writes so well! ALTMC is so easy to read and engages the heart and mind in a way that I can only hope that I’ll someday be able to do.
I also appreciate that Ken spends time in the first section, “Dissatisfied with the Available Options,” talking about his frustration with the way that some of the views are expressed. I am also frustrated with how some who hold to the “traditional” approach express their views. More than anything, I think the Vineyard movement, along with evangelicalism, needs to desperately develop a robustly gospel-saturated and transformative understanding of an inaugurated eschatological anthropology with a deeper awareness to the complexities of sexuality… but that’s for a future post by someone way more intelligent than I.
Furthermore, Ken’s honesty in how he’s struggled as a pastor living in what he’d likely call a very “liberal” or “progressive” environment must be taken into consideration. As one who is pastoring in a community that is likely a bit more “conservative,” I can appreciate the tension. After all, both the “conservative” and “liberal” perspectives must be challenged by the implications of the Kingdom of God! And it can be very difficult when the people you pastor (and love) hold to positions and beliefs that you believe are out of step with what Jesus and the kingdom require. ALTMC expresses this challenge well. After all, Ken writes that people in his community “view any exclusionary policies toward gay people as unjust, a moral wrong. They want nothing to do with organizations that do such things.” This clearly presents a challenge for an evangelical, though I’d also want to suggest that this would have been the same challenge that the apostle Paul faced in many of the contexts he ministered in (e.g., Rome and Corinth!).
Lastly, I think Ken’s honesty is quite helpful for us in our attempt to evaluate his views. In fact, if you want to understand how someone goes from reading, understanding, and applying Scripture in the traditional way to reading it, understanding it, and applying it in as “open and affirming,” ALTMC‘s second chapter is extremely helpful. Ken’s explanation of his discernment process and the way that he’s decided to “work this out” are explained in detail. Readers should be grateful for his transparency!
The problems with chapter 2
As I’ve previously noted, my intention with a review of ALTMC is decidedly more focused on the numerous biblical, theological, and practical problems I find. And since Ken notes that he could be wrong, we should really work hard to determine whether the way that Christians have understood the Bible, the gospel, marriage, sexuality, and the transformative work of the Spirit need to be somewhat rejected.
As I’ve already noted, ALTMC is frustrating for me because the logic isn’t consistent and the arguments feel dishonest, though maybe that’s just Ken’s rhetorical methodology kicking in. I think I’ve already shown how Ken’s definitions of “open and affirming” and “love the sinner, hate the sin” are a bit skewed and that he is clearly muddying the water in how he explains how his church has allegedly “excluded” people (and Don Bromley’s letter to Ken is devastating to Ken’s arguments on this issue). Unfortunately, chapter two includes more of these types of arguments and misrepresentations.
For instance, commenting on the “open and affirming” position, Ken writes:
“My discomfort with the “open and affirming” position— other than the fact that adopting it would brand me as a heretic for life among my evangelical colleagues, whose opinion of me means a great deal to me, but that’s a side issue— boiled down to a couple of things. Close to home, I didn’t think it honored choices that dear friends had made to live celibate or to marry despite same-sex attraction . I know people who have experienced strong same -sex attraction but who view sexual orientation as changeable, fluid, open to further influence that changes their experience. From what I know, most “open and affirming” churches would dismiss their experience.”
While I’m inclined to spend a great deal of time pointing out that Ken himself ironically acknowledges that the “open and affirming” position is outside the evangelical tradition, I’d rather just note that I don’t think most “open and affirming” churches would dismiss the experience of someone who believed their sexual orientation was “changeable” or “fluid.” This certainly wouldn’t represent what I have found in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Several conversations with different ELCA pastors has led me to understand that their “open and affirming” is far more nuanced than Ken is suggesting. In fact, in their document “A Social Statement on Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” the following is stated:
“This statement responds to this church’s call for a foundational framework that will help it discern what it means to follow faithfully God’s law of love in the increasingly complex sphere of human sexuality.” (p.36)
“Open and affirming” churches/denominations recognize the complexity of this issue. And based on what Ken has written and the various interviews he has provided as one who clearly articulates an “open and affirming” position, I think it’s silly to suggest that such a view isn’t far more complex than his simplistic misrepresentations.
At any rate, my major concern with this chapter is actually related somewhat to how he’s moved forward with his views. He states,
“I’ve chosen not to call for a “town hall meeting” of the congregation to thrash this out because “the gay controversy ” is now at the epicenter of a great political and cultural divide that has been growing for the past thirty years . This fact stigmatizes people. It says to them, “Dealing with you is something we’re at war over. When we talk about you, we get very upset. Some of us may get up and leave .” Imagine walking into a meeting knowing that people were discussing the most tender, most vulnerable aspect of your being. You would feel singled out, stigmatized.”
One has to question this approach to “doing theology in community.” Apparently the community, both in the local church and in the wider Vineyard movement, didn’t have much to offer? Or couldn’t have a serious discussion in love? Questions abound in regards to such a decision, especially in light of how this process took place. We talk about a lot of other sins (murder, lying, stealing, overlooking the poor, etc.) in our gatherings… why not talk about sexual brokenness? The only reasonable answer is that the author no longer views homosexuality within the framework of sexual brokenness.
But the fact that I find this decision problematic and quite unhelpful is simply my opinion. This chapter doesn’t offer a whole lot to substantially evaluate because it’s primarily Ken just sharing what’s been going through his head as a pastor.
In the next review, we’ll actually begin to evaluate Ken’s handling of Scripture, which, quite frankly, is not very convincing. For those of you following these reviews, I think this will likely be the most important aspects of these reviews.
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.