Tag Archives: MCC

Theological “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

“Don’t Ask, don’t tell” (DADT) was the official United States policy on gays serving in the military from December 1993 until September 2011. The idea behind this policy was to allow closeted LGBT personnel to serve in the military without fear of harassment and discharge. Even without addressing the total lack of moral integrity of DADT–there is nothing remotely moral about forcing people into the closet in order to serve the country they love–this policy never worked. There were still several cases of unauthorized investigations and harassment of LGBT personnel. It has now been a year and half since DADT was repealed, and none of the doomsday scenarios and mass breakdown of military morale predicted by some people have occurred. I can even imagine that without the stress of discovery and discharge hanging over their heads, some LGBT service personnel are performing at even higher levels than they did before DADT was repealed.

There are all kinds of DADT policies out there, too. Most of these policies are not in writing; you just know its best to keep your mouth closed about certain issues. And in my opinion, institutional religion is one of the biggest proponents of various DADT policies. There is, of course, the glaring example of the child abuse cover ups in the Catholic Church which are now increasingly being brought to our attention. Those atrocities, as painful and sad as they are, however, are not the subject of this post.

I’m talking more about theological DADT policies. For example, I remember a conversation I had with three colleagues a few years ago. One was Roman Catholic; one was Presbyterian (PCUSA); the third was Evangelical Lutheran (ELCA). We were discussing a variety of theological subjects over lunch; feeling safe with this group, I shared a few of my more “unorthodox” beliefs. Imagine my surprise when all three of them said that, for the most part, they were on the same page as me! One of them said, “I agree with your comments. I just can’t say those things in my congregation.” The other two clergy persons agreed.


Now I do understand the concept of not intentionally upsetting congregants for shock effect. After all, if some congregants have issues with the church colors not being “correct,” can you imagine what would happen if you told them you don’t believe Jesus literally rose from the dead? Also, if you’re going to share some potentially unsettling theological insights either in a class or from the pulpit, you’d best be prepared to cite your sources and share how your reasoning has led you to those conclusions. Beyond that, I believe a pastor and/or teacher should do their best to walk with congregants through any theological disorientation their teachings may bring to these folks. Of course, even after we do our best to walk with these people, some may simply shake their heads and walk away–and that’s OK.

What is not OK is teaching and preaching what we do not believe just to keep the peace–and our jobs. What I’ve learned is, if I preach and teach using a combination of head and heart–if I preach and teach from a place of personal integrity–and if I give people plenty of room to agree to disagree–to believe and to be who they are with their own sense of integrity–things tend to work out because people feel safe, and they trust they aren’t going to be drummed out of the community simply because they don’t agree with the pastor.

I also think it is time we stopped playing DADT within our various denominations. I applaud reconciling congregations within the United Methodist Church; More Light congregations within the PCUSA; and all other openly LGBT affirming groups within various faith traditions. These congregations are doing what they can to say “NO!” to the policies of their denominations which offend their sense of theological integrity and belief.

Beyond policy issues, however, I think–no, I know–some of us feel a certain level of discomfort with the unspoken theological DADT policies in our denominations/associations. For example, we toss the word “Christian” around and write it into our bylaws like it means the same thing to everyone in a particular congregation/denomination/association. It doesn’t–and we know it. So why aren’t we talking about this issue?

Could it be…fear?

Fear of losing our jobs; fear of losing our leadership roles; fear of losing our lifetime membership in Club Christendom? I think it’s all that and perhaps a bit more. Let’s face it, folks. If you’re a pastor in a liberal and very diverse congregation, chances are you’re doing your best just to hold it together week to week. Sure, the journey is exciting and full of possibilities. You feel honored and in awe to be entrusted with the responsibilities of leading a congregation. I know I am.

And then there is all that day-to-day mundane stuff that must be handled. There are multiple personalities with whom we must learn to work–and them with us. Add some serious theological debate and the denominational politics that go with that debate and, well, who has the time? Mulitply that reality by the number of people in your congregation who most likely have some of the same questions as you, yet who are afraid of “rocking the boat.” Now, multiply that reality by the number of congregations in your denomination/association, put yourself in the seats of your senior leadership and, well, you get the point.

Still, I think we’re risking a lot by not having these conversations; and not just between like-minded colleagues at retreats and/or at church conferences. I mean trusting our congregants enough that we can have these conversations and still be communities that follow the spiritual paths to which we’ve been called. I mean trusting the senior leadership of our denominations/associations enough that we can say, “This is the spiritual path our congregation is following. It doesn’t fit your bylaw requirements, either. Can we talk?”

Well, can we?

Blessings on your journeys!

Re-Tooling the Church

Recently Richard and I spent a very pleasant afternoon with two friends. One of the women was sharing how some of the proposed changes local government is making for training in her profession (training educators) could actually make her position obsolete in the not-too-distant future. While she admitted these changes would save money, she also shared her concerns that the quality of training would suffer. The reduction in quality of training would then have negative impacts on future educators as well as the young people they instruct.

The discussion then turned to what we would do if our jobs became obsolete. How would we “re-tool” to adjust to our new realities?

This is a question that has been on my mind a lot in the past year or so. On one hand, I’m blessed to be a fairly compensated full-time pastor; on the other hand, I know that reality can change in a very short time. No, I don’t sit around worrying that the next phone call I receive will be from the Vice-Moderator of our board, notifying me the congregation is calling for my resignation for one reason or another.  And although we don’t have an endowment, and our board does have to watch our finances very carefully, I also don’t worry that next week’s paycheck is fully dependent on this coming Sunday’s offering.

No, the re-tooling question comes from what I see as the new realities of organized religion. And if what I am reading on various blogs, in books and magazines, and hearing in my discussions with colleagues across denominational lines are any indication, I am not the only one thinking about the issue of what I call “re-tooling the church.”

Like so many other professions these days, there are multitudes of talented and dedicated clergy who cannot find equally dedicated and caring congregations who are able to pay their clergy a living wage. Younger clergy cannot find positions because older clergy who should be retired are staying put in their churches and denominational leadership positions. And you can’t really blame all the older clergy, because–like everyone else–what little retirement and pension funding many of them had has taken a beating. So, they continue to work and serve as long as their health allows–or their congregations or denominational leaders “encourage” them to retire.

Like some other institutions, many of our administrative structures–especially at the national leadership levels–are sorely outdated and too expensive to maintain. I am not saying these structures are all bad, either. They worked at one time when going to church, synagogue, temple, or mosque was just “what people did.” That is simply no longer the case. People are learning they can be–as the title of Humanist Chaplain Gregory Epstein’s book reminds us–“Good Without God”–at least when it comes to being part of a church, mosque, temple, or synagogue. That is, people who believe in God–however they define that word–are learning that their eternal destinations aren’t tied to the support of any religious institution.

All these realities are just that–realities. The challenges I’ve mentioned are faced by religious groups across the theological/spiritual board. I don’t believe they are signs of an external God’s displeasure with us for being too “this or that” (pick your favorite label and insert it here). We may (and do) tweak our worship words and wardrobes. We add and subtract drums, keyboards, and organs. We add and subtract programs as people come and go. Trust me, I’ve done all these things at one time or another in my pastoral life; and I support mixing, matching, and trying new ideas. Still, regardless of what we try, it doesn’t change my core belief that these realities I’ve mentioned may point to yet another evolution in religion and religious expression.

And once again the church is being left behind redecorating our exteriors without doing the hard work of examining our interiors. When I say “examining our interiors,” I’m not talking about making sure we have all the “right” words and beliefs about our  faith to ensure our sweet seats in the afterlife, either. I mean asking questions like, “Why are we even doing this thing called “church” anyway?”

“Why are we even doing this thing called “church” anyway?” Let that question sink in for a moment. If we can’t answer it, we should be concerned.

For me, church isn’t about worshipping an external Deity, or for feeling better about myself after beating myself up during silent confession. As much as I love good music, church isn’t all about the music or the liturgy. And especially as a pastor, I seriously dislike the whole idea of “church as entertainment.” Yes, I strive to make my reflections relevant and I love to use humor. Still, as that great theologian Pink reminds us in one of her songs, “I’m not here for your entertainment.”

Church isn’t about escaping the reality of life that waits for us outside our pretty little white building, either. For me, church at its best is about learning how to support, love, and appropriately challenge one another as we face life–both as individuals and as a community of faith.

So what is it going to take to re-tool the church to not only face, but also embrace this evolution and revolution? I have a few ideas; one thing for sure, however, is professional religious people like me had best be prepared to adjust to our new realities. For our roles–and those of our denominational leaders–will have to evolve for religious communities to continue being relevant pathways to growth and positive living in our world.

Now I think I understand why there are so many “fear nots” in the bible…