I had lunch with Fred Harrell a few days ago. Fred is the lead pastor of City Church. Last year, City Church–an RCA congregation–took a significant step towards becoming an open and affirming community (read story here). This sent shockwaves through our denomination. City Church is a flag ship church in our denomination, partnering with one of our seminaries and helping to plant churches around the United States. Up until this moment, I had always been a big fan of what they were doing. In response to their move of becoming welcoming and affirming, a large group of RCA pastors, including myself, wrote a public letter to City Church. This too sent shock waves around our denomination. I provided the leadership to bring the letter together and gather the signatures. Though I still strongly disagree with what City Church did, I made a significant, sinful misstep that I personally asked Fred for forgiveness.
In the process of writing our response to City Church, I sent a draft to Fred to let him know what we planned on doing. Fred asked for a phone meeting to process this through relationship. I declined his offer. This was sin on my part. In retrospect, I should have entered into relationship with Fred and then decided on a next step. I told Fred, at our lunch, that I am sorry that I did not do this and asked for his forgiveness. He gladly gave it.
All that being said, this is what I am learning as I enter into my fifth decade of life:
- As Christians we are called to love one another. This is a command of Jesus. I have decided that he actually means it. It is not enough to be right; we must be kind. Personally, I have decided that when I must say the hard thing I must do everything in my power to do it lovingly in relationship. I am always tempered in my response when I am responding to a friend I love. I believe this is a good thing. Also to be a person of love demands that I actually listen to others. To see things from their perspective. I think the church would be much kinder if we intentionally entered into this kind of relationship with one another especially with those who are different than us. I am trying hard to live this way.
- If I am right on issues of sexuality, I should be able to be a calm, non-anxious presence among those with whom I disagree. Many times, I have been motivated by fear. Fear makes me defensive. What I am learning is that if God is my father, I can be present in love, share my opinions graciously and not worry about outcomes. I am deciding, as much as I can, to live this way.
- I might be wrong on issues of sexuality and gender. Now, I do not believe I am wrong. Actually, I am the most conservative that I have ever been in my life. I am happily complementarian, pro-traditional marriage, and deeply reformed. These are not just intellectual positions for me but these realities have profoundly shaped my life as a follower of Jesus. And as I read the Scriptures and have experienced God in my life, I know these things to be true. But usually when you are wrong, you do not know it. This one idea–that I might be wrong–moves me into a place of humility. It keeps me open and curious. it causes me to keep searching for the truth wherever it may lead. It keeps my pronouncements modest. It allows me to be a conversational partner and not a dictator. Personally, this seems to fit better with how Jesus has asked me to live.
- I personally don’t want to be at war with those with whom I disagree. In the next few years, the RCA is going to see many churches leave the denomination over gay marriage and gay ordination. This splitting can be done with guns drawn and bullets flying or it can be done in lament and love. I choose lament and love.
I am thankful for Fred. I disagree with him on this and other issues. But I am thankful that he was willing to be in relationship with me even when I didn’t want to be in relationship with him. Thank you Fred for teaching me how to be a better follower of Jesus.