(12/14: I was contacted by an old friend who does work for Vineyard USA. He informed me that Ken Wilson’s church, Vineyard Ann Arbor, did not leave the Vineyard. In fact, they released Ken after his book came out. Ken then sought to plant an open and affirming church. Not sure how that is going.)
An essential part of my Christian journey happened in the Vineyard, a quasi-denomination born out of the Jesus movement. I read an essay by Ken Wilson a few days ago (he’s a former Vineyard pastor; more about him below). His essay angered me. I am not angry because I disagree with him or that he incorrectly interprets research to try and prove his point. I am angry because he is an enemy of the cross.
Seven years ago, Ken Wilson wrote the book A Letter to My Congregation. The book was a bomb in the Vineyard world and resulted in a position paper reaffirming the Vineyard USA’s orthodox stand. Afterwards, Wilson left the Vineyard and took his church with him but the damage was done. Churches far afield from the Vineyard were impacted by Wilson’s book. For example, City Church in San Francisco, once a traditionalist powerhouse, became open and affirming in large part because of Ken Wilson. A few weeks ago, Ken Wilson wrote a follow up to his book and the Vineyard position paper on homosexuality, Seven Years Late: My Response to the Vineyard LGBT Paper. There are so many things that one might say about his latest essay but I have only one thing to say. Shame on you Ken Wilson.
Ken Wilson says that traditional Christianity is harming the LGBT community. He places part of the blame at the feet of the Vineyard. Wilson writes, “One of the early ex-gay ministries was founded by the Vineyard”. The ministry he is referring to is Desert Stream. Started by Andrew Comiskey, a convert during the Jesus movement, Desert Stream has stood for decades as an equipper of churches to create spaces of healing for the sexually and relationally broken. Jesus rescued Andrew from homosexuality; his life, faithful marriage to Annette and great adult kids stands as a beacon of prophetic hope for the broken. Jesus is still in the business of transforming lives.
Wilson forgets that Desert Stream was at the heart of the Vineyard movement not some exgay ministry startup. Andrew and his wife were loved by John Wimber. After a crisis at his home church, Andrew Comiskey and his ministry found a home at Wimber’s Vineyard Anaheim. John Wimber opened doors for Andrew that brought Desert Stream around the world. Desert Stream has equipped hundreds of churches over the last four decades to serve the sexually broken including those in the LGBTQIA community. This work is still going on. Quietly. Unobtrusively. Lives are being changed by the sweet and glorious gospel of Jesus. I know so many people who walk lives of quiet holiness who were transformed by Jesus through Desert Stream..
I am one of them. I met Andrew for the first time in June of 1997. I was a mess. Sober weeks from hardcore drug use, paying the spiritual and emotional cost of countless sexual encounters with men, a pornography addiction, and a soul in tatters. I happened to end up in a small group he was leading and his first words to me which I will never forget, “you know there are some demons involved in all of this”. Yes there was but mercy was there too. I met Jesus that summer. He has not let me go for almost 25 years. Married to my wife Amy for 19 years, a father to 4 boys and a pastor for 15 years, I still stand in the healing flow I first experienced twenty-five years ago.
The Renewal of the 90s and the great call to following Jesus I heard from Andrew shapes my whole life. I have never regretted following Jesus. He has never failed. I have never stopped believing and standing in faith that my God works miracles. I still am maturing, I have wounds from the past, and many wounds from the church—hurtful, cold, immature but still she is beautiful. But my wounds are, in the words of Andrew, “radiant”. I stand with a great cloud of witnesses proclaiming that Jesus transforms; in fact, it’s my church’s vision statement. The mercy still flows.
Ken preaches a gospel that doesn’t cost anything. He speaks sweetly so no one ever is offended by sin. He makes it sound like Christianity is an Oprah show where we can all live our best life now. He forgets that the central symbol of Christian discipleship is the cross. Ken Wilson’s sweet, no-cost gospel would have destroyed me.
Ken disparages what God did in the Vineyard. Ken demonizes what Christ has and is doing in Desert Stream. Ken is trying to rewrite history. Shame on you Ken Wilson. You’re an enemy of the cross.