Called to an Inclusive & Affirming Church

God’s Holy Spirit is calling our family to join a Christian church congregation which is both inclusive and affirming. The past four months have been a time of transition for us, as I have continued to teach our adult Sunday School class at First Presbyterian Church of Edmond, where I am an ordained elder and deacon. While I have continued to teach our Sunday School class, we only attended. worship at FPC a couple times this fall. In August we started visiting other Oklahoma City church congregations, and through the guidance and mentorship of friends, found our way to St Augustine of Canterbury, a wonderful Episcopal congregation just about 5 minutes from our house in northwest Oklahoma City. We’ve been attending the early services at Saint A’s since September, and then attending / leading Sunday School at FPC in Edmond. This has, at times, felt awkward, but it has been both necessary and good. This year members of our family “stopped feeling safe” attending worship and church groups at FPC Edmond, and worshipping together as a family is a very important value for us. Those sentiments by other family members were independent of some difficulties I faced personally as a member of the leadership team for our Friday Morning Men’s Group at FPC. Those situations and. issues, and the ways they were handled / mishandled, and additional interactions with men’s group members led me to resign my position of leadership with FPC men’s group on September 23, 2021. That decision followed private meetings with members of the men’s group’s leadership team, and included a later meeting and multiple communications with our senior pastor. This decision to leave FPC Edmond as a family is something my wife and I have taken very seriously, and prayed over for many weeks. We have prayed for discernment, and God has answered that prayer. God is calling us to an affirming and inclusive church congregation.

I was initially ordained as a deacon and then an elder at FPC Edmond when our congregation was part of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) denomination. On January 27, 2013, our congregation voted “for gracious dismissal from PCUSA to join the ECO denomination, the “Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.” With the rest of our elected elders at the time, I accepted ordination following that vote into ECO as an elder. At that time, I had not and did not personally grapple deeply with the question of whether or not we, as followers of Jesus Christ, and leaders of His church, are called to be inclusive and affirming. When I say “grapple deeply” I mean that I did not seriously question the leadership and direction of our senior pastor at the time and our other elders. My only Christian blog post at that time addressing these issues was from January 26, 2013, “Commenting Publicly About Our Church’s Congregational Vote.”

This failure to grapple deeply with the beliefs about and treatment of LGBTQ people at that time may strike some as odd, since the question of how the church addresses homosexuality was a significant and common issue for churches (like ours) choosing to leave PCUSA for another Presbyterian denomination. Around the same time as our congregation joined ECO, the church where Shelly and I met in 1995 (Westminster Presbyterian Church of Lubbock, Texas) also chose to leave PCUSA, but they joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). EPC is even more conservative than ECO as a denomination in some ways, as they state in their “distinctives” the following:

“the decision to elect women as pastors, ruling elders, and deacons is left to the discretion of the presbytery and congregation, respectively.”

Distinctives of EPC

The ECO denomination, as well as our FPC church home of the past 15 years, is not inclusive or affirming. This is not a secret. On page 30 of the 2020 ECO Confessional Standards we read:

Q. 87. Can those who do not turn to God from their ungrateful, impenitent life be saved?

A. Certainly not! Scripture says, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit

the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters,

nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor

drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians

6:9–10).

2020 ECO Confessional Standards

Following our congregation’s decision to leave PCUSA and join ECO, one of our assistant pastors (Matt Jones) along with one of our church members and small group leaders (Curt Gruel) led a wonderful Wednesday night class focused on the book “Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community” by Andrew Marin. In all my life up to that point and since, that class was the ONLY time I’ve had an opportunity in church to discuss issues and theology relating to LGBTQ people. At that time, I setup a website titled, “Faith Discussions,” and shared resources there related to the class. That site is now offline, but you can view information about the class as well as Curt’s welcome and class overview via the Wayback Machine of the Internet Archive. I posted notes from that class twice to this blog, “Love is an Orientation: Session 1” from January 9, 2013, and “Session 2: Love is an Orientation” from January 17th. As a related and significant aside, Curt Gruel has generously served (on a volunteer basis, I will point out) as my “Spiritual Director” in the Heartpaths OKC program for at least the past 7 years. Curt’s mentorship and discernment skills have been HUGE parts of my own spiritual development in the past decade, and I am incredibly thankful for his leadership, guidance and loving service to me and others through this amazing program.

Today I am sharing with our Sunday School class our decision to leave FPC Edmond so we can both worship Christ and serve others with an affirming and inclusive Christian congregation. Shelly and I no longer feel we can worship God in spirit and in truth at FPC Edmond. FPC Edmond is a “don’t ask, don’t tell” church when it comes to homosexuality and LGBTQ people, and we want to worship and serve in a Christian church congregation which is both inclusive and affirming to everyone, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.

I have not wanted to share this decision privately or publicly with any emotions of anger, hurt, frustration, or pain. This is an ongoing journey which is not over. Shelly and I are both confident, however, that God is leading us and our family in a new direction.

We have been active members and leaders at FPC Edmond for the past fifteen years. Shelly served on the staff of FPC for seven years, leading our church nursery staff. Her leadership and ministry work through Children’s Ministries at FPC eventually brought her into relationship with many people both experiencing homelessness and serving the homeless in Oklahoma City. Our church’s “Rolling Green Outreach Ministry” at that time was a significant catalyst which eventually brought Shelly to serve as a teacher at Positive Tomorrows in OKC for four years. We have raised our children at FPC in Edmond, it has been our church home and our family. Contemplating leaving has been difficult and sad.

Yet we know God is calling us to a new chapter in our lives, and we are ready to answer. As I continue to apply for assistant professor positions to start a new professional role in summer 2022, we are not sure if we’ll be staying here in Oklahoma City or moving to a new place. It’s a time of waiting and praying. We are confident God is answering and has already answered our prayers.

The Gospel Encounter of the Apostle Paul (Part 1)

Last week in our “Gospel Encounters” adult Sunday School class on February 3, 2019, we started a multi-part study on transformative experiences of the Apostle Paul, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, on the road to Damascus. These were the notes I took during our class discussion:

We started by using the KWL strategy about Paul’s life and conversion: What do we KNOW, what do we WANT to know, and what have we LEARNED?

Some of the things class members shared that they know about Paul, his life and his conversion to become a follower of Jesus were:

  1. Saul was a persecutor of the early Christian church
  2. Saul was highly schooled (reminded us of Pastor Mateen Elass)
  3. He was “a Pharisee’s Pharisee” (someone who ardently followed all the directives and prescriptions of Jewish law)
  4. He was born a Roman citizen
  5. He was zealous
  6. Paul wrote most of the letters included in the New Testament
  7. Paul had important arguments with the Apostle Peter, over the historic requirements of Jews to follow dietary restrictions and men to submit to circumcision
  8. Paul went on several important missionary journeys
  9. Saul was a tent maker by trade
  10. God annointed Paul as His missionary to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the Gentiles (non-Jews)
  11. Paul’s letter to the Galatians addresses the toxic organizational structure of that early church, and includes his teachings on how to properly handle church leadership and organization

Things we WANT to know include:

  1. Where was/is Tarsus? (a historic city in south-central Turkey)
  2. How did a person become a Roman citizen?

We read the 9th chapter of the Book of Acts from the New International Version, which is the first of three accounts of Paul’s conversion which are included in Acts. (The others are in Acts 22 and Acts 26.) After reading this chapter, we watched the 5.5 minute video, “The Road to Damascus – Saul Takes his Journey.” Since this video was published by the Mormon Church, I shared the same disclaimer I have before when sharing Mormon videos: Some of the videos shared by the LDS church (like this one) are outstanding, but my use of them in teaching does NOT constitute an endorsement or recommendation of LDS theology.

After watching the video, we discussed in small groups and then shared together things which stood out for us, after reading Acts 9 and watching this video. Some of the standouts were:

  1. Paul’s conversion experience was VERY dramatic
  2. The events detailed in scripture and depicted in the video required obedience on the part of both Paul and Ananias.
  3. The video did a good job portraying the tenderness of Paul after his conversion experience, it’s both understandable and reasonable that he was extremely humbled by this experience on the road to Damascus.
  4. In his communication to Ananias, God reveals his plan for Paul to be his missionary to the Gentiles, bring them the Gospel of Jesus Christ
  5. Paul’s response to his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus included baptism, an act in which his old identity (Saul) was washed away and he was reborn into his new identity (Paul)

This coming Sunday (tomorrow) we’ll continue our study of Paul, his conversion experience, and the lessons we can glean from this powerful Gospel encounter with Jesus Christ!

Gospel Encounters: Sharing our Journey of Faith to Jesus

Today in our adult Sunday School class, continuing our focus on both historical and contemporary “Gospel Encounters” with Jesus, I shared my personal testimony as well as a framework for “Sharing our Journey of Faith to Jesus.” This is based on a four part framework explained on our church‘s new website, “7 Core Practices,” detailed in the post from August 2018, “Going Deeper Into Your Story.” Here are the slides I used during today’s lesson.

I referenced a video about part of my testimony which I recorded and posted to YouTube in September 2011, titled “God Answered My Prayer in Pilot Training.”

I initially wrote about this on my professional blog in August 2006, before I created this separate space as my “Christian blog.” It was initially named “Eyes Right,” before I changed it to “Pocket Share Jesus” to align with the “Digital Witness for Jesus Christ” book and evangelism empowerment project.

This was the first time I shared parts of “my story” publicly which followed the events described in the above video. Those experiences from my life in February 1994 are likely things I will never put online and share digitally, but I am glad to have an opportunity to share them in person with others with the hope and prayer they will serve as an encouragement which points others to Jesus Christ.

I hope and pray today’s lesson highlighted the ways God has and continues to be active in my life and the life of our family. I also hope it was an encouragement to us all to share our own Gospel story with others. Check out 7corepractices.com for more inspiration and practical suggestions about ways we can serve and share Jesus Christ in our homes, workplaces, and communities. Also check out www.dw4jc.com for suggestions and strategies for how we can share scripture, our stories, and our witness of God’s Holy Spirit being active in our lives using digital media.

* Added 27 October 2018: I shared a modified version of these slides, with a few photos from pilot training which I dug out of our garage, in a presentation for our Friday Morning Men’s group on October 26, 2018.

Supernatural Church

These are my slides for the Friday’s men’s group lesson I’m teaching on the final chapter (“Supernatural Church”) of Francis Chan’s 2009 book, “Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit.” Thanks to my mom who gave me a scrapbook from my freshman year at the Air Force Academy this week. I used the free Google iPhone app PhotoScan to scan several photos from basic training and that fall at USAFA, which I incorporated into this presentation and slideshow.