The month of May is always the most challenging month of the year for our family. Our three teenage children all play travel baseball, so as soon as the calendar flips, our lives become a whirlwind of activity that eats up just about every evening and weekend for a four month stretch that ends on Labour Day. Case in point: over the last two weeks of May this year, our kids played a total of thirty baseball games—that’s right, thirty! The schedule doesn’t really start slowing down at all until the end of July, but the reason May is such a challenge is that we’re not used to it. We go from having sit-down family dinners practically every night to eating out of tupperware on the way to the diamond. Instead of relaxing evenings playing games, watching TV, or reading, we often get home at ten or eleven o-clock at night, only to collapse into bed and wake up tired the next morning.
(Note: This post is part of an ongoing series called The View From Here. Please follow this link and start reading at the oldest post, Fear and Trembling.)
Being able to hit ‘pause’ on these conversations in my pastoral role definitely helped create the space I needed to stay above water during an already chaotic month, but it has also helped me realize just how chaotic this season of church life has actually been for me. The frantic and destabilizing start of ball season in the Malo home is not unlike what I experienced when Eric first shared his story with me back in December. Pastorally, I went from zero to sixty in seconds flat, then went on to keep that pace through the end of April. To hold the baseball season parallel just a little longer, it was like going five months without sitting down for a family dinner.
But May was different. Suddenly, I had time for the emotional ‘family dinners’ that I had been missing out on as our congregation gave me the space I needed to step back and gain some perspective; to step back and breathe. As I think about all of the advice I would share with a person charged with leading a church through a process like our own, I would be sure to recommend that a similar space be created for the health of everyone involved.
Now that June is here, I have slowly re-entered our community’s conversation about the intersection of same-sex attraction and Christian faith. I’ve talked with our Staff team about what the break was like for them, learning that they, too, appreciated an opportunity to step back for a while. I’ve had conversations with a couple of people from the church, but to be honest, I’m a little surprised that there aren’t more requests in my inbox. (Knock on wood!) Stepping back from the constant conversation has given me a chance to be a ‘normal’ pastor again, and I’m suspicious that others might also like the idea of our church as a whole going back to ‘normal’—getting back to the things that we’ve always been about, instead of having this one issue dominate the horizon.
The gut-level feeling I’ve had during this brief reprieve is that I’m ready to call our church to accept our diversity on this issue and commit to walking forward as a community of grace. As I type these words, I realize that in some ways this is no different from what I expressed hope for in my February sermon. But as Oliver Wendell Holmes famously quipped, “I wouldn't give a fig for simplicity this side of complexity but I'd give my right arm for simplicity on the other side of complexity.” The longing I had when we opened up this conversation was that we could find a way to allow grace to rule the day, but at the time, it seemed like a pipe dream—like the poles were too far apart and the hostilities too high for us to survive this intact. Time, though, has helped me realize that casualties will come regardless of what path we take, so it seems futile to drag things out any longer than we need to.
I’m struggling here to find words to express the other piece of the puzzle for me, which is that I am ready to lead our church into unfamiliar waters where we accept LGBTQ people into the life of the church without drawing definitive lines in the sand. While I cannot personally embrace a posture that celebrates same-sex relationships the way an affirming person can, I am at a point where I am ready to walk with same-sex attracted people who believe differently than I do and find ways to support their decisions in a way that doesn’t compromise my beliefs, but also allows for them to grow in life and faith alongside me in our community of faith. As a pastor, I believe I have a responsibility to foster an environment of grace where we focus on Jesus first and foremost, trusting the decisions of others to his care, including a decision by a same-sex attracted individual to enter into a covenant relationship with someone of the same sex.
It feels pretty overwhelming to type those words, and my heart is actually pumping just a little bit faster than it was two minutes ago, perhaps feeling the weight of what I’ve just written. But when I was in Victoria, worshipping God alongside my unsuspecting denominational family, I had the surprising and seemingly out-of-nowhere thought, “I want to lead a church where people in same-sex relationships are worshipping alongside me.” It caught me off guard, and I’m still processing where the thought came from and what it means in real time, but part of what I’m feeling is that people need places where their sexuality is not definitive, where they can be discipled and can worship alongside others as followers of Jesus, and not as LGBTQ people.
One evening, as Melissa and I were debriefing the day’s events, cautiously discerning if we were still ‘on the same page’ with respect to this issue, she shared about a thought that had come out of nowhere and that she hadn’t been able to shake: that just maybe, for some reason we can’t fully understand right now, God wants our church to walk this path. “What if God wants our church to be a place where gay people in our city can find Jesus and grow in faith?”
She had been wondering if there was something about the openness of our church to change—something about our thoughtfulness and our commitment to unity in diversity—that made us the kind of community that God could use in this way. “We may not have necessarily chosen this path,” she admitted, “but if it’s what God wants, then it’s the path we have to take.”
In the year before Melissa and I planted our student church, a friend and mentor gave me some advice that I took to heart during that formative stage of life. He told me that I had a maverick spirit. “In the right context,” he said, “that’s a really good thing—it’s how God has created you. But if you’re not careful, it could end up steering you off course. If you’re going to pursue this calling, you need to build some accountability into your life right from the start.”
He recommended that I get a formal theological education and that I align myself with a denomination so I would have the support and guidance I needed along the way. I’ve been reflecting on this conversation a lot lately and have been realizing that this advice made perfect sense for a twenty year old who had aspirations of being a pastor but who hadn’t even read through the Bible yet. But even though I’ve spent the last twenty years putting down roots and deepening my commitment to the Bible and the church, I’m still allowing this narrative to hold me back, as if I’m that same twenty year old ‘maverick’ who’s at risk of running amok if I’m not careful. I shared some of these thoughts with a friend over breakfast recently, and he looked at me and said, “Brandon, you’re grounded.” And he was right.
I have spent so much of the past twenty years of my pastoral life being careful to not step out of bounds theologically, but I’m starting to wonder if I’ve actually been holding back on being the person I was created to be. Lately, I feel as if God has been preparing me and opening and expanding my heart for something way outside of my comfort zone—something that I never would have chosen, something that I would have bet the farm against ever happening in my life. These have been among the darkest and heaviest months I have walked through as a pastor, and I’m ready to step out into a brighter future where I am not ruled by fear, but by love.