Change the world

I went to therapy Monday. Well, that’s not right. I had a videoconference therapy session from the comfort of my couch. I’ve never been shy about the fact that I see a therapist; it’s a healthy practice for me (and a lot of people), and I’m grateful for the insights she provides into my life.

Obviously, what with the whole “society is closed” thing going on, we had plenty to talk about. Near the end of our conversation, I  was asking the kinds of questions that a lot of us are asking, but not necessarily out loud and not in public.

“What if this goes on for months?”

“How are we going to handle all of our ordinary church things?”

“What’s going to change forever?”

So there’s something you ought to know about me. I have a bit of a flair for the dramatic. So after asking all of these questions, I made a statement.

“Everything is going to change.”

“Nathan, I’ve been seeing you for a couple of years now, and you spend a lot of time talking about how things need to change, don’t you?”


I probably don’t have to tell you that, for the last 40 years or so (and especially the last 20), the role of the church, especially the “mainline” church, has been in steep decline. Fewer people are in worship, a LOT fewer people are in worship, financial giving is down, and we simply aren’t central to many peoples’ lives. When I’m feeling particularly cynical, I compare our situation to that of shopping malls and the remaining Sears franchises: we have a lot of prime real estate, but the stuff on our shelves isn’t selling.

Which is a real shame because a relationship with Jesus and an understanding that the God who created the universe loves you is life-changing. Because having a community of people who are interested in studying scripture together can give us tremendous perspective and peace in the midst of upheaval. Because remembering we are part of something larger than ourselves can help us to engage the world meaningfully and draw hope and fulfillment from actions we take to help one another.

Churches have an incredible opportunity right now to model good behaviors, to provide love and care, and to show people that the things we talk about are much more important than a weekly worship service or regularly scheduled activities. We can show people that what we’re up to is developing the kinds of beliefs and practices that sustain people when things are hard. We can model for folks that a relationship with Jesus makes a difference, and that our concern is deepening faith and empowering people to put it to use.

A friend of a friend was a pastor in the northeast during 9/11. She talks about how, in the days following the attacks, churches were filled to the gills with people. But after a couple weeks, they walked out the doors again, remembering why the left in the first place. Because the last time they walked around Sears, they realized they didn’t really need a new ratchet set and they didn’t really want a scratchy sweater.

So I get mad when I see things like groups of church leaders suing the county so the they can do things the way they always have. I’m heartbroken when the first thing I see churches doing is figure out how they can stay within the letter of the law, but do some facsimile of what they have always done.

Our first priority needs to be, “how do we help people follow Jesus?” We do that by loving our neighbors. Historically, Christians have been the first people to open hospitals, to run healthcare ministries for the poor and hurting, to “heal the sick,” because it’s what Jesus did and told us to do. You could tell who the Christians were in ancient towns, because they wouldn’t leave during plagues, they were too busy providing care.

The faithful thing to do is to live into our faith, even when it means not being able to perform all of our faith practices the way we are accustomed to. The point of a church isn’t the activities, it’s the relationship with Jesus. So we shouldn’t be looking for ways to skirt the law when the science says stay home, we should be finding ways to help people bring faith into their homes. Saying things like “God will protect us” when we do things we don’t have to is testing God, not expressing our religious beliefs.

That’s why the church I pastor won’t be hosting drive-in church services for Easter, even if the Governor says they’re technically okay. It’s why we WILL be doing things like thinking about how we can remind people that their faith doesn’t start or end in a building. We’ll be finding ways to offer grace and connection and hope and chances to serve. We’ll be making phone calls and sending texts and devotionals out and loving our neighbors, from a safe distance.

We are not making these adjustments because we are scared, but because we are hopeful. We have an opportunity to show people that we are more motivated by our faith than our activity. We have an opportunity to look deeply into ourselves and find opportunities to change ourselves, and maybe even change the world.

It’s just a watch

For the last few weeks, I’ve been wearing my grandfathers’ watch. He died in 1990 when I was still very young, and for many years it sat in my parent’s safe. A couple years ago, when I decided I was mature enough to actually have it in my possession, I got it and wore it for a couple of days, and it promptly had a couple of parts break, and then I put off fixing it, because, well…


I wasn’t sure if wearing it would send the wrong message to people. Because it was made by one of those companies that cause some people to raise an eyebrow. It took me awhile to get over that. I’m really glad that I did.

In the periods of my life where I have been the most productive, I’ve worn a watch.  What’s the magical reason I’m more productive when I’m wearing a watch? Because if I’m not wearing a watch, I check the time on this thing:


You know what I also check when I check the time on that thing? FacebookInstagramTwitterEmailTextsGamesPlanningCenterSlackWeatherSnapchatCalendarGamecams. It’s…inefficient.

But that’s really not the point. I didn’t start wearing my grandfather’s watch to avoid the time suck of my cell phone, I did it to connect with someone I love who died when I was 4. I did it so that when I look at what time it is today, I can remember someone who was looking at what time it was on this day in 1975 on the same watch. And that’s really meaningful to me, even if somebody occasionally walks away and says, “Did you see what kind of watch that preacher had on?”

Confession: I’m always going to care what people think more than I should. Some of it is innate; I’ve always been wired to seek approval and I like attention. Some of it is a professional reality; a pastor who doesn’t consider what folks think about their actions is a pastor who spends a LOT of time apologizing, and they often end up pretty lonely. I think that’s why this decision was significant enough for me that I felt like writing something about it. And, maybe I’m wrong, but I doubt only pastors are people pleasers.

That’s the other nice thing about wearing this watch so far. When I start to think judgmental thoughts about someone, I’ve got something to remind me to cut that crap out. I spent years not doing something as simple as wearing a watch because I was scared of being judged, how can I know why someone else decided to do the things they do?

Is there anything meaningful to you that you’ve avoided doing because of your fear of what other people might think? On the other hand, have you ever thought or said something judgmental to someone without knowing their story?

Wear the watch. Do the thing.

Unity in Christ


(Post 5 of 5 in a series on Human Sexuality)


Following United Methodist General Conference 2019, several members of my congregation started asking me if I could make a presentation about my own beliefs on human sexuality. I’ve always been pretty open about believing that the Gospel is fully inclusive, but after the church’s relationship with LGBTQ+ people got so much press, traditionalist and progressive folks alike were interested in my perspective. So I’m going to break it into five fairly long blog posts and dump them here.

This is a reflection on all of Galatians 3. Here’s an excerpt:

 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian.

 You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Now if you belong to Christ, then indeed you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:25-29 (CEB)

Jewish Christians were certain that gentiles needed to be more like Jews to really understand what it meant to follow Jesus Christ. That because Jesus was so distinctly within the Jewish tradition, it would not be possible to follow him without accepting culturally and biblically Jewish customs like circumcision and dietary purity codes. But Paul, in the letter to the Galatians, makes the case that gentile believers, like most of us who follow Christ today, are grafted onto the vine even earlier in God’s story than the Levitical codes. That we are heirs of God’s promise made to Abraham, because Jesus Christ is the one who was promised. Abraham was not in a covenant with God because of circumcision or the law, but instead because he loved, trusted, and followed God even when it was scary and costly. Even when God asked him to do things he knew were absurd or unreasonable. 

And for Christians who are gentiles, we are heirs not because of the law and not in spite of the law, but instead because Christ has fulfilled the law. The law, as described by Jesus in Mark and also in 1 Timothy, is good. But its purpose is to provide support TO humankind; that humans don’t exist to follow the law, but rather the law exists to help support humankind in following God. 

In Matthew 22, Jesus boiled the commandments down to this:

“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” 

Matthew 22:37-40 (CEB)

And Jesus, Paul, and the early Christians took this radical message of love and used it to build a movement the likes of which the world had never seen. By promising life abundant and eternal through a relationship with Jesus, the early Christians developed communities that looked radically different than the world order. It was common for prominent women and slave men to come together in house churches across the Roman empire, worshipping God through singing, shared meals, and service to the sick and hurting in the community. 

I believe that Paul’s vision of the beloved community of a unity in Christ across deep and meaningful difference in life and understanding, is the vision we need to follow Christ in Houston Texas today, and it’s the vision of the Church that shows me glimpses of what heaven might be like. That all who earnestly love Christ and seek to know him more are truly one in Jesus Christ. It’s a passion for this vision of God’s beloved community and Kingdom that inspired me to say yes when I heard the Spirit calling me to pursue a life in pastoral ministry. It’s glimpses of this beloved Kingdom I see when I look at this incredible, multi-generational, God-and-neighbor loving community. And its hope for this future that compels me to dedicate my life to service to Jesus. 

Series Navigator

Part 1: My Quadrilateral

Part 2: A Case for Celibacy

Part 3: Who am I to deny the spirit?

Part 4: Love over law

Part 5: Unity in Christ

Love over law

(Post 4 of 5 in a series on Human Sexuality)


Following United Methodist General Conference 2019, several members of my congregation started asking me if I could make a presentation about my own beliefs on human sexuality. I’ve always been pretty open about believing that the Gospel is fully inclusive, but after the church’s relationship with LGBTQ+ people got so much press, traditionalist and progressive folks alike were interested in my perspective. So I’m going to break it into five fairly long blog posts and dump them here.


This section will be relatively short, but is of tantamount importance to me, because it’s where my beliefs for inclusion find their grounding in the witness of my own Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You’ll see on your handout a list of passages out of the gospel according to Mark, but I could have easily made this list out of any of the Gospels. 

In many familiar bible translations, you could call this section of my presentation the “woe to you scribes and pharisees” section. Here’s a short excerpt from Mark 7 that’s the basic thesis of this critique Jesus makes: 

He replied, “Isaiah really knew what he was talking about when he prophesied about you hypocrites. He wrote, 

This people honors me with their lips,

but their hearts are far away from me.

Their worship of me is empty

since they teach instructions that are human words.

You ignore God’s commandment while holding on to rules created by humans and handed down to you.”  Jesus continued, “Clearly, you are experts at rejecting God’s commandment in order to establish these rules.  

Mark 7:6-9 (CEB)

Again and again throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus is confronted by devout and scripturally literate Pharisees and legal experts with some version of the question, “But how can you do this when the law clearly says otherwise?” 

Again and again, Jesus responds with some version of, “If your interpretation of the law causes you to miss out on God’s command to love your neighbor, you have misinterpreted the law.” 

To carry this further, to the legalist, sin is the transgression of a written rule. But to Jesus, sin is separation from God; having, as Isaiah says, hearts far away from God. Jesus sees separation from God and separation from neighbor as part and parcel of the same problem, and the legalists are using the law to increase separation rather than to remove it. 

As I stated at the beginning of this series, I believe that all of scripture is inspired by God and useful to help us to learn and to grow. I believe that deep and meaningful study of scripture has the power to transform us, to help us to serve God and be transformed in ways we never thought possible. The purpose of scripture, in my eyes, is not to function as God, but to point us towards a relationship with God. The Bible is the inspired and accurate text that points us towards the living, breathing Word of God, Jesus Christ. And Jesus spent a huge portion of his ministry critiquing the sorts of interpretations used to separate people whose lives and cultural practices seemed to be beyond the pale of acceptable religious life. 

It is because of what I believe about Jesus Christ rather than in spite of how I read scripture, that I believe that we are called to love and accept our LGBTQ siblings. That the picture of Jesus that I see is in the gospels is a God who stands with those that culture and custom called unclean and outsider. 

Because of my relationship with God through the person and life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and not in spite of what I read in scripture, I believe that God calls us to accept fully LGBTQ people. 

I also find that, even though he wrote some of the passages that are most difficult to deal with when it comes to acceptance of queer folks, Paul’s vision of the Church is a place where love takes us beyond the end of the law. 

For the final section of this presentation, we’ll look briefly at Paul’s letter to the Galatians. 

Series Navigator

Part 1: My Quadrilateral

Part 2: A Case for Celibacy

Part 3: Who am I to deny the spirit?

Part 4: Love over law

Part 5: Unity in Christ

Who am I to deny the Spirit?

(Post 3 of 5 in a series on Human Sexuality)


Following United Methodist General Conference 2019, several members of my congregation started asking me if I could make a presentation about my own beliefs on human sexuality. I’ve always been pretty open about believing that the Gospel is fully inclusive, but after the church’s relationship with LGBTQ+ people got so much press, traditionalist and progressive folks alike were interested in my perspective. So I’m going to break it into five fairly long blog posts and dump them here.

This is a reflection on Acts 10, the story of Peter and Cornelius. You can read it here. 

This is a story I find to be absolutely central to my understanding of the gospel. It’s impossible to understate the importance of the purity laws at this point in Jewish history; diet and circumcision were central to Jewish self understanding and to the faith of Jesus’ followers and all observant Jews. 

Peter’s vision is, in no uncertain terms, horrifying to him and to his friends. The idea of eating unclean animals and eating at a table that routinely serves pork and other non-kosher food is not simply impolite or jarring, but offensive to his sensibilities. But then Peter gets to know Cornelius and his family, and realizes something: 

These folks get it, and they’re following after Jesus. 

That this family, which looks very different than the one in which Peter was raised, that has different customs and attributes and does not subscribe to the laws contained in scripture, is still following after Jesus and living for God. That these bacon-eating uncircumcised gentiles are legitimate Christ followers. 

The last few verses are the most important part of this passage, which stands in a long line of biblical passages that disrupt and disturb the status quo. Pious and observant Jewish Christians, who have spent their lives following the law, are convicted by what they see: 

These people are believers, and they have the gift of the Holy Spirit. Their families are producing fruit, and who are we to deny what the Holy Spirit is doing in and through them?

The drumbeat of this sort of movement has marched through the witness of Spirit-filled Christians who fell beyond the dominant interpretations of the law ever since. 

For much of the history of the American church and in fact in churches all around the world, the Bible was used to defend a ban on interracial marriage. Passages in Deuteronomy and Acts that state that God created the races and set boundaries to their lands meant that many people had deeply held convictions that the Bible was supportive of this sort of racism.

There is an undeniable movement of the Holy Spirit in and through families that have people of different racial backgrounds. 

This one is a bit personal for me, because I grew up in a family with parents from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. And I’m pretty glad I did. 

For the overwhelming majority of church history, a handful of passages and the dominant cultural voices denied women the right to preach or lead. But John Wesley, near the end of his life and ministry, began licensing women to preach because he could not deny that they had the fruit of the spirit in their preaching and teaching and lives. 

It took the actual denomination quite a bit longer to come around to the idea of formally ordaining women, but in 1956 generations worth of biblical scholarship, historical and biblical examples of great female leaders, and a more egalitarian understanding of humankind led the UMC to vote in favor of ordaining women as pastors. 

Because we believed that, in spite of the letter of the law, women demonstrated the fruit of the Spirit in their gifts to lead and exhort. 

So in my own experience and life, I have met a number of gay and lesbian people who have Spirit-filled relationships. I have met couples that provide each other with deep and powerful spiritual support. Who pray for each other and take care of each other and challenge each other and grow together. Who serve God and their neighbors, who raise children with strong Christian values, and who seek to help build the Kingdom of God on Earth. 

I imagine many of you have had relationships with same gender couples like this, too. Have you met couples that had relationships that produced good fruit? Have you known gay and lesbian people who earnestly sought from a marriage companionship and love and support? If so, could this be the work of the Spirit? 

Series Navigator

Part 1: My Quadrilateral

Part 2: A Case for Celibacy

Part 3: Who am I to deny the spirit?

Part 4: Love over law

Part 5: Unity in Christ

A case for celibacy

(Post 2 of 5 in a series on Human Sexuality)


Following United Methodist General Conference 2019, several members of my congregation started asking me if I could make a presentation about my own beliefs on human sexuality. I’ve always been pretty open about believing that the Gospel is fully inclusive, but after the church’s relationship with LGBTQ+ people got so much press, traditionalist and progressive folks alike were interested in my perspective. So I’m going to break it into five fairly long blog posts and dump them here.

Some Pharisees came to him. In order to test him, they said, “Does the Law allow a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”

Jesus answered, “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the creator made them male and female? And God said, ‘Because of this a man should leave his father and mother and be joined together with his wife, and the two will be one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, humans must not pull apart what God has put together.”

The Pharisees said to him, “Then why did Moses command us to give a divorce certificate and divorce her?

Jesus replied, “Moses allowed you to divorce your wives because your hearts are unyielding. But it wasn’t that way from the beginning. I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

His disciples said to him, “If that’s the way things are between a man and his wife, then it’s better not to marry.”

He replied, “Not everybody can accept this teaching, but only those who have received the ability to accept it.For there are eunuchs who have been eunuchs from birth. And there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by other people. And there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs because of the kingdom of heaven. Those who can accept it should accept it.”

Matthew 19:3-12 (CEB)

In this passage, Jesus is criticizing the Pharisees using strict biblical interpretation to allow for divorce for trivial reasons. He posits an extremely high standard: anyone who is divorced for any reason other than adultery commits adultery themselves if they remarry.

This is clearly a higher standard than the disciples are used to; as they pipe up at this point by saying “if you’re that way, Jesus, it’s probably better for people simply to not marry at all!” 

Rather than saying, “don’t be ridiculous, Peter,” per his custom, Jesus instead tells the disciples that they’re right. In saying “not everybody can accept this teaching,” Jesus creates space for people to realize that their own experience of marriage and human relationship falls short of goals this lofty. But he goes on to say that people who “can accept” celibacy for the sake of building the Kingdom of God should do so. 

It’s important to remember that the dominant understanding of the Christian faith in the early church was that Jesus is coming back to reign and rule in this Kingdom of God he kept talking about, and that he’ll be doing that soon. There was a profound sense of urgency to the work and worship of the apostles and all the early disciples of Jesus Christ. We know that many of the apostles and other early Christians were martyred, and we also know that many of them chose not to marry. The decision not to marry, as we’ll see when we dig into Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in a moment, was largely based in a desire not to be slowed down in the work of spreading the Gospel. 

 I wish all people were like me, but each has a particular gift from God: one has this gift, and another has that one. 

I’m telling those who are single and widows that it’s good for them to stay single like me.  But if they can’t control themselves, they should get married, because it’s better to marry than to burn with passion. 

1 Corinthians 7:7-9

(it’s worth reading the entire chapter of 1 Cor. 7)

This passage has been used as the justification for celibacy for clergy in the Roman Catholic Church, and it has also been used in defense of the traditional view of marriage in many protestant churches. Because Paul makes a provision here in which he claims celibacy as a way of living in the world that is pleasing to God, and helpful in the mission of building the Kingdom. But celibacy, both to Paul and to Jesus, is clearly a choice and a gift. And it’s a choice that is not the right choice for everyone, because as Paul says, it’s better to be married than to burn with passion. 

I am a better person, leader, Christian, and pastor because of my relationship with my wife. She supports me in more ways than I could ever imagine, she’s my best friend, and my partner in building a life we share and love. I am confident in telling you that I do not have the gift of celibacy. I am a better person and Christian because of my spouse. 

I know that many of you have found incredible hope, love, and support in your spouses. I’ve met with couples who have only been able to survive difficult situations because of their faith in Jesus and their support for each other. I’ve met with widows and widowers who talk about the love and support their spouse provided them, about the joy their family has brought them, and how their faith has been shaped deeply by their husband or wife. 

The way I read both Jesus and Paul in these passages, the primary purpose of a relationship is not procreation. If procreation was the primary reason for marriages, celibacy would not be lifted up in this way. Rather, Paul seems to be asking the individual members of the church in Corinth, “Will you be better equipped to follow Christ as a single person or as a married person? If you should be married, get married.” 

One of the assumptions I’m making  relates directly to this point, so I’ll share it now: I am convinced that people do not chose their sexual orientation. I am convinced of this by my relationships with queer people who tell men they knew from the time they were small children that they were gay. 

I’m convinced of this by the fact that medical science again and again demonstrates that there are significant genetic components linked to same-sex attraction.

I’m convinced of this through reading I have done about the damage done through organizations that attempt so-called reparative therapy, it’s lack of success, and the fact that organizations like Exodus International have ceased attempting the procedure. People do not choose to be gay any more than I chose to be straight. 

So the logic I’m positing here is this: if sexual orientation is not a choice, and if most straight people are not called to celibacy, should we assume that most LGBTQ people are? 

People who are not called to celibacy but try to live as celibate suffer from a lack of fulfillment, loneliness, depression, anxiety, and more at an extremely high rate. To ask people who do not have a true calling to celibacy to remain celibate stands against the scriptural warning from Paul presented in Corinthians. 

The ultimate calling of a Christian person is not marriage or celibacy. Both of these ways of being in the world are good, and both are important, but they are both in service to our ultimate calling: to better know Jesus Christ, to lead lives in service to him, and to put our hope in life abundant and eternal today AND forever. 

How we determine whose lives and actions fit within this paradigm will be the focus of our next section.

Series Navigator

Part 1: My Quadrilateral

Part 2: A Case for Celibacy

Part 3: Who am I to deny the spirit?

Part 4: Love over law

Part 5: Unity in Christ

My Quadrilateral

(Post 1 of 5 in a series on Human Sexuality)


Following United Methodist General Conference 2019, several members of my congregation started asking me if I could make a presentation about my own beliefs on human sexuality. I’ve always been pretty open about believing that the Gospel is fully inclusive, but after the church’s relationship with LGBTQ+ people got so much press, traditionalist and progressive folks alike were interested in my perspective. So I’m going to break it into five fairly long blog posts and dump them here. Parts 2-5 will be reflections on particular passages, and part one will have more to do with how I read scripture more generally. 

Part 1: My Quadrilateral

This is a presentation about my own faith and interpretation of scripture, it is helpful I think to look at what our denomination’s official position actually is. So here is our statement, from the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church: 

Human Sexuality

We affirm that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons. We call everyone to  responsible stewardship of this sacred gift.

Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.

We deplore all forms of the commercialization, abuse, and exploitation of sex. We call for strict global enforcement of laws prohibiting the sexual exploitation of children and for adequate protection, guidance, and counseling for abused children. All persons, regardless of age, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation, are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured and to be protected against violence. The Church should support the family in providing age-appropriate education regarding sexuality to children, youth, and adults.

We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us.  We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.

United Methodist Social Principles

While there is a lot in this statement to be commended, I disagree with parts of  it. Namely, the way that I read Scripture leads me to understand that, “the practice of homosexuality,” as the discipline says, is NOT incompatible with Christian teaching. 

I believe this because of how I read scripture, not in spite of it.

I believe the way that I approach scripture is profoundly Wesleyan. The official means of biblical interpretation in the UMC is known as “The Wesleyan Quadrilateral.” 

I want you to hear me say that the Wesleyan quadrilateral is not a square or a parallelogram. Wesleyans, like the overwhelming majority of Christians, find the holy scriptures found in the Bible to be the primary source material for our faith. We believe that everything necessary to know in order to secure salvation is included within the Bible. I agree with these beliefs whole-heartedly. I also believe that everything in the Bible is inspired and useful for learning something of God and God’s relationship with humankind. 

However, like many of you, I do not think that everything in the Bible is exactly the same. It is a collection of ancient texts written by real flesh-and-blood people who were inspired by God at different times in different places for different purposes. Some of it was written as verse or poetry. Some of it was written as instructional story to teach people something about who God is. Some of it was written as narrative history. All of it tells us something about who God is, who we are, and why that matters. All of it also requires interpretation, because we are not the original audience. That’s where the quadrilateral comes in. 

I remember my own confirmation class being a place where I learned about this Wesleyan way of engaging the bible. We were encouraged to ask questions, to bring our full selves to biblical discussion, and to use these three tools of tradition, reason, and experience to better understand and apply the text. 

  • Tradition implores us to ask about how the church has functioned throughout history, and to trust, value, and use the wisdom of those who have come before us. 
  • Experience implores us to trust ourselves. To realize that we were created by God with minds and hearts and emotions and perspectives, and that we should use those to think about how we read the words on the page. 
  • Reason implores us to keep learning, and to think about others. Scholarly work in philosophy, theology, science, archaeology, and countless other fields deepens and expands our faith. 

A quick note: I’m not going to put a lot of work over the course of these 4 pots into disproving the passages that explicitly condemn homosexuality. Much work has been done on this topic, and it’s been done by much more accomplished scholars than me.

I’m interested in building the case for inclusion, rather than the case  against exclusion. But I will offer a couple of resources, wand I’m happy to provide more. There are many arguments to be made against these passages, which are known in the LGBTQ Christian community as the “clobber” passages, but most of them have some basis in the understanding that the sorts of sexual immorality that are described in scripture have little to nothing to do with the desires of faithful queer Christians who seek companionship and love in their lives. The Book “God and the Gay Christian” by Matthew Vines does a great job of clearly and concisely providing many of the arguments against reading these passages of scripture as condemning of contemporary gay and lesbian people.

Because of my own life and experiences and people I knew and loved as someone who grew up where and when I did, I did not start from the perspective that queer people’s desires or the people they loved were sinful. However, I knew that much of the tradition of the church taught that this was so. So I began a lifelong project of testing my understandings of this through the lens of Holy Scripture. In the posts that follow, I’ll be looking at the sexual ethic I see running consistently through the New Testament, the relationship between the law, the Spirit, and revelation, Jesus’ consistent critique of barriers to love, and the radically loving blessed community.

Series Navigator

Part 1: My Quadrilateral

Part 2: A Case for Celibacy

Part 3: Who am I to deny the spirit?

Part 4: Love over law

Part 5: Unity in Christ

I love you and I’m sorry.

My wife is a therapist at a community heath clinic that primarily serves the LGBTQIA+ community. Many of her clients are queer kids, teenagers, and young adults. Because she’s a great professional with a lot of integrity, I don’t know peoples’ names or specifics about them, but like most people, we spend a fair amount of time talking about “how was your day” sorts of things in the evening.

I can’t tell you how many times she tells me stories of harm done to young people by their families, friends, communities, and churches because they are LGBTQIA+. Stories of suicide and self-harm attempts. Stories of deeply held shame. Stories of fractured family relationships and kids who are homeschooled because of how they’re treated when they go see people who once were their friends and people who still care about God but are no longer welcome in their churches. Stories of people with deeply held confidence that God doesn’t love them because they are trans. People who are hurting so, so badly.

I have tried to be a loving friend to and advocate for queer people throughout my ministry. To say and do things that are helpful to make a space for queer people in the church. I’ve tried to demonstrate to people faithful ways to read the Bible that aren’t “traditionalist.” And so I want to say something helpful and kind and hope-giving. But…

In most of the Bible studies I have taught and in every conversation I have had with people new to following Jesus and reading the Bible, we end up talking about, “But what do you say when it’s really bad?” They ask this because people have said things to them like “everything happens for a reason,” “God has a plan,” or “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” These aren’t the right words, and they speak to a way of talking about God that places blame. So I’ll say the only thing that’s appropriate to say in situations of harm and pain:

Jesus loves you, I love you, and I’m sorry.

I am in you and you are in me

On that day you will know that I am in my Father, you are in me, and I am in you.

John 14:20 (CEB)

I had a seminary professor who had a prayer practice that always impressed me. Dr. Taussig did a lot of commuting on trains, and whenever he found himself on a commuter line or in a subway car, he would look at every person on the train with him while repeating his translation of Jesus’s words from this passage in John.

“I am in you, and you are in me, as we are in God.”

I am at the United Methodist General Conference in Saint Louis. On day one, I mostly got checked into my AirBnB, registered for a name tag, and tried to figure out how to understand everything that’s going on. It feels a little like the first time I showed up at a meeting of the Texas Annual Conference as a wide-eyed 21-year-old totally overwhelmed by what was around me, but times about 1000. I listened to a lay delegate from Liberia  and a lay delegate from Portland talking about LGBTQ people, how much they both love scripture and Jesus, and their shared deep love for the UMC.

I have been praying and fasting in preparation for this General Conference along with many of the wonderful people from St. Stephen’s in Houston for 3 weeks now. My first prayer is that the Holy Spirit would descend upon this place and surprise all of us. My second prayer has been that all of us who call ourselves United Methodist might remember that, as Jesus reminds us, we belong to him and we belong to each other.

Of the various pieces and parts of legislation in front of the General Conference, I find the One Church Plan to be the best option for our future. Like all things created by humans — especially humans in committees — it’s imperfect. But it does a couple things that I find to fit my understanding of a strong Wesleyan Christian ethic:

It trusts local churches to do ministry together. For years I’ve heard church leaders talk about how the UMC “has to keep this issue out of the local church.” I can’t understand why. People who authentically do life together over the course of years are much better prepared to disagree with love and faithfulness than people who meet infrequently for the sake of legislating. This is because people in a local church understand that they belong to each other on a deeper level. The people of St. Stephen’s have been talking about the future of our church for months now, and we represent a wide array of different opinions. But we love each other and we want to share a future together.

It privileges a united future. Many people find it impossible to see how a church can move forward without a single clear sexual ethic. However, many people also feel as if people who love and follow Jesus have lived together and faithfully followed him across broad and significant disagreement as long as people have followed Jesus. Most of Paul’s ministry was working to convince people they could, in fact, live together faithfully even when they differed wildly. Under the One Church Plan, people who want to stay deeply connected, even if they disagree, have the opportunity to do that. I find it compelling to allow the people who want to move forward together the best opportunity to do that, which is, in my opinion, the One Church Plan.

As I’m sure you know, I could be wrong. (About a lot of things, not just my preferred future for United Methodist polity.) But I also know that I’m NOT wrong in praying fervently for the Holy Spirit to descend on Saint Louis. I love the people God has connected me to through the United Methodist Church. Many of them are people who I never would have encountered anywhere else, and I’m a better Christian and human because I am in them, and they are in me. As we are in God.



God is not a man

Note: Since the time I started writing this post on Thursday, it was announced that Bishop Scott Jones of the Texas Conference was the primary author of the statement released by the Council of Bishops, and also that amendment one would be reconsidered without the “controversial” passage in it that led to the harmful discussions on the floor of Annual Conference. The new wording will probably pass. But I decided to finish this thing up and post it anyway, for two reasons. First, God is not male, and that theological value is too important to ignore. Second, the harm done by our floor discussion and our broader conversations didn’t go away, and it needs to be talked about, because it should not happen anymore.

Earlier this week, I found myself transported back in time to a day that I had done a pretty god job of blocking from my memory.

The moment happened in a business session at our Texas Annual Conference meeting where we were discussing some constitutional amendments. The results of the votes, taken in every conference around the world, were announced this week. They went like this.

This was an upsetting result. The Council of Bishops offered this response.

All the female bishops issued this joint statement.

The bishop in Alabama/West Florida, one of the three Annual Conferences in the US that voted against the first amendment, issued this statement.

I serve in one of the three US conferences that voted against this amendment, one of only two conferences here in the states that voted against both amendment one and amendment two. I was in the room for our conversation about these amendments. The tone, tenor, and substance of those conversations was brutal, harmful, and way outside the bounds of our Wesleyan heritage.

Speakers insisted that God was, “A man of war,” that women are complimentary to and by that token subservient to men, that denying the maleness of God somehow discounts the personhood of Jesus as the incarnation, and a bunch of other things that stand against the long and proud Wesleyan heritage of equal footing and standing for women.

There were bizarre statements about human gender, and a lot of fear-based rhetoric about radical agendas dismantling churches. And I was just so flabbergasted and angry I didn’t have words to say. But my pain is so unbelievably unimportant to this story.

Some of the greatest blessings of my life are the relationships I have with female clergy colleagues. I could write full length blog posts about the incredible women who have led me in life, in the classroom, in my work as a clergyperson, in my faith, and in everything I do. Not passing this amendment does harm to women and girls and countless people in vulnerable positions around the world.

I watched my mentors and friends and colleagues have their identity demeaned. I watched people cry, yell, send angry all caps text messages, and question deeply how in the world we got here. My friends were under attack.

There are churches that do not welcome women in ministry. There are places that uphold complimentarian doctrines. We as the United Methodist Church are not one of them. Or at least we aren’t supposed to be.

When things are not how they should be, we can respond in several ways. We can throw up our hands and say, “well, nothing we can do about it.” We can feign moral superiority and take comfort in the fact that, “at least I don’t behave that way.” We can find someone else to blame.

Or we can do what needs to be done, and accept some of the blame, apologize, and get to work on a better future.

I am sorry I have not done more to proclaim the truth about who God is in words or in action. God is not a man, and there are human characteristics that we consider to be feminine that are part of the image of God. I will do more of this, not just on Mother’s Day, but year-round.

I am sorry that I haven’t done more in my local church to teach how unbelievably expansive God is, and how language about God matters. I will talk about the depth and richness of images of God that are masculine, feminine, and much, much more.

I am sorry that when people call me “Pastor Nathan” but they call our Pastor of Music and Worship “Miss Lindsay,” I don’t correct them. I will stop doing that.

I’m sorry I didn’t stand up on the floor of Annual conference and remind people that the United Methodist Church has distinctive doctrines and beliefs, and that they matter.

I’m sorry I haven’t put up signs in our church bathrooms to offer support and information to people suffering domestic abuse.

I’m sorry I’ve been unwilling to have conversations with people about why bible studies and curriculum and videos that reinforce female subservience have no place in United Methodist Churches.

If you’ve ever heard me preach, you’ve heard me talk about the Kingdom of God; Jesus’s incredible vision of the here AND the hereafter in the way that they ought to be. A place where life is abundant and eternal today and forever. It’s where I try my hardest to get every sermon I preach to end up. And when I preach this way, I preach hoping to stand in the shadow of Mary Magdalene, the first preacher of this Gospel following the resurrection.

Jesus said to her [Mary], “Don’t hold on to me, for I haven’t yet gone up to my Father. Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, “I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

John 20:17 (CEB)

United Methodist Christians believe, through the doctrine of the trinity, in a God far too big and broad and incredible for any name to be complete enough. In the verse above, when the first preacher of the Gospel was commissioned by the resurrected Christ, Jesus was quick to follow the image of God as loving father with expansive language.

We look more like the image of God when women and girls are not denied their place at the table, their positions of leadership, their authority to preach or teach, or the ability to follow God’s call on their lives. Let’s get there.