I became a pastor in the Association of Vineyard churches 4 years ago. As I have gotten to know this family of Evangelical pastors and churches, I have found them to hold dear the same values that I have had since I planted my first church in 1988…….until now. As I write this, I must make one thing clear. I am not speaking in any capacity for Vineyard USA or its leadership. I am speaking for myself as a pastor within the association who loves the Vineyard, loves being a part of the larger body of Christ and who does his best to reach out to people regardless of where they find themselves in life.
In February, Ken Wilson, the Pastor of the Ann Arbor Michigan Vineyard Church released a book called “A Letter To My Congregation”. In this book, Ken changes his position on the LGBT issue as it pertains to gay marriage and appointing gays to leadership, including pastoral leadership.
This becomes problematic for me on many different levels. On a personal level it flies in the face of everything I have experienced in the 34 years I have been a believer in Jesus. On a theological level it is based on eisegetical biblical interpretation at best and intellectual dishonesty at worst. On a praxis level I have 2 concerns: It violates one of the principles that Vineyard churches, although imperfectly, hold dear. That value is the quest for the radical middle. The second thing that causes me concern is the way that this change has been thrust upon the entire association of Vineyard churches in blatant disregard to the values and beliefs of the rest of the association.
Personal Concerns Ken Wilson’s Change Of Position
I gave my heart to Jesus in 1979. My first pastor was Jerry Cook. In his book “Love Acceptance, and Forgivness”, Jerry writes.
The prophetic lifestyle is person-oriented. For instance, to deal with homosexuality in an alienating way would be to deal with the issue of gay rights. I’m not primarily concerned about that as an issue, but I am concerned with a person who is caught in a lifestyle and who is being led to believe that he or she can never change. The truth is that he or she can change and that Jesus wants him or her to change. A host of people who have changed proves it can be done.
Cook, Jerry; Baldwin, Stanley C. (2011-08-29). Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness: Being Christian in a Non-Christian World (Kindle Locations 504-507). Gospel Light. Kindle Edition.
In the mid 1980’s my own uncle entered into a gay lifestyle. He walked away from the church and chose to indulge his sexual desires. For 15 years my family loved him and welcomed him and never rejected him. Finally God began to work on his heart and he returned to his relationship with Jesus and surrendered his sexuality to the Lord. For 20 years now he has lived a celibate life. I watched him struggle with the condemnation and ostracization he experience from his former gay associates. I watched him lay down his desires and come to acceptance that he was first and foremost called to relationship with Jesus and that is all that mattered.
Ten years into my own marriage I was faced with this issue again. My now ex-wife was dealing with the temptation to engage bi-sexuality. She eventually gave in to that temptation and after 6 years of attempting to find a solution, our marriage finally failed. Later she influenced our daughter to follow in her footsteps.
Another dear friend of mine who is the widow of a former well known Calvary Chapel pastor wept in my arms after discovering that her middle son had been living a gay lifestyle. This woman has been an exemplary model of what it means to go the second and third mile in keeping love and communication alive between her son and herself. She has gone so far as to walk with him as he has gone clubbing in gay clubs. Her son does not know that hours upon hours she has been on her knees praying and weeping for him. Even today those heartbreaking prayers continue.
So when I address this issue, I am not addressing it as some hard-nosed legalist who does not understand the scope of implications associated with this issue. I and others that are part of my life have dealt with this on as personal level. It is not theoretical.
I also know that Jesus changes lives. That includes the lives of thieves, liars, backbiters, gluttons, lovers of money, heterosexuals and homosexuals. That is one of the problems with Ken Wilson’s book. He raises the white flag and forgets the doctrine of progressive sanctification.
Now let me make something clear. My problems and issues with Ken’s book and beliefs are not about being welcoming. I absolutely believe and have practiced being welcoming to anyone who wants to come to the churches I have pastored, including my uncle who was living a gay lifestyle at the time. I welcome all people regardless of sinful proclivity. Where I draw the line is condoning that sin and blessing something that there is no precedent of God ever blessing. Where I draw the line is equating welcoming with condoning. Where I draw the line is whether people still practicing lifestyle sins are qualified for leadership.
Theological Concerns With Ken Wilson’s Book
Ken Wilson uses a seriously flawed form of biblical interpretation called Eisegesis.
Eisegesis is the process of interpreting a text or portion of text in such a way that it introduces one’s own presuppositions, agendas, or biases into and onto the text. This is commonly referred to as reading into the text. The act is often used to “prove” a pre-held point of concern to the reader and to provide him or her with confirmation bias in accordance with his or her pre-held agenda. Eisegesis is best understood when contrasted with exegesis. While exegesis draws out the meaning from a text in accordance with the context and discover-able meaning of its author, eisegesis occurs when a reader imposes his or her interpretation into and onto the text. As a result, exegesis tends to be objective when employed effectively while eisegesis is regarded as highly subjective.
Ken asserts that there are only 6 verses in the Bible that deal with homosexuality. This belief excludes any passages concerning sex outside of marriage. This excludes the Romans 1:24-28 passage as well. This is clearly a twisting of the subject to try to claim that the Bible is silent or almost silent concerning this issue. It is an attempt to prove a pre-held belief.
Ken furthers this method of biblical interpretation by equating this issue with the issue of divorce and remarriage. In an article explaining and promoting his position and book Ken writes,
It began with a burr beneath the saddle of my conscience: why was I willing to let so many divorced and remarried couples know that they are welcome and wanted while refusing that same welcome to gay and lesbian couples? How could I say to the remarried couples, whose second marriage was clearly condemned by the plain meaning of scripture, “You are welcome and wanted,” while saying to the two mothers raising their adopted child together, “I love you, but I hate your sin”?
I personally find this intellectually dishonest. I cannot believe that Ken is not aware of Dr. David Instone-Brewer’s work on biblical reasons for divorce. Dr. Brewer is senior research fellow in rabbinics and the New Testament at Tyndale House, Cambridge. Dr. Brewster shows how not all remarriage is sin. (source) The fact that Ken qualifies his statement by using the term “plain meaning of scripture.” tells me that he is aware of the work and that he is manipulating the conversation to prove his point. He also conveniently forgets to mention that Jesus provided exceptions even in the plain reading of scripture. Matthew 19:8-9
Elsewhere, Ken also tries to use the example of C.S. Lewis’s marriage to Joy to set a precedent for gay marriage. In an article he wrote on FaithStreet.com he asserts that at the time, the church was against C.S. Lewis’s marriage because of the stance of the Church of England on divorce and remarriage. C.S. Lewis needed a personal friend to go against the stance of the church in order to be married.
This assertion is problematic on two counts. It is using the logic that because the church was wrong before then it must be wrong again. This is a weak argument. It makes the assumption that the church is always wrong. I would contend that the church is not always wrong and to think so reveals a negative image of who the church really is.
What is more disconcerting to me is Ken’s use of C.S. Lewis’s marriage in the first place. C.S. Lewis addressed the issue of homosexuality. In a personal letter to Sheldon Vanauken he addresses his belief on this issue. This was a personal correspondence and C.S. Lewis was in the habit to abbreviate in personal correspondence so please remember that as you are reading this. He is not being derogatory in his use of the word “homo”. It was also written about 50 years ago so the language has changes some in that amount of time.
Letter from C. S. Lewis regarding homosexuality, quoted in Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy, pp. 146-148, in response to a question about a couple of Christian students of Vanauken who were homosexual and had come to him for advice:
I have seen less than you but more than I wanted of this terrible problem. I will discuss your letter with those whom I think wise in Christ. This is only an interim report. First, to map out the boundaries within which all discussion must go on, I take it for certain that the physical satisfaction of homosexual desires is sin. This leaves the homo. no worse off than any normal person who is, for whatever reason, prevented from marrying. Second, our speculations on the cause of the abnormality are not what matters and we must be content with ignorance. The disciples were not told why (in terms of efficient cause) the man was born blind (Jn. IX 1-3): only the final cause, that the works of God shd. be made manifest in him. This suggests that in homosexuality, as in every other tribulation, those works can be made manifest: i.e. that every disability conceals a vocation, if only we can find it, wh. will ‘turn the necessity to glorious gain.’ Of course, the first step must be to accept any privations wh., if so disabled, we can’t lawfully get. The homo. has to accept sexual abstinence just as the poor man has to forego otherwise lawful pleasures because he wd. be unjust to his wife and children if he took them. That is merely a negative condition. What shd. the positive life of the homo. be? I wish I had a letter wh. a pious male homo., now dead, once wrote to me–but of course it was the sort of letter one takes care to destroy. He believed that his necessity could be turned to spiritual gain: that there were certain kinds of sympathy and understanding, a certain social role which mere men and mere women cd. not give. But it is all horribly vague and long ago. Perhaps any homo. who humbly accepts his cross and puts himself under Divine guidance will, however, be shown the way. I am sure that any attempt to evade it (e.g. by mock or quasi-marriage with a member of one’s own sex even if this does not lead to any carnal act) is the wrong way. Jealousy (this another homo. admitted to me) is far more rampant and deadly among them than among us. And I don’t think little concessions like wearing the clothes of the other sex in private is the right line, either. It is the duties, burdens, the characteristic virtues of the other sex, I suspect, which the patient must try to cultivate. I have mentioned humility because male homos. (I don’t know about women) are rather apt, the moment they find you don’t treat them with horror and contempt, to rush to the opposite pole and start implying that they are somehow superior to the normal type. I wish I could be more definite. All I have really said is that, like all other tribulations, it must be offered to God and His guidance how to use it must be sought.
I find Ken’s use of C.S. Lewis’s marriage to Joy to either be once again intellectually dishonest or to be intellectually lazy. Either he did not know that C.S. Lewis did not agree with his position and thus using him to prove his point is not only dishonoring of C.S. Lewis but a sign of intellectual laziness, or he knew and attempted to use the memory of a well-respected theologian who is diametrically opposed to his views, to prove his point and thus was intellectually dishonest in that use. Either way is of grave concern to me.
I am not the only Vineyard pastor or theologian who has concerns with Ken’s theological acumen in this area. Luke Geraty, is a Vineyard pastor and a member of the Society of Vineyard Scholars writes in an article on Think Theology
When Ken explains the two views, he creates a straw man argument. A straw man is a logical fallacy where someone misrepresents a certain viewpoint in order to make his or her readers (or listeners) who are ignorant of the facts quickly agree with and/or affirm the position that the one arguing is presenting. In this case, Ken explains to us that the “traditional” approach is not very welcoming, excludes people, and tends to expect people to get “fixed” before they can join church communities. In ALTMC, Ken connects the “traditional” approach to adjectives like “unwelcoming,” “exclusionary,” and the controversial phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin.”
He also writes in another article on Think Theology
Ken controls his narrative by controlling the information. People picking up his book won’t be aware of the fact that there are reasonable and, in my mind, convincing reasons to reject arguments that affirm the legitimacy of homosexuality within the context of monogamous committed relationships (whether called “civil unions” or “gay marriage”). If you control the data, you can control the narrative, which feels a lot like controlling the evidence to me. I’m hopeful that the people in Ken’s congregation will do a bit more reading.
Thomas Creedy, who is a member of a Vineyard church in the UK, and another member of the Society of Vineyard Scholars writes on his blog
I take issue with the way that Ken sets up the debate. By slapping a new ‘ontological’ reality on the cover page (people who ‘are’ x), the debate is framed. And this is also the case in a key part of his first chapter, ‘Time to Move Beyond a Well-Worn Binary?’. In one sense, absolutely! Binary thinking is a nonsense, as Rich Nathan and Insoo Kim point out so well in their superb ‘Both-And’, especially when the binaries are controlled. Ken identifies the binaries as ‘”open and affirming” and “love the sinner, hate the sin”‘[Kindle loc. 262]. Without wanting to dwell on it, the former is never universally applied (I know of no churches where murderers are affirmed in their murdering, or fraudulent bankers in the fraudster-ing, for example) and the latter is actually a misquotation of Augustine popularized by Gandhi.
Thomas is 23 years old and part of the millennial generation that Ken claims we will lose if we don’t change our beliefs to accommodate their beliefs.
Finally Ken tries to move this debate into what he classifies as “disputable matters.” (Romans 14 and 15) Again it seems to be intellectually dishonest to try to turn something that is clearly disapproved of by Paul in Romans 1:24-28 and then try to use Paul’s writings from the same book to make it disputable.
The Problematic Practices That Led To Ken’s Release Of This Book.
The Association of Vineyard Churches is not perfect. There have been times where we have not held the middle ground. I will be the first to admit that. However pursuing the radical middle is one of our values. We want to position ourselves in the middle between legalism and liberalism, between experientialism and intellectualism.
Ken seems to disregard this value by skewing off to the left with liberal theology. His use of the eisegetic model of biblical interpretation confirms this in my opinion.
Ken also violates a principle of association within a group of churches that associate with one another freely. In the Vineyard, each church is free to associate with the group if they find that their values match those of the group. They are free to leave if they find their values change or no longer match those of the group.
In 2013, Ken submitted a rough draft of his book at a meeting of the Society of Vineyard Scholars. Approximately 1 month later, in May of 2013, the executive team of Vineyard USA released this statement:
First, we must be committed to both mission and holiness. The message of the kingdom is a message of welcome. Anyone can come to the feast- Jesus himself was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. And at the same time, the message of the kingdom is repent, believe, and follow Jesus in every area of life. At times, it can feel as if these two principles are mutually exclusive. But we are convinced they are not. It is possible to offer the radical welcome of Jesus while calling people to high standards of discipleship.
Second, the Bible promotes, celebrates and affirms marriage as a covenantal union between a man and a woman. Marriage is not the highest purpose of humanity. The apostle Paul himself was single, as was Jesus. At the same time, it must be honored as a sign and gift from God.
Third, we believe that all humans are to be treated with kindness and compassion, as the image-bearers of God on earth. We are all sinful, and it is profoundly unbiblical to pick out one sin that is stigmatized above others. In the history of the church, homosexual persons experienced such sinful stigmatization. We repent and renounce this sort of sinful treatment.
Fourth, we believe that outside of the boundaries of marriage, the Bible calls for abstinence. We know that in our culture, premarital sex, along with many other forms of non-marital sex, has become normative. We want to lovingly help people of any sexual orientation to live up to this standard. We recognize that it can be a difficult journey, and there must be grace along the way. The powerful, beautiful gift of human sexuality must be stewarded with seriousness and compassion within our movement.
Clearly Ken Wilson’s position on this issue is not in agreement with the leadership of Vineyard USA. He even admits this in an interview granted to the Detroit Free Press and an article he wrote on the Huffington Post. As a member of a free association, it is incumbent upon those that are in disagreement with the leadership to amicably remove themselves from that association. Ken Wilson has not done so and that makes me question his motives in all of this.
I am praying for Ken, the executive team of Vineyard USA and for the pastors and members of the association. I would ask all of you to pray for us too as we deal with these turbulent issues.
Latest posts by Duke Taber (see all)
- Millennials, Here Is Why The Church Isn’t Listening To You. - August 20, 2014
- Christians Opt Out Of ObamaCare With Medi-Share - August 18, 2014
- A Few Things I Have Learned Since I Knew It All - June 26, 2014