I’ve Seen The Devil

For several months I haven’t had much to do with religion. While I’ve retained my personal faith in God as I understand him expressed through Christ – I haven’t been to church in ages, haven’t read my bible in longer and don’t remember the last time I said a prayer. I’ve been busy trying to make ends meet, provide for my family and pursue my own personal interests. But the events of last weekend in Virginia have brought a whole flood of religious thoughts back to mind. I’ve always had trouble seeing the relevance of faith in the banality of daily life – but it’s also always been the lens through which I see the big picture. You could say that I’ve got a far-sighted faith. Because I don’t see good and evil in so many little things, it was easy to pay no mind to questions of faith for a long time. But then a very big display of pure evil reared its ugly head and all of a sudden I’ve got religion again. I’ve seen the Devil, and he woke me up.

 

I’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t healthy spirituality, but it’s where I’m at on this journey and I can’t ignore it now. The notion that any person, much less an entire group of people, is less a child of God than me is disgusting. It is wicked. It is satanic. It baffles my mind that thousands of people can march in the streets wearing hoods or carrying flags emblazoned with swastikas on Saturday then go to church on Sunday. How has the Christian faith gotten this so entirely wrong? How can a faith spend so much time insisting on the timeline of creation and miss the reality that every single person who has ever drawn a breath, regardless of their skin colour, language, culture, religion, sexual orientation, or gender is equally a child of God? How can white supremacy, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, or any other prejudice exist in a person who has been taught that the image of God is imprinted in our DNA? These thoughts are incompatible.

 

Worse still, how can anyone who claims to follow a man who said: “All who take the sword will perish by the sword” then use violence and intimidation to advance those wicked beliefs? The dominionism on display is not of Christ. Some have suggested to me that I need not concern myself with these goings-on because they are in another country, and the majority of the perpetrators are of a different Christian tradition than my own. But I can’t accept that. First of all, what happened in Virginia was not an isolated incident. Events like that, though often not to that scale, take place across North America all the time. The Klansmen who marched are not limited to a few states south of the Mason-Dixon line, they are not even limited to the United States. Earlier this year KKK literature was distributed right here in my town, an hour east of Vancouver, British Columbia. This weekend there is to be a rally of this same collection of evil in Vancouver. It’s not a far-away problem.

 

It’s a white problem. It’s a power problem. It’s a privilege problem. Of course, not all white people hold these views. In fact, I imagine that an exceptionally small minority of us do. But in precisely the same way we expect all Muslims to speak out against terrorists like ISIS and Al Qaeda (they do), and in precisely the same way we expect leaders of African American communities to speak out against drugs and gang violence in their communities (they do); white people have a responsibility to speak out against the evil and the terrorism in our communities. So I am. I’m a deeply flawed man, and a terrible example of what a Christ-follower should look like, but in humility, I beg you, my white Christian brothers and sisters: stand up, speak up, take action. Hate has no place in our communities and our churches. This is not the time to sit on the sidelines, to twiddle thumbs, or to shake heads. This is the time to be men and women of exceptional strength and character and oppose those who would fight for a satanic notion of white supremacy.

 

This is precisely one of those moments that Jesus talked about when he said that the King would divide the sheep from the goats. We will be called to account for what we did when our brothers and sisters were being oppressed. There are a great many things that I will hang my head and tearfully ask God to forgive me for on that day, but I know that sitting in silence at this moment cannot be among them. The devil is on full display through the ideology of white supremacy, for God’s sake rise up against him.

 

Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.

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It’s A Boy

It’s been two weeks already…

For those of you who have followed the blog but not social media I just wanted to give you an update. My wife gave birth to a healthy and handsome boy on September 26. I’m looking forward to a completely new normal now – and a return to blogging soon.

Our son’s name is Christopher Shawn and we are so happy to have him in our lives.

#MyChurchToo

Last week was a defeat for many of us in the Adventist Church. Many hoped that we’d see the Holy Spirit move on the hearts of delegates at the GC session and give a powerful endorsement to the work hundreds of Godly women are already doing as pastors and encourage even more to follow God’s call down a difficult path. That didn’t happen. Beyond the vote on women’s ordination, there were other votes at this session that have had the effect of turning our church in the direction of fundamentalism.

One which truly concerns me is that we felt the need to reword the church’s official statement on creation to exclude anything but a young-earth position. This bothers me because I am one of many who believe that God created the world, but not in 6 literal days 6000 years ago. Now I know what the official stance my church is, and I know my understanding is at odds with that position. It’s not my disagreement with those positions which bothers me most. I’ve known I was at odds with the church on those issues for years. What worries me is the trend we seem to be following toward exclusive space and shutting off debate. We seem to be moving in the direction of fundamentalism where there is no room for diversity of thought, where our faith is an all or nothing package, and where the slightest hint of dissent is met with the full force of the official position of the church. This is what truly worries me.

Fundamentalism is dangerous. It stifles reason, it shuts up creativity and it looks nothing like love. God himself welcomes reason, you can find a proof text and a pattern for it. God gave us the ability to create and the scriptures tell us to sing a new song. And Jesus said that it is by our love for one another that we shall be recognized. For those reasons I am prepared to call fundamentalism false teaching. I humbly submit that those of us of conscience need to take a respectful, loving and firm stand to reclaim our church from this darkness.

We won’t accomplish this goal with the same tactics used to get us where we’ve come. But I believe, I have hope, that if we stand together firm in our faith – that we can bring the warm smile of Jesus back into our church. Part of this means speaking out. I drained my cell-phone battery twice the day of the ordination debate keeping up with twitter – there are more than enough of us, young and old, who are concerned about our church and want to see it have more of the character of Christ. We need to continue to make our voices heard. It means working together. We need more collaboration between the big-tent Adventists, we need to support one another and we need to get to know one another. We need to rally behind the public voices that speak our language! There are 10 Doug Batchelors for every Herb Montgomery – so let’s get behind the public figures who speak our language so our understanding of Adventism gets a fair hearing! We also need to understand that success isn’t about shutting the others up. It’s not about telling them to go away, but making room for people from all perspectives to call this faith their own.

Finally it bears mention that our efforts within the church cannot be focussed entirely on the church. We have a mission that is so much bigger than what happens within our walls. We must not neglect that. We cannot be so caught up in our internal business that we forget what the whole church is here for. There is a Kingdom of Heaven to be built and not just when Jesus comes back! So continue with the service you do for your community, continue with your efforts to spread the good news of Jesus’ love, continue with living lives that honour him. Let’s be twice as passionate about being the church as we are about fixing the church. There’s a time for both and we should do both – but it will prove the fundamentalists right if we focus exclusively on getting our way in church politics.
It’s going to take the love of Jesus and the patience of a saint to do all this – but we can take a loving stand and turn the line which has been drawn in the sand into an arrow which points to Christ. To finish the work Jesus gave the church we all have to be in this together. So I call on my sisters and brothers who have been disappointed by what’s happened last week to press together and double our efforts to make this church our home. Of course many will need more time to grieve the hurt, take it. But as we heal let’s grow stronger because this is our church too.

Disappointed, But Not Going Anywhere

My church is about to make a decision that I believe is wrong. Our denomination is meeting for its quinquennial (every 5 years) General Conference session and among many other things they will be voting on the ordination of women. Now I won’t bog you down with details (they are outlined quite well here) but the reality is that this is largely a symbolic vote which won’t directly or immediately change the status of the few hundred women we already have in ordained service. What it’s likely failure will do is give more fuel to the fire of those who oppose these Godly women and give those “leaders” who are threatened by them more pressure they can apply. On the other hand, as unlikely as it is, the passage of a vote endorsing women in pastoral ministry would also not likely create immediate openings in those parts of the world where the leadership is vehemently against them. What it could do, however, is lend the full throated support of a worldwide church to women doing an admirable work under conditions twice as hard as they are for any man.

Pastoral ministry looks pretty easy from the outside, especially if all you ever see of your pastor is the sermons on the weekend. You see the pastor take the pulpit and deliver a talk for anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes and think “that’s not so hard;” and, while I can’t speak for everyone, for me it isn’t. With 10-15 hours of prep anyone with the right personality for public speaking could do it. That’s the most public part of the job and it takes about a quarter of the week (assuming a roughly 40 hour work week…) to prepare. The rest of the time is the hard part. Spending hours pouring over information helping to develop strategies for ministries in your community, taking the time to mentor your lay leaders (or junior staff), counselling people with all sorts of different issues (who still call you even after you’ve made it clear that you’re beyond your expertise and recommended a professional) and mountains of administrative work – that’s what pastors really do. Meetings that go too long, visits that you’re constantly apologizing for not having had sooner, reading lists longer than your arm and cups of coffee with the people who you should be able to spend much more time with. And all of this is done under a degree of scrutiny usually reserved for elected officials. Pastoral ministry is not an easy job, and it’s even harder when a significant proportion of your congregation doesn’t think you should be doing it.

So a positive vote would be a good symbol to encourage those women who take up the mantle of ministry, and perhaps even settle the minds of those distressed by their ministry by lending the official blessing of the world church to their hard work. But barring a miracle, and those do still happen, the vote is going to go the other way. Over the last several days I’ve been giving thought to how I will respond to this, and other issues, being addressed at our General Conference. Particularly I’ve been discouraged by the way things have been going down. The tactics being employed by those opposed to progress have been dirty. It’d been an embarrassment to see how these people who are supposed to be leading a body of Christ had been acting like Judas. I’ve never been more discouraged as an Adventist than I am now – and when my suspicions are confirmed this afternoon I think I will hit the lowest point in my faith. The honest truth is looking at all this has made me want to quit.

More than being pushed out of youth ministry in the congregation where I grew up, more than being told that I would never be a pastor unless I toed the party line on every issue (my two particular issues were just made more fundamentalist at the same session that is about to deny our sisters), more than being told not to waste my time ministering to a particular ethnic group since they were lost already – I’m at the point where my soul is weary and I’m ready to call it quits.

But I won’t. Even though I want to, even though I am angry, even though I am greatly disappointed – I won’t quit. I won’t because that’s not going to help. I won’t because even though there are these serious flaws in the leadership at the top, I have a wonderful local church who I love. I won’t because if all of us who want progress leave – who will lead it (no matter how slow)? I won’t, because Jesus said that when we are compelled to walk a mile, walk two.
It’s going to be a hard journey, and it’ll take some time to get over the disappointment – but I will. It won’t happen today, and it might not even happen in 2020 when we get the next chance – but eventually even the most staunch traditionalists will not be able to deny God’s ordination on the women he’s called. We may never have room for a minister who believes that God created the world and accepts that it didn’t happen 10,000 years ago. It may be a very long time before the climate is such that another conference will hire a minister who openly supports the full acceptance and participation of LGBT church members. It may be my children who see the leadership that is willing to take chances on new ideas for serving our communities – but whether I see all the progress I envision or none of it – I’m going to be along for the ride, how else can I start a revolution?

It’s Complicated

It’s probably very little secret to anyone who has known me for very long that I have a complicated relationship with the church. I love the church for being a part of my upbringing, for being there on the most important days of my life, for helping me find a purpose in this world and most of all for introducing me to Christ. I’m also frustrated beyond words with the way the church has, at times, treated many of my dearest friends, closest family and even at times myself. I am profoundly vexed at the way we have earned a reputation for being judgemental and hypocritical. I am confounded by the way we can call ourselves followers of the one who was willing to die for us but we’re not even willing to be a little uncomfortable for a time in order to share his grace with those who are not like us. I am angry at the way that we tell women who want nothing more than to dedicate their lives to the ministry of the gospel that they can’t because they were born with the wrong anatomy, angry at the way that we tell gay and lesbian folks that they can’t participate fully in church life because they were born attracted to the wrong gender, and angry at the way we tell foreigners that they can’t share in our worship because their ways are different from our own. I have a complicated relationship with the church.

This was the first paragraph in my sermon from this weekend, it seemed particularly relevant given the events that are taking place at the highest level of my denomination.

6 Ways Christians Lost This Week

Reblogged from someone who said it so much better than I could.

6 Ways Christians Lost This Week.

I am sharing a message with my congregation this week, my regular weekly post will come up after I’ve shared with those in attendance. If you’re going to be in the Abbotsford BC area on Saturday July 4th come to the Open Door Church at 11am and join us.

For information and directions check out theopendoorchurch.com

An Open Letter to the City of Abbotsford: Fly That Flag

Mayor Braun and Councillors,

I was pleased to hear of the City of Abbotsford’s support for raising the LGBT pride flag in conjunction with the Fraser Valley’s Pride celebrations next month. I believe it was a bold decision given the traditional nature of valley communities and I applaud your leadership on this issue. It’s been far too long that our LGBT brothers and sisters, friends and neighbours, children, grandchildren, coworkers, acquaintances and church members have been forced into silence out here. I also want to encourage you as a council to stand by this decision even though pressure is already mounting for you to change your minds.

It’s no surprise to me that a resistance to your leadership is brewing among certain fundamentalist groups. The Abbotsford congregation my wife and I worship with is far from fundamentalist and even at our church there are those who sit in the pews next to us who likely nod their heads in agreement when they read the words of those who are calling for you to change your minds. Despite having marriage equality for over a decade, the place of the LGBT community across Canada and particularly in traditional areas like the Fraser Valley, still has a long way to go. And that’s why I think it is so admirable that you’ve decided to support the community by raising their flag and showing them that they are a welcome and important part of who we are as a valley.

You’re probably not going to change the minds of any who disagree with your decision. I know, I’ve been fighting for years to make my own church (in a broad sense) a more inclusive space and while a few minds may have been opened many still hold onto deep convictions that we must respect even if we disagree with them. Despite the fact that few minds are likely to be changed, there is a lot to be gained by showing the leadership you have by deciding to support your community. To this day LGBT youth suffer from markedly higher rates of depression, substance abuse, homelessness and suicide than their straight counterparts; and no matter what a person believes about the morality of a person’s private life – I would hope as a community we can all agree that those things are worth preventing.

It’s important to give hope to our LGBT friends because every life matters. Even though one aspect of that person’s life may be objectionable to a segment of our valley, when the ostracism they suffer leads to suicide we lose the whole person. In my opinion we’ve lost enough coworkers, classmates and children; so if there is anything we can do to show a sign of support we should do it. In my former work as a youth worker in a Fraser Valley church I had a number of young people approach me with questions about this issue, from families within my congregation and without. The questions of identity and belonging still weigh heavily on the minds of our youth and it’s not really important what the rest of us think theologically, morally or politically – their lives still matter.

So, kudos to you Abbotsford, for deciding to raise a beacon of hope for the Fraser Valley’s LGBT community be they young or old. And if I can close with one final word of encouragement, it’s this: think of the children. No one is going to turn gay because you’ve raised a flag, but someone might feel like a more valued and important part of our community and choose to keep living his or her life. So Abbotsford, fly that flag and fly it with pride.

Your neighbour, church-goer and nephew,

David Burnie