What I want you to know. Which is everything.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Faith Habour Lives Up To It's Name

Click here to read an AP article about a church here in Baytown that has been "disassociated" with by some big Baptist group because they are helping to start a ministry aimed at the Gay and Lesbian community.

For those of you too lazy to read the whole article let me sum up. A good friend of mine, Randy Haney, is the pastor of a small diverse church called Faith Harbour. I am well acquainted with many of the members there and have visited their services. Randy has recently come under fire from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention for allowing the group Eklektos to hold meetings at their space, a rented out storefront in the Bay Plaza shopping center. Eklektos is a ministry that seeks to minister to the GBLT community in and around Baytown. At the onset of this ministry I was invited to come to the original planning meeting, but out of laziness or perhaps sheer busyness I neglected to go, despite having half-way intended on it.

Nonetheless, Eklektos pushed on without me. Go figure. Because of Faith Harbour's association with Eklektos the SBTC spoke with Randy about severing ties with Wendy Bailey, the originator of Eklektos. They believed Eklektos to be a new gay church that Randy and her were starting. Well, Randy's not starting it ad Eklektos isn't a church. When he refused the SBTC "disassociated" themselves with him, along with several other organizations including Baker Road Baptist who had until recently been giving support to the Harbour. (In the reports of this meeting I've read the suits from the SBTC kept referring to Eklektos as a church, despite Randy telling them repeatedly that was not a church. That's very humorous and typical to me. Like something you would see in a SNL sketch.)

To a Church of Christ boy who is used to a completely different set of political and ideological messiness within church bureaucracy, I don't quite see why The Harbour was even all that keen to associate with the SBTC, in the first place. In the good ole' C of C while most still adhere to a few general similarities (communion, baptism, a cappella singing) each congregation is truly autonomous and answers to no higher power. Except God. So aside from some unwritten and unbroken rules, there are no rules except what's written in the Bible. Interpretation of scripture is completely up to the individual church, and yet somehow they all seem to conform for the most part. Hmm. That sounds familiar....

As I see it, what good does a membership in any type of hierarchal system do for a church that is aiming to be diverse and individual? Since I don't really know how it all works, I won't assume to know the answer to this, but I'm guessing that the SBTC gives financial backing? I'm sure I'll be corrected if I'm wrong. I happen to know that most of the members of Faith Harbour weren't raised Baptist and probably would not consider themselves "Baptists." A service at the Harbour feels very non-descript and free. It's unlike any worship I've ever been to. It feels more like friends just getting together to sing and listen to God speak to them through music, art, the Bible, or whatever else moves them. It's a long way from the church that raised me, but also quite a ways from most Baptist fellowships, as well.

So, it's a wonder to me why the Harbour still wishes to associated with such a stuffy group anyway. But, it is obviously a huge deal, judging by the press coverage, and so my heart goes out to the Haneys and the other members of the Harbour. On the other hand, suppose I do understand. Afterall, I still attend a Church of Christ. There's always the idea that one can change the system from the inside out. I don't think that is Randy's goal with the Harbour, but it's a thought.

The problem, as the SBTC sees it, is simple. They have bylaws stating that member churches may not condone or support ministries that condone the homosexual lifestyle. I probably quoted incorrectly, but that is basically it. The Harbour supports Eklektos by offering space in which to meet, and by linking to the Eklektos website on their own. Eklektos's website states that they are "[A] community of Christians...especially called to welcome and affirm people who are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered." To the SBTC this means that since Eklektos "affirms" (an ambiguous term) gays they are "affirming" being gay, and so is the Harbour which means that the Harbour is outside the guidelines of the SBTC.

I have had lengthy discussions with Randy on the topic and I know that Randy would never allow the Harbour to be perceived as affirming the homosexual lifestyle. He is a strict literalist with regard to interpretation of the Bible. I think whether or not Randy is condoning anything, however is not even relevant to the SBTC. It seems to me that they simply want to distance themselves from anything that doesn't fit their mold. Faith Harbour certainly doesn't fit any mold and never has. Being aligned in any way, shape, or form to a gay-friendly organization just adds to their deviation from the mold set up for member churches.

A little research tells us that the SBTC is actually based in the idea that Baptist churches must conform. Their website states, "The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention does not seek theological conformity, but our own autonomy has led us to set parameters for fellowship." Does that not seem a little contradictory to anyone else? "We believe in the inerrancy of Scripture" but they have also decided that one's interpretation of that scripture must conform or they will not associate with him or her.

For the two or so years that I've know Randy I have come to admire him greatly. He and I differ on many topics, ranging from politics to religion, but he has always been gracious enough to sit and welcome my opinions and views. We discuss topics which people can get very heated about and yet he calmly gives me reason for his view and accepts mine without the usual backlash of disdain and judgment that unpopular opinions are often met with. He understands a basic Christ-like principle that many people over-look: Christ didn't tell us what to think or try to force others to believe what he wanted them to. He fought for the rights of others, in fact, and encouraged them rather than ridiculed them. I've never felt judged by Randy Haney, and yet through this ordeal and over his blog and others' he is being judged repeatedly and unfairly. It breaks my heart. But, I know that he can handle it because I know that he's dealt with this kind of scrutiny before. It's my belief that men like Randy who aren't afraid to push for change and unorthodoxy usually are.

I link to the Eklektos website in my sidebar because I believe in it's purpose and vision. It's goal isn't to condemn anyone but to invite people in as they are. Because I believe Jesus will accept us all despite our sins, whatever they are. I also believe that Gays and Straight alike are sinful and are God's Children. Jesus didn't only die for sinners who loved the opposite sex. He died for everyone. I'm proud that Baytown is host to such visionaries as Wendy Bailey and Randy Haney, who, despite polarity of opinions have daily found common ground in Christ. Well, I see Christ in both of you. I love you both and pray that this mess will strengthen both Faith Harbour and the Eklektos ministry (not a church).

UPDATE: The term I was looking for is "disaffiliate", not "disassociate," although it's really the same thing, isn't it?


Jason said...

I'm not quite sure of what all of the benefits are of belonging to a denominational council, even after belonging to a denomination for 3.5 years that has a council, classis, synod, etc. But I have a few ideas. Of course, I'm not heavily involved in denomenational matters, but I have talked on occasion with our Pastor. It seems that there are two primary benefits.

The first is that the denomination helps develop an official statement of beliefs. Christian Reformed Church, of which I am a member, is faily broad in this respect, sticking mainly to the Apostles' Creed and the Nicean Creed. We also use the Heidelberg Catechism, which I think is unique to Reformed theology. It isn't anything too earth-shattering. Generally speaking, however, each church is free to determine the particulars while remaining true to a common faith. For instance, our church has women elders, deacons, and pastors, but I know that there are some churches even within our classis that do not. Of course it seems to me that if a church does not agree with the statements of belief, then they would not want to be associated with the council.

The second benefit is more utilitarian: Denominational councils provide a lot of infrastructure support for a church. They usually have their own publishing company, which can provide books, lesson plans, devotionals, music, and other printed material. They can organize missionary efforts and develop the structure and practice of ordination. There are probably other practical benefits too, but those are the main ones. I don't think, however, that they recieve much, if any, financial support, unless it is a church-planting situation or a church in serious financial trouble.

Even with all of that, I could certainly see how a church could survive and even thrive without such support. In fact, most of the big mega-churches across the country are non-denominational with little or no ties to a formal denomination. Anyway, those are my thoughts.

(Knowing how the SBC operates, however, I don't think anyone can be surprised at their disassociation from The Harbor. They adhere the status quo, and regardless of the LGBT, issue, the Harbor is not part of the status quo.)

Chad said...

Jesus was about reconcilliation. His love and touch were to draw people to the Lord. His message was to repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. His lifestyle was one of love. He did whatever was necessary to show others a better way.

Paul tells us we have that same ministry. Whether dealing with gays, lesbians, gamblers, people with struggling with pride..name the type of brokenness. It doesn't matter. We are called to be messengers of reconcilliation. God's work is to redeem a lost, broken, hurt world. We are part of that mission. I'm not sure what that has to do with everything you wrote, but it's what I considered as I read the news stories last week and your thoughts this week. May I never lose sight of what I'm called to do.

Anonymous said...

I hope you guys will not mind me butting into your blog. I have been closely involved in this situation. I am a member of Baker Road Baptist Church the sponsoring church. I am friendly toward Randy and consider him my friend. And have talked to him at great length about this.

Please understand what you are writing about the SBTC is not entirely correct. This group of men and women love the Lord and others. Although that may not be the press they have received, I know many of these people personally. They are godly men and women. The petitionary and credential committee are made up of men who belong to other Southern Baptist Churches and are not paid necessarily by the SBTC. They came from all over the state.

The SBTC has funneled in the neoghborhood of $50,000+ dollars to the Faith Harbour Church in the last several years. Other churches in the state give money to the SBTC to do the work of Evangelism and Church ministry including start churches of which Faith Harbour is one of.

There are two sides at least to every story and not everything has been in the press or even released on the Faith Harbor blog. Yes, we can differ on many issues theologically. But the true foundation of scripture, meaning Jesus is the only way to God, we must admit we are a sinner, Believe that Jesus is God's son and He alone is our salvation, Confess our sin and commit our life to Him. These are the basis of true Christian faith that the SBTC stands on.

That is the problem with the STBC and Faith Harbour. They asked Randy to 1)State his belief in that homosexuality was a sin like any other sin i.e. adultery, stealing, cheating, murder, disobeying parents etc... 2) to define the ministry of Eklektos with language that does not affirm homosexuality and 3)to choose not to support a ministry led by another person who affirms the lifestyle of homosexuality. Whether Eklektos is a church or not is competely irrelevant. However, if you check out their names definition and mission it meets all the standards of a church.

We are to love the adulteror, the murderer, the homosexual, the liar, the divorcee, etc... However, we need to know when we sin and recognize that sin. However, if we do not know we are living in sin How will we know what God expects?

By the way this is not a works salvation, (that's not the problem) it is (My words) a works lifestyle. They will know our faith by our works, because faith without works is dead.

Sorry for butting into your convo...but this is an issue I feel passionately about. FYI when you are the outsider on a controversial subject why not hear both sides. Call the pastor at Baker Road or someone from the SBTC and ask them for their side of the story.

Kyle said...

Mr. Anonymous, I am going to respond but in the comment section of the most recent post, if that's okay. Or, really, even if it's not.

Dana Chilton said...

Hey Kyle,

I am an openly gay member of the churches of Christ. I was glad to see that you still attend a church of Christ. I think, from personal experience, that even though we come from a conservative fellowship, that we're in a unique and better position that those in 'demoniations' or structured fellowships that have rigid creeds and leaderships. We don't have a creedbook or Pope that we have to follow...it's just the Bible. I was just up at Pepperdine and after hearing some really great sermons, I really think that a majority of us in the church could eventually come around to seeing the biblical truth that gays, lesbians, intersex, and transgendered persons are just like everyone else and don't need to be changed.... all these creeds, denominational handbooks, councils, and stuff just complicate things.... there are some awesome scholars in our fellowship that believe in inclusion for the LBGT community... we just need to be more vocal :)