Evolving Faith Conference | Live Notes & Comments

[These are my notes taken live during the conference. I apologize for any typos, errors, or incoherencies. Updates will be made over the next two days.]


Thursday, October 3 | Pre-Conference, Church Leadership & Evolving Faith: Navigating Healthy Change for Your Staff & Congregation

Session 1. Addressing Fear and Anxiety in the Midst of Change | Jasper Peters

[Pastor of Belong Church]

The best version of me allows anxiety a vote, but not a veto.

The place we must begin is with ourselves.

The biggest fear I have is falling short, of not living up to my purpose and potential.

We all carry with us the fear of rejection, not just of the thing we do, but with who we are; our personhood, and our identity.

What would we accomplish, if we decided we’re willing to “do it scared?”

Perhaps what we’re looking for is not “deconstruction-reconstruction,” but rather “deconstruction, and then mobilize.” We don’t have to put it all back together, to make the pieces all fit in the right way. Is there room for me to take the helpful pieces, and then move forward?

I prayed for freedom for 20 years. But it didn’t come until I started praying with my feet. – Frederick Douglass

May God give you the ability, even in the midst of your fear, to begin to move forward.

[via: I think it may be helpful to think of the biblical concept of wisdom when considering the responses we all have to disruption, deconstruction, and disillusionment. Especially when it comes to making changes, we seem to be stuck in the binary of boldness or cowardice, that we either push forward almost regardless of the consequences, or we shrink because of the consequences. Wisdom, on the other hand, is about discerning carefully the goal and aims, as well as the steps to get there. Most importantly, according to the biblical narrative, is that wisdom is the threshold between chaos and creation.]

Session 2. Vulnerability, Harmony, and Unity Within Your Leadership Team: The Story of Moving a Church into Full Inclusion | Michael Hidalgo

[Speaker, author, and pastor of Denver Community Church]

The first step is to assess the potential for change in your organization. Every journey begins where you are, not where you want to be, or demand where everyone should be.

The three categories we used were “open,” “arrested,” and “closed.”

Closed people don’t have barriers, because they can’t see barriers.

The assessment needs to be collective, not individual.

Any change that is demanded in your congregation is also (first?) demanded within [you].

I don’t know anybody who evolved quickly. If we demand them to change now, we deny them the journey of changing.

Session 3. Leading Together in Trinitarian-Inspired Leadership | Jenny Morgan

[Co-Pastor at Highlands Church]

The divine God is one of a shared relationship.

We see ourselves more as a jazz ensemble rather than an orchestra. If you’re in a jazz ensemble the leadership of the music “floats.” At Highlands, we’re going to lead that way, because that is a reflection of God.

These people are not my enemies. Once they become my enemies, I have to pray for them more and love them better. So, these people are not my enemies.

Our Ethos

As a community, we are committed to living relationally according to the values of our Ethos:

Married, divorced and single here,
it’s one family that mingles here.
Conservative and liberal here,
we’ve all gotta give a little here.
Big and small here,
there’s room for us all here.
Doubt and believe here,
we all can receive here.
LGBTQ and straight here,
there’s no hate here.
Woman and man here,
everyone can here.
Whatever your race here,
for all of us grace here.
In imitation of the ridiculous love
Almighty God has for each of us and all of us,
let us live and love without labels!

™Mark Tidd. Highlands Church North Denver

All spirituality is about transforming our pain. All spiritual leadership is about what we do with our pain.

[via: I’ll be honest that when I saw the title of this session, I was not very enthusiastic. But after hearing Jenny speak, it was not only very well presented, it was phenomenal content, and an impassioned plea to cohere our theology with our organizational structures. Well done. ]

Understanding and Identifying the Process of Change and How to Lead Through It | Paula Williams

[cf. Paula’s TEDx talk. Paula referenced her article on her website. I’ve copied it below in its entirety.]

* * * * *

America’s Changing Religious Landscape (.docx)

Over half (52%) of American LGBTQ adults have a formal religious affiliation.  Almost half (48%) identify as Christian, up from 42% just four years ago.  But are religious groups welcoming to the LGBTQ population?  Consider these Pew Research Center (November 3, 2015) statistics showing support for same sex marriage, and the shift from 2007 to 2015:

2007 2015
Jewish Americans 83%
Mainline Protestants 56% 66%
Roman Catholics 58% 70%
African American Denominations 39% 51%
Evangelicals 26% 36%
Millennial Evangelicals 51%
Assemblies of God 16% 26%
Southern Baptist 23% 30%
Church of Christ 31% 35%
Church of the Nazarene 31% 40%
Mormons 24% 36%
Jehovah’s Witness 12% 16%
All Christians 44% 54%
Non-Christian Faiths 76%
Religiously Unaffiliated 83%

Christianity in America

One in five Americans identifies as Roman Catholic, 69.4 million members. Seventy percent of American Catholics are LGBTQ friendly, but the Catholic Church is not a democracy and the new pope not withstanding, it is still closed to LGBTQ inclusion.

Mainline Protestant denominations include the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church of the USA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the United Methodist Church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the United Church of Christ, and others. These churches had the greatest influence on American culture during the first half of the 20th century. Two-thirds (66%) of their members are open and affirming toward LGBTQ individuals. Unfortunately these denominations are declining in attendance and influence and if current trends do not shift, they will no longer be with us in as little as 25 years.

While many mainline Protestants are supportive of the LGBTQ community, many individual congregations are not. Supportive churches are commonly identified as Open and Affirming, or in the case of the United Methodist Church, Reconciling in Christ.

The third group, already referenced, is America’s Evangelical churches and their more conservative cousins, the Fundamentalists (though Fundamentalism is hardly restricted to Christians). Their largest denomination is the Southern Baptists, with 13 million members, a denomination that has become increasingly conservative at the leadership level over the past 25 years, and a denomination not open to LGBTQ inclusion. At a recent general convention they condemned transgender acceptance by voice vote. Still, 30 percent of Southern Baptists are now supportive of Marriage Equality.

While many Evangelical denominations are growing, America’s fastest growing churches have no denominational affiliation whatsoever. They are independent, and their most visible influencers are America’s megachurches.

The Evangelical Megachurch Phenomenon

Megachurches are churches averaging over 2000 in weekend attendance. (Roman Catholic churches are not included in the tally.) There are 1600 megachurches in America in 45 of the 50 states. Today there are more megachurches in Nashville than there were megachurches in the US in 2000.  Almost all are Evangelical in theology.

Texas is home to 14 percent of America’s megachurches, California 13.7 percent, Florida 6.7 percent, and Georgia, 5.2 percent. There are 56 megachurches in Houston and Dallas alone. The states without megachurches are primarily clustered in New England.

[via: I would have appreciated a footnote/citation. Perhaps Hartford?]

While megachurches make up only .3 percent of America’s total number of churches, they are home to 8 to 12 million members. Ten percent of America’s churches have over 50 percent of Americans who attend church.

Evangelical churches are rarely known for their focus on the unequal distribution of wealth or racial prejudice. Their pet social concerns are few. They are active in the fight against reproductive rights, marriage equality, and transgender rights.

They choose social justice issues that have two interesting markers. First, by choosing to be socially concerned about women’s reproductive rights and LGBTQ rejection, they are choosing subjects that cost their clergy absolutely nothing. As male dominated churches, few of their leaders can get pregnant and 95 percent of them are neither gay nor transgender. You pay a personal price for taking a stand on racial and economic injustice. To make things right, you have to give up something. Choosing these two subjects guarantees the leaders have to give up nothing.

Second, by choosing these two subjects, they do not too greatly disturb their members who see the church as a product or a commodity. Many see megachurch services as a great show. As long as the pastor is not talking actively about these subjects too often, people can be comfortable with their heads buried in the sand. I know countless members at greater Denver megachurches who do not align with their churches over either reproductive rights or LGBTQ issues. But it does not affect them personally, so they continue to “buy” the product. It’s like drinking water from plastic bottles. It’s not good for the environment, but it is convenient.

Evangelicals and LGBTQ Issues

The vast majority of megachurches and smaller Evangelical churches are closed to LGBTQ individuals. The problem is the larger churches are savvy enough in their marketing that you have to drill down several levels before they will admit that is their position. In other words, they are purposely duplicitous on the subject. Some will allow you into membership, but none will allow LGBTQ people into any kind of teaching or leadership.

How can you find where these churches stand. Currently, the best resource is churchclarity.org, a new organization that is keeping an accurate and up to date list on larger independent churches that shows where they stand on LGBTQ issues.

These evangelical churches are pragmatic. They do not want to get too far behind the culture at large. The senior pastor of one large megachurch recently said, “I know the ship has sailed on gay marriage and trans inclusion, but it’s going to be a while before our people get there. In the meantime we’re just going to be quiet on the subject.”

The best indication of future behavior is past behavior. Over the years the church has always changed its doctrine based on major cultural paradigm shifts. It happened over the notion of a geocentric universe, slavery, divorce and remarriage, and interracial marriage. If history is any indicator, one can be certain the church will change its view on LGBTQ issues as well. The question is how long must people suffer before the church catches up.

Our Current Culture Wars 

I believe there are four reasons we are facing the current polarization between Evangelicals and more progressive Christians. They begin with the tendency of our species to believe an enemy is necessary for the tribe to survive, and were no enemy exists, we create one. Second, we are seeing three major shifts within Christianity that are perceived as a threat to evangelical Christians. Third, there are three different moral standards for humans, and the three do not coexist peacefully. Fourth, battles are fought exegetically that are actually hermeneutical.

1. The Tribal Tendency to Create Enemies that do not Naturally Exist

E. O. Wilson, the sociobiologist and Pulitzer Prize winning author, who taught at Harvard and MIT, said the key social unit for what he called eusocial species was not the nuclear family, but the tribe. Wilson identified nine eusocial species, including humans.

Wilson believes humans have evolved to have what Richard Dawkins called a selfish gene, but over the eons they also developed a tribal gene. They will, like other eusocial species, sacrifice themselves for the sake of the tribe. But Wilson believes humans differ in one critical area. Humans have somehow evolved to believe the tribe needs an enemy to survive, and where there is no enemy, the tribe creates one. Wilson believes if we cannot change that trajectory, it may spell the end of the species and the planet.

Wherever you see religious fundamentalism you see people in the business of creating enemies where none exist. It is a common theme of all the desert religions, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. These are religions of scarcity.  There is a mentality that there is not enough to go around, so we must take care of our tribe, and only our tribe.

[via: I’m intrigued by this idea, that fundamentalism is in the business of creating enemies where none exist. For more, we’ll have to read E. O. Wilson’s The Social Conquest of Earth. I’m not entirely on board with classifying the “desert religions” as “religions of scarcity,” for two main reasons. What supporting evidence is there for this classification? And, can a characteristic of an aspect of these religions characterize the whole?]

Wilson’s suppositions are echoed in the book, Violence and the Sacred, by the anthropological philosopher René Girard. Girard was interested in the power structures of tribes, and noted that throughout history, those in power were intent on remaining in power. The best way to do so was to create scapegoats within the tribe. If there was a threat within the tribe, then it was certainly not a good time to change power structures. Therefore, if leaders could create internal threats and turn them into scapegoats, those in power could retain their power.

This is common human behavior. The victors determine history and define who the scapegoats are. But Girard said one metanarrative emerged that exhibited the capacity to end scapegoating. This story was not told from the perspective of the victor, but from the perspective of the scapegoat. This particular scapegoat understood why those in power wanted him killed, and he forgave them. He knew they were caught up in a narrative far bigger than their own lives.

The truth is that if mankind could follow the teaching of that scapegoat, prejudice would end. But unfortunately, the followers of that scapegoat just created more tribes, creating enemies where none exist, and scapegoats within the camp who must be ostracized. So much hope turned into such profound disappointment.

This presidential election was a last stand of the old American order – white, conservative and religious. It took 150 years for slavery to end. Marriage equality was achieved in just 20 years. That was far too fast for most Evangelicals, and they rebelled. But the truth is that even among Evangelicals the tectonic plates are shifting, as evidenced by the 51 percent of Millennial Evangelicals who are LGBTQ supportive.

2. Three Shifts in Christianity

For 2000 years the Christian story has defined Western Civilization, but it has been based on three touchstones that are no longer tenable in the West. Therefore, we are seeing changes that will bring good news to the LGBTQ population, but not without struggle. After all, you don’t change a 2000 year-old cultural paradigm overnight. We can be confident, however, that the shift has begun.

  1. From religion as a system of beliefs to religion as a way of life.

During the modern age the religious world was captured by the mechanistic, intellectual enterprise. Descartes, Bacon, Newton, Locke and others brought about the Enlightenment, an age focused on logical thinking and factual proposition. Religion became a system of beliefs and the Bible became a constitution or rulebook.

The arrival of Quantum Physics brought the realization that the only ultimate reality is relationships, and how things (or people) behave is more important than the sum of their parts. That is resulting in a shift from religion as orthodoxy (doctrine) or right beliefs, to religion as orthopraxy (practice) or a way of life.

[via: I really like where Paula is going here, but aspects of the supporting rationales are perhaps not as strong presented. For example, there is debate as to whether or not we can call the 17th-19th centuries-ish, “the Enlightenment.” Quantum Physics has not yet made a final determination as to the “ultimate reality.” With that said, I don’t really have a problem with the argument as is. I just note this here for precision sake.]

  1. From God as the eternal one who threatens to God as the ultimate participant.

In The Great Spiritual Migration Brian McLaren defines a shift from a violent God of domination to a nonviolent God of liberation. That shift is taking place because the old plausibility structures are no longer tenable. Modern man is not as open to following a God who would take the life of his own son. It is open to a God who would choose to come and suffer among us.

  1. From religion as a tribe organized for self-protection and group narcissism to a people organizing for the common good.

In his book, The Divine Dance, Richard Rohr says we are in a time of movement away from tribal behavior and individuality to a time of foundational relationality. If the only ultimate reality is relationships, then love is the most powerful force in the universe.

These three major shifts are the reason 51 percent of Millennial Evangelicals are now supportive of the LGBTQ population. The Evangelical world is changing.

Yet when those in power see a massive paradigm shift on the horizon, their first response is to dig in their heels. This has recently been made manifest, not just in the presidential election, but in the newest battlefield of the American cultural war – transgender rights.

But it was not so long ago that Evangelical megachurches were open to transgender people. When asked at a 2011 megachurch event how many had transgender members, over 50 percent replied they did. Their rationale was that the New Testament is silent on the subject, which is correct. They separated out transgender issues as acceptable specifically for that single reason. To this segment of American Christianity, that was all that was necessary to accept transgender people into membership.

But that was then. In the past 24 months there has been a rapid shift away from transgender inclusion in Evangelical megachurches, and in almost all other Evangelical and Fundamentalist churches. The issue is not theological, but cultural.

There is no biblical rationale for transgender rejection. Evangelicals appeal to Genesis 1:27 and the statement that God “created them male and female.” But the scientific reality is that God did not create them male and female. There are multitude intersex conditions. A recent peer-reviewed study showed the brains of transgender people function about halfway between male and female. There have always been significant variations in gender in a plethora of species.

There is no biblical rationale for transgender rejection, so Evangelicals made one up. The senior pastor of Flatirons Church, a Colorado megachurch, wrote to a transgender member, “When God has assigned a place, a station, to someone, it is disobedience to desert that station.” He went on to write that since Jesus said nothing about healing transgender people, transitioning genders should be seen as having been prohibited by Jesus. Following that logic, we would not treat a cleft palate, a clubfoot, or any other birth abnormality!

3. Differing Moral Foundations and Moral Passions

Humans are not primarily a rational species. We are primarily an intuitive species. We form our opinions intuitively, then create rational defenses of the opinions we have adopted. Debates only serve to increase polarization. They do not change minds, and never have, even though we thought during the Enlightenment that rational arguments could change opinions.

The truth is that people will take in new information and change their opinions, but only if it comes to them in a non-threatening way. In today’s world, that is the challenge.

Humans work from three different moral foundations.

The Rights of the Individual

The first moral foundation is the belief that there is no greater good than to look out for the best interest of the individual. This is the main moral foundation of the secular West, and is even stronger in Western Europe than it is in the United States. In the US, it is the major moral standard on both coasts, and in liberal enclaves throughout the nation. It is also the moral foundation of the editorial leadership of most mainstream media sources.

The Integrity of the Tribe

The second moral foundation is the belief that there is no greater good than to protect the integrity of the tribe. This has been the major moral foundation of the species for thousands of years, and it continues to be the major moral foundation in many African nations and developing nations.

The Demands of the Gods

The third moral foundation is the belief that there is no greater good than to obey the demands of the gods. This moral foundation is connected to no particular geography, but is the foundation of all forms of religious fundamentalism, particularly the fundamentalist expressions of the desert religions (Abrahamic religions), Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

In the United States, the strongest expression of this last moral foundation is in the fundamentalist/evangelical world that emerged with the Moral Majority in the 1980s, rebelling against the power of the first moral standard (the rights of the individual) in Western culture. They felt their moral views had been dismissed, so they began to work politically at the most basic levels – school boards and town councils – to try to gain the upper hand.

Evangelicals, and particularly their larger churches, are the only religious bodies in the United States that are expanding. Their influence in the culture is greater than ever, and they have chosen to wield that power in political ways. That is the reason 81 percent of Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals voted Republican in the last presidential election.  It is also one of the reasons they continue to be supportive of the 45th president.

And if it seems they are louder in their opposition to those who hold to the first moral foundation, it is an accurate perception. There is a reason.

While there are three moral standards, there are six moral passions:

Care versus Harm

Fairness versus Cheating

Liberty versus Oppression

Loyalty versus Betrayal

Authority versus Subversion

Sanctity versus Degradation

While those who hold onto the first moral foundation also express the first three moral passions, it is only the last two groups that work from all six moral passions. Put succinctly, they are more passionate about their belief system than those whose moral foundation is the rights of the individual.

This plays out in a very practical way in the fact that mainline Protestant churches are on the decline, while evangelical megachurches are on the rise.

4. A Different Hermeneutic – Originalists versus Non-Originalists

Trying to respond to Evangelicals using scripture is often fruitless, because the issue is not what the Bible says or does not say on the subject. The problem is not primarily exegetical (accurately understanding what a specific passage says.) It is hermeneutical (accurately understanding how the whole of the Bible should be approached and understood.) Should the scriptures be read as a constitution, or as an inspired library, written by a plethora of writers over a long period of time?

To understand the differences between these two views of the Bible, one can look to the current divide on the Supreme Court. Originalists believe the Constitution should be interpreted strictly according to the understanding of its authors at the time it was written. Non-originalists believe it should be treated as a living document. Today we hold knowledge we did not hold at the time the Constitution was written, and today’s Court should interpret the Constitution in light of that increase in knowledge.

The same kind of disagreement exists between evangelicals and progressive theologians. Fundamentalists and Evangelicals believe the Bible should be interpreted and understood exactly as it was understood when it was written.  In reality, those who hold to that position do not do so with consistency. For instance, the Bible makes room for slavery. But you will not find more than a handful of fundamentalists who today would say slavery is acceptable. The selective interpretation of the Bible, sometimes taken literally and sometimes not, is just one of the problems of a fundamentalist hermeneutic.

[via: I disagree that “Fundamentalists and Evangelicals believe the Bible should be interpreted and understood exactly as it was understood when it was written.” I think it is more accurate to say that they believe the Bible should be interpreted and understood exactly as it is understood by modern English-speaking readers. The reason this distinction is important is because there is a historical and contextual way of reading that takes into consideration an original understanding, as in its origins (or authorial intent), but also does not yield the same results as a “literalist” or “biblicist” way of reading.]

Seeing the Bible as a rulebook or constitution results in the kind of exegetical approaches that result in the kind of proof-texting used to defend slavery, to refuse equal rights to women, to condemn interracial marriage, and in distant generations, to prove the earth was flat and the sun revolved around the earth.

[via: Just a note that there is was never any “flat-earth” religious thinking. cf. “The Late Birth of a Flat Earth” by Stephen J. Gould]

In the Judeo-Christian tradition there were always two different kinds of religious followers. One group was unquestionably obedient and comfortable letting someone else do their thinking for them. The other group could be called faithful questioners, understanding there is a trajectory to religion that will bring about changes in understanding and practice over time. (It is interesting to note that when he quoted Hebrew scripture texts, Jesus quoted the faithful questioners, not those who were unquestionably obedient.)

The current cultural wars have been initiated by those who are unquestionably obedient. They are not interested in the conclusions of science or common human understanding. Yet as has been demonstrated, with the passing of enough time, even they give up their strongly held convictions.

In the final analysis, the rejection of LGBTQ people is not a scriptural issue. It is a cultural and tribal issue.

Bringing Change Through Telling Stories 

We must do everything in our power to end the xenophobia, racism, and injustice sweeping our nation. But we would also do well to remember that humans do not take in new information unless it comes to them in a non-threatening way. Therefore, we must lead in a way that is not perceived as a threat. I believe we do that by putting people in close proximity, and tell stories.

The need for story is biological. We do not sleep without dreaming, nor do we dream except in stories. The need for story is in the warp and woof of our humanity. Therefore, stories have a far greater impact than didactic debates.

We should look for opportunities to tell our stories. When Evangelicals and Fundamentalists meet an LGBTQ person, the tectonic plates begin to shift. We will change the church on these issues in the same way the church has changed on every other issue, one story at a time, one person at a time.

It will take time, but the trajectory is clear. Fifty-one percent of Millennial Evangelicals are supportive or LGBTQ individuals. It may take a generation, but the Evangelical church will change and accept transgender individuals into the fold. Of this I am confident.

[via: Despite my critical notes above, this was a really well done presentation. Personally, anyone who names E.O. Wilson, Rene Girard, and Jonathan Haidt in the same talk about tribal religions, hermeneutics, and redemptive theology is at the top of my list. I also understand that social psychology and cultural anthropology may be a bit too much to grasp at a conference like this, and so have sympathy for those who struggled to track. Just know that what Paula did here was grounded in a wide and brilliant swath of social science that comports really well with a religious framework. Excellent.]

* * * * *

Panel | Curating Fruitful Conversations with Your Church Leadership, Your Family, Your Friends, and Fellow Sojourners

Jenny Morgan: What if we’re wrong? What if being in a gay relationship is actually a sin? I believe that we’ll be wrong about a lot of things. “I think that God’s tender loving hands will catch us at the end of our slippery slope.” For us, asking that question is evidence of us being honest.

Jasper Peters: If I am progressive in some places, we have a tendency to think “we’ve got it all together.” We can be theoretically progressive, but yet we’ve never really been challenged to be progressive. I try to use the word “aspirational ally” because I still have room to grow, and I’ll still make mistakes.

Paula Stone Williams: There is no way an educated white male can understand how the culture is tilted in his favor. Conversely, there’s no way a female can understand the full import of that. I can tell you, the differences are massive. So, how do we get true gender equity? Gentlemen, 1) Make sure women are in the room. 2) Be quiet. 3) Give credit for the work women do // Don’t take credit for the work women do. 4) Hire mothers with children at home. 5) Don’t give women more power, given women your power.

Michael Hidalgo: Use what people know to bring them to where they’ve never been. How do you begin helping people to see things more broadly? Start the conversation where they are. Meet them there. It is a compassionate way to help them be healthy in their journey, and learn from them in the process in order to move forward. We judge impact, and we neglect intent. Let us recognize the various foundations. Don’t ask, “What’s wrong with you?” ask “Where are you coming from?” Also, get curious.

Friday, October 4 | Conference

Session 1: “Evolving Faith & the Wilderness”

Sarah Bessey (@sarahbessey)

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message translation)

God acknowledges your weariness and your burden. Jesus did not judge the burdened one for the burden, or the sad one for their sadness.

It was following Jesus that made me a feminist. But, it was following Jesus… that made me care about justice, refugees, good food. It was following Jesus that made me want to sing together, embrace and welcome our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters, and decolonizing my faith, etc. It was following Jesus that compelled me to love my Bible again. It was following Jesus that connected me, not only to God, but to my neighbors.

There’s still so much good work to do. The “yoke” that Jesus refers to is “light,” and it is a gospel of hope. God has given us good work to do, and we get to do it together.

God help us from becoming “progressive fundamentalists.”

Wherever you find yourself in this wilderness, you are loved.

Dr. Eric Barreto (@ericbarreto)

Acts 8:26.

Scripture keeps bringing us to the wilderness.

Consider v.27 as a scribal interpolation, an expression of many of our experiences, that God’s boundless grace has been met with boundaries.

What if the other side of the wilderness is more wilderness, but not a wilderness of loneliness and isolation. God has made the wilderness God’s home.

There is a colonial lie that we’ve been told that we own the table to which we invite others.

And, what if that table is set in the wilderness?

Barbara Brown Taylor

In the beginning, you weep…

If you’re a prayerer, you pray. If you’re not a prayerer, you pray. What else can you do?!

If there wasn’t any real danger, it wasn’t really a wilderness. Because it’s not the wilderness unless there’s something that can kill you. Otherwise, you’re not in the wilderness, you’re in the park. There, there are rangers, and you can take pictures.

Anything that shows you how breakable everything is, is a wilderness.

In grief, we’re not meant to go back to the way things are supposed to be. cf. The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief by Francis Weller.

Session 2: “Evolving Faith & Theology/Bible”

Danielle Shroyer (@DGShroyer)

What myth are you living by? The myths we’ve been living by are “we are not enough.” “Not enoughness” is the root of all the violence and injustice on the earth.

Matthew Fox: “Original Blessing.” It is that we are loved, and a love that never wanders.

The problem is that we haven’t cultivated our divine intuition.

If you have breath right now it’s because you are breathing the oxygen of relationship.

We are in God, and God surrounds us. God loves us, and God is the love.

When we disconnect, we remove ourselves from the belovedness.

We did not lose our goodness in the garden, we lost our innocence. We cannot receive the knowledge of the good without gaining the knowledge of evil. They are the twin packages of knowing.

Even though we don’t have a sin nature, we do have a human nature.

Wisdom encompass a lot of things but is ultimately about his one thing. You can always come home to God.

Religion means “to reconnect” common with the word “ligament.” Somehow we’ve made religion as something that takes things apart.

Dr. Pete Enns (@peteenns)


Why didn’t you leave? “Pete, you sound like a battered spouse.” Fear.

Clarity is the last thing you’re clinging to, and the one thing you must let go of. What you must have is trust. So, I will pray that you trust God.

As soon as I’ve tried to solve the paradox, I’ve created another system.

Rev. Jasper Peters

I thought there was something broken inside me, but instead, it was something breaking open inside me.

I don’t have respect for the authority of Scripture that is used for the abuse of the children of God.

In the midst of talking about the “authority” of the Bible, may we engage with the “power” of the Scriptures; the power of seeing our own stories being played out again and again. I suggest we abandon the battleground of biblical authority because that is about leveraging that power.

I don’t always know what to make of the text. But I approach it in humility because God’s power can be made perfect, even in our weakness.


This is hard for those who have had the Bible weaponized against us, for those who have suffered violence of the text?

Maybe you just set it down? God is outside the Bible anyway.

[via: There’s a part of me that felt that Victor Frankl’s Logotherepay would be a good response to this question. Our conditioning by the physical environment is no doubt damaging and trauma-inducing. But the process of stepping away from the thing is not a process of healing, but rather a process of separation. But the damage and trauma goes with you. Frankl’s Will To Meaning is to reorient what the thing means, and what meaning we choose to see in the thing. See his book Man’s Search For Meaning for a fuller explanation.]

What do you do to stir your own imagination about the Scriptures?

Lectio Divina.

[via: For me, it’s the historical context, to do the work of getting back into the minds of the earliest and original disciples, authors, and readers. History, science, and the disciplies of study have been my pathways.]

Session 3: “Evolving Faith & Human Dignity”

Tanya Marlow

You’ve heard of “lectio devina.” I propose a “narratia divina,” divine story-telling.

B.T. Harman

Why I’m angry.

I cannot create art when I’m living out of an aura of doom.

Everything got serious for me when I got serious about habitual gratitude. I’m not talking about the recreational use of gratitude. I’m talking about the persistent, habitual, obsessive use of gratitude.

Ancient wisdom and the scientific data confirm, gratitude is awesome.

Comparing UP is the theif of joy. Habitual gratitude implores us to compare DOWN. This isn’t “looking down,” but COMPARING down.

“Cultivated awareness,” can forge habitual gratitude. This is what I’ve done over the last several years as a defense against the social culture.

  • I’m grateful for when I step in gum, it reminds me that I own a pair of shoes.
  • I’m grateful for traffic in Atlanta, because it reminds me I own a car.
  • I’m grateful for my body, the grey in my beard, the wrinkles on my face…
  • I’m grateful for my conservative Baptist upbringing, because out of that I grew.
  • I’m grateful for an Ancient faith that transcends 2019.
  • I’m grateful for my mother, who holds to a traditional view of sexuality but has embraced and loved my husband.
  • I’m grateful to be gay, bridging my pain with others.
  • I’m grateful for my husband.

Count your many blessings. Count them one by one. It’s not just a song.

As you work through your pain, leave some room for gratitude. And when the bleeding stops, and the wounds turn into scars, embrace the full weight and power of gratitude.

Cece Jones-Davis

Exodus 15:19-21 | “Remember the refrain.”

What the LORD requires, also requires The LORD.

Session 4: “Evolving Faith & Justice and Decolonization”

William Matthews

“Are you prepared to die?”

The myth of horror films is that violence is random and indiscriminate. Horror films are central to white culture and lifestyle. They draw upon their deepest and darkest fantasies, threatening to take away the comforts of the protagonists.

Let’s imagine America as a film genre? Romantic comedy? Shakespearean drama? “Left Behind Series?” If you were to ask black and brown people, it would look more like Get Out.

If we pay attention, there will always be signposts of the tragedy that is coming.

White Christians, if you had listened to black Christians in 2016, we might not be in this mess we’re in right now.

Bring healing, equity, and justice to the system, and they’ll come for you, to come and get you.

Power, religious or political, does not reward you for doing the right thing. Power rewards you for reinforcing the hierarchy. But there’s good news. Because this faith shows us what to expect, and that we were called to die.

White supremacy is not just an attitude that has been passed down through generations, it is an inaccurate telling of history.

It’s time to acknowledge the horrors of our American experience.

Kaitlin Curtice

I wouldn’t dare call myself “woke,” when there is so much waking to do. I dare not call myself “decolonized” when there is still so much decolonizing to do.

Decolonization is about reclaiming sacred mystery, and fierce love.

Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes

Who told you that you had to fit?

Saturday, October 5 | Conference

Breakout Session 1: Austen Hartke, Gender Diversity in the Bible and in Our Churches

(Austen is wearing a t-shirt that says “Bad Theology Killz”)

Consider the Venn Diagram of Orientation and Gender:

Gender is generally understood as made up of three components: body, identity, expression.

  • Your body–Your internal and external reproductive organs, chromosomes, hormone levels, and brain matter.
  • Your gender identity–Your internal self-perception and experience of being female, male, both, or neither.
  • Your gender expression–The Way you show your gender to others through clothing, hair, mannerisms, voice, etc. which have gendered values in your society.

You may hear the body part of this equation referred to as someone’s assigned sex. All people have an assigned sex, based on a visual examination of their external genitalia at or before birth. Most people are assigned male or female. Some people are intersex, meaning they have a mix of different sex characteristics. The current generally agreed-upon estimate of intersex people is 1.7% of the population.

Within modern Western contexts, there’s an expectation that all people do (or should) fit into the gender binary. The gender binary is a system in which you are either male or female–one defined box or the other.

Orientation and Gender in the Ancient World?

  • In the ancient near-east, the Roman Empire, and in the Hellenistic Jewish world, orientation and some parts of gender weren’t considered identities one held-instead, importance was placed on the actions one took.
  • Oftentimes, as is still the case today, different gender expressions got confused for different orientations.
  • Let’s avoid anachronisms! The language we use today is much different from the language biblical characters would have used for themselves.
  • What we CAN compare is experience. Who experiences marginalization? Who holds social power? Which people are raised up as models? Which situations do Jesus and the prophets speak into?

cf. Genesis 1:26-28

  • How do we understand this passage in the context of the rest of Genesis 1?
  • Ancient writers understood that there were middle spaces, e.g., “dusk” “beach/estuaries,” etc. We have a lot of things that are in the margins.
  • The only thing we know is that “God makes stuff.”
  • Let’s consider our bodies when we consider ourselves as co-creators with God

“Zachar u’nikeva” is, I believe, a merism, a common Biblical figure of speech in which a whole is alluded to by some of its parts. When the Biblical text says, “There was evening, there was morning, the first day,” it means, of course, that there ws evening, there was dawn, there was morning, there was noontime, there was afternoon…”

Torah Queeries…

Questions to foster discussion:

  • Is all of creation named in Genesis 1? What does the framework of the chapter tell us about what God makes?
  • What does it mean to be

cf. Deuteronomy 22:5

  • This has to do with gender expression, not gender identity.
  • Consider other characters that don’t follow this pattern. E.g. Deborah, Joseph (Genesis 37:3-4; 2 Samuel 13:18)

Questions to foster discussion:

  • What kind of clothing is Deut 22:5 talking about?
  • How do people outside the gender binary figure out what to wear?
  • How do we prevent harm caused by falsifying identity
  • How do we honor the fact that some of the people in scripture didn’t seem to follow this part of the law?
  • How do we understand this passage in light of modern cultural diversity?
  • For Christian communities, how do we decide which parts of the Mosaic law are relevant?

My framework is Jesus’s teaching in loving God and loving neighbor. So, if I’m interpreting a passage that is harming my neighbor, then that is not an appropriate interpretation.

cf. Deuteronomy 23:1

Questions to foster discussion:

  • What counts as “the assembly of the Lord?”
  • Does this verse have top billing, or are there over-riding concerns?
  • Does this verse apply to everyone, or only people with these particular external reproductive organs?
  • For Christian communities, how do we decide which parts of the Mosaic law are relevant?
  • How do we understand this verse in light of eunuchs throughout the rest of scripture?

Two schools of thought post-exile for how to rebuild the community: Ezra and Nehemiah, to “double-down” on following the rules. The other voice is Isaiah, maybe we don’t have to draw the lines the same way (cf. Isaiah 56:1-5)

(Regarding the double entendre at the end, yes, the biblical writers were really into dad jokes.)

  • If you thought that you were not a part of the covenant, this says that you are grafted in.
  • Really important to the families of eunuchs.
  • Isaiah didn’t win the argument. Eunuchs did not get to become priests.

Matthew 19:11-12

  • Jesus knew and referred to intersex peoples.
  • The Talmud, the Jewish collection of oral law written and compiled between the first and seventh centuries CE, recognized four different kinds of people who exist outside the male/female binary–the Androgynos (having both masculine and feminine characteristics), the Tumtum (having indeterminate physical characteristics), the Ay’lonit (a person assigned female at birth but who develops masculine characteristics), and the Saris (a person assigned male at birth but who develops female characteristics). They distinguish between the “Saris hamah”–a person born…

Acts 8:26-39

  • This is the beginning of the church, someone who is “outside the boundaries of gender” being included in the Jesus movement.

Gender-Diverse People Today

  • Because lives are on the line.
    • According to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, conducted by the National LGBTQ Task Force, 41% of transgender people attempt suicide. LGBTQ+ people who experience family rejection are twice as likely to attempt suicide, and religion is cited as one of the largest factors in family rejection.
    • So far in 2019, at least 18 transgender people have been murdered in the US. In 2018, 26 trans people were murdered in the US. 2017 was the deadliest year for transgender people in the history of the US, with at least 29 transgender people murdered. Almost all of these victims have been women of color.
    • Justice for transgender people intersects with justice for incarcerated people (…

“Minority-stress,” is living in a world that wasn’t built for you. With the research that elevated stress and cortisol changes our brain chemistry, which can lead to suicidal ideation.

If you’re experiencing “minority-stress,” you are always in danger unless you’re explicitly told that the space is affirming.

The Trans Umbrella

  • “Trans” is an umbrella term that incorporates many different identities, but they all have to do with having a gender that is different from the sex you were assigned.
  • The word “cisgender” is used to refer to people who have a gender and assigned sex that match.
  • Identifies that fall unde the trans umbrella include:
    • Trans man – …
  • Agender–…
  • Genderfluid
  • Genderqueer
  • Gender-Expansive…


Language Basics

  • “Transgender” is an adjective–a descriptive word. You would say someone is “a transgender person,” not just “a transgender.”
  • No need to add an -ed on the end. Nobody has been “transgendered!”
  • “Transgenderism” is not a thing. It’s not an ideology or political strategy.
  • Terms that have fallen out of favor include:
    • “Transexual” – Still sometimes used by older trans folks, this word is now largely outdated, and has been replaced by “transgender” or just “trans.” Never use “tranny”–this word has been used alongside violence and is still considered a slur by ost rans people.
    • “Sex change”–Any surgery a transgender
    • “Hermaphro

Say This, Not That

  • Don’t say,
    • “Have you had the surgery?”
    • “But what’s your REAL name?” / “What was your birth name?”
    • “I never would have guessed!” / “You look great for a trans person!”
    • “I mean, I’M fine with it, but I feel so bad for her grandma.”
  • Do ask,
    • “What’s your name?”
    • “Can you remind me of your pronouns?”
    • “How can I support you with that?”
    • “Is there a good resource you would recommend on that?”


  • Pronouns can replace nouns when we refer to someone else in the third person. “She loves armadillos!” “His shoelaces are untied!”
  • Many languages have gender-neutral singular pronouns (for instance, German has “er” for male, “sie” for female, and “es” for gender neutral), but English doesn’t have one. In order to make up for that, people have begun using “they/them/theirs” as singular pronouns.
    • “And whoso fyndeth hym out of swich blame, they wol come up…” – Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales
    • “There’s not a man I meet but doth salute me // As if I were their well-acquainted friend” – Shakespeare, A Comedy of Errors
    • “Had the Doctor been contented…
  • New pronouns have also been invented to give us more gender-neutral options, and fill in the gaps in our langauge!
  • By using someone’s correct pronouns you treat them as you would want to be treated! You show them that you see them, that you respect them, and that you want to know them.
  • [cf. Baltimore school, using “yo” grade-school kids.]

“I know a lot about grammar,” or “I care about you.”

The Good Fruit of Affirmation

  • A 2018 study by the University of Texas at Austin found that transgender youth ages 15 to 21 who had their chosen name used at school, work, home, and with friends had 71% fewer symptoms of severe depression, a 34% decrease in reported thoughts of suicide and a 65% decrease in suicide attempts. Having even one context in which a chosen name could be used was associated with a 29% decrease in suicidal thoughts.
  • A 2016 study in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that trans youth who were supported by their parents and allowed to socially transition had the same risk for depression as their cisgender peers, and had only a 2-4% higher risk for anxiety.

cf. austenhartke.com/trans-faith-resources

Breakout Session 2: Kathy Escobar, Walking Wounded: Hope for Those Hurt by Church and Ministry

There are five emotions that are common in this conversation of being hurt:

  • Anger – I was taught that anger meant that something was something wrong with me, rather than a propelling emotion that moves. Don’t underestimate the power of the impulse to turn that emotion off. But emotion is a good emotion.
  • Sad – Sorrow, grief; how could I have given myself, my soul, to this, and then all of a sudden be here? Sad at the loss of relationships. Sad at the absence of redemption. It’s okay to be sad.
  • Fear – It’s really hard not feeling afraid. Will I be able to find a community again? Say what I want to say? It’s my paycheck? For you seminarians, you paid a lot of money to lose your faith. That anxiety can feel really terrible.
  • Disorientation – Spiritual vertigo. What’s God? What’s humans? What’s up, down? You don’t know which direction is what. A lot of our systems taught us not to feel those feelings. We need to anchor into something that is true, but sometimes at the compromise at what’s going on inside.
  • Shame.

“Inspiration-addiciton” is real. We have a compelling need to find a quick pathway through and forward. We need to be careful of that. We’re looking for something to make us feel better. A piece of our healing is understanding that shedding some of those things (the current helps) may create a sense of loneliness, but it will make us more free.

Be very careful of looking for someone to just “tell me what to do.”

Session 5: “Evolving Faith & Your Story”

Jennifer Knapp

I think progressive Christians are progressive because they know friends. And the story is about conservative Christian spaces. But then Why am I still singing in bars? Why are we still here [at Evolving Faith]?

Like a bird who has lived in a cage, who then has the door open. Why didn’t the bird fly away? Why are you still in cage? Why are we not embracing freedom? I walk in this door, because I believe in liberation, and that we were not born in a cage. I hope you’re here because you’re looking for the open door, and that when you see it, you’ll come fly with me.

Jen Hatmaker

How do we discern when some people call this good, and others call this very bad? How do we set forth a path?

My north star? Matthew 7:17-18.

And may I say to you and over you, YOU are good fruit.

Lisa Sharon Harper

“If I were to go up to my third great-grandmother who was the last adult enslaved person in my family, with my understanding at that time of the gospel, and I were to share with her what the good news was, [insert five spiritual laws] … and I imagined how she would respond to me, would she receive this as good news?”

If the good news was not good to my own family, what did I have?

We have been hearing that we elevate those who have been marginalized. Where does that come from? This text, which was written by brown, colonized, people.

I found four words–in their context–that have given me life.

  • “tov me’od” (טוב מאד) | They didn’t see “goodness” as inside the thing, they saw goodness between things. It was the Greek project to find the perfect thing. The Hebrew project saw goodness between. “Overwhelming,” “abundant,” “crazy, CRAZY GOOD!” What God was saying is that ALL the relationships were VERY GOOD (people to people, people and creation, creation to creation).
  • “tsalem” (צלם) | The Hebrew version of the word “ikon.” cf. Matthew 22:21.

Genesis was written as people were coming out of slavery. That’s something I understand. They could have grabbed power for themselves, but they didn’t. They cast it out for all humanity.

  • “radah” (רדה) | This is closer to “stewardship” than the word “domination.” It’s the image of the untamed wilderness. If you are made in the image of God, you are called by God to exercise dominion/stewardship in this world.

Goodness is about the radical wellness of all creation, of all relationships. To be human is to be made equals in the image of God.

We now have to find out what it was supposed to be.

In that day, the Kingdom of God came to crush the kingdoms of men. That means Jesus, colonized Jesus, brown Jesus, indigenous Jesus is here to set people free, on earth.

If goodness is about the goodness of the relationships, sin is anything that breaks those relationships.

The first step is baptism. Galatians 3:27-28. Before you were baptized, you saw people the way the empire sees people. But when you go under the water of the King of the kingdom of God, and you come up, all you see is the image of God in all. What that means, is that you see the call and the capacity of all to exercise dominion in the land. Let it be so. Amen.

Jeff Chu

In the holy waters of our stories, we can just begin to make sense of the call on our lives.

Human one, what do you see/perceive?

Communion Service

Nadia Bolz-Weber

Sarah Bessey

About VIA


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