Category Archives: unifying

Progress – yes and no

For me October is always a month of reflection; by the end of this month I will have completed 20 years at DOOR.

My conference minister regularly reminds me that people and institutions become what they pay attention to. It was December 2004 when I began paying attention to something different. In many ways this something different was and is tied to the words in Jesus’ prayer “on earth as it is in heaven.”

The journey began in 2003. When recruiting for a new Denver City Director there were no applications from people of color; the scenario repeated in the search for a new Chicago City Director a year later. In both cases extremely well qualified individuals were hired. But what did it say about DOOR and our commitments to diversity that we were unable to attract even a single candidate of color for these positions?

If DOOR was going to become a “multi” ministry, we were going to have to begin paying attention to different things. With a great deal of naiveté I wrote the following reflection/vision statement:

 As we think about DOOR in 10 years, part of that dream includes a transformation of the ethnic make-up of our City Directors. We are not saying it is wrong to hire Anglos, nor do we want to fire any of our current staff. Our current City Directors are some of the finest and brightest people with whom one could ever hope to work. We do, however, want to think about how and with whom we replace outgoing City Directors.

As DOOR looks down the road 10 years, it is our desire to develop a plan that would enable us to identify, train and hire City Directors who are from the urban minority community. It is important to recognize that for a plan like this to be successful our current set of City Directors will have to own this vision.

The goal was that by 2014, 51% of full-time DOOR staff would come from the urban minority community.

Well, its 2014, how did we do? Today, ten years later, 50% of our full-time staff and 72% of our summer Discerners are persons of color, and our local boards are no longer dominated by white men. The changes at DOOR are real; however we still have much to learn.

You see, in 2004 we were primarily thinking about diversity through the lens of race. The other forms of diversity – theology, class, age, orientation, and gender- were always important, but there was a sense in which these secondary diversity issues. In the last few years it has become increasingly clear that to limit “diversity” to one particular aspect, in DOOR’s case “color,” leads to an incomplete and potentially twisted understanding of the kingdom of God.

DOOR is both a tolerant and intolerant organization. On one hand we are open to participants who “don’t get it,” but on the other we do not have a whole lot of tolerance for people who are content to live out their racial prejudice or stereotypes. What happens when we expand this tolerance-intolerance tension to issues of religion and orientation?


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Filed under accomplish, Bearing Witness, Beloved Community, Christian, cultural insensitivity, culture, distinctives, diversity, God questions, ideologies, inclusion, multicultural, racism, racist, religion, religious system, success, unifying, unity, urban ministry, wisdom

The Table

Note:  This is an article I wrote for “Zing,” the monthly newsletter of Mountain States Mennonite Conference (MSMC).  This is the group that holds my ordination credentials.  Recently MSMC licensed an openly gay pastor.  As you might imagine this decision resulted in a tremendous amount of controversy.  Letters have been written in support, in opposition and calling for more conversation.  While at the same time some churches are contemplating what it means to leave the conference.  The goal of this article is to suggest that there is a way for us to stay to together without having to surrender biblical convictions.  Your thoughts and feedback will be much appreciated!

On September 11, 2011 I did something I never thought I would do, I got ordained.  For almost 20 years I avoided this decision.  There were good reasons for not taking this step.  In general my reasons boiled down to not feeling that I would be fully accepted.  I grew up Mennonite Brethren, so I tended to hold a conservative understanding of Scripture.  In 1994 I started working for a program on the Westside of Denver called Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection (DOOR).  This ministry experience has consistently challenged every one of my deeply held convictions, except one.  I believe that Scripture is God’s message to us and must be taken seriously.

This tension has put me in a strange place.  My conservative friends think I have gone over to the “other side” and my liberal friends don’t always know what to do with my conservative leanings.  These tensions left me in a space of never feeling like I could belong or be accepted.  That is until I met Herm Weaver, our conference minister.  Over the years he has been slowly introducing me to the people of Mountain States Mennonite Conference.  It is in this conference that I saw things I didn’t think were possible- conservative and liberal churches participating as co-laborers and equals.  MSMC is living in tensions that would split most conferences.

What I have come to understand is that being at the table together trumps any of the reasons that would cause us to leave the table.  This isn’t always easy because sometimes our differences are significant.  2014 is going to test us.  Talking about leadership and sexual orientation is not easy or comfortable. There are many voices that will tell us that the prudent thing to do is separate.  For some it even feels like a litmus test; that unless you agree with my position we are going to have to leave the conference.  When I speak with people both for and against the ordination of gay and lesbian persons this issue quickly becomes an all or nothing faith matter.  In situations like this it is tempting to assume a “my way or the highway” stance.

In Matthew 22:34-39 Jesus is questioned about his understanding of the law. In short he says love God, love people.  I have a friend to takes this statement one step farther by adding “nothing else matters.”  The call to love God and love people seems to be the lens Jesus calls us to use when dealing with difficult issues.  When we choose to leave a conversation or sever a relationship are we not ignoring this imperative?

I would like to suggest that leaving, or expelling, is the sin that should concern us the most.  The primary call of the people of God and the church is to relationships that include reconciliation, redemption, and restoration.  If any of us leaves the table we are in essence saying that this is no longer possible.  My friends, that is a decision only God can make.

Staying at the table demonstrates to those outside the church that we are not afraid to engage the difficult issues of the day.  As members of Mennonite Church USA the decision of one worshipping body does not dictate the convictions or beliefs of another worshipping body.  Staying together even in the midst of great difference does demonstrate to the world one of our core convictions – all people are made in the very image and likeness of God and for that reason we chose together instead of separate.

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“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements.”   Have you ever wondered if unity is possible, especially among people of faith?  In my more cynical moments I wonder if the unity that emerged during the council at Jerusalem was a “one-off” event.

Today the church seems to make more headlines for its theological division than for its ability to bring folks together.  The reasons for this fracturing are varied and move from humorous to sad.  There is an urban legend about a church that split over a painting in the baptistery that depicted Adam and Eve with belly buttons.  When I was in college I remember debating vigorously about the virgin birth and Jesus’ resurrection.  If someone was on the other side of my position I quickly moved to questioning their faith commitments.

In 2013 many faith battles are directly connected to sexuality.  As more and more churches rethink think their stances on the ordination and marriage of gays and lesbians the church seems less and less unified.  Some church leaders have even taken to starting new denominations over these disputes.

I realize that unity for the sake of unity makes no sense.  After all if everyone is unified in allowing something that is evil to occur then unity is only allowing a mass of folks to do and be wrong.  Unifying people of faith around unity only is pointless at best.

This does not change that Jesus’ final hope for people of faith was that they would be unified (read John 17).  My job provides me with many opportunities to work with both liberal and conservative believers.  If I am honest I see no quick faith fix to the sexuality battles.  Unity is still a possibility.  It will demand something people of faith often confuse with backsliding – compromise.

Like the leaders at the council of Jerusalem the church needs to become less concerned with burdening its membership with unnecessary requirements.  When Jesus was asked what was most important, his response was simple, concise, and profound.  For Jesus everything boiled down to love.  Anything we do as individuals or communities of faith that violates this rule moves all of us towards dis-unity.

As a friend of mine is fond of saying, “love God, love your neighbor, nothing else matters.”

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Filed under Acts 15, Christian, denominations, diversity, faith, followers of the way, ideologies, losing faith, ministry, moral, obstacle, purity, relationship, religious system, right, theology, two camps, unifying, unity

An Eternal Moment

Every once in a while I find myself participating in an important moment. These moments rarely arise because of planning. They just happen. Last evening I was part of one of these moments. It took place after the DOOR Atlanta board meeting at Manuel’s Tavern. I like going there because they have two prime parking spots reserved for clergy. There were eight of us around the table. Two board members, our Atlanta City Director, my friend Anton, me and three Discern staff representing three of our DOOR cities.

These2013-08-12 22.48.07 Discerners were in Atlanta for a Fund for Theological (FTE) event. Chris is from the west side of Chicago and has worked for DOOR every summer for the past 10 years. Today he is a confident 20 something about to complete his Master of Communication Studies, but I remember the high school freshman who was so skinny the wind could blow him over. Manny just completed his third summer in Denver. He likes to claim Los Angeles as his home town, but he spent most of his teen years in Denver and is a member of the church our family attends. Kelli spent one summer in both Denver and Hollywood. She came to DOOR through a more “traditional path;” she came as a Discover participant, liked the program and applied for a summer staff position. Here were these three young adults – a Hispanic, an African American and an Anglo.

For two hours we sat at that table. The waiter could hardly get a word in to take our order. The conversation was animated, passionate and emotional. We began with the “simplest” of topics, how should we think about sexual orientation? This went on for about 45 minutes. Once we had come to a general consensus we moved on to talking about how working for DOOR has impacted each of their lives. For each of them working with a diverse staff had helped them to better understand who they were and the radical breadth of the kingdom of God. The concept of “For God so loved the world” had taken on new meaning.

One of our hiring commitments is to find people who are different from one another and ask them to work together in unity. Our staff comes to us from urban, rural and suburban settings. Some have been raised in the church while others are new to the Sunday thing. They are young adults of color and they are Anglo. Some are progressive while others hold a more conservative theology. All of this diversity could be viewed as a prescription for disaster. I am constantly surprised that this doesn’t blow up in our face. Every year these young adults choose to define themselves first by what they hold in common. When this happens everyone is given a glimpse of what the church can be.

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Filed under accomplish, Bearing Witness, Beloved Community, collaboration, culture, distinctives, diversity, FTE, ideologies, inclusion, listening, racism, relationship, religion, religious system, theology, unifying, unity, urban ministry, urban tour

The Interview

The other day I was interviewed for a research project. These requests come my way every so often. I enjoy talking about DOOR and my philosophy of ministry. Many times these interviews have a therapeutic quality. Talking about what DOOR does and how we see the world actually helps to clarify why I do what I do.

The interview was moving along smoothly. We began by talking about board structure, hiring practices, and programmatic priorities then moved on to questions of diversity. Over the past decade DOOR has gone through a significant transformation. We, are no longer a white, mostly male, Mennonite program. Our boards are made up of people from many different denominational traditions, men and women hold leadership positions, and people of color out number Anglos. This past summer our Discern program was over 70% persons of color from the neighborhoods and communities in which we serve. It was these kinds of changes that the interviewer was most fascinated by. Responding to her questions helped me to recall the journey that DOOR has been on for the past decade.

Just before we finished she asked if I had anything else to say. In a moment of unguarded clarity I choose to respond. When I came to DOOR the power structures were comfortable and known. My board looked like me, thought like me, and made decisions the way I would have made decisions. I hired summer staff that came from the same culture and theological perspective I came from. We hosted groups that came from churches similar to churches that I grew up in. All of this took place in a community that was different in almost every respect – culturally, ethnically, theologically, and economically. The “saving” grace was that my board, staff, and program participants could all agree on the “solution.”

Today our boards are made up of local pastors and leaders representing the colorful and interesting diversity that is the Kingdom of God. We are Anglo, Hispanic, Asian, African American and Mixed. Women make up the majority (just barely) of our board members. Liberal and conservative believers sit at the same table and choose to define themselves by what they have in common rather than by what separates. There are hipsters, hip-hop pastors/artists, Mennonites, Presbyterians, non-denominational, Methodists, Four-Square, emerging leaders, and retired saints all giving input and helping to guide DOOR into the future.

If I am honest, leading this kind of organization is a little like trying to herd cats. That said I cannot imagine going back to what we once were. I thank God every day for the opportunity to be part of something that is counter-cultural, innovative, and a small reflection of what heaven will be like.

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Filed under Beloved Community, distinctives, diversity, ministry, relationship, religious system, sexist, short-term mission, strength, success, unifying, unity, urban ministry

Confessions of Faith

The other day I was talking to a potential funder.  The conversation was going well until he asked if DOOR could affirm the confession of faith from his evangelical tradition.  I always struggle with responding to these requests.  From a certain perspective I can affirm almost any confession of faith that sincerely attempts to understand scripture.

I am also a Mennonite; we are historically “non-creedal.”  This means confessions of faith are at best a moving target.  They tell us what a group of people believe about faith, life, and God at a particular point in history.

Confessions of faith have the power to be both healthy and destructive.  At worst they attempt to homogenize the Christian faith – if only we could all believe exactly the same then we could worship the same and look the same, be identical to each other.  Can you imagine a church with no differences?  A place where we always agree about everything, always worship the same way, always approach social concerns with one unified mind.  To some this may sound idyllic.  To me this sounds boring, uninteresting, and the complete opposite of the Apostle Paul’s vision of one body and many parts.

It is our differences and disagreements that help to make the church healthy and effective.  When we use confessions as a starting point to have a conversation, we use them well.  I have a friend who is fond of telling me that creativity occurs at the intersection of diversity; when the diversity and differences increase so does the creative potential.

I would like to suggest that the church is best when it refuses to use confessions as a litmus test for admission into fellowship or leadership.  When we use confessions to explore how we understand faith and life differently it becomes possible to find common ground in unexpected places.


Filed under theology, unifying, unity

Finding Nemo – A story about White Privilege

One of my favorite movies is Finding Nemo.  It tells the story of a father’s love for his ever maturing and adventurous child.  One day in a fit of frustration with his father’s overprotective nature, Nemo ventures away from the reef to touch the bottom of a fishing boat.  He is captured by a scuba diver and taken away.  The rest of the movie tells the story of Marlin, Nemo’s father and Dory, an unexpected friend, as they search for Nemo.

One of the first “characters” they meet is Bruce the shark.  Marlin and Dory are immediately brought to an “AA-type” meeting for sharks.  The gathering begins with a pledge “fish are friends not food.”

As I have been replaying this scene in my mind, one question keeps surfacing.  When a Great White shark tells a small fish that he has become a vegetarian, who has to have the faith that the relationship will work out?  Bruce can change his convictions at any time and without any warning.  What assurances do Marlin and Dory have that Bruce will stick to his new diet?

Some of the biggest challenges facing folks who want to move beyond the evils of White Privilege have to to with relationship and reconciliation.  How do Anglos get to a place of honest peer-to-peer relationships with persons of color?

Many who are White have owned and are owning the privilege(s) which have come simply because of skin color.  We have also recognized that privilege can be costly, especially for persons of color.  We have received preferential treatment when looking for work.  We are much less likely to be stopped for routine traffic violations.  The War on Drugs has been waged primarily in communities of color.  Life has not always been easy for White folks, but our privilege has secured as world that is clearly tilted in our favor.

In many ways to be White is much like being a Great White Shark.  When we reach out to others asking for forgiveness, seeking reconciliation and honesty desiring relationship, it is critical to never forget who we are – sharks, people with access to power and privilege.  I for one never asked to be born with the power and privilege that comes to me simply because of the color of my skin.

Just because I reach out to a person of color with an honest desire to be friends does immediately imply that I have quit being scary.  It is important to never forget that it takes a tremendous amount of faith to look past the teeth of a Great White Shark and see a potential friend.


Filed under Finding Nemo, respect, responsibilities, unifying, unity, War on Drugs, White Privilege

I was thinking…about my Christian faith

Have you ever wondered if your faith makes a difference? Or to put it another way, would you be a different person if you had no faith?

In today’s world, being “faithful” or “radical” are too often equated with death and destruction.
Think of all the things that have been done in God’s name.

The crusades.

The inquisition.


Last year I was in Belfast, Northern Ireland. There are 40-foot walls dividing neighborhoods, keeping Catholics and Protestants separated. These walls still stand, years after the “trouble” officially ended. They read the same Bible and pray to the same God, but cannot get along with each other.

In Northern Ireland, the divisions are obvious, but division happens here as well. We quickly divide over conservative and liberal ideologies. Religion is too often a sword that divides people into these camps.

Is it possible for our faith to be transforming and healing? Can my Christian faith be a unifying force?

I want a faith that brings people together. I am tired of defining myself by my “distinctives,” the things that make me different.

I do not want to deny unique qualities and individuality. I like the things that make me, me.

But can our belief in a creator God allow for difference? If difference is OK, can we learn to celebrate and enjoy variety?

Only when we can find the courage to do this, then our faith can truly be radical.

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