Concealed Congregation; Revealed Reconciliation

I have been hesitant to explain why my blog no longer carries any overt references to my home congregation. It’s a long story, and although it has a satisfactory ending, it’s still difficult to tell.

And I have no interest in re-opening old wounds.

Almost eighteen months ago – possibly triggered by something fairly innocuous that I mentioned on this blog – there was a conflict at the church where I worship and work. It escalated into a confrontation between those who were unhappy with changes that had taken place over the previous few years and those who served as elders at that time. The elders agreed to meet with those who were unhappy and learned that many of their concerns were as much fear about future changes as they were about changes already made. The elders candidly addressed most of those concerns at that meeting.

But the dissatisfaction and suspicion did not go away. Almost a month later, the elders – and a couple of ministry staffers – received an e-mail from a young couple that I will call “Devon” and “Kara” because those are not their real names, nor similar to them, nor are they the names of anyone else at my church.

The e-mail was forwarded to me by one of the recipients with the simple comment, “You need to know about this.” It contained three other areas of concern (not your concerns or really even mine), but this blog was the fourth:

Keith Brenton’s Blog

I recently was provided Keith Brenton’s blog site. It is http://keithbrenton.blogspot.com. Each of you should read this blog if you have not already. This blog references Keith’s employment with our church. We are shocked and disappointed that the Elders at our church would support and allow a paid staff member to have such a blog site represent the Church at our church. On this blog site, Keith advocates instrumental music, women Deacons and Elders and questions the validity of laws against abortion and homosexual marriage. I have a very hard time supporting the salary of paid staff with ideology such as this. Keith represents Christ’s Church at our church and, in his job; he is in charge of representing our church to the rest of the world.

Quotes from the blog include:

Speaking on women’s roles – “I don’t think it’s a lack of courage that keeps me from splitting a church over this. It’s just a matter of timing.”

Speaking on abortion and homosexual marriage – “The One Where I Lose Friends” “Because I dare to ask the question: What good does it do to pass laws against abortion and homosexual marriage?”. “If you say, “It protects our marriages, our children, the unborn, and our culture,” my response is: how?”.

Right side of Blog page – Partners to Peek at references a link to “Gal328.Org” where the following is stated: “The purpose of this site is to promote gender justice in the Church of Christ by…”. “Concretely, gender justice in the Church of Christ includes opening traditionally masculine leadership roles and activities (deacon, elder, minister, worship leader, preacher, teacher, etc.) to women, and encouraging men to discover and cultivate their gifts for activities traditionally performed by women.”.

Can we as a Church support this type of representation?

[closing summary paragraph deleted]

Sincerely,
Devon and Kara

You can imagine how my heart was pounding when I read this. As I recall, I was honestly too astonished to be angry at first. I was embarrassed. Someone had misunderstood at least part of what I was trying to communicate, and as an aspiring writer, I should have been concerned with communicating as clearly as possible. And I think those initial reactions may have been essential in keeping the situation from getting completely out of control.

I went to my knees. I asked for guidance. And the response I received was a very quick and complete recollection of a conflict management training series I attended at church in Abilene a few years before. The answer was clear: “Go to him.” It’s what Jesus calls me to do, whether I have sinned against a brother and he has something against me (Matthew 5:23-24) or whether he has sinned against me (Matthew 18:15). I needed to respond to him, and I needed to do so quickly. I e-mailed back:

Dear Devon, Kara, elders and fellow staff members,

[One of the original addressees] forwarded this letter to me, and it wouldn’t be honest of me to pretend that I have not read it or would not like to respond to it.

Devon and Kara, I can only address your points regarding my blog, and would have preferred that you had come to me privately first (as Jesus advised in Matthew 18) so that we might have had the opportunity to discuss them together, before proceeding to the next step of engaging witnesses. I would have hoped that if my blog URL was given to you by someone who had a problem with it, that he or she might have shown me the same courtesy.

I have tried to be careful not to identify my blog overtly with [name of our church], nor to leave the impression that it represents our church’s views. I do use it as a free forum to express both my beliefs and doubts, and to pose questions and invite answers and dialogue. I believe that to be an essential part of the process in heeding Paul’s instruction to “Prove all things. Hold fast that which is good.”

I do take issue with some of the conclusions you have reached about it, and feel that they were made in haste.

The lines you quote are certainly disturbing, as are many quotes when taken out of context.

Speaking on women’s roles – “I don’t think it’s a lack of courage that keeps me from splitting a church over this. It’s just a matter of timing.” This quote occurs in the comments to a post at http://keithbrenton.blogspot.com/2006/08/worship-gifts-and-women.html, and in the entire context of the comment you can see that I am aware that teaching these and some other questions at [name of our church] would be divisive, and that I have no intention of doing so. The word “timing” refers to the perceived urgency of the issue from the point of view of the commenter to whom I was responding; even indisputable changes take time to be evaluated and accepted. Later, you will also read that some of what I wrote was conjectural and therefore something to be discussed in a blog, not necessarily to be taught.

Speaking on abortion and homosexual marriage – “The One Where I Lose Friends” “Because I dare to ask the question: What good does it do to pass laws against abortion and homosexual marriage?”. “If you say, “It protects our marriages, our children, the unborn, and our culture,” my response is: how?”. Again, in the comments of this post at http://keithbrenton.blogspot.com/2005/01/one-where-i-lose-friends.html, I finally answered what I hoped other commenters would realize and answer: “People of our culture are plainly puzzled as to WHY Christians oppose homosexual marriage or unlimited abortion. To them: Unlike murder, they’re not perceived as wrong. Unlike murder, they’re not perceived as causing harm. Unlike murder, they’re practically untraceable and unenforceable. So what good does it do to pass such laws? None. IF WE AS FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST DON’T COMMUNICATE WHY.” And in my post at http://keithbrenton.blogspot.com/2006/02/our-right-to-choose.html, I tried to answer the question why it’s wrong. The point is, passing a law alone is not enough.

I feel I should mention that these comments are not something that can be edited or changed once posted; only deleted or left as is. Only the posts above them are editable later. My blog has always been open to anyone who wants to make comments, and I have only removed a couple because they were abusive – and many because they were spam.

I have on occasion posted at Gal328.org, and while I do not agree with every article nor post there (in fact, its editors have posted a couple of articles with which they disagree), it is another forum to discuss the question of women’s gifts used in worship. You should understand that I see Romans 12:1-2 as a call to worship 24/7, involving more than our worship together. I read Galatians 3:28 and see a principle that there is no division by lines of race, social class, nor gender in Christ. If we believe “silent” means “silent” in the absolute sense, then women should not be allowed to sing, to read scripture congregationally with men, nor even to lead in worship among other women only, nor to teach in their homes with their husbands as Aquila and Priscilla did with Apollos. I don’t think any of us reads that word absolutely. What forums like this do is seek what the meaning of words like “silence” really is, with respect to the principles that are clearly expressed in scripture.

My blog links to a lot of other blogs and sites where there are posts and articles with which I disagree, and sometimes do so in their comments. Linking to another blog or site is not an unconditional approval of everything on it; only an acknowledgment that it has driven me deeper into scripture, study, prayer and dialogue with others.

Often they do so by posting provocative questions; troubling questions that force me to re-examine my positions – and often to confess my guilt outright when convicted of wrong. I try to do the same in my own blog, and that’s why it is named “Blog in My Own Eye.”

I hope this clears up some misconceptions as I saw them in your letter. I don’t have any illusion that any of us will suddenly all agree as a result, but I am obviously a proponent of dialogue and I hope we will feel free to speak to each other about the truth in love on these matters.

Thank you for your kindness in reading this response.

Your brother,

– Keith Brenton

His response was swift, well-measured and gracious, also copied to all of the original recipients. In the meantime, another instruction of Jesus had been banging at the back of my head like a skillet – Matthew 5:41: “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” No one was forcing me to do anything – or even suggesting a course of action – but I still felt compelled to make an offer. I offered to remove all references to the name of my home church and to anyone whom I had mentioned by name attending there from the posts on this blog – and all links on it that might lead one to the church’s Web site. As I explained in the offer, I could not change comments after those posts – and it made the phrasing of some of the touched-up posts a little awkward, but I was certainly willing to do so. I also posted a disclaimer for those not familiar with blogging which still appears at the bottom of the “Blogs to Behold” link at the right. I didn’t wait to hear if the offer was necessary. I just set to it.

Within an hour, I was done.

The next day, I received a phone call from the brother who had written the e-mail, asking about spending a lunch hour together. We agreed to meet as soon as possible – which happened to be a day that neither of us could really afford time to eat lunch. But we did get together at the church, and had an excellent conversation. I told him how much I valued him and his wife and their children; how important they were (and still are!) to our church. He explained that there were things he would have phrased differently, in retrospect. I asked him to pray for both of us right then and there, and he did so with a heartfelt wisdom that I still find a blessing.

I don’t imagine that either of us changed the other’s way of looking at scripture or worship or very many other issues … but we did significantly change the way we see each other that day.

I don’t know who provided the links to the excerpts from my blog, nor to how many people, nor even what might have been said with regard to them. I didn’t feel it was my place to ask … and I do feel that if there was a conflict that needed to be resolved, it should be the responsibility of those who perceive it to pursue reconciliation. It makes worship difficult at times, knowing that – all these months later – there could still be folks I love and respect that have something against me, trying to worship in the same place at the same time.

I believe that the ministry of reconciliation is what God calls us to put our heads, hands and hearts to doing; not just between ourselves and Him, but also among ourselves. I believe it is possible, with the help of God, His Son, and His Son’s unifying Spirit.

And I know from experience that it is a lot easier when it takes place between people who are willing to try.

So, that’s why I don’t post the name of my church here. Not because I am ashamed of it – quite the contrary; there are lots of times I would like to share wonderful things happening in the fellowship of my church family. Not because I believe my church is somehow ashamed of me, though it’s quite possible that some are.

But because I made a promise, and I intend to keep it.

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9 thoughts on “Concealed Congregation; Revealed Reconciliation

  1. Brother Keith,Sometimes you write a blog and I know exactly what/how I want to comment.Other times, I find myself just staring at the words and trying to sort through all the thoughts and emotions they evoke. Right now, that’s the case, as I seem to go from sadness to respect to gratitude and on back to sadness. As I read this post, I recall an e-mail you sent me, I guess almost 18 months ago, in which you mentioned the removal of all references to our church. That saddened me a little, only because I know that it was through a link that used to be on our church website that I found your blog in the first place. And I’d hate to think how much I would’ve missed out on, had I never found it. But also, as I read your post tonite, with a copy of the portion of the e-mail that was sent, I DID imagine how your heart must’ve been pounding when you read it, and it even breaks my heart a little bit for you, too, to see how your intentions (at least as I perceive them) could’ve been so misunderstood.But brother Keith, I’m almost certain that you know that I’ve got an incredible amount of respect for you already. Even more so now, after reading your response to this person and knowing that your removal of all the references to our church was evidence of your willingness to go way above and beyond in an effort to reconcile with this person. I’m sure I would also have an incredible amount of respect for this person, for their receptiveness to your response, their willingness to participate in dialogue, and their effort put forth towards reconciliation as well.I couldn’t be more grateful that both you and this unknown person are the kind of people that I am privileged to worship with, week in and week out. I’m also extremely grateful that for as long as I’ve been a member of our church, I’ve had your blog here as a forum to read and to learn and to post comments and questions. Not only that, but you’ve also been willing to participate in dialogue w/me through e-mail whenever I’ve had a question or comment that I’ve either not felt comfortable posting on your blog or that is unrelated to your blog. At the same time, I’m sad for you that you would still have to worry that there might be someone else that you worship with week in and week out that has a problem with you and/or your blog. Although I know it may be the case, it’s hard for me to imagine that, because for me, worshiping with you is a blessing, as you often speak to me without saying a word…just by silently reminding me of what my attitude should be as I approach His throne. But as much of a blessing as that is, I’ll also confess that it saddens me that that is the extent of our interaction in person…just a few moments on Sunday. I just feel like I’ve had the opportunity to know so much of your thoughts and your life and your heart that you share here, on this blog…that I wish I knew you better.Finally, I have to ask, just for curiosity’s sake…where did this blog come from? I mean, did someone ask why there was no mention of our church here? Or is this just something that’s been on your heart for the past 18 months??? Sorry so long, thanks for taking the time to read. Much love–Your Sister

  2. Since Advent has its roots deep in catholicism why do you promote it on the right side of your blog? As far as I can tell it started about the fourth century A.D.

  3. It seems odd to me that mature believers would be so uncomfortable when someone causes them to question what they believe and why they believe it. I do understand at some level though. Sometimes “comfort” is more important than honesty.It’s disappointing that you felt pressure to hide your congregation’s identity. Shouldn’t believers be open minded enough to have some disagreement and still be accepted?Perhaps I have misunderstood your post, your intentions, or those of some in your local church.In my view, honesty is never wrong unless it is meant to injure. Truth is sometimes shocking and uncomfortable.Royce

  4. unfortunately as you know writing what you think/ believe/ wonder/ question, seems to lead to conflict. I after one time too many of this type of misunderstanding wrote a post that became my about page. I can say it seems any voice that is loud enough to be heard will meet with some level of disapproval unless your in some group that practices some level of group think.I hope that you find healing in your heart for all of this.

  5. Thanks, Lacey. This post is the result of refreshed frustration from the desire to share links to some recent publications that printed/reprinted an article about our church home, of which I am very proud.anonymous, I don’t have an opinion one way or the other about Advent. What you see is a feed from another blog, and I didn’t happen to write that post on it. (Not everything on this blog is a promotion. Please see my disclaimer.) Advent, like Thanksgiving or Christmas, is a special time that falls into the teaching of < HREF="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=52&chapter=14&version=31&context=chapter" REL="nofollow">Romans 14<>, as I see it. “If you can’t celebrate it to the Lord, don’t. But don’t judge those who do,” would be my short capsule of it.Royce, I didn’t really feel a pressure from anyone – except the way I perceive Jesus’ instruction – to change my blog.believingthomas, I think your “About Me” page is a great idea. When I can figure out how to do one in Blogspot, I probably will add my own!

  6. I respect the way you acted in obedience to Matt 18. If we would all just do that, I think our relationships with one another, and with God, would be much different. These types of experiences are never enjoyable, but they are opportunities to grow as disciples. God Bless you for going to God and then acting in accordance to His will.P.S. I LOVED the blogs that were mentioned in the letter.

  7. I don’t remember many blogs (at least the ones I don’t write) but I did remember your post on “The one where I lose friends”. I am sure I commented on it, but at any rate it left an impression.I love that you approached the matter in humble obedience. I am sure that is what led to a good conversation and a mended relationship. I unfortunately often want to react first and respond later…..I have much to grow into…

  8. My brother whom I love deeply, I am sorry this happened. No doubt you have grown from it, and God has done what he does so many times if we let him…….taken a negative and turned in to something good. I know many folks at PV consider you a HUGE blessing to that family of believers, and I for sure consider you a blessing in my life.DU

  9. Some time ago I wrote a post about my minister, where I intended to speak to how encouraged I was by something or the other he had done. It came off something like “I’m so glad he’s no longer a knucklehead.”. Doh!Unfortunately, a minister from another congregation in another state related to one of the members reported it to his relative who told, of all people, our minister. So, my minister was placed in the uncomfortable position of confronting me on something (unintentionally) negative I had written about him. It was sad and unfortunate as if he had simply emailed me, I could have edited the post (as I had) with out him having to know.BTW – have you considered switching from Blogger to a self hosted blog based on Movable Type or WordPress? With Movable Tyoe, i have complete control over the content on my blog, including the comments. I have to pay for the webspace & domain, but that only costs my about $75 a year.

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