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]
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.
- 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.