Part 7: Samaritan: The Life And Death And Life of Benjamin Reynolds
Avoid. That's the pastoral advice. Don't be seen with him. Don't eat lunch with him. Walk the other way. Protect your ministry. Which, of course, misses the point that a ministry built on hypocrisy, a ministry that does not emulate the personal example of Jesus Christ, is hardly worth protecting. Condemning gays seems to talk about sin without actually talking about sin because it's not our sin. It's Somebody Else's Sin. Finger Pointing Sin. It makes us feel superior. If we were really talking about actual sin instead of Somebody Else's Sin, we’d talk about the truer abomination among us: the gross infestation of sin in our Christian lives. When I get perfect, I’ll throw the first rock at Benjamin Reynolds.
Avoid. That's the pastoral advice.
Don't be seen with him. Don't eat lunch with him. Walk the other
way. Protect your ministry. Which, of course, misses the point
that a ministry built on hypocrisy, a ministry that does not
emulate the personal example of Jesus Christ, is hardly worth
protecting. I live in Colorado Springs, ground zero of the Ted
Haggard meth-and-gay-prostitute scandal, where, only weeks
before, the black Christian community was shattered by Pastor
Benjamin L. Reynolds' admission of his sexual orientation.
Haggard's subsequent outing thrust Reynolds into a national
spotlight, making him, ironically, more famous and in greater
demand as a speaker than at any other time in his ministry. “I
am a same-gender loving person,” Reynolds said on Friday,
September 29th 2006 as he tendered his resignation as Senior
Pastor, a stewardship he’d held for fifteen years. There was
sobbing and shocked silence. The church family, having long
suspected as much, was stung nonetheless by this confirmation of
their worst fear.
“I believe that this is who God has created me to be in His perfect wisdom,” Reynolds continued. “I do not repent because I cannot repent from an orientation that I was born with. I do, however, repent for not having had the courage to tell you sooner, for anyone that I have hurt or mislead, and more than that, I repent for not having trusted God enough to know that He never makes a mistake.”
And, now, the advice is: avoid. Now, suddenly, I’m supposed to
pretend to not know this man whom I’ve known for more than a
decade. Which is both hypocritical and absurd, since most of us
suspected as much all along. To pretend to be shocked and
appalled and roll around ripping our clothes and attacking the
man now is beyond childish, and is damming evidence of a corrupt
spiritual life, one that leverages appearance against sincerity
as we cloak ourselves in man-made righteousness while completely
missing the point of Jesus’ ministry.
I have simply given up trying to talk to church folk about gay issues because the fear (and, that's exactly what this is) is so deeply and generationally entrenched in our culture that simply bringing up the issue cranks up extreme anxiety. The only acceptable conversation one may have with church folk about gay issues is one that embraces unbridled disgust and loathing for same-gender loving people and advocates brainwashing and lives of isolation and shame. Even under the most benign circumstances, hatred and bigotry are only a breath away as the church struggles with this issue, an issue that strikes at our deepest fears and provokes our greatest response.
The Colorado Springs black Christian community has been rocked by Reynolds’s declaration, which was itself subsequently overshadowed by the sudden outing and subsequent confession of New Life Community Church Pastor Ted Haggard. A national figure as leader of the National Association of Evangelicals, Haggard led the charge against gay marriage and same-sex ballot initiatives and family values (i.e. anti-gay) legislation before he was outed by an admitted gay prostitute for an alleged two-year affair and drug use, charges Haggard subsequently admitted were at least partially true. In the classic plank-in-your-own-eye lesson of Luke chapter 6, segments of the white Christian community had been shaking its head about Reynolds’s situation just when they themselves were overcome with a much more heinous scandal on a much larger scale.
The media being what it is, attempts were made to join the two events and two pastors—the leading black pastor in town and the leading white pastor in town—in scandal, which underscores the most tragic part of anti-gay bigotry: the assumption that all gay people are alike and that they all have negative or criminal qualities to them. This thinking is easily as wrongheaded as when all whites assume all blacks are stupid and lazy and less qualified than they are. Now, I know quite a few stupid, lazy blacks, but I also know quite a few stupid, lazy whites.
Since the tragic loss of his brother Bartone in 2002, Reynolds has become an increasingly outspoken advocate of equal rights for all persons—regardless of race, creed, or sexual orientation. Over time, his focus has shifted almost exclusively to the plight of the gay, lesbian and transgendered communities, where Reynolds has time and again placed himself and his reputation at risk in order to advocate for fair treatment to persons routinely dismissed by Christian society. Reynolds could have remained quietly in the closet, or he could have quietly withdrawn from his pastorate without making any personal declaration. But he chose instead to stand with these communities and take the hit, knowing full well the consequences of a public confession he was under no pressure to make,
Haggard, on the other hand, was frequently at the forefront of anti-gay initiatives while concealing an alleged history of drug use and homosexual conduct with a hired male escort. Haggard did not choose to come forward but was dragged into the light as part of failed cutthroat political maneuvering to pass same-sex ballot initiatives in the state.
Attempts to link the two situations, in any way, are simply unfair and make my case for the egregiousness of gay bigotry. One situation has absolutely nothing to do with the other.
By their own doctrine of eternal security, conservative Baptists
are forced to admit that Benjamin Reynolds is born again.
Whether you believe him right or wrong, saint or sinner, by
their own yardstick, we must accept the fact Benjamin Reynolds
is on his way to heaven. If Reynolds can now go places we refuse
to go and speak to people we refuse to speak to and tell these
folk about Jesus, I’d dare say that’s a good thing. A true
relationship with Jesus Christ is bound to straighten out what’s
bent about you. As the Holy Spirit indwells within you and
sanctifies and delivers you from sinful deeds, thoughts and
habits, God will reveal all truth to you [John 15:26]. We
so-called Christians don’t seem to trust that process in that
many of us would not ever preach at a church that openly accepts
gays without salting our message with anti-gay sentiment. We act
as the children of Israel did in Jesus’ time, scrupulously
avoiding the cursed town of Samaria.
In the days of Christ, the animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans was so great that Jews routinely avoided passing through Samaria when they traveled between Galilee and Judea. They went an extra distance through the barren land of Perea on the eastern side of the Jordan to avoid going through Samaria. Yet Jesus rebuked His disciples for their hostility towards the Samaritans [Luke 9:55-56], healed a Samaritan leper [Luke 17:16], honored a Samaritan for his hospitality [Luke 10:30-37], praised a Samaritan for his gratitude [Luke 17:11-18], asked a drink of a Samaritan woman [John 4:7], and preached to the Samaritans [John 4:40-42]. Then, in Acts 1:8, Jesus challenged His disciples to witness in Samaria. Phillip, a deacon, opened a mission there [Acts 8:5].
These were people considered, by the church folk of the day, to be ceremonially unclean. These were sinners. Outcasts. Hated and unwelcome by God’s people. Now, substitute the word Homosexual for the word Samaritan. We won’t talk to them. We won’t touch them. We won’t eat with them. I’d better be careful what I write, here. What I say. Who I’m seen with. What church I preach at. Lord help me if I preach at a church that welcomes Samaritans.
My favorite sermon of the moment is Reynolds’ “A Great Door Is
Opened Unto Me,” taken from 1st Corinthians wherein Pastor
Reynolds preaches about effectiveness and purpose in ministry.
He alludes to the meaning of time and place, in that the Apostle
Paul worked fruitlessly in Ephesus for three long years before
he started to see results from his efforts. Reynolds suggests
God will put us in a place that may not make sense to us now but
that fits perfectly with God’s plan, and that God has a way of
changing seasons such that our efforts, which seemed futile,
suddenly become relevant and effective. It is a sermon I know
almost word-for-word and it is, in many ways, a mantra for my
own Christian walk.
Does Reynolds’s sexual orientation now negate that message, rendering it void? Should it? The hot-button issue of homosexuality likely shudders many minds closed on the issue of Reynolds’ pastorate, and, seemingly, all of the enormous good and progressive teaching and all of the spiritual and intellectual ground gained by the church under his tenure has likely been quickly written off by those whose disposition is simply that nothing a gay man does has any lasting value to the kingdom of Heaven.
That notion is inconsistent with scripture. Regardless of your position on these issues, regardless of whether you believe Reynolds saint or sinner, Jesus taught, in Mark Chapter 9, that works done in Christ’s name speak for themselves and endure forever.
“Teacher,’ said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.”
The measure of a church’s success, as Pastor Reynolds points
out, is not head count but that church’s effectiveness. How many
lives changed? How many hungry fed? How many naked clothed? That
we succeed or fail is in the hands of the Lord, it is our
willingness, our desire to please Him that pleases Him.
Reynolds has invested a great deal of himself in attempting to
raise the standard of ministry and worship in the black church,
including a more enlightened and informed view of the very
complex issues of human sexuality.
“This may be a surprise to some of you; but be assured that it is no surprise to God,” Reynolds concluded. “God knew when he called me, that He would use me for such a time as this.”
READ COMMENT BY PASTOR REYNOLDS
Christopher J. Priest
3 December 2006
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