Skip to comments.Churches to leave homeless ministry over sexuality conflict
Posted on 12/22/2009 7:48:52 AM PST by markomalley
Theological disagreements over homosexuality are causing a divide within a downtown ministry that serves the poor, homeless and lonely.
Marthas Table, through which eight churches have provided Sunday afternoon worship and meals for the needy at First Congregational Church, is losing three of the churches because of the issue of homosexuality, even though the ecumenical ministry takes no position on it, said the Rev. Matt Laney, pastor of First Congregational.
Agape Christian Church and Word for Life Church of God plan to withdraw from Marthas Table at the end of the year, and Centerpoint Church (formerly Third Reformed Church) has already done so, Laney said.
The founding principle of Marthas Table was that churches would come together and put aside their differences in light of what unites us, which is our common commitment to serve Christ and others, Laney said. But now this difference has risen above our common commitment to serving Christ.
Laney said representatives of all three churches have been very clear that they dont want to be guilty by association with First Congregational and its inclusiveness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, said Laney, who publicly supported an ordinance passed by Kalamazoo voters in November that protects GLBT people from discrimination in housing, jobs and accommodations.
To me, its incredibly disappointing, Laney said. Thats the best word I can give it. Its also mystifying. I was very shocked and surprised when they pulled out.
The man who came up with the vision for Marthas Table Jeff McNally, pastor of Word for Life and owner of McNallys Kitchen, which provided most of the meals declined to comment on the reasons for his withdrawal from the ministry that began in 2007.
I would just as soon let it go, he said. We are just pulling out. Thats all. ... We would just as soon take a position of silence.
But Ron Vestrand, senior pastor of Agape Christian Church, said it was conversations with McNally that led to his church withdrawing from Marthas Table.
As time went on, Pastor McNally was becoming concerned with Pastor Matt Laneys stand on homosexuality. I believe it was causing some disunity. ... I think the primary issue was that we felt that Matts stance on homosexuality as a valid Christian lifestyle violated our biblical worldview.
Vestrand added that ecumenical ministries are a great challenge because sometimes there can be issues that can rise up. We probably were a bit remiss in not talking more extensively about some of the possibilities.
Kim Sandelin, a lay pastor from Agape, said churches can tolerate some theological disagreements and work together, but an immoral lifestyle has eternal ramifications in Scripture.
Yet, he said he wanted to emphasize that none of the pastors in this ministry have any ill will or bad feelings toward one another.
He said he talked to Laney about his churchs decision. When Matt and I were done, we shook hands and considered one another brothers in ministry, he said.
The Kalamazoo Gazette was unable to reach a representative of Centerpoint for comment. A pastor from another church in the Reformed, or Calvinist, tradition, the Rev. Ken Baker of Third Christian Reformed, said his church will continue its commitment to Marthas Table.
I feel very sad about the decision of three partner churches to pull out, Baker said. Everything about the ministry of Marthas Table reflects the heart of Jesus, who came to preach good news to the poor. Surely, all our churches would agree that mercy and compassion were at the heart of the ministry of Jesus.
He noted that his denomination takes a theologically conservative position on homosexuality, interpreting the Bible to say the practice is wrong but that it is not a sin to have a homosexual disposition. But I fail to see how our integrity is violated by participating in Marthas Table, he said.
Laney said his church and the other remaining churches St. Lukes Episcopal, First Presbyterian and First Methodist are also committed to continuing the ministry, and he is trying to recruit other churches.
The church that leads the Marthas Table worship service on a given week will now bring the meals, Laney said. Attendance can vary widely, from about 50 to 120, although Marthas Table usually draws 80 to 90 people, he said. About 20 to 30 of the attendees are volunteers.
McNally and Vestrand also say they remain committed to serving the poor and homeless. Our heart toward the homeless has not deviated at all, Vestrand said.
Baker said he intends to write a letter to the three churches leaving Marthas Table.
My hope and prayer is that these other churches will reconsider and change their minds, he said. What better time of year to do that than this season of the year when Christ followers ponder the mystery of God coming in the flesh to lift up the humble and fill the hungry with good things?
(Having said that, as a matter of full disclosure, it should be pointed out that my church participates in a shelter ministry with a bunch of other churches of all sorts of different beliefs. Just because we participate with them doesn't mean that we affirm any of their beliefs -- other than the belief that we don't want to find a bunch of homeless frozen under the bridge where they normally stay)
The "Law of Unintended Consequences" raises its' ugly head again.
Unrepentant homosexuals mock God. They deserve help whenever they repent, but until that time, they can go to the devil.
The appropriate thing for the churches which pulled out is to just open up another “soup kitchen” in the downtown area. That way they are doing the same work which they were originally called to do.
I really don’t see a problem.
In our town, the churches are falling all over each other trying to provide soup-kitchens; there are more volunteers than there are homeless.
I would feed and clothe an unrepentant homosexual. I wouldn’t hire him to work in a church office, or force a landlord to rent to him.
I wonder if the Congregational pastor has begun emphasizing the positive view of homosexual conduct in the context of the homeless ministry. It’s just a thought ... since homosexual advocates often seem unable to engage in any activity without making it about homosexuality in some way.
I will bet anyone that the churches that have withdrawn will join McNally and continue the program. I also will bet that the PC churches will run into problems and ask for govt funding to continue their PC approach.
I guess it depends on the circumstances.
Our parish is starting this year with the “Warm Nights” progrms, where our parish will shelter homeless persons for a week, taking turns with various ecclesial groups in the area.
But our interaction with the other groups is strictly logistical.
I wouldn't want to work side-by-side with folks from ecclesial communities who were militant liberals and/or homosexuals. First, I don't want folks to think that I consider their views legitimate. Second, it's just an unpleasant experience.
I am not remotely a supporter of the homosexual agenda. That said, I think it's becoming pretty clear that Satan is using the issue of homosexuality to drive "theologically correct" churches away from proper Christian behavior.
The behavior described in this article is absolutely sick, and it's unfortunately all too common. There is little room for Christian love in a church that would turn its back on the poor and needy because of the faults -- however real and serious -- of a partner congregation.
The real hell of it is, once a congregation starts to react to the homosexual agenda, it often seems to narrow its focus to that and that alone.
If the price of being "right" on homosexuality is a denial of Christian duty and Christian love, then I would rather be wrong on that, and right on the important stuff.
Well, it's all very well and good to take care of the poor, but remember:
"The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me." (Mark 4:17)
These people may want to consider that before they are so quick to push aside the very Jesus they claim to follow.
This situation does have a lot of matters falling on both sides of the issue. One poster noted that it seems that the gay community cannot just let such things be and will eventually begin to force the agenda even more. While the article doesn't specific mention it, I suspect that the rumblings of this next homosexual agenda push were formulating. If gays could obtain a degree of 'legitimacy' by the silence of the churches involved, it would provide greater leverage for them. The churchs pulling out found themselves unequally yoked with a liberal theology condoning the gay lifestyle. So the balance for me is to agree with the churches that left.
That said, those churches, if committed to helping the homeless could begin a joint ministry of their own.
Withdrawing from the joint mission is the Christian thing to do. Scripture is clear on homosexual behavior. The other two churches can and probably will continue to minister to the poor. Cooperating with ‘doctrinally diverse’ organizations can become a stumbling block to those who have no faith or a weak faith because the net result is that the clearness of Scripture is denied. All religions are not the same, all paths don’t lead to heaven.
Perhaps. From what I've seen of these things, though... they probably won't.
Cooperating with doctrinally diverse organizations can become a stumbling block to those who have no faith or a weak faith because the net result is that the clearness of Scripture is denied. All religions are not the same, all paths dont lead to heaven.
All very theologically neat and tidy ... and also rather beside the point. Whose faith is really being tested here? I seriously doubt it's the faith of those who are in need. To a hungry person, or one who hasn't got a proper coat, the position of a particular pastor on the issue of homosexuality is likely not among his greatest concerns, or even his smaller ones.
The test of faith is in what we do, not what we say. These churches have already shown that they value their theology more than they value their actual, hands-on Christian duty.
A church cannot partner with churches that go against God’s Word....it is one thing to feed homeless it is another to not recognize that homosexuality is a sin.
Works don’t justify.
If it was a secular organization that churches happened to participate in, that’s one thing. But when you present yourselves as emissaries of Christ yet you deliberately do not live up to the Biblical standard, indeed even pick and choose which parts of God’s Word you will abide by, then you are lying and making a liar out of God. I would not want to be involved.
Which makes their separation in this case a beautiful work of faith.
To a hungry person, or one who hasn't got a proper coat, the position of a particular pastor on the issue of homosexuality is likely not among his greatest concerns, or even his smaller ones.
I they are meeting just the physical needs of the poor, I might agree with you. With no Christian witness this would be a poor use of resources. Perhaps the clarity of the witness is the whole point of the separation.
Perhaps. From what I've seen of these things, though... they probably won't.
From the strong stand they have taken now against the whims of the world, I rather think they will. It is clear that they take their faith seriously, and I wouldn't be surprised if the two find a way to continue their mission. I will be surprised if that fact is ever reported.
Not quite accurate.
As the saying goes, "clothes don't make the man, but they do proclaim him." In a like manner, what you do proclaims what you are.
Jesus Himself lays it all out for you, here. Ignore Him as you will.
Rev. Laney was very vocal on the subject of gays and the chruch in the last election. The Bible tells us to dissassociate ourselves with those Christians who practice sexual immorality and not to advocate such. (1 Corinthians 5).
“I would just as soon let it go,” he said. “We are just pulling out. That’s all. ... We would just as soon take a position of silence.” - Jeff McNally
My guess is that it was the gay loving Rev. Laney who took this to the press and not the other churches.
December 22, 2009, 9:32AM
KALAMAZOO — Three churches left Martha's Table over a theological dispute about homosexuality, but now four other religious institutions have decided to join this ministry to poor and homeless.
“And several others are leaning toward coming aboard,” said the Rev. Matt Laney, of First Congregational United Church of Christ, whose support of civil rights for gay and transgender people prompted Centerpoint Church, Word for Life Church of God and Agape Christian Church to leave Martha's Table.
The four new members of Martha's Table, Laney said, are: People's Church, Unitarian Universalist, in Oshtemo Township; United Campus Ministry/Kalamazoo, a nondenominational service-learning program for higher-education students; Disciples Christian Church, on Winchell Avenue; and Chapel Hill United Methodist Church, on Oakland Drive.
“Our phone and our e-mail has absolutely been hopping since last week's story in the Gazette (about the withdrawal of the three churches),” Laney said.
Martha's Table, which offers weekly worship services and meals for the poor and homeless, has been receiving offers of cash donations and volunteer support, he said. “It hit the blogosphere sometime on Thursday ... and I've been getting e-mails from Texas, North Carolina, Montana, the United Kingdom,” Laney said. “ ... It's been quite wonderful to receive all that support.”
Laney said three people from his church have offered to coordinate Martha's Table, and he'll need to select someone for the volunteer job. “That's a really good problem to have,” he said.
Some may wonder how a Universalist Unitarian congregation — a denomination with no creed that draws from a variety of religions and does not call itself Christian — fits with the mission of a Christian ministry like Martha's Table. Or whether the difference between Christian churches and a Unitarian church is an even greater theological divide than the one that caused a rift in Martha's Table.
Laney said that Martha's Table is “all about hospitality and welcoming people in Christ's name.”
“I shared that with Jill McAllister (pastor of People's Church) and told her that, as long as they're comfortable with that, we would welcome their participation,” he said. “She told me a lot of people in her congregation do identify with Jesus. We welcome all those who want to serve others in Christ's name.”
McAllister said her congregation wants to meet the needs of people in the community who need help.
“Our theology is open and inclusive,” she said. “People believe what it makes sense for them to believe. We draw from many religious traditions. Values are what is most important to us. Values like justice and peace and inclusivity. We are happy to collaborate with other churches as long as the requirement isn't for us to believe as everyone else does. ... We support the basic teaching of Christianity — to love your neighbor as yourself.”
Laney said that the “worship piece of Martha's Table is shifting.”
“We're changing so that it's less liturgical and more lay-driven,” he said. “It could be a service or a skit or a play or a small-group discussion and prayer or watching a film with strong spiritual themes. ... We're opening up the range in which people can access God and come to experience Jesus. Some may take issue with that.”
I will leave you with these:
Isaiah 5:20 20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.
Luke 11:33-36 33"No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead he puts it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light. 34Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness. 35See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. 36Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be completely lighted, as when the light of a lamp shines on you."
Rom. 16:17-18 17I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. 18For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.
1 Cor. 1: 10/17 10I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. 17For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospelnot with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
Based on what I've actually seen with congregations that get hung up on homosexuality, I suspect they won't. Maybe I'm wrong -- I hope I am -- but experience tells me otherwise.
All we have now, is the acts of these congregations to date: they've damaged a worthwhile Christian ministry over something that is secondary to feeding the hungry.
5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved?
6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
7 No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.
If there was any 'Christian ministry' in this effort, it was there on account of the two churches who were faithful to the Scriptures. Good works without faith are 'filthy rags'. The pro-homosexual churchs' works fall into that category.
Based on what I've actually seen with congregations that get hung up on homosexuality,
The 'church' hung up on homosexuality is the one who promotes it. The other two are apparently 'hung-up' on God's Word.
The Gospel is never secondary.
I pointed you to the Gospel, FRiend. Jesus was pretty clear on this exact point, don't you think?
The hour is late, Chrisitans do no favor to unbelievers by not witnessing or by providing a confused witness. The Gospel you pointed me to concerns believers vs. unbelievers. Works are not salvific.
And you're trying to tell me they don't apply in this case, which is as close to an exact match as you're likely to find.
Are you sure you want to be arguing that point?
Luk 10:30 Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
Luk 10:31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.
Luk 10:32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
Luk 10:33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion,
Luk 10:34 and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
Luk 10:35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.'
Luk 10:36 Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?"
Luk 10:37 He said, "The one who showed mercy on him." And Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
In this example, I don't see Jesus making any reference to the religious piety or practices of the man who was robbed, nor does He, at any point, express any approval of the Samaritan's religious practices. In fact, as I'm sure all of us know, the Samaritans were considered only one step above Gentile in the eyes of Jews. I don't see anywhere that Jesus affirmed the Samaritan's religious preference...in fact, it would make some degree of sense to me that He used this as the example to show that the priest and the Levite were lower even than Samaritans when they acted as they did.
And Jesus instructed the lawyer to whom He was speaking to do the same as the Samaritan.
He didn't say to partner with that Samaritan. But He did say to do the same thing as him.
I don't argue the words, just your application. Your interpretation condemns believers to hell unless they feed the hungry. Did the thief on the cross feed the hungry? Is God's Word divisible? If not, how do you account for the proclamation of Paul:
8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faithand this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
IICor 6: 14 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 15 And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? 16 And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you[b] are the temple of the living God. As God has said: I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.[c] 17 Therefore Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you.[d] 18 I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the LORD Almighty.[e]
Luke 11:17 But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them: Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls.
Luke 11:23 He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.
The feeding of the hungry by the unbelievers will not place them at the right hand of God because God knows the heart. Their motives are good (to us) but their efforts are done in unbelief.
Kind of backwards anyway. If Christian churches would fulfill their biblical functions, and not cede their responsibilities to others, many of these conflicts would be solved, and the churches would not be supporting the moral messes in these other outfits.
Jesus is not talking about a simple failure to feed the poor -- he's talking about turning one's back on the poor, which is a rather different matter. And make no mistake: these righteous fellows seem to have turned their backs on the poor over a matter that should not be connected to their plight.
You can argue about homosexuality all you want -- and I'd be inclined to agree with you, theologically.
The problem is that theology has a way of making us ignore the real world. Biblical verses about homosexuality have little to do with the poor people these guys abandoned.
Here's an easy test: who really got hurt here?
Well, as it turns out the righteous gentlemen did. They've now publicly outed themselves --at Christmas, no less -- as Scrooges. They've given "theologically correct" Christianity a black eye in the eyes of their community.
And into their places have stepped congregations who may take a softer line on homosexuality, but who are willing to follow Jesus' words on the matter of feeding the hungry.
There were other, better, ways of dealing with this issue. But the righteous gentlemen were apparently more concerned with being "right."
If they no longer feed the poor, you may be right, but there are plenty of hungry in the vineyard, I'm confident that a church astute enough to take the stand that they did regarding the unbiblical stand of their partner 'church' is discerning enough to find a God-pleasing way to feed the hungry.
As to the situation itself, Gamaliel gives some useful advice in Acts 5: "So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!"
Who's prospering so far? What is the result of this theologically-inspired abandonment of ministry?
What we can already see, is that the "righteous guys" have already made themselves look bad in the eyes of their community. And we can likewise see that several other congregations took the opportunity to step into the ministry that they vacated; and they're better off for it.
“Based on what I’ve actually seen with congregations that get hung up on homosexuality”
Yeah, I guess Paul was just “hung up on homosexuality” too.
Romans 1:26-27 “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the sexually immoral, nor idolators, nor adulterer, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
It’s certainly easier to feed and shelter while keeping quiet, than to confront with the gospel. The world hates the gospel, and all who proclaim it purely without watering it down. The “Christian” that insists it’s more important to do good works than share the good news, is unconcerned about the eternal destiny of his fellow man. Christ spoke far more about hell than heaven. Christ chased more people away than He drew to Himself.
Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
And while I’m at it, this quote from r9etb also deserves refuting:
Works dont justify. (Lifecomesfirst)
Not quite accurate. (r9etb)
Galatians 2:15-16 “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”
God’s Word is quite clear on how a man is justified, and it has NOTHING to do with works.
r9etb - Perhaps you could provide a Scriptural reference for ANY of your assertions. Your personal opinion of things is really irrelevant; God’s Word stands.
I did. One that happens to be directly on-topic, as it happens. A direct quote of Jesus Christ, even. You apparently just choose to explain it away.
I’m not explaining it away, I just detest those who profess to know Christ yet deny the gospel. Unless a man repents of his sin, he will perish. It doesn’t matter how many good works he did in his lifetime.
The problem is .... these guys turned their backs on the poor based on a theological dispute with somebody else. It suggests that they're more interested in their theology than in doing what Jesus calls them to do. That's the real problem I see here.
The need for repentence is not limited to those who are insufficiently opposed to homosexuality.
‘The problem is .... these guys turned their backs on the poor based on a theological dispute with somebody else.” So they “turned their backs on the poor” just because they felt they could no longer be a part of that one particular organization?
Do you believe that the primary call of Christ is for us to serve the poor? Are you a Methodist by chance?
“The need for repentence is not limited to those who are insufficiently opposed to homosexuality.”
Sorry, I’m not sure what you’re saying here.
No, and no. The point is that theological disagreement with some pastor or other, should not be addressed at the expense of those who have nothing to do with that dispute, and to whom you have undertaken an explicitly Christian ministry.
Sorry, Im not sure what youre saying here.
I'm saying that pulling out of this ministry for theological reasons unrelated to the people they're serving, smacks of pridefulness to say the least -- one of the more serious sins. That deserves repentence, no?
“Laney said that the worship piece of Martha’s Table is shifting....
We’re changing so that it’s less liturgical and more lay-driven, he said.
This seems to be a little more important that “just” the homosexual teachings of Christ or the feeding of the poor.
The Mission seems to be evolving away from Christ. Lane’s disingenuous acceptace of the Universal Unitarian take on Christ seems also important. The lines regarding this in the above update seem very clear.
Unitarians?? LOL. No Christ, no heaven.
Don’t forget no hell too!
For those not accepting Christ, you must have no hell.
Feeding the homeless does them no good if you’re not preaching God’s word to them. The very reason we are here is to spread God’s word.
No, it smacks of obedience to God's word!
Wondering when the local mosque is going to sign up to help. A UCC friend of mine once said, “UCC stands for Unitarians Considering Christ”
Remember this the same church denomination that Barack Obama attended in Chicago.
Those three churches may have been called in different ways to minister to the poor.
Said the Pharisee to the Good Samaritan....