Doin’ Time at Willow Creek

My blog posts will format in an odd fashion as I compose them on my new Centro phone/PDA (it's too hot to lug around a laptop!)

On Sunday my Dad and I joined about 20 other people for Soulforces's American Family Outing this time to Willow Creek Community Chruch, a 30,000 member mega church outside Chicago.

The church leaders knew we were coming months in advance so they organized a tour of their massive facilities, which could easily house my home town. We then attended the service, a wonderful theater experience that rivaled a Vegas show. With a sound system like Willow Creek's who needs the Holy Spirit?

Then we sat down for lunch with senior pastor Bill Hybel's and key members of the ministry team.

Much of the first half of the meeting consisted of introductions and explanations of why we chose to attend. Mary Lou, a former member of the church, spoke about her daughter Anna's suicide. Jay Bakker spoke about the cost of taking a stand for LGBT people. Julie, a transgender woman there with her wife of many years spoke about being a Baptist minister and her committment to serve in the church along with the challenges of finding a place at the table.

Others talked about their families, their faith and their personal experiences in churches that loved and accepted us as long as we "struggled with same-sex attractions," but rejected us once we accepted the reality of our orientation.

I spoke about my own conversion experience at 17 and the call I felt to become a missionary coupled with the distress from not being qualified because I was gay. I spoke about ex-gay survivors and the harm that often comes from trying to purge away our natural sexuality along with the harm that straight spouses of ex-gays often experience.

Willow Creek's staff maintained that a gay orientation is not sinful. They added that if one engaged in gay behaviors (and they're not talking about musical theater or lesbians camping) than that one is no longer sexually pure.

We tried to explain that it is not solely about sex. It is about having a companion and all that goes with that wonderful and challenging interdependence. It is about healthy relationships and families. It is about integrity and living in reality.And it is about healthy sexuality.

I did not say one thing that I have been considering for some days. It is not the church's business what any couple does in the privacy of their own home. That is between that couple, (unless something illegal or abusive is going on).

With this policing of sexuality along with gender roles and gender presentation, religious leaders take upon themselves the role of bully, a role that needed to stop on playground. In their obstinate pursuit to manage people who do not fit into the heterosexual tradtional norms (which are not even Biblical norms), the church simply reinforces the same dehumanizing oppression one often experiences in schoolyards, frat houses and other places where people freely attack those who they deem not man enough or woman enough, or who happened to be wired differently.

Overall. the meeting went well. It remained a dialog and did not devolve into debate. Fortunately some local gay men and a trans woman will keep in touch with church to do follow-up.

Windy City News did a piece about the visit. Here is an excerpt:

'According to Lutes, Hybels ?has no trouble with people being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, and he does not believe it's a choice, so he seemed appalled when we shared with him that many churches force LGBT people to get married in order to deal with their sexual orientation. He couldn't believe that. But we were surprised that he didn't seem to know about that. But that did not seem to make any sense to him whatsoever. Essentially what he advocates or what Willow Creek advocates, is celibacy. And that's where we differ.?'

This post has 3 Comments

  1. Ally on June 11, 2008 at 11:13 pm

    Thanks for your perspective on this, Peterson. I’m even more encouraged. American Family Outing has been, I think, an incredibly powerful and effective set of actions.

    (The part about “With a sound system like Willow Creek’s who needs the Holy Spirit?” might have been a bit of a low blow, though. ūüėČ )

  2. Joe G. on June 12, 2008 at 3:21 am

    Wait! Is that THE Jay Bakker as in the son of Tammy Faye? You are in the big leagues now, darling.

  3. paul on June 12, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    But, but, isn’t “celibacy” kind of a special gift???

    If you don’t have it and you’re gay, you just have to “burn?”

    Or, does that mean the apostle Paul was simply gay?

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