Many of you know that I was very excited to be the keynote speaker at this years Pitch N Praise.
In case you aren’t aware, Pitch N Praise is an incredible youth event where roughly 1500 teenagers camp out together and spend their days worshipping, dancing, eating together, and learning about Jesus. When the team approached me back in the fall I was honoured to be trusted with such a great responsibility, and even more thrilled that they wanted to shape the entire weekend around the themes present in my one-man-show Holy Shift. During our initial conversations we discussed the history of the event, what they were looking for, and I told them about my church community. Wanting to make sure they understood who they were inviting, I also talked through my beliefs around a range of controversial topics, including the inclusion and participation of LGTBQ+ people in the church.
I shared that Eucharist Church does not have an official “position” about what it means to live faithfully as LGBTQ+ people, but that we have prioritized shaping a community in which people can wrestle with scripture, spirit, and community, and can ultimately land in different places. This has created a church of diversity on questions of gender and sexuality, as well as many other controversial and important topics. Rather than try and resolve these differences with a policy, we believe the Spirit calls us to bear with one another in love, and to sharpen one another through mutual submission (Ephesians 4:1-5). This means Eucharist doesn't use terms like “affirming” or “non-affirming” to describe our community, but instead would say there are a range of perspectives in our congregation, and we are called to love one another with a unity that is deeper than uniformity (if you would like more information about how this works in practice we have a document I can pass on by request). We value LGBTQ+ people in our community especially because of the pain and rejection they have often faced in Jesus name, but we do not consider ourselves “the gay church” or anything like that. We are just a church for all those on the margins of faith, many of whom have been shoved there by Christians.
As a pastor my job is to shepherd people by pointing them to Jesus through scripture and community. Some gay and lesbian Christians come to a place where they believe God has called them to celibacy or spiritual friendship, and in those cases I bless their discernment. Others come to a place where they feel freedom to pursue a relationship with someone of the same-sex, and in those cases I also bless their discernment. I believe that God can bless same-sex Christian marriages, and while I do not perform any marriages as a civil servant (I am not ordained), I honour their discernment and we welcome those members of our community to participate fully in the life of the church.
All of this was shared in the fall with the leadership team of PNP, but told them I would avoid talking about sexuality in my keynote session as I did not feel it was the right place to bring up something that can be so controversial. These conversations are always better held at a local level in smaller groups, with parents, and with youth leaders. They agreed it was best to focus on Jesus and how he can shift us forward in growth and discipleship, which was the very message I was so excited to share.
To be perfectly clear: My only intent at PNP was to clearly communicate the radical love of God shown to us in Christ in a way that would help young people follow Jesus through college and young adult life.
With all that said, here is what happened.
PNP is made up of youth groups from many denominations, but the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada (EMCC) is the sponsoring denomination. At some point in the last few weeks the EMCC president was sent an audio clip from a podcast I was on, in which I shared what I wrote above. The President decided that since I was out of line with their denominations official policy on same-sex marriage I was to be removed from the event and would not be permitted to speak at PNP. I received this news less than two weeks from the event itself.
I want to be clear this is not about any other theological issue.
I stand with the creeds as an orthodox, bible-believing Christian who is, in many ways, quite conservative theologically. However I personally believe, having carefully considered the scriptures, that we should make space in the church for a diversity of beliefs around same-sex marriage.
There has been a great deal of confusion, discussion, and protest about the decision to remove me for holding this belief, especially when I was not consulted by the president before the decision was made (I was not even asked if this information was accurate or to explain how I arrived in this place biblically) and I had already made a commitment to avoid talking about sexual ethics. Beyond this, many Christians and church leaders attending have told me they hold a similar view to myself, and now wonder if they are also being told they are not welcome at PNP.
To that end I offer a few reflections:
1) I want to be absolutely clear that I understand and can appreciate the tensions the EMCC President is feeling in this situation. Leading a large family of churches must be an incredibly difficult job, and one that I am not envious of. I truly believe he did not make this decision vindictively, nor did he do so with any malice or hate towards myself or LGTBQ+ people. I humbly request that anyone who is angry or frustrated with this decision hold him with all Christian charity as a brother in Christ who is in a difficult position.
2) While the above is true I absolutely disagree with how he responded in this situation. There was no conversation with myself nor was there an attempt to understand what I actually believe or why. Furthermore, this decision was made entirely by one person (the EMCC President) in spite of the unanimous decision by the PNP team to have me at the event. PNP has been running since 1975 and has hosted many guests FAR more controversial and unorthodox than myself, and in no case has the EMCC president interfered with the team's decision. The precedent set in this situation is concerning.
3) While I appreciate the outflow of support I have received, this is not persecution against me. This is the removal of an opportunity, and one that I was very excited to take part in, but I will survive. However this is a slammed door to every church leader, young Christian, and denomination who have come to a place different from the EMCC stated ethic. My heart breaks especially for those LGBTQ+ teens who will hear about this decision and, despite the intent of the EMCC, see it as a rejection of them from Christ’s table.
Whatever theology you hold, this is not an “issue” - this is about people. People who Jesus loves. The kinds of people on the margins who Jesus regularly pulled into the centre. I know that the EMCC wants to love LGTBQ+ teens, but removing me for disagreeing theologically sends a very different message to them.
4) If you disagree with the decision to remove a speaker for this reason I encourage you to write the team at Pitch N Praise with a request that this be heard by EMCC staff. You can use the email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be respectful and direct in your comments, and pray that God will use this as an opportunity to shape a healthier way forward for PNP.
5) Pitch N Praise 2018 is still going to be an incredible conference that your teens and youth groups should attend. My friend Leanne is still going to be speaking at the event (although the tandem bike we were going to use as a prop will now go to waste) and the weekend will be full of meaningful activities. Beyond that, the most important part of these events is the relationship building, and that is something that can't be taken away.
6) Most importantly... LGBTQ+ kids who are, or were, planning to attending PNP this year, please hear me so clearly on this: You are near and dear to God’s heart. God loves you with a fierce and powerful love, like a grizzly bear roaring to protect her cubs. You don’t need to be straighter, or fit into gender stereotypes, or change in any way to be worthy of the love of God: It is a free gift to you simply because YOU BELONG TO GOD. As you are. Jesus came, died, and resurrected to show you that radical love, and if you trust it that love will guide you through all the difficult questions that come your way in life.
I wish I could be there in person to tell you all that, but sometimes this is just how things go.
I’m going to continue to pray and seek wisdom on how best to move forward from here, but if you are a young person who feels hurt or pushed out by this situation feel free to message me on Instagram and I’d be happy to talk more. My IG is @kevinmakins
I’ll leave you with this reflection from the letter 1 John, chapter 3:
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.