Multimedia Archive

Miscellaneous speeches, talks, and documents by Phil Snider (or edited by Phil Snider), mostly so I (he) can more easily link to them

Month: May, 2013

An Open Letter to Dr. George Wood and the Assemblies of God Denomination – of which I was once a member

Note: My response to Dr. George Wood’s article in yesterday’s News-Leader can be found here. Before reading it, however, I ask that you first read the following (personal) reflections:

While I’m primarily writing this post as a reply to the biblical and theological critiques that Dr. George O. Wood (the General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God denomination) made in his News-Leader response to the clergy letter signed by myself and 22 other Christian leaders in support of the LGBT community in Springfield, I would like to begin by sharing a personal note that is often lost in the public eye.

While this may come as a surprise to many, I have very deep roots in the Assemblies of God church. Not only did I grow up in Springfield, where the headquarters of the Assemblies of God denomination is located, but I was baptized into an Assemblies of God church where, surprisingly enough, Rev. John Lindell was once a youth pastor. I also had a Damascus Road conversion experience in the Assemblies of God that changed my life forever, and the Assemblies of God church is the first place I felt a call to ministry. For these reasons and more, I continue to hold the Assemblies of God very close to my heart.

In addition to these religious experiences – and every bit as important to me – are the close friendships that I made in the Assemblies of God church, for they remain the most enduring friendships I’ve made in my lifetime, and I will forever treasure them. I simply would not be who I am without them, as those who know me on a personal level can well attest.

This personal background is important for several reasons. First, when I respond to perspectives related to representatives from the Assemblies of God, I’m not simply thinking about a group of people with a certain set of beliefs from a certain denomination – I’m thinking about a group of friends who are very close to my heart. This underscores an important point: Unlike what was read into the clergy letter I signed, I do not for one moment believe that Rev. Lindell, or other representatives from the Assemblies of God, lack class or integrity – not for one second. In fact, in the same edition of the News-Leader in which the clergy letter appeared, I am on record as saying, “We consider pastor Lindell to be a person of integrity. It’s just a matter of differing opinions.” Several of my dearest friends are pastors in and members of the Assemblies of God church, and I have the utmost amount of respect for them. While many of us have long had differing interpretations of the Bible, we’ve never found ourselves questioning one another’s integrity. Indeed, we’ve been able to have meaningful conversations with one another about controversial topics precisely because we care for one another and respect one another. And I have no reason to doubt the integrity of Rev. Lindell, especially given the fact that so many of my friends who know him well speak very highly of him. I have no reason to disagree with Rev. Don Miller, the Southern Missouri District Superintendent of the Assemblies of God, when he says that Rev. Lindell’s “character is impeccable.” I only waded into these waters to help provide an alternative approach to understanding a very complex matter in the Bible. So, to be clear: this is not a matter of questioning one’s personal integrity, it’s a matter of biblical interpretation.

All of this is to say that, contrary to the popular misconception, having differing interpretations of the Bible is not to be equated with doubting the integrity of the one(s) with whom you disagree, for I firmly believe there are well-intentioned people at various places along the spectrum, including Dr. Wood and Rev. Lindell, as well as so many of my friends from the Assemblies of God, and I hope they think the same of me. I’m proud to be part of a Christian denomination in which we recognize that none of us necessarily view every doctrinal or social matter the same way, but even in the midst of a diversity of perspectives — especially in the midst of a diversity of perspectives — the love of Christ transcends our differences. We often borrow a line from the heroic civil rights activist William Sloane Coffin, who liked to say that “our unity is not based on uniformity of opinion but on mutuality of love.” And the same principle applies here.

So with this disclaimer in place, allow me to respond to the critiques made by Dr. Wood, with the recognition that I am not attacking his personal integrity or intentions but am simply offering a different interpretation of the Bible that I (and a rapidly growing number of Christians) experience as being (1) far more persuasive on a personal level, (2) far more credible on a scholarly level, and (3) far more helpful in the lives of individuals and communities.

Admittedly, this is an interpretation that the Assemblies of God doesn’t leave much room for, at least not yet, which is why it represents one of the primary reasons I had to leave the Assemblies of God church I loved so much  – albeit with a backward wistful glance, the bittersweet effect of which I feel every time I drive by the Assemblies of God church of my youth, which remains very close to my heart to this day.

More than anything, I want my friends (as well as those who often read these kinds of posts online), to know that I didn’t arrive at this place in my spiritual journey lightly. It’s not because I’m trying to be controversial. It’s not because I’m trying to go along with the crowd. It certainly doesn’t express the way I’ve always felt. And it’s not because I don’t take the Bible seriously — as you’ll see in my full response, I do. But my mind has changed over the course of nearly twenty years, and I am thankful to God for it.

Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders. Gott helfe mir.

Click here to view my full response #longread

Those interested in this conversation also might like to check out Justin Lee’s book, Torn: Rescuing the Bible from the Gays vs. Christians Debate

Letter in response to Pastor John Lindell’s comments to SOGI Task Force – published by News-Leader May 2, 2013

In the wake of Pastor John Lindell’s comments to Springfield’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Task Force, our hearts continue to break for the LGBT community of Springfield. As pastors and Christian leaders, we are deeply sorry for the ways Christianity is frequently used to hurt rather than heal, and we want you to know there are many of us in support of you.

In Pastor Lindell’s remarks (available at johnlindell.net), he states, “it is not my purpose to give an exhaustive listing of Bible verses that speak of homosexuality,” yet he manages to mention four of the five in Scripture (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Romans 1:26-27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9), providing the illusion that homosexuality is a major theme in the Bible when even the most conservative scholars can only point to eight verses at most – out of over 30,000.

He quotes Leviticus 20:13, “If a man has sex with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is abhorrent.” Yet the conclusion of this verse states that both men “shall be put to death.” If Christians wish to use these passages as an authority for ethical behavior, then by extension they are claiming that men who have sex together should be executed. To Pastor Lindell’s credit, he doesn’t think we should “persecute practicing homosexuals.” Yet, the Bible tells him to do precisely that. Furthermore, if this is the measuring stick Christian leaders use, then shouldn’t they also interpret the Bible with a bit more consistency? Shouldn’t they also condemn those with tattoos (Leviticus 19:28), execute their sons who consistently disobey (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), make women marry their rapist (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)? Or are we allowed to pick and choose which Bible verses carry authority, only giving weight to those that support our preconceived biases?

Pastor Lindell also quotes the New Testament, but here things are far more complicated than we often think. St. Paul argued that homosexuality is against the natural order (Romans 1:26). Yet as a product of his times, Paul also viewed patriarchy and slavery as part of the natural order. If Christians agree with Pastor Lindell that their “1st Amendment rights of free exercise of religion and free speech” are violated by the proposed non-discrimination ordinance, then it must be fair game to repeal statutes that make it okay for women to have authority over men in the workplace (1 Timothy 2:12). We can quote St. Paul and a long history of Christian tradition as our authority!

In his most misguided statement, Pastor Lindell equates homosexual orientation and practice with “anger, chemical addiction, gambling, slander, stealing, pride, lying, etc.” While the behaviors he names hurt individuals and communities, what actually hurts individuals who are LGBT (and our communities) is repression of their sexuality. Just ask the American Psychiatric Association or the American Medical Association. Elsewhere he cites Scripture to demarcate marital gender roles between men and women, yet he doesn’t take into consideration those who are born with ambiguous genitals (intersex), which effectively makes one out of every 2000 people unable to fit into his far too neatly constructed (not to mention unscientific) gender identity boxes.

We are aware that Pastor Lindell and some members of his community may fear that recognizing the integrity of LGBT people may threaten their understanding of biblical values. While we also support the wisdom of Scripture, we believe that the Bible is honored most when it is read in context. After all, most of us would not see God’s love as consistent with slavery, yet slave owners in the 1800s had more specific biblical texts to use discussing slavery than did abolitionists. We believe a more thematic view of the Bible can reveal the divine intent where justice, love, and compassion are honored over violence, hatred, and insensitivity. We encourage Pastor Lindell and his congregation to consider affirming the deepest and most authentic biblical values. As 1 Cor. 13:13 proclaims, “Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

Rev. John Andrews
Rev. Charlie Bahn
Rev. Emily Bowen
Rev. Ellen Brantley
Rev. Peter Browning
Rev. Ken Chumbley
Rev. Conni Ess
Rev. Jonathan E. Frazier
Rev. Laura Fregin
Rev. Janice Fulbright
Mr. Matt Gallion
Rev. Janet Given
Rev. Cory Goode
Rev. Becky Hebert
Rev. David Hockensmith
Rev. Paul Hunt
Mr. Keith Jaspers
Rev. Caleb Lines
Rev. Gary Metcalf
Rev. Kim Polchow
Rev. Diana Smith
Rev. Phil Snider
Mr. Geoff Weinman

Prayer at Springfield Metropolitan Bar Association “Law Day” banquet – May 1, 2013

I don’t tend to view prayer as some sort of magical transaction between us and some kind of magical Santa Claus type super being in the sky —– nor as an obligatory task at functions like these.

Instead, I view prayer as that which opens us to the other — whether that is another human being, or whether it is the dream of a better world, or a more fair world, to be born. For all of religion’s shortcoming’s and what can sometimes seem like its perpetual shortsightedness, religion, at its best, opens us to the needs of the other, to the needs of the world. Prayer is born out of a deep hoping and sighing and dreaming and weeping for a better world to be born, and this dream for a better world comes over our lives whether we believe in God or not. It’s in this spirit I invite you to open your hearts with me in prayer:

Gracious God, who transcends all religious affiliations and language and creeds, we open our hearts to your call upon our lives. Some of us pray in the name of Christ, while others of us might pray in the name of Allah, or in the name of Elohim, or in the name of the one who is beyond all naming, or in the name of the one of many names. Regardless of the name in which we pray, at this time we gather to express our hunger and longing for love and compassion to be experienced, for justice and peace to be realized.

For all of the times we fall short of love and compassion, we ask for a better world to be born. For all of the times our laws fall short of the claim that justice and peace have on our lives, we ask for a better world to born. For all of the times we are complicit with systems and structures that exploit rather than mend, we ask for a better world to be born. For all of the times we sanction systems and structures that fall short of human rights and dignity for all people, and thus fall short of justice, we ask for a better world to be born.

For the times in which we try to do what is right, we ask for strength. For the times in which we feel overwhelmed, and tired, and busy, and stressed, we ask for a sense of solace and rest.

We are thankful for colleagues and friends who sustain us on the journey. May we be responsive to them, as they are responsive to us. These things we pray in the name of the Love which transcends all religions, Amen.