KEN WILSON and the “Third Way,” which he describes in his book, are now a major part of the nationwide movement to heal wounds left by years of anti-gay messages and policies in evangelical churches. Reports from the Pew Research Center, the Public Religion Research Institute and even the evangelical Barna Group all conclude that anti-gay bias is a major factor turning millions of young Americans away from churches. (See this OurValues series to learn more about those reports.)
Ken Wilson is the first pastor of a large evangelical church in America to successfully welcome LGBT Christians through this “Third Way” he describes in his book.
LEARN MORE about the book on this Resource Page, including free sample chapters.
ENJOY an in-depth interview with Ken Wilson about A Letter to My Congregation.
THE FOLLOWING NEWS ITEMS show the wide range of responses to Ken’s book. If you plan an event in your area involving Ken’s book, email us at ReadTheSpirit @gmail.com and your news may be listed here. We invite you to share or re-post any of the following news items to spark interest in your community.
OPENING DOORS NATIONWIDE
- AT THE CENTER OF THE MOVEMENT—In Publishers Weekly (PW) magazine, Lynn Garrett reports on the leading books (including Ken’s book) that are calling for compassion toward gay and lesbian Christians. Why are more church leaders willing to listen to this message? Garrett says it’s because “churches worry today about stemming the tide of young refugees from the pews, and intolerance toward gays is a key issue.” An earlier PW column by Gwenda Bond looked at the broader range of LGBT books. (PW has been covering Ken’s book since February, when Joshunda Sanders wrote that “after conversations with religion expert Phyllis Tickle, who wrote the introduction, Wilson used scholarship and discernment to transform his views in a changing time.”
- PEW POLLING ON ‘THIRD WAY’—By June 2014, the Pew Research Center tried to assess whether Ken’s “Third Way” was possible among American evangelicals. That particular June column by Pew drew no firm conclusions, but this OurValues series looks at a broader array of such research from Pew, Barna and other groups.
- TONY JONES and CHRISTIAN CENTURY—The ReadTheSpirit staff thanks theologian and author Tony Jones, who Wikipedia calls a leading figure in the emerging church movement. Right away, Tony republished an excerpt of our in-depth interview with Ken Wilson. In particular, Tony stressed the most newsworthy element in Ken’s book launch: “He may be the first active pastor of a large evangelical congregation to make such a switch.” Then, Tony followed up with an extensive review of Ken’s book and Matthew Vines’ new book, God and the Gay Christian, in the leading magazine for mainline Protestants, Christian Century. Jones concludes: “All those who support the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the church have their go-to book—the one they give people who are struggling with this issue. … Vines’s and Wilson’s books will surely become that book for some people in the evangelical world.”
- MATTHEW VINES—Matthew’s new book, God and the Gay Christian, is often mentioned in the same sentence with Ken’s book in national news reports. Learn more about this young man’s remarkable work by reading our in-depth interview with Matthew.
- HOW ARE GAY CHRISTIANS RESPONDING? Obviously, American LGBT men and women are diverse—and those who identify as “gay Christians” are equally diverse. Some gay responses to Ken’s book reject a “Third Way” as ducking the need to universally affirm and respect gay relationships. See Michael Bussee’s comment, below. But, many gay commentators have published their support for Ken’s approach …
- FROM ‘FORD’SWORD’—In this lengthy column on Ken’s book and the “Third Way,” Ford’sWord concludes that this concept is helpful as a way for conservative churches to move forward on this issue. The writer cites several reasons that a “Third Way” is an improvement. One example: “In most conservative churches today, the 14-year-old gay kid in the front pew is hearing that he is deeply flawed in a way that makes him unworthy of even the possibility of love. In the view of these churches, there is no debate—to them, gay couples are simply depraved. However, in a third-way church that kid gets to hear another side to the story. He will know and be encouraged by Christians who affirm his humanity. A third-way church is safer for that kid. That’s no small thing.”
- FROM MICHAEL BUSSEE—Michael Bussee is famous for co-founding, in 1976, EXODUS International with the claim that Christians could change their sexual orientations. Bussee later apologized for the group’s activities; and he describes himself, now, as a “proud gay man.” EXODUS finally closed in June 2013. Having weathered so much in the gay rights movement, Bussee rejects the “Third Way.” He writes: “Yes, progress is slow. Progress is good. But I still cannot endorse a ‘third way.’ Would the church be willing to accept a third way with regards to the rights of other groups? Racial minorities? Women?”
- FROM ‘MICHAEL-IN-NORFOLK’—Columnist Michael-in-Norfolk sees Ken’s book as an important crack in the seemingly unified army of politically conservative evangelical activists. In a lengthy column about Ken’s book, he writes: “Wilson tosses the disingenuous slogan ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ so favored by misnamed ‘family-values’ hate groups down the toilet where it belongs. While Wilson attributes his changed position to a reconsideration of scripture, it’s also likely that Wilson sees that anti-gay hate is killing the Christian brand outside of the bubble of professional Christians who use anti-gay animus as a principal fundraising tool.”
- FROM LINDSEY AT ‘A QUEER CALLING’—This gay Christian blogger wrote a lengthy analysis of “third way” approaches in Christianity, which Lindsey argues are more common than people may think. Some churches approach communion or baptism with what amounts to a “third way” policy. Concerning Ken’s ideas, Lindsey writes, “We’re constantly talking about the need to help LGBT people discover truly life-giving vocations that empower them to live into the fullness of the Gospel. In my opinion, churches seeking a Third Way are trying to transition from a legal binary of ‘Yes/No’ into a more holistic view of Christian discipleship. I think churches with a traditional sexual ethic do well to look at the fullness of their traditions in an effort to move beyond mandating LGBT people to a ‘Vocation of No.’”
- KEN ON C.S. LEWIS—Meanwhile, Ken Wilson has been publishing his own columns at prominent websites, continuing the appeal he makes in his book. He posted a column in the FaithStreet website under the headline: “What C.S. Lewis’ Marriage Can Tell Us about the Gay Marriage Controversy.” (Lewis faced religious condemnation for his marriage, because his wife was a divorced woman.)
- FROM BECKY CARLETON—Becky Carleton responded to Ken’s thoughts on C.S. Lewis in a very thoughtful column in her blog, This Ambiguous Life. She found it helpful to lift up Lewis’s decision. “It’s hypocritical of evangelical Christians to allow divorced heterosexual people to remarry in the church when they don’t allow LGBT people to get married in the church,” she wrote.
- WHAT KEN’S MESSAGE MEANS FOR CONGREGATIONS—The most famous reader of Ken’s book is Pastor Danny Cortez, founder of New Heart Community Church of La Mirada, California. Here is one American Baptist Press (ABP) story about Cortez’s decision, which has rocked the entire Southern Baptist denomination. Cortez publicly told his small congregation that he has changed his personal beliefs about homosexuality—and his hour-long sermon was posted on YouTube. Cortez told his congregation: “Jesus didn’t create walls of separation.” The church needs to welcome LGBT Christians, he declared. Rather than firing him, the church went through a difficult discernment process that resulted in the departure of some members. Then, Cortez remained as pastor of the main congregation and he has described his approach as following Ken Wilson’s “Third Way.”
- SOME EVANGELICAL LEADERS FEEL THREATENED—Southern Baptists held their annual conference in mid-June—and the entire denomination appears to have taken a “Third Way” toward Cortez, according to a story in Associated Baptist Press (ABP). The annual conference declined to take action. Refusing to either affirm or reject Cortez left some Southern Baptist leaders furious. Afterward, the “frustrated” Southern Baptist theologian Albert Mohler told ABP that he doesn’t think the dispute is over. Is there a “Third Way”? Mohler’s verdict: No way! (Mohler published his own lengthy rebuttal of both Cortez and Wilson in his own website.)
- THE WHITE HOUSE WEIGHS IN—Part of Cortez’s decision to go public about his change of heart was to support his son Drew, who is gay. The White House invited both father and son to attend the June 30, 2014, reception for LGBT Pride Month. According to a report by ABP’s Bob Allen, Cortez was able to make the trip because friends online helped the family raise the travel funds. For more on Drew Cortez and Drew’s impact on Danny’s decisions, read this report (with videos) at Huffington Post. Coverage of the Cortez story also appeared in the Care2 website.
- SOME EVANGELICAL LEADERS WELCOME THE CHANGE—Albert Mohler does not speak for all evangelicals—or all Baptists—and American Baptist pastor Alan Bean wrote a lengthy commentary for ABP headlined, “Why we need a Third Way: Social change happens slowly, awkwardly and by degrees.”
- BRIAN D. McLAREN—We thank best-selling evangelical author Brian D. McLaren for his strong support of both United America and A Letter to My Congregation. (McLaren wrote the Preface to Dr. Wayne Baker’s book, which you can read here.) On his own website, McLaren also has posted a column about Ken Wilson’s book, under the headline “‘The Issue’ Is Not Going Away.”
- HATE SPEECH VS. CIVIL DISAGREEMENT—Not surprisingly, some fringe evangelical writers are resorting to hate speech online to attack Ken’s work. We have seen online commentaries that use terrible terms for gay and lesbian people and for Ken. However, we welcome and appreciate evangelical disagreement that is expressed in the same compassionate tone Ken always uses. The best example of this is the work of Dr. Greg Carey, professor of New Testament at Lancaster Theological Seminary, who wrote a very thoughtful and notably compassionate response in Huffington Post. Dr. Carey disagrees with Ken’s conclusions but then writes: “Despite my serious reservations concerning Wilson’s acceptance if not affirmation proposal, I recommend A Letter to My Congregation as a serious and important book. The biblical, historical and theological work is here. But it is Wilson’s identity as a pastor—his humility, compassion, introspection and integrity—that makes this book so valuable.” Ken welcomes civil dialogue, even when the result is disagreement.
- DISTINGUISHED SCHOLAR—David Gushee’s research and writing spans many subjects, including internationally respected work on understanding the Holocaust. Based at Mercer University, Gushee’s books, articles and talks have a broad audience. He was so impressed with Ken Wilson’s book that Gushee decided to go public with his own rethinking of these issues by writing the Foreword to A Letter, which you can find on this Resource Page for the book. Gushee begins his Foreword by writing about the moral decisions faced by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his time. Wikipedia has Gushee’s biography.
- AMERICAN BAPTIST PRESS (ABP) SERIES—In the summer of 2014, Gushee is publishing a series on what he calls “The LGBT Issue.” The first two parts are “Starting a Conversation” and “What Is the Issue?“
‘GENEROUS SPACIOUSNESS’—The full title of Wendy Gritter’s new book is Generous Spaciousness: Responding to Gay Christians in the Church and, coming soon in mid 2014, we will publish an interview with Wendy in our ongoing ReadTheSpirit series of author interviews.
- WHO IS WENDY GRITTER? In 2002, Wendy started at New Direction Ministries of Canada, which was affiliated with the evangelical EXODUS program that claimed to be able to change gay orientations. (For more on EXODUS, see the Michael Bussee news item above.) Before EXODUS finally collapsed, Wendy writes that she was questioning its methods, its claims and its attitude toward gay people. The program seemed too caught up in anti-gay politics and was forcing change on people, she began to realize. In her book, she rejects much of the EXODUS era. She calls, instead, for something very similar to Ken Wilson’s “Third Way.” She is calling for “an environment that is open and safe” while Christians, whatever their sexual orientation, talk in a compassionate way about the future.
- UNITY OVER UNIFORMITY—In her review of Ken’s book, Wendy writes in part: “What ‘third way’ and ‘generous spaciousness’ have in common is the recognition of our diversity and the desire to prioritize living together in unity rather than demanding uniformity. Generous spaciousness actually suggests that it is spiritually formational to welcome some of these tensions and learn to respond with maturity, grace, humility, mutuality, patience, and a willingness to deal with conflict, to forgive, and to persevere in loving each other.”
- ‘CHRISTIANITY WITH HUMANITY’—That’s the phrase writer and activist John Shore uses in his frequent columns that appeal for a return to Christianity that values compassion above legalistic warfare. That’s why Shore was one of the first writers nationwide to champion Danny Cortez’s cause. He played such an influential role that Cortez has corresponded with Shore, resulting in this column about the father-son visit to the White House. Other memorable headlines in Shore’s series on this topic include one headlined, “Al Mohler and the Southern Baptists’ big gay lie.”
- WANT TO FOLLOW JOHN SHORE? He’s not hard to find. John is all over the internet and his material is praised by a wide range of popular writers, including Rob Bell. His two main hangouts are his personal website, JOHN SHORE, and his blog at Patheos, called Unfundamentalist Christians.
KEN WILSON @ HUFFINGTON POST
- FOLLOW HIS COLUMNS—Since publishing A Letter, Ken has touched off such a nationwide conversation that he has turned to the pages of Huffington Post to publish important responses to other writers and to news events. You’ll find all of his columns here.
- REFUSE TO KEEP THE CONTROVERSY GOING—In this column, Ken argues that there’s no reason to keep whipping up this controversy. Church leaders have given up other traditional biases. One example is the remarriage of divorced men and women: “Fifty years ago, the churches swelled with men and women who remarried after divorce. A plain reading of Scripture, especially the words of Scripture’s Lord Jesus indicates that in the vast majority of cases, these second marriages could be regarded as adulterous. Yet, something about the stories of many of these couples cautioned us against applying these Scriptures in this way—despite centuries of Christian tradition that did just that. Evangelical churches have suspended exclusionary practices aimed at remarried people in many situations that would have warranted exclusion not very long ago.”
- DEFINING THE ‘THIRD WAY’—One of Ken’s most important columns in Huffington Post is a piece following up on both Mohler’s and Jones’s commentaries and clarifying his call for a “third way.” This “third way” is not a moral limbo that still excludes gay men and women. Rather, this “third way” focuses on whether the congregation itself must appear unified in a single understanding of sexuality and marriage. In this “third way,” members of a church may hold diverse points of view—but gay and lesbian members are welcomed and included at all levels. Read Ken’s entire Huffington Post column defining the “Third Way.”
COVERAGE IN NEWS MEDIA
and ONLINE MAGAZINES
- USA TODAY / DETROIT FREE PRESS profile—Veteran religion newswriter Niraj Warikoo published an in-depth look at Ken Wilson’s transition with his church in Ann Arbor to an inclusive community. Niraj Warikoo’s lengthy article quotes scholar Tanya Luhrmann, who wrote an introduction to Ken’s book. Most importantly, Niraj reported on the deeply moving experience of real people in the congregation whose faith and friendships now are bridging what had been painful divides. Then, USA Today chose to republish Niraj’s profile nationally.
- RELIGION DISPATCHES—Religion Dispatches is one of the most highly respected news magazines covering religion in America, so we were pleased that Jossey-Bass author (of Bulletproof Faith) and columnist Candace Chellew-Hodge published an extensive interview with Ken Wilson in “RD.” She asks pointed questions and Ken responds in a clear and concise way, making this a great interview to share with friends you’re trying to convince to start a discussion of Ken’s book.
- BILL TAMMEUS—Among religion news writers—journalists who specialize in covering religion—Bill Tammeus is one of the giants and, although he no longer reports on the staff of the Kansas City Star, his online column is widely read. Bill published a strong recommendation of Ken Wilson’s book, including these lines: “Chip by chip by chip the barrier wall that has kept homosexuals out of the mainstream of society is being destroyed. And good riddance. Another chip that just got blasted off the wall has come from Ken Wilson through the publication of his new book.”
LISTEN TO KEN ON ‘STATE OF BELIEF’—The Rev. Welton Gaddy broadcast a thoughtful interview with Ken on his syndicated “State of Belief” show. Gaddy introduced Ken by saying, “There is a growing segment of evangelicalism that is searching for genuinely spirit-based action and ways to reach a new generation. … Ken Wilson has challenged some of the beliefs that have come to define much of the old guard of evangelical Christianity.” Click the black “play” arrow on this page.
- LISTEN TO KEN ON PUBLIC RADIO—Michigan-based NPR station WUOM’s Cynthia Canty interviewed Ken Wilson for 17 minutes in a conversation that nicely captures Ken’s story and personality as a pastor and an author. You can listen to that interview by clicking the prominent “LISTEN” button on this WUOM page.
- CHAD ESTES—Many readers ask: “What can I do to help in my newsletter?” Or website or blog. We all want to thank Chad Estes for a short post in his Captain’s Blog sending a salute to Ken Wilson’s efforts and helping to spread the word. We appreciate everyone who continues to spread the message. From Ken and all of us at ReadTheSpirit: Thanks Chad!
- DAN J. BRENNAN—Author Dan J. Brennan, known for writing about Christian relationships, praises Ken Wilson’s book in a lengthy review. Brennan writes: “I’ve been waiting for a good book by a solid evangelical leader on this issue and Wilson has come forth.” And: “I will make a prediction here. More evangelicals will be joining Wilson.” (Brennan is the author of Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions.)
- FRED CLARK / SLACKCTIVIST—Fred Clark is a former managing editor of Prism magazine and writes the Slactivist column in Patheos. Clark’s column on Wilson’s book explores what it means that this Letter is coming from the heart of the evangelical community—to the evangelical community.
- PASTOR TO PASTOR INITIATIVES—Don Follis offers a thoughtful short review of Ken Wilson’s book, calling Ken “smart, gentle, kind, respectful and, from all indications, deeply shaped by his love of the Bible.” Follis also praises Ken’s thoughtful analysis of trends in the church in recent decades.
- ROBERT CORNWALL—In his review of Ken’s book, Cornwall concludes: “This is a most helpful and intriguing book. I can’t recommend it more highly. Why? Because he takes us on a journey that is pastoral, missional, and deeply evangelical.”
WELCOMING ONLINE COMMENTS / REVIEWS
- ONLINE COMMENTS—Across websites and social media, dozens of readers are chiming in on Ken’s book.
- AMAZON REVIEWS—Ken’s Amazon page, as of mid July, has 48 reader reviews, most of them praising his work—which is remarkable for a book on such a controversial topic.
- WANT TO CONTACT KEN? Ken Wilson is the pastor of a large evangelical church in Michigan, so his travel schedule is limited, but he is eager to make a difference with this book—and wants to help other congregations to make the kind of transformation that his congregation has made. Interested in scheduling an interview or an appearance? Please, email us at [email protected] (Or, you can visit the A Letter to My Congregation Press Materials page in our website.)
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(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)