Dear Pastor Driscoll:
News that Mars Hills will soon be opening a Portland worship center has reached the media. The Portland Mercury called today to ask my reaction.
In short, I told them that I hoped Mars Hill would find Portland a welcoming community and a place you as a pastor - and your parishioners - would grow spiritually. However, if Mars Hills is locating in Portland with the hope of evangelizing the city to your particular understanding of the Christian faith your efforts might be met not just with resistance but with opposition.
Let me explain: In a city that values diversity and tolerance - including respect and acceptance of the LGBT community - there is a concern from many that based on your previous statements that Mars Hill will become a another focal point in the cultural wars. We don't need that in Portland.
As a minister in the United Church of Christ, I believe (and preach) that there is nothing inconsistent with homosexuality and Christianity. Our church has been at the forefront of efforts to expand civil rights to the gay and lesbian community over the last twenty-five years in Oregon. Believe me, our position was an unpopular one to take in the beginning and even less than a decade ago voters in Oregon sided with the religious right in denying gays and lesbians full marriage equality.
Our faith in Jesus, however, doesn't require that we be popular. We have a history in the United Church of Christ of being "the first" to take stands on controversial issues. In doing so, we have always tried to be faithful to Scripture, tradition, reason and experience (the John Wesley model).
All churches have a responsibility to be more than social clubs (a problem commonly found in our mainline tradition). We need to be agents of change that work in partnership with others to create positive growth.
I hope that as you enter Portland as a newcomer to this community you come with your eyes and heart open into the ways that God may use this community to shape your ministry. We have a tradition of creating ecumenical partnerships that I hope you become part of. And I deeply hope that you will put aside the hateful sermons against gays and lesbians, and the diatribes against yoga as demonic, and instead work with your brothers and sisters in Christ to find common ground that helps promote the common good of this great city.
At the same time, I have found from many evangelicals such as Kevin Palau that Portland stands to benefit from the ministry and work of the evangelical community. Kevin and his family model for us a ministry built on mutual respect and compassion.
In short, if you're coming here to save the sinners of Portland, don't bother. But if you're coming to be a good neighbor and friend you'll find a lot of out stretched hands.
I hope that sometime soon you and Pastor Tim Smith might make time to have coffee and talk more about what makes Portland a special place (we also have good beer here, which I understand you like).
Welcome to the city of Roses.
Your brother in Christ,
The Rev. Chuck Currie