Tuesday, April 1, 2014

#DangerDays: Chris Cooper's Story

Today's #DangerDays guest post comes from Chris Cooper. Chris is a friend of mine from my youth pastor days, as well as an avid reader of this blog and someone who actually leaves me comments! I asked him for a picture to use with this post, and what you see on the left is what he sent me. Youth pastors are not normal, are they? So I am thrilled to have Zorro share his story of bold faith with us today. It's a story so many need to hear...

I want to tell you a story from 2004. It's hard to believe that ten years have passed since this moment in my life, because in some ways it still effects me every day. You know how we sometimes hear on TV shows and movies that "the names have been changed to protect the innocent?" In this story they have been left out to protect the crazy. Imagine a normal Monday morning at an unnamed church in an unnamed city when an unnamed Senior Pastor (I love when Carl calls one of his old bosses "The Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named") strolls into the office of a youth pastor we will call Zorro. Since this pastor seldom (if ever) graced the youth pastor's office with his presence, Zorro was immediately suspicious that something was wrong. The words "we need to talk" did nothing to change his feelings. When his next sentence began with "Word has come to me" I knew things were about to get messy. When you are a youth pastor- the most vulnerable person on any church staff- and the Sr. Pastor stops by to share gossip, it's just not going to end well. He finished the sentence with "that you had a long talk with Darth Vader (read as evil male student) last night after youth. I hear he told you that he is gay. Is this true?" I have to confess that I knew right away I was in a no win situation. If I said no, he would eventually find out the truth and I would get fired for lying. And if I said yes, then poor old Darth Vader was in for a world of trouble. So I opted for the truth and relied, "Yes. He did confess to me that he was gay and was afraid to tell his parents and afraid he would not be welcomed at church anymore. I told him I would help him tel his family and that he would always be welcomed here." As it turns out, in the words of the old guy in Indiana Jones 3, I chose POORLY...

Over the next two weeks my life became a hail storm. The pastor called the young man's parents and ratted him out, and his parents freaked out. The pastor called a meeting of the church council about me, concerned about my bad theology in supporting Darth and his "homosexual habits." I had done no such thing- I had just told him he would always be welcomed in God's house. This too was wrong, as he was asked not to come back to youth group until he could "renounce his evil ways" - and yes, that really is a quote. And just to put the cherry on top of this banana split from hell, I was accused of being gay myself by a church council member. The fun just never ended.

So how did any of this lead to an actual #DangerDays bold step of faith for me? I was called before the council, and the pastor told me all I needed to do was apologize for my bad judgement and assure them that homosexuality was a dreadful sin. I needed to reassure them that Darth and any other of "those people" would not be welcomed at youth group in the future. And I needed to make a public apology to the church and the kid's parents. As I prayed about what to do, one thought kept entering my mind- what I was being asked to do was not WWJD. Condemning and turning away a 15 year old gay boy was wrong. Dehumanizing a group of people was wrong. And telling the church council I agreed with them when I obviously did not was wrong. So instead of all the things I had been told to do, I stood in front of them and quoted Jesus as he taught us to love one another, forgive one another and look at our own sins before casting stones at others. And then I resigned. If I really was Zorro, I would have carved a Z in the back wall of the church on my way out.

Ten years later, I still know I did the right thing. But doing the right thing is often just as full of consequences as doing the wrong thing. It was 3 years before I got another job in a church. The students I left behind felt abandoned, and it didn't help any that the next youth pastor made Putin look compassionate. But even through those struggles, I was invigorated with new life. Standing up for Jesus, even when the world and the church are going in a different direction, gives you amazing inner peace. Ten years later, even on that very same issue, following Jesus can lead you into danger. And there is no better place to be. As my friend Carl would say,

Because of Jesus...

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