Monday, April 14, 2008

Personal Note: Toledo Christian Fellowship

For those of you who do not know me personally, I have for the last 17 years provided leadership for a small fellowship in Toledo, Oregon. Toledo Christian Fellowship (TCF) is an all-volunteer church; I derive my personal support from my business. I have greatly enjoyed serving my friends as an elder and as the main teacher over these years. These pictures were taken three weeks ago at our Resurrection Day dinner, where we reenacted the Jesus story with a candle ceremony. The pictures might help to give you a feel for TCF, my church fellowship. 

In October of last year, I declared my acceptance of evolutionary biology to the TCF body, and spent some time explaining why Genesis 1 must be read in light of its Ancient Near Eastern cosmological context. I knew that many of my TCF friends were committed to YEC (I had taught YEC over the years!), I mistakenly believed that, on the strength of my endorsement, these friends would be open to considering the possibilities of evolution. However, for many of them, their commitment to YEC was much stronger than I had thought. I had hoped that TCF might be a place where various views could be openly discussed, where we could think suppositionally (asking the "what if" questions), and that we could serve as a model of how a church might deal with the difficult issues raised by science today, even if we did not all agree. Instead, I found that my revelations served mainly to inflict pain on my friends. Many, perhaps most of them, felt a sense of loss and betrayal, and a deep emotional wound which has still not healed. I now deeply regret the manner in which I presented my view on that day, a manner which, in retrospect, could be characterized as almost cavalier. I regret the deep pain I caused. Over the last six months, I have become convinced that it will be impossible for me to continue to lead this fellowship.

There is no question of my love for these friends, nor of their love for me. But when so many of my brothers and sisters believe that a YEC position is vital to Christian faith, it is too much to ask them to follow a leader who rejects YEC in favor of an Evolutionary Creationist model. So, last night, I laid down my place of leadership, and officially resigned from our eldership.

As the now well-established science of evolution settles down upon the fundamental and conservative evangelical wings of the church, the resulting paradigm shifts in Biblical and theological understandings are bound to be extremely stressful. I fear that the inevitable struggle will result in many broken relationships, and divided churches. Much evidence of this painful battle can already be seen and has been noted elsewhere. It was my hope that TCF could navigate these waters successfully, and help others to do the same. I still have hope this might happen; but it will not be under my leadership.

16 comments:

Chris Tilling said...

Sounds like quite a ride you've been on. I think your integrity in all of this shines through, at least from this distance. What advice would you offer those of us who may face similar circumstances?

Cliff Martin said...

Hi Chris,

My integrity might look better at 5000+ miles. Try squinting.

Seriously, thank you for your kind words. Advice? I was hoping someone might have advice for me. I can tell you that I refused to make evolution an issue. From the start I assured everyone that it was not my agenda to convince anyone of my position; that if anyone had questions, or sought clarification, I would be happy to provide that. But debate the matter in my own church? Never. I can also say that, I believe, all of us have held the value of our relationships above our disagreements. And I have refused to allow a party spirit to grow by engaging those who might support my views in small discussion groups, etc.

Beyond that, I am hopeful that others with similar experiences might comment here. I'd love to hear other stories. You took a bit of flack yourself over at Chrisendom last week. But I presume that the majority of your readers track with you on matters of evolution, view Scripture, ANE cosmology, etc. I always appreciate your tone and levity on these issues, and the respect you maintain for alternate opinions. I am planning a post which will reference and point back to last weeks discussion at Chrisendom.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Cliff,
Wow. I’m really not sure what to say. From what you have written, I believe you made the right choice in resigning, even if it had to be very, very difficult. Ultimately “being right” in something like this may be less important than furthering the kingdom of God. Church history is littered with those that put their own good over that of the church. You didn’t and I think that speaks volumes.

Not sure what I can say except to offer to pray for you and your fellowship. And I agree that you shouldn’t give up hope.

Steve said...

This is a somewhat timely entry, Cliff. Lately I have been getting some pushback, mainly consisting of uncharacteristic quiet standoffishness, from my closest friends since "coming out" on my blog about this issue. My own dear wife is not comfortable with common descent, and feels like she's bridging the gap between me and our friends/family.

In retrospect, I suppose that the confidence/force with which I have presented my criticism of anti-evolutionary models on my blog has not helped them feel comfortable. But what's a blog for, after all? I guess I figured that my friends would recognize it as just strange Steve talking about another of his hobby horses (much like my eschatology). But they appear to have taken it almost as hard as the worst-case scenario I had in my head. It seems to have come between us, and I don't know what to do about it. I can't exactly bottle it back up.

My own dear parents (at least my mother) would fret to no end if she knew, and since they live in the same town, go to the same church, and have access to my blog, I know it's just a matter of time. I'm not in leadership at my church, but I have entertained the prospect of teaching Sunday School, and I doubt this will be an option once my views are known. I can't say that fully feel your pain, but I fully expect to one day soon. I'm glad to have folks like you, Steve, and Mike as a support group.

Vera said...

Ouch. I can't say I feel your pain, but I spend a lot of time imagining it. You have my sympathy.

iYRe said...

Hi Cliff,

The only thing I can offer is that what you have done is the best thing, even if you felt you had to give up your leadership.
You HAVE opened up the pathways for debate, and someone else will come along when the time is right, and be there for those who have questions and are willing to hear the answers.

I understand because in reality its "just another theological disagreement". I experienced the same when announcing I believe in conditional immortality and annhilation. The Traditionalists thought I was the very devil himself.

All that truly matters, as Barth pointed out, is that Jesus loves us, because the Bible tells us so.

Geoff.

Tom said...

As an apostate, I know the sting of disappointing friends and family over evolution. At the same time, I realize their fears -- that beliefs in evolution do, in fact, lead to apostacy!

As long as you are able to balance the two seemingly disparate ideas through your simple actions and humble opinions, you'll invite ears and conversation, from friends at TCF and beyond.

As you and your evangelical evolutionist friends have found, evolution is a can of worms that takes a lot of personal mind-bending. It has a lot of theological issues that are not easily reconciled and you have each had to grapple with this "inconvenient truth". It's frustrating when other people can't take it on when it is now, to us, so blatant, but you have to be patient and sadly silent lest you distance yourself more from those you want to be close to. I told my brother that I had a blog and that it would be an interesting exchange to have a YEC in the mix. He's never asked for the URL.

Cliff Martin said...

Steve Martin, thank you for your words of support. I have grown to value your friendship. And thank you for the post on your website. It may serve to further this much needed discussion.

Steve, I appreciate your candid reply. From the strength of your website and other discussions I’ve had with you, I presumed you came out of a community that was solidly both evolutionary creationist and preterist. Now I understand that you are in the trenches beside me, and that is somehow good to know. Still, I’d like to think that there exists somewhere a community of evangelical believers who together accept the findings of science. Anyone know of such a community?

Vera, I have enjoyed your writings at “Wishing Doesn’t Make It So” (what a great name). Thank you for your kind thoughts!

Geoff (“iYRe” must have some great significance ... care to elaborate?), thank you for your comment all the way from from New Zealand. Yes, I agree: we could use a little more of the plain rational faith and (at times!) simplicity of Barth.

Tom, thank you for your thoughts. (Nice to finally see your picture, btw.) You and I have so many unfinished discussions; I often think of how much I would enjoy sitting and talking in my living room or yours. As I’ve told you before (and you are no doubt still waiting for a fuller explanation!) evolution has not been the faith-rocker for me that it was for you. To the contrary, evolution has opened new and inviting vistas for my Biblically-based Christian faith that are nothing short of exhilarating. If we (that is Bible-believing theists) can ever get beyond the level of debating origins to actually examining the ramifications of a God who would create in the fashion he apparently has, our theological understandings of that Creator God and his purposes will soar! And as I have often said, that is the discussion I long for.

jprapp said...

Steve, I’m deeply sorry for the resignation. I’ve served as a head minister in churches across a wide spectrum of theological convictions: conservative Reformed , charismatic community churches, to quasi-Unitarian Congregational churches (for reasons too crazy to explain here).

I would not have accepted your resignation under any of these flavors of theology.

Period.

I would handed back your resignation: invited you to roll up your sleeves and join me in taking a food basket to a neighbor; to join me in prayer for no other reason than to listen to the Spirit; and invited you over for dinner to discuss your personal reflections on the upcoming “Woodstock” of dissenting evolutionary biologists who are with you "outside the box" by looking for endogenous variables for better explanations than natural selection.

I’m extremely saddened that the local curriculum of conversation at your church could be impoverished by your resignation.

But, in the end, I respect your decision. It’s your’s to make. No one but you can know the intimacies of facts and reasons for your choice. It’s your testament. And it’s not mine to betray (Milan Kundera).

Cheers,

Jim

iYRe said...

Hi Cliff,

The world's a small place in 2008 :)

I play too many online games. iYRe is "ire" with a "y". Its a nickname I use to instill fear in those pesky aliens before I blow them up :P

complete-joy said...

I came upon a website that I think you might be interested in- just search ´read Bible 24 hours´it´s like khouse something or other, and it integrates science with it´s teachings, doing the whole Bible in 24 hours emphasizing it´s congruity as a whole even through the passage of time and change of authors. I´ve only listened to the first 3 hours online, (the program is free online as well as available in book if you want to buy it) but so far it has at least given me some different insight into the book of genesis that I haven´t given much thought to before. I enjoyed looking at your pictures.. reminds me of home :)
cara

Cliff Martin said...

Hi Cara,

Thank you for your comment, and recommendation. I did find the website you refer to. For others who might be interested it can be found at this link: Koinonia House Online

The site has many articles, podcasts, and MP3s on various topics, Bible Studies, etc. They do take seriously the findings of science, and seem to be identified with the Intelligent Design movement. Tonight marks the release of the Ben Stein movie, EXPELLED, which lays out the case for Intelligent Design. The I.D. movement is filled with sincere believers, many of whom accept the general framework of evolution. While I respect Intelligent Design proponents, it is important to note that many Evolutionary Creationists, including myself, are wary of the Intelligent Design argument. My friend Steve Martin discusses I.D. here. He includes a number of links for those interested in a closer look at I.D. Mike Beidler also has some excellent posts here. I recommend both of these sites, and their critics of the Intelligent Design movement.

(Mike is probably at this very moment in a theater watching EXPELLED, and has promised to post a response at his site in the next few days.)

Siamang said...

Hi Cliff,

Well, I am sorry to read of this trauma in your life, which I'm sure is not needed in this moment.

I am told that religious people consider their church fellowship to be an integral and highly valued part of their life. And so this must be a loss for you that, while I have trouble imagining for myself, I respect that it must bring a profound sense of loss.

It is fascinating to me, how different our perspectives are. I know this must be hard for you, and I want to lend support and encouragement. But at the same time I keep putting myself in your shoes and saying "why do you want to hang out with a bunch of people who refuse to let you believe what you know is true?" To me, the intolerance of a differing opinion in this situation would be personally suffocating. And really, for no good reason other than the fact that it makes them uncomfortable. You weren't pushing it, you weren't preaching it, you weren't trying to convince anyone of it... it was just an idea that you subscribed to that poisoned you in their eyes.

So I don't think I'm a good person to give you support. I know this probably feels like a rift in the family to you... and that you'll miss these people and their fellowship. You'll miss your place as a spiritual leader as well... you were probably very good at it. Intellectually I know you're going through a painful time, and a time of uncertainty.

So I should shut up and just convey condolences, and the simplicity and quietness of merely recognizing that a chapter in your life has come to a close.


Except I can't. I have to speak up. Cliff, you don't seem to be considering your own spiritual growth here. I know you're putting your group first... but let me just put this out there. You have your own spiritual growth to consider. And an environment where truth is ignored and the search for truth is discouraged, be it scientific, psychological, spiritual, familial, whatever truth... this isn't a healthy spiritual environment.

Readers may remember that I'm an atheist, and so they may think of my use of the word spiritual here is a misapplication of the term. What I mean by spiritual is something that nonbelievers share, and that's the search for the correct path under your feet, whatever that path turns out to be.

I'm firm in my belief that everyone has a different path, and that your path and my path will never be the same. As before here on this blog, I'm going to demur from asserting if my path is a more or less accurate depiction of objective reality in the world we find ourselves in than yours is.

What I'm saying is, your journey is by no means complete, and you cannot be in a spiritually stifling situation and expect further growth along your path. If there is a God as you describe It, He's got a plan for you. If not, or if we'll never know, you still have a path ahead of you, and a spiritual life ahead of you, on this earth if not beyond.

Your path is changing... but great to be alive, is it not? Please continue your exploration and tell us what you find! Remember your own spiritual journey is important, and the interactions you have for the rest of your life depend on what is happening to you right now. If there's a God with purposes in mind for each of us, His way cannot be found by hiding from or fearing truth, that much I know.

Take care.

Cliff Martin said...

Siamang,

Thank you for your comments ... they are insightful, comforting and encouraging.

Actually, I have a number of Christian friends both inside the network I am a part of, and out, who are very supportive. Many of them understand that what I am doing may be vital to the survival of the Church. And so they, like you, encourage me to continue on. And I will. And I believe (I certainly hope!) it will be possible for me to do so without abandoning my friends in this fellowship. We have so much in common.

I do not blame my many Christian friends who are alarmed and/or offended by the things I have come to affirm. I blame the century-long drumbeat of fundamentalism which has effectively closed the minds of millions of believers to open inquiry. It may take another century to undo the damage of this control-and-fear-driven agenda. But I hope not.

Again, thank you for your kind and sensitive words.

Tor Hershman said...

“Science without religion is science; religion without science is religion.”

“There is no God in foxholes”

moi

Karl A. said...

I find this issue poignant. I agree with you that a century of fundamentalism/suspicion of science bears some responsibility. I'm writing these comments almost a year and a half after the posting; my guess and hope is that you have seen redemption in the meantime.

As an overseas Christian worker supported by other Christians, I also have some apprehension about clearly stating my beliefs in this area. I also was probably too cavalier when confessing such to a few family members and close friends. Yet something compels me to talk about these issues even at the risk of suffering, probably the same thing that compels you. I think it has something to do with the love of the truth, but more so (I hope anyway) with the love of my brothers and sisters in trying to soften the blow of the coming train wreck. I think we have to help the ones we love create the mental space for "Christian who believes in evolution/modern science" between the extremes of "atheistic evolutionist" and "creationist Christian", but this will not come without some shock waves. That's just the way it is.