When I was a pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist church there are a lot of things that just didn’t click with me. Since coming out as bisexual and finding myself in a more progressive space, a lot has become clear.

They say no one can be convinced of something that will cost them their job. It’s tempting to think that when I was a pastor I believed what I believed for the sake of my career. That’s probably not true, though. Becoming a pastor is a huge sacrifice for most people. We don’t go into ministry because it’s easy or lucrative, but because we are true believers. That slowly gets muddied along the way.

I often hear people say that pastors should be more open and authentic. I believe that’s true. However, in conservative churches especially, there are factors associated with the role itself that make it almost impossible to be open and authentic. Your role as a pastor places much higher scrutiny no you and your life. Many of us do little things like hide books (Harry Potter anyone?) because it isn’t worth the potential hassle. We might dress differently or avoid wearing jewelry in an Adventist church especially. There might be some more progressive opinions we tend to keep to ourselves if we are in conservative churches.

That’s because conservative church members generally prefer that the pastor be a bit more conservative than they are. And you never know when someone is going to call your boss (whether it’s a conference official or board members depending on your church structure). Even if your boss totally backs you up, you’ve still caused a hassle. Then there are the expectations of your board or your conference. When you are a pastor, the expectations can hit you from every direction, and the criticism.

I know a lot of people who have had little disagreements turn into big deals, with churches determined to kick them out. When that happens the family usually has to move, sell the house, take the kids out of school, spouse needs to find a new job. There are a lot of pastors walking around with genuine trauma because of the way they’ve been treated by their churches.

All that leads to pressure to present yourself just a little more conservative than you are, to take a few less risks, to be a bit more conventional. That adds up over a period of years. You can’t present yourself as different than you are without it having a real impact on your life. You can’t do it without eroding your ability to earnestly and wholeheartedly seek the truth.

All those little changes in how your present yourself add up in the end to prioritizing image over authenticity. Courage and vulnerability are both needed to seek the truth. It’s not so easy to wake up one day and manufacture these qualities. They are more like a muscle. If you don’t use them, they may not be strong enough when you need them.

When I was a pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist church there are a lot of things that just didn’t click with me. Since coming out as bisexual and finding myself in a more progressive space, a lot has become clear.

I used to think that society had moved on from churches. I used to think the problem was one of relevance or messaging. I remember trying to figure out how to express Adventist doctrine in a way that would reveal its true depth and beauty. There are a lot of pastors trying to do just that, and a lot of books published on the topic. Those books help a certain segment of Adventism, but they don’t usually have any impact beyond that.

People aren’t looking for a church to make more sense or teach more compelling doctrines. People are looking for moral authority, and they don’t find it in church. Comedy Central has more moral authority than most churches (thank you Trevor Noah).

Churches have been trying so hard for so long to avoid controversy, or at least to avoid controversy that makes their conservative donors unhappy, that they’ve lost their moral edge. Churches are not addressing the injustice in society, because that’s too scary. Churches are the last to get on board with important social movements, because they don’t do so until it is demanded of them.

So when society looks for a moral leader to solve the real problems that are harming the vulnerable, no one thinks of asking a conservative church. That would only be a waste of breath.

I’m certain the old me would have been offended by this post. I’m sure I would have pointed to charity work or health ministries, but these are the easy way out. Churches love to do things for people so they can reach down and help. There is no controversy there. There is no risk.

I’ve realized that the church never holds a doctrine or a policy that does not support its own existence. One way or another every belief, every policy, ever “moral” issue is institutionally self-serving. There is no self-sacrifice, and no hunger and thirst for justice.

But the religion of Jesus should be the first to brave the storm, no matter what the cost personally or corporately. I think everyone knows that, from church people to those who never darken a sanctuary door. We all know what church should be, and that’s why many have no time and no respect for an organization that has become self-serving.

When I was a pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist church there are a lot of things that just didn’t click with me. Since coming out as bisexual and finding myself in a more progressive space, a lot has become clear.

A lot of people aren’t just leaving churches because they were hurt or offended. A lot of people have been deeply rejected to the point of being traumatized. They have been told they are unworthy, broken, inconvenient, going to hell, unholy, rebellious, and the list goes on and on. These words have been the reward for sincere questions and difficulties in many cases.

When I was a pastor, it was easy to rely on the idea that people hurt people, the church doesn’t. Since I’ve left I’ve realized that there are structural reasons in churches why certain people get ostracized and others are protected. There are gatekeepers who decide which sins are disqualifies. Those gatekeepers are judging the severity of the sin on no other qualification than how much of a threat the sin is to the protection of the status quo in churches.

That’s why public sin is more severe than private. That’s why doubt is worse than judgementalism. That’s why stealing money from the church bring more immediate action than anything else. That’s why questioning doctrine is more severe than treating people with disdain.

All this amounts to treating human being as objects. Members are resources to the goals and objectives of the organizations. Those people who contribute most to the organization are most valued. Those who detract are shamed or even expelled.

People aren’t resources. When you treat them as such you end up deeply wounding them. People walk away from churches with lingering fear that they will burn in hell. They walk away angry and cut to the core. They often walk away forever.

The greatest form of healing is ultimately found in new spiritual communities that are people focused instead of institutional focused. Communities that prioritize healing can bandage the open wounds and calm the lingering fears.

When I was a pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist church there are a lot of things that just didn’t click with me. Since coming out as bisexual and finding myself in a more progressive space, a lot has become clear.

The cold reality is that most people just don’t care about church that much. When I was a pastor, there was a subtle influence to think of people as invested in the church but maybe lacking some degree of inspiration.

Pastors might talk about pew warmers with a casual hint of disdain and be frustrated that people aren’t more dedicated. There was always for me a sense that these people feel that perhaps they know they should be more dedicated. Now I realize most people don’t even think they should be involved more. Most people don’t care about evangelism or church rules. They get something out of a loose affiliation, but not that much.

The biggest eye opener on this for me was how dramatically different people talked to me once I was no longer a pastor. When I was a pastor, in all my conversations people would pretend to care. When I stopped being a pastor they suddenly spoke very differently. I realized there were huge portions of the teachings of the church that a lot of people just plain ignore because they don’t believe them at all.

I should have known this before. Research has been indicating for years that larger and larger percentages of church members don’t believe basic Christian doctrine like the divinity of Christ, abstinence until marriage, and anti-LGBT+ theology. Those numbers are only going up. In the Adventist church you can add Sabbath keeping, abstaining from alcohol, and prophetic interpretation to the list.

This is the biggest problem of the church. Even though many people stay in the pews for one reason or another, their hearts really aren’t in it. Churches are losing the allegiance of its own members, but because many of them attend, and many of them give lip service to the pastors, the pastors don’t realize it.

People don’t need a revival, because the problem isn’t that they are lacking energy or Spirit. They need a church they can believe in.

I want to point you to this important Atlantic article, “The Scandal Tearing Apart America’s Largest Protestant Denomination.” There are a few crucial connections I want to make to point out why this matters for anyone who doesn’t want to demonize LGBT+ people.

Last June I joined a group of LGBT+ advocates at the Southern Baptist Convention. We started conversations and engaged people around the topic of the harm their theology was doing to SBC children. During that event I was often told that my “temptation” to homosexuality was no different than their pornography problems, temptations to be unfaithful, addictions, etc. I was told that we are all sinners and this is just my sin. I remember one pastor telling me that he has a terrible sin of food addiction and is just as much a sinner as I was. I asked him if he would ever lose his position. He said maybe that could happen. I asked him if it had ever happened in the history of the SBC. I hope he saw my point.

Last July I heard that one of my favorite Christian authors, Eugene Peterson, had come out fully supportive of same-sex marriage. He said he doesn’t believe it’s even an issue anymore, citing a gay man who is employed at the church he is retired from. Immediately the entire Evangelical Christian Network turned on him. LifeWay Christian Resources said they were trying to get in touch with Peterson to clarify his statement, and they would pull every one of his books from their shelves if he was supportive of LGBT+ inclusion. He is the author of the message translation of the Bible and dozens of popular books. Within 24 hours he had retracted his statement.

Now it has come to light that a man in a very powerful position in the Southern Baptist Convention is a sinner, too. Paige Patterson is both seminary president and a well-connected member of the old-boys network. He believes that women who are physically abused should pray until their husbands are converted. In the mean time, they should submit as best they can. When challenged on his statements, he’s only become belligerent. He said in defense of himself that he believes wives who suffer “non-injurious physical abuse which happens in so many marriages” should just pray their husbands through it. He has also objectified a 16 year old girl in a sermon. And worst of all, he covered for a friend of his who was molesting children. He is scheduled to speak at the next Southern Baptist convention. Some people are criticizing him, many are protecting him. The same LifeWay Christian Resources put out a statement denouncing Patterson’s words, but they haven’t said anything about pulling any of him many books from the shelves. The reaction of the Evangelical community over spousal abuse, objectification of teenage girls from the pulpit, and covering for child molesters is nothing compared to their rage at someone who would dare support sacrifice and fidelity in a marriage between people of the same gender.

So what happened to all those pastors who insisted that my “sin” was like their sin? The truth is that all along they have seen my sin as the worst of all.

And in case you are Adventist and you are reading this thinking that we are better, let me share with you a quote from the SDA Theological Seminary’s book, “Homosexuality, Marriage, and the Church,” page 198. “Robert Gagnon makes a strong case that, according to God’s Word, ‘homosexual practice is a more serious violation of Scripture’s sexual norms than even incest, adultery, plural marriage, and divorce.’ Only bestiality is presented as a worse sexual offense.”

The immorality here is deep. The arrogance of looking down at people in loving and committed relationships while encouraging spousal abuse and objectification of women is something I don’t even know how to break through. All I can do is try to shine a light, and hope that people who are involved in or support these systems will refuse to do so any longer. Men like Paige Patterson will never change. But he stands on the shoulders of tens of thousands of people who complacently support him. If that’s you, I hope you resolved today that you will no longer support institutions that bring shame to the name of Jesus.