It’s rare that I would choose to comment on current news in this forum. But I will today, because the last 48 hours or so have been truly abhorrent. When my friend David Hayward posted a supportive Facebook comment regarding Jim Marjoram this evening, it confirmed my conviction that this is worth taking a stance on. The reason why I’m writing about this? I’ve seen many pastors and friends post Facebook updates of sympathy, compassion and outrage but not address some of the underlying issues with the occurences of the last few days. But the most unreasonable thing has gone unnoticed, without comment from so many. Of 400 opportunities, only 1 voice responded and was heard. That voice was an embarrassment, a reminder of a broken humanity. Why so silent, 399? Why so quient? It’s easy to be outraged when somebody says something nonsensical, but the other, more justifiable atrocity is right under our noses and nobody has said a thing.

Here’s the short version of what’s happened to date:

  • Jim Marjoram is a courageous man, trying to walk a reconciled life between his sexuality and a fundamental religion that would often rather not deal with him
  • He wrote a book, called ‘It’s Life, Jim’
  • His story deserves honour and attention
  • He emailed details of the book to about 400 churches in NZ
  • He got one response, that I won’t repeat here
  • His courage and bravery should never have been treated with such disdain
  • It’s a tragedy that this was the only response received from the broader Christian community
  • This is absolutely not the ideal marketing solution

There are many Christians and people of faith who have been outraged in recent days by the words and actions of the self-proclaimed pastor of a church called Westcity Bible Baptist Church in Auckland, New Zealand. You can read more from media outlets about the story here and here.

Update: One of the most important points I want to make is that there is a lack of strategy in how this email came out, which means that the Church needs to think carefully and well about how to respond, so that the current voice is not the only voice heard. A number of Christian leaders have responded to Jim personally, as well as reaching out to Logan Robertson. Bravo. The Baptist Church of New Zealand has made an official statement – which I commend.

Here’s the summary. Jim is gay and Christian. He’s been both activist and grace demonstrator over the years that I have known of him, his activities and his relationships with many that I respect and love. He recently published a book that ought to be embraced with open arms by the mainstream Church – his story of being both gay and Christian. You can purchase it here and you should, because these stories are important and should be honoured. His story is one of trying to find reconciliation between sexuality and spirituality, two aspects of humanity that should rarely be separated.

Jim sent an email promoting the book to churches in New Zealand to support the release. He received one response: an independent, fundamentalist pastor who stated his desire that the author would commit suicide. When interviewed by news media, Pastor Logan Robertson reported that although not something he would want to do, he believed the Government should put homosexuals to death.

Not affiliated with the Baptist Union of New Zealand (an organisation with which I have been and remain an advocate); this person has managed to unveil a number of crucial lessons that all reasonable human beings ought to consider.

Here’s the frustration for me.

Lesson #1. For the Church – Did No One Pay Attention?
Are you freaking kidding me that this was the only response Jim received? 400 churches on the email list and no one had the presence of mind, the compassion or even the good conscience to reply to his email? Granted, I can’t speak for the elapsed time between when the email was sent and the ‘nil reply’ measure given, nor the quality of the list (I’ll come back to that) – but when the voice of Christianity is left in the hands of the minority, there is little ground to stand on for people to be horrified. I am deeply appalled that at a time when we ought to be able to embrace these stories with grace, compassion and interest – it appears there was no room at the inn for Jim’s story. A crushing blow, in the Advent season. There is no blame to be placed at the feet of the media for giving attention to the story, the worst part is that Logan Robertson’s voice was the only one to respond. In defence; many pastors receive hundreds of emails a week promoting a variety of Christian books, products and services. It’s very probable that many did not read the email. This does relate to the next point, regarding strategy.

Lesson #2. For Marketers – Did No One Check The List?
This will be highly impolitic to say, however, this appears to be appalling marketing practice. If a blanket email inbox dump is your best strategy, then it comes as no surprise that a unvetted, unchecked email list created such controversy. There’s a lesson in this for all would-be and professional marketers – when you’re dealing with a bespoke and important message, you better have a clear idea about who and where you’re sending that message. I wish that I’d had the chance to work with Jim on the strategy around the book release, because common sense rationalises the risk of sending unsolicited direct email to anybody, let alone regarding a topic bound to send chills down the spine of an Independent Baptist. Sound direct marketing and email marketing principles exist for a reason as aptly demonstrated by the complete mismatch of audience and message here. Whilst this might seem like trivialization, it’s really not because people are guilty of this kind of negligence every day. Regardless of what minor side benefit might be gained from the publicity in current form, the message of the book is now tainted with an altogether different message.

Lesson  #3. For Activists – Don’t Stop Being Brave.
Realistically speaking, there is every chance that Jim’s book and his story may have largely passed under the radar of the average New Zealand Christian or the average New Zealand gay person. I’m really glad that this story made a way to the front page news because it matters that we stop tolerating this. I’m relieved to hear and see other Christian leaders publicly admonishing this young man because it matters so much, that the rest of NZ society understands we don’t share a single view on this. I’m also sad for Logan, because this kind of public statement is extraordinarily hard to recover from with an equal sense of public humiliation. We need people like Jim and others I know, who are brave enough to take these first steps to say publicly, ‘I will be both gay and Christian’, in order to educate, prove and disprove the lingering questions that may exist. That is activism – to prove something with your own life.

A Challenge In Conclusion
Believe what you will about sexuality and it’s expression alongside spirituality. My stand is simple. If you are remotely sympathetic to the Christian faith and you haven’t worked out which side of this story you would choose to stand on, you’ve got some stuff to work out. I’ll happily have those conversations with you – but there is no space in any kind of Gospel story or values I know that has room for the bigotry and hatred demonstrated in this man’s words over the last few days.

If you are a Christian, particularly if you are a leader in a Christian community – I challenge you to do more than simply express your sympathy or your shame in a Facebook post or a tweet. Engage your people in the conversation about restoring grace and humanity to those whose spirituality has been somehow overshadowed by their sexuality. Do more than give words.

Lastly; if you or someone you know is experiencing a sense of displacement or confusion in their faith or relationship with faith communities – may I recommend to you? You’ll find a community of people who are welcoming, vulnerable and honest. You’ll also find a leader and pastor in David, who is compassionate and remarkable.