An Open Letter to Dr. George Wood and the Assemblies of God Denomination – of which I was once a member

Note: My response to Dr. George Wood’s article in yesterday’s News-Leader can be found here. Before reading it, however, I ask that you first read the following (personal) reflections:

While I’m partly writing this post as a reply to the biblical and theological critiques that Dr. George O. Wood (the General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God denomination) made in his News-Leader response to the clergy letter signed by myself and 22 other Christian leaders in support of the LGBT community in Springfield, I would like to begin by sharing a personal note that is often lost in the public eye.

While this may come as a surprise to many, I have very deep roots in the Assemblies of God church. Not only did I grow up in Springfield, where the headquarters of the Assemblies of God denomination is located, but I was baptized into an Assemblies of God church where, surprisingly enough, Rev. John Lindell was once a youth pastor. I also had a Damascus Road conversion experience in the Assemblies of God that changed my life forever, and the Assemblies of God church is the first place I felt a call to ministry. For these reasons and more, I continue to hold the Assemblies of God very close to my heart.

In addition to these religious experiences – and every bit as important to me – are the close friendships that I made in the Assemblies of God church, for they remain the most enduring friendships I’ve made in my lifetime, and I will forever treasure them. I simply would not be who I am without them, as those who know me on a personal level can well attest.

This personal background is important for several reasons. First, when I respond to perspectives related to representatives from the Assemblies of God, I’m not simply thinking about a group of people with a certain set of beliefs from a certain denomination – I’m thinking about a group of friends who are very close to my heart. This underscores an important point: Unlike what was read into the clergy letter I signed, I do not for one moment believe that Rev. Lindell, or other representatives from the Assemblies of God, lack class or integrity – not for one second. In fact, in the same edition of the News-Leader in which the clergy letter appeared, I am on record as saying, “We consider pastor Lindell to be a person of integrity. It’s just a matter of differing opinions.” Several of my dearest friends are pastors in and members of the Assemblies of God church, and I have the utmost amount of respect for them. While many of us have long had differing interpretations of the Bible, we’ve never found ourselves questioning one another’s integrity. Indeed, we’ve been able to have meaningful conversations with one another about controversial topics precisely because we care for one another and respect one another. And I have no reason to doubt the integrity of Rev. Lindell, especially given the fact that so many of my friends who know him well speak very highly of him. I have no reason to disagree with Rev. Don Miller, the Southern Missouri District Superintendent of the Assemblies of God, when he says that Rev. Lindell’s “character is impeccable.” I only waded into these waters to help provide an alternative approach to understanding a very complex matter in the Bible. So, to be clear: this is not a matter of questioning one’s personal integrity, it’s a matter of biblical interpretation.

All of this is to say that, contrary to the popular misconception, having differing interpretations of the Bible is not to be equated with doubting the integrity of the one(s) with whom you disagree, for I firmly believe there are well-intentioned people at various places along the spectrum, including Dr. Wood and Rev. Lindell, as well as so many of my friends from the Assemblies of God, and I hope they think the same of me. I’m proud to be part of a Christian denomination in which we recognize that none of us necessarily view every doctrinal or social matter the same way, but even in the midst of a diversity of perspectives — especially in the midst of a diversity of perspectives — the love of Christ transcends our differences. We often borrow a line from the heroic civil rights activist William Sloane Coffin, who liked to say that “our unity is not based on uniformity of opinion but on mutuality of love.” And the same principle applies here.

So with this disclaimer in place, allow me to respond to the critiques made by Dr. Wood, with the recognition that I am not attacking his personal integrity or intentions but am simply offering a different interpretation of the Bible that I (and a rapidly growing number of Christians) experience as being (1) far more persuasive on a personal level, (2) far more credible on a scholarly level, and (3) far more helpful in the lives of individuals and communities.

Admittedly, this is an interpretation that the Assemblies of God doesn’t leave much room for, at least not yet, which is why it represents one of the primary reasons I had to leave the Assemblies of God church I loved so much  – albeit with a backward wistful glance, the bittersweet effect of which I feel every time I drive by the Assemblies of God church of my youth, which remains very close to my heart to this day.

More than anything, I want my friends (as well as those who often read these kinds of posts online), to know that I didn’t arrive at this place in my spiritual journey lightly. It’s not because I’m trying to be controversial. It’s not because I’m trying to go along with the crowd. It certainly doesn’t express the way I’ve always felt. And it’s not because I don’t take the Bible seriously — as you’ll see in my full response, I do. But my mind has changed over the course of nearly twenty years, and I am thankful to God for it.

Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders. Gott helfe mir.

Click here to view my full response #longread

Those interested in this conversation also might like to check out Justin Lee’s book, Torn: Rescuing the Bible from the Gays vs. Christians Debate

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22 Comments

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22 responses to “An Open Letter to Dr. George Wood and the Assemblies of God Denomination – of which I was once a member

  1. Quite a response and so well voiced! As a member of the minority (seemingly so) of Christians in the heartland not living in fear or prejudice regarding homosexuals I am always glad to hear your thoughts on this issue. To take on the Goliath of AG in their apparent dominance of the moral landscape is no small task to be sure but one in desperate need of doing. Thank you Phil again for your willingness to stand out front in this often fiery storm of debate and often divisive “yelling” match.

  2. Phil, I marvel at not only your courage in speaking out but also your patience in writing such a detailed response. I confess I myself have long ago lost patience with this kind of Biblical/Theological argumentation. I can only hope that at least some of what you have to say will be listened to in the Springfield religious community. And point towards the day when churches no longer make young glbt persons feel they are not, truly and totally beloved children of God.

  3. Pingback: Brentwood pastors sign letter in support of LGBT community | Brentwood Christian Church

  4. Thank you for this one, wonderfully done and for someone like me who is passionate about the issue but sometimes unable to argue them, this helps.

  5. Nancy

    After reading Pastor Lindell’s letter and Dr. Wood’s letter, I realized how naive I had been regarding the discriminatory attitudes from the Assemblies of God and other denominations regarding same sex relationships. I was furious. I wrote and deleted many responses – wanting to address the issue yet not wanting the faith based community to be allowed to sway the Task Force on a civil issue. Reading your wonderfully detailed open letter has given me much peace. Thank you so much.

  6. The belief in an inerrant Bible will be the undoing of Christianity in America if it is allowed to continue to thrive in mainstream evangelical churches. The time has passed for our arguments to center around “interpretations” of a perfect text. The time has come for revelation that the Bible contains sin. To teach that the Bible is the “Word of God” insults both God and reason. Those who experience a life altering spiritual experience in America and then faithfully attempt to interpret that experience through the lens of American Christianity are ultimately turned into the people Jesus said “Become twice the child of hell as those who converted them.”

  7. Hi Phil. I’m friends with Emily Bowen and Travis Marler, so that’s how I got to see your post. Thanks for sharing. I have long been in the “other” camp (A/G) and so it was cool getting to see your fleshed out response to both John and George’s posts. While I am not in full agreement yet with you on what the Bible says about homosexuality, you did something for me I wanted to share with you. You opened my eyes to other plausible interpretations than my own. Before I had just chalked up your position to, “Really?” But when I saw you not just give biblical reference, but reasonings about them, it opened up a way to see this discussion in new light. So thanks :) If you’re bored sometime, check out my new blog: ilostmyprayerhanky.com

    • nancy

      Have you happened to watch Matthew Vines’ video? He makes some interesting interpretations, also. Even if you don’t agree, his story is compelling and he is an admirable young man.

    • nancy

      It is an hour long video. I believe on found it here on one of Rev. Snider’s blog but I am sure it is on YouTube. :)

  8. Pingback: Open Reply to Rev. Phil Snider’s “Open Letter” | Dr. George O. WoodDr. George O. Wood

  9. David J. Hall

    Me thinks you think too much, Mr. Snider. The word of God is infallible, no matter who the author of the book was. Because Solomon had 700 wives didn’t make it right. God, Himself, will (or has) judge that.
    1 Corinthians 6:9-11
    New International Version (NIV)
    9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men[a] 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

    Footnotes:

    1 Corinthians 6:9 The words men who have sex with men translate two Greek words that refer to the passive and active participants in homosexual acts.

    Pretty clear? Wouldn’t you say? Like any other sin that may seem to control a person’s life (even a Christian’s), I believe that there gay men and women that have been saved but struggle with this one area and may fall into temptation, but they do repent and continue to ask God to help get this under control. It is the one who says “I have no sin” that I have a problem with.
    Like I said, me thinks you think too much.

  10. Mark Lewis

    I find it ironic that your examples of marriage include a relationship between a man and a woman. You refute your point by the examples you cited. You are wrong from a biblical perspective on this issue.

  11. You can read George O. Wood’s response to Phil Snider’s “Open Letter” here: http://georgeowood.com/open-reply-to-rev-phil-sniders-open-letter/.

  12. Mike

    It is truly amazing to see prophecy fulfilled as this debate plays out and you Pastor Snyder and others seek to move the church to a more societal friendly position that seeks to redefine what the church has traditionally held as sinful and immoral. You truly are the fulfillment to the prophecy that the time would come when men would not endure sound doctrine but rather would heap to themselves teachers having itching ears according to their own desires. You and many like you seem to have forgotten Jesus most basic message, Repent for the kingdom is at hand. Wonderful for me though as you are more proof the Jesus return is very close at hand. In closing I would offer two thoughts. One I am not homophobic and my wife and I have many relationships with those engaged in homosexual lifestyles as well as other lifestyles the bible would deem sinful. I have taken some to church as they would be led by the Spirit, but we make it clear that their life style is sinful and that to be saved it begins with repentance or the turning from their sin the same as every other sinner. Sadly you seek to call evil good and good evil deceiving those who could otherwise be saved. Secondly and of great comfort to me is that the Lord will judge between us. As spoken in Revelation the Lord Himself will “make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie-indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know know that I have loved you.” I would encourage you to fast and pray that the Lord might remove the blindness from your eyes before it is to late for the judgement you face shall be strict indeed as a teacher of the Holy Scripture.
    As for me and my house we shall serve the Lord.

    • Nancy

      Mike,
      It is common that you quote God as judge, yet your reply is full of judgment.

      • Mike,
        You may very well be a man of faith and integrity but in this response you also have shown that the judgmentalness and condescension inherent in puritanism is alive and well.
        The bible, pick which of the dozens of variants, is full of contradictions and seemingly absurd dictates. To cherry pick a verse here or a passage there only serves to further disengage more people from the community of Christ.
        As for the “prophecies” of Revelation and your consequent assumptions … bullocks. For over a millennia people have decried the evil of their time and the “any day now” return and judgement of those they find objectionable. This is quite possibly the most offensive and darkest part of modern Christianity and those that celebrate it are most certainly to look as the fools they judge with with their literal myopia.

    • Pete

      Amen. Well said brother

  13. Angie

    Pastor Phil – What I see in you is a heart like Jesus had for the adulterous woman in front of the religious stone throwers. The Pharisees threw Scripture stones at Jesus too. It is not what people say but how they say it & after being in church all my life, what I’ve always heard against non-heterosexuals has not been said with a heart of love like Christ. We can be Christian without being Christ-like & that is what people see in church people today. Also after research & personally getting involved with non-heterosexuals I understand that sexual orientation is not something a person converts from (as John Paulk has now admitted after years in the ex-gay movement); like I am right handed & would not be good at writing with my left hand. Another shameful thing is how many religious parents have disowned their kids because of their sexual orientation. People can be legalistic, but if they believe we are justified by what we do & don’t do, they better be keeping the whole law/rules for theirself. What Jesus has done justifies all who call on the name of the Lord.
    The religious don’t want their conceived undesirables sitting at the table with them, but I would rather sit with a pew of believer non-heterosexuals any day. And may be soon leaving the S. Baptist denomination after 35 years as a Sunday school teacher.

  14. Phil,
    I mistakenly assumed my last post would not be seen in the comments section before you had read and approved it to be posted – as was my last post here. Could you please remove my above post from the comments section. I would prefer my last comments be for your eyes only. Thanks.

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