A Progressive Christian Blog

That Time I Got Fired From a Church… Again?!

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When I came to clean out my office, I had this photo snapped. I wanted to remember the church that restored my hope in church.

Discovering a Gift

Not to humblebrag or anything, but I’m pretty awesome at getting fired from churches. Just barely ahead of Exhortation on most Spiritual Gift Assessments for me is the gift of Church Expulsion. I have it. It’s rare. And I cherish it.

(And yes, if you’re wondering, I often use humor as a way to diffuse the uncomfortable world of “feelings.”)

This week marks One Year since I was unceremoniously fired from a church I worked at here in San Diego, where I served as a Pastor for just under two years. I’m still processing the event, to be honest with you, as one year is not generally enough time for something like that to have worked its way entirely through your system.

As many of you might recall I was also fired from the church I worked at, in Arizona, prior to coming to San Diego. That expulsion was the result of the powers-that-be ultimately feeling threatened by theology that was different than their own. Specifically, my theology on sexuality was not acceptable to them. And in many (most? all?) systems of conservative evangelical Christianity the protection of the purity of the Gospel is paramount. So simply having a pastor on staff who believed differently on (what they saw as) a significant theological issue was a threat to the safety of the flock. Mind you, I was not teaching my beliefs nor sharing my thoughts with people, but the ideas and convictions were in my heart and mind. So I had to go.

It took me a solid two years before I felt like I had finally moved on from that event. Before, as they say, it stopped becoming the story of my life and simply became story.

Two years until I could even begin the difficult work of healing.
Forgiving.
Considering reconciliation.

The Path of Peace

One of the things Kate and I did during the initial months (maybe the whole first year?) of that first firing was resist the temptation to publicly tell our story. In other words, we were dismissed by the church with no sort of farewell or goodbye (which was crushing, by the way. Church leaders, if you ever have to fire someone, please consider the exit plan while using your “humane brain,” and not your “strategic brain”) and obviously the church spun the messaging to lessen the blow on their end. For instance, they never actually said that the “difference in theological positions” was over the belief on the sinfulness of people born with, and living out, their same sex attraction.

Our decision, then, was to walk the path of peace as best we knew how. Which for us, at the time, meant that we did not put our story out there. We didn’t go to the Facebooks or to my blog, or even reach out to people directly, to say, “here is why I was fired! Here is my story!” Instead we decided that we would only engage people with the facts of our story if they reached out to us and wanted to know.

Surprisingly, and disappointingly, less than 5% of the 1,500 member church that I worked at and served for 5 years made any sort of effort to hear from us. The vast majority of people simply accepted that if the church leadership told them that Colby was a bad apple and had to go, then there must have been good reason. So even though many were sad to see us go, it didn’t necessarily translate in to wanting to know the full story.

I waited about one year after that first firing to begin to publish some of the details of that event. Then, like I said, it was about another year before I finally felt some peace. Where bitterness was being replaced with kindness. Where anger was being smoothed out by love.

When the Pain Shifted

Eventually I was able to see what was previously hidden from me.

Meaning, I used to think the men that fired me were a bunch of selfish, proud, greedy people who cared more about what they thought was correct Bible interpretation than they did about me, their friend. I used to be angry at them.

But at the two year mark I was able to separate who they were as people with the theological system that bound them. And what I came to accept was that they were good and gracious men who were doing the best they knew how to live out their convictions. I can disagree with their convictions till I’m blue in the face (and I did/do), but they lived in to them in a pretty consistent way. Meaning, their brand of theology required that they deal with “threats” to the purity of their theology. It is, by nature, a close-fisted theological system. One in which God’s highest priority is that the people of God believe the right things. So obviously a pastor on staff who believed the wrong things, especially when that “thing” was the divisive and scary and (for many of those men) the “icky” topic of homosexuality, well, then, the “Christian thing” to do would be to remove the threat.

So now, over four years later, any anger I feel about that first firing is directed at the theology that holds people back from experiencing freedom in Christ. I do not think negatively about the men who hurt me as much as I do about the system of belief that compelled them to do the action that hurt me.

That was not an easy perspective shift to make.
Part of why it took two years, I imagine.

But now I can speak to some of those people with kindness in my heart and a desire to see them thrive. For instance, just last month I was in Arizona for a conference and I made a point to go visit my old church. And see some people I hadn’t seen in years. And I am thrilled to tell you that I talked with them and walked with them that morning feeling light and free. The chains of betrayal, the shackles of bitterness, and the weight of cynicism were gone. It was a wonderful visit, I was glad to see them, and I am happy for where they’ve come over the past few years.

Why Do I Tell You All This?

As I said, this week marks one year since being fired from yet another church. Two churches in two years. And, just like the first time, Kate and I decided to not put our story out there, but instead chose to be honest with people if they came and sought us out.

However, this time around was different from the first time in several ways. For instance, the event in Arizona was sudden and unexpected. The whole thing was executed in a matter of days. But the event here in San Diego, the eventual firing, came after several months of tension. As a result, by the time I was finally fired (which, sidenote, was equally sudden and unexpected. Because I was told, just days beforehand, that we were working on a path towards reconciliation and trust-building. Alas…), but by the time that eventually happened there had already been a handful of people that had slowly been brought into awareness during the preceding weeks. So instead of virtually no one knowing the circumstances surrounding the termination (like in Arizona), there were several dozen people that were aware of what all was going on.

Okay, I’m getting off track… back to the point.

Here’s the thing. It’s been one year since I was fired, and I know I’m still raw. I’m still angry. I’m still carrying around resentment and bitterness.

Yes, I’ve made some intentional decisions to move toward forgiveness. But that’s a process, and I’m not there yet. My hunch, it will probably take two years. Again.

Which means that, as much as I wanted to come on here and finally share some of the details of what happened and why I was fired, I realize that there’s no way I could do that in a constructive way. My still-present hurt and bitterness and disappointment would inevitably come out, which would probably result in non-Kingdom-like words and feelings.

So, even though there are many people from my old church that still have no idea what happened, or who are operating off of misinformation that was strategically spun, I’m going to just… well… accept it. And continue as I’ve tried to be. (For instance, someone I hadn’t heard from in over a year contacted me yesterday and said, “from what I remember, you submitted a letter of resignation.” Which opened the window for me to say, “nope. That’s not true. And here’s why…”)

Hope Abounds

Since I’ve been here before, I am firmly aware what’s on the other end. I know that there will come a day when this event will be a thing of the past. When wounds will be healed and my heart will be lightened.

And obviously I have an even greater advantage this time around, because out of the ashes of my second firing came the most beautiful faith community I have ever been a part of. Sojourn Grace Collective you feed my soul every single week. Thank you for existing, for loving, for accepting, and for giving so much to me and my family.

Part of me wishes I could fast forward another year to the magic “two-year” mark. But you can’t rush death if you’re hoping for Resurrection. The long dark Saturday in between is both important and necessary.

8 Responses to “That Time I Got Fired From a Church… Again?!”

  1. Josh Linton

    That is difficult stuff to share. Thank you for the post. I too have been fired from two churches for what essentially were thoughts in my head that didn’t align with the very rigid doctrines of this particular denomination. And, as you experienced, the firings were humiliating, confusing, and destructive to my family and the churches I was serving. I admire the grace with which you write and explore these experiences. I’m not always so inclined.

    Reply
  2. Jessica Mardock

    “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the road less traveled by and that has made all the difference” (Robert Frost). This is one of the quotes of my life. It always seems to “fit” my life circumstances. I thought of it again, as I was reading your words. You (and the family) have essentially had two major divergences (I am sure there are others, as well) that have led you to where you are today. That place, SOJO, from what I have seen and heard of in the distance, has flourished and grown into a happy and vibrant community of people. I think THAT, in and of itself, is something you can lean to (or simply let its light shine toward you in times of stillness) in your next year (or however long) during those times that the “chains of bitterness” and resentment reappear. You have, my friend, demonstrated such strength in sharing such difficult things that are often hard to even admit to oneself. Cheers to paths less traveled and those bumps, hiccups, and tough times that build our strengths and, thus, allow us to continue on in love and grace. Cheers to that, my friend.

    Reply
  3. Eva

    I think that it is the best thing that happened to you (and Kate) twice… and there are those of us so thankful for it.. from experience it has happened to me that having one’s greatest fears happen ( that we can imagine could quite possibly happen but never truly expect it happen) is the most devastating yet most elevating , scary, ride that you can actually rebuild your life, confidence and faith in if you can make it through.. It is freeing and makes you seek out your true family.. And it is what you and kate have found and now lead!! Thank you Jesus!!

    Reply
  4. Scott Brockett

    I am looking forward to your blog posts. My position was recently eliminated due to a reorganization at the church. Looking forward to that two year mark myself :)

    Reply
  5. Sheldon Rich

    Colby:
    Thanks for enduring. It is my belief that the Church is undergoing a difficult, but necessary, transition on the issue of LGBTQ brothers and sisters in our society. My own congregation recently made an intentional decision with become welcoming and affirming (which puts us in opposition to our larger denomination’s pronouncements on the issue). Our decision was made after a long and careful process that – by design – took three years. We don’t know how our story will end, but as a congregation, we are at peace with our decision. God bless

    Reply
    • Jennifer H

      Sheldon, this is very encouraging to hear, do you mind telling me what denomination? I realize your church went against the denomination, but I’d like to know more about how your church come to become welcoming and affirming. I know there are some congregations in my denomination (Christian Reformed Church) that have asked the leadership to open up the discussion. My understanding is they haven’t gotten very far, but I agree, though difficult, this is a necessary transition that needs to take place.

      Reply
  6. Sheldon Rich

    Jennifer: Sorry it has taken so long to respond. I just became aware of your question. My church is West Phila. Mennonite Fellowship, part of the Mennonite USA denomination. Our process was quite lengthy. We spent one year working on how to have a difficult conversation, then one year looking at sexuality in general. After laying the ground work, we spent a year specifically discussing LGBTQ issues and then working through a consensus process of deciding to move becoming a welcoming community.

    Reply

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