Open Letter to Pastor Judah Smith on “Inclusion”: Just for Immigrants, or LGBTQ Too?

Dear Pastor Judah,

A friend of mine recently shared a tweet you wrote, which included a 60-second clip from Part 2 of your “Church Like Home” series, archived below:

He said it… • #Repost @judahsmith with @repostapp ・・・ Let's get rid of exclusion.

A post shared by Mary Jones (@joneticspres) on

When I watched it my knee-jerk response was excitement; Finally, a popular mainstream pastor is talking about getting rid of exclusion, and he’s local! This is huge!

My friend, who recently experienced the painful ramifications of church exclusion, seemed hopeful that this tweet meant what he thought it meant: that The City Church was declaring its full inclusion for all people.

I watched the clip several times and was moved by your passionate delivery. Because specifics weren’t mentioned, and wanting not to assume one way or another, I decided to proceed with cautious optimism.

Having been in the “church inclusion” conversation for a few years now, I’ve learned that ambiguity can do extreme harm, so it’s important to seek absolute clarity about what “inclusion” means. I tweeted back as gently as I knew how, hoping for that clarification:

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I woke up the next morning to a handful of new followers (which I guess is what happens when you tweet at Justin Bieber’s pastor?), some “likes” and a couple retweets—but sadly, no clarifying response.

A couple hours into the day, I looked back and it appeared your original tweet was unavailable:

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Maybe it was mistakenly deleted? I thought. I can’t imagine my questions caused him to delete the clip… But it was gone.

Maybe I need to watch the whole message and hear the entire context?

Surely, I had to be missing something. Unfortunately, when I searched for the full message on your website I could only find Parts 1, 3, 4 & 5.

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The reason this is important to me personally is because up until recently I helped lead EastLake Community Church, and I currently run an organization called “Together in This”, both located in the Seattle area not too far from your church, The City Church.

A couple of years ago, EastLake made a statement of full inclusion for the LGBTQ community. We did this because we had changed our minds and recognized our need to apologize for previous hurt we’d created. We also realized a need to clarify how this change would impact how we enforced policies.

Many members left EastLake since that TIME Magazine article and our statement. Some of those folks are now a part of The City Church. Many of them moved because they assumed The City Church was more aligned with their views on inclusion/exclusion and how relevant policies would be enforced.

Likewise, I’ve come to know people who left The City Church for reasons of exclusion and are now a part of EastLake.

Pastor Judah, you are a gifted communicator. I harbor no negative feelings for you. You strike me as a genuinely nice person. We have many mutual friends. It seems like you’re doing your best every single week to love people and to make a positive impact in our world. This letter is by no means meant to be a critique. I’m simply seeking clarity on behalf of the Seattle community that we both serve. I think this conversation should be had openly. I believe clarity is a reasonable request.

I imagine you are under a lot of pressure, and, just like the rest of us, you have your own set of questions and ideas about church, God and faith. I also know that as a pastor, if you happen to hold views that deviate from the evangelical script, you can find yourself at odds with the system that employs you and provides your platform. However, creating and enforcing policies in a system that we are not aligned with personally is a common dilemma for pastors that creates systemic harm.

I get it. And I’m sorry if that is in fact where you find yourself. The system we are a part of does not take kindly to us pastors thinking for ourselves, no matter how much we declare we are following the Spirit. If we stray from the “traditional orthodoxy” of our day, backlash abounds. Just ask Jesus!

I’m not interested in persuading you into full inclusion. I’m not looking for a theological argument or to “call you out” for your theological position either way. In fact, I make no assumptions and have no expectations about where you land on the continuum of inclusion/exclusion. I recently shared about this newfound posture and apologized for being too zealous in the past.

I’m simply responding to your message which was publicly posted, and no doubt reached a lot of people before it was deleted.

I’ve tried various means to make direct contact with you with no success. I also understand that you do not make yourself available for appointments, per your website.

I have gone back and forth on whether or not to publish this letter, until a recent conversation with a friend compelled me to check and see if I could find the full message. It was back!

So I watched.

But the section posted in the tweet appears to be edited out.

I’m concerned that this message and the lack of clarity it reveals, creates confusion in our region; and with your considerable influence, confusion among the broader evangelical world.

To be more explicit: I’m concerned for the lesbian couple at your church who will hear your call for inclusion and mistakenly take down their guard as they ask you to officiate their wedding, only to be faced with judgment and rejection when you or another pastor deny them this sacred sacrament.

I’m concerned for the young man at your church who will now assume his City Church small group is a safe place to come out, only to be rejected by his friends and given an ultimatum to repent if he wants to continue in community.

And I wonder how many more couples my friends at EastLake will baptize through tears, because they were told ‘no’ at The City Church for being gay.

In light of this confusion and the hurt that I’ve watched it create, I’m hoping for public clarity on The City Church’s actual policies, and how “inclusion” is currently enforced.

Here are my specific questions:

Will you perform a same-sex wedding?

Will you baptize a gay couple?

Can anyone start a Group regardless of their profession?

Are there groups (LGBTQ or otherwise) who are ineligible for employment?

I’m asking that you would please consider being publicly explicit on these policies by answering these questions, in an effort to protect some of the most vulnerable people we serve.

I appreciate your desire to “eliminate exclusion” in your original tweet, and I hope you will consider being forthright about your convictions. I know it will be very difficult and that, no matter how you answer, there will be people who will be unhappy.

At the very least I hope we can agree that clarity is a reasonable expectation when it comes to the policies we are actively enforcing in our churches, especially in light of the real life examples of pain that I’ve shared. I know that I would appreciate getting a heads up if something I was doing created harm. I think as pastors, we are called to demonstrate what it means to speak the truth in love.

With humility, grace and love,

George Mekhail
President & CEO
wearetogetherinthis.com

Twitter: @gmekhail