John Fuller: Sam Adams was the former openly gay mayor in the progressive city of Portland, Oregon, and as our guest on the last Focus broadcast recounts his reaction when he was approached by evangelical churches who offered to help their community.
Sam Adams: “How could we possible do this, we, you know, we disagree on things like gay marriage and abortion. Like, really? You still want to work with a city government even with these sort of disagreements? And you’re not going to try to change my mind? I’m certainly not going to try to change yours. And the answer was, “Yes, let’s work on something we can agree with.” And it really started a process of, for me, revealing just how much we do agree on.”
End of Teaser
John: You’ll hear more about that unlikely cooperation between churches and the city government and a good personal friendship that formed as well. Our host is Focus President, Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, it was a really important discussion that we had last time with Sam Adams and Kevin Palau, you didn’t hear from him yet, but Kevin is the President of the Luis Palau Association and evangelistic outreach in Portland, Oregon. And Kevin has written a book about it, it’s called, Unlikely: What Happens When We Set Aside Our Difference to Live Out the Gospel, and I gotta tell you, it’s an exciting model for us in the church to look at and I think to implement.
Jim: And I want to say to our guests it is great to have both of you back here at Focus.
Kevin Palau: Thanks so much Jim.
Sam: Thanks for havin’ us back.
Jim: Last time we talked a lot about failing schools and how churches made a big difference there through an effort called CityServe. The result has been, and continues to be that some wounds have been healed, schools have been improved substantially and the gospel message has been strengthened in a highly unchurched area. The schools were just one example though and I want to pick it up now with another powerful example of how Christians can work with government to demonstrate God’s love. In factwe had a woman on from Washington, another part of the Northwest—Linda Smith, who’s a retired congresswoman—Sam, you might know of her politically. But she retired and she started a trafficking … anti-trafficking ministry. And she was on the broadcast, John and we—
Jim: –talked about the … the report card that her organization provides every state in terms of their anti-trafficking laws, and Colorado received a D. And I was really frustrated, and sitting right where you’re sitting, Sam, was a woman, a young lady, 18, Brianna, who had been taken into sex trafficking, and to see that precious person, that face, that innocence lost in that context broke my heart. It made me mad, and so …
Sam: Well, as well it should and in fact, that’s an issue that CityServe went on to partner on.
Sam: We didn’t have secure treatment beds for victims, juvenile victims of sex trafficking and that was one of the priorities of my administration, working with Multnomah County, the local county and then also CityServe. And we opened up the state’s … I think we opened up six treatment beds for juveniles that were victims of sex trafficking and we couldn’t have done it without the financial support in this case, on this project, it was fund raising among the churches that allowed us to open this facility. It was amazing.
Jim: Boy, it’s fantastic and what we did here, I called the Gill Foundation, which is a gay rights—
Jim: And … and in fact, someone who works on their behalf, Ted Trimpa, who is an attorney and a lobbyist, he and I began to work together, and we got the legislation with a lot of other people’s help. I mean, everybody, but we were able to strengthen those laws to where we got a “B” grade, moved it up from a “D” in the end and—
Sam: That’s great.
Jim: –it was because we all worked together for a—
Jim: –common good and that’s what we’re describing today, is how we can pull together. I know we’re gonna get criticism. I know people in … in the Christian community, and I’m sure people in the LBGT community, Sam are gonna say, “How could you be talkin’ with each other?” Doesn’t mean we agree on things, but it does mean we can agree on some things.
Uh, Kevin, what were some of the other aspects of CityServe? We talked a lot about education and a little bit on sex trafficking, but what are some of the other things that CityServe has provided the Portland community?
Kevin: I would say the foster-care effort that’s called Embrace Oregon has been such a source of joy. This was one that came a little later to the forefront and like so many things in Portland, once you have a relational base, once you have on the church side for example, 400 churches that are saying together, “What does Portland look like in 20 years if we’re together for the Gospel, living out our faith, so that the deed side of it and also sharing the Gospel, word side?
When you have that kind of long-term vision, you can really start to see things happen. So, one church, one couple at one church, so you know, for listeners, you know, you might be the person that starts something in your city. Don’t … don’t get discouraged if you feel like no one’s listening at first.
One couple that were foster parents at a great church called Imago Dei Community in downtown Portland, they were foster parents. They were going through the struggles, the joys, as well as the pain of being foster parents. And she would go out on her own out to one of the nine Department of Human Services offices that manage the foster-care system for Portland. She would go out and … and just take cookies and just kinda try to do some little things for the office that uh … just to—
Jim: Just to help them.
Kevin: –help them, where … the office that was serving her by, you know, her caseworker, etc.
And she saw such need that she went to her pastor, and then, because of the relational network, it quickly came to us, and then we had a conversation with dozens of the key churches and said, what would it look like for us to come alongside the foster-care system?
So, the first thing we always do and I recommend this for any listener is, don’t assume anything. Assume you don’t know what the needs are. Don’t just, you know, run off with a plan. We went to the mayor. We went to the school superintendent.
So, in this case, we decided let’s go to all nine DHS offices, Department of Human Services. Let’s sit down with the head of each office with a handful of pastors that are geographically nearby that office. And … and the same thing we would always say. We’re here because we love you. We’re representatives of churches in the area, so Jesus Christ has changed our lives and therefore, we love you. We’re here to serve you. Is there anything we can do to make your life easier, because you’re on the frontlines serving our most vulnerable kids?
And um … I get choked up thinkin’ about it. The … the first one that I went to was in Hillsboro, Oregon and the woman, you know, burst into tears and said, “No one has ever come in saying anything like that before. We’re always on the defensive. If the media come in, it’s because despite all of our best efforts, something’s gone horribly wrong, and we’re gonna be attacked again as … as that we don’t care and if only these people, you know, we gotta get … replace ’em all.” And … and they’re saying, “We’re underfunded; we’re understaffed. We’re doing the best we can.” So, just to have someone listening and someone to come in to say, “We don’t know how we can help. We can’t promise to fix everything, but what could we do?”
So, that led fairly quickly to all of those offices getting full makeovers by the churches, to come in a say, “Let’s redo the break room area. Let’s create in every one of those offices a … a safe place for the kids to play, so that when they come in, in some cases in the middle of the night, you know, with a policeman, with their belongings in a garbage bag, they’re not sitting on a folding chair, sitting there while phone calls are made. They … there is a place for them to play. So, those areas were created.
Six thousand welcome boxes are put together every year now by the churches so that every child that comes into the … the system, whether they’re a boy or a girl or depending on the age, has something that they can take with them that had some basic toiletries—
Jim: Ah, that’s great.
Kevin: –just some things to play with, a little handwritten note. So, we began with those simple things that took a big burden off of the staff. Then that led to trust and then … then … now the … the state said to us, please help us. We … let’s try to raise up 800 more foster families. So, we’re about 120 of the way there. It’s gonna be probably a 10-year process.
Jim: Oh, man.
Kevin: But what better way for the Body of Christ to live out the Good News than to take into our homes these vulnerable kids, to show those that in the trenches every day our love and our concern. There’s a monthly foster-parents’ night out, I mean, in all the different regions of Portland, where churches that know how to put on kids’ programs, they do it every Sunday for Sunday school—
Kevin: –let’s provide places so foster parents can drop off their kids in a … in a safe place. You can’t just go get a babysitter. That person has to be prescreened and background—
Kevin: –checked. So, there’s all these simple things, but when you do it collaboratively, you can make a huge difference, so that’s just Embrace Oregon effort, that I could go on and on. It’s exciting.
Jim: No, it’s beautiful and that’s something, you know, here at Focus with Wait No More, that was in fact—
Kevin: Right, right.
Jim: –our first conversation—
Jim: –a few years ago, was over the foster issue and you were doing an event in Sacramento.
Jim: And you opened up your event to talk about foster adoption and other things. So, I … I’ve been watching from a distance and admiring what you’re doing in Portland and at your events in that area, but these are the things that we can do.
Kevin: You know, there … there’s a … a … a[n] art and a science to the idea of a city movement, unifying the Body of Christ. I think it’s essential. This book, Unlikely, tells the story that happened in Portland, but there are dozens and dozens of cities around the country that are experiencing united efforts of churches looking to make a difference.
Jim: No, that’s …
Kevin: There’s a lot going on.
Jim: Name some of those other cities where CityServe is working.
Kevin: You know, New York City is … is in a major, major effort. Seattle, Washington, the San Francisco Bay area, Sacramento, San Diego, Phoenix, Washington, D.C., things are beginning. There’s actually a website, www.gospelmovements.org, www.gospelmovements.orghas a link to about 50 different cities that … that actually have websites where there’s groups of churches looking to collaborate. So, you might want to check that out as a way to say, “Hey, wow, there’s something going on in my city. I wasn’t even aware that there’s a group of pastors and leaders already praying for the peace and prosperity of my city.” How can we better reflect Jesus to the community? How can we share the Gospel more effectively? So, there’s a lot going on.
Jim: Kevin, I gotta ask you, and Sam, jump in here, I invite your input, so often we in the Christian community, we’re good at talking about it and going after it and you know, kind of trying to identify those things that aren’t in our tribe. They’re not in our sphere. They’re not in our belief system
I’m feeling like we’re too slow to action and we’re losing that great tradition of the church which is orthopraxy, the doing of the Word and that’s what you’re describing here. And we’ve kind of settled into cable news mentality, which is, you know, we just talk at each other. We just throw bombs at each other, rather than doing the harder work. What word would you have for each other? If … if you were talking beyond just your personal relationship, but the people you represent, Sam, what … what you say to the Christian community, sitting as the mayor of Portland a few years ago and you know, coming from an openly gay perspective, I’m giving you that opportunity to give us a perspective. Give us a caution. Give us a … an insight about the, maybe the plank in our own eye.
Sam: Thanks for the opportunity to answer the question. It’s a really … it’s a good and tough and humble and necessary question. I … I think the understanding that there is a painful history here between the gay community and the Evangelical community. And that still, though, the way forward to … to deal with that painful history from … from our side is, conversation, is engagement and is dialogue, exactly what you described doing and what we sought to do as sort of a side project of … of CityServe, because of … of who we are.
And that’s one thing, and I guess related to that is … is to take back … to quit, both sides actually, this is to both sides, is you know, I think that for a lot of non-Evangelical community, they … they view Evangelicals as sort of– forgive me if I’m offending anyone– the Westboro Baptist Church.
Sam: That’s what they think Evangelicals—
Jim: I’m worried about that.
Sam: For a lot of Evangelicals, I think they think the stereo … they’re the most prominent stereotype is the scantily clad figures on the gay pride parades. And you know, we are both much more than that, and … and not elements of aspects of that, as well. And … and that conversation has to happen in … in relationship, exactly face to face and so, my message to the … my Evangelical Christian friends is … is to begin that conversation and understand and I would encourage you to be humble and open to constructive criticism about the relationship in the last … last years.
Jim: Well, and that’s so fair. It really is fair. I was at the Supreme Court for the oral arguments and you know, before going in, I was near the steps, ’cause you have to come around and the door you go into, you … you see everybody on the steps. And the capital police, they keep them down by the street on the sidewalk.
But those signs were prominent from that group and I … I thought to myself, and even in talking to some who were neutral. They were kinda just there as clerks of the Court, when those radical groups—both sides—are out there, the nation gets the impression that, that represents the whole cluster of people.
Jim: And Westboro Baptist just simply does not represent the Christian faith. In—
Jim: –my opinion—
Jim: –it’s far from it, and they use the label, but it’s not the heart of God.
Sam: I came to learn that through this … this partnership. I think the other thing I’d want to say is part of … it … it … it does require everyone in this conversation to be more respectful with ears much more open and eyes open and to understand that there are going to be venues where it is appropriate respectfully to engage in that disagreement. The United States Supreme Court, the legal system, elections, what you do … you know, business, you know, consumer, where you buy and all those things. I mean, that is where this disagreement’s appropriately … are sort of resolved. That’s the great thing about living in this nation.
Sam: But don’t let that continue to be the only place we have relationship.
Sam: And I’m saying this to everyone. The … the CityServe model requires us to be those better people and … and requires us to be more respectful in our disagreements, but activate, partner on the things that we do agree on. And again, one of my biggest reveals in this process is not only how many issues we agree on, but how much we agree on what the solutions should be.
Jim: That’s all well-said and I think, I’m gonna turn to you in a minute, Kevin, but one of the things, Sam, that I think we are really falling down on in the Christian community, in this country, is our inability to assert that we’re all sinners saved by grace. And you gotta hear that from me, and it’s such an important part of our faith. We tend to act as if we’re perfect, and we look down our noses at others who can’t live up to some level of perfection. The reality is exactly the opposite for the Christian community, for those of us who believe in Christ. We are … we are sinners saved by grace. We have our shortcomings. We have our failures. That’s the state of humanity and that’s our belief that Christ came to help us, to save us from that and to be that offering to God, that He steps in the gap and He’s the One that’s righteous, not us. And so, in that regard, I’m so sorry that I’m sure some have presented themselves as perfect people and we’re not and I want you to hear that from me.
Kevin, what word would you have for the LGBT community as you work in Portland?
Kevin: Well, I … you know, I … I have been shocked and surprised at the level of … of openness and kindness that’s been expressed by the gay community in Portland. We had a situation for example, after some of these quiet conversations, again, no media. It was just to say, we’ve got to … we’ve got to learn to trust each other and we’ve gotta build relationships with each other, again knowing that we’re not gonna agree on some key issues.
There was an article in the paper condemning a particular Evangelical church as being anti-gay. It was a church plant that was coming in that was part of a bigger movement of churches and for a variety of reasons, that was the label they had and I would say somewhat unfairly, but that was a label they … they had.
And so, when they opened up the church, they were vandalized by, I think, some radical members of the LGBT community, based on what was written, you know, on the doors and rocks thrown through windows. Well, because of the … of the relationships that had been built, some of the first people on the scene, along with members of the church and some of the pastors there helping clean up, were some of the other members of Portland’s gay community—
Kevin: –that had built up these relationships. So … so you … you begin to see that it’s possible. Just I guess I would say to … to believers, you know, I … I’m more comfortable talking, you know, to us, ’cause I feel like a little more sense of … of conviction. You know, we’re the ones that … who claim to follow Christ that need to change the most. We’re the ones who claim that the Spirit of Jesus Christ Himself is alive in us.
You know, we talk about the fruit, the evidence of the Holy Spirit, the evidence that Jesus Christ is in us is supposed to be love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control. And when we don’t exhibit that, it’s such a shame for the Good News. So, my challenge to believers is, be joyfully bold about sharing the Good News. Don’t ever be ashamed of sharing the Good News. So, don’t hear that we gotta just serve and keep your mouth shut. Serve, serve, serve, love, love, love and look for chances to share the Gospel. But if we’re not willing to listen humbly in relationship, how do we expect people to listen to us if we’re not willing to listen to other people.
Jim: Let me read something that has really captivated me. This was written in 200 A.D. and I think it’s in the moment.This is what they said. It was chapter five of a manuscript. It was called “The Manners of the Christians.” Now again, this is 200 A.D., which I believe they understood far better the Gospel than we do 2000 years later, right? Here’s what they said. “For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrine. But inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply are sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers.They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed.They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws of their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life.They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and blessed; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.”
Wow, I mean, that’s written 200 A.D. and it’s really in some ways describing what you did in Portland, the both of you and I just admire that, ’cause again, I think it’s so close to the original deal, reaching out to each other and getting things done, blessing and bringing the shalom to the city, which is—
Kevin: I think you know that—
Jim: –what you have done.
Kevin: –yes, I love that, the way you’ve used the word “shalom.” It’s kinda become the theme verse on unofficially of this idea of a … of a Gospel movement, this CityServe effort is Jeremiah 29:7. You know, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I’ve carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you, too, will prosper.”
So, you know, the context of that and I know … I know you guys know this, but you know, you got the people of Israel taken into captivity, so they’re in a foreign land, foreign language, feeling very oppressed. So, the word they would’ve have wanted to get from God is, you know, “Hunker down and hang tight and I’ll rescue you. So, you know, circle the wagons,” which tends to be out mentality.
So, for God to say to them: “Seek the peace and prosperity, the shalom, seek the shalom of Babylon.” You know, that this foreign environment, actively seek its good. Pray for … to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you, too, will prosper.
So, there’s that very real sense that we’re part of a community. The flourishing of every part of the community should matter to us, and I think that, you know, it’s throughout Scripture not only in the Old Testament, throughout the New, being salt and light, “letting our light so shine before others that they would see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.”
So, it’s not just, you know, trying to be good to pretend that we’re better than we are or trying to make people like us, you know, because we’re nice to them. It’s … it’s a part of our faith. How can we claim to be followers of Christ and not try everything we can to let Jesus express Himself through us. And again, for those of us that are Evangelical, which means we long to see the Gospel proclaimed, we’re an evangelistic organization at the Luis Palau team, we’re doing all of this with the background of, how are people gonna hear the Good News if they don’t also see it demonstrated?
Jim: Kevin, let … let me read you a bit of Scripture. This is out of 2 Timothy, chapter 2, verse 22. This really has been contemplative for me. “So, flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish ignorant controversies.” In some translations it’s “quarrels.” “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correctly his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance, leading to a knowledge of the truth and they may come to their senses and escape from the … from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” That is a powerful Scripture.
Kevin: It really is.
Jim: And …
Kevin: I mean, it … it’s such a great tutorial in a sense on practically speaking, whether a person is … thinks of themselves as a Christian leader, a pastor or just an ordinary, you know, man or woman trying to follow Jesus. What a great example of … of what we’re to do, not to quarrel. Not to be drawn into quarrels, inter—
Kevin: –Christian kind of quarrels, where we fight among ourselves, or quarrels with people that we disagree [with]. You know, listen respectfully, but … but again, get around those quarrels to the heart of the matter, listening, asking questions.
Jim: Have good–
Kevin: Find out—
Kevin: — positive profitable discussions, because again, with our … with our uninhibited a … attempt to share the Good News, you know, we’re not ashamed of the Gospel. You know, we believe it’s the power of God that changed our lives and we love to share it with anybody we can. If we’re not prepared to avoid quarrels, listen respectfully and then engage, answer questions, I don’t know how we’re gonna be able to communicate the Gospel.
Jim: Well, again, you … you have brought some new ways of thinking about solving problems and I so appreciate what’s taking place there in Portland. My hat’s off to you, Sam for being open to it, to the churches, those four or 500 churches in Portland that stepped in the gap, for your vision, Kevin, to start the ball rolling saying, “What can we do to serve you?” I mean, that … that should be repeated in every city in this country, and I just want to say thank you to both of you. Thanks for bein’ with us.
Kevin: Thanks for havin’ us.
Sam: Absolutely, thank you.
John: Kevin Palau and Sam Adams have been our guests and what an interesting story and unlikely partnership in meeting community needs. And it’s so great to see their friendship, and the book that captures the fullness of the story, beyond what we could even share these past couple of days; it’s called, “Unlikely: What Happens When We Set Aside Our Differences to Live Out the Gospel. And, as you heard, it’s going to challenge how you think about doing the Gospel and it’s going to give you ideas to impact your community in word and deed. Ask for your copy of Unlikely and a CD of this broadcast when you call 800-A-FAMILY, 800-232-6459 or look for those and the download of the program at www.FocusontheFamily.com/radio.
Now, we’re a not-for-profit organization. We rely on the generous donations of friends like you to continue proclaiming truth and strengthening families and we need your partnership as we go about this work. So please, donate generously when you call or are at the website and if you do so today, a gift of any amount, ask for your copy of that book by Kevin Palau.
Our program today was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I’m John Fuller inviting you back tomorrow. We’ll wrap up the week by having Dr. John Trent here talking about the importance of passing on a blessing to your children. That’s tomorrow as we once again help your family thrive.