I had really hoped to be done commenting on Alberta politics for a while. But, yesterday night, I checked the news and learned that yet another pastor (retired, in this case), running as a Wildrose candidate, had put his foot in his mouth. And this case greatly upset and outraged me. The implications of what was said strike at the heart of what Christians stand for, and I cannot let this pass.
Ron Leech, who led Eastside City Church for 28 years and who prominently cites his pastoral ministry on his campaign website, has come under harsh criticism for these words:
“I think as a Caucasian I have an advantage,” Ron Leech told a radio station on the weekend. “When different community leaders such as a Sikh leader or a Muslim leader speak, they really speak to their own people in many ways. As a Caucasian, I believe that I can speak to all the community.”
Yesterday, I criticized Allan Hunsperger, another pastor running as a Wildrose candidate, who recently caused a political firestorm for some written comments on his blog last year regarding homosexuality and hell. In that article, I defended his comments as straightforward biblical teaching and affirmed his right and duty to make them. I commended Danielle Smith, the Wildrose leader, for standing up for her candidate. From a biblical and pastoral perspective, Hunsperger’s comments were right and proper, even if I think his political candidacy isn’t due to his pastoral ministry.
Yes, I defended Hunsperger. I cannot and will not defend Leech.
His comments are incredibly offensive, not just because they are politically clueless, but particularly because they are theologically twisted. What upsets me so greatly is that a pastor of 28 years would essentially deny, even inadvertently, the heart of the Christian message. His comments are a virtual denial of the good news of Jesus Christ. Those are strong words, and while I don’t have reason to think he’s actually racist, his carelessness has done great damage. I address his actions in what follows; I do pray that they are a thoughtless mistake and don’t really reflect his heart. But the damage his actions have caused compel a response, regardless.
Leech was holding himself up as a better representative than, say, a Sikh or Muslim, because of his race. Not even his faith. His race. He stated that the fact that he is white makes him uniquely able to speak to the whole community–in other words, as a Caucasian, he is a better representative than representatives of other groups.
What makes this so theologically offensive is because the concept of representation is vital to Christianity. Allow me to explain: every human being is fallen and sinful and guilty because of the actions of Adam, our first representative before God (“federal head,” in theological terms). Like a federal or provincial representative, Adam represented his people before God, and his “constituents” all paid the price for his failure–just as we would bear the consequences if our elected leaders declared war on our behalf.
Even more vital than Adam’s representation is the representation of Christ. Jesus was the “second Adam.” Like Adam, he was (in his humanity) created sinless. He was, like Adam, and like Leech desires to be, the representative for a people: for every human being who would trust and believe in him. And for all those people who believe in him, on their behalf, in their place, he was perfectly obedient to the Father AND died the death that we all deserve for our sins. Because he represented us, salvation is ours; his work is counted by the Father as our own when we believe. And because he STILL represents us “before the throne of God above,” interceding on our behalf, pleading for us, reminding the Father of the sacrifice he made on the Cross, we remain saved and safe for all eternity, even when we screw up and fall at times.
In other words: the concept of representation is at the heart of the good news of Jesus Christ. If your understanding of representation is skewed, your entire faith is affected as a result. If your presentation of representation is skewed, you (even inadvertently) distort and deny the Gospel. For any Christian, that’s a serious matter. For a pastor, especially one of 28 years, it is a serious outrage.
What makes Leech’s comments particularly offensive is that Jesus Christ, the “representative” for all Christian believers, was no Caucasian. He was a Middle Eastern, Palestinian Jew. Ethnically, genetically, he would probably have been closer to the Muslims Leech denigrates than to him or me as Caucasians. So his comments were (unintentionally, I’m sure, but still inexcusably) an implicit denial of Christ’s perfect sufficiency to be our “representative” and Savior.
And Leech is no doubt familiar with Paul’s words that say that among Christians, “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). In other words, God is colour-blind. The plan of salvation and redemption in Christianity was always intended to bless “all the families of the earth” from the very beginning, in Genesis.
My outrage stems not just from Leech’s twisting of the Gospel. What makes this statement even worse is that, because Leech prominently features his pastoral ministry and the church he led as part of his qualification for office, that pastoral ministry and that church are now inextricably linked with his comments. That may seem unfair to Leech, but it’s only reasonable for an outsider to conclude that, if this is really how Leech feels about race, surely he was consistent with those views in his pastoral ministry, in his preaching and teaching. Outsiders could easily, and likely will, ask: “Is this what Eastside City Church teaches? Is this the evangelical Christian message?”
And, to compound the damage, the very article I linked above then goes on to rehash the comments of Allan Hunsperger on homosexuality, as if they are in any way equivalent to Leech’s words. As a result, biblical criticism of homosexuality has now, in the discourse of Alberta politics, been equated with racism. The damage is done.
As a pastor at an evangelical church, I am horrified by these comments–because he has dragged the name and representative office of Christ through the mud, because he has (even unintentionally) created a racially-twisted perversion of the message of Christianity in the eyes of outsiders, and because he has debased the office of a pastor. While he has issued an apology, and while I’m sure it is sincere and heartfelt, it isn’t enough.
If Ron Leech were still a pastor, I would call for his resignation. As he is retired, that’s not possible. So, instead, I call on Ron Leech to do the following:
1. Don’t just apologize: repent. Stand before the Christian community, the city of Calgary, and the people of Alberta and recant these words, apologizing for the distortion of the Gospel that they represent, and explaining why the role of a representative is so vital to Christianity. Acknowledge the damage you have done to the understanding of Christianity that you have left in many minds.
2. Remove all mentions of your church and pastoral ministry from your campaign website. The church does not deserve association with those words, and your ministry as a pastor cannot be reconciled with these comments. I say this not to hide your history, but to try to insulate the church and Gospel of Christ from the damage you have caused.
3. Cease your campaign. If your conception of representation is that skewed, you don’t deserve the office. It would have been better had you not run in the first place. As I said in the previous article, it is unwise for pastors to be running for office, and while unlike Hunsperger you, as a retiree, have the time for such an endeavour that a serving pastor would not, the potential for damage to the church and to the image of the Gospel in the community is equally great. In your case, that potential is now real damage. Please, for the sake of Christ, step aside.
I would also hope that the leadership of Eastside City Church addresses this issue and distances themselves from these comments.
And I pray that this is the last time I have to address the election.