When a Gay Mayor Partners with Evangelical Churches in Portland

“You can’t choose how the mainstream portrays you,” says Sam Adams, former mayor of Portland, Oregon, ”but I was desperate and impressed with how evangelicals offered to help.”

But desperation doesn’t always drive cooperation, especially when the two parties disagree on abortion and gay marriage. Adams, in fact, is openly gay. Nevertheless, Adams and Kevin Palau, president of the Luis Palau Association, developed a partnership between churches and schools in the Portland area. They offer a model for how we can work together for the common good despite religious and political differences. Their examples gives us hope as Christians seeks to love our neighbors in settings increasingly hostile to the church. 

This presentation was given to an audience of pastors in New York City. For all related videos and resources, go to centerchurch.com.

Portland Case Study: Kevin Palau and Sam Adams from Redeemer City to City on Vimeo.

  • Giles Beynon

    Really good to hear this. Living in the UK I hope this can be a model for what we can do here. I was moved by the fact that we can break down barriers by doing things as well. Really inspiring stuff, God bless all those involved. It ain’t over until it is over.

  • Jared

    Does this partnership send a message to the lost world that homosexuality is not a big deal? While I think there should be no problem with building personal relationship with a homosexual, but ecclesiastical work? I’m not sure if it will be a good thing in the long run.

  • http://natecollins.me Nate Collins

    I think this is a beautiful example of what it looks like to take the high road in being salt and light. It takes much grace for two very different groups of people to overcome predispositions against each other to serve the common good! Praise God, and let’s pray that the partnership bears Kingdom fruit!

    • Linda

      Salt was used to preserve and Jesus is the Light. This is not His plan, it goes against His words. Jesus=Logos We were warned about loosing our flavor (salt).

  • Tim

    So, at the very start of the video, Keven says the evangelical community wanted to “Change the way in which they are perceived”.
    Instead of looking to God to change the ones with the false perception, they go about changing themselves in order to ber “perceived” in a different light.
    Jesus was “perceived” as a Drunkard. A Winebibber and a Glutton. He didn’t wring His hands and start working on a plan to change how He did things in order to accommodate the ones with the false perception.
    The have a false perception because they are LOST! Preach the Gospel.

    • Ash

      “In” Christ or “not in” Christ. All other designations are completely missing the point. I’m straight, but I also know that people who aren’t (and I’m only speaking of those who are believers) – and who admit this – don’t have false perceptions. They are saying, “Look, here’s who I am, and I didn’t choose it, so I’m trying to be faithful to God in it.” You are aware of the massive numbers of LGBT who have trusted God to change their SSA, right? Yet history has shown that God changes hearts rather than sexual orientation, and the terms “gay” and “Christian” are not oxymorons. Many in the Christian community (especially the evangelical community) either 1. refuse to acknowledge LGBT persons for who they are or 2. acknowledge who they are and communicate that they’re defective, so they need to change. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the church needs a change of heart. Since all of Scripture is tuned to the key of Jesus, it’s crucial that we allow our reading of it to begin and end with His words and His life. While the Bible is never wrong, throughout history we’ve been wrong about it and have come to some horrific conclusions (i.e., slavery, genocide, race, science). Just some food for thought.

      • Joe

        We are all defective (Rom 3:23) and must change (Rom 8:13). If the “Bible is never wrong” then we should believe Rom 1:27, 1 Cor 6:9, and 1 Tim 1:10.

        • Ash

          Indeed. Maybe we should take a good look at the term “believe.” Does it not mean “to give one’s heart to?”

  • http://www.providencebaptistfellowship.com Tom Agnew

    When no one wanted to do anything about the Plague, the church stepped in to help where the local governments either were not willing or unable to help. This set the platform for more Gospel fruit, even among those who would have nothing to do with the church and its counter-cultural practices. I think these kinds of partnerships are necessary and worth the risk to win some even if many may misunderstand the nature of the partnership. Just some thoughts.

    • Roger Patterson

      But the church did not step in on the grounds that they would not proselytize. This seems to be a very significant distinction between these two scenarios.

  • http://www.recoveringwomanhood.weebly.com Hope Henchey

    Wow, praise God for this! What a way to establish a platform in the city! I love it!

    • Roger Patterson

      What benefit is a platform from which you cannot proselytize?

      • Ben

        It opens so many doors down the road that would be slammed shut on reputation alone.

  • Brian Karlik

    While I can celebrate the coming together of believers and non-believers in serving their community, or a community within their reach, I have concerns that were not touched upon in this brief interview. How do the believers reconcile support for rebuilding a public school without also encouraging support for that school’s liberal moral agenda such as indoctrinating students in accepting LGBT as a legitimate lifestyle choice for children? How does the church reconcile their support for the sanctity of all life (especially, but not only unborn life) with support a school which teaches students just the opposite. How is the gospel communicated in this partnership?

    • Scott Gassoway


      I, too, share that concern and don’t think I’ve come to a great resolution to it. However, the reality is that the majority of children will have to attend public school out of necessity. At the level of the individual child, I want that child to be able to read (and love it) so that one day he might be able to enjoy reading God’s Word. I want that child to be good at math and problem solving so that one day he can reason through the fallacies of the empty worldview of worldly philosophy.

      If I may go out on a limb a bit–it seems that the Good Samaritan helped the man in need without worrying about why the man had made the decision to travel alone from Jerusalem to Jericho or what his spiritual state was.

  • David

    Since when does common good trump greatest good? Are these Christians willing to directly call this homosexual out and to repentance or is it down “indirectly” through what is already known about the Christian belief system, the elephant in the room that is ignored for the sake of the “common good”? The Church affects the common good through the means of the greatest good, the gospel, and the fruits thereof. We would not be ecumenical with a Muslim group in this way, peers working for the “common good”, so why is peer-perceived “ecumenicism” okay when the false god is not professed as in the case of a practicing homosexual interested in a common good? What is that? It brings to mind A.W. Pink’s ‘Gospel of Satan':

    “The gospel of Satan is not a system of revolutionary principles, nor yet a program of anarchy. It does not promote strife and war, but aims at peace and unity. It seeks not to set the mother against her daughter nor the father against his son, but fosters the fraternal, spirit whereby the human race is regarded as one great “brotherhood”. It does not seek to drag down the natural man, but to improve and uplift him. It advocates education and cultivation and appeals to “the best that is within us”. It aims to make this world such a congenial and comfortable habitat that Christ’s absence from it will not be felt and God will not be needed. It endeavors to occupy man so much with this world that he has no time or inclination to think of the world to come. It propagates the principles of self-sacrifice, charity and benevolence, and teaches us to live for the good of others, and to be kind to all. It appeals strongly to the carnal mind and is popular with the masses, because it ignores the solemn facts that by nature man is a fallen creature, alienated from the life of God, and dead in trespasses and sins, and that his only hope lies in being born again.”

    This may be a little strong, but when the tendency to blur the lines for the “common good” is so easy and prevalent we must be especially vigilant in preventing world-spirit accommodation (e.g., Christless charity; the form of godliness that denies it’s power). The world would see my approach as unloving, but that’s the point and that’s how Christ told us it would unfold … the world would hate us. Why forfeit the most loving thing we could do for even a second of “common good”?

    • James Gleason

      You write, “Are these Christians willing to directly call this homosexual out and to repentance or is it down “indirectly” through what is already known about the Christian belief system, the elephant in the room that is ignored for the sake of the “common good”?”

      But what does Paul say? “It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.” 1 Corinthians 5:12-13

      Seems pretty clear to me. It is not our job to judge this man. We must point him to Christ, but standing on a “higher” ground and condemning him for his sinful actions will only backfire. The only people Jesus did this to was the religious people. The sinners he welcomed.

  • http://therockwired.org Dustin H

    I recently listened to a great sermon by Pastor Andy Stanley in which he talks about the relationship between Truth and Grace that exists in the Gospel. Truth says “sin is sin and must be punished,” “God is holy and cannot tolerate sin,” etc. Grace says “God loves you in spite of your sin,” “I forgive you, now go and leave your life of sin,” etc.

    This is a tension that must be managed if we are to love the world the way Jesus loves the world.

    He was called a drunkard because he hung out with the drunkards. The Pharisees often wondered to themselves, “Does he condone their behavior?” And Jesus consistently pointed out the sin in the lives of those he encountered, yet never condemned or judged them. The sinners and tax collectors were drawn to him, felt guilty around him, but never felt condemned.

    “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35, ESV) http://esv.to/jn13.34-35

  • Richard

    This is wonderful, but we as Christians, I think we must remember two things.
    One, the church upholds God’s righteousness (as Jesus did) as well as His love and mercy. I agree with Jared, the church must always be seen as being against unrighteousness, not supportive of it. I a sense, we are meant to be ‘hated by the world’, not loved by it.
    Second, the church (and individuals) are meant to help in love, but the church is not a social charity organization only (as the world may sometimes see). As Martin Lloyd Jones has said, some churches swing so much into the helping and love for others, that they lose their love and fire for God and His righteousness (which is first and foremost), such as the Salvation Army has done in general (but not all it’s members).
    As wonderful as this new partnership is to help the community, churches must use lots of wisdom and caution (and lots of prayer)!

  • Alfredo zavala

    Evangelism is really has a lot to do with building relationships. I remember Floyd McClung speaking about “earning your right to speak into some ones life.” back in my YWAM days. Wise advice. Many of those affected by these “good works” and “light shining” would never be brought into the sphere of the Gospel. How about becoming a friend with your “enemy”? Oftentimes “preaching the gospel” is a long term affair – earning the right to speak into their lives. This way they LISTEN to you instead of just HEARING you. Big difference! I have been earning my way into my brothers life in like manner for over 20 years and he’s finally reading Schaeffer! I am likewise reminded of Pauls words of becoming all things to all men in order to reach them. Don’t be too surprised if not a few people get “proselytized” without complaining about it to the Mayors office! This brought tears to my eyes. This is so good in so many ways. Thanks for sharing.

  • Colin

    This is a terrible compromise.

  • RayC

    This is a very thought provoking article and the comments are equally thought provoking. Is it disconcerting and disturbing to help build schools that in all likelihood promote LBGT as Brian asked? Or, “Since when does common good trump greatest good”, as David puts it? Or is it “a terrible compromise” as Colin just commented?

    I’ve also had to ask a similar question because, as a church, we are being encouraged to do mercy ministry for mercy sake. I actually struggle with that. I think in the limited sense, absolutely we should. But in the overall scheme of things I find myself saying: no way. I don’t think I could ever dare to let myself think that my/our puny efforts of kindness could or should ever overshadow the incomparable riches on offer in the gospel for those in need of kindness. So I would strongly argue that everything in the final analysis must be geared towards sharing the gospel – however convoluted that path may be.

    Having said that, I think I’m understanding more of what Tim Keller means when he speaks on Jeremiah 29:6, “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper”. We are probably becoming exiles in our own lands. So I ask myself, could I, for example, do a charity run with an adulterous colleague for a cancer cause? I would probably say yes, as long as he knows that he knows I’m a Christian and I believe adultery is a sin in God’s eyes. I ask myself, can a godly man serve as cup bearer or prime minister of a brutal government? And the answer seems to be yes – as long as he does not compromise his overt believe and trust in God. I ask, can a man sit, drink and befriend prostitutes, tax collectors, murderers and a thieving betrayer? And the answer once again seems to be yes – because he has set his face towards Jerusalem and to the cross.

    So the information I seek, which is lacking in this article, is whether these churches in Portland have dumbed down the gospel and their moral stance on homosexuality in their effort to serve the community or have they been strong, clear and faithful? Have people come to Christ and have people come to respect their position on controversial issues as a result of their service to the community? That would be very interesting to know.

    • James Gleason

      RayC, thank you for your question, and for your desire to “ask before accusing.” As a pastor in the Portland area we have certainly not dumbed down the gospel. Our church has found that God has actually opened up more hearts toward the gospel by serving others with the love of Christ. It is certainly not a bait and switch, but we choose to love people, regardless of their sin issues. Don’t we all struggle with sin and need Christ? We choose not to stand on a level above them and point down at their sin, but instead build a relationship with them to demonstrate Christ’s love. We seek to meet them where they are at and demonstrate the love of Christ in words and deeds. In our church we are strong, clear, and faithful to the gospel and preach it weekly.
      Just this past week we served a local elementary school by providing necessary back to school supplies to under resourced families. I and another pastor went to serve alongside the many teachers and office workers who lovingly distributed the supplies our church provided. We work to build friendships with those that are far from God and demonstrate Christ to them with both our actions and our words. Our opportunities to share Christ have risen dramatically because of the many acts of service we do in our community. In fact, almost everyone we see come to Christ on the weekend do so because we have served them in some way during the week. Whether it is with food, clothing, or shelter, we partner with our city to meet the needs of those who are experiencing difficulty.
      As for the question on dumbing down our stance on homosexuality, we don’t shy away from preaching the whole of Scripture. We certainly don’t target specific sins-unless it comes up in the Biblical text as we are preaching through a book or a passage. Just last year I preached through the book of Romans without flinching and the response to the messages on Romans 1 were very powerful. Many people heard the truth and yet did so in love, not anger.
      Have people come to Christ? Absolutely. As a fellow pastor said, “If you reach out to the hurting and broken you will always have an audience.”
      Again, thank you for your questions and your struggle. I, too, wrestle with the tension between preaching the ministry of redemption and living the message of restoration. It’s a tension that I hope will never be easy. Loving people in the name of Christ and seeking to pick them up out of their broken situation is messy.

      • RayC

        James, many thanks for your response. You explanation is really very helpful and provides a very good model to follow. I can’t but agree with you when you say, “we choose not to stand on a level above them and point down at their sin”. Honesty before God really does dictate that we acknowledge that we too still stand before God condemned if it were not for Christ.

        You mention of the tension between the ministry of redemption and the ministry of restoration. Perhaps you can explain? It’s probably because we’re very much at the beginning of this road and have not come yet experienced the messiness you speak of, but for me, I see instead a beautiful balance. As long as the good news of salvation in Christ and in Christ alone continues to be preached from the pulpit (and faithfulness to the teachings in the scriptures), and as long as our driving motivation is to make Christ known, or more accurately, make disciples (albeit taking a convoluted route) then what we seek to do is nothing other than a beautiful and true reflection of the gospel: “faith expressing itself through love” (somewhat out of context, I know). Restoration, it would seem to me, flows from redemption. That’s why I don’t mind the term “mercy for mercy sake” in a limited sense, but personally, I object to it as a primary motto because it makes no reference to the cross and the infinitely greater work and worth of Christ. BTW, I’m not in any way suggesting that this is what you are doing – it’s clearly not, but it’s a phrase that we are using.

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  • Shaun D

    One word comes to mind – cobelligerence. There is a great cost here that many may not seem to understand. Granted, at the start, these things look grand. Yet, over time, we will see the inability for the church to stand against the things in which it finds itself in partnership with. What about the idea of not being unequally yoked? Does one truly think it is only for marriage that such warning exists?

    The idea of being in the world and not of it seems to be foreign here. How can we align this with, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (Jam 4:4 ESV)

    Where in Scripture have we seen such an “alliance” be made between a non-Christian and a Christian? Where in the NT did Christ or the apostles stated or acted, “Though we disagree with the person Biblically, we are committed to partnering with them to solve this social problem?”

    Sadly, IMHO, this seems to have written on it a big win for the World and a significant loss for the Church’s influence.

  • Linda

    “What fellowship has darkness to do with Light” its called compromise. Compromising what you believe in place of being courteous and respectful to those you disagree with. There’s nothing of your values and convictions, beliefs left. The present trend!

  • RayC

    Surely it would be right to ask some questions or do some investigation first? Shouldn’t the first question be: what are you doing with the Gospel? Remember Jesus reply to John the Baptist (at least he asked first): “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised”. Now, if all that the Portland folks are doing are these things, then yes, there is absolute need for concern. But, if they can finish the sentence as Jesus did: “AND the good news is preached to the poor”, then is that not a good thing? If the Gospel was stifled, or their efforts to help resulted in compromise, or self-righteousness, or as the book “When Helping Hurts” puts it, in a god complex, then that is indeed a bad thing. But, if they are acting as the good Samaritan to those who are naturally their enemies; if they are eager to be a neighbour to those around them and to discharge the debt that Paul speaks of, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another”, then is that not a good thing? Don’t we need to remember that Jesus wined and dined with tax collectors and prostitutes whilst the self-righteous Pharisees wagged their fingers and tutted? So being friends of sinners is not the same as being unequally yoked, nor is it friendship with the world. And helping, for example, to turn around a failing school is not the same as indulging in a drunken orgy. It all has to do with what’s in the head and in the heart. Also, don’t we need to remember Paul’s example to be all things to all men in order to win some? The most poignant question to me is and always will be is the good news of salvation through Christ alone being faithfully preached, and in addition to that a strong commitment to obedience and trust in the word of God? If they don’t compromise either of these things then there may be a lot that I need to learn from them in terms of being a good neighbour.

  • James Gleason

    Thanks RayC. That is the beauty of love-it is attractive. Our good works shine out for all to see and the world is attracted to this sort of light. The light that is offensive and glaring just turns people away. You need just the right amount of salt to make it work for its purpose. Too much salt will ruin the flavor!

    It is easy to stand on the street corner and condemn our actions, but the real work is getting down into the trenches and sharing the love of Christ that leads to salvation. That work is real and messy. I don’t want to spend my time judging other people’s motives. I want Christ preached.