Hugh Halter
by Hugh Halter on August 2nd, 2016

​Somewhere, everywhere, people are connecting socially. But most of this connection is with people we love, feel comfortable with, and thus social, spiritual, and relational reform remains unchanged.  From the beginning of time, and throughout the scriptures, God’s people pattern their lives around celebration, feasts, social gatherings, levity, story-telling, eating, drinking, laughter, and listening. It was a means of holding the fabric of society together but after Acts 10, eating with strangers and those whom you would never share a meal with, became the most powerful witness of the gospel. Party was now the means by which we let the world know that God loved them. 

For God’s ancient fans, levity, sobriety, and a good ol’ fashion party helped create a
social connection that makes spiritual connection possible. It used to be Five O’Clock
somewhere, but sadly, over the last century, the church is the last one to the party.
I remember growing up as a Nazerene boy hearing that ‘good Christians’ don’t
smoke, chew or have friends that do. As such, I didn’t venture out to the movies, look
at art, play cards, and I had to listen to all my secular music undercover. My friends
were Christians…all of them. As I entered training for ministry my reading of Jesus’
life didn’t square with a seminary prof who suggested that all wine in the New
Testament was simply grape juice or the denominational leaders who wanted us to
plant churches for them, but only if we abstain from having a beer with neighbor. It
just seemed that at every turn, my old perception of being committed to Jesus didn’t
allow me to follow Him or live like He lived.

Now that I’m a big boy, not much has changed. Except for one small adjustment. I
now pattern my holiness after the human life of Jesus instead of the traditions of any
certain church, outdated ministerial code of ethics or leadership definitions born of
prohibition, or the subjective and selective literalism so many of us grew up under. I
simply want to be holy as Jesus was holy. And for Him, leadership, influence,
witness, the gospel as good news, the new covenant, life according the heart & spirit
instead of the law and his main message of the kingdom of God was no longer a
matter of eating and drinking, which now meant you can do exactly that. Enjoy life, faith, friends, great food and drink and yes all while being holy.

​A Call Back to Mission

I am the US Director for a missions training network called FORGE. Forge exists to
train men and woman to live as missions where they already do life. That is, we
believe every neighborhood is now a pure missionary context like Spain, Italy,
Iceland or Nova Scotia. And in a pure missionary context the church can no longer
ask the secular culture to act the part of the missionary and come to us and our
church services anymore. We must be the ‘sent’ ones again. We must be the

So where does a good missionary start in any and all contexts? They must start
where the culture is and find ways to create neutral, enjoyable, space where humans
can connect, identify, and learn the context of one anothers story. That’s how we
contextualize the gospel. And this is exactly why, as Alan Hirsch has said, “PARTY IS
​In my personal story of starting two churches in very secular contexts, many friends
found faith in our home and not one story started without the party.
From Small Group to Missional Community
Now, I spend my life traveling around the globe encouraging and training the
missionary spirit. Some are with church planters but most are with existing
congregations with huge hearts for the lost but who still live according to a non-
party ethic and the rhythms of abstract holiness.

Many people have asked, “Hugh, what is the one key to turning a typical small group
into a true missionary community?” Another asks, “Hugh, how did all those people
find faith..really how did it actually happen?” Another asks, “how do you disciple
people to live more human lives like Jesus?” My answer is always the same. “You have to teach and disciple people in how to throw a good party. It's where everything starts.” Its where we learn to listen instead of judge. Where we become advocates instead of adversaries and where people cease to be targets or projects because they are our friends. Remember, when teaching about the gospel of the kingdom, our living metaphors are that of a wedding feast, a banquet, and a supper. It's time to include this in our own spiritual formation.

So what can you do?

Check out Happy Hour. I wrote it not to make light of excesses or tea-toltlers, but to
bring to light the power of levity, food, and all things related to holy merriment. I
wrote it as a basic training for would-be missionaries and it is full of doable baby
steps a more human way to follow Jesus and make Him known to others
Listen to this audio sermon....

​Table of Contents:

Intro. Hors d’ oeuvre: An Intro into a Life of Celebration

Chapter One: Party as Sacrament…The Theology and Missiology of Party

Chapter Two: Public House…How to Party at Home

Chapter Three: Party Favors. Its 5:00 Somewhere. Unique ways to party

Chapter Four: Party Killers…How NOT to Cross the Line…a balanced discussion of booze

Chapter Five: The Last Call…The Best Party I’ve Ever Thrown

We only fulfill orders of five books or more because there’s nothing more lame than
trying to learn about partying by yourself. So we suggest that you read together with
your existing small group or a handful of friends who really want kingdom life to
show up.

If you want to try a full congregation experience just contact me at and I can help coach you through it.

Signing off from


by Hugh Halter on May 24th, 2016

​Even though the majority of church staff, as well as church planters in the United States are bivocational (working both in and outside the church) there are few people talking the why and how of bivocational ministry. The number of bivocational pastors is increasing rapidly, but the vast majority of training and conferences are led by people in “full-time” ministry, from large churches that have large budgets. We want to try to change the conversation.

Starting June 23rd we are going to offer the next BiVO cohort to encourage church planters and staff from existing churches to better understand the benefits and challenges to bivocational ministry. We also want to equip those who are already working full-time jobs that feel led to start fresh expressions of church. This cohort will not be geographically specific, but instead will cluster people together from different parts of the country. 

Possible Cohorts Participants:
Bivocational Church PlantersBivocational Pastors & staff of existing churchesPeople already working full-time but want to start something new
What is Involved With Each Cohort:
Each cohort lasts 6 monthsMonthly online Webinars with Hugh Halter and Brad BriscoClosed Facebook group page for peer-to-peer learning and additional resourcesCohort size: 10-12 per cohort
Cohort Locations:
Online Cohort: Starting Thursday, June 23rd 
by June 17th
Costs: $100 monthly ($600) or $500 up front payment
Requirements Before Cohort Begins:
Complete online BiVo assessment HERE     Read BiVO and Tangible Kingdom before first webinarSuggested readings: AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church, FLESH, The Missional Quest, and UnLeader
Webinar Content:
Webinar 1 – What is our calling?Webinar 2 – What do we mean by church?Webinar 3 – Church as teamWebinar 4 – The 5 “knacks” of BiVO ministryWebinar 5 – Where leaders spend their timeWebinar 6 – Incarnational evangelism
Facilitators: Hugh Halter and Brad Brisco

Hugh is the National Director of Forge America Mission Training Network. He has authored The Tangible Kingdom, AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church, TK Primer, FLESH, BiVO, and Brimstone: The Art of Holy Nonjudgment. His latest book is titled Happy Hour: Etiquette And Advice on Holy Merriment. Hugh has planted two churches, both of which were bi-vocational stories. For a sample of Hugh speaking on the importance of bivocational ministry check out this short clip from the Sentralized conference.
Brad is currently the Church Planting Catalyst for the North America Mission Board in Kansas City; where he recruits, trains and coaches church planters. He holds a doctorate in the area of missional ecclesiology; his doctoral thesis was on assisting existing congregations in transitioning in a missional direction. He serves on the National Leadership team for Forge America. He is the co-author of Missional Essentials, a twelve-week small group study guide, The Missional Quest, and the forthcoming Next Door As It Is In Heaven.
If you have questions about the cohorts you can email Brad at 


by Hugh Halter on March 4th, 2016

​At Some Point                                   
                                    The Real Reason We Left The Ranch For Alton Illinois

My good buddy Dave Runyon (Co-Author with Jay Pathak, another great buddy, of a book called Art of Neighboring, which you should buy and read… how’s that for a long parenthesed statement?) just called and begged me to write a blog explaining why we have left our amazing Denver Ranch, full of beautiful views, life-long friends, and humidity-free sunshine to move to a small 30,000 person town with none of the before-mentioned amenities? “Hugh, I can’t make up answers anymore to make you appear reasonable, and I’m tired of answering for your stupid decision.” (This is how true friends communicate in the real world.)
So with that encouragement, I have relented and will now do my best to relieve Dave’s stress. I’m not assuming anyone really cares but I am tired of answering Dave who is tired of answering for me. So here goes.

The Fake answer I will use to make myself look good will go something like this. “God has called us there.”  This line is perfect for keeping people guessing and forcing them to into a ‘no argument’ option. It works for almost any decision we humans like to justify so I will refer back to it in case our reality gets a little dicey.

The Real Answer may take a little longer.  But it all centers around the idea that AT SOME POINT, following Jesus messes things up. Here are the four biggies for me.

AT SOME POINTThe Great Commandment must become a priority.  I have joked with Dave and Jay about why they are both brilliant but also why their book still won’t work for most folks. Brilliant, in their main premise, that maybe…just maybe, when Jesus said “love God will all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as much as you love yourself,”…that he actually meant your literal neighbor. Won’t work, in that most of us don’t even know our neighbors names. And even if we fill out Dave and Jay’s silly little refrigerator magnet where you can write down the names of your neighbors after you go over and awkwardly say, “Hi neighbor…what’s your name?” most of us will never go over to say hi again let alone love them and give your life for them.
So without over spiritualizing what we are doing, Cheryl and I know there’s 1 million people in Denver we could do this with but when you live on a ranch 1000 feet from the nearest neighbor, it ain’t going to happen. We could but we won’t and we know it.  Yes there are poor people, refugees and homeless just 15 minutes away so we could drop in on occasion. But we don’t believe occasional visits change lives. Yes, of course we have people come to us all the time and the ranch has been used for training pastors, getting all my buddies together for a great night in my Western Irish Saloon in the barn, church gatherings, and even my daughter’s wedding, but somehow, some way, it only happens if ‘they come to us.’

If you Google earth our new address 322 Langdon St in Alton Il 62002 you will see that we will now have real neighbors. You will also see that we are 2 blocks from Old Bakery Brewery, 5 blocks from Morrison’s Irish Pub, and 4 blocks from Elijah P’s Burger and whiskey joint. For a guy like me this ‘trifecta’ is tantamount to being the holy trinity of the Art of Neighboring!  We are doing this because we want to give the next 20 years to living a walkable life, around the same people, same community, and same neighbors. AT SOME POINT Jesus' big priority must become our own.

AT SOME POINT you have to downsize to gain freedom. Although it is doable, it takes a lot of cash to live in Denver and enjoy all the Front Range has to offer. So far this has been manageable as long as Cheryl works her fingers to the bone in real estate and I stay a pathetic prisoner to United Airlines. For me, life has been one trip after another. I only make money if I fly somewhere. I know according to Louis C.K. I should stop complaining and just be thankful that I can fly across the world in a few hours but these trips are sucking my soul into a dark death spiral. The constant delays, rental car fiascos, hop up on a stage, sign books, then back home to do it again just seems weird.  And just like the benefits and good sides of the ranch, of course I do feel blessed to get a chance to encourage and learn from so many different contexts, but to keep it up for another 20 years? I just don’t want that to be my story. I’m actually on a flight right now to Barbados to work with church leaders and I can’t even get excited for that because the $&!#%$ 400lb guy next to me is forcing me to smear my face against the window just to get oxygen! See what I mean. I’m becoming a not nice person!

Alton on the other hand is a poor city.  40% African American, the rest while folk of which many are of hoosier persuasion.  50% of the homes are rental properties. That's really bad! Its 10 minutes north of Ferguson. There is racism, bad crime stats and every local we’ve told that we are moving from Denver to their city says, “seriously. You are moving here.”
But the benefit of moving to a city like this is that we can completely change our financial structure. We bought our daughter and son in law their first house for $10,000 so they can join us on this mission and start their life together, and we just bought an amazing turn of the century mini-mansion for a couple hundy.

Our monthly income drops by 70% so that translates to less time in airplanes and more time walking and relating to humans within the 6-block trifecta mentioned above. I’ve found that time is the same as money and money is the same as time. They are both commodities that can be harnessed for kingdom living or harnesses that keep us from kingdom living. AT SOME POINT we just have to choose.  Equity on your computer spreadsheet is only real equity when you cash it in. This is why Jesus speaks about the difficulty, almost the impossibility of the rich finding the kingdom of God.  So we’ve pushed all in while we’ve still got healthy bodies, and kingdom visions, and before dementia sets in. 
 AT SOME POINT you have to leave the 99 for the 1
Jesus made an interesting statement. He said, “I have sheep you know not of.” Later he taught that to go find  the 1 sheep you have to leave the 99.
I love the 99. For me the 99 are family we’ve left in Denver, and some of the most amazing friends we could ever been lucky enough to know and serve with. Jesus loved the 99 too. But the 1 compelled him so much so that he was willing to pry himself away and go. For me, I feel this same struggle. But as Cheryl and I give up living life with the best people we’ve ever known, it doesn’t make much sense to go find another 99. In other words, this move makes no sense if we fill our time with the found ones instead of loving those still looking for a home.
Since moving to St. Louis area I’ve already had about 50 emails from people saying, “I’ve been reading your books for years and I love the stories you share, and I live within 30 minutes of you. I heard you’ve moved to town so can we do coffee?” Although I’m always humbled, truly that our story has been inspiring. I am done with my old stories. I’m tired of retelling, reliving and trying to revive the old. I am trying to let God start a new story. So with all humility and passion, ‘Leg humpers’ beware.  If I have coffee with you, I will simply not have time for coffee with them. And the “Thems” is what we are here for.
Please don’t be offended at the leg humper comment. I'm just trying to add some levity to what has been the toughest decision we've made as a couple and a family.  Its not that I’m tired or jaded against Christian brothers and sisters, I simply have come to the point where I believe more highly of you than even you may think of yourself. I believe God has called you to people right around you just like he has me. I believe that the very best thing you can offer them is your time and so you too will need to downsize. I believe that same power that raised Jesus from the dead is latently still simmering away inside you and that if you release yourself from the bondage and tyranny of the perceived urgent; and if you wake up in the morning available to go to the ONE God will lead you beside the still waters of daily, walkable life with neighbors. AT SOME POINT you have to live into these realities. The kingdom of God won’t force its way down your throat but the kingdom of God is taken by force and forceful men and women lay hold of it.

AT SOME POINT you have to try instead of talk.
Ferguson, political and social strife, poverty, racial divide, the decline of the church, violence and every other lamentable situation we see on the evening news will keep getting worse.  At Some Point, we can keep watching, pointing fingers, pontificate our stance, just turn it off, or we can enter in. Jesus entered in and asked us to follow suit.
I don’t know if we can actually do any good or make any substantial changes in this town, but AT SOME POINT we have to try. And in trying we don’t do it just for them or the situation, I think we try because every night or at the end of our lives we have to turn off the lights and live with ourselves. Are we just talkers? Are we the Pharisees? Are we the Frauds? Or are we faithful followers? I want to work toward the last one.
All these real reasons may not sound as spiritual as simply saying God called us there but I think the teachings of Jesus and our honest hearts longing to live a life alerting and demonstrating the universal reign of God through Jesus, make this move make sense…at least to us.

And Yes, besides these four real reasons we did have a conversation out of the blue with a young waitress in a bar just 4 months ago and walking out, both Cheryl and I knew something had just happened..and Cheryl grabbed my hand and as we walked back to our hotel she said, "Babe..lets just sell it all and move here. Maybe we can help out." Pretty sure that was God.

What will we do?  To be honest we have no idea. Cheryl brought the horses with us and she hopes to use them in therapy to people with disabilities, my daughter Alli is already teaching in the Ferguson public school system, my son in law Matthew is an EMT in St. Louis and our daughter McKenna is setting her sites on a crossfit gym for those that can’t afford crossfit when she graduates college next year. I may start a business that helps the local economy, or that crashes and burns! I may roll my smoker/grill into one of the 4 government housing complexes every week to smoke a pig, listen to stories and tell our own. Cheryl and I will most likely fill our home with people God connects us to. I will for sure, find or create another Saloon and have men over; we will dive into a local church, and in my spare time I will continue to play a role as US Director of Forge America, an organization committed ‘to help every person live as a missionary where they already do life.’ So I will strategically get on planes where I feel I can really do some good helping churches, denominations, and people who are serious about the four points I’ve mentioned above.

Our 14 years in Denver and specifically the family and mission we called Adullam, was the best 14 years of our lives. Our best friends will always be in Denver. The two year break from the front line has also been needed and we cherish every moment. We also think God really did bless us with the ranch and it will be a season we will always look back and say, we love that! But, AT SOME POINT, its time to get back to our primary calling, God’s greatest invitation, and our sincere and eternal hope that God will continue to write new stories for the Halter family. Time to be missionaries again.
If you are a bored empty nester, a burnt out church planter; if your tired of the financial rat race, or the day to day mundane and want to live in community, on mission using your business or benevolent aspirations, might I suggest you pick a town like Alton and give it a go. They are everywhere. We’ll be here for quite a while so we’d love to have you join us! Just don’t ask me for coffee! Kidding! Sorry all my pictures were at the top. I have no idea how to work this blog site. 
I’ll keep up my normal pace of one blog a year so stay tuned.
How’s that Dave?

by Hugh Halter on July 2nd, 2015

​I was sitting in a completely empty historical bar in downtown Crested Butte for
Cheryl and my 24th anniversary. And I was by myself. Cheryl got hit with a major 
migraine, so I sulkily walked downtown and found this bar to grab dinner.  

When I walked in, three young, bored waitresses immediately jumped up and seated 
me in the middle of this 40-foot long speakeasy counter.  One got me a water, 
another a glass of vino and the third girl, Mandy, said, “So, what brings you in?” 

“My 24th anniversary,” I said. 

All three stopped working and just starred at me. “Yeah, my wife got a little sick 
tonight so its just me celebrating,” I explained. 

With that, Mandy took out a beautiful white tablecloth and laid it over the bar, 
setting it with ornate vintage tableware. She then came around the bar and tucked a 
nice linen napkin into my shirt as a neck cloth and said, “Sir, tonight I suggest you 
have a steak and all the sides are on us.”

For 40 minutes no one came into the bar. It was just Mandy, the two younger 
waitresses and me.  

“So what do you do?” Mandy asked. 

“I write books and speak a little, but mostly I’ve been a pastor,” I said. 

“Oh, what types of books do you write?” she responded curiously.  

“Basically I write to pastors and church folk. I try to encourage them to act 
more like Jesus and less like church people,” I said. 

That was the first time in history that one of my bar-side one-liners ever worked! 
She immediately unloaded a number of stories about how she had been treated by 
church people. The other two gals also added some colorful stories. 

Halfway through a delightful ribeye, I said, “Well, thanks for telling me some of your 
stories. I hear them a lot. I’m really sorry you got the religious end of a really good 

It’s pretty unusual for me to speak bluntly with someone I hardly know, but since 
Mandy had shared quite a bit about her life I asked “Mandy, are you gay?” 

After a brief pause she said, “No, I’ve been living with my boyfriend in a committed 
eight-year relationship, but I am what you would call ‘heteroflexible.’” 
“Wow, I thought I’d heard just about every option, but that’s a new one. Can you 
explain?” I asked.  

She explained her confusion growing up, silently struggling with attraction to both 
men and women.

“Oh, but I’ve never really acted out my sexuality other than with my boyfriend. But I know the attraction is there,” she finished.

We talked some more, and all three asked a lot of great questions about my view of Jesus. And as usual, they loved Jesus and knew He wasn’t quite like the people who go to churches to worship him.  

As I finished, I slipped a $100 tip into the napkin and headed for the door. In a really cool, comfortable and daughterly way, all three initiated big, bold hugs and thanked me for listening to them and sharing my thoughts.

Tomorrow marks the coming out of a story I’ve wanted to write for 25 years.  It’s a story about the church and its people being the least judgmental movement the world has ever seen. I called it Brimstone because most of our Christian faith and history has silently been built upon unconscious judgment. We take that judgment on ourselves and pass it on to everyone around us.  

I suppose it was a good marketing ploy to have the book release just four days after the Supreme Court “judged” that marriage is no longer between just one man and one woman, but we really didn’t plan that. It just happened.  

But with this one judgment, we see the church tragically thrust into a war with the world and itself. The world and the church alike are divided on the issue of judgment. Will fire and Brimstone win the day? Or, will a remnant of Jesus followers learn the He walked with both grace and truth? Will we continue to create Grand Canyon-sized relational barriers between “us and them”? Or, will we choose to have easy, comfortable, life-affirming conversations over a white tablecloth, just like I did with Mandy?

Brimstone’s subtitle is “The Art and Act of Holy Non-judgment” because this one topic is at the forefront of societal confusion and the crux of why so many people – people like Mandy – turn away from the church. I felt an entire book on the subject was warranted. We need to learn the art of non-judgment and begin living the acts of Jesus.

Will the book fix the world’s problem? Of course not, but if one person drops the rocks they carry, then maybe one person like Mandy will find the Jesus so many of us love.

As usual, I wrote this book as a guide for discussion. I hope you will not read alone but instead have the courage to ask some friends, a small group, or even a handful of un-churched people to process it with you. At the end of each chapter are some significant questions to consider in relation to your own faith, and for the God-created humans who live right next door.

​Here’s an eight-minute video discussion starter to help you get going. 
I hope this book heals. I hope it hurts in the right ways. And I hope the Jesus movement looks significantly different when my grandkids are trying to find a church.

Stay tuned for some sharable quotes over the next 30 days on Facebook. Let’s get people talking and considering what the art and act of holy non-judgment looks like.
Join me on Twitter @Hughhalter or Hugh Halter Facebook for updates. Find this blog at

by Hugh Halter on June 27th, 2015

​Would Jesus Bake a Cake for a Gay Wedding?

As many of you know, yesterday marked a watershed day in how marriage will be viewed in the United States of America. Attached to this one very significant issue will be a waterfall of side issues that will affect the church, the church's voice in the culture, and your personal story in your neighborhood. As such, i'm relaunching an article I wrote last year. I've also released a new book that takes the issue of judgment head on. My hope is that this article will lead you to a more thorough discussion in Brimstone...The Art & Act of Holy Non-judgement. 
Here is the reposted article below.

Last week, the national news posted a story about a bakery owner who chose not to bake a cake for a wedding between two gay men.  It probably got some attention because it appeared to be similar to the well-publicized Chick-fil-a story.  The stories were quite different in nuance, but nonetheless brought up very serious and real questions every Christ follower should take seriously. 

I posted this question above and had over 3500 onlookers and a truckload of great responses within a few hours.  I’ve tried to synthesize many of the responses down to a few simple thoughts that I hope will be helpful for those serious about incarnating their lives into the real world around us.

First, thanks for your respectful tone.  Even though the Christian responses were a 50/50 split on the question, there were some great perspectives on both sides and I hope we all learned a few things.

Second, I know that many who read this will not be Christian in orientation.  So forgive the “internal doc” tone.  I am trying to speak to our own Christian tribe about how we view sin and people in the world.  In Jesus’ time and obviously now, people often use the word, “sinner” in a derogatory way to label people that weren’t “in the know” or who didn’t live based on the same set of religious/moral/theological convictions that the establishment did.  In Jesus’s time it was the Jewish religious system based on the Law of Moses, and today, it continues in many tribes of Christianity.  For the sake of the argument, I’ll keep using the word “sinner” as it has been incorrectly applied, in hopes that we can at least agree that we all share the same problem.  We’re all jacked by sin!

I must also be honest with you and say that I, have to submit my wisdom under the wisdom of the revealed scripture in regards to all facets of life.  I don’t understand everything, like everything, and will have a long list of questions to reel off when I see God, but I believe that He did design sexuality to be blessed within the bonds of heterosexual marriage. 


This article isn’t about trying to convince people of my view on this.  This article is to address how any of us, of any persuasion sexually, theologically, or religiously, should treat each other.  Especially how Christians should treat people that don’t believe what they believe.  I will submit that anything that doesn’t reflect the original design of God is sin and that list is long. And if we for sake of argument can say that homosexuality is a sin, I believe how Christians have treated the gay and lesbian community, in God’s eyes, may literally be of equal and maybe even greater offense to God. 

The question of whether or not Jesus (The corner bakery owner) would bake a cake for a gay wedding?  is posed so that we can finally talk about the dignity of each person’s story and how the love of God can break into all of our brokenness so that his revealed will and blessing can touch us all.

For dealing with the cake situation or other “grey zones,” here are a few anchors I try to keep in mind.

1) We don’t have to Condone or Condemn.  In so many situations we often think that we have to pick either a stance of condoning (which we assume happens if we fail to confront or form real friendships) or condemning (which we assume is a necessary response if we simply speak the truth and call people to account for their behavior. ) Some think you should just “LOVE” without truth, and some think you should just “TRUTH” em’ regardless of love.  What you’ll find in the life of Jesus is that he doesn’t pick one or the other.  He did neither.

In John 1:14 it says that Jesus came into the world in the form of a man and helped us to see the glory of God because he was full of Grace and Truth. As an example of what he hoped every Christian would be, he showed how grace (non-judgment) and healing, restorative words of truth can go together like peanut butter and jelly.  He was the most non-judgmental person you would have ever met, yet people wanted to hear what he had to say about their broken lives and when he spoke, people did change and turn from sin.  Jesus even said that he “did not come into the world to condemn but to save.” And he did exactly that. People around him didn’t feel condemned but they responded to his truth. 

He regularly ate with the worst of the worst.  Clearly, many would have pulled him aside and said, “Jesus, by eating with them, you realize that you are causing them to feel a false sense of acceptance by you, don’t you think it more wise to avoid letting them feel accepted so that they might come to their senses and stop doing what they are doing?”

In one such dialogue, he said, “I didn’t come for the healthy but the sick.”  In that statement, he was saying, “to help the sick you have to be with the sick and by being with them in their sickness, I’m not actually making them more sick, but creating a pathway to pull help them out.” 

In other words, being present with people in the mess of their lives, being true friends, fully accepting, is the way of Jesus. It is neither condemning nor condoning to make a cake or be at a wedding of people that don’t believe what we believe… It  is simply being a friend. 

To those who say that baking a cake communicates support for a non-biblical defilement of the institution of marriage, I’d suggest that we defile the institution of marriage all the time.  50% of the heterosexual Christian marriages end by defiling the institution through divorce.  And good percentages of those who don’t divorce defile the marriage daily as men cheat on their wives through pornography.  None of it is God’s intended design!  In Matthew 5:28 Jesus went further, “You who lust in your heart after a woman have committed adultery!”  In other words, don’t think just because you were married in a traditional heterosexual union, that you’ve done the institution justice and have the right to judge the next wave of people who will fail my design.”

In line with Jesus argument with the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11, Jesus would say to the non cake bakers, “You who have modeled a perfect marriage, go ahead and withhold the cake, but if you have ever sinned against my design of marriage, you better start whipping up some frosting!”

Look, God doesn’t need us to stick up for his created order of heterosexual marriage.  The institution of marriage is set not because we do it correctly. It’s set because God created it and marriage will always be his idea.  If we don’t stick up for the sanctity of life, life is still sacred because God says so.   He’s a big boy and knows that this beautiful union that he intended between men and woman is going to be fraught with brokenness in almost every situation and so baking a cake is not the issue, but not baking the cake would most certainly create an impossible space of tension between Jesus and the people he would hope to influence.

Jesus must have known that advocating for ‘sinner’s doesn’t make them feel better about their sin. It actually opens their heart to someday turn from their sin!

2) There is no sliding scale of sin

When I picture this bakery owner trying to decide whether or not he should bake a  cake for a gay wedding, I have to ask, what his reasoning or motives are based on.  In other words, why did he say NO?  I can only think of three reasons.

First, he could have thought that by baking the cake, these men would be pulled deeper into sin so if he made a cake he would be contributing to their ungodly union and sinful lifestyle.  Clearly this isn’t the issue and if he baked the cake, these two men would not be more gay or do more gay things?  The cake is just a cake! So that can’t be it.

So maybe, as a Christian business owner, he believes that he should represent God in who and how he gives his services away?  He might think that since God is clearly against homosexuality, I must display God’s view of sin and never give my services or products to people who are sinning in this way.  But consider the hypocrisy if he really sticks to this consistently.

Since gluttony is listed as a sin twice as many times as homosexuality is listed, then he would have to deny giving a scrumptious buttery croissant to anyone that looks to be overweight. And pastors who buy this guy’s donuts should therefore also not serve donuts every week at church, or create two lines and force the more sturdy lot into the glutton free, fat free line.  To not do this would be to help people sin, right?

And since lusting after a person sexually is a sin, and the most harmful environment for lust, pornography, and explicit viewing is on the internet, it would follow that anyone who helps build, fix, create software, or sells computers should probably shut their business down immediately as well.  For helping the computers work will be making it easier for people to sin.

And even if we aren’t business owners and just consumers, if we operate based on this line of thinking, before we purchase anything, we should make sure that whatever we buy is not the product of any Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, Mormon, or Muslim, liberal, or fans of The View! For if we help them even gain a dollar, we would not be representing God. 
You can see that this probably isn’t a practical solution.

So the third and only other option is that this baker believes that some sins are just so bad that he doesn’t want to touch it with a ten-foot pole.  That’s what we called the subtle “sliding scale of sin” argument.  In other words, there are just some sins or ways of living that transcend normal logic and we should just make a stand against it!  I think this is honestly where most of us go when we chose to bless or help a non-Christian or not...

So just a few thoughts on judging levels of sin:
First, what is worse, doing something you don’t know is wrong or doing something you know is wrong?  You’re right if you guessed the latter. Clearly, when people do things that they don’t feel any conviction against or don’t know are against God’s intended design, we would call them blind, or lost, but certainly not bad or evil.  But what about people that know what is right and wrong, good or bad and continue to do or not do what they should?  Well, yes, that would seem to be worse because at least they understand.  So disobedience is worse than ignorance.  Do you agree?

People that have not yielded their lives to Christ didn’t get the memo we might have gotten about God’s design.  Romans says that every person will still be held accountable to some knowledge that there is a God by simply looking out the window and seeing that something has ordered the universe, but they do not have a context for their brokenness.   But a Spirit-enlightened believer; A Christian glutton who keeps chowing down on buffalo wings; a man who will not face his pornography addiction, a pastor who fudges on his taxes, a Christian man who lies on occasion to save face, the Christian soccer mom who leaves her weekly bible study and heads to the mall and keeps running up the visa tab to buy whatever her Oprah magazine tempts her with... they all know that they are being disobedient to God, but they still do it!  As a  Christian pastor, that is my story! That was the testimony of our greatest new testament leaders. Paul said, “I delight in the law of the Lord the idea of Godliness, the hope of living better, but dang it!!!! My flesh just keeps failing and am a wretched man!” 

Christians!!! Please…finally…take a sharpie and write this on the inside of your eyelids. “YOUR SINS OF DISOBEDIENCE ARE JUST AS BAD AS THEIR SINS OF INGORANCE!”  There is no sliding scale of sins and if you’re going to withhold baking a cake for a gay man, you better shut down the whole dang bakery because no one is really worthy of your red velvet!
Look, if I sound ticked remember, this exact same situation came up in Matthew 23:27 and Jesus called them out, “"What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs--beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people's bones and all sorts of impurity.”

Okay, no more name calling. What about the good side of our desire to see people find God and his ways?  You’re not a good parent, a good friend, or even a good citizen if you don’t have a desire to help people find God and his design for areas of their lives.  So is there a way forward?
Yes, there is, but you have to change your practical theology.  You must…

3) Change from the old covenant of the law of Moses to the New Covenant and remove your judges hat and go buy a nice rocking chair and wait on your front porch.

Let me explain.  The Old Law told us to go judge people’s sin, discipline or kill them and for sure reject them until they cry “uncle.”  The New Covenant of Grace now requires that you become like the Father in Luke 15:11ish who bakes the cake, gives it to his son, let’s his son go off and make a mess of things, and then waits for the natural story of free will to run it’s course. He knows that if he gives him the money, gives him the car keys, he’s going to jet. The Father is broken hearted, and deeply sad, but he knows that if he doesn’t give the son these gifts, he’s leaving anyway. 
Why didn’t the father say, “Son, I know you’re going to leave and go sin your face off and I won’t stop you, but I’m not going to help you either. I will not give you my inheritance or my blessing?”  He didn’t take this route because he knew that someday, the son would remember how he blessed him even though he didn’t agree and it would allow a space for redemption.  He didn’t like it, but he knew that at all costs, keep the relationship open!

This is why Hugh Halter bakes the cake, and shows up to be a friend at their wedding.  I don’t like a lot of things either, but one thing I do want is that they know I really do love them and I want the relationship to stay open.  I’ve not condoned or condemned. I’ve not led them into sin, or helped them sin more. I’ve not misrepresented my God, or become a self-righteous jackwagon.  I’ve just been a friend of sinners like Jesus or like the old man waiting on the porch for his son to return home.

Befriending sinners is better than belittling sinners…better to be on the porch waiting for a struggling friend to return than on the side of a relational grand canyon you’ll never be able to cross.  People almost always in times of great personal need, return to those who have dignified their personal journey and given them space to learn for themselves.

4) Incarnation must precede proclamation: In other words, Grace must precede truth if we are to model our lives after John 1:14 and be incarnational in the way of Jesus.

We know it’s true, whenever we share our opinion about someone else’s lives without significant trust or relational bandwidth, it comes across as condemnation. Since Jesus didn’t come to condemn but to save, we must learn the skill and patience of winning the trust of those we hope to influence.   In baking the cake, what I’m hoping will happen is that someone at the wedding does ask, “Wow, great cake, who made it?”  And then to have someone say, “That guy over there... I think his name is Hugh, he runs a bakery. I heard he was a Christian too…Sort of weird he’s here but he seems different than the other Christians I’ve run across, he’s actually been here all day helping us set up.” 

This type of scenario has happened a lot to me and it often leads to the non-Christian friend pursuing relationship, dialogue, conversation and a discipleship relationship.  As I always say, when relationship is closed off, nothing will ever move spiritually, but if we gain trust through blessing and presence in the lives of people, then hope is always one conversation away.

If you become of friend of someone, you’ll know their true story, and if you know their true story, you’ll understand their sin, and when you understand their sin, you’ll know how to pray, and when you know how to pray, God will show you your own sin and how to love, and when you love, and keep loving, and keep loving, they will want to know what you think, and then you will speak truth, and they will want to hear, and they will want to know your God, and God will change their heart, and then He will help them change the way they live.  (Hugh’s paraphrase of Grace and Truth)

Your other option is to be a self-righteous jackwagon and you will never see them again.  Your choice!

As I write this, I feel an incredible sense of humility hoping that my struggle through these issues encourage you to keep struggling yourself.  Thanks for engaging this question.

Here’s a link to Brimstone.

Please pass this along to any friends, consider using this topic and content in your small groups, churches, and for sure, apologize to anyone you may not have treated in the way of Jesus.

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