For four years I was an Assemblies of God minister and a monk with the Brothers and Sisters of Charity at the Little Portion Hermitage. This is an excerpt from my book,Taking Off My Comfortable Clothes: Removing Religion to Find Relationship.
As I found out traveling around the country with the community, different parishes had different tolerance levels for Assemblies of God monks teaching in their church. My unique situation was welcomed with open arms in many cities, but this was not the case in a visit to Dodge City, Kansas. Here, the priest asked me not to tell the congregation that I was not a Catholic. I was ready for this, because it was not an unusual request. It fell under the heading, “No one can pick on my baby brother but me.”
Too often, we will tolerate any amount of disagreement or criticism as long as it comes from within our ranks. However, if that criticism comes from an outsider, then we often find it unacceptable. For instance, I can tell Jewish jokes all I want, because my mom’s family is Jewish. But if those same jokes are told by anyone else, then people start screaming anti-Semitism. The same goes for jokes pertaining to religion.
However, I also understand and respect the pastor of a church who knows his people well enough to understand their limitations. I was always obedient to the wishes of the priests who invited us to minister. To do anything less would be to dishonor God’s appointed leadership.
I preached in Dodge City three nights in a row and never mentioned I was not a Catholic, and there was a wonderful response. But one humorous encounter occurred after the last night I taught. A couple approached me, a bit cautiously I might add, and asked if they could speak with me.
“After listening to you, we’ve come to a conclusion,” the husband said. “Either you are not a Catholic, or you are a recent convert to Catholicism.”
I laughed and said, “Why would you say that?”
“For two reasons,” he said. “One, you quote too much Scripture from memory. And two, you are way too good a teacher to be a Catholic.”
I really laughed when he said that. Finally I confessed, “Well, your priest asked me not to share this, but no, I’m not a Catholic. I’m an Assemblies of God minister.”
He said, “We are recent converts to Catholicism ourselves.” And we continued to have a wonderful conversation.
Do you see where I am heading? There is no denying the “truth” that I was an Assemblies of God minister. And I was truly asked by the spiritual authority in that church not to disclose that truth. So what? The word of God was taught, people grasped onto life changing Scriptures, righteousness was promoted and perhaps even a few people were convicted of their sin. If I wasn’t ready to let go of a title, a degree and a denominational affiliation in the name of teaching the gospel, then three evenings of gospel preaching may have never occurred. The truth I spoke about pertained to those things salvific; everything else I left alone. I spoke for three evenings and never exhausted Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Why on earth would I think I needed to promote the Assemblies of God?