Here is an interesting opinion piece from a four-year resident of New England — a pastor of a UCC church — claiming New England isn’t the mission field many of us are claiming it to be. There’s more than a few problems with the piece, but here are the main ones:
1. Rev. Heath redefines what it means to be an evangelical — her definition skews more good advice than good news — so it’s no surprise she redefines the level of need. Her gospel is about people being nice to each other, so of course it seems unnecessary in a place where people are mostly nice. (See #4.)
2. Rev. Heath claims that evangelicals interested in New England as a mission field don’t believe Jesus is already here. This may be true for some, but it is not true for any evangelicals that I know. Jesus is King of New England, just as he’s King of the Universe. This is what we are proclaiming, actually. So we are not bringing Jesus; we are bringing the news of him and his kingdom being “at hand”!
3. After 4 years in New England, Rev. Heath claims to speak for all New Englanders in saying “We’re all set, thank you very much,” ignoring the many evangelicals who have been here for decades who disagree with her. Mission in New England is not merely or mainly about outsiders coming in but native New England believers being galvanized into indigenous mission, praying for revival, and becoming more and more broken about the need around them. I know many long-time New Englanders whose years of experience here trumps Rev. Heath’s (and mine!) who have been praying for just the level of interest we’ve been seeing lately, and more. I trust their word as more authoritative and experienced than hers.
4. Rev. Heath casts the wide swath of New Englanders as basically good, decent, respectful people. I agree. By and large, New England — and especially southern Vermont, where Rev. Heath and I both are clergy — is full of nice, upstanding, hardworking, friendly people. We only differ in that I side with the Scriptures in seeing Christless moralism as something to repent of and be saved from.
5. Rev. Heath is a lesbian minister in a largely liberal denomination. Her belief that conversion from sin to Christ is not necessary in New England is not surprising and should dissuade nobody in or out of New England from gospel-centered ministry here.