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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Comiskey

A Severe Mercy, Part 1

An early lesson we learned in Desert Stream: sexual sin always has consequences. It tears the fabric of individual souls, or relationships, of entire communities. That is why God is serious about the boundaries of His people—He wants us to know the lines that delineate friends from marital lovers, and to live within them. For the good of all.

Our first pastor, Kenn Gulliksen, upheld these boundaries with integrity. It was not easy. Our church had swelled to 2,000 new believers plucked from the fires of rampant promiscuity. These were creative, coastal immoralists bumping into holiness.

Our worship team included the cream of Hollywood’s studio musicians–sexy, hip, and achingly gifted. Many were only months-old in Christ. When the fair-haired leader (think Peter Frampton) impregnated his fiancé, Kenn lovingly came alongside of them both. He insisted that they make public their sin as the only true reason why they had to step down from leadership.

I will never forget that Sunday morning. Kenn’s version of discipline taught me more about sexual purity and the need to guard it than any sermon ever could. It was humbling and yet dignifying for all concerned. We were babes in holiness– unaccustomed to our new robes of righteousness. God visited us with a holy fear, and mercy for our common weakness

We wept with our two friends, applauded their courage, and later rejoiced in the wedding of the very pregnant duo. We then welcomed them back to lead us in worship some months later.

Kenn moved onto plant Vineyard Churches elsewhere. He was succeeded by a young single man, a brilliant teacher and care-giver. We loved him and gained much from his rich offering to the church.

What we discovered years later was his very confused set of boundaries. He neither grasped the destruction wrought by dabbling physically with many young women in the church nor the abuse of power that intensified sin’s power.

We discovered his offenses via several spurned women in the church. They were ashamed and confused and no longer even certain where to draw the line sexually in relation to men. That is the power of sexual sin in leadership. It infects others with the sickness of sin.

I knew as a pastor on staff that I had to act. I first confronted the pastor with the evidence I had. He denied it then tried to dismiss the offenses as a ‘gray’ area, that I “should not be so heavy about debatable ‘sins’.” For me, there was no debate. I told him that I would give him a month to confess all to his overseer (in a nearby county), and that I would follow up to make sure he did.

All hell broke loose. Two of his ‘girl-friends’ who were on staff discovered the threat I now posed to their ‘man’, and proceeded to make our lives miserable. One of these women slapped me in the face as I sought to enter the church offices; the other labeled Annette ‘a cancer growing in the church’.

Had it not been for Jonathan Hunter and the rest of the Desert Stream staff, we would not have made it. We gathered daily to pray (far from our offices in the church, for obvious reasons). I was ready when the overseer called me and said he wanted a meeting with me and my pastor.

The drive to that meeting was like one long gang-plank. I thought of our 10 years with the Vineyard Westside. I loved that church; it had been the home for our marriage, as well as the cradle and tender parent of Desert Stream. I knew that the meeting threatened the ground we lived on.

Something was coming to an end. I cried our for mercy.

‘As You have shown us mercy, O God, in the desert places of our lives, would You show mercy to the beleaguered state of marriage in the USA? As the Perry vs. Schw. case wends its way to the National Supreme Court, prepare for Yourself a victory. We shall render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but we shall prayerfully fight for what is Yours, O God. Prepare the hearts of each justice, especially Justice Anthony Kennedy, to uphold marriage according to Your merciful design. Remember mercy, O God.’

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