Welcome to Episode 3 of The Question with Zachary Stiles. Today’s episode was supposed to be with Berenice Chalmers. However, due to health-related reasons, Berenice was unable to make it. Our guest is Pastor Howard Lake from Shepherd’s Mercy Church. Please be advised that due to the nature of our conversation, today’s episode may be especially troubling to some listeners. Thank you for your continued support.
Zachary: Welcome to episode 3 of The Question with Zachary Stiles. My name is Zachary Stiles, and I am a queer activist, journalist, and blogger based in the Lower Mainland of beautiful British Columbia. If you’re new to The Question with Zachary Stiles, I am so happy you’re here. The goal of this podcast is to ask big questions of our guests, questions that are not necessarily going to be comfortable, but ones that need to be asked.
Now, my original guest was going to be Berenice Chalmers from the Funeral 4 Lucas web portal. The plan was to ask her about the status of F4L community groups around the world and the impact this movement has had on LGTBQ people in our society. I also have a collection of questions sent in from listeners for Berenice. Unfortunately, Berenice had to drop out due to some health-related reasons, and we wish her a quick recovery. However, she did recommend that I get in touch with Pastor Howard Lake. Now if you are not aware, Pastor Howard Lake is the pastor of Shepherd’s Mercy Church. At this point, I’m sure Shepherd’s Mercy Church in Langley, BC is a place that needs no introduction. However, for those who do not know, this is the church 14-year-old Lucas Good attended before he tragically took his own life. It is also the church that refused to hold a funeral for him, and the location of our first Funeral 4 Lucas protest.
Now, I realize that this is a show about asking questions, and when you ask questions, you often don’t get the answers that you were hoping to hear. I understand that. However, I for one have been getting a little bit weary of having guests on this show promoting ideas that I don’t agree with. Ideas that frankly, I view as harmful. But from some of the reactions I’ve been getting and from the advice of Berenice herself, this is content that is really encouraging people to continue standing up for what they believe in in the face of adversity. So with that in mind, I did agree with Berenice’s idea to get in touch with Pastor Howard Lake, and he accepted my request to appear on my podcast. He should be joining us any minute now.
Howard: I’m here, Zachary, thank you.
Zachary: Thank you for joining me on my podcast. Now, do you prefer to be called… Pastor Howard, Pastor Lake…?
Howard: You can call just call me Howard if you want.
Zachary: Alright, thank you, Pastor Howard. So, let’s get right into this. In my first show, I asked Marsha Good, who of course is Lucas’ mother, I asked her why there would be no funeral for Lucas. I got her perspective, but being the actual pastor, I want to ask you the same thing.
Howard: I can speak to that. It was a decision made by Marsha and Randy Good. It was not made by Shepherd’s Mercy Church. Not to sound insensitive, but I can’t force someone to hold a funeral.
Zachary: So, if the opposite situation had happened, and Marsha and Randy Good came to you and asked to hold a funeral for Lucas, would you have done that for them?
Zachary: So then how is it their choice? You say they have a choice, but there’s one option available, so to me, that’s no choice at all.
Howard: They could have held a funeral at an alternative venue – if it were their decision to hold a public funeral at all.
Zachary: Why would you say no to a request like that? What would be the logic there?
Howard: Because as a church, we have the right to say no to engaging in behaviours that violate our beliefs.
Zachary: In this scenario, what behaviour violates your beliefs?
Howard: We as a church are interested in promoting right relationship with Jesus Christ, so anything that deviates from that, well, we need to see repentance, so I would-
Zachary: If a congregant were divorced and then died by suicide after, would you hold a funeral for that congregant?
Howard: Yes, absolutely.
Zachary: Why would you do it for that congregant and not for someone like Lucas?
Howard: I don’t really understand what you are getting at. It feels like you’re trying to split hairs here until you come to the outer boundary of where intolerable sin starts and God’s unyielding grace begins. And that’s really not the way we as Christians view the world. We know God’s grace is so much bigger and so much more mysterious than-
Zachary: Do you recognize yourself as responsible for what happened to Lucas?
Howard: What do you mean by that?
Zachary: I’ve been thinking about this. As much as I understand that Lucas died by suicide, ultimately, I believe you killed Lucas.
Howard: I did not kill Lucas.
Zachary: You killed Lucas and your Bible was your weapon.
Howard: I did not kill Lucas.
Zachary: He was struck down with the guilt, the shame, the fear that you implanted into his heart every week with the words you preached from your pulpit.
Howard: The only thing that I preach from my pulpit is the grace and truth of Jesus Christ.
Zachary: If you and your community refuse to take responsibility for what happened to Lucas, then tell me, who is responsible for the death of Lucas Good?
Howard: You know, Zachary, accusing someone of a murder they did not commit in a public forum such as this is slander.
Zachary: I’m not intimidated by you.
Howard: But even beyond that, I think what you are doing trying to assign blame for a young person’s suicide is cruel. It’s enough that we as a community have to endure the loss of one of our children. On top of that you are suggesting that we have to live as though we murdered him ourselves? How is that anything other than outright cruelty? I know that’s not your intention. I just think you should just be more mindful about the way you phrase things.
Zachary: You live by your beliefs, and I live by my beliefs.
Howard: I can respect that.
Zachary: My belief is people who violate the dignity of their fellow human beings should be called to account.
Howard: As a Christian, I absolutely agree with you. I think that’s what God’s restorative justice is all about.
Zachary: On March 11th, in lieu of a traditional funeral, you held a sermon entitled “Homosexuality and God’s Judgment.”
Howard: That is correct.
Zachary: Do you not see how, instead of holding a funeral for a gay suicide victim, that instead preaching a sermon entitled “Homosexuality and God’s Judgment”… do you not see how that violates the basic dignity of-
Howard: Well, no, because I don’t see God’s judgment as a bad thing. Sometimes, God’s judgment is that he helps us give up our harmful behaviours and return to his ways of living righteously.
Howard: Sometimes, yes.
Zachary: What is it the other times?
Howard: The other times?
Zachary: The other times when God’s judgment is not that.
Howard: Well, if you want to learn more about theology, perhaps you should start attending my church. You’d be more than welcome to come, Zachary.
Zachary: You’re like a brick wall, Pastor Howard.
Howard: Well, I’m more than happy to chat with you, Zachary. I really am. But am I going to tailor my answers to be more palatable to you and your base, or am I going to, you know, just change what I believe to be more popular? No, I’m not going to do that. As you yourself said, I’m a man who lives by his beliefs.
Zachary: On a different note, your church posted an article by John McIntyre on your website. That article basically calls for religious groups to protest social actions by the Funeral 4 Lucas movement. I wanted to ask you directly if that is in fact the messaging that you wanted?
Howard: Oh, wow. Well, I mean, the article that we posted was about freedom of religion. You agree with that right?
Zachary: Yes, it was about freedom of religion but-
Howard: Our belief in freedom of religion exists completely independently of your movement.
Zachary: So what you’re saying-
Howard: We would be demanding freedom of religion whether your movement was protesting outside my church or not. In fact, we have been doing exactly that for years, especially recently when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on homosexual marriage. We were here before your movement started and we will be here long after your movement disappears. The Christian church has existed for centuries, and it is not going anywhere any time soon.
Zachary: My questions are not about all of Christianity in its entirety. My questions are about-
Howard: I didn’t kill Lucas, Zachary.
Zachary: Well, I think between you and Marsha Good, I’m sure my listeners have heard quite enough to make their own opinions about this story.
Howard: Nobody killed Lucas, Zachary.
Zachary: You mean, nobody in your community is going to take responsibility for killing Lucas.
Howard: No, I am saying nobody killed Lucas.
Zachary: Just because Lucas died by suicide doesn’t mean that others are completely absolved from responsibility for the mental state he must have been him to make that choice.
Howard: Our church would have helped him with his mental state. Not just him, but anyone in our church. This might be impossible for you to believe but we don’t set out to make people’s lives worse. We believe the gospel, God’s plans for our lives… these things make our lives better.
Zachary: But, you must know that there is a difference between what you intend to do and what actually happens?
Howard: Well, we always can do a better job of loving others. We aren’t perfect people.
Zachary: You know what I think would bring you a little bit closer to being just somewhat better? If you had the awareness to understand that not everyone is tied down to your worldview, that some people are going to hear what you say and find it very damaging-
Howard: Well, I am familiar with Christians being persecuted and misunderstood for their beliefs. That’s been all of Christian history that’s been happening, so I certainly know that.
Zachary: -and perhaps letting people finish their goddamn sentences without cutting them off!
Howard: You’re sounding very heated, Zachary. Are you feeling okay about everything we’ve talked about?
Zachary: I can’t… I can’t deal with this right now. I’m letting you go. Goodbye. (deep breath) Okay, so listeners, I apologize for getting so emotional there. I want to be as calm and as level-headed as possible with any guest, whether I agree with them or not. But there are some things I just can’t keep putting up with. And one of those things is this constant, non-stop… gaslighting! I hope that next time we’ll be able to get a more positive guest like Berenice Chalmers or someone like her on this cast. I don’t want everything to be a cautionary tale all the time. We’ve had more than enough of those and I want to get some positivity in here. So… I’ll work on that. I’ll definitely work on that. Until next time… you’ve been listening to The Question with Zachary Stiles. This is Zachary Stiles signing off.