New Montrose Church Juggles God, Gays, Stylish Glasses

Categories: Religion

MarshallDallas.jpg
Photo by Susan Du
Pastor Marshall Dallas of Sojourn aims to expand religious influence in Montrose despite the neighborhood's clear political leaning.

Marshall Dallas is not exactly selling monotheism to the Romans, but that doesn't mean church planting in Montrose has been smooth sailing.

Leading the flock at Sojourn on any given Sunday, the tatted pastor sports thick-rimmed vintage glasses and a plaid button-up rolled up at the elbows, his dark beard trimmed slightly shorter than Biblical proportions. Yet despite Sojourn's outwardly hipster makeup, Dallas isn't rocking the theological boat just because he rocks an Astros snapback. The church views homosexuality as a sin, currently has no gay members, and would ultimately excommunicate members who fail to renounce their homosexuality.

Locals question whether a Montrose church plant could ever succeed as a neighborhood fixture if it fails to accept a key demographic.

Churches that originated in Montrose but eventually moved out include Bali-based Global Church and Ecclesia Houston, now located in the 1st Ward. Ecclesia's attempts to draw more young people to the church are analogous to Sojourn's current approach: a casual Sunday worship, an app-based membership portal, electric guitars and PowerPoint hymnals.

Ecclesia Pastor Steven Hicks said the church left Montrose in 2012 because it was outgrowing its house. But prior to relocation, Ecclesia raised some eyebrows for its plans to share space with the Christian group Emmaus, which linked to gay conversion camps on its homepage. Ecclesia church leaders broke it off with the Emmaus chapter at fault, but by then community relations were stormy.

Sojourn's determination to survive in Montrose is readily apparent: sermons are replete with pop culture references, and on some weekends the loft doubles as a community art gallery showcasing work by Christian and non-Christian artists. Members are uniformly young, falling within the college to mid-30s age bracket. The church invites the entire community to cookouts. Weekly group meetings culminate in bar crawls.

But Sojourn isn't likely to budge on its theological stance against same-sex relationships. Church leaders are upfront about that, and though some attendees leave as a result, others stick around to wrestle it out. Gays are welcome to be members, provided they repent for their same-sex attraction. Gay members that refuse to renounce homosexuality would eventually be booted from the church. Excommunication.

Dallas underscores that the church views homosexuality as no more evil than any other sin, such as lying about a grade or watching porn.

Daniel Moreno, 25, has been church shopping the past few weeks. He's seen a lot of congregations in his search for the best fit. On August 3, after spending the morning in the Sojourn loft and then going out for lunch at a local cafe with some church members, he was smitten by Sojourn's focus on building friendships outside of church.

Up until recently, Moreno attended a church in Katy. But friendships soured when he began to question the church's teachings - such as whether modern translations of the Bible are 100 percent accurate and whether sex before marriage is a sin. Ultimately the church barred Moreno from teaching youth classes. Moreno was looking for a church where members would accept him as a friend first, and allow him to discuss his doubts. He says he saw real potential for that at Sojourn.

"I think God is big enough to handle your questions and your doubts," Moreno said. "Whether [the church] disagrees with me on these issues, I don't care as long as they love me. I'm in their junk, they're in my junk. Life isn't meant to be lived alone."

Still, retracting church membership for gay Christians doesn't sit well with Moreno. He says the policy wouldn't necessarily drive him away from a church, but he would speak out against the act of excommunication. "When churches say you can't be Christian and be gay, that I think is a problem," he said.

Sojourn leaders say that they didn't target Montrose in order to convert gays. That wasn't Ecclesia's goal either, Hicks says. He and his congregation stayed in Montrose for nearly 15 years before they moved on, and Hicks attributes Ecclesia's growth to his attempt to keep religion separate from politics.

Sojourn's Montrose location has been a strenuous exercise for Dallas in balancing how to be authentic to his beliefs and also to his neighborhood. He knows that his views on homosexuality aren't popular, but he admits that he does want to be liked. Still, he's candid about Sojourn's policies, wears his religious affiliation on expanding tattoo sleeves and enjoys casual conversations with Montrose strangers about God over free trade coffee.

Dallas says his message is simple - Jesus Christ was all about love and tolerance. Yet, Sojourn withholds membership from gays. Ordinary churchgoers are welcome to debate the church's stance on any number of issues. But official members must denounce homosexuality.

"You're constantly going over how this situation could play its way out and if I upset these people, do they leave," Dallas said. "In most situations I just try to be really honest. There's no hidden curtain."

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39 comments
aoyewole.uh
aoyewole.uh

Or at least go to their website and listen to the sermons

aoyewole.uh
aoyewole.uh

I've attended this church a couple of times and I know that they believe in nothing but Love. Love for your neighbor,your community, and love for God. His presence is there. We need this church. Unfortunately, the individual who wrote this article has ulterior motives. If your reading this I encourage you to visit for yourself. Don't judge based on the comments below. The hipster vibe is just to get you there. The real content is in the people and the message.

Steve Christy
Steve Christy

Really, do we need these misguided "love the sinner, hate the sin" kind of douche bags in our backyard.

Trillian Ninetysix
Trillian Ninetysix

Tats: forbidden by the old testament, but totally acceptable. Homosexuality: forbidden by the old testament and not negotiable. So, basically, he's just another self-righteous douchebag.

Anthony Colicci
Anthony Colicci

If there is a God, he is totally cool with people being gay or whatever they want. Looking like a douche bag and judging everyone based on their lifestyles on the other hand is probably a pet peeve of his.

reed.hanson
reed.hanson

"Ordinary churchgoers are welcome to debate the church's stance on any number of issues. But official members must denounce homosexuality."

Reading this article again, I was fascinated by this choice of words by the author. As someone who knows Marshall and is a part of the church which helped plant Sojourn Montrose, this statement is, at minimum, careless if not intentionally misleading. One would think that our churches call regular meetings to insist that our members shame gays by reading this statement.

There is absolutely no call from our church or Sojourn Montrose that requires ordinary members to "denounce homosexuality". We focus on homosexuality most when our culture insists we focus on it, much like this article does. People erroneously think that all Christians obsess over homosexuality, and statements like the one above only feed into this stereotype.

It would be more accurate to state that those who attend Sojourn are free to ask questions and express doubts without condemnation.

When members join the church, the church simply presents its theology to the prospective member and asks that the member respect and uphold the doctrine of the church. That includes a prohibition against all sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage by our members. But we do not expect our neighbors to behave by our standards without believing in our God. Which is why our focus is not "sexual behavior" at all. Rather, we want to share with people about Jesus.

Spend a Sunday at Sojourn Montrose. Ask questions. Set aside your preconceived notions. I'm pretty sure you'll be surprised. And the Montrose neighborhood will be that much stronger for it.

TKyle
TKyle

You guys understand that there's a difference between a person's desires and their actions, right? Just because a person has a desire does not mean that they're morally entitled to act upon that desire. No one would say that categorically. And yet most of the comments castigate the pastor because he has taken an unpopular stance on sexual morality. 

Further, given this pastor's convictions, wouldn't it be unloving to allow someone to continue in actions that he genuinely believes are destructive to his soul? How is it loving to encourage someone to continue down a path that takes them away from God? 


And why is it a cultural assumption around here that a person's sexuality is synonymous with their identity as a whole? A person is so much more than their sexuality...but you wouldn't know that by the comments to this article. It seems like asking someone to change their sexual behavior is tantamount to denying their humanity in the first place. That's simply not true, not to mention ignorant. 


If a bigot is one who has an obstinate belief in the superiority of one's own opinions and a prejudiced intolerance of the opinions of others, who are the real bigots here?


It seems like this church is welcome in Montrose as long as its moral priorities are aligned to the prevailing culture of Montrose. Where's the appreciation for diversity? Where's the tolerance? Most of the comments I've read have demanded moral conformity—just like the church. Do you not see the irony there?

stan9989
stan9989

Do any of you who posted comments find it at all interesting that those who denounce this man as bigoted and hateful, do so with such bigoted and hateful language.  I guess it's ok to be bigoted and hateful against Christianity?  I have found, that the LEAST inclusive people tend to be those that preach love, tolerance and acceptance. It is also apparent by those of you who reference the Bible (and what is supposedly says), that you really have no clue what it truly says.  How refreshing it is to find a church that loves people as they are, yet still holds to what the bible says about lifestyle choices.



Ray Hill
Ray Hill

My first career (age 13-17) was as a teenage Baptist evangelist, a great job. All you have to do is manipulate culturally imposed guilt and shame and the suckers will give you lots of $$$$. You appear to be selling a valuable product, "eternal life" but you actually have none of it in inventory and you do not have to deliver it when the need arises and nobody returns to complain about the product or the service. I gave that up (because I realized it was dishonest) for a more ethical career as a burglar which paid almost as much but the retirement system sucked.

Like another job I had representing the adult industry as a lobbyist where there is no limit to the amount of $$$$ that can be made from male sexual insecurity, the potential for earnings from the manipulation of guilt is without limits.

Dataguy
Dataguy

If Christianity was about love and grace, then its extremists would be extremely loving and gracious, and they're not. Christianity is fundamentally what fundamentalists are all about, and that proves it's a farce.

Zinu
Zinu

"Sojourn's determination to survive in Montrose is readily apparent: sermons are replete with pop culture references, and on some weekends the loft doubles as a community art gallery showcasing work by Christian and non-Christian artists. Members are uniformly young, falling within the college to mid-30s age bracket. The church invites the entire community to cookouts. Weekly group meetings culminate in bar crawls."


Sounds like a f*ckin gimmick.

JohnSeabornGray
JohnSeabornGray

Few things irritate me more than an old-fashioned bigot disguising his hate in the trappings of the counter-culture.

Joshua Baughman
Joshua Baughman

Why not just make up your own (unofficial) official religion?

Joshua Baughman
Joshua Baughman

I mean why bother with any scriptures if youre not gonna follow them all?

Joshua Baughman
Joshua Baughman

Not a christian or any of that, but doesnt it also say that homosexuallity is a sin in scripture? Guess we can all just pick and choose what we like in the bible huh jessica?

Tessa Pechal
Tessa Pechal

In under 10 years he'll get busted with a dude(s) . That's how a gay angel gets its wings.

derekmcintyre80
derekmcintyre80

All this bigoted, hateful, Unchristian pastor wants to do is nail Jesus to the cross of hate. Hate DOES NOT belong at the church pulpit-PERIOD! A nice, old, 1951 TV and 18th century sheet music is worth waaaay more than this pastor's HATE. This pastor can do us all a favor and go back to 1900 where he belongs, or better yet, the 1860's when Queen Victoria was on the British Throne and Abraham Lincoln was the US president and loooong before paved highways and automobiles. This pastors best before date is June, 1863-time to be flushed down history's toilet!

Jessica Lynn
Jessica Lynn

This breaks my heart as a Christian in the lgbt community. It is our job as Christians to love. It is written in scripture to love our neighbors. We forget and it leaves some of us in a harsh light of hatred, bigotry, homophobia, and ignorance.

Riely Francis
Riely Francis

I'll go sit at the Rothko Chapel instead. You can keep the guilt and shame, thank you very much.

Gaspar_Ramsey
Gaspar_Ramsey

Back in the Day we had Krishnas and the Church of Satan. Not to mention the Brotherhood of Dasypus. Nobody excluded anybody.

jamest002
jamest002

What a dick. I hope it fails

kagan34
kagan34

Don't beleive in any religious mumbo jumbo, but if I had to choose, it would be John's message of love. 

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

Looks like this pastor has read Leviticus 20:13 but not Leviticus 19:28.

arrothiel
arrothiel

Dear Christian Hipsters: No one wants you in the Montrose. Go away.

h_e_x
h_e_x

Poor attempt to hide bigotry behind a "cool" facade. Like Olsteen, he'll ignore the actual words of Jesus in favor of Old Testament fire and brimstone, but it's ok because he has a tattoo, rides a bike, and dresses a certain way.

jderek2
jderek2

Statements like this are like reading a chapter in a US History book about Pearl Harbor and concluding that the US lost WW2. A gross misunderstanding of context and narrative.

h_e_x
h_e_x

@stan9989 Intolerance against intolerance is worse than being intolerant? Here we have someone who blatantly goes against what the Bible says (tattoos), but turns around and says other parts are to be followed no matter what. Do you have any idea how crazy that sounds? You are saying that being intolerant (homophobic in this case) is as bad as calling out said intolerance. That doesn't make any sense and is a laughable defense of bigotry. Don't play the victim card when you get called out on bullshit.

h_e_x
h_e_x

@Dataguy When other religions do it it can lead to an invasion, but when it is done here we are supposed to support it. Funny how things are when you change a few names.

h_e_x
h_e_x

I wonder if god laughs at his own farts?

h_e_x
h_e_x

Oh dear god, that's such a sad, desperate little site. Trying so hard to be cool, but still reeking of some creepy youth minister eyeing the kids feeling.

jderek2
jderek2

@Kylejack have you read Isaiah 53, Galatians 3, Romans 3, or Hebrews 10? Like any good story there must be a understanding of context and narrative. I get you're point. I do, its probably the most common point made against Christianity. But there's significantly more to it than those two verses.

dpward
dpward

@Kylejack Yeah, what's up with that, hipster pastor? Why is it OK to ignore the part about tats, but not the part about gays? Not that I care. I don't go to any church, even hipster church.

jenham
jenham

@h_e_x You're taking the tattoo scripture out of context as a whole. Sure it says that, but to understand what I mean and why you can't measure those against each other, you'd have to determine and understand the differences between old covenant/Old Testament law vs. the new covenant under Jesus. If you want to cover or seemingly quote anything that represents the Christian side of the argument, I'm sure many would encourage you to fully understand exactly what it is we believe in first. The best type of disagreement is to be able to fully understand and explain the other side of the argument before you say, "I disagree."

Hicth3423
Hicth3423

@jderek2 this is what we call the "context" card. it's a nice tool for the theist to use, but ultimately it fails.

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