Zach Lambert is the founder and lead pastor of the Restore Austin church in Texas. Among other things, Lambert’s bio on the church’s website lists him as the founder of the Post Evangelical Collective, which is “a group of pastors, artists, and leaders committed to full inclusion, holistic justice, deep and wide formation, a gracious posture, and the Way of Jesus.” The four core values of Restore Austin are Grace, Authenticity, Diversity, and Partnerships. “Authenticity” was a big one a few years ago when many churches were leaning into post-modernism and the world. Those churches usually went by names like The Rock, Village, Well, Compass, City, Village, Space, Collective, Hypotenuse, or Pavement. Or some other random word. Everyone at these churches agreed that authenticity was important, but I never heard someone explain what they meant by it. If you were young, hip, and somewhat fresh out of Bible College, a church plant needed to be “authentic.” Lambert also reportedly once stated that Jesus would be LGBTQ-affirming.
The Publica reports that Lambert, apparently to showcase his progressive street credit, took to X on November 27 to sing the praises of Harvey Milk, a gay rights activist and hero to many in the LGBTQ community. Milk’s life was chronicled in the 1982 book “The Mayor of Castro Street” by Randy Shilts. Milk was assassinated, and Lambert marked his passing by posting:
45 years ago today, Harvey Milk was assassinated. He was the first openly gay elected official in the country.
Milk lived and died for the cause of equal rights for all, especially LGBTQ+ folks.
‘I know you can’t live on hope alone, but without hope, life is not worth living.”
A photo of Milk accompanied the post. Lambert pulled the post when it was pointed out to him that in addition to being a pioneer of gay rights, Milk was also an accused sexual predator. Reduxx founder Anna Slatz noted:
he sexually abused a 16-year-old drug-addicted runaway who later killed himself due to being riddled with a veritable buffet of mental illness https://t.co/EWCGycRSyt
— pagliacci the hater 🎃 (@Slatzism) November 28, 2023
The Publica notes Shilts’ book, while lavishing praise on Milk, also talks about his relationship with 16-year-old Jack McKinley. McKinley suffered from mental illness, and Milk was 34 at the time of the relationship. McKinley would ultimately take his own life in 1980. Lambert’s post received several such comments before being subjected to a Community Note on X. Lambert pulled the post, but The Publica said he since has blocked everyone who called him out on the matter. I have known many gay people during my life. The overwhelming majority of them have been decent, kind, law-abiding people who would never dream of exploiting a young person. By all appearances, Milk was not such a person.
While I doubt that my theology and politics (or those of most PJ Media readers) would align very closely with Lambert’s or those in his church, Restore Austin appears to be a strong supporter of many charities, including those that assist trafficking victims, sex abuse survivors, and the impoverished. And those are all good things. By all lights, Lambert got caught up in the idea of being counter-cultural, cutting-edge, and revolutionary. One would surmise that Lambert is so engrossed in following in the footsteps of the likes of Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, and others in the Emergent Church movement that he has forgotten to follow Christ. Perhaps he is so interested in deconstructing something that he has forgotten about creating something.
Yes, God loves everyone. But the idea that He will automatically accept whatever our choices are, no matter their outcomes for ourselves or others, is not biblical. He didn’t condemn the woman at the well or the woman about to be stoned for adultery. But he didn’t leave them as he found them either. If God did not expect us to grow, improve, and be responsible and accountable, He would not have given Moses the Ten Commandments. He would not have sent prophets to Israel and Judah. And he would not have sent Jesus. If one is perfect, just the way one is, there is no need for a savior. Or even God. We can debate homosexuality all we want, but surely we can all get together on the idea that sexually abusing minors is wrong. Right? Right?
One would think these churches would have learned from the examples of the Episcopalians and Presbyterians, along with some Lutheran and Methodist churches. On an average Sunday, you could stage a racquetball tournament in any given Episcopal sanctuary without putting anyone at risk of serious injury. Yet somehow, they think that social justice, good vibes, and coffee will keep the butts in the pews. I used to attend a non-denominational evangelical church. I checked out some of their posts the other day. They show grown people departing for overseas mission trips playing Rock-Paper-Scissors, with the winner hitting the loser in the face with a travel pillow and one instance in which the loser spat water on the winner. They also posted a photo of the congregation playing with beach balls so they could “become like little children.”
Those antics, coupled with an ear-splitting band that plays the best of K-LOVE, will work for a while. But, there has been a trend that has gone largely unnoticed by many Protestant denominations. People are slipping away. Despite the pope’s actions, more people are drifting to the Catholic Church. And not the watered-down version of the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, etc. People are looking for the traditional Latin Mass. Years ago, my wife and I converted to the Greek Orthodox Church. In the last year it has been filling up with new young families. If we arrive too late, there is no place to park outside and nowhere to stand inside (in the Orthodox faith, worshippers traditionally stand throughout most of the service).
What’s driving this? It is not just the novelty of the “smells, bells and yells” and the statues or icons. People want something more than a CCM song, a cup of coffee, and a sermon that could double as a timeshare pitch. They don’t want flashing lights, special effects, or dance numbers. They want to connect with God. They want a worship experience that has significance and a faith that helps them define their obligations and direct their lives. They want to reach out to the Divine. They want their worship and religious experience to permeate every aspect of their lives. The average seeker-sensitive church isn’t offering anything different than what people can find on Hulu or at Starbucks. There are pronouns, CRT, and DEI to spare in every quarter. These people want a sense of reverence and even duty. They want rules to follow and roles to fulfill. They want thoughtful dialogue and books to read. They want theology. And they want meaning. The churches from which they are fleeing aren’t providing that anymore.
And people are not just drifting toward Catholicism or Orthodoxy. There are a number of Westerners who are turning to Islam. Muslim street preachers or missionaries, for lack of a better word, have studied the Bible and know it better than many Christians. Someone who wanders into their sphere may find themselves at a loss to defend the faith using the points from last Sunday’s fill-in-the-blanks sermon and the small group discussion topic. I have sat in far too many non-denominational churches that didn’t just downplay scholarship but disparaged it completely. Anyone who wanted to pursue formal studies was pretentious, inferior to anyone else, and a pharisee. Islam, whatever one may say about it, is meeting a need that has been unaddressed by many Christian churches.
People can follow whatever brand of Christianity they want. They can be a Jew, a Muslim, or a Druid if that’s what fills the soul. But if you look around your church and wonder where everyone went or why they went where they did, you might want to spend less time blaming the world and more time looking inside. And even if your congregation appears to be a mile wide to the naked eye, if it is only an inch deep, are you truly fulfilling the Great Commission?