Five questions for Pastor Danny Parmelee
A slick postcard arrived in my mailbox in mid-March. On one side is the query “Would Jesus Wear Jeans to Church?” Next to it is a partial image of a dude wearing a brown t-shirt and blue jeans. A hand at the end of dude’s tattooed right arm grips a bible. Should I toss it in the trash?
Tell me Pastor Danny (Parmelee), do you have tattoos? I see that your card says “no need to dress up or hide your tattoos” It also quotes Matthew and points out how Jesus called people who dressed the religious part but were rotten on the inside “hypocrites.”
I do have a very small tattoo of a cross on my right arm, but if you saw it you might actually mistake it for a discolored mole. It’s a tattoo that my friend and I each gave to each other when we were younger. I’ve considered getting a “real one” but for some reason never follow through on it.
However, there are many people in our congregation who don’t look like the stereotypical Christian. Frankly, I’m not even sure if there is such a thing. Tattoos, piercings, blue hair … I’ve seen it all, and can tell you with confidence that the outside is not necessarily a reflection of what’s going in a person’s heart.
In an earlier conversation you revealed you found your pastoral calling while a student at UW-Oshkosh, a notable party school. Tell me more. Did you have a vision of some kind?
I grew up learning the basics of Christianity and some of the classic bible stories. Despite that, Jesus and the bible were not really a part of my personal life. I got involved in the party scene in high school and was already drinking and doing drugs by my freshman year. When I visited UW-Oshkosh my senior year I definitely picked up on the party vibe, so it was an easy choice for me. A couple weeks into my first semester at UW-Oshkosh, a staff member from Campus Crusade for Christ knocked on my door and asked me if would be interested in getting together with some other college students to study the bible. I agreed, thinking “no harm in that.”
I would go to these bible studies on Thursday nights and actually really enjoy them but afterward, I’d get the weekend started by getting trashed with my dorm buddies. I began to feel a war waging within my soul. I would read the bible and be drawn to the truth and love that I would read, but then feel the pull into that endless cycle of partying and momentary highs.
On my 19th birthday, I went out and got drunk and stoned at a party. I came back to my dorm room and sank into my couch. It was not a vision or visitation, but I distinctly remember feeling that war in my heart coming to a head. It was both emotional and spiritual to realize that only God, through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, could save me, love me and fill me. So I just got down on my knees and cried out that Jesus would come into my life.
I woke up the next morning and had a sense of peace and freedom that I have never felt before in my life. It’s kind of cool that my spiritual birthday happened on my real birthday. I had a clean break from the addictions in my life and just began dive into God’s word, go to church and become more involved with campus ministry. Not everyone’s spiritual story will be the same, and I always remind people of that. God works differently in different people, but this is how it happened for me.
Were your parents Evangelicals? What were you majoring in at UW-Oshkosh?
We kind of skipped around a bit with different mainline denominations, Lutheran and Methodist mostly. When I was in high school, my parents attended an Evangelical church, but I didn’t go to youth group or church very often with them. I’m still thankful though because in my first years as a believer all those disconnected bible stories that I learned as a child helped lay a foundation.
I majored in elementary education. My dad was a high school biology teacher and I wanted to follow in his footsteps, but after I gave my life to Christ I switched my major to World Religions. It was a shock to my system as I was new in the faith and my very smart professors were taking a very critical view of God’s Word, Christianity and religion in general. As I look back on it, it was very beneficial for me to be challenged in that way, as I had to confront a lot of difficult questions and not just accept things blindly.
You recently purchased a church at 2308 E. Belleview Pl., after leasing space for four years. You are a non-profit with a flock of about five hundred believers. Does any of your financial support come from grants, etc.? Will you be privy to any stimulus money?
We are completely supported by those who are part of the church. It’s been amazing to see how God has always met our needs even when it didn’t seem possible. Epikos was launched in my living room a little over five years ago. Now we have 450-500 people who come on a regular basis. We don’t put a lot of emphasis on the building, but it does serve as a great tool for us as we share the message of Christ and come together corporately for worship.
Giving is a major theme in the bible, so we talk a lot about that, but we never guilt people into giving or force monetary commitments. We trust God completely in this area and as a matter of fact, God has been so good to us that as a church we give away more than 10 percent of our entire budget to others. In 2010 we’ll write out over $40,000 in checks to other ministries, churches, overseas ministries and local organizations. We believe that God blesses generosity and we’ve seen that at work in the life of our church.
Before I answer, let me just say that I understand how very controversial, emotional and personal this topic is for many people.
The bottom line is that homosexual acts, according to the bible, are considered sin. I’m sure many will cringe by my response, but let me explain a little more. When someone comes to me and says, “I’m gay, can I come to Epikos?” I respond “Yes!” It’s very clear that when Jesus walked this earth that he spent time with everyone, regardless of how righteous they were living. What many people fail to recognize though, is that as Jesus spent time with these people and certainly offered forgiveness of sin, he also asked them to turn from their sin and live lives worthy for God.
We teach that homosexual acts are sinful and through God’s help need to be surrendered to him. This applies to ALL sin, and while we address homosexuality at Epikos, we also just as strongly confront other areas of sexual immorality including heterosexual pre-marital sex, pornography, adulterous affairs, etc. All too often there is a double standard in churches where people gang up on homosexuality and yet are living equally immoral lives, but because it’s heterosexual sin, it’s glossed over. Does that make sense?
[As for] Jesus and war … Jesus is not a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Capitalist, Pacifist, or even a Socialist. War, death, fighting … it all breaks his heart. Jesus operated out of a motivation of love. What I can say is that in eternity with God there is no war, cancer, crying or pain. (Revelation 21:4)
Pastor Danny, does your church involve itself in issues that apply to real life?
I would argue that we only talk about real life issues. We talk about sex, money, love, social responsibility, emotions, occupations, dreams, desires, struggles, environment … the list goes on. If someone is bored at church, I think there is a problem with the church— not God or his absolutely life transforming message.
For Epikos, church is not just about showing up on Sunday and just listening to me talk about things and singing some songs together. A core value and ministry in our church is small groups. People meet in homes all around Milwaukee metro throughout the week. They discuss the bible, but also share life with one another. This is where people are really able to take off the mask of superficiality and get deep with one another. When people really start to engage in one another’s life, that’s where real church begins to happen. (Acts 2:42-47).
The raw, messy, beautiful, exciting and challenging stuff of our lives is lived out in God’s redemptive plan.