A Safe Place

 
 
A most basic command of Holy Scripture is that we are called to love our neighbor.  The church is the people of God who exist, in part, to be a hospital for sinners.  There are certain subjects and issues that sometimes capture the church’s attention and may cause believers to lose sight of grace, love, and basic biblical commands.  There is a particular subject that continually gets identified (in my church circles) as an “issue.”  It is the “issue” of homosexuality.
 
            First of all, I have “issues” with this being labeled as an “issue.”  We are talking about people.  As long as we continue to frame our discussions in this realm of an issue, we are going to inevitably end up taking at least some of the human element out of the conversation.  It is much easier to lambast an issue than it is a person. It must be constantly and deliberately borne in mind that gay individuals are people who have been created in the image and likeness of God.  They are not bowling balls.  They aren’t Buicks.  They are people.  And based on that fact alone, they ought to be treated with all the respect due to any person.
 
            Second, using the term “homosexuality” betrays the reality that we have not done our due diligence in listening well to gay persons.  In my humble experience, homosexuality is a word that immediately puts up unnecessary roadblocks with LGBT folks.  Continually using the term homosexuality typically communicates that certain individuals are in the category of a mental disease that needs to be cured.  What is more, when certain church folks start tossing around the term, not far behind is the handful of biblical references that are supposed to make gay persons feel guilty enough to either:  become heterosexual on the spot; or, live an eternally celibate existence without ever talking about their dirty little secret again.  Even if all this is communicated with an altruistic sense of love by the church person (which seems pretty rare), it isn’t likely that anything good is going to come of the conversation.
 
            Here is my most basic concern:  the church ought to be a safe place.  Whatever your understanding is concerning gay persons, I would hope beyond hope that you can sign-off on the sheer necessity of the church being the one place on planet earth (or in God’s kingdom!) that people who are wrestling with Scripture when it comes to sexuality and gender can come with their questions and find help and resolution with what is going on deep in their souls.
 
            Whenever we church leaders make our pious pronouncements and babble on about how we are upholding the authority of Holy Scripture, it sounds to me like we are saying things that help make us feel better about ourselves instead of saying something that will help the otherthrough their time of need. 
 
            Here is a ridiculously simple observation:  gay people are not going to magically disappear.  Yet, it seems like there are some churches that want to blink and just expect that there will be no more gays around.  Here is another simple observation:  gay individuals have eternal souls just like anyone else, and they are looking for redemption and hope just like anyone else.  The question of the hour, then, is:  Will the church show pastoral care and sensitivity for all people, or will the church be a country club with a chaplain caring only for “acceptable” members?
 

 

            We are all sinners in need of God’s grace in Christ; we all belong to the same human family.  It is high time we begin focusing on our commonality so that we might shepherd one another toward Jesus, the Great Shepherd.  He is our Savior.  Let us come to him together.

Gays and the Church?

It is possible to stand for truth without being a jerk about it.  It is equally true that we can love another person deeply and still hold firm to the truth.  Somehow speaking the truth in love doesn’t seem to apply to the church when it comes to homosexuality.

I must admit that over the years, and particularly now as my own denomination is having a conversation about gays in the church, that I am genuinely grieved and lament over how people talk to one another about this.  On the one hand, there is the truth tellers.  They have a passion for holiness, a zeal for the righteousness of God.  They point out that Jesus got angry over sin, and did not put up with people watering down the gospel.  Jesus, for them, is the Divine Warrior who is ready and armed to nuke every GLBT that gets near him.  On the other hand there are the lovers.  They are sincerely and often hurt by the constant chatter about how gays are sinners bound for hell.  For them, Jesus loves, period.  He wouldn’t hurt a fly, and drives a Prius around trying to leave the most loving impact he can on the earth without a harmful spiritual footprint or a rebuke from anyone.

I, of course, have painted the extremes on both sides.  But therein lies the point:  all the rhetoric that gets spewed on each side of the fence is extreme.  Somehow love and truth don’t co-exist.

The problem is that few want to take the time to listen.  Few are interested in understanding the other.  There isn’t much poverty of spirit, little mourning over sin, and even less meekness.  Instead, we look down our noses at each other.  But listening, really?  Yep, listening is really that important.  “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If the person listens to you, you have won your brother or sister over.”  (Matthew 18:15).  I guess it is kind of hard to listen when people are taking pot shots at each other through social media and huddling together in their own little world.  Matthew 18 presupposes relationship, and there seems to be little of it going around.

So, how about this:  truth teller, will you take the time and the effort to build a relationship with a gay person?  Will you seek to ask questions, listen, and understand without making comments?  Are you able to see the image of God in someone very different from yourself?  And, lover of all, do you have room to love someone who is at opposite ends of your understanding?  Are you willing to take the time and effort to see why this is such a passionate issue for someone else without thinking that you already know why they think the way they do?  Can you see that God’s love is big enough to extend to truth tellers?

The reality is that there are hot button issues for every church in which people are at very different ends of the spectrum of thinking.  We in the church must take the lead and have the maturity to learn how to talk to one another without assuming we already know what the other side is all about.  We don’t.  We won’t know unless we listen.  We won’t listen unless we are humble.  We won’t be humble unless we become poor in spirit before our heavenly Father.

Think about having a conversation night in your church, not a debate night.  Have two godly people who don’t agree on an important subject speak with the intent of promoting information and understanding – no other agenda.  Allow the audience to ask write-in questions, and screen the best ones to be answered by the presenters.  It has to start somewhere.  Let it start with listening.