As I began to write these blogs there came a As I began to write these blogs there came a moments realisation that I would have to talk about the gay issue as most of us have had the teenage church sex talk that included the line “About God creating Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve” (which is something of an unhelpful trivialisation of an important debate).
As I thought about this topic I recalled my journey on this (and other issues) and I cringe with shame at how unloving and judgemental I have been at times. At the time I would have said I was speaking up for the authority of scripture and defending truth (although I still have a high view of scripture and care as much about believing what is true as I always have). I realised I was in danger of loving cold hard doctrinal positions more than people. Orthodoxy (right doctrine/belief) is important but, so I have come to discover is Orthopraxis (right living) how we behave, how we treat one another matters to God.
As I thought about how I ruled people ‘in’ and ‘out’ I felt convicted -its not my place to rule anyone in or out- and as I looked at the life of Jesus who showed those who thought they were ‘in’ might not be and those who thought they were ‘out’ were welcomed in.
I remember a young person saying to me when I was doing Street Pastors “you must hate me because I am gay!” which made me realise what a tragic message we have sent the LGBT+ community, “Jesus really loves you mate” I said both our eyes welling up.
That night I was deeply challenged by the words of Jesus when he told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector:
“9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
I realised that I was a Pharisee!
Or at least on occasions (probably more frequently than I would like to admit) I could be pharisaic.
I would think that I was occupying the moral high ground, yet I know and knew I was broken, flawed and fallible really challenged me! The words of Jesus to “let those without sin cast the first stone!” remained as challenging today as they were 2000 years ago, the call not “not too judge one another” or to ”try and remove the speck in my brother or sisters’ eye whilst ignoring the plank in my own.
As a Christian I can’t stand in condemning judgement of anyone because I am someone in vast need of forgiveness and grace -before God I know I am a sinner- nor can I judge someone else’s servant.
Indeed, Jesus’ command to love one another has no exceptions -indeed to love people we agree with on everything is easy the challenge comes when people think/believe/act differently from how we think they should is when it becomes challenging.
I remember saying that “there is level ground before cross of Christ we all come needing mercy and grace and none of us can stand tall confident in our own righteousness but empty-handed trusting only in the blood of Jesus that saves us”.
I wondered too whether I might be more condemning of the things I wasn’t tempted to do rather than the weaknesses I easily slipped into?! Why are certain sins (often sexual sins) seen as much worse than greed or gossip or any other sin?
A Native American Proverb says: “before you judge someone walk a mile in their shoes”. As someone who suffers from depression, I have had many well-meaning Christians say unhelpful things to me because they simply have not experienced what I am going through and do not understand it, I wonder if the same is true for issues of sexuality and other issues? It is very easy to just say “its sinful” and close our minds and hearts rather than listen, learn and love real people with their experience, struggles, thoughts, doubts and questions -the second is a costlier call but I believe is more Christ-like, meeting people where they are at, coming alongside, rather than standing back shouting at them from the side-lines.
I was asked on the local TV station “what would you do if as gay person came into your church?” (I should have corrected the interviewer and said ‘its Christ’s Church not mine’). but I said “I would welcome them, introduce myself and make sure they had coffee and cake, which is what I would do if anyone else walked into Church”.
At a recent Messy Church our local Vicar Tess talked about the disciples trying to keep the children away from Jesus -and Jesus said “let the little children come to me”- and the image struck me that I don’t want to be that type of disciple!
I do not want to stop or obstruct anyone from coming to Jesus.
I also know that when people encounter Jesus they are transformed, I also know that often his priorities and work in our lives often looks different than we expect, because the Holy Spirit knows us all better than we know ourselves, and maybe Jesus doesn’t instantly say the things to people that we think he should. The more I have thought about mission I have concluded that mainly I am to introduce people to Jesus and then slip quietly away embracing the call to invisibility and gently facilitating people meeting the Living God.
I’m not saying we cannot have opinions on these matters, but as we need to be wise and gracious in our conversations about things that Christians disagree on.
We are told to “always be prepared to give an account for the hope that we have with gentleness and respect” when preaching the gospel, we need to extend love and respect to those who we might to agree with, to listen to their journey and their experience, be wise about when, how and even if to speak, to pray and read the Bible together with openness, respect, and in the context of relationship of love.
I came across a quote from Billy Graham when a gay couple travelled with us in one of our Churches “it is God’s job to judge, the holy spirit’s job to convict and my job to love!” and loving people with the mess that life brings is an example of grace.
The call to love our neighbour as ourselves has no wriggle room, we are not called to love only those who appear respectable, indeed Christ said he had come not to call respectable people but sinners. Jesus hung out with all sorts of people and yet the Church has sadly become very respectable.
The number of times I have had conversations with people who feel (for whatever reason) that they wouldn’t be welcome is heart-breaking. I want Church to be messy and I want to be a Christian that looks more like Jesus who was constantly getting into trouble with the religious elite by loving and hanging out with people and in places that people thought he should not.
Tragically I believe that the Pharisee disease is rife amongst our Churches, and sadly many Christians end up becoming Pharisees, worried about the petty things such as rules, objects, possessions and other trivialities and showing no grace or love. Sadly, too often we end up looking more like the grumpy older brother in the parable of the lost son -the older son is I believe much more lost than his younger brother!
If I ever end up running a Church again, I would call it “Recovering Pharisees” -as I want to look like Jesus more than Caiaphas (the very religious chief priest, the head pharisee), I want to be full of grace and truth, I want to be someone that “by this will people know that I am Christ’s disciple, that I love one another” as I point people to Jesus who is able to fully understand all the complexity of humanity and meets us all where we are at, but loves us all too much to leave us there.