Not too long ago, I went out to lunch with a friend of mine.  We got on the topic of this year’s Mo*Con and I mentioned how many homeless people and homosexuals go to my church.  The question came up “how do you deal with them?”  So we had a conversation and I was all prepared to write a blog talking about how there was something about the tenor of the word “them” that troubled me.  I have known this man most of my life.  He’s a good man, a godly man, but the use of “them” struck me wrong.  But before I could get my pious on, something occurred to me:  I had just “Other”-ed two groups of people in the church.

I’m sure that if I took a careful look at my heart, there was more than a little pride at work.  “Look at me, I’m so spiritual, blah, blah, blah.”  The other thing at work, in that way ideas and –isms can, there was some homophobia at work also.  I realized what troubled me about “them”:  I’ve been the “them” or “those people.”  There are times when I engage in conversations and I swap out the topic of choice and replace it with “black people” to see how it plays to my ear.  Bigotry gets quickly revealed.

At what point do we have to cop to our own sin of homophobia.

There are a lot of things I struggle with in my religion and how my faith is practiced, a lot of things I wrestle with reconciling.  There’s a lot about my religion I frankly don’t get.  Like how a religion who at its core defines its people by their love ends up leaving so many ground up and devastated in its wake.  I know bigotry when I see it.  I recognized hate justified by God/the Bible when I see it.  Behind the “them”s and the “super sin” categorization and the “hating the sin” I see denigration, bigotry, and fear.  I see harmful actions and wounding.  I see an inherent, if often unspoken, disgust and condemnation.  I wonder if we wrestle with the sin of homophobia, of hating and discriminating against “the other” and confess it, much less repent of it.

At what point did Christians go from being defined by love to being characterized by so much hate?  I know others struggle with “this issue”.  A fear of homosexuals in the church, even if it’s just in affirming it.  I get some of the angst.  For me the issue rears its head with other issues how do I affirm the person and not their behavior?  Then again, I remember to concentrate on loving the person and affirming who they are in Christ, but that’s one way of wrestling with the topic.  And the quick battle cry they whip out is “hate the sin, love the sinner.”  That strategy choice, in my experience, typically doomed to fail on its face.  For example, one of the chief concerns of my friend was whether or not I “hammer home that homosexuality is a sin?”  I think the church has broadcast that message loud and clear, for one.  I don’t think there’s a GLBT in the world who doesn’t know that’s the traditional interpretation of the Bible (even those people who disagree with that interpretation).

I’m wondering if this is where the church has gone wrong with its message and missed the mark of the gospel, frankly.  Under this paradigm, sin becomes the focus.  A biblical lifestyle becomes about the behaviors, not the person.  That’s the inherent flaw of “hate the sin, love the sinner”:  we’re defined first and foremost as sinners.  This contributes to a gospel that begins with God doesn’t like us very much (for a long time I struggled with that because the Gospel message we present/I heard seemed a lot like we’re low down dirty sinners who God can’t stand to be around because He’s so holy.  So He had to send His Son, pour out all of His wrath on Jesus, just so He could be in the same room with us.  Now, by the way, follow Him.)  We’re little more that convicts awaiting judgment, reduced to behaviors to be corrected.  This is literally a sin, in that it has “missed the mark” of the story.

Another area where we miss the mark is that “hate the sin, love the sinner” is an awfully nuanced position for most people.  Let’s face it, if we can’t get “love one another” down, so complicating the matter with “hate [anything]” is a recipe for disaster because we typically can’t separate our hatred from the message.  I don’t see how more hate and separating/exclusion helps anything.  So naturally the take home message for many people has been “hate”:  homosexuality as a super sin, homosexuals as second class citizens, the language of exclusion, etc.

I don’t know if a paradigm shift in our thinking may be required.  In American evangelicalism, we pride ourselves on knowing.  That’s the thing:  we “know” a lot of things.  It’s one of the things we brag about in our pastors or our church bodies:  how well we’re “fed”.  We sit in our pews, spiritually emaciated, because we don’t know how to put what we know into practice.  In our “knowing,” it’s easy to rail against homosexuality and decry the decline of our nation.  And set up these faceless boogiemen to point at as “them.”  This is what happens when we start our story at “we’re sinners.”*

What if we started the story of our faith with creation. With humanity created in the image of God and declared “good”. As image-bearers, we have inherent worth. The Fall becomes about not living up to that potential, what we were created to be. This impacts our view of the Gospel, as it attains a more holistic dimension. Sin is reduced to a symptom rather than deepest root.  Our spiritual journeys become about seeking wholeness, humans to be restored in all the dimensions of our humanity. And that inward journey leads to outward love as all grace should move us to outward expression.

The deepest longings of our hearts is to know and be known.  We’re wired for relationships.  So for a start, “they” aren’t a “them”.  They are my friends.  You don’t “deal” with friends.  “They” are people.  With names.  With struggles.  More than likely, their struggles aren’t what you think they are and in fact can only best be known by being in relationship with “them” and getting to know “them” as individuals.  Individuals with their own stories.    And I can’t think of any relationship that begins with “you are a(n insert sin of choice).  That’s who you are, how I define you, and all that you are to me.  By the way, I hate that.” **  Either we do that for everyone or no one.

I guess it boils down to your intent or end game.  What are you trying to prove or what are you hoping to accomplish?  I guess I’m just not big into making it clear that I don’t approve of a lifestyle any more than I do beliefs before I can associate myself with you.

I am big into trying to love people well, speaking truth into their lives (about who we are, who we were created to be, and about our relationship with God and one another, with love and sensitivity and firmness … in that order), AND having them speak into my life.  I don’t argue with folks because we don’t change by arguing.  It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to transform life.  So take that burden off yourself, O “hammerers of truth” and “haters of sin.”  Focus on loving God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.  See how that works with “them.”

My job is to be in relationship with people.  There’s a lot about my religion and how my faith is practiced that I don’t get.  So much that amounts to speculation and needless arguments.  So I start with the stuff that I get and that gets boiled down to this:  “love God and love others.”  When dealing with people, whoever the “them” might be, is my relationship characterized by love and loving them well?  AND do they feel that they are loved and loved well.  If it’s not, then I’ve failed the point of my faith.  And that’s on me, not “them.”***

Mo*Con VI:  The Lowdown

Mo*Con VI:  Return of the Mo?

OTHER CONVERSATION STARTERS

-Road to Mo*Con VI: Guest Blog by Zoe Whitten
-Road to Mo*Con VI: Guest Blog by Lucien Soulban
-Road to Mo*Con VI: Guest Blog by Brad Grammer

*Before I get emails, yes, I believe that “all have sinned” and in that sense, yes, we’re all sinners.

**If we’re just about cataloging behaviors, think about people who gossip.  They still gossip after coming to know Christ.  We haven’t kicked them out of the club.

***If I don’t actively engage in all of the comments, know that I’m reading them and thinking through them.  This probably won’t be my last blog on this topic either before or after Mo*Con.