A couple weeks ago, I had a meeting with the pastor of my new church home, telling him about my story and hearing his. Of course, one concern I have is how I’m going to be treated, especially as I’ve received the brunt of human judgmentalism enough in my life, and frankly, I’m tired. I don’t want to get emotionally attached to a place that will find it perfectly acceptable to flog me later.
He was very kind, and we spoke at some length about what he sees as the future of this denomination, especially regarding the issue of gay Christians. One thing he talked about was the diversity of perspectives within the congregation he currently pastors. It struck me, and a situation he mentioned will be the springboard of today’s entry.
One evening, the issue of homosexuality came up in discussion, and the group he was teaching was immediately split. In the right corner, hopping up and down, draped in a silken robe, gloves up, were the fundamentalists. In the other, bouncing against the ropes, shoulders covered by an Egyptian cotton towel, were the liberals.
They went at it like champs. Two individuals in particular, swinging at each other with the most brutal rhetoric they could muster. It was all Jacob (the pastor) could do to restore civility long enough for the model to walk past with the cards indicating which round they were on. As soon as he stepped back for a breather—bam—they were at a head-lock again. Blood and sweat flowed.
Okay, it’s true, I’m writing imagistically. In fact, everyone was sitting around a table, though a couple times people stood, leaned over the table, to get into each other’s faces, and a lot of veins were probably popping in a lot of temples, and a lot of faces were red, dribbling with a little angry spittle from the lower lip.
Okay, again, I’m still drawing a picture. I wasn’t there. Jacob tells me it was out of control, and that even after he was able to restore order, the two most belligerent in the debate almost came to blows in the parking lot.
I think my images are legitimate.
On the one hand, we have a pugilistic image, boxers in the ring. On the other, a wrathful image. People, Jacob said, were genuinely angry at each other. Shouting. In each other’s faces. And then he asked me, since I’m now in this very study group, what I would have done were I there during that discussion.
I told him I would sing “Jesus Loves Me.”
My reasoning is as follows. Everyone in this group is a Christian. Whether one believes homosexuality is an abomination or one believes God loves each of us matters little. We are all redeemed. We are all regenerated. We are all renewed. We are all treasured. And the point of our faith is the love of God, demonstrated in Christ. Sometimes we get so caught up in our own issues, we forget the foundational point of our being Christians—the love of Christ.
It horrifies me that Christians, who are supposed to be defined by, known for their love for each other, can so easily get caught up in wrathful pugilism. It doesn’t surprise me, mind you, it just horrifies me. So I told Jacob all I would do would be a little song to remind people of the love of Christ.
This love, especially as communicated by this song, seems to be a reminder we all need to have, and frequently.
I don’t know how many people have had the Hell literally or verbally beaten out of them. I doubt very many, probably none. It seems to me that our doing violence to each other does nothing to further the kingdom of God, no matter which side of an issue we stand on. What drew me to Christ was not terror or self-loathing, but love. You can’t scare the Hell out of people; you love it out. We love people out of their individual hells by loving Christ into them. Christ woos people, Christ calls people, Christ beckons us to come and see, to come and follow. It is a pull, not a shove. And it is generated by love, by grace, by joy, not by anger, hatred, judgment, or fear.
And, it seems to me, the more we love, the more we realize how very encompassing and profound this divine love really is—transcending our little minds, crossing our petty borders, overcoming our smallness with God’s surpassing greatness. But until we are willing to sacrifice our need to always be “right”, we will never truly discover the depth of our spiritual need to be loved, and the desperate need of those around us to be loved. And we will never discover the amazing abundance of being the ones through whom God so loves the world.
So I wonder. How long will we in the church be so caught up with fighting each other that we fail to see the world fleeing from us in terror instead of to us in joy? How long before we remember that Jesus loves us, this we know, for the Bible tells us so? That Jesus loves us, not because we first loved him, not for anything we did to merit it? How long before we begin to take this awe-ful love of God seriously?
What a terrifying thing, this prodigal love of God. What an unruly, lavish, frightening, demanding thing.