Friday, June 27, 2014

Discomfort level

I just heard recently that a gay Christian friend of mine is going to be leaving his conservative church. Even though he is not in a gay relationship and never has been, he is being shunned by a core group of people in the congregation. The only excuse they have given for the way they treat him is, "We're not at a place where we feel comfortable interacting with gay people."

Sure, I get it. That's my favorite Bible verse too. The one that says, "They will know that we are Christians by the way we love only those brothers and sisters with whom we have come to a place where we feel comfortable interacting."

Which also brings to mind some of my favorite passages out of the Gospels where Jesus goes around touching, healing, befriending and sharing meals only with the people with whom he had gotten to a place where he felt comfortable interacting. Because if you want to change the world, that's the winning formula right there.

Speaking of changing the world, I can't recall any time in church history where the gospel caught fire and spread because Christians were interacting only with those respectable people with whom they felt comfortable. Saint Patrick, who is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland, largely ministered to slave girls who suffered being raped regularly by their masters. John Wycliffe was the first to translate the Bible in English for the benefit of lay people, whom the church of his day regarded as "swine." John and Charles Wesley were condemned by the clergy of their day for preaching the gospel in open fields to the uneducated masses.

If there's any spiritual lesson to be learned from the past, it is run, don't walk, from any temptation to center your Christian life around being comfortable, respectable and insulated. No great spiritual advancement has ever happened in the kingdom of God because Christians were afraid to love the really tough-to-love people.

Which is why there's hope for my gay Christian friends, because I see so many of them struggling to love their straight brothers and sisters in Christ in spite of our perverse ignorance and obnoxious self-righteousness. From a certain perspective we are the really tough-to-love people, not them. We need to understand the true nature of our spiritual situation. If we don't get our act together and learn how to love, the kingdom will surely march forward without us. And gay Christians will be leading the way.

Am I being sentimental or hyperbolic when I say that? Let me put it this way. If you want to know how God is working to advance his kingdom, observe what he is doing among the people on the margins. The poor, the homeless, the persecuted, the forsaken, the ill, the feeble, and the despised. God calls his people from within those situations and uses suffering to train them in love, forgiveness, patience and meekness. They may never get to be senior pastor at the newest megachurch everyone is flocking to. They may never even be allowed to lead a Bible study. They may struggle just to be accepted in their churches. But they are the ones whom Christ will lift up, they are the ones he will strengthen, and they are the ones he will reveal himself to. If you despise them, you do so at your own spiritual peril.