Family Matters

This past week has been quite the whirlwind in the gay Christian world. Julie Rodgers, a prominent Side B Christian, recently published a post on her blog, in which she came out as a supporter of same-sex relationships. Despite how gracious and honest she was in her writing, it didn’t take long for the internet to explode afterwards, resulting in some scathing reviews (which I refuse to link to, but Eliel Cruz touches upon in his news report). Julie has been a role model of mine ever since I entered this conversation (and still is), in part because of her convictions and character, and also because of her bold decision to minister at Wheaton College as a part of the Chaplain’s staff — a position she has since resigned from.

Especially since Tony Campolo voiced his support for the full inclusion of gay couples in the Church, this tilting of the scales has been made more evident as more and more Side B Christians trickle into the Side A sympathy boat. And while I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing — many of my good friends are Side A — I am extremely upset that there’s always a vitriolic response whenever it happens.

If I’m to be honest, I’m scared. Frightened at the possibility of being the next generation to take up that mantle — a mantle that’s already been burned, scarred, and martyred beyond recognition.

But this is not just me being a coward — more than fear, what I feel right now is intense sadness. I weep because we’ve made factions of “good gays” and “bad gays.” I weep because we’ve put ourselves in God’s judgment seat. I weep because the voices of peace and vulnerability have been weaponized for everyone else’s agendas.

A mentor of mine recently said that she feels Christianity has lost its identity as a whole, and though I may be taking her words slightly out of context, I agree completely. We have lost what it means to be the body of Christ — we have forgotten what it means to be a family.

Lines in the Sand

Now, families aren’t perfect. I get that. But it’s a huge problem when we treat people we disagree with as false prophets and call them the “blemishes at our love feast.” It creates a false us-vs.-them dichotomy that is toxic to the entire Body. And while I’m not going to deny the existence of false teachers, I’m also not going to pretend I have the authority to determine who those people are.

There is no “they” in family. We are all God’s children, regardless of how theologically incorrect, prideful, or ignorant we are. Though we still need to be on guard against bad doctrine, we have an unfortunate tendency to toss the baby brother (or sister, as the case may be) out with the bathwater.

Even just in terms of efficacy, our prime concern should never be “weeding” the bad crop out, which implies that some people are just inherently beyond saving and we should toss them out before they corrupt the harvest. Rather, we should be occupied with presenting the truth as it is: beautiful, enticing, and welcoming. To think that we need to compromise in order to do that is foolish — people don’t accept Christ because He makes life good; people accept Christ because He Himself is good.

Always being afraid of the next bad theology tarnishes our ecclesial witness. What we should be focused on is keeping the Church unified even amidst disagreement. This doesn’t mean anything goes. This means that we are committed to staying a family even when it gets tough. It means we’re confident enough to handle being questioned. And it also means we refuse to make each other enemies. We stand in uncomfortable solidarity together, all sheep in the fold, calling out to our fellow lambs, “stay with us; we need you here.

Let me give an example: one of my best friends is Unitarian. Do I find this theologically problematic? Definitely. Do I value him any less because I think he’s wrong? No. In fact, I’ve learned a lot from our friendship and would like to continue to — God knows I have a lot to learn. One of the most important things I’ve gleaned from this relationship is that it’s not my job to judge my friend, nor is it my job to change him. Because it was never my mission to “convert” him, he’s been very open to challenging his beliefs and pursuing the truth of God alongside his many Trinitarian friends. I’d wager that calling him a heretic and abandoning him would hardly yield the same result.

Room to Grow

Much of the problem we have here is with humility. It’s a little something I like to call “ignorance shaming” — our tendency to see the not-as-well-informed as lesser. This is very prevalent in social justice circles, especially within the LGBT+ allied community; I remember reading about a young man who asked a well-intentioned but ignorant question at his local GSA and was met with outrage. Many of my friends hesitate to ask basic questions because they are afraid of saying something offensive. Talk about a catch-22.

As far as evangelization methods go, ignorance shaming is ineffective, to say the least. We take such issue with someone making an incorrect comment but refuse to recognize that we started ignorant as well. No one is born with all the requisite knowledge to engage in nuanced issues. It reminds me of the hypocrisy Jesus talked about in the parable of the unforgiving servant.

It seems some of us have forgotten that not one of us is righteous, and our good deeds are like filthy rags. We are all sinners in the hands of an angry God, and our judgment is our own demise.

What would our family look like if we stopped finding new people to blame for our problems and instead embraced all believers as comrades in the arduous search for Truth? What if we stopped being so paranoid about heresy and instead realized that people make mistakes, that we are imperfect creatures made in the image of a perfect God? What if we stopped shouting down past each other and instead listened to the voices of the silenced, open to the possibility that we might be wrong? Because God forbid I’m wrong sometimes.

I know I sound vaguely Universalist at this point, but I do realize the importance of correct doctrine and church discipline. That’s just not what this post is about — the fact is that correct doctrine and church discipline are meaningless if we continue to create toxic environments that prompt people to leave. Often times, preaching the gospel means presenting the truth in a tactful order. I’ve found that usually, screaming “YOU’RE A SINNER AND YOU’RE GOING TO HELL” at someone and then adding, “but Jesus loves you!” as they walk away doesn’t work so well in this day and age.

Coming to the Fountain

We need to get our priorities straight. I often think about Jesus’s interaction with the woman at the well in John 4 when it comes to speaking the truth in love. It’s quite an interesting story.

There are a few things to note about what happens here. The first is that the Jews hated the Samaritans. So much that in order to get from Judea to Galilee, they would take a detour around Samaria, rather than saving a lot of time and taking a beeline through. For some reason, Jesus decided to do the unexpected and walk straight into enemy territory.

The second thing to note is that it’s high noon and this Samaritan woman is going out to fetch water alone. Ordinarily, women would gather in the morning and fetch water together, when the weather was cooler and their labor was accompanied by friends. By going by herself at the sixth hour, this woman was deliberately avoiding the crowd — she was a pariah even among the Samaritans.

Thirdly, the social order required that men and women not speak to each in public. So when an exhausted Jewish rabbi traveling through Samaria goes up to the least popular woman in town and asks her for a drink, she understandably freaks out. 

It is in this very bizarre picture that we see grace in action — the Son of God turning every expectation on its head to offer the lowest of the low a first drink from the Water of Life. She’s desperate and thirsty. She misunderstands, begging Him to show her where she can get away from this well, this symbol of her sad state.

This would have been the perfect opportunity for Jesus to play Judge. She’s lowly in every Earthly way, she’s ignorant, and she’s a sinner. He acknowledges her sin, correctly describing her past and present marital affairs, but what He doesn’t do is whip out a verse from Leviticus — He moves on and reveals Himself to her. He makes her a direct witness to His prophecy, sending her into town with such excitement she leaves her jar by the well, abandoning in joy the very thing she set out to do in the first place.

How beautiful this story is! The last indeed was first, and it wasn’t accomplished by throwing verses of Scripture at each other. What did happen here was mercy. What happened here was grace. What happened was the Most High kneeling in the dirt and meeting the lowly where she was; because to Him, she wasn’t just lowly — she was beloved, she was daughter, she was sister.

The Association Game

We have a problem when it comes to picking and choosing our spiritual family members. There’s that one weird nerdy kid in the back pew, or that liberal girl with the piercings and tattoos in the front. Then there’s the homophobic Baptists and the disturbingly charismatic Pentecostals down the street.

It’s not my job to say whether or not these people should be considered “Christian.” I might think they’re doing one or more things wrong, but if I want to have any hope of helping them grasp the truth, I have to love them first. I have to shut up about my own agenda and listen to what they have to say, even if it’s utter garbage. But who knows, maybe I’ll even learn something from them. Personally, I have a long way to go, and I’d be the first to admit it.

Similarly, I cannot hesitate to call Denny Burk and Matthew Vines my brothers, despite how much pain they’ve inflicted on my friends. And that’s tough for me to do, because I’m highly defensive when it comes to friendship. My filia may be wounded right now, but that is simply no reason to let my agape suffer as well. I’m a work in progress, just like everyone else, and I hope my brothers will forgive me for being slow in my forgiving them.

All this has much to do with the network of associations we’ve constructed within our social hierarchies; humans are social, so who we associate ourselves with gives an impression of our own character. It’s a quick way for me to determine if I should associate with you — are you in the “right crowd”?

Do we see the problem here?

Before July 13, 2015, Julie was aligned with the “good gays.” People had been looking up to her, constantly using her as an example of a “gay done right.” She had became an icon under the microscope of society, made into a paragon of virtue with a sniper locked on target just in case of a foul move.

Do we see the problem here?!

After she published her article, shots were fired, insults were yelled, and people were wounded. Every effigy went up in flames and the tension broke with a loud bang. All of a sudden Christians are at each others’ throats, ripping the Church apart without regard to the onlooking nonbelievers, who shake their heads in pity, asking why those religious nuts can’t keep it together.

DO WE SEE THE PROBLEM HERE?!

People are not the enemy, so why are we fighting? Is this really worth it? Decrying our brothers and sisters in the name of being “right”? Throwing up shields to protect our sacred missions and preserve our holy names? Publishing pointed opinion articles with smug smiles on our faces, knowing that God will reward us for knowing the Bible better than everyone else? Because we’re chosen by God? Because we know better than to associate with sinners?

Sometimes I find it difficult to fathom that we’ll all be spending eternity together. Ever think about that?

Thicker Than Water

“If blood is thicker than water, then Eucharistic blood is thickest of all.”
– Wesley Hill

This whole “guilt by association” thing is stupid, and we should all know better than to fall for it. Fact: we’re all family, whether we like it or not. No one is better than another, no one deserves to be put under a microscope, and no one deserves to be put on a pedestal, not really.

We all share the common ground of being sinners undeserving of God’s lavish grace, and yet here we all stand: in grand marble cathedrals to living room refugee Bible studies — because we are united by something much greater than questions about same-sex relationships. Have we so quickly forgotten the blood shed for us? The body broken for us? The same bread, the same wine, that the entire Body partakes of?

Notice this: that our Savior dined with sinners, that He rebuked the teachers of the Law. That He made the foolish wise and the wise foolish, the first last and the last first. I don’t think He cared who He was associated with, because He considered everyone His family — His flock, His dearly beloved lambs for whom He would leave the 99.

So why can’t we do the same?

Let us lay down our weapons, brothers and sisters, and remember why we breathe. Why we sing, why we live and move. Why we dress the temple of the Holy Spirit and why we gather once a week in preparation for our grand wedding.

And if the Bridegroom weds tomorrow? Will His Bride be ready? Will She be whole?

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