loving the other part of the flock

mygospelWe attended a fun party a few nights ago with friends from Evangelicals Concerned – a group that is about supporting Christians who are gay, and about creating dialogue between them and the evangelical church. Right now there seems to be few categories in churches for understanding gay Christians: there are those that are entirely gay affirmative, those who will never associate with them (not sure how they justify that) but claim to “love the sinner and hate the sin”, and those who are accepting under the “don’t ask don’t tell” rule. There does need to be much more dialogue within the church about gay Christians if for no other reason than Jesus Himself who asserts, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”

Several years ago we decided to show Brokeback Mountain at our church as part of our film discussion series. (Yes, we are an evangelical church.) It was predictably controversial, and angry people started to call the church office to be “put on the list of those who are against showing this movie”. Being the head of the film ministry, I experienced many second and third thoughts, my anxiety eating up all my courage. Let’s be honest, when we evangelicals get mad about something we can be relentless. During those days of fear I would pray and ask Jesus, “Am I nuts? Am I going to get someone fired? Am I doing the right thing?”

The desire was not simply to “push the edge” or be controversial. The goal was simply to create a dialogue. The theme was “Will you listen to my story?” We invited gay Christians to come and share their stories. (Just FYI: Not all with same-sex attraction are self-identified as gay, there’s lots of room in categories here, too.) It’s easy to argue about theology and convictions about sin, but it’s hard to dismiss a person and his/her story. Some of them later told me that the movie was very healing for them, allowing them to finally grieve losses and pain of their own stories within a church community. And more than half the church had gay friends or family members. They came because the issue is not a theoretical one – it is about someone they love.

It’s significant that the film is about two cowboys-turned-shepherds, who are a much reviled lot. The sheep that they tended were marked according to where they belonged. The rains came and washed the sheep clean and then of course, as we are wont to do, the sheep were re-marked, judged and divided. Then, in a wordless scene right in the middle of the film is a slain lamb, which is a symbol that stops any Christian in his/her tracks. It brought to mind one angry woman who asked, “What is a teenage boy in our youth group supposed to think when you show this film here?” Well, maybe that the breadth of Jesus’ reach is wide enough for all of us? That made her more angry. Nevertheless, it turned out to be a truly sacramental evening. We had the largest turnout ever. The stories were heard, the discussion groups were respectful and passionate, friends were made.

Of course this event was just a droplet in the ocean. Much more dialogue is needed. But at the very least, reaching out and making space for one another in love pleases God, I’m sure of it. Every time I had prayed through my anxiety about showing this movie (which happened right up until the moment we turn on the DVD player) I felt a strange peace pour over me. I could not have made that up. Jesus reminded me that it was He who was the “head of the film ministry”. It was He who called us together. He never divides up the flock by particular types of sin, or types of anything. It is we who do that. The “list” of objectors never materialized. One family that did leave the church told us they were on their way out anyway for various reasons.

I will blog more about these issues in the future. There will be those who disagree but I strongly feel that the three categories above are not enough to adequately address the issues of gender and essence and purpose and freedom and love in the Imago Dei. And we are blind to think that these issues are only about gay Christians. They are about us all. All of us desire to lead congruent lives fully and openly before God and each other. All of us need to grow in intimate connection with the Head of the Body, our Living Orthodoxy, so that we may draw from Him what that means. (I hear a lot of folks deciding this for themselves – both gay and straight – no wonder we are so confused.) But for now, for those who are hurt and angry on either side and sure of each others’ sin and hatefulness, just sit with Jesus. What does He do with sinners?

“The Trinitarian persons in their indwelling relationships are not only three persons, they are three rooms.  They give room to each other. . . . and The Trinity “gives room” for the indwelling of the other in me.  When we accept other people . . .  we give them a “life-space” in which they can rest freely.  . . . We therefore need to open “life space” to others.  If we exclude or shut out or become aggressive, the others will become defensive.  This room-giving to each other is the best way to live the love of the Triune God.” ~ Jurgen Moltmann

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Showing 8 comments
  • Skip

    “Christianity has a principle, ‘Hate the sin, but love the sinner’ which is more easily preached than practiced. If Christians could simply recover that practice, modeled so exquisitely by Jesus, we would go a long way toward fulfilling our calling to be dispensers of God’s Grace. For a long time, C.S. Lewis reports, he could never understand the hairsplitting distinction of hating a person’s sin and hating the sinner. How could you hate what a man did, and not hate the man? Lewis says, ‘But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life–namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things is that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things.’ “
    What’s So Amazing About Grace – Yancey

  • Laura Martin

    Thank you Ellen for leading in the continuation of a discussion that must be had. Maybe the question to the angry parent(probably one of my friends!) should be “what’s a boy in our youth group to think if the church DOESN’T show the movie?”
    It brings up so many more questions about the role of the church. An invitation to dialogue and an invitation to hear personal stories…those are exactly the kind of beautiful invitations that a people bearing the identity of “Body of Christ” need to be extending. Whatever the comfort level. As a parent of young and younger ones myself, my greater concern is that we don’t raise a generation of kids that experience Christ’s church as closed….as not extending genuine hugs and hands to those we may disagree with. My experience is that often in the process of those invitations I discover that there’s much more that I agree with in the person than our points of disagreement. Community. I want for my children and for myself to learn to embrace peolpe without fear of validating this or that lifestlye principle. One can’t help but to think of who Jesus spent time with….prostitutes, church-goers, theives, betrayers, self-focused ladder climbers, Bible teachers…and He loved them all (I’m so thankful because I’m all over that list!)…without fear of validating their(my) sin.

  • ellenharoutunian

    Wow Laura and Skip, well said.

  • Hannah

    It is really hard being in the middle of all these things. I grew up in an area where I just didn’t know any gay people, but made some friends who were gay after college. They’re great people and I love them, and never had to think about whether to love or hate them while I hated their sin. But recently, my Aunt’s husband has “come out of the closet” and I’m finding it much more difficult and complicated than just having a gay friend. The more I think about it, though, the more I think I am less angry with his “gay-ness” and more angry with the way he is treating my aunt and my cousins (his children), his selfishness, his lies.

    Anyway, I think you’re right. I think it is important for the church (especially those of us who were/are pretty sheltered) to process how we view sins and sinners (not just the ones we see on a regular basis–gossip, pride, gluttony). And really, protecting the kids in youth group from movies about gay people isn’t going to make them Christians… It will just make them sheltered and maybe s little less free to love those around them.

  • kathyescobar

    you rock, my friend. way to risk it. it’s far too important not to. lots of love & hope for what could be….

  • lindy

    I liked what you wrote for another reason besides the topic. There is a lot of worry among believers who turning from Christianity to follow Christ on how will they know where the lines are that they are not to cross. I can speak from my own experience and it is wonderful to hear yours. Anxiety that is replaced by that unmistakable peace… what a wonderful light on your path!

  • jenny morgan

    Beautifully said,Ellen. Thanks for taking the risk around this discussion. And thank you for walking with folks who will find deeper transformation and more love because you are there. Your frienship and your ability to engagge, really engage,means more and more to me as time and the issue moves forward. I think I saw Jesus at that party too — laughing, loving, and drinking a glass of wine right next to you. Hope you are having fun down south

  • Nancy

    Thank you so much for writing this. I want to hear more.

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