loving the other part of the flock
We 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