When Clean and Unclean Touch
Recently, a young couple started coming to our church. They're very likable. They married a few years ago on the other side of the country, then migrated west to our town, and visited several churches until they ended up in ours. Both take their faith seriously. Both are seeking a place where they can worship, serve, grow. They want a loving and Christ-centered environment in which to raise their daughters in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord."
Both are women. Linda and Rita are lesbians.
My first question to them: "Why us?" There are two or three churches nearby that have no theological issue at all with same-sex marriages: they perform them, celebrate them, welcome those in them. Our church is not one of these churches. We're firmly embedded in our evangelical heritage: a strong emphasis on the Bible, on personal holiness, on evangelism and activism.
And strong feelings about homosexuality. Very strong feelings.
Linda and Rita actually grew up in this kind of a church, and that was part of their answer to "Why us?" The other part of their answer was intriguing: they see life and joy in our church, and they want in on it.
We didn't know what to do with them. I lost more sleep over this than almost anything else in my 20 years of pastoral ministry. My heritage told me to give them the heave-ho. My theology told me they were living in defiance of God. But a stirring inside me, which I can only describe as the Spirit of God, told me something else: that God himself had drawn these women here. He was doing something deep in Linda and Rita, and he was entrusting our church to join him in his work.
But let me back up.
Biblical values in tension
Our church embraces two values with equal vigor, and as in this case, those two values are in almost constant tension.
The first value is the truth and trustworthiness of the Bible. As good Baptists, we teach, believe, and try to live out that the Bible is "our one true guide for life and godliness." We are under the Word of God, and though our understanding of it is often patchwork and our obedience to it halting, we have no right to impose on the Bible our own meanings or agendas. If we have done our best interpretive work with the Good Book and have concluded that it teaches a particular truth, then we are beholden to that truth no matter how costly or awkward or unpopular it might be.
That's one value.
The other value is that Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them. He did this, and then asked you and me to keep up, on his behalf, this work.
Jesus—we all know this—shocked, angered, and offended the religious community in his day by his easy rapport with disreputable people. He not only liked them; he sought them, welcomed them, invited himself to their houses, enjoyed meals with them, and let them off the hook, with scarcely a reprimand, for big-ticket sin items like adultery and thievery and shacking up.
God is doing something deep here, in Zachaeus and Mary Magdalene, in the woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery and the woman who washes his feet with her tears. In all these "sinners and tax collectors," God is revealing, convicting, wooing.
Mark is an associate professor of Pastoral Theology at Ambrose Seminary in Calgary, AB, and formerly was pastor of New Life Community Baptist Church in Duncan, BC.