For 30 years we missed it, our unique opportunity to be AIDS activists. To be Good Samaritans, loving those who are different from us. To earn the right to be heard. And now we wonder why no one listens?
Caught in the Middle
In Jesus' day the Pharisees were committed to upholding the law with heartless precision, while the Sadducees were dedicated to throwing out anything that was difficult to believe. Religious conservatives and liberals. Jesus neatly avoided both camps.
Today theological liberals have adopted a "theology of convenience" in their dedication to reaching LGBTs, but dodge the difficult responsibility of faithfully representing a God who is as pure and holy as he is loving. Conservatives make their protective last stand on the high hill of morality, but dodge the difficult responsibility of actually loving their neighbors.
Both sides push people further away—though in opposite directions—from the God of the Bible. One side erects an idol of purely tolerant love, while the other preaches a righteous but wrathful deity that no one really could love. Both versions of God are easy to ignore.
Jesus glided deftly between these extremes. He threw no barriers in people's way, nor did he compromise God's holiness. There is tension here. It's not easy to understand, to preach, or to live. It probably takes a divine being to get that exactly right.
That was the dilemma I faced that day as the woman's question hung in the air. "I'm a lesbian. You're talking about all of this love and mercy. What does this mean for me?"
I answered, "It means the same for you as anybody else."
For all I don't know, I am confident that nobody gets a separate gospel.
One for All
I heard gasps from the crowd. For real. They betrayed those who didn't really understand the grace of God. Similar gasps must have been heard when Jesus singled out Matthew with his index finger and said, "Follow me." There was tension in the air. It was uncomfortable.
Then something beautiful happened.
An art professor called out, "Nobody here is any different from anybody else in God's eyes. You should get to know me. You think you're a hard case!"
Ten heads over, another woman raised her voice, "God loves you. You know how I know? He took me. I was a homeless, alcoholic wreck. Nobody wanted me, but Jesus wanted me, and I know he wants you too."
That day those who had been forgiven much, loved much. A grace sprang up from the core of their beings, and it overflowed.
It's ironic, but the church has always struggled to understand God's grace. Many Christians still think that it enables people to get away with murder, rather than transforming us from the inside out. They fear that grace means the "lowering of standards." Although God has never indicated that his definition of sin has changed, our lives may not be completely stitched up this side of heaven.
Like everybody else, members of the LGBT community come in with a lot of baggage and their transformation isn't instantaneous. But the gospel is the same for everyone.
Boarding the Plane
When someone from the LGBT community walks through the doors of the church, our approach is crucial. If our first thought is, Are you going to stop "that" and change? we become spiritual TSA agents. Hypocritical ones, too—erecting moral metal detectors and demanding people empty out certain banned sins before we let them fly.