Saturday, June 28, 2014

We Must Do Better.


Simple word, but it packs a punch. 

They. Those. Their.

We use these words everyday without any concern. They're basic, 3rd-person plural pronouns, after all, merely indicating objects or people that are in some way other than oneself. 

These words are basic building blocks of language, seemingly harmless--and most of the time they cause no problems. But have you ever considered what it would feel like if you were only ever described by these pronouns? If you were always "they" and "them" and never "we" or "us"? What would that do to you? You may not notice at first--it may be that subtle--but I imagine that after a while, you would begin to experience that otherness, to feel it. 

Pastor Scott Sauls in Nashville let me post part of my story as a same-sex attracted Christian on his blog a couple weeks ago, and I've been overwhelmed by the feedback. Many of the messages are short expressions of gratitude and encouragement. I've also received my share of criticism and misunderstanding...from both sides of the "issue." (I'm learning to have thick skin and a soft heart...which is a hard combo to master). I truly appreciate each of these messages, but the ones that have touched me most are the stories--the "me too" stories. Many of these stories involve struggle with same-sex attraction, but some do not. Every story is unique, but every story also seems to have something in common--a sense of longing to be known, to be understood. Every story is characterized by a deep desire to be truly known and truly loved, which, Tim Keller says, is "a lot like being loved by God." 

One such email arrived in my inbox a couple nights ago. Its powerful simplicity left me stunned. Its tragedy left me heartbroken. I'll let you read it for yourself (with the author's express permission, of course).

Hi Stephen,
I'm 17, and was raised as a Christian and believed in God for as long as I can remember. Still do. But, I'm also a lesbian. And I know all this stuff about remaining celibate to honor God, but I just can't be at peace with that. I can't want that for my life. With all due respect, I admire you for being able to do that, but I can't seem to resist temptation like that. If I have to choose between God and marrying a woman, I choose God. But I want both. I don't want to go to hell for being with a woman, but I don't want to get to heaven to hear God say I could've married one anyway. I don't know what to do right now.

I don't know this young lady. I don't know her friends or family. I don't know her church or her context. All I know is this: She was raised as a Christian, and she is attracted to other women. From her email, it seems she only sees two options for her life: she can either be lonely and go to heaven, or she can find love and go to hell. Like I heart broke. 

My heart broke for her, but it also broke because there are so many others who believe these are their only two options. This story is way more common than you may suspect: the story of the kid who grows up in the church, believing and doing all the right things. The kid begins to realize he's different than his peers, and he inherently knows that this difference must be hidden. He can't talk about it with anyone...least of all other Christians. Why not?

Remember those 3rd-person plural pronouns? Most of the time, when homosexuality is discussed in the evangelical church, it's discussed in terms of "they" and "them." It's "those people" out there. "They deserve God's judgment." "They have an agenda." "We must stop them." Even if it's a message of love, it's still "We must love them." 

You'll hear the common sins and safe struggles spoken about from the pulpit in terms of "we" and "us." Jealousy. Greed. Anger. Lust. Pride. All the usual suspects. When we talk about these sins with "we" and "us," there's a sense of our common brokenness. We may not all struggle with this particular sin, but we know there are those among us who do.  There's a sense of belonging that begins to eat away at the shame. Maybe you can talk about this after all. Maybe you can let someone else bear your burden with you. Maybe it is safe to let other believers into your life, because they are on your team. 

But if you only hear your story discussed in the Church in terms of "them," chances are you won't believe you're really on the team. As you hear "bold" and "true" statements of condemnation issued toward those people and expressions of solidarity and support for our people who are opposing those people, you'll begin to wonder just exactly which team you're really on. You can stay on the team you've always known, the team you love, but the price must be a life of secrecy and isolation. Or you can leave your team and find a better fit, but that price must be giving up all that you've known and loved and believed...and you'll always have that nagging fear that you're wrong. 

Church, this is not the gospel. This is not the good news that Jesus came to embody, the hope that must characterize His Bride until He comes back. Our doctrine and teaching about homosexuality might be sound and biblical, but if our own children are growing up in fear and isolation, believing they must choose between God and Love, then Church, we must do better. If our own children see this as their only choice, what must those outside the Church think?

Maybe we've done a good job of explaining the sinfulness of homosexual relationships, but what about explaining what it actually looks like to follow Jesus as a same-sex attracted Christian? It seems the picture we've painted is a bleak one, characterized by loneliness and a lack of intimacy. As the very Body of Christ, the Church should be characterized by intimate, loving, grace-centered friendships, for married and single people alike. In the Church, singleness should not mean a lack of intimate relationships. Maybe our main failure as the Church has not been our teaching about homosexuality but rather our teaching about the Church herself!

You probably don't know the girl who sent me this email, but I guarantee you know a girl or a boy who could write an email just like this one. You probably know a few of them. They sit next you in the pews on Sunday morning. They're active in the youth group. They have watched movies in your living room and eaten your food and swam in your pool and you might never know who they are. You probably wouldn't have guessed about me either.

If I may be so bold, may I ask you some questions? 

How do you speak about homosexuality to your friends, your church, your community, and your family? How do speak about it on social media? Are your words seasoned with grace and humility or are they characterized by arrogance and disdain? Do you talk about it as an issue to be dealt with...or people with stories to be heard? Do you only use 3rd-person plural pronouns, or do you remember that the people you're speaking to may be struggling with this themselves?

Read that email again. What if this young lady is your student or parishioner? What if she is your friend...or the friend of your child? What if she is, in fact, your daughter? Take a moment and think. Does she know that you would still love her if you knew her full story? Does she know you wouldn't reject her?

Maybe she does know. Maybe you've told her a million times that you will always love her. But maybe the real question is: does she believe it? 

As we proclaim the Truth of the gospel, may we always do so in a way that also communicates the sacrificial love and compassion of our Savior.