Last night, I returned home from an annual gathering of church planters called Exponential. My time there brought to mind a post I wrote (on my old blog) about last year’s experience, and it’s important enough to me that I wanted to share it again. I’ve made some minor edits to the original.
I have some things to say.
I suspect some of you will call me brave, and others may be more inclined to use words like stupid. I feel neither brave nor stupid; I feel frustrated and sad. And a little fed-up.
A few weeks ago, I attended an annual gathering of church planters called Exponential. This year’s theme, “Seek and Save,” was focused on evangelism. Much of the content was stellar. We were challenged to both announce and demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ. We had conversations about why fewer and fewer people are interested in attending church gatherings. We lamented the bad behavior of Christians and culture’s concomitant skepticism, cynicism, and hostility toward the Church. These were important, timely conversations.
Unfortunately, however, there was a nasty undercurrent I discovered in the first moments of the conference. It sounded something like this:
Our church has evangelism down pat! We’re converting prostitutes and drug dealers. And criminals. And homosexuals!
In many of my conference sessions, I was presented with a list of people who, presumably, are the most difficult types of people to convert and, apparently, I was supposed to feel impressed and inspired by that ministry’s evangelism efforts. I think my reaction was supposed to be, “Wow! If they’re able to reach those people, they must be doing this right! I mean, they’re even reaching the gays!”
Well . . . that wasn’t my response. At all.
Instead, I found myself feeling irritated and annoyed and, eventually, angry. Righteously so. “Soooo, let me get this straight,” I wanted to say. “You’ve just listed some categories of ‘sinners’ and I’m supposed to be really impressed because you’re saving, like, really bad people?”
Herein lies the problem: We’re all, like, really bad people, but I didn’t hear anyone bragging (and that’s what it felt like) about sharing the Gospel with housewives and CEOs. I jotted down some sarcastic notes: “Key takeaways . . . A pimp’s salvation is worth more than a school teacher’s. And you get more points for a drug dealer than a middle schooler.”
And then there’s the stuff about same-sex relationships.
Twenty-ish years ago, I became friends with a gay man. Since that time, I’ve wrestled with the “Is homosexuality a sin?” question. I know many of you think there is no such question; you’re certain that Scripture clearly defines same-sex relationships as sinful. I’m not about to try to convince you otherwise. That’s a reasonable interpretation of Scripture. However, I have ridiculously bright, incredibly faithful, Christ-following friends—clergy friends*—who interpret Scripture differently. So, I wrestle.
But the is-it-or-isn’t-it debate really has no bearing on this particular conversation. What I’m so frustrated and sad about is this: For some reason, gay and lesbian persons seem to have become the poster children for The Worst Sin Ever. What upset me the most at Exponential was the implication that homosexual people represent the Ultimate Conversion. In nearly every list I heard, “homosexuality” seemed to be the punchline. The save-the-best-for-last. The ultimate score.
Not one Exponential speaker celebrated the number of overweight people they brought to Christ. No one talked about how successfully they’ve been reaching gossips. I heard no hushed “Wow”or “Amen” from an audience because a church baptized a slew of people who have a habit of saying, “Oh my God,” speak poorly of their parents, or express envy over their neighbor’s new boat.
Now, my goal as a Jesus-follower is to live the way He said I should. I’m not even close to fulfilling that goal. (“Love your enemy”? Mhm. Yeah, right. Whatever.) Since I don’t get to hang out with Jesus at Starbucks and ask him a bazillion questions, Scripture’s my go-to resource for how to be more Christ-like. If I were to ask Him about the Worst Sin Ever, I suspect he’d respond like this:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5, NIV)
Some of you just yelled at your screen (or at me), “But we’re supposed to hold each other accountable! If I don’t talk about the sinfulness of same-sex relationships, I’m condoning the behavior!” If that’s where you are, that’s fine. But sharing an inflammatory Facebook post isn’t exactly the best posture for those conversations. And I’m only suggesting we should be holding one another accountable, not just a particular group of people. And maybe—actually, definitely—we ought to begin with ourselves.
I was venting my frustrations with a dear friend yesterday. At one point she said, “I just don’t get it. It’s about love. We’re supposed to love people.”
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength . . . and love your neighbor as yourself. (Mark 12:30-31, NIV)
Love your neighbor. The fat one across the street. The divorced one around the corner. The gay one in the office down the hall. The trucker-mouthed one you see at QT most mornings. The one at work who never shuts up about how much she loves (or despises) President Obama. Love them. Right now. With no conditions. With no ulterior motives. And if you’re still hung up on the accountability thing, just keep in mind that accountability without love feels an awful lot like judgment.
Love people. And until we’re rid of our planks, that’s our only responsibility.
*For clarification, The Way (my employer) is a United Methodist Church, and the official position of our denomination is that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. I’ve had hours and hours of conversation with Pastor Jimmy about this issue. When I mentioned having “ridiculously bright, incredibly faithful, Christ-following friends–clergy friends–who interpret Scripture differently,” he’s one of the folks on the “it’s a sin” side.