We have not done this right. Somehow the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, has become associated with bigotry and hate speech. Somewhere along the way, we seemed to have gotten lost. I wonder if there is another approach that allows us to hold on to our Evangelical values at the same time it makes space for the LGBT (lesbian/gay/bi-sexual/transgender) community. The Unforgivable Sin:
For anyone who has been around the church for a little bit, it becomes clear that there are certain sins that not acceptable. The reality is, it is only the sexual sins that are singled out as too horrible to be tolerated within the community. Promiscuity, pornography, infidelity, homosexuality, if any of these come to light, it is time to look for a new church.
What is communicated is that there are big sins, mostly sexual, that are dirty and unacceptable to work out in community, and all the other sins that are little and can be joked about. Because of this reality, the people in our congregations that struggle with sexual sin must conceal it and live in fear that they will be found out. Or, if they have had victory over it for at least 10 years, then they can give testimony. But to actively make space for people to wrestle through sexual brokenness is a lost art. Yet, it's a necessary one the church must re-embrace if we are to truly be bearers of good news.
It is a shame that sexual sin is the unforgivable sin in the church. As we read through scripture, abuse of power and money are the sins that seem to be the biggest stumbling blocks toward a life in Christ. Imagine if some of our Christian brothers and sisters from Nigeria came and visited our worship gathering on a Sunday morning. I have a feeling they would experience shock and horror, appalled at our blatant sin. But our sin would not be sexual, it would be how we worship materialism and status.
We love holding other people's feet to the fire when we talk about sinning. But most of us in church are too quick to turn a blind eye to sin that runs rampant within our congregations. Sure ,the big ones that would get us fired are kept below the radar, but I am talking about the ones we have made culturally acceptable: Materialism, Status, Busyness, Individualism, and Breaking the Sabbath. There is real sin running amuck in our churches and in our lives. And unless we deal with it, we will only experience a limited gospel with limited sanctification, and limited impact in the world around us.
A Lifelong Process of Sanctification:
Without throwing away sanctification, what if we embrace the fuller meaning of it? Sanctification is the process of becoming more and more like Christ. We think it means "once I become a Christian then I won't swear or look at porn, and no longer be gay". But the truth is I am so broken that I don't think I will ever get to a place where my Nigerian brothers and sisters would not question my salvation. I am too immersed in this broken culture, and not even in tune with some of my brokenness.
Rather, what if we saw sanctification as simply becoming more and more like Christ? This is a process that continues until the day we die, not a process that gets put on hold when we can finally enjoy fellowship within a suburban church without feeling shame. The truth is, that bar is pretty low. If the bar instead is continual refinement toward a life in Christ, then we will recognize we are all in process, and in continual need of a Savior.
The Goal is Identity Formation, Not Sin Management:
Managing sin, striving to be acceptable in the culture of the church, is an awful goal. What if our ending point was having our identity fully wrapped up in Christ? Then the other things that shape my identity should start to fade, compared with who I am in Christ. No longer do I hold on to my rights as a heterosexual, a male, a white male, a father, a pastor, a home owner, etc. My identity is first in Christ, and that identity shapes everything else. As we begin to understand sanctification is really identity formation rather than sin management, we now have an opportunity to find common ground with our friends in the LGBT community.
All of us have a misconception about who we are. We all put our hope and identity in the wrong things. And depending on our backgrounds, the wounds we’ve experienced, our own rebellion, or the awful impact of others' sin on our lives have all crushed us in a wide variety of ways. Some of those ways are easy to conceal, and some we wear on our sleeves for the whole world to see.
For the LGBT, it is not right that we ask them to become "acceptable" suburban church folk, period. We should not be asking them to give up who they are or who they think they are in order to consider Christ or be welcomed into our community. We must recognize that they are broken, just like we are broken, and we are all on a journey towards the cross of Christ. My worldview and baggage is uniquely mine and lived out in a way that unique to me. Some of the ways I'm broken might not even get addressed until pretty far down the road, or maybe never, this side of eternity. There is plenty that needs to be healed and redeemed in my own life, some which I am not even aware of yet. Maybe, just maybe, sexual identity doesn't have to be the first order of business when we begin the sanctification process.
Let's Take the Plank Out of Our Own Eye First:
Evangelical Christianity seems to have a special knack for calling out the sin of others long before they are willing to address their own. If Christian leaders were relentless at calling out the sins and brokenness of their own communities, then the Church might not be seen as so hypocritical.
I am in no way condoning sin or sinful behavior. I am simply asking the church to lean into Matthew 7:5 which says, "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." We have some planks blocking our sight, so let’s deal with them, then we can be gracious to those around us who have specks which need grace and compassion to remove. As we reflect on our own planks we will quickly see that we are broken far more deeply then we realize and in desperate need of God’s grace. And it is in this posture that we can walk with others in their sin and brokenness.
A Gospel for the Broken:
Sin management has not worked. It hasn't worked in the church, and it for sure has not worked in my own life. Sin management is what’s made our gospel too small. If we truly want to reach out to lost and broken people, then we need to be fellow sojourners with them. We can not forget that we too are broken people who have a messed-up view of ourselves and are in the process of being healed, becoming more and more conformed to the image and identity of Christ.
All who are broken, marginalized, discarded, and discounted, are invited to have seats of honor at the wedding feast of the Lamb. How awful it is when the church does not heed the warnings of Jesus in Matthew 23. "Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.’" If we are not careful, sexual wholeness and purity becomes our version of heavy and cumbersome loads that we place of people. Maybe our job is to allow God to reveal the areas of sin that are to be wrestled with in the timing that is right for that person, and as God’s people we bear with one another as we together move towards sanctification.
The church has been given the sacred burden and honor to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ until He comes again. We must be willing to reexamine our view of the gospel. But in order to do that. Are we willing to examine our own hearts, our own lives, our own churches to see the enormous planks of brokenness in our own eyes? We pretend these planks aren't there, but do others look on in horror? Maybe we can be a little more humble and recognize that we are all severely broken and all of us have a severe identity problem. The only solution, the only way for hope and healing is to surrender our lives, admit our brokenness, and trust that Jesus will heal us. This process of sanctification is never done and will look different for everyone.
This is a complex issue, one that needs a considerable amount of humility, grace, and thoughtfulness. As our world becomes more and more post-modern and post-Christian, the traditional views and values are becoming a minority opinion. We must think well through this topic as we walk alongside students and our neighbors so that we do not lose the opportunity to share the good news of salvation and grace that is found in Jesus Christ, who has exchanged our sin and brokenness and exchanged it for righteousness. We were once not a people, and now we are the people of God.
My hope and prayer is that the church will be, once again, the bearers of good news to all people everywhere. No matter where you start, where you are now, or even where you will end up on this side of eternity, if you are broken, in need of a healer, then Jesus is your Savior and we, the Church, are your people!