Friday, August 30, 2013

God's kingdom, a place of unimaginable hospitality

Since the topic of judging the wounded came up in the lyrics of Casting Crowns' "Jesus Friend of Sinners," I read something yesterday that is worth passing along and perhaps commenting on a bit. It is a blog post by Dr. Mike Wittmer, who teaches theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, entitled "compelling conversion." The subject of his post is Rosaria Butterfield's memoir of her improbable conversion, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.

As Dr. Wittmer notes, "For those who may not know, Butterfield was a tenured professor in the English and Women’s Studies department at Syracuse University, and an influential lesbian." His post is not a review of her book, but consists of several take-aways, not about "evangelism," or anything like that, but just about being disciples of Jesus and what that means for how we relate to people.

I don't want to paraphrase, or simply re-post Wittmer's piece, which I urge you to read in toto, and so I'll simply grab what he wrote that struck me because it resonates so much with my own experience, both personal and pastoral, with friends, even family, as well as those who have sought my prayer and counsel, namely the second of the three things he greatly appreciated about Rosaria's story:
The homosexual community often excels at hospitality in a way that puts some churches to shame. The gays and lesbians in her world supported each other and supplied a safe environment for each other. Reading her story reminded me that homosexuals are real, and often kind people, who want many of the same things that I want out of life. We disagree about the most important thing in life—who is Jesus?—but we will make more progress in reaching them, and be enriched ourselves, if we start with the values and concerns that we share in common
While I don't believe that it is true that all people who are homosexual, even ones who are actively so, see Jesus differently than I do, I would agree and even go further by saying their hospitality puts almost every church to shame.

There's one other point, which comes towards the end of Dr. Wittmer's third take-away, that bears repeating: "A subtext of the book was how even the ardent homosexuals in her world realized they were 'queer.' The attraction for many, the reason they remained gay, was because that was the one community that loved them. There is a lesson here for us. I know that after reading this book, I am convicted to lead, maintain, and end all of my relationships with love."

This banner beckons me as much, probably more, than those not like me

I also want to draw attention to a speech given by Justin Welby, who has the unenviable task of following Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury, to his fellow Evangelicals in England recently (let's not forget that Archbishop Welby bravely opposed the recently passed Same-sex Marriage Act, giving an eloquent defense of the bedrock importance of marriage to society and the overall welfare of individual people in Great Britain's House of Lords back in June). In his speech to the Evangelical Alliance, Archbishop Welby insisted quite strongly that Christians need to repent for the way we have treated people who are homosexual, for, to turn back to Casting Crowns, not only judging, but throwing rocks at them. I can't imagine how frightening it must be for men and women who are homosexual to decide to approach a church, almost any church.

Please put away your Jump to Conclusions mat and don't misconstrue what I am trying to articulate here. This not a case of trying to turn wrong into right, it is precisely the opposite: acknowledging our own sin and not excusing our own wrong-doing by saying we are acting in the service of truth. Just speaking the rock bottom truth does not in and of itself satisfy the exacting, selfless demands of love. In fact, sometimes even our well-intentioned efforts eviscerate love. This is articulated well in "Jesus Friend of Sinners"- "the world is on its way to you, but it's tripping over me."

It seems to me that the question we have to ask ourselves is, Do we trust that God is at work in peoples' lives, in our lives, in the Church, and in the world, or do we see society held together as the result of our own strenuous efforts? In other words, are we scared to embrace people who are homosexual because we see each and everyone one of them, not as a person beloved of God, for whom Christ died, but as an existential threat to our way of life? I would just encourage us not to mistake what is provisional for what is ultimate and to remind everyone that, at least according to the teaching of Jesus, the Kingdom of God, at least when judged by worldly standards, is a wild and zany place, one might even say a bit upside down. Because I am weak, forgetful, as well as full of pride, I never tire of reminding myself that following Jesus is not an ideological commitment.

As Jesus taught and, moreover, demonstrated, "No one is good but God alone" (Mark 10:18).

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