How Must It Feel to Be 'Welcomed' But Not 'Affirmed'?
ALLEGIANCE. Swap faith in the sentence 'salvation by faith alone' to allegiance - salvation by allegiance alone. Self, this is a thesis by Matthew Bates. It reminds me of a chunkier more concrete way of loyalty for the gift of grace - I give Jesus my allegiance, reminiscent of His own imperative, "Follow me," as I reciprocate His love by doing just that: I follow Him. As Andy Stanley might say, the acid-test is on me, the Christian. All non-Christians are absolved.
Whatis a disciple of Christ, but a learner? They cannot help but be open tolearning, for they're following Jesus. The extension of following Jesus is I don't know where He's taking me; my allegiance truly is by faith, knowing He is absolutely trustworthy. He, the Word, is thelamp to my feet. Every single step. As a repentant sinner, I'm helplesswithout Him, yet spiritually invincible with Him. And in followingJesus I'm to follow no other.
So often as a 'follower' of Christ, however, I forget how much Jesus includedthose whose lives were running off the rails. He sought them out. Herisked His life to talk with them and to help them. He spent time withthem, reclining and eating of all things, in a culture where eating withpeople said so much about how you felt about them. He healed themrepeatedly, and often Jesus found in the broken person a receptive heart- a heart just waiting to be loved, to be sought out, to be redeemed - aheart ready to give allegiance. The allegiant person isspiritually poor, and it's only the gospel of Jesus that flips manyrealities - hence, the poor in Jesus are infinitely and eternally rich.The Jesus I follow isn't a rhetorician nor a lobbyist nor a spin-doctor.I might ponder Him as a rabbi, but the truth is, He transcendsdescription. And, as the gospels seem to have it, His love always flewin the face of the religious elite whose piety was so off-course.
NowI come to an issue that has bamboozled me a long time: people whoidentify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex.One step further and we're into the same-sex marriage debate. Don'tworry, I'm not going there!
A Christian frame-of-reference is the well-worn term, 'welcoming but not affirming'.
'Welcomingbut not affirming' seems to have become a mantra from the book by thesame title by Stanley J. Grenz. In some ways, the mantra has skewed overtime what appears to be the original intent of Grenz. It has come to beused as a way of discriminating in terms of discipleship, at least it'sseen that way by those affected, not simply to disaffirm same-sexunions.
Over time God has put me into dialogue with a few (doesn'thave to be many) individuals who fit either loosely or tightly in theLGBTQI community. Not through what they said, but more through what Ifelt, I sensed them experiencing the conditional love in thatturn-of-phrase, and the outworking of conditional acceptance, that Idoubt could ever be a reflection of God's love for them. I have heardsome say they couldn't set foot in a church that brandished such a'welcoming but not affirming' vision. I think we need something better,more loving, more unifying, and more Christlike, than welcoming but notaffirming. Sorry, I don't have the answer. I feel God bringing me againto a place where the complexities perplex my urge for simplisticanswers. And I cannot suppose churches aren't very well intentioned incoming to that theological position. After all, many expect churches tostate their purposes; to come to a landing on where they stand.
I sense that a person in the LGBTQI grouping takes 'welcoming but not affirming' to mean, 'we welcome you, but we do not affirm you,' instead of what it's supposed to mean, 'we welcome you, but we do not affirm of your lifestyle.'I know that if I am welcomed, but part of me is unwelcome, I do notfeel welcome. So much can come down to dichotomies of view regardingsin. And there's the issue: something so central to another person isviewed as sin. For them it's more than an insult. It's damning, and itoffers them no semblance of hope. It's damning, and for many people inthe LGBTQI grouping Christianity might as well be damned as a result. Ican begin to understand. It saddens me when the church does not reachpeople for Christ.
As a church, I think we need to do better thansay we welcome but do not affirm - and leaving it open to confusion. Onthe surface, it appears well-thought-out, as a direct response to theissue of marriage that departs from the biblical ideal (man and woman). Ithink the common person sees right through it, however, when they beginengaging with someone whose life is affected. Sure, it fits withbiblical sensibilities, but it isn't the fullest measure of the love ofChrist, which is a love that trusts that the Holy Spirit works best whenI get out of the way; when I focus on how loveable the other persontruly is, in the sight of God; when I worship God by how devotedly Ilove others. Others argue that truth is part of love, that tough love ispart of love, and I can only agree. But there is also much more to lovethan that.
When I place myself in the situation of the person whohas lived their whole life wondering if they'll ever be 'worthy' oflove outside their minority group I'm saddened. I begin to think of thiskind of person who, like me, is made in the image of God. The personwhose life hangs by the thread of acceptance, only to be severed by thescissors of rejection the moment they have the authenticity and courage(or audacity, if I feel threatened) to be honest. The person in direneed of Christ, Whose love is the only saving love they'll ever know.The person God has put in my midst to love, when I may struggle tomuster such compassion, even though that's my job (as an allegiant one)to issue compassion to 'the least of these'. This is not easy. I'm on ajourney to somewhere better - for them, for me, for God.
Whatabout the son or daughter, the husband or wife, the father or mother,the brother or sister who has wrestled with their reality for years, ifnot decades, and in some cases their entire lifetime. Would I quietlycast them off - out of the family or community or friendship circle? Or,as with so many, do they begin to challenge my perceptions? IsGod working within my repentance (for I can only do my own)? Thetheodicy is that they wrestle, like those with chronic pain or a griefthat never ends, for how many of them would not otherwise choose to be'normal'? (This is not said as a slight on anyone who identifies as onewithin the broad LGBTQI grouping.)
That's my question of myself...how must it feel to be welcomed but not affirmed? I think I have somevague idea, because I've experienced somewhat the unbiblical exclusivityof church, but nothing like the person who feels estranged not justfrom church but from much of society as well. What such a person - everyperson - needs, is the church. The church should be the sanctuary ofpeace for all persons. A place where all persons, no matter theirparticular brokenness, can be discipled with grace.
As an allegiant, surely it beckons me most to love without condition.
As an allegiant, could it be that God is asking me to ponder what it might feel like to be a bearer of His image andsomeone of LGBTQI orientation? I think so. That my care might rise tothe worthiness of love. That no matter the nuance of my theology thatI'd be affirming of an LGBTQI person, as they are, and in that way, beaccepting of them.
I find being Christian in this age of same-sexmarriage, and the linking of LGBTQI issues, akin to walking a tightrope.What I need most is balance.
Jesus, please give me the balance of wisdom to love the marginalised well. Amen.
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