This week AE Member Alex Huzzy reflects on Spring Harvest 2011 which he attended with a number of other members of AE…
This evening at Spring Harvest, the main speaker spoke about those times when Christians really get it wrong. The times when we not only fail to communicate the love of God effectively, but actually make other people feel that God hates them. He mentioned lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in this context.
During the prayers after the talk, he urged people to go and call the son whose wedding they didn’t go to, or the daughter they’d disowned. The message was clear – nobody falls outside the love of God, and where we have made others believe that God hates them, that hatred has come from ourselves, not from God.
He also made that point that it is our actions as well as our words which have communicated this hatred.
I thought this was a really interesting point. Few UK Christians would overtly proclaim that God hated LGBT people in the manner of Fred Phelps. But you could argue that the actions of the church have spoken louder than words. Seeing prominent Christians channelling thousands of pounds of their own money into maintaining legislation like Section 28, hearing prominent Christian pressure groups campaigning to be able to bar gay people from their businesses or from adopting children, even hearing Christians trying to justify why LGBT people are not worthy to teach or be in leadership in church. All of these have sent out a clear message to LGBT people – we don’t like you, you’re not as good as we are, and we don’t want you in our churches.
Now what was interesting was that no reappraisal on the traditional view of human sexuality was called for or even hinted at. In fact, the speaker referred to ‘lifestyles we cannot condone’ and ‘choices we do not agree with’, the kind of misleading language which anybody with any experience of LGBT people would realise was unhelpful. But there was a significant shift in priority. The most important priority for the church should no longer be to make LGBT people realise how wrong they are, but rather to make LGBT people feel how loved they are. It doesn’t mean that we have to pretend that we all agree on our interpretation of the Bible, but rather simply that we begin to take seriously those much-quoted words of Billy Graham – ‘God judges, the Holy Spirit convicts, it’s our job just to love’.
That’s what is so great about Accepting Evangelicals. It’s not about whether you agree with same-sex relationships or not. It is about standing up for a truth we can all agree on; that God deeply, passionately and unconditionally loves everybody. It’s about recognising that the church which makes LGBT people feel that God hates them does more damage to the Gospel than the church which extends an unconditional welcome to all, regardless of their beliefs about sexuality.
Imagine the church which seeks to extend a full, hearty and unconditional welcome to LGBT people. A church which encourages LGBT people to come on in and worship, pray and study the Bible alongside everyone else. A church which believes that belonging and being in community is more important than believing ‘the right thing’ about same-sex relationships. Isn’t that preferable to the church which demands full compliance with a set of moral tickboxes before it allows people to get involved?
The problem is that actually being in the welcoming church is much less comfortable for all concerned. For those who hold to the traditional view, it’s uncomfortable hanging out with people whose relationships you don’t understand or agree with. For LGBT people, it’s profoundly uncomfortable hanging out with those who believe that your relationship, your family, or your gender identity is wrong, damaging or unbiblical. But maybe that’s where God would have us be, united in a commitment to love and respect one another, rather than publicly trying to exclude, undermine and reject one another.