When the curious stumble into a church


I ran across a recent review of a San Francisco church at Yelp.com that included this anecdote:

One Sunday morning, after the service, I approached Pastor Terry and introduced myself. I told him how moved and inspired I was by his summer lecture series. I then posed the question: I asked him, as a gay man, how am my viewed by his church and is there a place for me in his congregation. His mouth dropped. His body language contracted and he replied, "We adhere to STRICT biblical teachings and condemn homosexuality." For the the next several seconds he tried to maintain a constrained, polite, demeanor, but I got the picture loud and clear.

I stumbled home in a daze back to my Mission apartment feeling as though I had just been whacked across the head by a psychic two by four. It was traumatic to say the least. In a nut shell, this is a traditional evangelical Christian church that tries to pass itself off as a "progressive" church and is NOT inclusive.
This is the sort of story that I am sure gets repeated all the time--a gay or lesbian seeker is attracted to a church, only to find that he or she is excluded because of his or her sexuality.

Yet, on the other hand, to be honest, I was at first a little surprised that the reviewer had this experience, since a quick visit to the church's web site shows all the code words and phrases that pretty much make it pretty darned clear that this is a conservative evangelical church. For example, the very first sentence in the "What We Believe" page says, "We believe that the Bible is the Word of God. As such, it is fully trustworthy in all it teaches and affirms", citing 1 Timothy 3:16. It goes on to say that "we believe that all people are born with a fallen and broken nature and cannot be saved except through faith in the death and resurrection of Christ. We believe Jesus is the way, the truth and the life." And so forth. Very traditional conservative Protestant theology. The odds would not have been very high that such a church would have been inclusive or progressive at any level--certainly not inclusive unless it proclaimed its inclusiveness somewhere, which it did not.

But the Yelp reviewer of this church mentioned something at the beginning of his review that gives a hint as to how this happened. He was invited to go there by a friend, and he mentions, "although I did not have a traditional Christian upbringing, I was moved by the music and full band at the beginning of each Sunday service." In other words, without a traditional Christian upbringing, he probably just didn't have the experience with Christianity that would have allowed him to identify who the intolerant conservatives were. Maybe because this particular church seemed hip or cool at some superficial level in terms of its presentation, he just assumed that it was theologically progressive.

Those of us with experience with Christianity know that there is a great deal of variety within the faith. Although conservative Christians do like to proclaim that they, and they alone, are legitimately "Christian", the reality is, of course, something else entirely. But for a person without the necessary background, they just wouldn't be able to discern all the differences within the broad stream of Christian traditions, or pick out the code words, or figure out what they were getting themselves into when they stumbled into a church--especially one that tries hard to exude a coolness factor. Those with the requisite experience are inoculated against the preachers of intolerance and know when to be wary or stay away; those without the experience aren't.


Matthew said...

>>His body language contracted and he replied, "We adhere to STRICT biblical teachings and condemn homosexuality."<<

Very sad.

Those without sin may go ahead and heave all the stones they like at the 'condemned'.

Christianity doesn't work when it's expressed with repulsion, instead of love.

Imagine Jesus in place of that pastor...

After being asked about acceptance in the church, Jesus would smile and unconditionally accept the person for who he/she.

Jesus would smile one of those smiles that sends it's message to one's heart; making someone know that they were unconditionally loved.

You'd know the other person couldn't wait until next week to visit again, and would come back as often as he/she could possibly manage.

[Note to pastor- Try not to be shocked at this comment, but Jesus cared about/loved and accepted SINFUL people. Look again in your bible at how Jesus interacted with people- how that amazing fellow connected and loved EVERYONE.]

Continuing our story...

The guest would return, probably bringing his/her partner the next visit.

Soon the couple would invite Jesus to dinner or a barbeque at their home.

Watch Jesus warmly accept their invitation. You can almost feel the excitement that bubbles up in them as they stand and look at each other in amazement! He's going to come to our home!!!

On the day of the dinner imagine how excited and open to Jesus' visit the couple is.

During his visit Jesus would talk about something he was passionate about- 'the way' of repentance and entrance into a life with God as one's loving father.

That's pretty much all it would take for that couple to sort out whatever sorting they needed to do with their lives (maybe that wouldn't be much at all), and follow this amazing, loving man. He's say 'follow me' and if they weren't trapped by some hangup, they'd follow!

It wouldn't be long before his church would be overflowing with guests. They'd invite all their family and friends...tell them how this man really understood who they were and the struggles they were going through in their lives. How he was the only person they'd EVER met who seemed to see right into their hearts and could help them find their way through life in peace and security, knowing God was their loving father and was leading them always.

No pressure to conform, no 'adhering to strict biblical principles', just good old LOVE- the most powerful transforming power ever known!!


Mystical Seeker said...

Matthew, I couldn't agree with you more.

L said...

I think Matthew's nailed it.

Chris said...

People like this pastor really irritate me. Even if he has to tell the guy he believes homosexuality is a sin, he doesn't have to express revulsion.

I always felt uncomfortable about the homosexuality issue, even back in my evangelical days. It seemed pretty clear to me that there was something biological going on there, and I had difficulty believing that God could be so cruel as to make such people choose between celibacy or hell. And when you add people with ambiguous genitalia to the mix, it got so complicated that I didn't even want to think about it. I didn't think about it, really, for a long time. Then I went on a mission trip to the Philippines. We were going to high schools and talking about Jesus and answering questions, and one obviously-gay student asked me why Christians think he's going to hell. I froze, deer-in-the-headlights-like. I then said, I think I better let Pastor Mike answer that. (Pastor Mike was the full-time missionary who invited us there, and accompanied us on these trips.) He said, "No, I think you should answer it." And I said, "No, I really think you should answer it." Mike's answer was that the Bible says it's a sin. I felt bad for copping out and putting Mike on the spot, but I just couldn't bring myself either to express a conviction against which my conscience rebelled or to betray Mike by giving an unorthodox theological answer in front of about sixty kids. I later got to privately explain to Mike why I was so uncomfortable, and he accepted my explanation. And I forced myself to reflect on the issue, and decided that I believed gay marriage was the solution to the ethical dilemma.

In my subsequent service as youth pastor of a conservative evangelical church, I was still caught between the rock and a hard place of betraying either the trust placed in me by God (by failing to promote tolerance and compassion for gays) or of betraying the trust placed in me by my congregation (by teaching their kids something that they would not be happy about. I took the coward's way out: I just never broached the subject. I still don't know if that was the right decision. Maybe I shouldn't have been in ministry there in the first place.

Grace said...

Well, hey, check out the "Inclusive Orthodoxy" website.
I mentioned this over as John's blog, but it's expresses my convictions in a nutshell.

Folks can be totally orthodox, and evangelical, and GLBT affirming at the sametime.

And, as far as I'm concerned, anyone who feels that folks are heading to Hell based on sexual orientation don't understand the gospel.