I received a phone call recently that made my heart drop into my stomach and I’m not certain that it’s made its way back just yet. There is something about austerity that grips me in a way that nothing else does. It angers and saddens me beyond words, especially when it comes from those who profess a message contrary to that sort of cold, rigid attitude. Especially when it leads to injustice.
I sat on the other end of the line, listening to a story about a child, about the same age as my own, coming out to a youth pastor in my area. Knowing what I do about this particular church, I braced myself to hear how that man handled this very personal confession from a child at such a fragile age.
This church desires to be known for its unwavering commitment to truth, theological correctness, deep trust in the sovereignty of God, and the way it trains its people in the ways of righteousness; their lives are to be models of Christ-likeness which reveres the holiness of God.
I wish that I could say, given this church’s desire to impact the world around it with all that they strive to know and be, that I was shocked at the way the situation was handled, but I wasn’t. The child, instead of being heard and loved, was banned from attending any sort of camps or overnight youth gatherings with the church. He was ostracized and from my point of view, punished. Punished for trusting an adult to love him and thus lead his community of peers to love him, in the same way he heard professed by the preaching of the gospel each week.
What you believe the bible to say about homosexuality is irrelevant when the lives of children are at stake.
Let me give you a few statistics:
Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24.
The rate of suicide attempts is 4 times greater for LGB youth and 2 times greater for questioning youth than that of straight youth.
LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.
1 out of 6 students nationwide (grades 9-12) seriously considered suicide in the past year.
Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.
You can find this info here.
Actions have consequences. The undeniable reality here is that when adults decide that being right is more important than loving others, children consider taking their own lives. I’m not here to change anyone’s mind when it comes to biblical interpretation. It’s not about who’s right. It’s about who is loving the Other so that they don’t view killing themselves as a solution. What this boy needed was a community to trust him and love him as the human being he is, not one that would treat him as some sort of deviant that needs to be made into an outsider. Much could be said here, and needs to be said, about the misunderstanding of sexuality within the church and the absolute fear we have regarding it. To do that subject justice, it would take far more than a post, so for now, I’ll focus on the topic of love. It seems to me that when we seek love, we will then seek to understand the Other as it has been said that “perfect love casts out all fear”. When I love you, I am no longer afraid of you, and therefore, I embrace you as one who seeks to know and understand you.
I have always heard that we need to give the “truth in love.” I would argue that it is self-righteousness, not truth, that causes us to ostracize the Other. It is rejection, not love, that is bringing these children to take drastic measures out of desperation. It’s imperative, given our current culture, that the church begins to relearn what it means that God requires mercy, not sacrifice. A misunderstanding of who Jesus was leads Christians to look more like the religious elite that Jesus went up against on behalf of the least and this is why we are widely known for being hypocrites. Christians talk about love but when these communities treat the most vulnerable among them this way, the words fall flat and become untrustworthy.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Cor 13:1-3)
It seems, based upon this passage, that you can be a church who talks a big game about doing the work of God, while using fancy words with which to parade your so-called moral uprightness, encouraging others to join you, but if you do not have love, your work becomes worthless in the world. You can wax eloquent all day about honoring God with your life and being a Jesus-follower, but if your theology drives you to make cruel, unjust decisions, it lacks gospel understanding, it lacks Jesus understanding. Jesus was the embodiment of love, if you misunderstand him, thus lacking love, your theology is just worthless noise.
If we want to understand what it means to love, we need to be looking to Christ, and taking notice of those he drew to himself and the way in which he drew them. The way in which we ourselves were drawn. If nothing can separate us from the love of God, why do we insist upon coming up with reasons to separate the Other from the fold of God, especially when it could be the difference between life and death? Let us instead, seek to love one another as we have been loved.