My Friend Buddy and the Conservative Church
My friend Buddy died September of last year. Over the summer we had become fast friends through the Internet, enjoying theological discussions, comparing notes about our churches, and pretty much talking about everything under the sun. So when I realized one day that I hadn’t heard back from him, I knew something was wrong. As the days passed I grew anxious to the point where I began searching the web for how to contact his church, since I had no other personal info I could use to help me track him down. I discovered he went to an enormous church of 2,500 so it was a miracle that I managed to get hold of a staff leader who actually knew vaguely of Buddy, who told me he would look into it. Four days later I got a call back from him in the wee hours of the morning. He informed me he had just received a return call from Buddy’s landlord. Buddy had died two weeks previously. Heart attack, age 37.
The problem with being an e-friend is that you don’t get invited to the funeral, especially in this case. Buddy was gay, and ever since he was outed to his family two years ago (his mother got hysterical about AIDS, his father condemned him to hell, his brother attacked him and tried to choke him to death) most of them wanted nothing at all to do with him, let alone any of his friends. Buddy had told me about his upbringing in a small “redneck” town, where at the local Baptist church he was taught that all homosexuals were hell-bound perverts. At home Buddy’s father referred to homosexuals as “faggots” and black people as “niggers,” and so when in the third grade he experienced his first crush on another boy at school, he knew that this was something he had to conceal. By the time he was fourteen his feelings became so real he was mortified, and he would rush into the woods behind his house to pray, pleading desperately with God not to let him turn out homosexual and go to eternal damnation.
He spent most of his young adult years in denial about his homosexuality. When he grew older he attempted to reconcile his homosexual feelings with his Christian faith through ex-gay ministries. Yet even after five intense years in the ex-gay program, it was apparent that his attraction to other men wasn‘t changing or diminishing and that those feelings would probably always be a part of him, so he left the movement.
By the time I got to know Buddy in the summer of last year, he had a heart full of wisdom and all the scars that came along with it. Amazingly he never rejected his faith and was still attending church. In fact he felt strongly about attending a conservative, Bible-believing church that did not condone homosexuality, because he still believed his homosexuality was a sin. It was not that he enjoyed getting browbeaten from the pulpit, or that he had a low opinion of himself, or that he couldn’t accept that he was gay. He simply believed that this was what the Bible taught, so he sought to associate himself with Christians who believed as he did. He also sought to honor the teaching of the Bible in his life by committing himself to celibacy.
Taking the route of celibacy is not a popular stance. For one thing, it is not in line with the belief of the gay community that homosexual relationships are morally equivalent to heterosexual ones. But for another a self-conscious Christian commitment to celibacy goes against the claim of the conservative church that homosexuality is just a perverse lifestyle choice, because it not only implies that efforts to change one’s orientation have not worked, but says that a person can be both homosexual and committed to the highest Christian standard of sexual chastity at the same time.
Buddy was not an idealist. He committed to celibacy knowing full well that the rest of his life would be a constant and sometimes unsuccessful struggle against temptation, yet he was able to face that reality squarely without losing hope or abandoning his faith. For he had come to believe that his salvation rested not upon his ability to fulfill his commitment perfectly or conquer every temptation that came his way, but upon the grace of God alone and upon that fundamental teaching of the Christian religion, that “a man is justified by faith, apart from the works of the law” (Romans 3:28).
Buddy came to realize that the gospel message of Christianity held the answer to the dilemma he faced as a homosexual person before God. For if God only accepted homosexuals on the condition that they became heterosexual or that they stopped having homosexual desires, then he was lost. But the Christian gospel teaches that the requirement for coming to Christ was not that he gain victory over every last sinful inclination in his heart, but rather that he acknowledge his utter inability to do so. The fact that he couldn’t become straight simply demonstrated how futile it was to try to be saved by works, which is exactly why the Bible teaches that he needed to be saved by faith in Jesus Christ instead, for “the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness” (Romans 4:5).
REAL CHRISTIANITY says you are a sinner. You can not save yourself. Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Jesus took all your sin and paid for it at Calvary. Receive that gift by faith (plus and minus nothing) and become God’s forever child. REAL CHRISTIANITY says salvation is a gift. You can not earn it, you can not pay it back after it is given to you . . . Some people call that “cheap grace.” That is not cheap grace. It was paid for by a Redeemer that died on a cross. He paid the price. That was not cheap. But it is FREE to the person who accepts it by faith.
Faith in Jesus Christ is what made him right with God, not becoming a heterosexual. Better yet saving faith meant coming to God freely as someone making no claim to righteousness, for the Bible teaches that God is the one “who justifies the ungodly” and causes “his faith [to be] reckoned as righteousness.” Buddy realized that the heart and soul of the Bible’s teaching dovetailed perfectly with his own agonizing dilemma and set him free, perhaps not in body, but in mind and in soul. Even if he were homosexual for the rest of his life, the gospel showed him that he could make peace with God in the midst of that dilemma, not just in spite of it. “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
No doubt there are many gays and lesbians who would find Buddy’s approach to dealing with his homosexuality distasteful and even offensive, particularly if one does not hold to conservative Christian beliefs. For Buddy to view his own homosexuality as a part of his sinful nature from which he needed to be saved is, in the eyes of many, hardly distinguishable from self-hatred. Setting homosexuality aside, the Christian claim that all human beings are by nature sinful and displeasing to God is a generally offensive message to anyone, whether gay or straight.
So I naturally would not expect someone like him to be embraced by the gay community, and of course he himself had no expectation of the kind. Where Buddy felt he really belonged was in the conservative church among fellow Christians who took a conservative approach to the Bible and held to a conservative stance on the issue of homosexuality as he did. Most of all he loved the gospel message that stood at the heart of conservative Christianity, the message that said he was a sinner saved by grace. In fact, one time he told me,
If I, personally, see that a church calls itself “gay friendly” then I usually avoid it like the plague....The problem I have with a “gay friendly” church is almost universally it means this. “God loves you. God does not condemn homosexuality. God ‘created’ you gay so you should just be proud of who you are.” Well, that certainly is “friendly” to me (gays). ON THE OTHER HAND, I do NOT think it is a scriptural approach to this issue.
So not only would his religious beliefs have offended secular gays, but his unabashed conservative Christian beliefs on homosexuality would have offended more liberal-minded gay Christians as well. Obviously a right-wing religious conservative like him belonged in a church where he could be with his own kind. But what happened when he tried to belong? I once asked Buddy about his experience being a gay Christian in the conservative church. He replied,
I don’t know what to say about church and all. I think I am really this “oddball” (not in a “bad” way--just realistically) when it comes to gay and church and all. I mean I have these serious convictions about going to a church that doesn’t condone homosexuality. That doesn’t mean I have a serious conviction about going to a church that tears me to shreds because I am not doing what they think I should be.
He also said,
Yes, conservatives can be a pain to be around. The biggest reason is because “if” and “when” you tell them you are gay--then, it becomes their obsession to fix you or to constantly go around evangelizing to you and reminding you that you are the church’s “sinner.”
What made such experiences especially hurtful for Buddy was that the whole point of attending a conservative church was to associate himself with Christians who agreed that homosexuality was a sin, and yet their response in turn was to treat him as if they had every reason to doubt the sincerity of his own conservatism on that point.
What’s our excuse?
So the gay community wouldn’t embrace Buddy, but neither would the conservative church. I can see why many liberal and/or secular gays wouldn’t accept someone as religious and conservative as Buddy. But as conservative Christians who love to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, what’s our excuse? Why are we relegating a fellow believer like Buddy to second-class citizenship in the church? Certainly Buddy was a sinner, but that didn’t make him any different than the rest of us. And if we insist that it’s because he was a “depraved sinner,” what’s the problem with that? Aren’t we the ones who say that the whole point of preaching sin, judgment and hell is to wake people up from their spiritual complacency and get them to realize that they are indeed depraved sinners before a holy God? Buddy did exactly that. When it came to acknowledging his own sinfulness he was all there:
I am gay. Far more important though, I am a born again believer. Jesus Christ left heaven, came to earth, lived a perfect life and died to redeem a no good loser pervert like myself. I am Redeemed. How I love to proclaim it. Redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb.
“A no good loser pervert like myself” he said. Probably not something he would say to some of his gay friends who would take it as self-hatred, or to certain Christians who might take him to mean that he deserved the cruel name-calling routinely dispensed from fundamentalist pulpits. But Buddy said it to me knowing I would understand him in the context of our mutual love for the gospel. As evangelical Christians, calling ourselves “sinful,” “depraved” and “perverse” is a way of confessing our utter dependence upon divine grace, and our need of a forgiveness so radical that God had to come down from heaven and be crucified on a cross to secure it.
What distressed Buddy was how Christians failed to recognize that it is one thing to make this humble confession for yourself out of your own sense of spiritual need; it is quite another to have it thrust upon you by somebody else. Conservative Christians have long justified the practice of calling homosexuals “hell-bound perverts,” arguing that even though such name-calling and condemnations sound harsh, they are really saying these things out of love because they are so concerned to convict homosexuals of their sin and bring their precious souls to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
The problem is, what happens when it actually works? As much as Buddy felt despised and abused by such condemnations, he genuinely believed he was a hell-bound sinner in need of the grace of God through the cross of Christ, which enabled him to have the humility to say, “Okay, I admit that I am a terrible sinner. I do need Jesus to save me, and I believe in him with all my heart.” So did his fellow Christians respond by praising the Lord and letting the waters of baptism flow? Did they break out the hallelujah chorus and rejoice now that the prodigal son has returned home?
Nope, at least that’s not what Buddy experienced. As if panicked at the notion that a homosexual could slip into the kingdom of God that easily, people only wanted to set up more hurdles for him to clear, and more hoops to jump through. Hey, you can’t just repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved (even though that is what we tell everyone else), you’ve gotta become straight too.
By and large, everyone thinks (if they are really conservative) that you can be cured of being gay. Or at the very least, you should obsess about getting “cured” until the day you die. It never occurs to them that they have only known you 6 months and so it’s a big deal for them. They don’t realize I already spent five years “getting the cure” and I’m still gay. If you tell them that then you must’ve went to the wrong group or you were not sincere enough or whatever.
I can see how conservative Christians would be concerned about someone who sleeps around with a different guy every night of the week then shows up to church on Sunday and expects to get a blessing from God. But if we’re talking about someone like Buddy who was committed to celibacy, why give him grief as if there were something more he ought to be doing in pursuit of his own sanctification? After all, how much more repentance over homosexuality can one demand than a guy deny himself not only gay sex, but sex altogether? Those of us who are married haven’t come close to making that kind of personal sacrifice for our Lord for the sake of holy living. You would think that Buddy would have received nothing but admiration and respect from his fellow Christians. So why did so many of them instead respond by calling into question his Christian commitment just because he was honest enough to admit that the sexual inclination he felt in the privacy of his heart happened to be homosexual instead of heterosexual?
Once again, it all goes back to why gay celibacy is off-message in so many conservative churches. It is simply not acceptable in conservative Christian circles to consider that homosexuality might be an involuntary condition, and that perhaps most people can’t change their orientation. When Buddy said he was gay and was also seeking to be sexually chaste, that didn’t fit into the homosexuality-is-a-perverse-lifestyle-choice mold. So rather than questioning their assumptions about homosexuality, considering that perhaps people don’t choose to be homosexual any more than any of us choose to have a sinful nature in the first place, people simply tried to cram Buddy back into the proper mold by attacking his integrity and questioning his claim that he couldn’t become straight. What do you mean you couldn’t change? You must not have tried hard enough, or prayed hard enough, or persevered long enough. Did you try this group, or that group, or that group over there? So are you saying that God’s power is limited? That he isn’t faithful? If you haven’t changed it can’t be God’s fault, there must be something wrong with you.
Such attitudes in the church left Buddy with two depressing options: either he had to utterly conceal his daily spiritual struggles and never be able to enjoy close friendships or prayer support from any of his fellow Christians; or he could risk being honest, which at best might reduce him to the lowest place on the church’s spiritual totem pole, or at worst result in a knee-jerk excommunication by church leaders who were far too emotionally invested in the anti-gay aspects of the culture war to understand that his homosexuality did not automatically make him spiritually rebellious, sexually promiscuous or a child molester.
Of course there was also a third option, and that was to call himself “ex-gay.” It is a label that certainly would have made him more palatable to other evangelicals, and when he used to be involved with the ex-gay movement, he probably did refer to himself as such. Buddy once explained to me that most Christians involved with that movement call themselves “ex-gay” not because they have become bona fide heterosexuals who never struggle with homosexual feelings, but rather because they have made a commitment to try to become straight, or because they have succeeded in abstaining from gay sex for a period of time. For those within the ex-gay movement, “ex-gay” usually means “working-toward-becoming-straight-but-haven’t-necessarily-arrived-yet,” which is to say that in practice it is largely a gay celibacy movement. That means there would be little practical difference between most ex-gays and someone like Buddy except in the label they use to identify themselves. Their point of departure is really in ideology, that is, how they choose to evaluate their respective futures. One person struggles with homosexual feelings for years but still believes that God will enable her to conquer them fully someday. She is labeled “ex-gay.” Another person concludes from the same experience that if his feelings haven’t gone away for 20+ years then they aren’t likely ever to go away, so he commits himself to a lifetime of celibacy. He is labeled “gay.”
If it sounds like there is a certain amount of equivocation and false advertising going on in the ex-gay movement, then you can understand why Buddy eventually left. But in severing his ex-gay ties, he knew he was also forsaking his sole ticket to acceptance in conservative Christian circles if he wanted to be open with people about his struggles. Because in the conservative church, it is only acceptable to talk about your homosexuality if you refer to it as a part of your “past” (though in truth it may be very much an ongoing issue with you) and if you label yourself “ex-gay.” But it is not acceptable to talk about it if you refer to your homosexuality as not merely a past issue but as a very real and present one that you believe will always be a part of your life--in short, if you are honest with people that you are still homosexual. So by the time Buddy got to the place where he concluded that no amount prayer, Bible study, meditation, struggle or self-flagellation over the years had contributed to any progress in changing his sexual orientation, he was faced with a decision. He could go through the motions of being on the “ex-gay” recovery route for the sake of appeasing conservative Christians who needed him to keep up a charade so that they could continue believing that his homosexuality was a choice; or he could ditch the label for honesty’s sake, resulting in his disenfranchisement from both the straight and ex-gay elements of the conservative evangelical church. Buddy courageously chose the latter.
“Gays are the problem”
So where did that leave him? One day he dropped me the following note:
Good Morning Misty,
It’s Monday. As I stood in the lobby of the church yesterday I kept thinking about your email. People coming and going, and there’s not a single person there that I know on any personal level. I’m not saying it’s all “their fault.” I’m just saying I don’t know anyone there.
I went to a singles gathering some months ago. It was not a great experience for me. I had planned to go again but I haven’t had the motivation to make it back yet.
Buddy wrote that on one of his better days. There were other days when he vented to me the full extent of his church frustrations:
While I do not defend my behavior or the behavior of many of those around me, I believe that if gays had not been rejected so frequently in the past, then many times we might never have went as far down as we have plummeted at times....Gays have been beat up and beat up and beat up and told we deserve to be killed, we deserve to die of AIDS, we deserve to be tied to a post and pistol whipped and then have some preacher Phelps lift that up as wonderful, we have been mistreated and we do not easily fit into straight culture anyways....As gays we do not trust straight people (especially conservatives). Why is that? Every time the word gay comes up in conservative vernacular it is some cause they are fighting. If you ask any red blooded conservative American what the number one moral problem in America is they will say either homosexuality or abortion. For conservatives, GAYS ARE THE PROBLEM.
Certainly Buddy had every reason to believe he ought to be treated just like anyone else in the conservative church. He acknowledged the depths of his own sinfulness in the strongest possible terms. He sought to honor the Bible’s prohibitions against homosexual activity at great personal cost to himself. He placed his hope of salvation entirely in the grace of God through the cross of Jesus Christ. And he took care to worship only at conservative Bible-believing churches that didn‘t condone homosexuality. For all that, the fact that he would encounter flat-out rejection from his fellow Christians, or worse, a modicum of acceptance that was conditioned on his willingness to equivocate about his homosexuality and/or abide by a code of silence, seems to say a whole lot more about the conservative church’s sin than about Buddy’s.
For one thing, it exposes our failure to confront the issue of homosexuality with the honesty, objectivity and care it deserves, and Buddy put his finger on the reason when he complained about the “cause” conservatives are so bent on fighting. We have involved ourselves so deeply in a culture war that demands that we view all homosexuals as the enemy, that we have allowed our political agenda to take precedence over our spiritual responsibilities toward fellow believers like Buddy. And now we have gotten to a place where we can hardly afford to hear out someone like Buddy, because what he has to say threatens to undermine the sense of moral high ground we believe we possess in our political and cultural battle for Christian America. After everything we have invested emotionally, spiritually and financially into the religious right’s anti-homosexual crusade of the past two decades, how could we now afford to consider that we might be mistaken in our public accusation that homosexuality is a rebellious lifestyle choice? How could we now contemplate the possibility that most people don’t choose to be homosexual, since it would mean that our noble cause is actually founded upon an utter falsehood, and that we have been slandering an entire segment of American society from our pulpits in the name of God, and pouring untold resources into a misguided political effort that has only exacerbated people’s fear and hatred toward otherwise innocent people? Not to mention that if we have indeed been wrong and were forced to reverse our position, the repercussions upon the evangelical community would be painful. It would mean having to eat major humble pie. It would mean a mortal blow to our current Christian political agenda. It would mean having to scrape the “Take Back Vermont” bumper stickers off our cars and minivans.
Yet there is something much more important that we need to be concerned about, and that is the truth. Surely the existence of a person like Buddy ought to cause us to think twice about the kinds of statements we are used to making about what homosexuality is and what homosexual people are like. And if Buddy has raised any doubt in our minds about whether our public propaganda about homosexuals has been truthful and accurate, isn’t it our moral duty as Christians to seek out the truth so that we can set the record straight? Christians certainly have nothing to fear from the truth. As a community of believers that has pledged to live for the eternal things of heaven and forsake the passing pleasures of this world, we believe that the truth is more important to us than the opinions of men, the possession of political power, or protecting our own pride. On the other hand, if we lack the integrity and necessary faith in God to confront this issue with the intellectual honesty and self-criticism it demands, why should anyone listen to what we have to say about more weighty and profound issues such as those relating to God, Jesus, the Bible or salvation?
Back to the basics
But our treatment of homosexuals in society isn’t half of the problem. What about homosexuals within the church body? The treatment Buddy received in his church experience seems hardly defensible in view of the testimony of his life as a Christian. Nothing about his profession of faith or personal conduct indicated that his homosexuality had anything to do with being extraordinarily willful, rebellious, self-deceived or unrepentant. For if Buddy’s homosexuality were a choice, how do we explain why he would choose something only to turn around and fight so fiercely against it? If being homosexual is about indulging in a “sexual lifestyle,” then how does that fit in with the commitment he made to being celibate the rest of his life? If homosexuality is a sign of spiritual rebellion, how do we explain the signs of spiritual grace such as faith, repentance, love for Christ, struggle against sin and pursuit of personal sanctification so plainly evident in his life?
Far from being a special case of extraordinary depravity and willful rebellion, all the evidence of Buddy’s life points rather to this being an ordinary case of just another sinner wrestling with just another sin. If there was anything extraordinary about Buddy, it was the heroic lengths he went to truly deny himself, take up his cross and follow his Lord. But if we insist on seeing his struggles as reason only to condemn and exclude him instead of recognizing the vital faith at work in his life, then to be fair we would have to make it a practice to treat every professing Christian who struggles with any type of sin in exactly the same manner. The alcoholic who strives each day to remain sober, the housewife dealing with chronic depression, the teenage girl with an eating disorder--we would need to inform such persons in our congregations that we will no longer tolerate them making mention of their disgraceful struggles to us. They must overcome their sin completely before they can be worthy to worship in our midst, although we might tolerate them if they would be willing to deny that they are currently dealing with those struggles in any serious manner and assure us that those sinful “lifestyles” were just a part of their past. And if they confess to slipping up in some errant thought or feeling we will be gracious and suppose it excusable, but only if it’s not too out of hand and they are quick to assure us that those lapses were only a fluke.
Most Christians would recognize such an approach as unbearably legalistic, judgmental and uncompassionate since none of us would want such standards applied to our own lives. Is there anyone among us who doesn’t do battle with some particular area of sin, whether it is impurity, greed, lust, pride, jealousy, vanity, gluttony, unforgiveness, prejudice, bitterness, laziness, selfishness or self-centeredness, all of which are just as much violations of God’s law as homosexuality? None of us are completely free from the corruption of sin, for the Bible teaches that as sons of Adam we are all born with a sinful nature. However much we may abound in good works and seek to restrain ourselves from evil, because of the Fall we are ultimately powerless to rid ourselves of that seed of corruption imbedded in our very natures from birth.
Yet the reason why we can still call ourselves Christians, be welcomed into the church, and love and accept one another without reservation is that the Bible teaches that faith in Jesus Christ is what justifies us before God, not our ability to keep God’s law. Faith is confessing that you are a sinner in need of a Savior, trusting that Jesus Christ atoned for your sins on the cross of Calvary, and receiving the merit of Christ’s perfect righteousness in place of your own. That is the basis on which God accepts us, and why he commands us to love and accept one another as he himself does. It is not that we no longer care about personal morality. We do. It is rather that the Bible teaches that true morality springs out of love, not fear, out of freedom, not bondage. It tells us that people will end up fulfilling the law only when they have first been freed from the terror of its condemnation; for it is not guilt but freedom from guilt that enables people to live morally before their God, and it is not condemnation but the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s atonement that reconciles people into a loving relationship with their heavenly Father such that they want to obey him from the heart (Romans 8:1-4). This completely radical understanding of man’s moral redemption before God is what the Bible calls the gospel. It is the fundamental principle behind a truly Christian understanding of faith and life.
To believe in justification by faith alone is to concede that some sins are so deeply rooted in our nature they cannot be undone in this life by trying to jump-start our motivation to obedience through therapy, discipleship programs, theological learning or even the power of prayer. Yet the age-old temptation is to believe that we can take the problem of sin into our own hands. The apostle Paul understood this temptation, which is why he rebuked the Galatian Christians for buying into the notion that faith in Christ wasn’t enough to be justified before God, that they also needed to submit themselves to the Law by becoming circumcised. “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (3:1-3) To Paul’s mind pursuing spiritual perfection by law-keeping is a complete reversal from the cross of Christ and salvation by faith alone, because it is a denial of the truth that “a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ“ (2:16), for “if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly” (2:21). Not only does Paul deny that the Law can perfect us or make us righteous, he says that the sole purpose of the Law is to curse us (3:10), to enslave us (4:24-25; 5:1), and to imprison us in the hopeless state of our sin so that we would be driven to faith in Christ (3:21-26). To anyone who believes otherwise about the Law Paul says, “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (5:4).
I keep thinking about those ominous words: if you are seeking to be justified by law, you have been severed from Christ and have fallen from grace. This is not a hyperbolic statement of a maverick apostle who radically departed from the teachings of Jesus as is sometimes supposed. On the contrary, the apostle Paul couldn’t be more dead on the mark in articulating the central message of Jesus’ own ministry. For when you turn to the Gospels, you can’t help but notice that the only people Jesus seems to have a real beef with are the Pharisees, scribes and religious leaders--that is, the ones who pride themselves on keeping the law and go around condemning other people who aren’t as righteous as they. Jesus taught that the touters of the law are the ones who are in danger of missing the kingdom of heaven, not the sinners who already know they are law-breakers, mourn over their sin, and seek to follow Christ out of genuine humility and spiritual need. That was Jesus’ point behind the famous parable of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:9-14). It’s why he said, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32). It’s why we see him hanging out with the prostitutes, lepers, Samaritan heretics and adulterous women while shunning the company of the respected leaders and establishment types of his day. It’s why he rebuked the chief priests and elders by saying, “Truly I say to you that the tax-gatherers and harlots will get into the kingdom of God before you” (Matthew 21:31). Jesus taught that the mystery of the kingdom of God is that true faith is possessed not by the righteous who feel no need of salvation, but by the law-breakers, the downtrodden, the despised and the outcasts. They are Jesus’ most devoted followers, perhaps because having to suffer the slander, insults and condemnation of others is what drives them to a deeper faith and to a sweeter, more profound love for their Savior.
Today, homosexuals are considered to be as sinful as harlots, as condemned as lepers, and as unclean as Gentiles, which is to say that they match the profile of the very people whom Jesus most loved. As a body of believers that is called to represent Jesus Christ on earth, our churches ought to be a haven to such persons, but instead we have been their worst enemy. Not only do we turn them away by railing against them, vilifying them and mocking them in public and among ourselves, but if they do seek our spiritual help we require them to live up to a standard of sexual purity in their thought-lives and emotional lives that few can realistically achieve, and for that we condemn them. How is it possible that we are justified by faith but they must be justified by works, that our sin is cleansed by Christ’s blood but their sin must be expunged from both heart and mind by their own efforts?
Such a double standard has troubling implications. It is not merely a question of whether we have been loving enough, or patient enough, or tolerant enough toward sinners. It is a question of whether the conservative church is in danger of compromising the very gospel of Jesus Christ we claim so passionately to stand for. These days the term “conservative Christian” has become a synonym for “anti-gay.” How unfortunate, for it seems to me that those who carry on in this inexplicable hostility toward homosexuals do so at the expense of the gospel, losing sight of the very heart and soul of conservative Christianity itself.
The key really rests in getting conservative churches (the people in the pews, the preachers, the Sunday school teachers, the evangelists, the deacons) to GROW UP . . . They must grow up and realize that being a conservative doesn’t mean you have to have simple solutions for every problem. It means you take God seriously and recognize that sometimes things are more complicated than we would like to acknowledge. It means loving people where they are, and pointing sinners to a Savior that came to save the lost. It’s way past time for the church to get off its “culture war” kick, this morality police kick, and just get back to the basics. The basics of “all have sinned” and “for God so loved.”
Amen, brother. And getting back to the basics of the gospel means simply this: that “from now on we recognize no man according to the flesh” because “if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold new things have come.” For “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them,” because “He made [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:16, 17, 19, 21).
I miss my friend Buddy. Even though we corresponded for only a short time, I grew to love, respect and admire him immensely. His courage was unwavering, his honesty was brutal, and his love for Christ was absolutely contagious. One couldn’t help but grow attached to him. In the weeks and months following his death, the loss was such that I hardly knew how to carry on without him. It has only made it harder for me to understand why the conservative church not only tries to carry on without the blessing of knowing Christians like Buddy, but thinks it a matter of spiritual principle to do so. All I can say is, I take comfort in knowing that he has been received into the company of his fellow saints in heaven, and I hope that the true fellowship and brotherly love he is experiencing there might someday become a reality also among believers here on earth.
God bless you, my friend. May your soul rest in peace and in joy for all eternity.
Written February 20, 2002
Posted on November 20, 2002
© 2000, 2004 by Misty S. Irons