"We are a beautiful let down, painfully uncool.The church of the dropouts, the losers, the sinners, the failures and the fools..." -Switchfoot, The Beautiful Letdown
Last night I attended a breakout session with the Appleton Alliance Church college age group.
The session was titled "Fire Away" and its goal was to have an open mic night of tough questions for Cal Kanowitz (the college age pastor) and Rev. Dennis Episcopo (head pastor of the church).
If you know me, then you know that I love these sorts of things. I love questions.
My question, in a nutshell, was this:
"The Christian and homosexual communities have some very bad blood between them, in what way should the future leaders of the church step up and engage the gay community?"
I asked this question very deliberately, because I have very strong opinions on this issue. I've seen so many Christians act as if gay people are somehow untouchable. Like being gay is the unpardonable sin, and I've been heard about the toxic aftermath created from those attitudes.
I've heard stories of parents who are professing Christians telling their own children that they wish they had never been born, when their child comes out to them.
I've seen the "churches" who hold up signs that say "God hates you."
Many other churches just skirt the issue, as if it isn't relevant.
I needed a straight answer. I needed to know where the lead pastor of this church in Appleton stood on this issue, an issue that so many hold at arms length.
Rev. Dennis took my question, and I felt immense hope as he talked, it made my heart so happy to know that there were others who felt as I did about the method of engaging the gay community, as followers of Jesus.
He said, in essence, that it really isn't rocket science. We need to engage homosexuals, and everyone for that matter, in love. Just as Jesus did. He said that the important thing is to create relationships, to break down stereotypes and negative connotations that have built up between Christians and gays.
He encouraged the young leaders to ask questions, rather than to spout out our own pool of knowledge. Both he and pastor Cal told us not to be afraid of getting questions that we cannot answer, after all that is the process.
"When it comes to the end of the day, and if my friend asks me about Jesus, and I share what I believe with him, and he chooses to reject it, it is not lost time. If I can perhaps begin to break down the negative stereotypes and illusions and perhaps show this friend what a genuine Christian looks like, it is worth it.
Because at the end of the day, whether we agree or disagree, I still have a good friend. And that's what matters."
And it is.
Because at our core we're all damaged. We're broken.
The thing about following Jesus Christ is that it has the uncanny ability to expose this fact. It's quite humbling actually. I agree with Rev. Dennis, our responsibility as Christians isn't rocket science.
The true church is, and always will be full of damaged people.
People who have been abused.
People who cut themselves because of the pain they feel.
People who are trapped in eating disorders.
People who have cheated on their significant other.
People who have pride issues.
People who have no self-esteem.
In essence, the church is a big spiritual rehab clinic, and we're all patients. Trying daily to flush out all the junk that is destructive in our lives. We fail often. We're imperfect to be sure.
There is but one promise that the church holds, and that is that for those who seek it there is hope, and healing.
There's a new beginning.
You don't need any sort of qualifications. God doesn't call you up to give you a phone screen to see if you're the type of person he'd want as a part of his body. You don't need a church resume', you simply need a heart that desires God, and the courage to pursue him.
So often, we let labels cause division.
So often, we are terrified of those who are different.
But it is in those times that we, the church, need to remember the words of God to his people echoing throughout the ages: "Do not be afraid, I am with you."
We don't need to understand everything.
We don't need to be afraid of what is different.
Our responsibility is to bring love to this world.
To love others recklessly, as Jesus loved us in all our damaged, messy brokenness.
It doesn't matter if someone is gay or straight, depressed, angry, bitter, hopeless, apathetic, proud, rude, arrogant.
None of that matters.
Jesus had the hardest time with the "perfect people." His message landed on deaf ears, because those who have it all together, have absolutely no need of a savior.
He deeply loved and cared for the broken.
He called his followers to engage others, even if they don't see things the same way.
He never said that we were the ones who change hearts. Only he can do that.
All he asks of us is to love as we have been loved. To meet another where they are at, and care for them any way possible. Care for them, not because of their labels, but simply because they are another human being.
Simply because they are another. Human. Being.
My friends, I'm a broken person.
I have no reason to be proud of myself.
I'm, in every plausible way, just as in need of a savior today as I was before I knew this Jesus guy.
But the funny thing is...
When this realization sets in, I don't feel hopeless, I actually feel joy.
It is humbling.
It is freeing.
The kingdom of heaven has no room for those who hold themselves in higher regard than others.
This kingdom is built on love, and love doesn't demand superiority.
Love doesn't hold up a standard that someone has to reach in order to receive it.
It simply is.
Love looked down from a Roman execution stake, in the midst of the most agonizing torture that humanity has conceived, and said...
God's grace and mercy is for all, not just some.