Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
I have spent the better part of the last decade trying to figure out love. I think there is a good reason why Jesus left us with this as our greatest command, for it is quite possible one could spend a lifetime pursuing how to love and be loved.
My youngest brother came out a decade ago as a gay man. I was conflicted. Nothing, at the time, in my Christian world supported celebration of his sexual identity. Nothing supported an affirming relationship with him. Nothing in my Bible-believing faith allowed me to love him without condition. Nothing in my spiritual practice provided space for grace, for him or for me. Every sentence I wanted to say, held a but.
I love you, but…
Jesus loves you, but…
Love the sinner, but…
I support you, but…
Love in the church and Christianity still has qualifiers. Love still holds many buts when it comes to expression of faith, church involvement and acceptance.
Friends, our “loving” statements toward another should never contain a but. Buts are lazy, revealing the undone work of humility through discernment and wrestling. Buts say: “If the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it”. Buts close doors and toss aside the keys of beauty and community and resurrection.
Why are Christians so afraid? What is threatened by relinquishing our control?
It took me a long time to be able to be free of the buts. For many years I believed there were conditions on my brother’s faith. I believed there were conditions for my own and everyone else’s, too. I believed grace wasn’t free, but only available if we lived within the confines of the little box established by the church’s narrow interpretation of Scripture.
I keep hearing variations of the same story:
I was raised in a Christian home. I went to church every Sunday morning and night and Wednesday night, too. I was very involved in the youth group and I loved Jesus. I knew something was different about me. As I got older I realized I was gay. I didn’t know what to do, I couldn’t tell my parents. So, I hid. And then I prayed. And then I tried to change and did horrible things to myself to inflict punishment. And then I tried to kill myself. I came out and my parents want nothing to do with me. Sometimes we will talk, but we can’t talk about this. This huge piece of me and I can’t even talk to the people I love the most in this world. How is it possible to turn away from your own child? How come they don’t fight for me?
The pain is real. The rejection is heartbreaking. People are dying. This is not love. This cannot be love.
Christians are to be about the business of living the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus. How is the Good News being dispensed by Christians? What are we known for?
If the Gospel, the life-giving, redeeming work of Jesus Christ is not Good News for everyone, it is Good News for no-one.
If our efforts to love another are not perceived as love, our efforts are not love. When Christians claim the role of gatekeeper, determining who is in and who is out, we fail to be the beautiful, life giving, generous welcome of Christ as the Gospel. In our defining of sin, in our offering judgment rather than unconditional love, we are dispensing hate. When our love is not perceived as love, our love is perceived as hatred. This is on us.
Will we drop our need to be right? Will we fight to love our people well? Will we strive hard to love as God asks us to love, without condition? Will the church recognize she is losing a generation?
Community with our gay children, our transgender siblings, our bisexual parents is possible and beautiful. When the work is complete and love is allowed to rule, we get to abandon the Buts and embrace the Ands.
I love you, and…
Jesus loves you, and…
Love the sinner, and…
I support you, and….
Our work is to receive one another in celebration and affirmation, no conditions, no buts.
The journey Trevor started for me is one I will protect and defend. We all share the table, the table of generosity and community, the table of belonging together. Each person is welcomed, honored, filled and loved in equal measure. We are all received as children of God. This God who adores each and every one of us without buts, without qualification.
Test God in this, wrestle with the text of Scripture, let’s follow our heart’s desire and love with abandon. Our LGBTQ loved ones do not have to be our greatest spiritual test.
I will leave you with the ethos of Highlands Church in Denver, written by co-pastor, Mark Tidd:
Married, divorced or single here, it’s one family that mingles here.
Conservative or liberal here, we’ve all gotta give a little here.
Big or small here, there’s room for us all here.
Doubt or believe here, we all can receive here.
Gay or straight here, there’s no hate here
Woman or man here, everyone can here.
Whatever your race here, for all of us grace here.
In imitation of the ridiculous love Almighty God has for each of us and all of us,
let us live and love without labels!