|Roy Clements - No Longer Welcome|
No longer welcome?
After the agony of Gethsemane, the pain and hurt of betrayal and denial, the injustice of his trial and the cruelty of a Roman flogging, Jesus was led up a hill to his death. His bloodied footprints pointed the way to a reality that even he had shrunk from - a place where the Son would come face-to-face with His Father's judgement on the world. His mind must have been reeling with the prospect of what was still to come - the loneliness and hopelessness of outer darkness. But in the midst of that semi-consciousness, the gospel writers record for us some of the most incredible words ever spoken, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." We cannot know, but perhaps that prayer was the last communion Jesus had with his Father before their link was severed and, for the first time in eternity, the Son's prayers became useless. It is a matchless prayer that reveals the depth of the Son's love for his Father and the Father's love for the world.
It is often wrong to draw emotive comparisons between the experience of Christians and the incomparable event of Jesus' death. That was a unique thing, unrepeatable and once for all. For the rest of the New Testament, the apostles urge Christians to believe in the Cross-Resurrection event and to stick with it as being the very heart of Christian hope. Yet it is right too for a suffering church to look to the suffering master as a model of church experience. In that context, I want to point out a very particular, a very peculiar, suffering of Christ's church. The true church is persecuting the true church. Christ's people are hurting others of Christ's people. Perhaps for that reason, I have every hope that the suffering might soon stop because it is enough that the church is already persecuted by the world. Tragically, this persecution leads to the world being a refuge from a hostile church.
I hope that those Christians who suffer like this will not have to pray Jesus' prayer any more in relation to their brothers and sisters. It is a painful thing to do. If you are reading this as a Christian, please realise that there are gay Christians in your church. Do not speculate on whether or not they may or may not exist, whether their struggles are real or perceived, psychological or childhood related. Come to terms today with the reality of gay Christians. Even in the conservative evangelical church there are gay people, whose identity is constantly undermined by a church culture that won't even trust them to exist! There is no scripture that says that.
Some thoughts on what this means:
Firstly, think about the cultural assumptions that underlie your church life. Gay people are there and while they are there, they are bombarded with seminars on marriage and relationships (in which this issue is rarely discussed), with friends who speak about relationships ad nauseam, with the wedding season and the family announcements. In the middle of all this noise, the gay person is possibly coming to terms with a very isolated and lonely life. Please try to make it easier. Surely that is the part we must all play in growing up to be the body of loving believers that Christ wants us to be. If you are going to say "celibacy for life", then you had better make absolutely certain that as a church you make that bearable - what sort of a family will you be to the gay Christian? Will you bear with his or her frustrations, emotional ups and downs, with the unpredictability of those deepest feelings? Do not talk about change. I say that primarily because the "change concept" is unscriptural. But it is also a cop-out. When you seek to impose the yoke of celibacy upon a gay Christian, you are saying something very severe and very profound. A proposal of change is so patently silly for some gay Christians that it merely adds to the hopelessness that goes with the church's injunction. Perhaps more perniciously, the emphasis on change shows the church shrinking away from the consequences of its own command. Gay Christians never took a vow of celibacy. They are not monks or nuns who chose that life. Imagine bearing such a burden yourself - imagine bearing it when you have fallen in love! - and then contemplate the heaviness, the weight of your words.
Secondly, please provide a context of explicit, absolute, total trust. Gay Christians are not used to trusting people because in our experience people rarely prove themselves trustworthy. If a gay person tells you something then you are privileged because you may well be the first person that he or she has ever spoken to. Do not be shocked by what you hear. Do not suggest 'quick-fit' solutions or be quick to speak. Instead, listen and start praying for that brother or sister whose pain and hurt has been bottled up for so long. You will do the greatest service by ministering the love of Jesus to someone who knows that love for themselves, but rarely experiences it through the church body of which they are a part. A critical part of this is to give your trusting friend the space to think through their situation. Do not make conservative evangelical assumptions. It may well be your view that the Bible is absolutely clear on this issue. But to the gay Christian it is not enough simply to turn to the obvious passages, point at them triumphantly and say, "There, you see! The meaning of the text is clear and the consequences of ignoring the text are just as plain". Maybe you are right, but will you dare to give your gay friend the space to consider and question? To reject your view, even? Will you give them the opportunity to come to terms, or not, with hard sayings that really are hard? It is too neat to say, "It would be unloving for me not to say this". Ultimately you are right, of course, if you hold to mainstream conservative evangelical convictions on this issue. But this is a friend you are speaking to, someone who cares for you and for whom you care. Give them the dignity they need and speak at the right moment, not the wrong moment. If you are wise, you will know the difference.
Thirdly, how will you deal with Christians who believe the gospel, but disagree with your view on practising homosexuality? Will you welcome them or reject them? Do you truly believe that it is impossible to believe the gospel and have a different view on this issue? I do not doubt that you will refuse the practising homosexual a position of leadership. But will you be a church that welcomes or rejects the practising homosexual Christian?
Lastly, this has become a very political issue in the wider church and I personally have little doubt that the Anglican Church will soon split. As an evangelical I would not see that as any great loss since no denomination defines the eternal church of Christ. Christ will build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. But at the moment many evangelicals have the bit between their teeth. My plea to those limbering up for this fight is simple: look over your shoulder to some of the faces on your own side. Not to the front few rows of your troops, not even back a little further to the middle ranks - I know that you are rightly suspicious of their over-enthusiasm and militaristic bullishness - somehow they don't seem to appreciate the sheer reality of underlying eternal issues. Instead look further back to the shadowy wings of your mustered forces. There you will see faces staring sorrowfully back at you, faces belonging to brothers and sisters in your midst who are pained and torn by this battle to come. As you look more closely, you will see that these brothers and sisters already have bleeding wounds that are hurting. 'Yet the fight hasn't even begun', you think to yourself. This little group is more confused and upset than ready for war. A few of your young men are coming up to urge them to get stuck into the battle, patting them encouragingly on the shoulder and offering them each a weapon, shockingly blind to their helplessness. You pause a moment longer and as your eye roams some more, you notice one figure in the background who is working his way round that pitiful group, binding up the injuries and soothing the pain. His eye is not on the front line and he seems oblivious to the shouts and enthusiasm of the rest of your army. You can't see his face but you recognise him of course, as any faithful servant would.
As you turn back to the oncoming, relentless forces of secularism and liberalism, what will you do?