He walked into the church in full on Gothic mode. His hair was spiked to kill and it stood a good 6 inches off the top of his head. His long, black trench coat covered his heavily chained pants. His military style boots clomped into the church foyer and his pentagram necklace glinted eerily in the light. His black eye make-up was merely an afterthought in the ensemble.
This is the first time that I met Shawn. He was a student in a ministry of mine. He was one of the most challenging kids in my time of student ministry. And not because of reasons you might think. Shawn and I became close friends and I actually spent a year teaching and mentoring him in the Scriptures. The challenging part was the rest of the church.
I can recall the senior minister at that time calling me to a meeting where he asked me to tell Shawn not to come back because he could be a bad influence on the other teens. I was shocked. Was Shawn not the reason that Christ came? Wouldn’t Shawn be the very person that Jesus would sit down to eat with, to spend time with? Shawn was a teen on the margin and acted accordingly. His get-up was nothing but shock value and underneath was a kid looking for acceptance and love. Fortunately, I didn’t have to push back too hard because the other students in my ministry did that for me. They truly loved, accepted, and befriended Shawn.
And this is an unfortunate reality in our church today. The hidden side-ways glance, the hushed whispering, the uncomfortable hand shake and the fake smile are a welcome that many people get in churches all over the country today. Many churches have the feel of a social club rather than a refuge for a broken people.
Today’s culture looks at Christians as judgmental. I resent this label. I have walked in those shoes and it has caused me to sympathize and empathize with those on the outside looking in. But I do understand that there is truth in this generalization. I realize that the church has wounded many people with an unforgiving attitude or a carelessly used phrase.
We, traditionally, have been quick to judge those that think differently than us. You believe that this did or didn’t happen? Well guess what? You’re out of the club! Often times, we have represented the Bride of Christ as a sulking child; running home whining, ball in hand.
This unfortunate attitude has spurred thinking and phrases like, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” And we worry about validating someone’s lifestyle if we show them too much love. But is this the way Christ lived. Is this the way Christ intended His Bride to behave on His behalf?
Look throughout Scripture and you see Jesus loving people regardless of station. He loved them right where they were, no reservation, no holding back, unconditional. He loved them recklessly and pursued them relentlessly. He loved them too much to leave them where they were. His love showed them a better way to live. They loved to be around him and him them. Can the same be said of us today?
Let’s look at the church’s response to the gay community. When the aids epidemic hit in the 80’s, what was the church’s reaction (overall)? It was God’s judgment on the heathens and they deserved it (I remember this as a young boy). Whether or not it was something God was using to call people to repentance is not for me to decide. Nor was it the church’s responsibility to read our Lord’s mind. No- it was the church’s job to love these people whether they ever accepted Christ’s forgiveness or not. It was the church’s job to show compassion and mercy. It was the church’s job to show them, in love, a better way. Instead, the gay community was met with ridicule, hatred and judgment. It caused so many wounds that it has taken until just recently that we have been able to build back some of those bridges. And even then, there is still fear of being hurt.
The words that Jesus used to those on the outside were words of inclusion. The woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, Zacchaeus, his own disciples, the demon possessed man, on down to the people that he chose to dine with. All were included in His group of friends. Even in the Sermon on the Mount- His inauguration speech if you will, He starts with “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.” A crowd of people had gathered to see if this was the man to lead them to dominance and His first words were of the despised, the broken, the downtrodden and how the Kingdom is for them?
Right here is where we have somehow gone astray. Right here is where we, at some point in time, forgot about God’s grace; if the Kingdom isn’t for the poor, the oppressed, those on the margins, then it isn’t for anybody.
And here’s where an amazing opportunity comes. I can’t tell you how many times I and others I know, have had people make remarks about how we didn’t fit their idea of what a Christian was. When we plug into the Vine (John 15) and allow Him to be our sustenance, people will stop seeing us and start seeing Jesus.
If you and I can be a part of bringing Shalom to our neighborhoods, then we can begin to change this perception that the Bride is only for those with membership cards. And maybe, just maybe, people will begin to rediscover who Christ is and what His followers are all about.