This begins a six-part series, a first for Church and Culture, on what is arguably the most pressing and divisive moral issue which faces our culture. Rather than follow our normal Monday/Thursday postings, these will be posted every day for six straight days.
A few housekeeping matters:
*Feel free to engage each post individually, but please realize it’s a six-part series.
*As always, keep all comments civil. Anything lacking in civility will be removed.
*Though a six-part series, I am under no illusion that this is a comprehensive treatment of such a very complex subject.
Here is the first thing I want to say about the matter of homosexuality:
As a follower of Christ, a pastor and Christian leader, I ask the homosexual community for forgiveness for the way individual Christians and Christian organizations have often treated you.
In other words, I begin with repentance.
I’ve seen anger - even hatred - among Christians toward gays and lesbians that is nothing less than horrifying to me. There’s an “us-versus-them” mentality as if war has been declared; a spirit manifest that shows nothing but contempt.
Even to the point of an irrational fear.
From those who went public after such events as 9/11, or Hurricane Katrina, and said it was God’s judgment on homosexuals.
From those who lead movements to try and get gays fired from public office, or to keep them away from fair housing or employment opportunities.
From those who use terms like “fags” or “faggots”, or hold up signs at funerals that say “God hates fags.”
Little wonder that hostility toward gays - not just opposition to homosexual politics and behaviors, but utter disdain for gay individuals – is what 91% of all Americans between the ages of 16 and 29 who are outside of the church think most marks those inside the church.
So let me publicly apologize to those of you within the homosexual community for the hate you have felt and may have even experienced from the Christian community. That has been our sin against you, and I ask for your forgiveness.
Second, I want you to know that you matter to God. He loves you, He cares about you, and He has a plan for your life.
You are one of His children.
Third, I want you to know that you matter to me.
Pastors and other Christian leaders haven't always made that very clear.
I'll never forget receiving a call from a funeral home in southern Indiana where I served as a pastor during my seminary years.
A young man who was not connected with a church had died of an AIDS related illness. On behalf of the family, the funeral home had contacted pastor after pastor in the area; each had refused to even meet with the family, much less to serve them at the funeral service.
Finally they got to me – the young seminary kid.
He asked me if I would officiate at the funeral, and I said, "Of course I will." I can honestly tell you that it never even entered my mind not to. And I was disgusted and ashamed of my colleagues for not serving a family during such a time of grief.
I knew then, some twenty-plus years ago, that something was wrong with our attitudes and spirits.
So please know, you matter to me. Deeply.
Finally, I want you to know that you matter to Mecklenburg Community Church. And not just Meck, but to thousands of churches like her around the world. I can’t speak for every church, but I can speak for ones like ours.
As a church, from day one, we have reached out as lovingly and compassionately as we can.
I remember many years ago, the first time I spoke on the subject of homosexuality in our church, Meck was just over a year old and meeting in an elementary school. We were in a series on issues related to sex and sexuality, and the final installment was going to be on homosexuality. I prayed and worked on that talk like you wouldn’t believe because I knew that we had many gay people attending Meck.
And they mattered to me.
They were people open to Christ, but burned by Christians.
They were people who were trying to figure out how the teachings of the Bible meshed with their sexual desires and lifestyles.
They were people trying to figure it all out.
I taught what I felt the Bible taught as clearly I knew how. I had done everything in my power to try and explain the Bible’s teaching, why it mattered, and what it could mean for all of our lives - gay or straight.
When the talk was over, a woman came up to me by the stage, and she said, “Well, I’m one of your lesbian fans. I had a pretty good idea what you were going to say today. But what I didn’t know was how you were going to say it. And I just want to say ‘thank you’.”
And then she hugged me.
I then saw that she had bought about five or six tapes (it was tapes back then) to give to her friends.
You have no idea how much that meant to me. She may have disagreed with what I said, but she sensed that our church was marked by love and grace.
But that’s not all that marks churches like ours.
When the AIDS pandemic began to sweep the world, particularly Africa, people wondered what the church would do. Thousands rose to the occasion.
Instead of viewing AIDS as some kind of plague on the homosexual community, or just writing it off because it was seen to be associated with immoral behavior, or drug use…
…churches like ours decided to try and serve.
Meck currently supports around 500 AIDS orphans and vulnerable children in Zambia. We’ve provided wells for clean water, blankets for the winter, and more recently, invested in micro-economic development projects to break the cycle of poverty.
While some have turned their back on the AIDS pandemic around the world, we have invested ourselves – to reach out with love and compassion, help and service.
So that’s where we’re at.
We’re not homophobic, or anti-homosexual, or on a hate campaign. We believe that authentic Christians should show compassion and love to all people, regardless of their lifestyle.
And that means gay people.
And if you’re gay, that means you.
You matter to God, and you matter to us.
You may not have felt that from Christians before. And I’m so, so sorry.
I remember, when I was in college, I had a friend who was openly gay. Early on in our friendship, I went over to his house – we just sat around and talked for a couple of hours.
As I was leaving, he said,
"Jim, you're the first Christian who has ever come into my apartment and just listened to me. Thanks."
I've never forgotten that.
Again, all I can say is, please forgive us.
James Emery White