Note: This column was first published in August 2003.
Gay, gay, gay.
Gays have been all over the news lately. From the gay Episcopal bishop in New Hampshire and the all-gay high school in New York City, to the revocation of laws banning gay sex in Texas, the fall line-up of TV shows and the men committing sodomy at a South Main Street business. The pope and President Bush have both recently made policy statements on gays.
We are all getting pulled into the fray. And mainline churches are at the forefront of the gay-rights battle.
In July, the United Church of Christ expressed its support for gays and urged the Boy Scouts of America to drop its ban on gay youths from membership. “Transgender people know God loves them; it is time for the UCC to say we love them too,” said Lisa Alston, who headed the committee that prepared the resolution.
Likewise, the newly-confirmed Episcopal bishop, the Rev. Gene Robinson, told CNN Live that in spite of his opposition, “I know that God loves me beyond my wildest imagining.”
Apparently, gays have not been getting that message from the Christians they know. In church circles, the fight is over God’s love versus God’s law.
A few weeks ago I was talking with a local activist about a woman we both know and he interrupted me with, “Oh, the lesbian.” With that one word he dismissed this woman’s entire existence. His rejection cut me like a razor. Multiply his attitude times the thousands of Christians with similar sentiments, and you’ve got a church that no longer sings, “Just As I Am,” but “Only If I Conform to Their Demands,” about coming to God.
Once when Jesus went to a Pharisee’s house for dinner, a woman came in and, “weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.” In this story from Luke 7:36-50, Jesus’ host is thinking that if Jesus was a real man of God, he would discern that the woman touching him is a sinner. Jesus says to him, “Do you see this woman?” (That’s what I felt like saying to the activist: “Do you see this woman? Or do you just see ‘lesbian?’ ”)
Then Jesus gets on the guy’s case for not being a good host, saying that the woman was much nicer to him. Jesus tells the Pharisee, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much . . .” And he turns to the woman and says, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Jesus did not deny she was a sinner, but he loved her. His compassion shone through, over and above her sin. But with the church, rejection outshines any claims of love.
Tony Campolo talked to me about this at the Massanetta Springs Bible Conference. He said that telling someone you love them at the same time you reject them is “love without grace.”
“It’s like kissing someone with bad breath,” he said. “It stinks.”
The “love the sinner, hate the sin” policy is often a self-deceiving fallacy to explain away our repulsion for someone whose struggles we do not understand. Personally, I do not understand the struggle people have with homosexuality. Neither do I understand the struggles people have with alcohol, pornography or shopping.
But I do have my own struggles, some which have been with me since early childhood. Though I occasionally fantasize about them going away for good, I have come to understand some are just part me — my dark side, if you will. The best I can do — like Nash with his schizophrenia in “A Beautiful Mind” — is, with God’s grace, keep them at bay.
After talking with Campolo, I began to wonder if the church had 30 years ago loved and welcomed homosexuals the way it did us hippies — with our pot-smoking, free sex and foul mouths — perhaps it never would have come to this. It never would have been a divisive issue. Because when Christ takes people just as they are, he transforms them into what they were created to be.
We come to God because we experience his deep love for us, and as his law becomes written on our hearts, we become more like Jesus. We conform, not to each other, but to his likeness.
Though he is a conservative, Campolo’s wife, Peggy, is a spokesperson for gay rights. So he has numerous homosexual friends and acquaintances, none of whom chose to be that way, he said.
I thought about the struggles I did not choose.
Campolo said people on both sides of the homosexual question are sincere and that we must listen to each other.
Yes, we must really listen. And if we listen, we just might hear ourselves.