However we respond, let's communicate love.
In June when The Supreme Court ruled on Obergefell v. Hodges, and made same-sex marriage the law of the land, churches across the U.S. prepared to respond to the legal implications. When I heard about the ruling, all I could think about were my friends. Would any of them ask me to officiate their same-sex wedding? I knew I wouldn’t be comfortable officiating. But I needed to think about my answer carefully. If anyone did ask, I wanted them to walk away thinking, “She really loves us.”
Jesus commanded us to be known by our love for one another. In times when our understanding of Scripture has profound relational consequences, it’s important to make sure we are known for our love. Working in an increasingly post-Christian context has provided us with a unique opportunity to obey this challenging command. Here are a few principles I’ve found helpful in loving those who either live outside the Christian ethic or interpret Scripture differently than I do.
Jesus was at ease around all kinds of people. When Jesus went to the well and spoke with the Samaritan woman, he demonstrated no concern for what people might think (John 4). In fact, throughout his ministry, Jesus was a ready friend of those whose lifestyle others found offensive. He was a friend of sinners.
I have a confession: I enjoy ABC’s TV show Modern Family. It’s one of the best comedies on television (in my opinion). But when the topic of favorite TV shows come up, I’m tempted to omit it from my list. Modern Family portrays a married same-sex couple raising a family. Some Christians have called for boycotts of shows favorably depicting same-sex couples.
So why doesn’t the show offend me? It is reflective of the world I minister to every day. My daughter goes to school with a wonderful kid who has two moms. My best friend’s sister married her partner last year. Two young men who have been a huge blessing to our community have been partners for the last five years. My husband’s uncle is a minister and married his partner years ago. I have no desire to turn off the TV when Modern Family comes on because I have no desire to shut these people out of my life. More than that, I want them to feel at ease with me.
I have a friend who we joke is an agnostic on good days and an atheist on bad ones. He was in our building the other day for a meeting. As he left, I wanted to say, “I’ll be praying for you.” For some reason, I hesitated. Instead of assuming what was appropriate I said, “I wanted to say that I’ll be praying for you … we’ve been friends long enough, right? I can say that?”
He chuckled and said, “Yep, you and my mom.”
Love leads the way.
If we want others to be at ease with us, merely tolerating or ignoring their life-styles is not the answer. We need to accept people where they are. Otherwise, the lack of acceptance becomes a barrier to meaningful friendship. Jesus understood this.
We all know the story where a woman caught in the act of adultery is dragged before Jesus (John 8). The people who brought her wanted her dead. They asked Jesus for his opinion regarding her guilt but he refused to judge her. Instead, he told the mob, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” As Jesus words sank in, the crowd slowly dispersed.
Jesus was the one person who had the right to judge that woman yet he refused to condemn her. When he did address her, he said, “Has no one condemned you? Then, neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin” (8:7).
There’s a beautiful pattern to Jesus’ ministry; he led with love. I have not always gotten this right. Several years ago, a woman in our community seemed to connect with another woman in a way that I felt was unhealthy. In an attempt to fix things, I confronted her behavior. I told her I loved her, but looking back, I realized my main goal had been to change her. Before the conversation, we’d been close. After, our relationship eroded. I echoed Jesus’ words about leaving her sin, but I lobbed stones with the way I talked to her. It was a hard way to learn an important lesson: lead with love.
Love welcomes the truth.
Several years ago a friend of mine started coming to our church. I knew she wasn’t a believer and every time she joined us, she cried through the service. After several weeks of this, I asked her to meet me for dinner. She shared the cause of her tears and how our services felt like a safe place to mourn.
After talking for a while, she said she wanted me to know something. “I’m a Pagan,” she said. To which I responded, “That’s okay, I’m a pastor.” Then, more seriously, I thanked her for sharing.
She was a friend and I didn’t want her to feel like she needed to hide anything about herself. I did have one caveat. I explained, “Because of my faith, I’m going to talk about Jesus sometimes. It’s impossible for you to be my friend and not know that part of me. So, I want you to be you. I just ask the same freedom for myself.”
I’ve had that conversation in different forms many times over many years. The invitation to “be you because I want to know you” is vital in friendships. Truth sets us free. So, love always welcomes the truth.
Love surrenders assumptions.
Years ago, I assumed if people really loved Jesus, then they suddenly wouldn’t be gay. I assumed people in the LGBTQ community had sexual abuse in their past. I had a lot of uninformed and unhealthy assumptions. It kept me from loving and accepting them as Jesus does.
Assumptions diminish our capacity to love because they diminish our ability to know and understand people. As I’ve developed friendships with people in the LGBTQ community, many of my assumptions have died and empathy has grown in their place. These days, my relationships are deep enough that there are times when I wish I’m the one who has wrongly interpreted Scripture. That level of relationship isn’t dangerous—it’s just love.
The apostle John underscored the priority of love: “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother or sister, who they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (I John 4:20-21).
There may be people whose lifestyles are difficult for you to understand and thus difficult to love. I get that. There are some that are difficult for me. But here’s the question we must all learn to ask: What might God be asking me to give up in order to love people as he does?