9 May 2006

Jesus: The Welcoming Friend of Sinners … even Homosexual Sinners

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Church, Grace, Jesus, Kingdom, Ministry, Mission, Preaching

Pictures are worth a thousand words they say, so please click on and “study” the pic to the right. I have been watching the email on a number of email lists regarding recent events at ACU and SoulForce. I have read some things that made me hopeful and even “proud.” On the other hand I have read some things that have broken my heart and lament that such a (in my view) gross misunderstanding of the ministry of Jesus . . . and therefore the church remains among the children of God.

From a personal standpoint it is ironic beyond belief that this “event” happened when it did and this discussion is taking place as it is. I say this because I just came back from the wonderful Pepperdine Bible Lectures. You see on my way to LA from Milwaukee the “couple” that sat next to me was homosexual. In fact they were on their way to Las Vegas (via LA by road trip). They were marking some milestone in their relationship.

I accidentally sat in the wrong seat thinking “F” was next to the aisle, when in fact I was all the way in next to the window . . . sort of “trapped!” I had no idea they were a homosexual couple at first . . . it was the holding hands that kind of let the cat out of the bag. I had some deep emotional reactions. I did not make a scene but to say I was uncomfortable is an understatement. I suddenly did not want to be there . . . SO I opened my copy of The Gospel of Judas (edited by Kasser, Meyer, Wurst and Ehrman).

About 30 minutes into the flight my plan of simply ignoring them was defeated by the fellow next to me asking about Judas and what I thought of it. It dawned on me that God certainly wanted me to speak with these fellows even though I would rather read about religion than show the love of Christ (can I get a label for “Pharisee” here!! I was one. I became one rather quickly . . . and it was amazing just how “justified” I felt!!)

He was reading The DaVinci Code (illustrated version) and had an interest in “spiritual” things. He asked me what I did and where I was going, I felt the urge to lie. But I didn’t. I said I was a minister (you should have seen his eyes role) and I was on my way to Pepperdine for talks about Jesus. His first words after he discovered I was a “pastor” (as he informed his “mate”) was “I guess you really don’t like me then because I’m gay.” He nailed me to the wall so hard I almost found myself out on the wing. I gathered up all my courage and informed him that I most certainly had nothing against him.

He wanted me to share my take on the Gospel of Judas. So I told him I had serious theological problems with the text. I asked him “do you think your life, THIS life, is worth living?” He answered, “I do believe life is worth living.” So I said . . . that is why I cannot be a gnostic: whether the Dan Brown variety or Judas’. I explained that Jesus (in Judas) teaches that this world, including you and I, are cosmic screw ups. The created universe is the result of a fool god named Saklas messing up the spiritual realm and here we are! Only those with that special spark of gnosis have any hope of returning to the other world. The entire point of life is to DIE, to flee the body and physical. We are trying to flee our created existence . . . at least if you have that special gift. The easiest solution to the conundrum of life Jesus tells Judas is to help him die. So I asked, “does that sound like ‘good news’ to you?'” I opened the volume to the appropriate passages and we read them together.

Then this young man, perhaps 30 years old, asked me a question that simply shocked me. I suddenly realized that the world I am living in is not Mayberry, nor is it Florence, AL the buckle of the Bible Belt. He asked, “Well Bobby [can you believe we got on a first name basis] HOW DOES THAT DIFFER FROM THE BIBLE?” This young man, from Milwaukee, not China or Afghanistan, did not have a clue about something so simple as the storyline of the Bible culminating with Jesus.

So I told him, in 10 minutes, the story of the Bible. I told him the God of the Bible created this world, it is a good world and that even though God may not love our sin (including my self-righteousness and his homosexual lifestyle) but he surely loves him AS HE IS! I told him this world has fallen and the evidence is everywhere . . . but unlike in Gnosticism, God wants to redeem you. Not just some of you, but all of you. You, as a created being are not a mistake but a precious treasure. God says your life, the one you live right now, is worth the universe to him. I told him how Jesus in the canonical Gospels was the fulfillment of God’s plan to bring humanity back into a relationship with. A relationship marked by wholeness, belonging, truth, forgiveness, and love. I told him that is why Jesus died on the cross (and resurrection the gnostics want nothing to do with the resurrection) . . . to prove that God does love this world, not hate it like Gnostics teach!

When I finished my 10 minute summary this young man said “I don’t think I have ever heard that before.” Again I emphasize this because we are not talking about some one from Mongolia but from Milwaukee USA.

For the next two and a half hours we talked . . . and I almost forgot that he and his “lover” were holding hands almost the entire time! When it came time to disembark from our MD 88 he asked a question that is particularly relevant to us Christians: “If I came to your church do you think I would be welcome?”

You know what, I honestly do not know the answer to that question. But I pray to God they would be.

The nearly irrational reactions that have been made against ACU do not give me reason for hope. Over the last several days I have read through all four canonical Gospels and I am yet again simply amazed at how easily Jesus welcomes the pariahs of his day.

I read about a dinner party in which Jesus let a half naked prostitute fall all over him, and the righteous church folks were scandalized (Lk 7.36-50). He even pronounces the divine blessing of shalom upon this woman (v.50). One day the morality police found a woman in the middle of lewed activity and brazenly threw her to the ground in front of Jesus. The Teacher simply played with the dirt and the accuser’s couldn’t get away fast enough. The Lord said “neither do I condemn you” (Jn 8.1-11). I read in Luke 14 about the banquet table being open up for all the “riff-raff” and the in 15.1-2 of Jesus’ own odious reputation as being to tight with sinners. I read the parable of the merciless servant (Mt 18.21-35) and the Vineyard (Mt 20.1-19) that are directed to people like me and not the person sitting next to me.

I have no doubt that Jesus did not approve of prostitution yet prostitutes loved him. I have no doubt that Jesus did not approve of immorality and the like but sinners loved him. Yet Jesus welcomed them. Which threw that question in bold relief “If I came to your church do you think I would be welcome?” Why did he even have to ask?? They never asked such a thing with the Friend of Sinners. Perhaps we are not very “sinner friendly” or perhaps it is only “certain” sinners we are not friendly to.

We have folks we come in contact with every day who do not even know the basic outline of the Christian message. They are not in China, Japan, Mongolia but in Milwaukee, LA, Chicago, Nashville . . . and probably Florence, Alabama too. That story of Jesus is powerful and redemptive. In the few short hours on that Midwest flight it had a profound impact on not only me but the folks I sat with. I do not know what will ever come of that “couple.” My prayer is that God works and pursues . . . and that they come to my congregation.

May God have mercy upon us and help us to be the aroma of Christ and not our sinful prejudice. May he help us crucify our own insecurities, bigotries and the like to see only beautiful human beings created in the image of God. Humans so loved, that Jesus not only welcomed them with open arms but died for them.

Hesed & Shalom,Stoned-Campbell Disciple

25 Responses to “Jesus: The Welcoming Friend of Sinners … even Homosexual Sinners”

  1. rurscmhcea Says:

    I have to agree that it is very questionable if a Gay couple could walk into a church and be welcomed. I have friends and co-workers that are Gay. I tell people who ask me how can you deal with that or ask other such questions What do I have to gain by having a mean spirt towards them. I do not agree with the life style but I would have to answer one day for being the person that drove them further away instead of brought them closer. The sad thing is it is not just Gays that are targeted it is the same type of people that Jesus brought in that we also continue to shun, I think sometimes we use the phrase “evil companions corupt good morals” as an excuse not to share with these people, not that one should only surround themselves with these people but if you see someone going to these people go with them be like Ruth!!!

  2. cwinwc Says:

    Bobby, your experience reminded me of how the sin of homosexuality has hit fairly close to our family. How one deals with a homosexual (or any sin for that matter) takes on a whole new light when the sinner is a close family member or even a chance acquaintance on a flight that you ride next to for several hours. Maybe it’s God’s way of forcing us to be like Jesus if for just a few moments, to see beyond (not to overlook) the sin to the sinner, a precious soul in the sight of God.

    I applaud ACU and it’s effort to act as Christ would have acted.

  3. Cecil May Says:

    I received several one very negative e-mail blasting ACU for giving homosexuals a hearing, but I received it five times as various people forwarded it to me. I sent the following response to “reply to all” from each forwarder:
    I am concerned about things being promoted at Abilene that I believe are contrary to the direction God wants his church to go and I have written and spoken about them and will continue to do so.
    However, a current e-mail circulating about the recent visit of homosexual activists to ACU (I received it from five sources today) seems to me to be giving ACU a bad rap for having done a good thing.
    ACU’s choice was between setting up an ugly confrontation, which was probably what the activists wanted—so they could say “Look how unchristian these so-called Christians act!”—or they could greet them kindly and disagree with them scripturally and reasonably, speaking the truth in love. ACU wisely choose the latter course.
    ACU’s position is stated in their report of the incident: “As a university grounded in Christian principles and affiliated with the Church of Christ, we strongly believe that sexual relations are only appropriate within the bonds of marriage between a man and woman. However, as Christians we also believe that Christ loves all people and that He seeks for us to show that love to one another.” In the dialogue the Scriptures that condemn homosexual conduct were presented. ACU did not have homosexual activists making presentations except in the sense that presentations are made in debate contexts, and there is no indication that ACU condoned homosexual conduct.
    Dr. Cecil May Jr., Dean
    V. P. Black College of Biblical Studies
    Faulkner University
    5345 Atlanta Highway
    Montgomery AL 36109
    (334) 386-7154

  4. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Wow. Cecil the Second. C4 has been here several times (no C3 yet!). I did not even know you knew my blog existed. I am honored though to have you drop by.

    Your reply borders on great. It has raised the already high estimate I have always had of you.

    You are gracious and the attitude of Jesus shines through you. I salute you and Faulkner. You have exhibited great courage in saying ACU did the right thing.

    May God’s hesed and shalom surround you,

    Bobby Valentine

  5. Connie Lard Says:

    Bobby, Thank you for sharing a bit of your dialogue with the young man on the plane. I will tuck it away as an example of how to react if I am ever in a similar situation.

  6. hermit greg Says:

    Apologies for posting off topic, but I just wanted to say, BV, that it’s a pleasure to have you on the blogging roles. I’ve been a fan of yours on the S-C list for a long time; I only lament that you now give me one more blog to flagellate myself for not reading more regularly when I other things get in the way. Now, back to topic.

  7. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Connie and Greg,

    Your words are a real source of encouragement. May God bless both of you today.

    Stoned-Campbell Disciple

  8. cwinwc Says:

    Wow – another “Cecil” in this world. Nice to meet you.

    I echo the words of Bobby with respect to Dr. May’s response. God bless you and Faulkner University.

  9. Danny Says:

    Your experience Bobby, like others who have posted, reminds me of one of my own.

    I began a dialouge with a lesbian lady after she responded to a letter to the editor I sent to the local paper. It was around the time the United Churches of Christ change their policy toward gay people.

    I chose my words very carefully in explaining that we were not them- and just gave a brief, positive affirmation of who we are and what we believed concerning traditional family. I made no negative remark toward the gay community.

    Never-the-less she called me a “hater” and blasted away. We were able to work through this and ended up discussing our viewpoints.

    I encouraged her to worship with us and assured her she would be welcome. She never took me up on it.

    Opportunities like this and yours on the plane are only going to increase. We can’t run or hide from them- we must engage them and lovingly direct them to Christ.

  10. Memmy Says:

    Bobby, I am so thankful for you and your shared experience!

    I post on GCM, and got blasted away at trying to explain this to many Brothers and Sisters on there.

    Thanks so much for sharing your insights. I believe this “chance” was God given, no doubt about it!

    I give all praise and honor to Him who gave you this opportunity.

    He is so good!

  11. Ancient Wanderer Says:

    “God, I thank you that I am not like other Christians- those who live in Mayberry, Oz, or even Florence Alabama- I talk to Gays and know all the right people and I even had a black friend one time. I realize a sin in my life but more importantly I always recognize the multitude of sins in others- especially those in the Bible Belt. I am glad that I am not narrow minded and judgmental like those in Florence, AL.”

    And still we go home justified.

    What indeed do any of us gain by having a mean spirit or shunning the body of Christ…..Bible Belt included.

    I don’t know if ACU had only one choice (accept or be branded) but if that was ACU’s only choice I’m suprised those Texans allowed themselves to be blackmailed that way.

    Sorry, STONED I only know you from this blog but I likes you too if that matters.

  12. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    AW,

    If the summary statement is what you got out of my musings one of two things are going on: 1) either I am one of the world’s poorest communicators (I won’t take a poll on that, btw) or 2) you have missed something here.

    I hope I did not say I was better than Christians in Florence, AL or Mayberry. That certainly was not my intent. Nor was it my intent to sit in judgement upon any. I did share MY own gut reactions that were less than holy.

    My call was and remains for us (starting with my own) to check our own heart regarding the pariahs of this world.

    I think Cecil May Jr has offered a good response to what happened at ACU.

    I am glad you “likes” me too. Perhaps one day we can meet beyond the computer screen.

  13. mike from palestine Says:

    Thanks for your reactions, Bobby. And thanks for sharing them honestly.

    I am convicted and humbled.

  14. Jim Martin Says:

    Bobby-
    This is an outstanding post. I commend you for your conversation and for retelling it here. I was blessed by reading this.

  15. Michele Says:

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  16. Michele Says:

    Bobby,

    I admit, when I first heard about ACU, I was conflicted. Yet, the bottom line is exactly, I believe, what you say here.

    When God gives us the opportunities to talk, no, moreso, to listen …. then we may find that out that people are people, who sin, who struggle and who need to hear the truth about Jesus Christ. You had a choice, and humbly you admit you first chose to ignore them and read away. But God opened that door for you and you may very well planted a seed that grows.

    I find it amazing that the very question asking “if I would be welcome at your church,” because that in itself reveals a need in the community that is not being taught or loved. Can we create a community which welcomes the sinners? Doesn’t that become the overall question? Or even, how come “this” church welcomes these sinners…but not these…(fill in the blank here).

    The reality is, how did Jesus relate to sinners? You reminded us powerfully how we are love sinners. Why? Because I am a sinner too! Homosexuality is a political hot topic right now. There is an increased and organized movement for the communication of ideas. The very fact this question is raised poses a deep theological divide. Will we be willing to accept people who they are? I am not discussing changing the sinner, that’s a different topic altogether. I am suggesting, rather, discussing changing the church for the sinners of this world.

    A different question indeed. Thank you for your example.

  17. Bob Hendren Says:

    And old adage says; “We choose our friends, but God sends us our neighbors.” Sounds like God was at work on that plane flight to me! As to the welcome at church question, that reminds me of one of Yancy’s recent observations that folks who go to certain churches to find God might not discover Him. Yet, I thought that was the reason for the whole business. Perhaps I have been wrong, and yet, I suppose church should really be about folks whom God has found and who gather to celebrate the joy of God’s graciousnes in choosing to unite them by His grace.

    Bob Hendren, Florence, AL if not the buckle, at least the first hole in the belt.

  18. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Bob,

    Thanks for dropping by again. I appreciate your comments greatly. You are right that God sort of chooses our neighbors. I will be in prayer that God may be found at “my” church.

    Blessings down there in the first hole of the Bible Belt.

    Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  19. CFOURMAY Says:

    Sorry I missed this one, but sounds like one of the Cecil’s handled well. If one doesn’t get it one of the others will. LOL!! btw, I admire the way you handled things on the plane. Being able to tell the story of Jesus to anybody in any condition is a wonderful conversation that doesn’t happen enough.

  20. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    C4,

    Welcome back. I know you have been busy tying things up with school.

    I was delighted at the courage C2 showed in saying what he did. It may not be politically correct in some corners of the CofC to say ACU does ANYTHING right . . . but he said they did on this very controversial topic. I agree with him and thank the Lord he said so.

    Some in our brotherhood need to learn what the “burden” of compassion really is.

  21. Stoogelover Says:

    Bobby: I, too, was blessed by this story. I would hope to do as well as you did. Our neighborhood has a number of gay couples living in it and my wife and I are always kind and courteous to them just as we are to anyone else. (That even sounds strange to write those words.) I felt God impress on my heart one day that I need to have a gay friend. Someone who would say of me, “He’s a preacher but he treats me with respect.” Haven’t found that friend yet, but I remain open to it.

  22. Angie Says:

    Bobby, I sure appreciate you sending me a link to this post. It truly touches my heart to see your honesty, not only about how you felt when you discovered the couple was gay… but also about your own weaknesses that stemmed from that situation. It reveals a lot… But above all, I see that you really do have the heart of Jesus Christ!

    Here’s a link to a blog I posted sometime around that same time frame that will give you an idea of where I’m coming from on this topic. Thanks, again, friend.

    http://www.angiesaim.squarespace.com/journal/2006/3/31/somebody-shut-me-up.html#comments

  23. Phil Says:

    A very enlightening discourse. I struggle with the issue of how to conceptualize gay people in light of the Word. This was a tremendous help to me. Next time you are in Florence, we should have after-church lunch.
    Phil

  24. Jim Greenhill Says:

    Bobby, a very good article and certainly how we should treat those ‘trapped’ in sin… I say trapped because I struggle with the question of whether it is just the way someone is wired or if it’s a choice… I tend to think it’s the wiring, which goes against all I’ve been taught and studied… If GOD’s grace covers a straight person’s sexual sins on an ongoing basis while they’re struggling with their wiring, then does GOD’s grace cover a gay person’s sexual activity on an ongoing basis struggling with their wiring? The straight single Christian struggles with the same natural urges, GOD’s grace covers them when they sin sexually, so what about gay sexual sin? Could it be that it’s all the same, just basic internal sexual needs? This is where we go into if it’s perversion or a sin is a sin… The guy wanted you to say GOD loves him as he is and accepts him and his lifestyle as he is, and he’s covered by grace because he can’t help himself… That’s what singles ministries would say about the struggles in their straight lifestyles… If not, why would a gay person want to go to any fellowship that hates his sin but loves him? Gay couples will go faithfully to a church who accepts them as they are and even encourage their lifestyle… There are churches that do that, one on Pine Street in Florence, AL does that! Basically, all we can do for them if we view them as as being lost in their sin and they have to give their lifestyle up to be able to fellowship with us, is to be nice to them, but we having nothing to offer them… Yes, GOD loves them, yes GOD values them, but where is the line drawn, because eventually they’re going to get tired of casseroles and singles classes, and want to be themselves, to give into what is so strong within them, something they literally can’t stop, which is what is required if they are to be accepted in the C-uh-C fellowship… He was interested in hearing what you had to say about his ‘station in life’ but he probably thought you were HOT and was enjoying the sticky conversation while making you think about things he’s dealt with on an ongoing basis… Gays want to be accepted as they are and understood for what they are… We don’t have the answer that’s right for them and we never will unless we accept them as they are and not judge… That then goes back to my first thought… Are they wired that way or is it a choice? That’s the big question or we’ve done all we can do when we say hello…

  25. Warren Baldwin Says:

    Bobby,
    Linked here from the link you posted in Thinking Out Loud.

    This is a well-written post. At the time I wrote ACU and complimented them on their response to the group visiting ACU. I thought it was well handled.

    Have you had any follow up contact with these guys you had the conversation with?

    WB

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