At least until they got to the door, the gay couple walked from the church parking lot holding hands. One was wearing a rainbow belt. The other had rainbow earrings. There was no denying the identity they wanted to register with everyone else at worship that morning. Some people were visibly uncomfortable.
Today however, I want to look at some other possibilities for discomfort. How would your church react in these cases:
- The man who has been at the center of an ongoing local television news story concerning the alleged misappropriation of public funds.
- The woman who, a few years ago, was charged with careless driving after a vehicle accident which left a pedestrian permanently disfigured.
- The heavily tattooed man who shows up for church wearing a leather vest but no shirt or t-shirt underneath.
- The girl wearing a hoodie with the logo of a chain of sports bars where the female staff are dressed provocatively.
- The local newspaper writer whose most recent article was very critical of an evangelism program offered by another local church.
- The family that shows up; two boys, a girl, a husband, and a wife who is wearing a hijab.
Two questions might come to mind:
- What on earth is he/she/they doing here?
and the very similar:
- Of all the churches in town, why did they have to pick our church?
I believe that the church — both the local assembly and the collective Church — need to consider our responses before some people show up at weekend services.
Eugene Peterson translates the beginning of Romans 14:
Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.
Ken Taylor’s original restating of the same passage reads:
Give a warm welcome to any brother who wants to join you, even though his faith is weak. Don’t criticize him for having different ideas from yours about what is right and wrong.
Interesting story behind the latter version: A bunch of us from the youth group were sitting in the church auditorium balcony waiting for the service to start when we noticed a guy heading toward us who we simply didn’t want to sit with us, near us, or even in the same building.
“Spread out so it looks like there’s no room;” one person said.
“Avoid eye contact;” someone else said.
“Pretend you’re reading something;” I added.
So I opened my copy of The Living Bible and there it was, “Give a warm welcome to the brother who wants to join you…” Yikes!
Perhaps my story seems a little distant from where we started — the gay couple holding hands in the parking lot — but really the principle is the same. A chapter later, Paul writes to the Romans:
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring glory to God.
Later in 1 Corinthians 9:22 he takes this further. I like how J.B. Phillips translated this:
To those who were under the Law I put myself in the position of being under the Law (although in fact I stand free of it), that I might win those who are under the Law. To those who had no Law I myself became like a man without the Law (even though in fact I cannot be a lawless man for I am bound by the law of Christ), so that I might win the men who have no Law. To the weak I became a weak man, that I might win the weak. I have, in short, been all things to all sorts of men that by every possible means I might win some to God. I do all this for the sake of the Gospel; I want to play my part in it properly.
This isn’t easy. Not at all. The church faces challenges all the time, but one thing we’re not is a private club for the pious and the religious. We’re a service center for the broken, the hurting, the needy…
If you’re uncomfortable around certain types of people, make sure at least that you have someone in your church family who is comfortable. But don’t use this strategy as an excuse for not recognizing what it is God is wanting to cultivate in you.
I usually quote from the more modern translations, but I want to end with this KJV phrase reminder from 1 Cor. 6:11
And such were some of you…