Beggars not Bakers
I bumped into a young man while I was out the other day. We have mutual friends and have met before and have had a few short conversations. He knows I pastor a church. That has come up before. We were talking for just a few minutes when he said, "You know, I've been invited to your church several times." "Cool," I said. "Ya, it would be great to see you there." He paused and carefully choosing his words, said, "Well, I haven't come because I'm afraid of getting burned! I mean, because of my lifestyle and all. My orientation." "Are you gay?" "Yes," he said. I could tell he was really nervous. "Ya. Absolutely. Come! I invite you." "The last time I went to a church, I had been going for a while. I loved the people and they seemed to accept me. Everyone once in a while there were jokes about faggots, but I just gave them the benefit of the doubt. But it eventually became clear that they wouldn't accept the fact that I was gay. They humiliated me in front of everybody during one service. That was the last time I went. I've never been to church since." "I'm sorry that happened to you. I mean it: you are welcome. There are others in our community who are gay. We won't judge you. Come without fear." I wonder if he will. I hope so. After we separated, I felt something gnawing at my mind. There was something hopeful about our conversation, but also something deeply disturbing. Here's some of my thoughts. Let me be honest:
- I felt anger toward the church that hurt him and ultimately rejected him. I know many people like him who swear they will never be a part of a religious community again. I will dare to call it spiritual pedophilia or rape: we will use these people for our pleasure until it no longer suits us.
- I felt some pride that I could tell him he was welcome, as a gay person, in our community. I felt superior and that our church was better than others. I hate that about myself.
- I was ambushed by a faulty kind of thinking: he was looking for my official permission to be accepted by God. Who am I to tell anyone who's in or out?
- The fact that only a small part of the church welcomes gays is a sad testimony to the malady of the church and society as a whole.
- I felt guilty by association. Is my desire to live by love simply impossible within the context of an abusive authority structure?
- Even though my community is recognized as a church, I wanted us to have nothing to do with the larger institutional church any longer. But I realize that would just be another divisive and arrogant measure on our part.
- There was a strong urge in me to personally quit the system. Who are the people calling themselves the ones on the inside and labeling others as on the outside and with feigned humility delineating the terms of their relationship to those on the inside? Who are these people?
- I determined that I have to be careful what language I use and not get sucked into false ways of speaking. I'm not inviting anyone to anything. To use an old analogy (Karl Barth's I think): I am just a beggar leading another beggar to bread. I am NOT the baker! And we are all starving.
- I hope I was the love of God to this young man. I felt God's love for me through him. I had a strong sense that he will go in ahead of me and those who reject him.
- Our language as the church is filled with abuse, arrogance, authority, entitlement and segregation. It is so embedded that we don't even realize it anymore. We will even redefine what love means so that we can continue in our elitism.