My dear brothers and sisters,
A couple weeks ago I wrote a letter to one of your members who is gay and in deep pain. (You can read it at: https://davidkendall.fmcusa.org/2015/11/18/to-my-gay-friend/ )
You know him, but not as he is, not as he truly is, and you are not aware of his painful struggle. You not only know him, you respect him. Even though this is true, he fears that if you knew him as he truly was, you would abhor and reject him. This fear, and all that it drives him to do, nearly crushes him.
I am writing to you because I want to believe that he is wrong. That if indeed you knew, you would be as deeply burdened as I was when I first received his letter. No, you would be even more burdened, because you know him and love him.
I am writing you because I truly believe that, in your best moments, the most important thing in your mind and the most burning passion of your heart is to be the church Jesus calls you to be. The church he died to make possible, the church he loved to Life from the darkness and death that otherwise claims us all. I will say more about the glory and wonder of being that kind of church as I close this letter. But first, I want to tell you why I believe that being truly the church could make a huge difference for our brother, for you, and for all of us.
I remind you that our God is triune, Holy Trinity—one but three, and three but one—a mystery that human minds cannot fathom, but are led to embrace because of Jesus’ person and teaching. Because God is Triune, our life as God’s people draws us into a community or family that is meant to mirror the interactions, inter-connections, and inter-personal relations at the heart of our God. Our life is a matter of one-another-ness. Jesus in us and we in Jesus (along with our Father and the Spirit); but also we in one another as we are in Jesus and Jesus in us (again, along with our Father and the Spirit)! So, there is no such thing as isolated or solitary followers of Jesus. By definition. We need each other. Even if we were perfect we would need each other, if we hoped to mirror our God.
But, of course, we are not perfect, not even close. So, we need each other in multiple ways. We need each other truly to love, to forgive and be forgiven, to grow and mature, to carry our burdens, to learn how to be free and then, in fact, to be free, to endure and to overcome, to be a new kind of human that resembles the original God had in mind, to show the world what is possible. We need each other to be at our best, to accomplish our part of Jesus’ mission in the world, to make our best contribution to God’s plan to re-create and renew the world.
What does this have to do with our friend and brother, our gay friend, whom you know, but not fully? Well, if we are to mirror our God, then we need him and he needs us. Perhaps his needs seem more obvious to you. He is alone, he lives in fear, he often feels despair, and he has no support for the struggle that defines him. Now, the truth is: This struggle does not define him, not in God’s mind and it shouldn’t in ours. This is a lie of the evil one that our culture easily grants. We are defined by … any number of things, often of our own choosing, rather than by what God has declared, “Let us make the human beings … .” One of the most powerful ways the evil one holds sway over us is through this common lie—you are your sexual orientation, your strongest impulses, your failure to measure up to this or that, or your success in measuring up. You are … whatever, thus reducing your humanity to whatever has captured the culture’s fancy or your own.
In theory we protest the lie. We are not to be defined by our struggles, by our failures (or even successes), not even by our genes nor the vice-like ways in which our earliest experiences shaped us. Rather, we are defined by the value God has placed in every one of us, deep in our core, and the plan God has to bring us up to the stunning image of the only perfect human that ever was—Jesus. A plan in which God so heavily invested that in order to carry it out God Self-divested to the death, only to re-invest by conquering death itself through resurrection. Then, by pouring out Holy Spirit to breathe the new life into us that surely will lead to the stunning image of no less than Jesus.
In short, we were made to be a certain way and Jesus shows us the way, in fact, is the way. He calls us to be that way and pays the price to make it so. That is what his fellowship, his people, his family, is about. That is what church is meant to be about—the shaping of people into the likeness of their true humanity, seen in Jesus. The peopling of the world with Jesus-like folks. What might “the world” think if church were really full of the Jesus-like and established a track record of producing others also like Jesus? Imagine it!
None of us, however, become Jesus-like without a lot of help. Help from God, of course, but also help from one another. None of us will find victory from our struggles without help. None of us will reach our potential without help. None of us. So, consider how you could literally be the key that unlocks the chains that bind our brother in endless cycles of disappointment, and opens before him a pathway he didn’t think was possible. What if you became a more Jesus-like church, where followers freely acknowledged their struggles and sins, supported one another in trusting the way of Jesus to lead to better places. For example, the most neglected of the one-another expressions commended to the church is: confess your sins (I think we could add struggles, defeats, hang-ups, whatever else) and (then or as you do) pray for one another so that you may be healed (James 5:16). Consider: Our brother’s healing could depend on our becoming the kind of people for whom such confession is common practice! Of course, this is not a formula and it is not magic. And, I am remembering that there are many expressions and forms of healing grace in this life. But the point stands. An environment of freedom where confession is common becomes the seedbed for healing not otherwise experienced. You, my brothers and sisters, could be the healing agents that sets our brother free!
But there is more. Our brother is not alone. He is not the only one. It might be that he is the only one among you struggling with same sex attraction. But you cannot know this, because if you do not know about our brother, you wouldn’t know about others among you just like him. If the church were truly the church our brother would not be the only one who benefits. You cannot say what manner of struggle or pain or besetting sin or slavery might come under the power of God’s grace.
Our brother is not alone in another important way. He is more like you than you think. We all have struggled with something, haven’t we? Many of us still struggle. I suggest that becoming the church our brother needs for his struggle could mean we ourselves would be more free, whole, holy, loving, joyful and fruitful. It could mean being at your best, better than you imagined, consistently.
Now, any mention of gay people being among us, fellow-followers of Jesus who struggle with that or in that way, mightily challenges people like us. We believe the Bible has a plan for human life, that there is a way that is good, right and true, and that we are called to follow that way, come what may. We also believe that there are times when we must stand for the way that is right and true, to please God and also to point the way to those who haven’t found it and followed it—yet. So, it is important to take a stand, to speak the truth, to be on the right side. I could say more, but you get it.
I am not disagreeing with what I’ve just written. But we must take care to understand these things by the full light of the Bible’s own story. Our focus is not an “it.” Our focus is a person! Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. If we look at Jesus and follow Jesus carefully we will not go wrong. Likewise, if others—whatever their struggle or sin—will look at Jesus and follow Jesus they will not go wrong at the last. That, in fact, is a nutshell version of the gospel.
The truth we embrace is Jesus. The way we pursue is Jesus. And the life we live is Jesus. The One who knows us through and through is Jesus. The One who knows how to reveal ourselves to ourselves—the false selves we imagine to be true, and the true selves we are meant to be—is Jesus. The One who can guide us toward, and bring us to, being our true selves is Jesus! Righteous stands and doctrinal standards have their place, as they help us see and embrace the Person whose likeness they rightly reflect. Conviction of sin—especially our own but all sin—is to be expected, but expected from the One Jesus told us about, his very own Spirit. The One to whom we point—precisely as the way, the truth and the life—is Jesus!
I believe if we were fiercely insistent on a focus on Jesus and sought to lead others into his presence the church would stride toward its true glory. That is, if we lead one-another to Jesus by inviting each other to follow our lead, as we openly acknowledge our struggles and need, and determined to receive the grace Jesus promises when he invites the burdened and broken to come to him (Matthew 11:28-30). If among our most common activities in the church were sharing how it is we have found Jesus sufficient for helping us in our struggles, confessing our ongoing need and witnessing to grace given that makes the critical difference—I suspect many struggling souls, in all the ways that people struggle, would find the home Jesus intends church to be.
In the end, Jesus’ plan for the church, ours and others’, is truly stunning and glorious. For just one indication, the Apostle Paul tells us that human history will culminate with all of reality united under the Lordship of Jesus (see Ephesians 1:10). Surely under his headship all will be well, struggles will be over, wholeness and holiness and love will prevail over all. But how? One powerful and surprising way is (see Ephesians 3:10) that in the church, the Body of Christ, the many faceted wisdom of God is on display for all to see—the powers and authorities in the heavenly places as well as in the earthly places. Think of that. The wisdom of God, the wisdom that demonstrates the superiority of God’s ways to all other ways on display in the church. Do we truly believe God’s ways are superior—not just to us but to all? That those superior ways can be demonstrated? Demonstrated such that one can hardly deny the reality before the eye? Imagine if no argument need be made. Imagine if the truth was simply, powerfully and beautifully demonstrated among God’s own. The truth about the way we can be, the way God intends, the way that just seems … right.
This letter is way too long, a lot like some of the sermons I try to preach. But I offer it in love for the well-being of our brother, the many who are like him in one way or another, and all of us.