An imagined , but entirely possible, conversation:
Concerned Christian: Chaplain Mike, if you were a pastor, would you allow gays to attend your church?
CM: Sure. If they wanted to come to church, why shouldn’t I?
Concerned Christian: Well, doesn’t the Bible forbid homosexuality?
CM: Let’s say it does. Wouldn’t church be a good place for sinners to come? In fact, I can’t really think of a better place.
Concerned Christian: But aren’t you concerned to keep your church pure?
CM: I don’t think I’ve ever been in a pure church.
Concerned Christian: But shouldn’t those who come to church be trying to be pure? To overcome sin? To learn how to walk in God’s ways?
CM: I thought they came to seek Jesus and receive his grace for their lives.
Concerned Christian: Well, of course, Jesus is central, but once we believe in him, aren’t we supposed to change and be different?
CM: I suppose so, but every church with which I’ve been involved is filled with people who have a lot of changing to do. Take my church now: We have some unkind people, some worriers, gossips and others who can’t control their tongues. We have folks who have trouble being honest, some rebellious children and angry parents, people who don’t have their theology straight, lazy people, gluttons, jealous and envious people, some who struggle with pornography, teens who’ve had premarital sex, divorced folks, and probably some spouses who have been unfaithful in one way or another. We have a whole host of sinners at our church! (We even have Republicans! — sorry, that’s a joke.) In fact, I’m pretty sure the only kinds of people we have at our church are sinners. Why should we single out gay people?
Concerned Christian: I don’t think I’d like your church. Sounds like the world to me.
CM: Except you know what? We all come together and Jesus is there. We sing and pray to him, confess our sins. We listen while the Bible is read and preached. We come forward and receive his Body and Blood at the Table. He sends us out forgiven and renewed to love our neighbors.
Concerned Christian: Wait a minute. Are you telling me you would let a gay person take Communion?
CM: Why would I want to withhold Jesus from anyone?
Concerned Christian: Doesn’t the Bible say a person should examine himself before taking Communion?
CM: That’s exactly what it says. People should examine themselves. It doesn’t say I should examine them. That’s why we confess our sins and receive the words of absolution together when we worship.
Concerned Christian: But don’t you think you ought to confront their sin and challenge them to change?
CM: Seems to me the Gospel says God’s kindness leads us to change, and that his grace teaches us to become more like him. I can’t think of a better way of “helping” people than by welcoming them into God’s household, where Jesus is, where the Good News is spoken and enacted in worship each week, and where we try to love each other with forbearance, patience, and mutual service. I don’t think it’s my job to change anybody.
Concerned Christian: Well, I think a pastor ought to be a stronger leader than that. He should preach against sin from the pulpit and have programs and ministries to help people change and overcome sin in their lives. They ought to be warned and challenged and confronted regularly.
CM: Look, I don’t want to sound smug, because I have a lot to learn, but that sounds like trying to control and manage people, and I would rather simply and regularly invite them to Jesus. What you are suggesting sounds more like living under the law than the Gospel.
Concerned Christian: I don’t agree. Give people that kind of freedom and they will abuse it every time.
CM: Maybe you’re right. Thanks for talking. Please know you’re always welcome here.
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Photo by Fiona in Eden at Flickr. Creative Commons License