This is the sixth installment in a series of reflections on LGBTQ+ matters.
In my childhood our minister used to read the Ten Commandments every Sunday in dramatic fashion. Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai couldn’t have done it more effectively. I wondered watchfully whether thunder and lightning might show up.
Rarely do I have that kind of fear in church these days. No longer do we sternly warn unrepentant people about “eating and drinking judgment unto themselves” during communion. Our current, kinder invitations to the table are more likely to refer to “those who are truly sorry for their sins.” Similarly, our funeral services are no longer filled with dire warnings about how those of us still here should be living our lives. It appears that fire and brimstone are no longer in our seminary curricula. It’s been boxed up along with “What a worm am I” theology, opened for inspection now and again, but no longer the driving force it was to earlier Calvinists.
Nonetheless, remnants remain of past preoccupations. Some congregations hesitate to nominate divorced persons for church office. If a young couple is “living in sin”, neither one is very welcome in the church choir. If someone’s child expresses a desire to identify as something other than the gender assigned to them at birth, we have trouble getting past “male and female created He them.” Women with wives aren’t often pictured together in the church directory.
Is it possible, and maybe even true to scripture, for us to worry a little less about sin—not abandon it, mind you, but find a proper emphasis for it? Neal Plantinga wrote a book-length exposition of the nature of our sin, somewhat amusingly subtitled A Breviary of Sin. I recommend this book, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, if you are interested in a deeper understanding of what sin can look like. But seriously, how about some balance? We need it all, don’t we? We need the Law and the Gospel. We need to know how we’ve messed up and also how God takes care of it. Arguably, we may need assurance of forgiveness before we can totally own up to our brokenness. My former pastor, Roger Van Harn, argued that we need assurance before confession.
So how are we to live with our own messes as well as our neighbor’s? With kindness, not condemnation. Call it “messy solidarity.”
Think of those people who have helped you the most. Is it the moralists who are quick to warn and give advice? I think more often it is those who give us hope by showing us in their words and manner that they too experience the human condition in all its complexity and perplexity. They bring us healing and strength because they do not run away in the face of our imperfections, or their own. Paradoxically, we help each other heal our wounds when we are in solidarity with each other in the middle of our struggles. When we walk side by side and listen rather than speak, and seek to understand rather than judge, it is then that we can give—and receive—the compassion mediated for us by Jesus Christ.
From time to time a member of All One Body will post to this blog. We will also have guest commentary. Stay tuned!