The following is the eighth installment of the “Out of the Closet and Into the Pews” series. The series features members of The Reformation Project’s Inaugural Conference – a leadership conference for 50 straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Christians who are committed to reform.
The Most Important Thing
by Melody Stoner (BEA guest writer)
Part I: The Most Important Thing
If you and I were the most devoted of comrades sharing a last meal together, as treasured friends parting ways for a time, as did Christ with his beloved disciples, I would beseech you to remember the most important things.
What, on that last night during the Passover meal with his beloved friends, did Jesus say? When we know that we are soon to depart, we say what is most important. Likened unto one’s last words.
The first most important thing, communion: Luke 22:19-20
The second most important thing, love one another: John 13:34-35
And what will I say to you, devoted comrade-beloved reader, here?
The first most important thing, is this:
Do not leave your body-mind at the communion table. The traditional communion act found at the altar has a deeper meaning. Not only did Christ initiate a remembrance of communion, He also gave his body on the cross-laid down His life, as should we.
As we communion-remember Christ, we should give our bodies for each other. What does it mean, to lay down our life for another?
Does it mean to do what is disagreeable? Perhaps. Perhaps you find it hard to see your LGBTQ neighbor as the image of God.
Does it mean to do what is difficult? Maybe. Maybe you are torn, struggling, between what you have been taught, homosexuality is a sinful lifestyle choice, and what you see as contrasting evidence, the bounty-fruit lives of your LGBTQ brothers and sisters.
Does it mean to do what is challenging? Possibly. Possibly it is difficult for you to embrace your LGBTQ neighbors-brothers-sisters as capable of honoring God in same-sex relationships, as fully deserving of ordination, in relationship or not, servicing the body of Christ.
However, God calls us to tough discipline. It is easy to deride, to dismiss, to devalue, to decry. It is spiritually strenuous to be a voice in the wilderness, affirming, embracing, encouraging, celebrating. Especially in the face of the traditionalist church, you have perhaps been a loving and gracious part of your entire life, that maybe teaches homosexuality is a sinful lifestyle choice.
I ask you, my beloved reader, to think about what the Holy Spirit calls us to do. Is it to amplify darkness? Oppression? Pain? Or, is it to amplify the gifts of the Spirit flowing forth from our LGBTQ neighbor-brother-sisters? Philippians 4:8-9 would focus us on what is important. I beg the latter, my dear reader. I beg the latter.
Did Christ desire crucifixion? It was agonizingly crucial. He laid down His life. For me. For you. For each of us and all of us. And we should do the same for our neighbor, each and all. Do not participate in the altar-church communion without participating in the worldwide-household-sidewalk-workplace-friendship communion of the saints loving their neighbors in whatever form that takes.
The second most important thing, is this:
Love one another. Love. One another.
How does scripture define love? How are believers exhorted to demonstrate love?
Love is defined in I Corinthians 13:4-7.
Have we misinterpreted Jesus’ longing for us to love one another?
The last words of our beloved brother Jesus Christ were not: point out sin, close your door to your children, love the sinner-hate the sin, speak the truth in love, nor oppress the Holy Spirit so tangibly and visibly present in your LGBTQ neighbors-brothers-sisters. Nay, it was the opposite. His last words were: love one another. It is that simple.
What is the most important thing, my beloved reader?
To remember Christ in walking-communion in the world, by lovingly and kindly rejoicing in the truth, bearing witness to the Christ-salvation, believing, hoping, and enduring with your neighbor-world, no matter your first inclination.
I urge you to take everything God does into remembrance. He does everything with-in love. He sent His one and only Son, in love. His greatest treasure, His most esteemed and exalted gift, His word, made flesh, Love/Christ. So should we give up what is most precious to us, be it church fellowship, family support, and/or friend affirmation, to follow and become more like Love/Christ. It is an arduous walk you will undertake to complete, the narrow way, but it is, the narrow way.
My reader-friend, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, found in Luke 10:25-37, Christ does not call us to deride, dismiss, devalue, or decry another human being. He instead exhorts us to love.
Maybe you do not know any LGBTQ neighbor-brother-sisters who have been beaten to the point of half-dead. Maybe you think this does not apply today; but indeed, it does. If a mere thought-word is equal to the action itself (referring to Matthew 5:22), then is not the mere action of denial of joy found in same-sex companionship, the mere action of derision of another human’s innate sexuality, the mere action of stripping LGBTQ brothers and sisters of all their humanity down to a sex act, the mere words of “repent or get out,” the mere words of “love the sinner, hate the sin,” are they not all love-oppositional?
No matter whether you believe homosexuality is a sin or not, denial of joy, derision of another human being, reduction of another human being to a sex act, and words intended to inflict pain and condemnation, are sinful. Let us reason together then, and choose to love one another.
The most important thing is this:
Communionally remember Christ in loving one another.
Part II: The Gospel-Good News
We have divorced the mystery of the gospel-divine within us at the moment of our second-awakening, from the good news, that we are saved from an unbearable eternity of without-God through Jesus Christ’s redemptive work on the cross. We have forgotten they are one and the same. The gospel message of Christ’s redemptive work brings the good news of freedom from what is unbearable, temporally and eternally, for whosoever believes.
Yet we have truncated this into an understanding of the good news alone. We have missionized and evangelized the individual with “be saved from your sins and avoid hell,” failing to break the yoke of oppression. Salvation is not a one-time event, but a life-long fearful trembling, working out, of salvation unto-into eternity. We say “don’t do this and don’t do that,” thereby exchanging gospel-grace for good news-law. The law oppresses. The grace delights.
In the continuing temporal struggle for freedom, in the time of eternity-not yet, races, genders, sexual orientations, gender expressions, the-others, of human beings have been oppressed, because “the bible says so.” This is appallingly ignorant hermeneutics.
The gospel good news is this:
Christ came to redeem the oppressed, the marginalized, the forgotten, the downtrodden. Throughout history, the eternal gospel-message of salvation has remained consistent, but the application has varied temporally. Christ redeems whosoever believes, but we cannot use that freedom to then oppress one another in our zeal for Christ.
Oppression is not of Christ, but of the enemy. Love is of our beloved Christ-friend.
The gospel of Christ is a message of hope. Our message as reformers, participating in The Reformation Project, boldly following-glorifying the greatest love of our lives, Jesus Christ, is a message of hope.
Dear reader, maybe you say that I am wrong, promoting a message of affirmation, that we should be turning people away from sin. Especially the gays. Especially. The gays. But I ask you this, in the overused-glossed over question from the 90s, “What would Jesus do?” Would he oppress? Marginalize? Deny access? Squash hope? Ban joy? No, we see why Jesus came in John 12:47.
And that is why I am here with you, my dear friend-reader, sharing why I am a part of The Reformation Project, a welcoming message of affirmation. I follow in the steps of the very word of God made incarnate, as read in Isaiah 61:1-3.
I believed for a time after I was transformed by the Holy Spirit, that the narrow way was a standard, rather fundamentalist, Christianity. It was hard to follow all the rules I was expected to follow. I was lauded as a prime model of the faith, complimented often on the depth and width of my faith in Christ, and told that I was a great encourager of others who were not given the same measure of faith.
As time passed, however, I was transformed from legalizing my relationship with Christ to His grace-ifying His relationship with me. In that transformation, I found that the narrow way, for me, was not the culturally-comfortable Christianity I found shackled by church work, bible study, and immediate self-condemnation if I failed. I believed, as the traditionalist church had taught me, that homosexuality was sinful because the bible said so.
However, I have found that the narrow path is the alliance-standing in the gap with our spirit-filled and fruitful neighbor-brothers and sisters who are LGBTQ. This was the narrow way that caused me, in coming out, to lose all that I considered the brightest jewels of my life: my friendships and my standing in my church community as an exemplary model of the Christian faith. Coming out destroyed my reputation and friendships within the church community.
I was afraid to be a vocal Christian after I came out, because the church said I was not worthy. I was not able to worship my greatest love, my greatest desire, my beloved, Jesus Christ, with the great abandon I had enjoyed so recently, under the duress of condemnation.
I was torn between my role as a model of the faith and my friends-pastoral influences, and listening to that still, small voice found within the deepest pool of my soul. The narrow path, for me, was coming out.
The narrow way is not always sitting in a pew, reciting a creed, singing a hymnal. The narrow way may be that you as a parent affirm your child who has come out, even in the face of frowning friends. The narrow way may be that you as a pastor lead your congregation into affirmation, even if your denomination is still against same-sex relationships, much less ordaining and marrying LGBTQ persons.
The narrow way… For you.. May be… Coming out.. Out of the church, into Christ.. As an LGBTQ individual, or as an ally, facing strong and stern ecclesiastical and familial disapproval, rearing its head as condemnation or “concern.”
But, my dearly beloved reader-friend, perhaps you were created for such a time as this.
Esther was just as afraid as you may be.
I feared irretrievably destroying my indescribably glorious relationship with Christ, and friends-pastor-the church consistently reminded me that indeed, delighting and rejoicing in a female-companion granted by God, instead of a male-companion, was an abomination and part of demonic warfare, a way for Satan to squash my extreme exuberance for Christ. Yes, my extreme exuberance was squashed, but not by companionship. It was squashed by condemnation. I left the church. Congregationally unaffiliated, I have spent time in the wilderness, alone, but strengthened by He who lives within me.
In coming out, I found indescribable freedom from the shackles, and I encourage you to seek that still, small voice, who will be found, perhaps in the wilderness, after you have lost it all. Losing all that glittered golden to me faded away with the peace of Christ, as I persevered in the marathon we run together.
Esther was just as afraid as you may be. She feared for her life. I feared, not for my physical life, but my eternal soul’s salvation.
Mordecai exhorted Esther to complete her purpose in Esther 4:14.
I am here as your beloved friend-fellow believer, pilgrimaging across the dust of years with you, reminding you, that you also have been created for such a time as this.
If you are against same-sex relationships-marriage and LGBTQ ordination, as a church-goer, perhaps God has created this time for you to learn to love, more, harder, better.
If you are sitting in the pews, as a scared LGBTQ teen or LGBTQ ally, maybe God has created this time for you to stand up for the LGBTQ population and yourself (if you are in a safe place to do so).
If you are on the fence about all of this, as a member of a congregation, possibly God has created this time for you to listen and consider sowing the fruit of love rather than the condemnation that hides behind “love the sinner, hate the sin.”
Would you rather embrace God with “I loved everyone unconditionally, as you taught,” and “I paid attention to my own sin, not my brother’s,” or, “God, I told the gays they were sinners, and that they needed to turn away from the joy and delight found in fruitful companionship.”
My dear reader, whoever you are, wherever you hail from, please hear my reason and my passion across the miles of the internet.
Remember the most important thing:
Communionally remember Christ in loving one another.
Part III: The Parable of the Reformer
My dear friends, I love you. Some of you I know today. Others of you I will meet along our shared paths as we walk the way we are led. And even others, I will never meet, but will rejoice with in eternity as God calls us together to recognize each other. One of my favorite parables, the parable of the sower, found in Luke 8: 4-15, gives me great hope and confidence in God’s ultimate plan and timing.
The same is true for us. We will scatter seed (the good news of welcoming-affirmation), but only those with “ears to hear” will hear. Remember, it is not our fault if the seed falls on “deaf” ears. 1. Some will hear and forget and carry on as before. 2. Some will hear and rejoice, and stay with us awhile; but will give up when the going gets tough. 3. Some will hear and rejoice, and stay with us awhile; but when life in general, the things that glitter and seduce, get the better of them, they will also leave. 4. Some will hear and rejoice, stay with us over time; and will become our strongest allies and fighters in the good fight. They may be few and far between. It is not because we did not do a good job of spreading the seed. It is because the seed is scattered “four times” and only a fourth actually takes root and prospers. You are not “just” spreading the word of hope to scared LGBTQ persons. You are not “just” spreading the message of affirmation to congregations and pastors on the fence. You are doing the work of the kingdom, spreading the gospel of Christ. Read that again. You’re not “just” talking about and working towards reducing homophobia within the church, you are fulfilling the great gospel commission from Matthew 28:16-20.
Even our fiercest and most vocal detractors. This gospel message is for everyone, free for whosoever believes. But not all have ears to hear.
Remember the life of a seed. Sometimes you will spread seed, but you will not be the one to water it or see it grow into its fullness. Sometimes you will water seed, but you will not know who planted it, nor will you see it mature. Sometimes you will see the seed blossom, but you will not know who planted it nor who watered it. The exquisite beauty of the body of Christ is that it works together to create a diversely splendid field full of mature saints.
Some will listen, some will rejoice, some will turn us away, some will ponder, and some will actually stay with us-Christ in the long haul. We will do far more work that “sticks” in relationship, than we will in “evangelizing” or “missionizing” our outreach. I encourage you to persevere in this marathon you have been invited-called to run in and know that while you see through a mirror temporally/dimly, God sees all that you do and will harvest all seed in His time. We will not win everyone over today-everyday. Do not be discouraged. We will win some and we will lose some; some hearts have been hardened, that they cannot be won with words, but only the power of the Holy Spirit in prayer will overcome. For others, you may be the only one, for such a time as this, who provides seed/water/sunshine in a season of a seed’s growth towards maturity in eternity.
However, no matter the response you see/feel, remember the most important thing: Communionally remember Christ in loving one another.
I love you, my dearly beloved reader-friends. Thank you for reading and considering my invitation to welcome, affirm, and love all. Thank you for reading my message of encouragement to you. May we greet each other on this side or the other of eternity with great shouts rejoicing in the transforming power of our first love, our brother in the faith, Jesus Christ.
The most important thing is this:
Love one another.
Melody Stoner is an educator/consultant for students who are deaf. She holds a BA in English, Secondary Education and Religion from Converse College, an MA in Deaf Education from the University of Georgia, and an EdS in Special Education from Georgia State University. She desires to reach out to non-affirming/questioning congregations, encouraging and engaging them in reframing the same-sex relationship debate.
The opinions expressed above are those of the guest writer and do not necessarily state or reflect the views of Brown-Eyed Amazon. Publication on this website should not be considered an endorsement.
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