Within the span of three weeks there were four different encounters I had where my faith was involved and there was either rejection or mercy. Actually 3 out of the 4 instances involved less than good fruit yet one was the epitome of James 3:13-18.
The first encounter occurred after a preliminary search to join a Bible study in town. Because my spouse and I are not members of a church community yet (because we have either been not welcomed or have been not able to abide by a particular churches theology) a friend, after hearing of my desire to find others to worship with, suggested I join a Bible study. Many if not most churches have them, but again, this would involve trying to find a church that makes sense. Instead of searching church by church to find such a study I went onto my favorite search engine and looked up Portland-Oregon-Bible-Study. It turned out the website Meet Up had groups holding Bible study’s so I joined the site (though I hate joining anything online) and inquired with some groups about their study.
A group suggested to me was a Portland LGBT Christian group that showed that they have Bible studies and other activities like book clubs, dinners together, etc. Though I don’t identify as gay per se, the sex of my spouse sort of puts me in that category by default, and so there you go. I was allowed to join the group and was informed about an upcoming book group where Marcus Borg’s “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time” would be discussed. Having worked with religious books for years I knew that Borg had very liberal and to us, heretical beliefs that we feel contradict basic tenants of Christianity. Because of this book pick, which sadly didn’t surprise me in some ways, it seemed time to ask the group leader if this was a group that would be beneficial to us and us to them.
My questions included how we may fit into such a group since we believe the Bible is the Word of God and infallible. I asked if books along the lines of theology that Borg and those of his ilk (including Matthew Fox, Henri Nouwen, Harry Emerson Fosdick) espouse were the norm for book picks. Finally I asked if a more “conservative” couple that seeks to live out 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 in all we do, would be accepted into the group and find other kindred Christians like us there. All this I asked respectfully with a willingness to answer any questions or clarify any statements. My wife checked over my email and felt it was direct yet gentle, reasonable, and without negativity.
The response? I received an email 2 days later from Meet Up explaining that I had been removed from the group. In addition I was blocked from being able to contact the organizer with any further communication.
The second encounter involved a cashier I’ve been acquainted with for years at our local co-op. After casually asking her if she had any Easter plans, she went on to tell me about an article she read recently about the poet Nikki Giovanni. She noted that the poet was raised Baptist and now rejects the faith because of its obsession with death. The cashier went on to note that wearing a cross was a further symbol of a culture of death and that those who wear them probably celebrate the electric chair or gallows. That day I just happened to be wearing my largest and most ornate cross due to Easter week. I pulled it out as she shared and asked without malice “you mean like this one?” The cashier went on to literally make a gag sound, say yuck, and continue her comments.
Since we are hoping to find a church community to join, the third encounter involved calling a Lutheran church a few miles from our home to inquire about their overall theology and if we, as a same sex couple, would be tolerated and/or accepted. Though neither of us know much about Lutherans other than that some family members are, we thought “why not?” so when I got the pastor on the phone I prayed and asked him if their theology was influenced by New Ageism or Christian authors who were influenced by types of spirituality that deviates from the Bible. My second question was about my wife & me attending, with the clarification that we have no interest in changing the church as is, and respect their right to religious freedom.
The pastor answered my questions honestly and respectfully. Though he made no effort to get to know me or what my spouse and I were about, and assumed that which he cannot see. I appreciated him being upfront in letting me know that, no, they do not preach another gospel, and no, we would not be allowed to become members (only visitors) of his church.
In three weeks I experienced 3 kinds of rejection. In the first, apparently we were “too” Christian. In the second, I was apparently too obsessed with the death of Jesus. And in the third I was too gay. How can one be both too Christian and too gay? I have no idea! Thank the Lord that the above mentioned scenarios have taught me the road is indeed narrow and to follow it, it means the road looking very different from how we might have imagined.
Interestingly this week I had two dreams involving narrow roads. In one I had to walk upon a narrow dirt path in the woods carrying an ill pit bull mix to find it some help. In the other, my wife and I were in a car on a skinny one lane road in the middle of the ocean, being driven by a confident and bubbly young lady. In both dreams I had to leave fear behind and trust I’d get to where I needed to go. I’m reminded of Matthew 14:22-33 where Peter trusted Jesus and walked on the water. Since I have given my life over the Jesus I’m continually amazed by where being His follower has taken me. After the three above encounters I felt moments of rejection. Rejection is a really great way to take away one’s hope and plant disturbing seeds of hypocrisy that have to power to wither bodies and souls.
But this is when we Christians faithful to God’s Word are blessed! Luke tells us in chapter six that it is when we’re reproached, rejected, and hated for being believers that we can rejoice for our reward is great in heaven.
One could argue that in the third situation I was not rejected for being too Christian but not Christian enough! That I refuse to repent for my marriage and get legally divorced from my wife so I may enter the kingdom. This reminds me of the seven Woes’ in Matthew 23. We sometimes attempt say certain people, based on the potentially poor judgment of going by what we cannot really see, cannot enter the kingdom and shut doors (physical & metaphorical) to them without having taken any time to know them. We try to make believers into our own image rather than God’s. We tell people they must follow the rules of this church or that sect or some other theology that is not in the Bible or misinterpreted. We trade legalism for the heart of the law. We all do it not only as the faithful but as humans in whatever set of beliefs we follow.
When we persecute other Christians (or anyone) regardless of what their sin or perceived sin is, we sin. Yes we can separate ourselves, but we first learn who someone is and attempt to meet them & hear them. No matter what our final decision is about their place in our lives, churches, or organizations, we love them, pray for them, and remain peaceable and without hypocrisy (let me know if you’ve perfected that).
So girding my emotional loins I called a church a friend’s friend had recommended on our behalf. Having just had those dreams previously mentioned, I felt it was time to change my approach. Just as I want people to meet with and get to know us beyond whatever labels others define us by, I also want to meet and get to know them. I called this church and spoke with one of the pastors explaining that we’d like to meet with the appropriate clergy to discuss potentially going there. My situation was briefly explained and I told him that more than anything, we just want to worship the Lord with others who are devoted to Him, without deviation from the Bible. His response? Excitement! The main pastor is currently out of town so he suggested we set up a time to meet with both pastors. He was everything written in James 3:17. Pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, merciful, impartial, and without hypocrisy. Our conversation bore good fruit because we both communicated in the vein of James 3:13. I could even tell we may have some disagreement on points, but that we respected each other as believers growing in Christ.
To be true to our faith doesn’t mean we sign off on what isn’t acceptable to us. It also doesn’t mean we blindly reject others either. This was not the narrow road I expected, but God continues to give me the strength to walk it. We are blessed indeed!