I am still processing all the stuff I saw, heard and experienced during 10 days at our 2009 Staff Conference in Colorado.
I mean, it really was incredible to wake up every day and see mountains in the distance. To have dry, cool weather in July. To be surrounded by trees that were hundreds of feet tall. To see buildings that had been around for over 100 years. It makes me sad, in a way, that we live in such a “new” area. Our suburban neo-traditional neighborhood won’t have the gravitas that comes with a sense of history and place for decades- if ever.
Hearing Keith Battles and Tim Keller talk about the gospel and what it means to truly hear it, much less live it, so that we can share it with others… they were truly brilliant. Then there was Mark Charles, talking about how we must be willing to embrace and encourage the many cultures through with God reveals aspects of God’s own character. These men challenged me to consider things that I have known, but not consciously considered, about how we church people tend to approach life today.
One of the highlights for me was watching The Witnesses. It is a musical/storytelling of the book of Acts. The music and musicians were wonderful. But the way they told the story really forced me to think about who it is that we as a church are leaving behind because they are “unclean.” As Brian MacLaren calls them- those who are “not us”.
More and more in my universe (the various worlds in which I live that collide on Facebook and elsewhere), I am reminded that the church has excluded and wounded those who are “not us” by virtue of sexual orientation. They may be the lepers of our world today, given the homophobia that is rampant in church culture. I’m talking widely about the church here- not simply the tradition I am part of – the big WE.
When Keith Battle talked about the need for the church and parachurch organizations like ours to start reaching out to GLBT people, loving them and asking forgiveness for our corporate behavior, I thought it was a good first step. When he talked about not using phrases like “struggling with same-sex attraction” to describe where gay people are in life, I applauded. After all, we don’t say that people “struggle with opposite-sex attraction” we merely call them heterosexual.
But when he went into the various sociological “causes” of homosexuality, I felt like our forward momentum came to a stop. This argument says to the families of GLBT people that they are the problem, despite ample evidence of people who do not experience those societal triggers. In fact, I can personally point to several examples of people who ought to be gay, but are straight, and others who should be well-adjusted heteros, but are well-adjusted homos instead.
When we say that all gays are who/what they are because of the way that their families and/or the world has treated them, we are saying that there is no way for people to be created that way from their birth. We close our minds to the fact that God might actually have a hand in the process… as God knits us in our mother’s wombs. We know that there are times that God allows for other differences and disabilities – children are born with cleft palates, Downs syndrome, palsies, epilepsy, and a host of other birth defects every day. In some cases, we can honestly point to a specific genetic problem. But in others, it seems totally random.
Could it be that, like the child born with 9 instead of 10 toes, the gay child is born that way? And that God knows from the start that they will struggle with being one of a minority in society? And that in spite of that difference, God loves and can use that person to live out that love in today’s world?
And maybe, as Mark Charles reminded us in terms of the multitude of tribes and tongues with which humans worship God, there is something about the way that gays are loved by and show love to God that will teach the rest of us just how big our God really is.