God Help the Outcasts (Save Them From Us)

I have had it up to here *holds hand over head* with those who use the Bible, and worse still, the Gospel, to justify their hate and bigotry. I have HAD IT. To think the good news of Christ, of God's holistic redemption of His beloved world would ever become a weapon used against His children, to think the cross would ever become a sword, it makes me sick. It repulses me.

When did the story of a God who stooped down low to love His kids, specifically those most outcast among their peers, become a tool of subjugation and oppression in the hands of the powerful and pious? When did we give the keys to the Kingdom back to the Pharisees?

I'm afraid I know the answer: almost immediately. A few hundred years into Christendom, as soon as Christians got a little political power, we started rounding up and casting out all those on the fringes. We started neglecting the poor and equating prosperity and military victory with divine favor. When the church betrayed Her Bridegroom to become mistress to the empire, the sick, poor, needy and different suffered for it, as they always have, as they still do.

That's not how it started out though, please believe me. For a little while the church grew like wildfire because She became a refuge for the down and out, the misfits and the unwanted (just as Christ himself was a refuge for the down and out, the misfits and the unwanted).

For example (get this), legend has it one of the reasons Christianity spread so rapidly in its infancy was when plagues swept the overpopulated Roman world, the rich retreated to the countrysides while the poor were left to die in the cities, but the Christians, rich and poor alike, stayed in the cities to tend to the sick and dying. So Christianity became the faith of the surviving beggars, lepers and tramps. So Christianity lived up to its name. So the Kingdom was on earth as it is in heaven.

But we are now tragically far from that beautiful place. We have instead become so entrenched in the sins of propriety and pietism, so accustomed to this cancerous marriage between the church and the political powers that be, that we can only pray (and must pray) to return to that place of shalom, that we might again be known for our love and not for our frenzied, militant moralism.

God forbid we let them in.
Indeed, by and large the church is no longer home to outcasts, being instead home to us "normal" folks (i.e. upper-or-middle class white Americans). If you're weird or different, you best be able to check it at the door. 'Cause we're decent God-fearin' folks roun' dese parts ya hear!? An' we don' take kin'ly to yer type comin' in and causin' a ruckus!

When we behave this way, as moral police, or as country club members intent on keeping the rabble outside our lavish, ornate doors, we miss the mark. We miss the Gospel. We, like the Pharisees, become so wrapped up in forcing the letter of the law on our struggling (and at times starving) brothers and sisters that we utterly miss the heart of God for His children. We are bullhorns, mouthpieces, spouting off judgments while our hands and feet lie limp in the face of a hurting world that needs our help, our action, our service.

Now to clarify, I don't mean to be unnecessarily harsh with the Church, I really don't. As a matter of fact, I am currently in love with my own church body in a way I have never been before. I can't bear the thought of being apart from them for more than a week, because they are loving and compassionate, because they teach me, come alongside me, help me grow, and show me how vital it is to love and serve the world in Christ's name. They are my family and my faith is hollow without them. In them I see how the Church can and should function, which only makes it all the more heartbreaking and maddening when I see Her miss the mark so egregiously.

Much as it pains me to say, such a moment of Gospel dissonance caught viral notoriety this week when the Gospel Coalition blogsite hosted an article by Thabiti Anyabwile called The Importance of Your Gag Reflex When Discussing Homosexuality and “Gay Marriage”. Anyabwile essentially calls us Christians to return to a way of talking about homosexuality that highlights how gross it is, by speaking graphically about gay sex acts, and in doing so we will regain the moral high ground on the issue. I hope the irony of this notion is evident without my having to draw attention to it. But I will anyway. It's idiotic.

Forget the legitimate, nuanced theological opinions on either side of the issue. Forget the progress we've made over the last century in treating our gay brothers and sisters like people. Forget the compassion demonstrated by Christ for all those considered outcasts in his own social milieu. Forget all that, because gay sex is gross, and that's why gay marriage should remain illegal.

Let us all take a moment to heave a deep sigh, breathe slowly, and let the waves of rage abate a little before we move on. Hmmmmmmmm.

Gaston would call this gap in logic "roughly the size of a barge."

Where to start? How can someone claiming the Christian high ground be so void of the attitude of Christ? How can a pastor, a pastor, promote hate and bigotry like this? And if you disagree that Anyabwile's post is hateful and bigoted, consider for a moment the implications of putting the gross-ness of homosexuality at the fore of the discussion. Will it stop there? Will heterosexual disgust with homosexual behavior stop there? Or will it evolve into general disgust with homosexuals? I've no doubt it will. This notion, and the language used to make his point, is inflammatory, divisive, and fundamentally un-loving. It is un-Christian, no matter how many Bible verses he can manage to stuff in his post.

In the end, for me, it all comes down to one question: how is being disgusted, disgusted, with God's beloved children in line with the Gospel of Christ?

Homophobia is not a Christian virtue.

Hate is not a Christian virtue.

Disgust is not a Christian virtue; it is a base reaction more often elicited by fear and ignorance than by right-thinking. It is symptomatic of judgment, of hard-heartedness. It points more to flaws in our own character than flaws in others.

Consider for a moment: does disgust guide our moral thinking when it comes to other marginalized groups? Is my squeamishness around homeless people Godly? Is my lack of comfort in the presence of severely handicapped people evidence that their condition is wicked and mine righteous? No, of course not. If anything this impulse is resultant from my own fallen nature, proof that I must take a closer look at my own heart and ask the God who gives generously without finding fault to provide me with His grace, compassion and love. And so it is with our gay friends and neighbors. If we are grossed out by them, that's on us! And we can get over it!

Being petty and judgmental is NOT CHRISTIAN! If anything it is the condition of heart which most drew the ire of our Lord Christ. Jesus did not turn away the "sinners," He did not speak condemnation to those with the most vivid reputations. His posture for the socially unwanted was always love. He only spoke judgment to the stodgy religious who loved to slam the doors on the unpopular and unloved.

How can Christ's church be acting this way?


But we must ask forgiveness, too, of those whom we have hurt with our hate, with our judgment, with our tainted piety. We must beg our victims to forgive us and look beyond us to Christ, and in doing so know that they are wholly and truly loved. We must strive for the reconciliation we don't deserve. And the first step is to apologize.

I am sorry. I'm sorry that I've been closed-minded and bigoted. I'm sorry that I've allowed those around me to make hateful remarks and jokes at the expense of gay men and women, and have at times joined in on the joking. I am so, so sorry that I have hurt you, and that I have misrepresented Christ to you.

So I end with a prayer. In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the gypsy Esmeralda prays for her people, that they would be saved from the hate and oppression of the larger population. She prays not for herself, as do the other parishioners pray for their own needs and desires, but she instead prays for the lost and hurting in the world, for all the children of God who are mistreated and abused in the name of justice and piety. Esmeralda, a gypsy (perhaps analogous to homosexuals in our own culture) demonstrated the heart of God as revealed in Christ, the heart of a loving Father who will not stand for His children being called disgusting, no matter their faults or failings.

And so I pray, and please pray with me...

God, help the outcasts. Help those who have been hurt by Your church. Help those who have been abused in Your name. Help them understand that You are overflowing with love for them, that You see them and will not forget them. And that You will not hold back judgment from those who mean them harm. Help the outcasts God, save them, save them from us, save them from me and my angry, judgmental heart. And please forgive those of us who miss the mark, who misuse Your name in order to abuse Your children. Forgive us, even though we do not deserve forgiveness, and lead us away from hate into Your embrace of love, a love which will transform us into children of love who take care of all Your beloved creations. God, forgive us, take care of us. Abba, Father, Papa, Daddy, be our all in all, help us become whole, teach us how to live in Your Kingdom. We love You Lord. Teach us how to love each other.

12 Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

Luke 14:12-23


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