Saturday, April 6, 2013

Gay Marriage: Convictions and Ministry

The tension between religious convictions and ministry is nothing new. For centuries followers of Jesus have visited people in prison, even though the ones imprisoned may have broken laws to get there. They have cared for people ravaged by plagues, putting themselves at risk of infection, even as the general populace assumed that the sickness was some sort of divine act of judgment. Jesus’ call for his disciples to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them is a relational tension that most of us find difficult but necessary to our Christian witness.

Roy Hattersley, a UK journalist and atheist, marvels that a Christian leader he knows holds views toward homosexuality that Hattersley finds ridiculous, yet he marvels that the man also goes to the margins of society and cares for those very people whose lifestyles have landed them in the dark and degraded shadows of civilization. Hattersley notes that he and his like-minded friends do not do that sort of thing. Faith, he observes, does breed charity.

I read a journal article once that speculated about first and second-century slaves finding a place in the early church. Some of those slaves—both male and female—might have been forced into prostitution. That would have been a challenge for those early faith communities that would have found prostitution to be an abominable practice. Speculation or not, it is not a big leap to imagine those small churches bringing ministry to the lives of ones that unfortunate, living in the tension between conviction and ministry.

In the early days of the emergence of AIDS, a number of Christians visited gay people languishing in the horror of that yet-undefined disease, and cared for them in the midst of the suffering patients’ fear and anguish. In an LA Times story that I read at the time, the caregivers refused to answer questions about judgment on the suffering. They came only to care for the ones in pain.

I predict that, once same-sex marriage becomes commonplace, that some Christian communities will bar the doors and make their stand. That’s their prerogative. Others, however, are likely to respond with an intuition birthed of the Spirit of God, and bring ministry in places that require a collision with their convictions.

There are serious implications to this kind of response. If churches reach out in care to gay people—including those who are married to each other and have children—are they participating in the ministry of Christ? Has Jesus gone before them to those places? In doing such ministry, are people of faith finding that Jesus is present in the most unlikely of circumstances, this friend of sinners?

Followers of Jesus have, since the unleashing of the church 2,000 years ago, put themselves in places that are risky, scandalous, and dangerous. We shouldn’t expect that we, in the perceived safety of the western world, should be sheltered from that call to ministry.

Following Jesus may not be for the faint of heart. But it clearly is for those who have a heart.


Dave Jacobs said...

There are those on the right and those on the left, and then there are those like yourself who are trying to forge a middle ground for intelligent, respectful thought and dialog. Thanks for this series.

LiturgyGeek said...

Excellent post. I'd add that many of our LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ are in "shadowy places" not because of any particular sexual practice or because they have HIV/AIDS, but because they've been marginalized and wounded by the church. We as the church have too often created those "dark places" in which they live. Going there are doing ministry, therefore, requires us to humble ourselves, apologize for the ways the Church has failed these children of God, and to call to account members of our congregations who kick out or disown their gay or lesbian children.

I appreciate this post (found it through Dave Jacobs, above).