These past couple of weeks at Berean have been such a wonderful celebration of the kind of love we experience when we open ourselves to loving as God loves, who God loves. An amazing experience of participating in God's love.
Two weeks ago we began to hear the testimonies of those who had completed the discipleship/membership process and these testimonies were amazing:
We heard one member speak of the love she had experienced from her mentor, calling him a father figure and giving him a rose.
We heard another member speak publicly for the first time since high school, which had particularly painful and frightening experience that had stayed with her as a voice telling her that she was not good enough for all her life. She stood in front of the congregation, surrounded by loving friends and gave her testimony beautifully and was filled with renewed confidence and empowerment!
We heard another member speak of her journey in the battle with cancer, a battle that she did not face alone, even though her family is far away, because her church family cared for her, loved her; took her to appointments, cooked, called, nurtured and prayed for her!
We experienced the testimony of loving actions in a recent wedding. The church threw a wonderful wedding for a young couple. Church members were the wedding party! Church members decorated, cooked, brought presents, gave money to this young couple. It was a church wedding! A great show of the ties that bind us all in God's love.
We heard another members testimony about feeling safe and accepted in church for the first time in years and years
Finally we heard another testimony that I will never forget as long as I live.
A man joined our church. His testimony was simple. "I came to Berean because my family treated me like trash. I stayed at Berean because I'm loved."
I'm so proud to be Berean's Pastor. I'm so proud that we do not simply love with emotions or kind thoughts, but in real tangible acts of service and sacrifice for others.
So I've been on cloud 9 with pride for the church God has called me to lead and to serve.
But I've also been disturbed, shocked, angered.
You all know very well by now that recently I received some condemnation via Facebook. A Pastor at a Berean Baptist Church in N.C. preached a sermon in which he 'jokingly' suggested that effeminate boys should be struck (to beat the gay out of them presumably). Someone thought that I was that pastor, which obviously I'm not.
But it gets worse.
I video has been making the rounds on You Tube and the internet showing a young boy, approximately 4 yrs old, singing in church; 'Aint no homo's gonna make it to heaven!' While his pastor and the congregation applause and laugh and shout their approval!
That isn't the end.
Another pastor, baptist, has recently received national attention for suggesting that all 'lesbians, homosexuals and queers' should be rounded up, placed behind an electrified fence until they die. Oh, we will feed them, but they should be concentrated away from the general public!
But worse still.
The pastor who suggested that the government should round up all homosexuals and exterminate them... put them to death. He reads a verse from Leviticus literally and suggests that the Levitical code of stoning men who lie with men, should be actively enforced by the United States Government.
What does that remind you of? Concentration camps and extermination reminds me of the war that some in this church fought in many years ago.
Now, some will say, they are on the fringes. There is no chance that the government will place Gays and Lesbians in concentration camps or exterminate them. And I agree.
But here is my point. And I'm quoting Rachel Held Evans who summed up this research:
When asked by The Barna Group what words or phrases best describe Christianity, the top response among Americans ages 16-29 was "antihomosexual." For a staggering 91 percent of non-Christians, this was the first word that came to their mind when asked about the Christian faith. The same was true for 80 percent of young churchgoers. (The next most common negative images? : "judgmental," "hypocritical," and "too involved in politics.")
In the book that documents these findings, titled unChristian, David Kinnaman writes:
"The gay issue has become the 'big one, the negative image most likely to be intertwined with Christianity's reputation. It is also the dimensions that most clearly demonstrates the unchristian faith to young people today, surfacing in a spate of negative perceptions: judgmental, bigoted, sheltered, right-wingers, hypocritical, insincere, and uncaring. Outsiders say [Christian] hostility toward gays...has become virtually synonymous with the Christian faith."
Later research, documented in Kinnaman's You Lost Me, reveals that one of the top reasons 59 percent of young adults with a Christian background have left the church is because they perceive the church to be too exclusive, particularly regarding their LGBT friends. Eight million twenty-somethings have left the church, and this is one reason why.
When people think Christian, the majority of them think homophobic, they think hateful, they think judgmental.
A recent article that I found on the Huffington Post revealed that while hate crimes against Lesbians and Gays was down in 2011, murders of them went up. Let's remember Matthew Shepherd. While this hateful rhetoric will not bring any actual violence from the government toward lesbians and gays, it does lead to violence on the part of individuals. It condones violence against lesbians and gays. It does real damage to teens who are discovering that they are gay and lesbian and leads to an alarming suicide rate!
Now, lets look at God's word from Luke.
The first thing we notice is that three of those invited to the feast decline that invitation.
Now I interpret the wealthy host as an image of God. And the decline of the invitation tells us that we cannot expect or wait for a call from God that will not cost us something or challenge us. The choice to follow Christ is not easy and we will not receive a call in which our answer of YES will not lead to saying NO to thousands of other things. God's call may cost us our priorities, it may cost us a dearly held assumption or believe, it may cost us, it will cost us something.
The second thing we notice is how risky and radical God's love is.
You see the wealthy man invites the poor, the blind, the vulnerable.
A banquet in this time and place was not a private affair (in once sense) It was usually in public. Everyone walking by could see who not only who was hosting, but also who was invited. The wealthy host held these banquets so that the public could see his wealth, his power and his influence. He received and maintained his status through these banquets. One would not eat with those 'below' one in status. It wouldn't be done.
Not only does the wealthy host invite those who are 'less than', he then sends his servants outside the city gates to collect the undesirables; prostitutes, lepers, tanners.
So not only does the wealthy man invite the 'less than' but also those completely outside, rejected and despised.
Remember he is doing this publicly.
At great risk to his own honor, to the respect that he receives and the power and influence he holds in the community, he welcomes all, the less, the least the lost the expendable, into his home.
In other words, God's love is not careful and calculated and safe; it is wanton and risky and potentially costly.
If we want to love as God loves, we must ask the Holy Spirit to inspire us to that kind of active, risky, costly, potentially sacrificial kind of love.
Now, we've been discussing the inclusion and acceptance of Lesbians and Gays at Berean for almost two years. As your pastor I've been trying to walk a thin line of supporting the process of discernment while remain unattached to the outcome so that I can remain a pastor to all Berean's members, those for and those against openly including and accepting Lesbians and Gays. I don't want to divide the church. I may not agree with those who do not support this move, but I love and respect them, because none here would condone hate or violence toward anyone.
But I can no longer remain neutral.
If I am going to love as God loved in this parable I've got to take a public stand. If we, Berean are going to love as God loves, we have to take a public stand. The only thing that pains me as much as the hateful rhetoric of the pastors we have discussed today, is the silence of churches, who do love and accept lesbians and gays, but who cannot love publicly, wantonly, at great risk.
So I am calling for Berean to take the wonderful statement written by DW, in which we pledge and covenant to welcome all; regardless of social status or economic status or ethnic heritage or color of skin, regardless of age or cognitive capability and yes regardless of sexual orientation. I am calling for it to be put in the bulletin and in the church covenant.
The time to be cautious and careful is past. The time to stand up with our Lesbian and Gays sisters and brothers has come.
I am calling for us to join with the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists! They are the only Baptist voice out there calling for full inclusion of all God's children and condemning in a loud but loving way, the hatred and violence of the churches and pastors that create such noise in our nation. ABCORI isn't doing that, ABCUSA isn't doing it. The only group speaking out is AWAB and THEY NEED OUR VOICES!!! We may not agree with every part of their agenda, but we surely agree that Lesbians and Gays need to hear a baptist voice saying 'you are loved and accepted,'' we surely agree that we cannot allow the loudest voice purporting to speak for God to be the voices of hatred and violence!
It's time to turn the volume up! To speak loudly and clearly in support of our lesbian and gay sisters and brothers. Its time to say; 'If you're going to imprison them, you'll have to imprison all of us' and 'if your going to exterminate them, you're going to have to shoot me first!' I know, I'm getting a bit dramatic. Forgive me. But these are people we love they are speaking so violently about! Our sisters and brothers need to know that they do not stand alone or live alone, but that they have a whole community ready to love them, support them and yes, to protect them is necessary!
So I want you to write a letter to the moderator or the diaconate if you agree with me about the statement of welcome and affirmation and about going with AWAB! I want you to write a letter, or deliver your testimony in church or write an essay for the newsletter voicing your support. Speak up for you lesbian and gay sisters and brothers.
And if you disagree, listen carefully to what I say;
stay, don't go! We love you. No one on the AWAB team wants anyone to feel rejected or hated! We can disagree and still love one another. Stay and share your concerns. Stay and listen to the stories and the testimonies of your lesbian and gay friends.
The young boy who sang that awful song has received death threats. We need to stay together to show the world how to disagree and still be loving and respectful. We need to show the world how to love one another even when we have differences of opinion. This is a frightening call for us all... lets stay together and work through those fears together! Let our love be greater than our fears!
But it is still time for us to love one another as God has loved, who God loves, as God loves; Its time to publicly acknowledge our love for ALL God's children, to speak up for our lesbian and gay family members and proclaim to the world a God that loves a generous, risky, accepting kind of love. Its time to join AWAB and its time to make a statement of welcome and affirmation every sunday in our bulletin and every month as we read our covenant. The time is now!
God Bless You all.
Rev. Darin CollinsBerean Baptist Church474 Chapel StreetHarrisville, RI
*Bruce J. Malina Social-Science Commentary on the Gospels & Fred B. Craddock on Luke