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The Reputation of the Tribe of Jesus

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 NIV)

It’s Pride Weekend in Seattle (at the time of this writing). There will be parades, performances, events – even a few rainbow crosswalks! All of this to celebrate LGBT* rights and culture. With the Supreme Court ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges [PDF], it’s likely to be a more spirited weekend than usual. It’s also a weekend that leaves many churches unsure of what to do.

Some churches, of course, have already accepted gay marriage and would have no compunction about full participation. Other churches, including our denomination, have reviewed the Bible with equal care and sincerity, yet have concluded that there is no Scriptural support for gay marriage. Does it follow that those churches should be reluctant to participate?

Let’s be honest: historically, churches have not acted very much in line with the “love the sinner” they profess to believe. The Church has been guilty of deplorable treatment of LGBT people that has nothing in common with Jesus’ example of hanging out with “sinners.” In my last article, I wrote about the difficulties we mortals have in extending Jesus’ very open invitation to come to him. Now I submit that the Church could learn a lot about how to relate to LGBT people from the LGBT movement itself.

One of the defining characteristics of that movement is their radical inclusiveness. Gender, race, religion, disability – none of it matters if you want to be Out and Proud. They accept all people just as they come. Not only that, people in the movement are incredibly supportive of one another and others in need. I can’t find a reference for it now, but I remember reading early on in the LGBT movement that gay couples were known for adopting “unwanted” children, including mixed-race, HIV-positive, and disabled children, who did not find placement with heterosexual parents.

The movement also confers on its members an identity that often supersedes all others. No matter what other affiliation you claim, you can be Out and Proud. You can march in the parade and wear the rainbow flag and belong somewhere. That sense of belonging, of being proud of something that other people shamed you for, was especially critical to people who had been rejected by their family or their religion for their sexuality.

If these descriptions sound vaguely familiar, it might be because God called us to this radical type of fellowship long ago. In Galatians 3:28, he gave us an identity that overrides our gender, nationality and social status: the name of Jesus. We as the body of Christ need to be a group that is so loving, so inclusive, so known for doing good, that people cannot help but want to come. Joining the Church should make you so proud that it becomes your main identity, the identity that supersedes all others. Your former affiliations don’t matter, because you’re now in the Tribe of Jesus – not because you renounce your old identities, but because the new one is so much more important to you.

So, should churches feel reluctant to participate in Pride weekend? I think the answer is that they don’t have to, but it’s a fact that many do. I also think – and this is an opinion that has evolved over time – that churches worry too much about what we are seen to “condone.” Jesus managed to spend time with and forgive sinners, yet he of all people had the highest regard for righteousness – he gave his very life to make us righteous in God’s eyes. If you go to a Pride event, I would caution you against giving the impression that you affirm gay marriage if you don’t, but as Deb Hirsch pointed out in her book Redeeming Sex, a little bit of “I’m sorry” goes a long way.

Finally, the Church can learn from a failure of the LGBT movement. It is, in fact, the same failure as the Church’s, which each group observes in the other but denies in itself: the only people whom the LGBT movement don’t accept are those who disagree with their agenda. And this is why the Church must make the first move. With the power of Christ, we can love, welcome and accept people who disagree with us – even those people who identify different sins than we do. This is the third option that Hirsch describes in her book: the narrow line between treating people who are gay as less worthy of grace than other sinners (which all Christians should consider unacceptable) and fully affirming gay relationships (which many Christians view as unbiblical, but which most people today think is the only other option). We can do better than the “sinners” who love only those who love them back (Luke 6:32), because our responsibility is not to save people, nor to convict them of sin (that’s God’s job), but simply to point them to our leader and show them how it feels to be loved.

I believe that making the Tribe of Jesus irresistible, because of the good it does and the love it shows, is the only way to win over the increasing number of people in the world who would otherwise dismiss us as outdated or even bigoted. Making obedience to Jesus (which is between you and him!) more important than outward appearance seems like the only possible way to make a church that doesn’t affirm gay marriage feel welcoming to a gay person. This is an incredibly tall order. Doing this is messy, difficult, and complicated. We will stumble and need grace. But it is the only way worth living – Jesus’ extraordinary way, carried out by ordinary people.

*LGBT is the most common acronym, but since it’s an inclusive movement, letters keep getting added. One friend of mine has heard of QUILTBAG (Queer, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Trans, Bisexual, Asexual, Gay), and we agree that it is eminently memorable and conveniently pronounceable. Others prefer GSM (Gender and Sexual Minorities) which pretty much sums up anything other than “straight.” I’m sticking with the most common for the purposes of an easy-to-grok article.

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