I have had a friend for over 12 years who is gay. For those 12 years, he has known that I believe and follow Jesus. During our entire relationship, I have tried to show him the love of Christ and get him to come with me to Brentwood Church. About three years ago at Easter, I thought I had a breakthrough. I felt sure that when I asked he was going to come with me, but upon my inquiry, he quickly responded, “I could never step foot in the church. If I did they would yell ‘crucify the faggot!’”
What would cause this type of reaction? Why would he believe that the minute he walked through the doors he would be condemned and shamed? Is it something that we are doing wrong at Brentwood or something that the Church as a whole is doing wrong?
Truthfully, I believe that, at Brentwood, we have created a welcoming culture that calls people to Jesus and to repentance, but the Church as whole has been very bad at this. If we are not careful, we can find ourselves closed to all that God is doing around us in the lives of the broken. We can become a part of the problem and not the solution.
This practice of condemning sinners dates back to Jesus’ time. Take a look at John 8. We see a woman caught in adultery who is brought before Jesus by the “church” of His day. They are looking for Jesus to condemn this woman. Perhaps they were motivated by their hatred for Jesus. Perhaps they were motivated by their legalistic bend towards the law. Whatever the reason, you can be sure that this woman would have never stepped foot in the church after this.
Here is a woman that was more than likely standing naked before the crowd and Jesus because she was caught in her sin and immediately removed. She was brought to Jesus amid great shame. In the garden, when Adam and Eve sinned and were ashamed, they hid because of their nakedness. This woman had nowhere to hide.
The religious leaders looked to Jesus to condemn her and uphold the law (death by stoning), leaving Him in an impossible situation. If Jesus rejected the law of Moses, His credibility as a teacher of the law would be gone. If He held to Mosaic law, His reputation for compassion and forgiveness would have been questioned.
So what did He do? He looked to the religious leaders and said, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. One by one they left as they realized there was no one without sin in their lives. Jesus was left with the woman, and He said to her, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” Her response was simply “no”. Then Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
There was no condemnation. There was no judgment. There was just a simple challenge to go and sin no more.
I wonder how many more people would darken the doors of the Church if this was our response every time. Would the fear of literal or figurative crucifixion leave them? Would it let them say “yes” to the invitation to church after you have asked a dozen times?
John writes in 1 John 4:18, speaking of the love of God, “There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.”
If we fear judgement for ourselves or for someone else, we have missed out on the love of God. The minute that lesbian couple walks through the door; the minute that drunk walks through the door; or the minute that teenager who can’t get their life together walks through the door and you pass judgement is the minute that the love of God is not in you, and you become just like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day.
So, our challenge is to live the kind of love that drives out fear; the kind of love that is perfected in Christ and not on our own; the kind of love that says, “we don’t condemn you, now go and sin no more.”
So how do we do this as a church?
1. Reach Out
When you see someone who looks out of place on Sunday morning, reach out to them and show them how loving Brentwood Church, or your church, can be.
Remember that at one point you were just like them, broken and in need of grace.
3. Speak Truth In Love
Lovingly point them back to the truth of scripture and the freedom that comes when we are released from the bondage of sin.