“When Columbus lived, people thought that the earth was flat. They believed the Atlantic Ocean to be filled with monsters large enough to devour their ships, and with fearful waterfalls over which their frail vessels would plunge to destruction. Columbus had to fight these foolish beliefs in order to get men to sail with him. He felt sure the earth was round.” - Emma Miler Bolenius, American Schoolbook Author, 1919
In the Medieval cultural mindset, the world was flat. Period. Anyone with any brains at all knew for sure that if you sailed too far, you would fall off the edge of the earth. Period. This picture gives me chills! I KNOW the earth is round, no danger of falling off, I’ve seen the photos taken from the moon. But I still get a little freaked out imagining these ships going over the edge! Yeah, mentally, no prob; emotionally, a little freaky. It is not real, but it looks real.
So it is with the LGBTQ issue. So many Christians know that the traditional approach ends in destruction, that condemnation sends LGBTQ people to isolation, self-loathing, suicide. They know this. They also read blogs and books and exegetical studies that show that the Bible does not condemn committed same-sex relationships as we know them today. Many have a gay child who they know did not choose to be gay; they saw it when their child was two. They’ve seen that God has not changed their child’s, or their own orientation despite fervent prayers. Yet, they cannot let go of the condemnation they have internalized. They can’t move past this misguided fear of “condoning the sin.”
That is what gets stuck in our throat, because far be it from us to condone something God does not condone. This fear consumes us as Christians, but it’s way out of proportion when a.) we realize Jesus never told us to condone or condemn others’ sin and b.) when we look at how much sin Jesus appeared to condone. All the rabble the “church” kicked to the curb, Jesus heartily embraced.
How can that be? How could Jesus embrace all these ‘sinners’ with abandon, yet we huddle in the corner afraid to make a wrong move?
The sweet dad whose letter I wrote about last week said: acceptance = license; tolerance = allowance; love = permission. That sums up where the difficulty lies.
Let’s turn that upside-down, which is what Jesus did to everything, and let’s see where he is in all of this.
Acceptance = license. Jesus accepted everyone who came across his path. Unconditionally. His offer is not sin-free living but freedom from the law of sin and death. Completely different! Sin no longer has a chokehold hold on people once Jesus embodies them. No one can flourish in unacceptance. The most basic need of our heart is acceptance, worthiness, belonging – primary need that Jesus fills every time. He accepts first. He offers life. He never addressed sin nearly as much as we do! It is the opposite of acceptance = license. It is Acceptance = freedom in Christ.
Tolerance = allowance. To be concerned about allowance is to believe that we are responsible for others’ behavior. Say my friend is an overeater. So to tolerate her overeating means to allow it? Should I communicate that yes I love her, but I don’t condone of her overeating? Shall I be sure never to attend a meal with her lest she sin in my presence? How did we get to this?
You remember that Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding. Do you think it’s likely that someone there got drunk? And Jesus was a party to that because he supplied the wine?
Do you see how crazy this can get? We must surrender other people’s lives to God and stop this notion that our job is to stop their sin! It’s ludicrous. Of course that requires us to surrender control. That’s where it gets difficult. We want to tolerate each other because we all need to be tolerated. Maybe, if we really want to be Christlike, if we really want to embrace Jesus’ directive to love, we ratchet that up to embracing each other. Now we’re talking! It is not tolerance = allowance, it is Tolerance = letting go and letting God.
Love = permission. Yes, it does. But that is not the bad thing we are afraid it is. God gives us permission. Besides, how many things do children do without permission? So then we don’t love them? How many things do we do without permission? Then God doesn’t love us? For heaven’s sake, no! Love withheld pending approved behavior is not love. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, not even something as terrifying as our sin! [Yes, I mean that ironically. No, I am NOT equating LGBTQ people with sin; I’m addressing the paralyzing fear of somehow “condoning” sin. As if our job is to condone or not – silly us!]
On the contrary, love comes first, and because it’s love and not some kind of behavior modification program, love stays. And stays and stays. We love because God first loved us – even in our broken down state, even when we didn’t – and don’t – have a clue. And then we love back, because that is the nature of love. It is not love = permission, it is Love = love returned.
Better yet… Love = love.