Everyone in Every Church is in the Same Pickle
According to my daily calendar that features an uplifting quotation in the spirit of “Keep Calm and Carry On,” American lieutenant general Lewis “Chesty” Puller was the one who first said, “We’re all in the same pickle.” It came to my mind as I pondered a provocative comment by a conservative pastor friend of mine.
He shared this story twice in one conversation; that’s how much this weighs upon him. He said with despair: “When I visit new people in our neighborhood, the one thing they all say about the church is that we hate gay people.” Polling, indeed, bears this out, especially among young people—one thing people know about the church is that it hates gay people.
It’s not just my friend who sees this clearly now and takes it seriously. Many prominent Christians who have long opposed full inclusion of LGBT people in church and society have gotten the same message. And, we are all beginning to see how this common assumption that church hates gay people is distancing us from the surging acceptance of LGBT people both inside and outside the church. Pope Francis has backed away from a harsh tone toward LGBT people. The director of Exodus International, long the advocate for changing people from gay to straight, has apologized for hurting people.
Of course, the progressive part of the Body of Christ from which I come has seen for decades—with alarm equal to my conservative friend—this growing view of the church as hating gay people. I confess I harbor substantial doubt about our conservative colleagues’ commitment to meet forthrightly this twisted, distorted travesty of the Gospel now planted in so many minds. At the same time, I also recognize that those outside the church do not make a distinction between left and right, conservative and progressive. Those who say the church hates gay people are saying this about us all. We—everyone in any church—are all in the same pickle.
In this, the only difference between the conservative and the progressive wings of the church is that liberal Christians have been trying to get out of this pickle longer. We saw long ago how any stance that breeds hate cannot be the Gospel and have tried in all kinds of ways to restore the proclamation of the church. So what wisdom can we share with our brothers and sisters who now join us in our despair over what Christianity (and therefore Christ) has come to mean to so many?
I begin with Matthew 7:1, “Judge not.” Christian summer campfires lead me there.
Every year, eager young people circle these fires seeking meaning, camaraderie and an articulation of their spiritual awakening. A ring of witnesses, friends, schoolmates —and families at home—will absorb from them what they soak up these summer nights. There are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people among them; some know it already, and some don’t. Everyone there, at some point, will go through a discernment process to discover where in this social scheme of sexual orientation and gender identity God places him or her.
I expect most of them, if not all, know LGBT people whom they love. When there is even a whiff of judgment toward gay people during these spiritual, religious or communal teachings, their worry begins. As a church, we may be speaking about them or about a loved one or simply someone they know. Here is where the seed is planted that can eventually grow into the conclusion: the church hates gay people.
And I would also suggest that it is an easy step for young people, and for us all, from seeing the church judging gay people to the church judging me, whether I am LGBT or not. What we, who long have been prayerfully reflecting on these matters, have discerned over the years is this: best leave the judging to God. Jesus commands us to, after all, and He came to show us that God is love. By teaching and exemplifying Jesus’ message of God’s love, we have done our best to make sure the seed that grows into “God probably hates me” is not planted in the first place. Let’s all work together on this.
I also remind myself that there is a side to “Judge not” we do well to heed and explore together. It has been all too easy for us to judge the other wings of our church family; all of us have done a fair share of that, for sure. When church strife reaches ears beyond our church family, the same dynamic can begin: if they treat each another so hatefully, how will they treat me?
When we in the church appear to hate one another, those beyond the church can easily conclude that they will hate me, once they get to know me well. Christians across the board must stop judging one another.
We are all in this pickle we created. How about starting our repentance by obeying Jesus’ command to “Judge not”? Once we stop judging, we can begin to wind back together this egregious notion that the church hates gay people. For surely we can agree: Jesus does not.