I heard those words last Sunday from a man I will call Clarence. He was attending our church’s worship gathering for the first time. He was scruffy, reeked of alcohol, and hadn’t bathed in several days. To be honest, he smelled pretty rank. Just the kind of people I love to meet (seriously, Jesus did too).
He shared the above a few minutes into this conversation…
Me: Hi, my name is Shawn. It’s good to meet you Clarence and to have you with us today. How did you find out about our church?
Clarence: I was just walking by, heard the music, and thought I’d stop in.
Me: Well, I’m so glad you did. How have you enjoyed it so far? (He didn’t answer but got right to the point.)
Clarence: Let me be honest…(then he shared the above statement)
I was moved by his honesty and complete directness. What a risk for him to open up so quickly.
Me: Clarence, I am truly glad you are here. We believe God loves you tremendously. I appreciate your honesty and want you to know that I don’t judge you. God loves you, I love you, and so will our church family. No one knows what someone else faces in life, and I don’t know what you’ve faced; but I know that God can help you and there is hope to overcome your addiction. At our church, we are all just fellow strugglers trying to know God through His Son, Jesus Christ.
I then introduced Clarence to some folks at our church who work at a ministry which specializes in helping people with addictions and homelessness.
We all talked for about 15 minutes, then about five of us gathered in a circle, put our arms around each other – including Clarence – and we prayed for him. We also made sure he had something to eat for lunch, and a plan to follow-up that week.
I think Jesus would have done the same thing.
It doesn’t matter what type of person, or sin, or problem someone has – that is how I want to respond. That is how I want our church to respond. That is how Jesus would have responded.
If a thief, liar, idol-worshipper, drug addict, sluggard, or any other run-of-the-mill sinner comes in our doors I pray we would respond in a similar fashion.
However, the church of today is being asked to do something that is contrary to how we should receive sinners (To be clear, I include myself in that category of sinners; just to head off the thoughts and comments that we’re all sinners – of course we are. I agree). What is the church being asked to do? We are being asked to overlook a sin; especially one in particular.
We are being asked not only to love everyone (which we strive to do); but to also validate known sin and be accepting of it. Of course, I’m speaking of the sin of homosexuality.
Imagine sinner #2. What if he or she had come in and said the following:
Hey, I have this issue – and you have to agree with me that it really isn’t a sin.
Please accept this is just the way God made me.
This is genetic and I have no control over it.
This has destroyed my family, but it makes me happy.
I’ve read some verses that say I am sinning; but I don’t care.
If you don’t agree with me, you do not love me – in fact, you hate me.
Clarence could have taken this approach. He might have even been supported by our society where some say being a “functional alcoholic” is acceptable. He might have even had a case by appealing to genetics; there are studies showing that alcoholism can be attributed to a genetic trait (these are similar arguments used by the homosexual community.)
But we all know that would have been a farce. Right? Unless you twist the Scripture, it is clear that homosexuality is a sin and an affront to God.
Clarence didn’t try to justify his addiction though. At least for that day, he admitted he had an problem; he admitted it was wrong; he was seeking some kind of help.
The church also responded correctly. Showing love, grace, and support to someone who was struggling with an agreed upon sin and addiction.
How different from what we are being asked to do with the sin of homosexuality. The church is being asked not only to love and show grace, but to condone this other sin. It doesn’t matter how lovingly we respond, unless we “agree” that it is socially and biblically acceptable, we are accused of showing “hate”.
We are being asked to do what Isaiah warns against…
“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20 NKJV)
We are being asked to call “evil” “good”.
I guarantee you, that no matter what the sin – alcoholism or homosexuality or any other sin, if someone walks into our church like Clarence did, we will do everything to show the love and grace of God. We will surround them with support. We will pray for them. We will either help this person ourselves, or do everything possible to hand them off to someone or some ministry who can help.
But what we cannot do is call “wrong” right. We cannot ignore God’s clear teaching regarding sexual practice or any other practice He addresses for that matter. We will show love, like Jesus. And then also like Jesus, we will say, “go and sin no more.”
Yes, we will love all sinners because God does and because we are one too; but we must also call sin “sin”.
How should we respond to those who deal with homosexuality or same-sex attraction: with those who, like Clarence, confide to dealing with difficult struggles that perhaps we don’t understand. I would respond with the exact thing I said to him on Sunday:
(person’s name), I am truly glad you are here. We believe God loves you tremendously. I appreciate your honesty and want you to know that I don’t judge you. God loves you, I love you, and so will our church family. No one knows what someone else faces in life, and I don’t know what you’ve faced; but I know that God can help you and there is hope to overcome your issue. At our church, we are all just fellow strugglers trying to know God through His Son, Jesus Christ.
May we, as followers of Christ revel in God’s love and the forgiveness he has shown us – may we extend that same Grace and love to others dealing with issues and sins – and may we be courageous enough to continue to call “sin” sin and not call “evil” good.