“When Jesus heard this, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.'” Mark 2:17
As a follower of Christ, Senior Pastor of First A.M.E. Zion Church in Los Angeles, and an international faith leader through work with World Methodist Evangelism, I must respond to the Pulse shooting: we as a faith community must focus on how we can work to love our neighbors well, both in this and in our daily home, work, and play. This is an unspeakable tragedy and we should take extended time to mourn, to pray for the families of those murdered and injured, and to consider the depth of evil in the hearts of men that this senseless act represents. The fact that this is a gay bar makes no difference. We are all especially broken at some level. The victims were human beings who were innocent and had their lives taken. I have just been physically sick to my stomach. These were our neighbors.
I have several friends who are gay.
Some of them embrace the homosexual lifestyle while others embrace the teachings of Scripture and fight against the sinful desires within them. As I’ve interacted with them, I’ve come to understand something that, on the surface, seems painfully obvious and potentially even offensive to them: They have real feelings and longings and desires.
Yes, I know. That sounds like something Mr. Rogers would say. Maybe he would even make up a cutesy song about it that he would sing while zipping up his cardigan.
But this is real and this is extraordinarily important.
Many Christians talk about the LGBTQ community in the abstract, as if they’re a homogeneous group of people who want nothing more than to destroy the Christian faith and make the entire world gay. And I will admit that the media as a whole is pretty strongly anti-Christian when it comes to the issue of sexuality.
And the politically correct, never-offend-anyone atmosphere of today is incredibly frustrating.
But here’s the thing. Behind all the stories and arguments and political battles are real people, made in the image of God, who, just like me, desperately need Jesus.
People who desperately desire human connection and sexual fulfillment. People who are trying to make sense of how to live in a world that is deeply and fundamentally broken.
When we call men and women to repent of homosexuality and embrace Jesus Christ, we need to realize the depths of what we’re calling them to. We’re calling them to a life of intense struggle and frustration. A life that is distinctly void of the sexual expression found in marriage. We’re calling them to lay aside something that feels central to who they are as a person. We’re calling them to give up something that seems part of their core identity.
Consider yourself. How would you feel if someone called you to a life of celibacy? How deeply would that cut against you? Would you struggle if someone told you that all your heterosexual desires are sinful? I would, and I think you would too.
My concern with all the passionate, vitriolic and even violent rhetoric about gender and bathrooms and marriage is that we’re forgetting that real people are involved. It’s easy to lob grenades from the safe bunkers of our Christian communities. It’s much harder to do that when we’re sitting across the table from a man or woman struggling deeply.
I’m not at all advocating that we soften the claims of the gospel to be more inclusive. That spells death for everyone involved. And I understand that fundamental issues of religious liberty are involved that require clear, intelligent, passionate advocacy.
But as we preach the gospel and fight for religious freedom, let’s do so with compassion. The gospel is for sinful, broken, struggling, jacked-up people. If we dismiss the struggle as non-existent, the gospel isn’t good news anymore.
The gospel is a superior pleasure—it’s superior to the pleasures of sin. But to hold forth the gospel as a superior pleasure, we have to first acknowledge that sin is desirable, even if particular sins are not desirable to us.
So yes, let’s call people to repentance. Let’s call people to repent of sexual sin and cling to the gospel. But as we preach the gospel, let’s wrap it in compassion. Let’s adorn the truth of the gospel with the grace of the gospel.
We know God values and loves all people, as do we at First A.M.E. Zion Church-Los Angeles. We condemn this horrible and unjustified act of violence against the Orlando community. We hurt and pray for our friends and neighbors, especially in the LGBTQ community, and we extend our deepest expressions of sympathy to all the loved ones experiencing grief over the coming days and months.
*”Christian Leaders: Orlando Victims Were ‘precious Souls,’ Loved by God.” Christian Leaders: Orlando Victims Were ‘precious Souls,’ Loved by God. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 June 2016.