From a personal standpoint it is ironic beyond belief that this "event" happened when it did and this discussion is taking place as it is. I say this because I just came back from the wonderful Pepperdine Bible Lectures. You see on my way to LA from Milwaukee the "couple" that sat next to me was homosexual. In fact they were on their way to Las Vegas (via LA by road trip). They were marking some milestone in their relationship.
I accidentally sat in the wrong seat thinking "F" was next to the aisle, when in fact I was all the way in next to the window . . . sort of "trapped!" I had no idea they were a homosexual couple at first . . . it was the holding hands that kind of let the cat out of the bag. I had some deep emotional reactions. I did not make a scene but to say I was uncomfortable is an understatement. I suddenly did not want to be there . . . SO I opened my copy of The Gospel of Judas (edited by Kasser, Meyer, Wurst and Ehrman).
About 30 minutes into the flight my plan of simply ignoring them was defeated by the fellow next to me asking about Judas and what I thought of it. It dawned on me that God certainly wanted me to speak with these fellows even though I would rather read about religion than show the love of Christ (can I get a label for "Pharisee" here!! I was one. I became one rather quickly . . . and it was amazing just how "justified" I felt!!)
He was reading The DaVinci Code (illustrated version) and had an interest in "spiritual" things. He asked me what I did and where I was going, I felt the urge to lie. But I didn't. I said I was a minister (you should have seen his eyes role) and I was on my way to Pepperdine for talks about Jesus. His first words after he discovered I was a "pastor" (as he informed his "mate") was "I guess you really don't like me then because I'm gay." He nailed me to the wall so hard I almost found myself out on the wing. I gathered up all my courage and informed him that I most certainly had nothing against him.
He wanted me to share my take on the Gospel of Judas. So I told him I had serious theological problems with the text. I asked him "do you think your life, THIS life, is worth living?" He answered, "I do believe life is worth living." So I said . . . that is why I cannot be a gnostic: whether the Dan Brown variety or Judas'. I explained that Jesus (in Judas) teaches that this world, including you and I, are cosmic screw ups. The created universe is the result of a fool god named Saklas messing up the spiritual realm and here we are! Only those with that special spark of gnosis have any hope of returning to the other world. The entire point of life is to DIE, to flee the body and physical. We are trying to flee our created existence . . . at least if you have that special gift. The easiest solution to the conundrum of life Jesus tells Judas is to help him die. So I asked, "does that sound like 'good news' to you?'" I opened the volume to the appropriate passages and we read them together.
Then this young man, perhaps 30 years old, asked me a question that simply shocked me. I suddenly realized that the world I am living in is not Mayberry, nor is it Florence, AL the buckle of the Bible Belt. He asked, "Well Bobby [can you believe we got on a first name basis] HOW DOES THAT DIFFER FROM THE BIBLE?" This young man, from Milwaukee, not China or Afghanistan, did not have a clue about something so simple as the storyline of the Bible culminating with Jesus.
So I told him, in 10 minutes, the story of the Bible. I told him the God of the Bible created this world, it is a good world and that even though God may not love our sin (including my self-righteousness and his homosexual lifestyle) but he surely loves him AS HE IS! I told him this world has fallen and the evidence is everywhere . . . but unlike in Gnosticism, God wants to redeem you. Not just some of you, but all of you. You, as a created being are not a mistake but a precious treasure. God says your life, the one you live right now, is worth the universe to him. I told him how Jesus in the canonical Gospels was the fulfillment of God's plan to bring humanity back into a relationship with. A relationship marked by wholeness, belonging, truth, forgiveness, and love. I told him that is why Jesus died on the cross (and resurrection the gnostics want nothing to do with the resurrection) . . . to prove that God does love this world, not hate it like Gnostics teach!
When I finished my 10 minute summary this young man said "I don't think I have ever heard that before." Again I emphasize this because we are not talking about some one from Mongolia but from Milwaukee USA.
For the next two and a half hours we talked . . . and I almost forgot that he and his "lover" were holding hands almost the entire time! When it came time to disembark from our MD 88 he asked a question that is particularly relevant to us Christians: "If I came to your church do you think I would be welcome?"
You know what, I honestly do not know the answer to that question. But I pray to God they would be.
The nearly irrational reactions that have been made against ACU do not give me reason for hope. Over the last several days I have read through all four canonical Gospels and I am yet again simply amazed at how easily Jesus welcomes the pariahs of his day.
I read about a dinner party in which Jesus let a half naked prostitute fall all over him, and the righteous church folks were scandalized (Lk 7.36-50). He even pronounces the divine blessing of shalom upon this woman (v.50). One day the morality police found a woman in the middle of lewed activity and brazenly threw her to the ground in front of Jesus. The Teacher simply played with the dirt and the accuser's couldn't get away fast enough. The Lord said "neither do I condemn you" (Jn 8.1-11). I read in Luke 14 about the banquet table being open up for all the "riff-raff" and the in 15.1-2 of Jesus' own odious reputation as being to tight with sinners. I read the parable of the merciless servant (Mt 18.21-35) and the Vineyard (Mt 20.1-19) that are directed to people like me and not the person sitting next to me.
I have no doubt that Jesus did not approve of prostitution yet prostitutes loved him. I have no doubt that Jesus did not approve of immorality and the like but sinners loved him. Yet Jesus welcomed them. Which threw that question in bold relief "If I came to your church do you think I would be welcome?" Why did he even have to ask?? They never asked such a thing with the Friend of Sinners. Perhaps we are not very "sinner friendly" or perhaps it is only "certain" sinners we are not friendly to.
We have folks we come in contact with every day who do not even know the basic outline of the Christian message. They are not in China, Japan, Mongolia but in Milwaukee, LA, Chicago, Nashville . . . and probably Florence, Alabama too. That story of Jesus is powerful and redemptive. In the few short hours on that Midwest flight it had a profound impact on not only me but the folks I sat with. I do not know what will ever come of that "couple." My prayer is that God works and pursues . . . and that they come to my congregation.
May God have mercy upon us and help us to be the aroma of Christ and not our sinful prejudice. May he help us crucify our own insecurities, bigotries and the like to see only beautiful human beings created in the image of God. Humans so loved, that Jesus not only welcomed them with open arms but died for them.
Hesed & Shalom,Stoned-Campbell Disciple