President Obama once again proclaimed June 2010 as LGBT Pride Month. Most of us should be used to this by now — Gay Pride has been celebrated for the past 40 years, though it has become much more mainstream recently than in those early days. What I found interesting in the president’s proclamation was his call to action, not just a simple labeling of another month after another good cause. “I call upon all Americans to observe this month by fighting prejudice and discrimination in their own lives and everywhere it exists.” (Presidential Proclamation)
Prejudice and discrimination in America? Still? Yeah, of course. As long as human nature remains the same, there will be an “Us vs. Them” mentality. We’ll always find people different than us somehow unacceptable — or at least we’ll be uncomfortable around them. We may have to tolerate them in our schools and workplaces (it’s the law, right?), but we sure don’t have to allow them in our country clubs, our churches, our synagogues or mosques. As a devout Christian, I’m more sensitive to this attitude in our religious establishments, our churches. Thankfully, we’ve (mostly) moved past segregation in the pew. Hardly anyone bats an eye at blacks and whites, Asians and Latinos sitting together in church these days. In fact, it’s become a badge of honor for us: “See? Look how far we’ve come. Look at the Love of God in this place.” Those old Scripture passages that once championed separation of the races are no longer interpreted that way. The wall that divides us has been torn down by the work of Christ — well, at least we’ve finally come to recognize that much of it, anyway.
But President Obama’s proclamation brings my mind once again to the division and pain still experienced by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people in our Houses of Worship. Fellow believers! Unwelcome in the House of their Father. And I think of those I’ve met personally with stories of attempted suicides, driven to this extreme by the rejection they encountered by so-called believers. Saints, loved by God, who themselves want to love God and experience the fullness of relationship with him, but told by their spiritual leaders that they are unacceptable, that God hates them, and that they’re destined for hell (“see, it’s right here in black and white: 1 Cor 6:9…”). Imagine it. No, really, try. Try to put yourself in that position: kept from God, your only lifeline of hope in a confused and dangerous world, by the gatekeepers of the Kingdom. No matter your own heart’s crying out into the heavens, seeking, hungering after an encounter with your Creator, your Redeemer, but not finding anyone who will show you the way. Finding only those who point fingers and demand the impossible of you: “change or perish”.
My heart still breaks at these stories — as did Jesus’ so long ago. We, the Church of the Living God, have become the very people accused by our Lord. We have put stumbling blocks in front of people, preventing access to the only Source that can bring life and healing and love and fulfillment and purpose. With our clinging to our own “righteous” forms of legalism, we are no different than those religious figures 2000 years ago — quoting Scripture to Jesus himself, defending offensive practices which break the heart of God. Where is the echoing call of the messiah in our lives? Where is the living out of the promise, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me … to proclaim freedom to the captive, to release the oppressed, and to declare the year of the Lord’s favor”?
We, the people of faith, will always wrestle with coming to peace with the sinner and his sin. In our lifetimes, we’ll probably never be able to fully come to terms with black and white Scripture which describes the behavior of sinners. Perhaps, then, we should focus more on the red and white of Scripture, the “come unto me ALL … and I will give your rest. Take MY yoke upon you…”. Let us not forget our own failures, our own shortcomings compared to the unyielding perfection of the Law. “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Is 1:18). We, with our snow-white hearts, do we close the door to others simply because we cannot see how white their hearts are as well?
I hear the powerful, liberating words of the prophet Isaiah describing the finished work of the Suffering Servant: “we turned our back on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down… He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole; he was whipped so we could be healed. … But it was the LORD’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my Righteous Servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins” (Is 53:2-11).
It’s already done. That work was completely finished. The doorway to the Eternal Throne has been burst off its hinges to close no more. The curtain hiding the Holy of Holies has been ripped in two, never to be resewn. Who among us who call ourselves by his name dare to try to close that door, to repair that curtain?
My heart breaks for the Church, for the heartless actions of its leaders, its shepherds, and its people. What stern look of disapproval will we receive from the One who sits on the Throne on that Great Day? But my heart aches worse for those black sheep, lambs of a different fold, rejected by the white sheep with cold hearts, complacent, too comfortable and apathetic in their secure pens. Who will go out, leave the ninety and nine, in search of them? Who will go out into the roadways and countrysides — the clubs, the parades, the picnics, rodeos and festivities of Gay Pride month — and proclaim that Year of Jubilee to them? Who will speak the words Jesus is still speaking, “Come to me … just as you are”?
The president’s words are pale in comparison to the summons of Jesus. This month, this official time of LGBT Pride, let it also be a month of reawakening in the Church and in God’s People. Remove the stumbling blocks. Replace your hearts of stone for hearts of flesh, beating with the blood of love and acceptance of Him who Gives Life. Let June 2010 be proclaimed as the Month of the Lord’s Favor. Open the doors, open your arms. Welcome back those called by your Father that you have held at arm’s length — “not in THIS church”. Hold your tongue, withhold your judgment. Bring joy to the heart of God by loving his people, and bringing in those who have been kept out. When all are welcomed home, when reconciliation has been proclaimed, that’s when the angels sing. June is an official month for a good cause in America. Let it also be a month of celebration in Heaven.