It was seven years ago. I was at a party talking with a friend who had recently come out as gay. He was telling me about how he was struggling to be accepted by the "God Squad". In particular, he felt like my boyfriend at the time looked down on him because he was gay. He came to me looking for hope and reassurance that his friends didn't think less of him.
Instead, I gave him "the Bible says 'hate the sin but not the sinner.'"
Now before we get carried away, this isn't an article about my opinion on the great gay marriage debate of 2013. Strangely enough, my greatest concern at the moment has nothing to do with the outcome of the law change. What saddens me is what all of this has done to the church, both internally and in the eyes of the communities we are supposed to be a part of.
Trouble in the ranks
I believe church is intended to unite us as children of Christ so that we can build each other up and work out this whole life thing together. So why are we so divided? I get that we aren't always going to agree on everything, but I hate the way that this has pitted church against church, Christian against Christian.
The thing is, I don't think what we are arguing is really about whether or not gay marriage is "right" or "what God intended." We all have our views, but I think underneath that what we are really arguing is how big a part grace has to play in all of this.
I call it the sin-grace continuum. On the one end we have those who believe that we are all covered by God's grace, therefore the question of whether or not being gay is "right" becomes somewhat irrelevant. On the other end we have those who believe the bible sets the laws out clearly and may the Lord help anyone who doesn't abide by them. Both noble causes, but where is the sweet spot along the continuum?
Rising to the spotlight
Every story needs its dramatic rivalry and evil villain. Unfortunately the church has long been regarded as a perfect fit for the role of antagonist in the fight for all things fun, pleasurable and fair. When a topic like this comes up of course the media is going to paint the church in the worst possible light, to make the triumph just that little bit sweeter. While this isn't exactly fair, I don't think we particularly help ourselves either.
We don't often get the spotlight. It's not often the media pays too much attention to the pesky little group that calls themselves Christians. I hate that when we do bubble up to the surface it's because of something so negative. We so rarely get the opportunity to have a voice in such a wide-spread forum and it seems a waste that when we do we use it to tell people they are wrong. Do we really want to be known as judgmental, self-important and unforgiving? I don't. Big call alert: I'm ashamed that when people hear 'Christian' this is what they think of. I desperately want to shed this reputation and actually connect with people.
Speaking up for love
I was at a prayer meeting recently where someone prayed over me the words "your sins don't define you". Yet when we look outwards we criticise, rebuke, even condemn. We tell each other that God "meets us where we are", but if we can't extend the same grace to those outside the safe haven of church then the phrase loses all meaning. How can we tell ourselves that all sin weighs out the same, and then reduce real people into little more than what we believe their sins to be? I guess I missed the memo when we all decided that only a select few are eligible for God's grace and love.
You can argue right and wrong until Jesus Himself returns, but in the meantime how would He want us to represent Him? Last time I checked He was in the business of saving lives and to be perfectly frank leading with "you are sinful and unacceptable to God" isn't going to help His cause. If that's your attitude, then perhaps try saying it into the mirror first. Still feeling good about yourself?
At the end of the day, the only one with the authority to judge is God and even He doesn't lead with that. God loves unconditionally. Yes, this does mean He wants the best for us. Yes, the 'best for us' will include our behaviour and the path we choose follow. But in all our brokenness, through all our mistakes He accepts us first. Why can't we do the same?
The grace of hindsight
I don't remember what else I said to my friend. I don't remember what he said in reply. What I remember is the look on his face. Burned into my brain is a seven-year-old memory of the hurt and disappointment that my words caused. My heart was in the right place, but in my inexperience I didn't realise that when I said 'hate the sin but not the sinner' what he heard was 'you are a sinner and we hate you for it.'
That day I had the audacity to tell a son of God that he was unacceptable. I was representing our loving Father, I was shaping his opinion of the church. And I told him that he wasn't good enough. I look back and think how dare I?
There are certain times in my life I wish I could twink out and re-write over the top of. If I could, I would re-write a story about the perfect girl who speaks love and light into the lives of everyone she meets. I would write a story of her relationship with an amazing man who said that the greatest commandments of all are to love the Lord your God with all that you are, and to love your neighbour as yourself.
Instead, I write stories about the fatally flawed girl, stumbling in her attempts to love like her Lord loves Her. I write stories about the girl who speaks of grace because she knows what it means to need it. I write stories of the girl trying to find her place along the sin-grace continuum.
Where do you sit?
Casey Murray works in marketing for a company that sells nail guns, where she eats large amounts of chocolate and wears pretty dresses in an attempt to avoid becoming 'one of the boys.' In her spare time she enjoys inappropriate conversations with friends and writes to try and make sense of it all.
Casey Murray's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/casey-murray.html