THE CHURCH AND THE "OUTER FRINGE"
A reader asked about outreach and how it can be worked at with homosexual people. This is practical and pastoral theology and we need to work out responses to the issues that arise if we are going to take the "go" commission seriously. As long as we reject and conscientiously isolate a segment of society we'll never have to work up a plan of action on how to work with them. And as long as we despise and isolate a segment of society it won’t make any difference what it is we "go" with—it isn’t the gospel of God in Jesus Christ. We can waltz all we want around those funny texts in the gospel but Christ got into trouble with the righteous people because he kept hanging around the notably sinful [Luke 15:1-2].
I think many of us conservative Evangelicals have been wrong in our approach to noted sinners (that is people engaging in notable sins). We've tried to keep them out of jobs and in 'leper' colonies where they won't get among us and contaminate our children or us. We go for isolation rather than insulation. In isolating them we certainly won't get contaminated by them but they certainly won't get saved and transformed by us. It's difficult for these people to believe us when we say "Jesus loves you and so do we" when we treat them as unfit for our social world as a dentist, school-teacher or anything else for that matter. The only dialogue we have with them is via the ballot-box when we work like maniacs to defeat their advocate and his/her policies. At most, we talk to them as political opponents. We certainly don't talk with them about anything else on any other occasion.
Finally they get voting power and we think of preaching to them (but do we?). We reach out as a kind of damage control. If we make Christians out of them they'll be no threat to our families and way of life. "Did you know about Jesus loving me when you exercised your political clout to keep me out of a job or deprive me of some civil rights? I never heard you before I got some of that and now you come bringing Jesus. Is this because you want to save me or is it to keep me from becoming too powerful and threatening your comfortable little world? You worried that I might get too strong and begin to infect your kids?" We do the same with those movie houses that show hard porn. We (if we do anything) sometimes parade with placards STOP THIS JUNK. We never go to see the owners. If we went and they said their livelihood depended on it we'd tell them they shouldn't make a living polluting society. Suppose they ask us, "If I show only PG or family movies will you work to promote my business, will you come and bring all your friends?" What then? [And what of masses of believers who have a million junk TV channels? Those that watch porn in their homes? D’you think the kids don’t know that?]
If by now my children don't understand that I think all forms of sexual immorality are displeasing to God and ruinous to humanity I need to get to work with my children. It mustn't be done in a fever nor should we speak of such things only in the negative. It's not just what we're running from but what we're running to. It isn't only that we strive to avoid sexual and other infidelity it's that we pursue to embrace holiness. And it isn't just that we embrace a high moral standard, we image Christ and that is more than simple adherence to moral standards—it’s "gospeling". I don't say that we should make our homes a meeting place for all those who are deviant or rebellious. It isn't required for us to go looking for the philanderers and homosexual people and invite them home for tea. The deeper issue, so it seems to me, is not what it would "look like" if we did such things. We all know organizations that specialize in caring for the outer fringe and we know exactly what they mean to accomplish. We all know that the Salvation Army is up to its neck with the drug addicts and so forth and it doesn't "look bad" to us—fact is, we admire them. If we establish ourselves as Christ imaging only those who choose to be our enemies or those who are scruple-bound will find it offensive. Christ knew how bad it "looked" to the righteous when he consorted with notable sinners but he still went on with it. The sinners never thought their sin was being condoned—it was only some of the righteous that thought so. In reaching out for the lost Christ was obviously willing to take the flack and was also willing to live without the fellowship of the righteous if he had to. I don't think we should thoughtlessly put our children in jeopardy. They are not to be made cannon fodder in a war we take on and conduct in lunacy. However we wage the war against the Enemy we should be wise. It’s better than fine for us to risk ourselves to redeem people but it might not be wise to risk our children, though tens of thousands down the years risked their children in mission work. Most didn’t do it without thought or in a cavalier manner. They were prayerful, thoughtful and as husbands and wives they were risk-takers for Christ. I would fully expect that a lot of teaching and prayer and strengthening would need to occur before we put our vulnerable children on the firing line. However we do it we need to prepare them (as well as ourselves) for a particular kind of warfare. There’s nothing wise or loving or brave in throwing our defenseless children into profound moral and spiritual danger; it’s wrong to callously offer our children on the altar of a shoddy and ill-conceived program we generated in a fit of righteous passion.
It makes no sense to me to go cruising the gay bars or the topless dancing joints to invite them home just to ease our outreach conscience or make up for past gospel-hoarding. Let’s have a gay roundup or a "gay outreach week" or a special service for gay visitors at an off-peak hour at the building. Programs can be stupid at worst or too contrived at best. They look fake and would probably, on consideration, feel fake. But I don't suppose we'll be in much danger of doing foolish things like that because we’re not even inclined to invite people home that we "don't like" even if they're as straight as an arrow and upright as a flagpole.
I'm not proposing some approach. I don’t know that I know "a good approach". I think approaches will be worked out in individual lives and churches because they know themselves and their families and their congregations and the interrelations between them all. That being the case, they will know best what will or will not be wise and loving. But I am of the opinion that our holiness has so much of the Pharisee in it. If we were all as strong as Christ there's nowhere we'd be afraid to go. Since that won't happen we shouldn't worry about becoming as strong or as wise or as selfless as he is/was. But it’s of vital importance that we see him as he is, admire him as he is, declare him as he is and follow him as well as God's grace enables us. It’s of critical importance for Christians to "gospel" rather than bludgeon with a political club. It’s perfectly legitimate to vote for someone we think is best for society as a whole but it’s infinitely better that our speech be gospel! To triumph over a bitter heart at the poll booth is democracy but to live and proclaim the good news about the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is gospel. Fervent—and maybe even fevered—speech at election time is legitimate but day in, day out gospeling for all people is the image of Christ.