The SlumLord

CC BY-NC, a4gpa, Flickr
CC BY-NC, a4gpa, Flickr

“Just a bunch of Mexicans that should be shipped back to where they came from! They’re all illegal, here taking our money and sending it to Mexico. They just need to leave!”

“My goodness, the gays! These folk are demon possessed: men have a female demon and women have a male demon. They need deliverance. But I ain’t got time for them.” 

“Can you believe some Muslims just moved next door? Things are gonna start getting bad around here. You can’t trust them because they’re surely up to something.”

“There were some foreigners in the grocery store the other day blacker than me—I mean b-l-a-c-k—and they’ve got the nerve to think they’re better than us.”

These were real comments I heard made by professing Christians that caused my heart to sink. I cannot understand why people who say they are Christians can feel so graceless and speak so ruthlessly about people with whom they should be sharing the love of Jesus. When I hear these kinds of comments coming from Christians, I’m tempted to go “Jesus vs. The Money Changers” crazy and shut everybody down. But enough is already written in their Bibles, which they are obviously not reading well.

Have you ever felt like one alone on an island in the middle of the ocean? I know there are a host of other Christians around me striving to walk in the fruit of the Spirit; however, the journey for me gets lonely sometimes when the faithful seem to cling to worldly notions more than taking their cues from Christ. I just don’t get why loving God and people is a Christian essential for me and not for everyone else.

Getting Down in the Pit

Maybe the question needs to be reworked. So let me start by addressing the two issues—homosexuality and xenophobia—in the comments above and use them in proxy to address the issue of loving others whoever they are.

Many Christians don’t know how to talk about homosexuality without feeling they must come down hard on it lest they be viewed as condoning. Yet the very ones who would claim they love everybody could never really have a friend who was gay, a person they could act the fool with, respect, and enjoy life together, because their own faith would be a jagged blade between them stabbing both ways.

I consider homosexual behavior sinful. But I also know that the deepest differences of opinion on any subject don’t necessarily have to divide. Christ’s approach was always toward the person. He understood that getting some people (of any habit) out of the rut might mean having to jump over into the slum with them and pulling them out. (No, I’m not advocating any type of gay therapy.) Why? It’s because people—those bearing the image of God—have primacy in the heart of God, and no distance is too greatly traversed to recover them. (I cover this topic in-depth in Communication Barriers Between Christians and Gays.)

It reads simply but is quite profound: We like to say that God loves the sinner and hates the sin, which is very true, but it doesn’t get us to what we need to see. Jesus shows us a God who chooses love for people over his contempt for sin. God, who is perfect love, hates sin with perfect disdain and yet his love for humankind is preferred to his love and need for justice. Thus, space is created for pardon, for redemption.

So for Christians, loving others with God’s heart is transforming to the one who receives it, and if that’s not happening, the problem is not with God.

As it relates to other cultures and people groups, Jesus was often criticized for associating with street people and those of the seedier side of society—and by those who felt they had a handle on their own righteousness. (Read “People of Your Kind!”) But Jesus’s message was broadly inclusive of everyone, especially the outsider.

It isn’t just the Great Commission where we are told to go to the four corners of the earth with the message. Jesus predicted (in Mark 12:1-12) a spiritual “fumble” that would bypass God’s chosen and bless the Gentile first in a way unintended. Further, in Christ’s final embodied scene in the Gospels, he instructs the disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit—the one who would enable them to bridge the barriers of culture—and take his message, as if in ever-widening concentric circles, to Jerusalem (home), Judea and Samaria (city, state, nation), and to “the ends of the earth.”

Crux of the Matter

So I come to my reworked question: What made Jesus so approachable? And, he being God, why was it easy for him to mingle with sinners? It is more of that which we so desperately need. Moreover, why can’t all Christ followers see that loving God through people really is a Christian essential? What Christ shows me is that the faith God offers is amazingly well suited to human need. To say even this is an understatement, for God has made us to need him. It is a wonderful thing that is sorely missed by those who take the lesser road.

God needs us Christians to acquaint their Lord. Without intimacy we will not have God’s heart or understand his ways. We must live in the words of Christ, think through the scriptures, deliberate with our faith, and follow the Holy Spirit who reveals Christ perfectly. When we do, we’ll lend credibility to the Christian name and others will come to know the Lord, if only by observing that he truly dwells in us.

Communication Barriers Between Christians and Gays

CC BY, MS Images
CC BY, MS Images

Many communication barriers exist between some Christians and some gay people—not all. It is unfortunate and has cost both sides wholesome relationship and understanding of one another and their ideas. But I find this odd—to speak of the two as though they are perfectly incompatible and as if homosexual and Christian do not describe the experience of some persons, especially when the apostle Paul says, “And such were some of you” (1 Cor. 6:9, 11).

We all understand how consuming a topic this has become. We have watched the news stories, heard from hardliners in both camps, drawn our opinions on the politics, and questioned our own prejudices when things have turned tragic. Particularly, there is tension from a moral and religious aspect and perhaps it is understandable.

In a nation that has been overwhelmingly Judeo-Christian in its outlook, orthodox definitions and interpretations of love and theology are being challenged. Many Christians are affronted that their scriptures should be reinterpreted to allow for a position they say God condemns; many gays love God or want the embrace of the church but feel scolded and are in search of acceptance.

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I believe there are two major communication barriers that exist between many Christian and openly gay people we all know—a real reason why dialogue turns into emotional blowouts or frustration that leads to irreparable relations. I will explain them succinctly and without the charged nuances that often sideline discussion.

First, Christians inflame gays when they claim that their sexuality is a choice. Many Christians do not care to believe that same-sex attraction is anything other than a person’s choice; some have never given deep thought to it. There is no scientific evidence validating same-sex attraction, but there is no proof to the contrary either, biblical or otherwise.

Yet I wonder if Christians listen with their hearts. Personally, I do not believe that men and women who express knowing their difference from an early age and who grew up altering part of their identity by suppressing their feelings would choose a life that is oftentimes unavoidable of much personal pain and scorn. It is not fair to dismiss their feelings by claiming they are not real. Such is a deep insult to gays, many who believe God made them as they are. Christians strip gays of part of their personhood when they say their feelings are chosen.

This is not merely about what Christian theology teaches, which is not necessarily wrong. This is about human emotions and not knowing why they work differently for two men or two women that love each other. Furthermore, what if a gene is discovered that indeed proves same-sex attraction in some? There are only 10,000 gene functions currently known of the 80,000 genes in the human body.

The conversation about choice from a Christian standpoint is a valid one but not pertaining to homosexual feelings. There are things all people refrain from doing simply because it is not the proper thing to do, whether there is inclination or not. For instance, there are many heterosexuals, single and married, that, against their better judgment, would freely bed other persons but do not for several reasons. A Christian might steer clear of questionable behavior solely to avoid offending God. Although feelings and temptations may flare, however, it is the behavior that ultimately condemns.

So we would have to be just as reasonable with homosexual individuals and ask whether people with same-sex attraction can also be chaste and refrain from what Christians believe God deems immoral sexual behavior, just like heterosexual fornication and adultery, especially when it concerns God-fearing Christians that may struggle with homosexuality. This is the real conversation about choice.

This is important because many people denigrate homosexuals and feel they are people fully given to philandering and are pedophiles and should be kept away from children, which is simply not true. This is a stigma. Homosexual people are not monsters. We must learn that mere same-sex attraction, although it stems from spiritual depravity, like all sin, is not condemning. Many people may experience these feelings to some degree, but just as many people, indeed more, feel inclined to do drugs and steal and do violence. All of these feelings are bad and must be curbed; however, it is the act that convicts.

Christians must avoid risking becoming graceless and unloving for lack of real dialogue and opening their hearts to hear another’s.

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Second, gays inflame Christians when they attempt to reinterpret the scriptures to be more condoning of their feelings or behavior. Christians have 2,000 years of developed teaching and doctrine—and more counting Hebrew tradition—that have already been challenged in numerous ways, from lifestyle to heresy. But there has generally been consensus about God and what godliness entails based on what he has revealed to his people through his prophets and preachers and, ultimately, through his words, now contained in the Bible.

When some gays and scholars opt for new or amended revelation from God on the matter or say that the scriptures, as have always been understood, are inconclusive or not meaning what they have always meant or attempt skewed and lackluster study and build arguments by pitting scripture against scripture—this is high offense to Christians, often seen as coming from those who have determined to live as they desire and twist God’s arm to bless it.

Specifically, the insult to Christians is the challenge made to a stalwart tradition and the sacred scriptures, even the “makeover” of a holy God.

Christians would argue that if gays wish to be part of the theological and scriptural discussion—and their insight is fully welcome—it should be inclusive of a grapple with biblical, historical, and cultural norms, customs, and definitions and not accomplished with alterations and appendages.

Gays must understand that they don’t get to glibly pass over two millennia of solid tradition and teaching.