Friday, 19 November 2010

Why the Church should be more like a Gay Bar

In his book 'Church Planter', Darrin Patrick gives the example of a pastor who couldn't find a venue for his church to meet.
One day he saw that the local Gay Bar was advertising for bar staff, so he applied and got the job. Over a period of time the owner (an atheist lesbian) began to ask him about his faith and his plans to plant a church and by God's grace she offered him the use of the bar on Sundays to hold services, and they have been there ever since!

The reason why I think this story should resonate with us is because the church and the Gay community are (in some ways) quite similar.
For most homosexuals, the gay community is a refuge, a safe haven from the bitterness and rejection of society, parents and peers... it is a place where you don't need to pretend to be someone you're not. This means that being gay is not just about sexual preference, it's about being accepted for who you are in a community where love and affirmation are supposed to eclipse fear and rejection.

But does it work?
Reality tells us that the answer must be, 'No'.

Acceptance within the gay community is not unconditional, entrance is granted on the basis of 'coming out', which often means breaking any relationships that would hinder being 'out and proud'... including marriage. This is not only painful for the person but also for those who love them.

Hollywood portrays homosexual relationships as long lasting and monogamous, but reality is far different. Promiscuity, violence and suicide ravage the gay community with the result that people again feel the rejection and pain they once tried to flee from.
(If you think this is a caricature, Tom Schmidt in his book 'Straight and Narrow' offers some startling statistics from a range of non-Christian sociologists on the topic.)

Why should the Church be more like a Gay bar?

Homosexuals feel an acute sense of different-ness which means that who they are is not fully realised without reference to the gay community.
Similarly, 1 Peter 1 tells us that the Church is a gathering of aliens and strangers, people who feel a disconnection with the world around them. This is because they have been made members of a new community in Christ.

The church can offer a love and acceptance which transcends that of the gay community because it is not based on sexual preference but on Christ's finished work on the cross.
This is the radical message of the Gospel; that Christ comes and eats with tax collectors and sinners and then dies to give them a new life in him. Am I saying the church can cure homosexuals? No, God can, but even if he doesn't, the life we live by faith in Jesus is more free and flooded with more love than the gay lobby could ever dream of offering.

If this were fully realised in our churches, homosexual Christians would not sit in our pews scared of coming forward for support and counsel for fear of rejection. Instead we would comfort the sexually broken with the arms of the gospel and help homosexuals to grasp what it means to be godly men and women in Christ.
If this were true of our congregations non-Christian homosexuals who look at us and say "see how they love one another" because they would see that affirmation is not on the basis of sexuality but on being an image bearer of God, made alive in Christ, loved and accepted by their heavenly father.

Does this mean that the Church should sweep the Bible's teaching on homosexuality under the carpet? No of course not, God's design for sex and marriage is clear and homosexuality does not fit that paradigm.
However the Bible's teaching on sexuality is only one part of our identity as human beings and we must not succumb to the wisdom of the age which defines people primarily by their sexual preference. If we do we reduce ourselves to mere parts and functions.
Rather the identity of the Christian is 'in Christ', united to him and to other believers. This non-transient fact gives more security, affirmation, love and acceptance than any other relationship homosexual or heterosexual.

So why should the church be more like a gay bar?
Because the Church is a community of misfits who have been made alive by the death and resurrection of Jesus and as a result feel out of place in the world. Therefore we are able to empathise and reach out to others who also experience that acute sense of different-ness. However the Gay Bar can only dream of offering that which Christ offers. It’s cheap counterfeits of identity, love and community don't last and don't satisfy but in Christ they are a fully realised part of the transformed Christian life.