Homily on the Occasion of Closing the Annual Conference 2018 of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups “Towards Welcoming and Affirming Christian Communities”, 13 May 2018
We’re coming to the end of our time together and about to head home, home to our church communities and our LGBT group communities. Hopefully we have learnt from each other over the past few days, so what are you taking home? How will you make a difference in your local communities? How will you take another step towards building welcoming and affirming Christian communities? After all, it’s not just about having a good time here. And it’s not about just being welcoming and affirming to other LGBT Christians and our allies.
Jesus said in verses 27 and 28, ‘But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.’ He goes on in verses 32 and 33, ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.’ And in verse 37 He tells us, ‘Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.’
This is all well and good, but what about accountability?—Are we to let fundamentalist Christians do as they please? Verse 29 tells us that, ‘if someone slaps you on the cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.’ So what about self-care?—Are we to be doormats and let people walk all over us?
I don’t think that’s how we are to understand these passages but that we should read them through the lens of Luke 10:27, ‘Love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbour as yourself.’ I believe this passage is so important that I have it tattooed on my arm! We must love ourselves ‘in order’ to love others and before we can ‘even begin’ to love others. It clearly states this in verse 31, ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you.’
So how can we do all that Jesus calls us to do to help create welcoming and affirming Christian communities and still hold people accountable and care for ourselves? I don’t believe that moving forward happens in a straight line—and after all, we’re queer, not straight aren’t we?! It’s more like a spiral journey—constantly going round in circles but also moving forward with each turn. But also with each turn we experience yet again the pain.
What do I mean by this? For many of us our starting point is one of pain and rejection—so we need to love ourselves. In order to move on from the pain we feel, we have to forgive our oppressors and sometimes ourselves. We can’t let go of the pain until we have done this! That doesn’t mean we forget. No! We need to learn from each experience as this is part of the self-care. And once we have started on the self-care, we can love our enemies into submission!
I’m sure we’ve all been involved in a Bible war at some point with a fundamentalist Christian; they hurl Leviticus at us and we retaliate with something from John, so they come back with Genesis or Corinthians, so we throw Galatians into the mix and so on. Did you ever reach an agreement? Did you feel the love? Was anything achieved other than point scoring? But when we’re facing abuse and oppression how does taking care of ourselves match up with turning the other cheek and giving away our shirt?
I think what Jesus is saying to us is that we shouldn’t give up, we shouldn’t run away and lick our wounds. We need to keep going. Every time we take a knock, we get up and love our enemies all over again. Yes, there will be hard times but we need to work through them and show that we’re not going away and also, and probably more importantly, we’re not going to play their games. We won’t strike back. We won’t grab our coats back. We’ll show them love by offering them more. Do to others as you want done to you. But I can still hear you all crying out, ‘What about accountability?’ ‘Aren’t we letting them get away with abusing and oppressing us?’
When we make mistakes, we want to be forgiven. Sometimes we don’t realise we’ve made a mistake until it’s pointed out to us. Twice this weekend forgiveness has been important for me. Once when I made an error and needed to seek forgiveness and once when someone sought forgiveness from me. The amazing thing about forgiveness is that the person being forgiven doesn’t actually need to know about it! Forgiving someone else benefits the forgiver as much, if not more than, the forgiven. If a person knows they’ve done something wrong then it can help them to know they are forgiven and that the relationship isn’t damaged, but if a person doesn’t realise or accept they’re in the wrong then forgiveness is more for the forgiver.
All the time you hold on to the grievance the longer it will eat at you and continue to cause you harm. When you forgive you give away the hurt that has been caused so you can continue in relationship with the person and/or move on. That doesn’t mean you forget! But by not condemning you can continue in relationship and have further opportunities to build community.
We are not called to follow the way of the fundamentalist Christian but the way of Christ—and His favourite phrase (after ‘Do not be afraid’) was, ‘Your sins are forgiven, go and sin no more.’ He didn’t judge, he didn’t condemn, he just forgave. If we truly want our communities to be welcoming and affirming of all people then we need to lead by example and be welcoming and affirming of all people. No ‘Yes, but’s, no excuses; all people!
So let me finish with an alternative version of Galatians 3:26–28 that I think Paul would write to our communities today:
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual, neither cisgendered or transgendered, nor is there fundamental and liberal believers, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
As we go on our way, may our Lord Jesus Christ go with us. May He be near us to defend us, may He go before us to show us the way; behind us to encourage us; beside us to befriend us; above us to bring us peace. In the name of our Creator, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God forevermore. Amen.