Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
– Isaiah 40 –
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.
Now I know only in part;
then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three;
and the greatest of these is love.
– Paul –
We are sharing oatmeal peach pancakes over a colorful brunch table. How have you seen the Spirit at work? Where are you growing in compassion? Do we tithe to our non-affirming churches? Where is God at work in our lives? We hold hands and pray before, and then after, brunch, because we’re thinking a lot about gratitude these days. But halfway through another cup of coffee, his eyes cloud over for a minute. Laura Jean, what if we’re wrong? It’s a sudden chill on a summer day, a ghost walking over your grave.
What if we’re wrong that’s it’s OK to be gay and Christian?
The question threw me back eleven years, sitting on the campus bus at the University of New Hampshire. I’m twenty years old. I’d just fallen in love with my first girlfriend. I was leading an Intervarsity Bible Study. I wanted to go into ministry. I was sitting on the UNH Wildcat bus as it drove into campus, and I wondered what would happen if the bus crashed. I had chosen sin over Jesus. If the bus crashed, I would go to hell. Time hung for a minute, my cheek pressed up against the cold glass, and I watched cars drive by, and felt, for the first time, that I was outside of the love of God.
What if we’re wrong, Laura Jean?
I told a pastor once that I sometimes wondered if I was wrong about LGBTQ theology. He looked shocked, and then vaguely pleased, as if I had exposed a crack right down my dragon belly, ready to be slayed for apostasy. And I kind of had. Vulnerability is risky. These are the kinds of doubts that people use as weapons against us. It is hard to wrestle with theology in public when there are people waiting and ready to pounce on your doubts as admissions of guilt. But fundamentalism sees doubt as weakness, and that is not true. Doubt is part of the process of growth and strength. And frankly, doubt is normal, if your brain is whirring in a healthy way and engaging ideas that are diverse.
But I think the word “doubt” is perhaps wrong here.
My loves, when I look in your eyes over coffee, it doesn’t look like healthy, thoughtful, intellectual doubt that brings us back to reconsider questions in light of Scripture, the Gospel, and the Spirit.
It feels like fear.
Phew, does it ever feel like fear. And not just worry, but all-out, dizzying terror. Dark night of the soul fear. Fingers slipping on the side of a rock face fear. Night terrors fear.
I see it in our eyes and bodies, every once in awhile. It’s not all of us. But for those of us who grew up in fundamentalism, we can go from the joy of the Lord to that haunted panic so quickly.
Fundmantalism didn’t just teach us that it was wrong to be gay. Fundamentalism taught us to be afraid. Fundamentalism is a theology that is based on fear.
Of what? Of everything! Lord God, what wasn’t fundamentalism afraid of? Women’s bodies, liberals, dating, sex, drinking, pop music, swearing, being in debt, Hollywood, Disney movies, public schools, dancing, and yes, of course, being gay. Fundamentalism isn’t built just on rules, but built on rules that were enforced with isolation, shunning, promises of hell and promises of being left behind when the End Times come. Fear is the core foundation of fundamentalism.
This is one of the ways that I know that fundamentalism is, well, wrong.
It is wrong because this kind of fear is not from the Spirit.
God does not send this kind of fear into our lives, brothers and sisters. That panic, that anxiety, that terror of punishment, is not from God our Father, or our Brother Jesus Christ, or the Holy Spirit.
Perfect love casts out fear, John says. Because fear has to do with punishment. There is no fear in love.
There is no fear in love, because fear is about punishment. Even after all our research and prayer, and even after we feel intellectually and spiritually confident of our rejection of anti-LGBTQ theology – sometimes we discover that the fear from fundamentalism is still lurking. Our fear is not just about “being wrong,” but what God will make us suffer if we’re wrong. We will get in trouble if we’re wrong. We’ll get punished if we’re wrong. We’ll burn if we’re wrong. We can’t risk being wrong because if we’re wrong …
I want to be theologically affirming, a pastor says over a beer, but what if I’m wrong?
I want to go on a date with this guy, a queer friend says over coffee, but what if I’m wrong?
What if we’re wrong?
So we left fundamentalism, but we’re still, sometimes, scared that we’re actually wrong and that fundamentalism is right, even though we’ve read the books and learned the Greek and for God’s sake know more about the Household Codes of Greece and marriage laws of the Ancient Hebrew religion than our pastors do.
Fear still has a hold on some of us, because fear can’t get argued down, like doubt can. Fear can’t be proved wrong, like questions can be. Fear can’t be shushed by more information. Fear lives in our gut, and in our bodies, and it’s not a rational being that we can have a reasoned discussion with. Fear is a wild animal.
Only perfect love can cast out fear.
Only the Love of a God who told stories about Good Samaritans and Prodigal Sons, who ate dinner in broad daylight with Zacchaeus and in the middle of the night with Nicodemus, who loved the “bad guys” so much that He let them kill him before He would fight back –
– only that Love is big enough for our irrational, deep fears that were embedded in our souls before we were old enough to even understand them.
And in the name of Jesus Christ, I say to you –
Even if you are wrong, you are Beloved. Do not be afraid.
We are all wrong. And we are Beloved. Do not be afraid.
All of us, all Christians, are wrong about a lot more than we can even imagine. Humans are time-bound, and culture-bound, and human-bound. We wrestle with ethics, but we’re also trapped inside particular cultures with particular norms. We try to say true things about an indescribable Being, and all that we have is language, which is flawed and unwieldy. We are interpreting Scripture across thousands of years, hamsters running in the wheels of the interpretative patterns of our forefathers and mothers, some of which are wise and some of which have become unholy habit.
We are wrong about a lot. We are going to die and see Christ and have a laughing fit, because we got so much wrong. The hubris of imagining that we are more correct than incorrect! The pride of theology that preens and primps and imagines that we’ll enter the Kingdom and it will look like anything we’ve imagined.
Is that a little jarring? Sure. But it is also so entirely freeing. Because, Beloved, we will be wrong!
And it will be OK.
It will be OK because Jesus became a human being to come and fetch us, and He knows we are only dust. What a comfort, that Jesus is coming to save us, even though we are using the wrong words and saying that wrong is right or right is wrong. What a comfort, that thousands of Christians, over thousands of years, have disagreed about so many important issues, and Jesus came for us all.
And since we are fallible, and likely wrong about so much, I would rather err on the side of love. I would rather be wrong while trying harder to love, trying to open my arms wider to bring more people around the Table, sitting with more isolated women by dusty wells and redefining compassion by opening the borders to the Samaritans and Gentiles and cultural outsiders more and more. And if I am wrong, because I opened up the borders wider than Christ intended, I think the Apostle Paul stands with us in that particular folly and failure when he tells us that everything falls away when compared to our love for our neighbors. Our prophetic work. Our perfect theology. Our social justice. Our Christology. Now we see through a glass darkly. But then we shall see face to face.
So carry on! Keep grappling! Keep seeking truth. Keep seeking justice.
But please hear John when he says that perfect love casts out fear, and let your grappling with questions of ethics and godliness be done without fear.
We can grapple without fear, because we’re going to be wrong about a lot, despite our hard work and our best intentions. We grapple without fear, because even if we fail, and even if we are wrong, we are Beloved by God.
Perfect love casts out fear. Go in God’s peace.