Weep with those who are sad (grieving); Laugh with those who are happy
Simple things like weeping with those who weep have become hijacked by the culture war. Sharing someone’s joy or sadness is the beauty of empathy and what makes living in this very broken world worthwhile and sometimes the only thing that makes it endurable.
Last year I had the opportunity to go to Orlando to visit the Pulse site where over 40 LGBT people lost their lives during a mass shooting. It was the 1-year anniversary of the shooting and emotions were still raw. The group of Christians I was with, like me, had no idea what we were “supposed to do”. How did God want us to be present with people who were in pain?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been taught that these are times for evangelism. When people are broken, it’s an opportunity to introduce Jesus. I’ve been told that if I don't actively talk about God in those times, that I’m not being a good witness for Christ, that I’m not being bold in the Holy Spirit. I get the impression that I’m almost denying Christ if I don’t give them “the Answer”.
But it seemed very dishonoring to think about using this time to do anything else but cry with those that were hurting, angry, and scared. So I allowed my heart to be joined to theirs with heaviness, lament, and grief. I believe this is what Jesus does in our pain and what he embodied in the incarnation. He sent a clear message by being tempted and suffering affliction, “I’m here and I hurt with you. Your pain is my pain”. So rather than talking about Jesus, I believe the group I was with became reflections of his heart – which is much more powerful.
Joining people in their grief and in their joy isn’t hard in theory, but we’ve been indoctrinated with beliefs that make living this out quite difficult. Each year I go to the gay pride parade and festival in Indianapolis. As I’m there praying, talking, and meeting people, God continues to change & challenge my heart. One year several of my gay friends welcomed me to where they were partying. They threw beads around my neck and started to dance. It wasn’t weird, but I felt awkward – not because I don’t know how to dance, but because I wasn’t sure if I was “allowed”. I’m married. I’m a pastor. What if someone saw me dancing with a group of gay men? Would they think I was living a double life? Or compromising my beliefs? These thoughts flooded my mind and I realized I had been infected by a religious system that says if you enjoy people you are taking part in sin and not being a good witness. How did we as a Christian community get there? So I laughed at myself and repented of my ability to be a Pharisee that puts religious expectations above people that God cares about. I felt like I was breaking the rules, but only rules that didn't’ come from God. And I felt good about committing the treasonous act of enjoying people that don’t agree with me on important things. We don’t have to agree on sexual ethics to agree that dancing is fun and to enjoy this gift from God.
I've been in the conservative evangelical world long enough to know that this doesn't sit well with people. I may be "crossing the line" and "blurring the boundaries". People may be genuinely concerned that on that day, I looked too much like the world and not enough like Christ. But in my desire to be with people that society and the church turned its back on decades ago, I remembered the accusations against Jesus from the well respected religious leaders of his day. Jesus seemed to enjoy people so much that they assumed he was "taking part in their sin" of drunkenness and gluttony. Apparently Jesus wasn't being a very good witness to God & His righteousness. And yet we know that he actually was the perfect, visible image of the invisible God. It seems God's ideal behavior and those of the spiritual leaders were vastly different causing Jesus to be seen as a "religious rule breaker".
This doesn't mean that I have no boundaries or standards of behavior when I'm with those that may or may not know Christ, and it doesn't mean everything I do is what Jesus Christ himself would have done. However, I've learned to treat as suspect any "rules" from Christian culture when they come from a history of non-engagement.
My desire here isn’t to encourage people to go against their conscience, but rather to allow God to challenge their conscience because not everything we balk at is conviction from the Spirit. Sometimes it’s just an engrained stumbling block to being human and humble – a stumbling block empowered by lifeless religion which God is encouraging us to move past. Walking humbly with LGBT people looks like being human and doing what comes naturally when stuffy religion doesn’t have a voice.
This blog is one in a series of 30+ tips for relational effectiveness with LGBT people. Find the condensed list HERE. These relational tips are from a handout acquired from “Lead Them Home”, a Boston based ministry that equips the church on LGBT issues. These blogs have been expounded upon with permission.
These tips, along with numerous other insights, are found in an excellent resource called “Guiding Families” available HERE.