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Summer Past, Part 4

By Belinda

When we got to the hotel where we all went for refreshments after the church service, Dave wanted to know what I thought of the church. 

I had so much to process that I stalled for time! Two months later I'm not sure I'm any more coherent than I was then, but I want to pour out some of my impressions and thoughts here. It just seems important to do so at last.

First of all, I was struck by the intense sense of community that I felt immediately. I guess that shouldn't be a surprise, since I would think that community is most precious of all to those who have experienced such rejection outside of it. 

But for all that, it wasn't an accidental community. I read the bulletin and I had already checked out the website. MCC is a huge organization. I just rechecked the website and they have an impressive new one. The website says that there are over 800 congregants. I can't even imagine the work that it takes to care for the spiritual and practical needs of a church that large. 

The choir is known for excellence in music and their Christmas concert is held at Roy Thompson Hall. I hear it is always sold out.   

Rev. Brent Hawkes, who has shepherded the congregation for 35 years, must work very hard indeed, that was easy to see. And I heard from a friend who would know, that he has at times worn a bullet proof vest for protection. I would have to say that going to a job that means you're risking your life is a brave thing to do; huge understatement. 

At the end of the service there was communion. A row of men and women stood at the front of the church, facing the congregation, each holding a goblet of wine in one hand into which they dipped a small circular communion wafer. They gave it to those who came forward, with the words, "The body and blood of Christ. Go in his peace."

I had wondered whether I would take communion, right up to the moment that Shan turned to me and said, "Are you going up?"

I said, "Yes," and she got up too. I resolutely walked behind her, joining the lines of others waiting to be served, in little clusters of families or friends who shared communion together. I loved that. 

When I read "What We Believe," on the website though, I found that I fundamentally differ with some of their "bedrock beliefs," some of which are universalist. It feels as though the church wants so much to embrace all without judgement, that it is in danger of having made a creed that is based on man's ideas rather than God's. There were echoes of that in the way Reverend Hawkes interpreted passages of scripture too, which is his perfect right of course, and many people more learned than I would agree with him.

But I think that not everyone in that congregation is there because they wholeheartedly agree with the core beliefs. At least some people may be like a colleague of mine over 10 years ago, who went there, even though she was Roman Catholic, because she found acceptance as a lesbian believer there, while not in her own church. She was spiritually hungry but her choices for plugging into a welcoming Christian community were limited because of her sexual orientation.

I have done a lot of thinking about this since. I don't want to abuse the privilege of being a guest in this church, and it did feel like a privilege; but Dave asked me an honest question and it demands an honest answer and that's what I'm trying to give.

I wonder if we could ever find a different way than shaping the Word to say what we want, but also a different way than judging what we don't have all the answers for. 

What if we acknowledged that some things are hard to understand and we are going to seek God and try and figure it out honestly together, without pointing fingers or being scared and threatened by what is different, but still one of "ours."

What if we all held precious, God's word, and especially those profound passages on not daring to cast the first stone at another's perceived sin and cared first about simply loving people for who they are.

How about trusting God to speak to individuals' hearts and souls if they are in relationship with him, and not assuming that we know what he would say.

And what if we let one option be not having all the answers this side of heaven?

RICH MULLINS: "And this is what I have come to think: That if I want to identify fully with Jesus Christ, whom I claim to be my Savior and Lord the best way that I can do that is to identify with the poor. This I know will go against the teachings of all the popular evangelical preachers. But they’re just wrong. They’re not bad, they’re just wrong. Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in your beautiful little house where you have no gays or minority groups anywhere near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved. *******************************************************************************


Anonymous said…
You can never go wrong when you speak the truth. The Lord is the Way, the Truth and the Life. No man goes to the Father except through Him. It is not always easy to stand up for what you believe, and I sense the sensitivity in your words. We can not argue the truth of the Word, which includes not cherry picking out what we want to believe and ignoring what challenges us.

It is such a difficult place - believing the truth of the Word, yet not falling into judgement of those that may not believe it in the same way. All matters, here or eternity, are between the individual and God. And thankfully I am only responsible for myself before God. Yet I do struggle. We often become so tolerant, so easy that we stand for nothing anymore. If we love the Lord God with all our heart and love our neighbour - we do well.
Belinda said…
Anonymous, What you say resonates. Amen.

Karen said…
I started reading you a long time ago when Dave linked to your blog. I am not Christian but there is something in your writing that I find welcoming, that is hard for me to admit. I am not being challenging here but I want to know, if you had been invited by a straight friend to their church for a similar reason would you have spent so much time researching what the church believed or examined so closely how the pastor preached? Why was it so important for you to examine in such detail what gay people at that church believe? Were you perhaps looking for something that would reduce their faith in your eyes? I suppose this does sound challenging but please don't read it that way. I sincerely want to know. I am heterosexual and I don't know why I'm telling you that and was very hurt by people who practice the Christian faith. I honestly do not understand how you and Dave are friends but I trust that you are. On a side note I'd like to have you both write the story of your friendship one day. I think it would be inetersting to see how you each speak of the way that your hearts joined in friendship.
Belinda said…
Dear Karen,
Thank you for commenting at all. I so appreciate your honesty. There is nothing wrong with challenging something said or written. I wrote to share my thoughts, and maybe open up a conversation, even in other people's thoughts. The fact that anybody is talking back at all is a bonus to me.:) And I am honoured that you read here as a non Christian and find it welcoming.

I think that the honest answer to your question is that I am so aware that there is no "perfect" church, or maybe a better way to put it is "a church that lives out perfectly what Jesus taught," but I am always interested in what a church believes. It was a unique situation for me to be in a church that is identified as a "gay church" by some, so it is hard to separate my curiosity about the church from that fact. I wrote in my first post about the event that I felt that I was embarking on "a visit to a new country," so yes, my eyes, ears and heart and soul were open and interested in all that I would learn, see and hear. But I definitely can say that I was not looking for anything that would diminish anyone else's faith in my eyes.

I'm sorry about the damage done by people of faith and feel that I need to personally apologize for that as part of the family of believers. I pray that you can separate the faulty practice of the the faith from the faith itself and not give up on seeking for God yourself.

Actually, that is one of the reasons that it is important to evaluate the fundamental beliefs of a church or denomination. There are a lot of weird and wacky interpretations out there of what Jesus taught, and I'm not talking about MCC.

I can see how Dave and I might seem on the surface an odd couple of friends, but in fact we are bound together by many commonalities and a deep bond of trust and caring that flows both ways. Maybe the story of our friendship will get written about sometime. Thank you for asking.
Anonymous said…
We need to remind ourselves that God is NOT interested in religion - He IS interested in relationships. Religion is really man-made - man's attempt to reach to God. When the attempts become tradition - it forms a religion. Yet God provided a way to Him through His Son. He reached down to us - in love, freely - with no rites or rules. There are conditions - that we realize that we are sinners, everyone, God doesn't grade on the curve - and most important - that we accept His free Gift - the forgiveness of our sins through the death and resurrection of His Son. It really is simple - but man makes it so complicated. It is important - but not difficult.

The twists and turns and implications of man-made rules often hurt the hearts that God loves so much and gave so much to redeem.

We are responsible for what we know, where we go and how we treat others. It is prudent to be informed of any atmosphere that we are purposedly placing ourselves in - whether it be movies, lectures, friendships - and especially spiritual places. Kudos to Belinda for checking.

I too check out what I am subjecting myself to. I don't assume that everyone believes as I do - and by checking I am not putting myself in an uncomfortable place nor causing disharmony in someonelse's chosen place.

Isn't it great that we can all be so different and yet bring so much into each other's lives??!! :-)

(And Karen - I pray you will find healing for your hurt. God heals the broken hearted. You need no middle-man to speak to Him. Tell Him your hurts - He already knows - and is just waiting to come along side you. Peace to you.)
Belinda said…
Dear Anon, I can add nothing to what you wrote except to say how much I agree. Thank you for putting those thoughts down here.
David said…
“…it is in danger of having made a creed that is based on man's ideas rather than God's.”

It HAS. The teachings of the MCC are totally divergent from the gospel of the NT. Remember what Galatians 1:6-9 says? This is the biggest issue. There are essential and non-essential doctrines. The BELIEFS about homosexuality are non-essential (if you don’t do it, what have you lost morally? You’re still going to heaven if you don’t marry). Unfortunately, the MCC has embraced heretical teachings in place of essential doctrines and encourages people to go against the clear warning of 1 Cor 6:9-10. This is a false “gospel”.

“She was spiritually hungry but her choices for plugging into a welcoming Christian community were limited because of her sexual orientation.”

This seems sadly because they so often define a church as being “accepting” by whether or not it is AFFIRMING (of homosexual behaviour) above all else, something which the entirety of scripture, from beginning to end is 100% against. I would say that the statement about plugging into a welcoming Christian community being limited is totally false if not using this redefinition of “welcoming.” In her OWN denomination, I was an evangelical protestant, critical of certain key Catholic doctrines who was welcomed to LIVE at the Catholic chaplaincy at Queen’s (and yes, these were CONSERVATIVE Catholics). The only thing I wasn’t allowed to participate in was communion (I received a “blessing” instead). I think it was the same for those Catholics who had outstanding “mortal sins” (a doctrine which I don’t agree with, but encompasses any sexual behavior not between a husband and wife).Anyway, she’s just fooling herself. In Catholicism, the Church exists to minister with the sacraments, something the MCC has no (Catholic) authority to do, and it is in fact a sin for Catholics to partake of “false” communions (the reason my Catholic friends never take communion when I invite them to church). She obviously isn’t that Catholic since she doesn’t accept the Catholic doctrine, or she’d believe she’s on the highway to hell. Evangelical churches on the other hand exist to preach the gospel as truthfully and accurately as possible with the sacraments secondary. What do MCC churches exist to do except primarily to affirm an identity that scripture adamantly says is a lie along with its corresponding behaviour that it clearly calls sin? I guess THEN comes the “gospel”. At worst, an evangelical church would not have her in any position beyond the most basic membership if she remains unrepentant, but they’re certainly still welcoming in the strictest sense (think of our church). ( Of course, it is quite possible that the reason so many in the GLBT community feel unwelcomed in truly welcoming orthodox (don’t mean Orthodox) churches is because they KNOW deep down that it’s not who they really are, and they feel threatened by the mere mention of that truth… She would be TOTALLY welcome in the Salvation Army ->
David said…
“And I heard from a friend who would know, that he has at times worn a bullet proof vest for protection.”

When has a gay minister EVER been shot at?!? To me, this is just a heartbreaking illustration of the lie that the enemy has over so many of these people that we are against them so hard, when the fact is that we LOVE them! The same gospel about repentance from sin is the same whether its for alcoholics, the polyamorous, sexually active singles, software pirates, pathological liars, porn addicts, drug addicts, etc. It’s as Harry Knox of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) said in a debate with Dr. Michael Brown (author of A Queer Thing Happened to America) over the Christian response to homosexuality, that he was sick of the “LOVE” that other Christians had toward him. While he found it repulsive, and while he questioned the deeper motives of such people (i.e. judged them BTW), he still recognized that THEY perceived it as love (I personally appreciate Jehovah’s Witnesses in this sense who want me to be saved!). THAT is what he found so threatening. For more on this issue, I’d like to direct you to the following article by Dr. Brown:

“What if we acknowledged that some things are hard to understand and we are going to seek God and try and figure it out honestly together, without pointing fingers or being scared and threatened by what is different, but still one of ‘ours.’”

First of all, the scriptures are clearly, from beginning to end, a “heterosexist” book according to which homosexual practice is sin. There are many G&L scholars who are completely honest about this! What if it’s a case of arguing with a Hebrews 5:11 person? There can be no honest discussion in place of “pointing fingers” when arguing for one side of the discussion is perceived as being the same. All too often, there are gay-affirming Christians who simply will NOT bend on this. Everything else about the Bible, church and the gospel comes AFTER this sacred cow. See John 14:15 and 1 John 5:2. News flash! It’s hard to follow the Christian path! Matt 19:16-30, Matt 16:24, Mark 8:34. Notice in Matt 7:1-5 that he is not forbidding helping a person “remove the spec in their eye”, but warning that you must “see clearly” to do so. He is not forbidding judgement, but judgement using unjust measures. See John 7:24. In fact, Paul urges us to judge those within the church in 1 Cor 5:12-13.
David said…
“What if we all held precious, God's word, and especially those profound passages on not daring to cast the first stone at another's perceived sin and cared first about simply loving people for who they are.”

How can you say that you hold God’s Word precious if you do your best to twist it into something it’s not? Somebody’s wrong! Also, we’re not talking about casting stones, but about speaking the truth in love. Fatal lies sound as sweet as honey (Proverbs 5:3-6), and if one is hungry, they can convince themselves how great it is to be eating out of the garbage can (Proverbs 27:7). As Christians we are to speak the truth in love since God loves all people and wants them all to know his truth (1Tim 2:4). This is also the proof that we love them, by NOT just letting them continue in their perceived sin without even talking about it! (Matt 18:15-20)

Remember the case of the man in an illicit relationship with his stepmother in 1 Cor 5? The problem with the church back then is in danger of repetition today. Theirs was an arrogance that came from their pride in their ability to tolerate sin, and what did Paul say? He utterly rebuked them! 1 Cor 5:5 would sound so terrible if Paul were to say it today, but in fact, Paul is the only one proving that he actually cared about this man. Consider 1 Cor 6:9-10, and consider it deeply. This is a VERY serious thing to be wrong about.

I say all this from my experience with my own sins which even gay-affirming churches and otherwise would be shocked at, but which I will not mention here since they are in the past. Why should it be any different for my gay and lesbian neighbours? There is NO condemnation for those who repent and remain in Christ. Romans 8:1 was the most encouraging scripture for me during that time, and I should think it would be the same for those caught up in homosexual behaviours. I pray for all of you regularly, and you too now Belinda. I’d be utterly distressed if I found you taken in by the same spiritual deception that I’ve seen in so many other people, often motivated by their strong feelings for unrepentant loved ones (This is a MUST read -> I am not unfamiliar with this. Before anyone accuses me of being AGAINST G&L, remember that I was totally head over heals in LOVE with one, and this became an issue for me BECAUSE I cared so much about her (ironically, her primary justification was that she “can’t believe that God wouldn’t want someone to be loved” when I DID sooo MUCH).
Belinda said…
David, thank you. I just want to acknowledge that I have read your comments. I value you and your opinion.

I appreciate and know, how much you have read and prayed and researched this topic, so I respect all that you have to say deeply and maybe you are right and I am wrong. God can make it clear to me if I am. Or maybe God understands both of our hearts and knows why we have landed where we have.

I have a different perspective on the issue of sexual orientation, when someone from childhood knows that they are different on the inside from their outer gender. God accepts us where we are and for who we are in our essential selves. "Who" we are cannot be sin. He knew us as we were being formed in the womb and all our parts were known by him. My struggle is in believing then that the expression of that self is sin. I find that hard to make sense of. Some people in that situation choose to remain single and celibate, but not everyone does. If you take the passages of scripture on this topic very literally, then there is no room for any other conclusion than you have come to. I know the scriptures and would not discount them, but I also see the reality of who God made and while I don't know how to reconcile both, I am wrestling that through with God.

I appreciated your point about the speck in the eye and the fact that we forget that it is about seeing clearly, not about not removing the speck. Funny how we do tend to focus on the "plank in our eye" part of the story! :)

I also know that you see things clearly as right or wrong. I don't think that is wrong, just that it is a fact that the lens through which you see the world is black or white because that is who God made you.

I have never been able to see things quite that black and white and the older I get the more I think that life is not that easy to sort out. If I am wrong then I will have to ask forgiveness from God one day.

I find the love that I hear expressed by some towards the gay and lesbian community curious. On the one hand it is better than hatred, but if someone loves me, I hope they also accept me as I am. I think that's what I don't see in the love being expressed lately by some believers. It's a love that says, we love you but you need to change in order to be acceptable.

I believe that God does transform and heal, he is doing that in my life constantly. I'm just pretty sure that he accepts us in our stripped down basic identity including our sexuality.

I don't want to change your mind, that is sacred ground with God. I just hope you can understand my point of view, even if you strongly don't agree with it.
David said…
Thanks for your response, Belinda. However, I still have my serious disagreements with you (esp. about the idea that we can establish that who a person is who they are and how God totally by how they feel different, and the correlation is not causation fallacy regarding feeling "different" from childhood). Perhaps we can discuss those things in another context though.

David said…
I just think that it's important to consider this issue in light of our own struggles, especially our struggles in the sexual realm. Not only does that help us understand those who struggle with SSA if we do not, but it also helps us realize when there is false guilt being laid on us, but as I said, that's a topic for another discussion.

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