DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

And They’ll Know We are Christians By Our Love

Written by: on March 5, 2015

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord,

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord,

And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.

 

Refrain

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,

Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

 

We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand,

We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand,

And together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land.

 

We will work with each other, we will work side by side,

We will work with each other, we will work side by side,

And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride.

 

Though this hymn is over 30 years old, it seems as though it could have been written for this week’s readings – Andrew Marin’s Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community and Adrian Thatcher’s God, Sex, and Gender: An Introduction. Peter Scholtes wrote the hymn “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love” while he was a parish priest at St. Brendan’s on the south side of Chicago in the 1960s. At the time, he was leading a youth choir out of the church basement and was looking for an appropriate song for a series of ecumenical, interracial events. When he couldn’t find such a song, he wrote the now-famous hymn in a single day. I love what it says: we’ll be recognized as Christians – true disciples of Christ – not by our rhetoric or our politics or even the soundness of our theology, but by our love.

The two books this week embodied this hymn. Adrian Thatcher in God, Sex & Gender attempted to address three things: how to read the Bible in relation to sex and gender; how to read biblical passages purporting to condemn homosexuality; and how to read biblical passages which demean women as unequal to men. Being a five year old stuck in a thirty-five year old’s body, I blushed more than once reading this book. Andrew Marin and I connected much more through his plain-speak in Love is an Orientation.

Marin’s story resonated with my own experiences, especially in college. I stuck with the conservative, evangelical InterVarsity and Campus Crusade crowds, and while I never publically spoke out against the LGBT community, I did carry judgmental and disapproving thoughts and opinions. And then it happened. One of my closest friends, someone I had known since third grade, told me over text message, “So…I’m gay.” I will never forget that moment. I was shocked, but I wasn’t. Knowing him as well as I did, I questioned from time to time if he was struggling with his identity and sexuality. But his blurted out words, “So…I’m gay,” seemed pensive, yet dashed with relief. He was so nervous to tell me, but so thankful to finally live in the open. And then we went deeper. The hurt he expressed in his following messages cut straight to my heart. His parents shut him out, with only his brother listening to his cries for desperation. Despite living in a liberal community of Boston, he still felt like an outcast, struggling to connect. When I read Marin’s words, “My heart yearned for authentic Christianity – one where people from both communities lived together in a shared belief in Christ admidst the struggle,” my heart remembered these deep conversations and struggles with my friend. My friend was raised Christian, devout in his faith, and now the doors were closed to his faith family.

Fast-forward five years later, and my friend had met a man. They had been in a monogamous relationship for three years, and when Massachusetts passed legislation, they were among the first to get married. This was a watershed event in my life. I attended the wedding apprehensively, but wanting to support the friend I had known for nearly my whole life. Aware that his parents may or may not attend, he needed the love and support of family. The wedding was beautiful. The guests were massively supportive and kind. As it should have been, this was a true celebration of two people who loved and cared deeply for one another. Honestly, I don’t think I had experience that much love and adoration in one room in any of the other weddings I have attended or officiated. The community of support was incredible. It was a shock. My heart was anxious with questions of everything I had ever believed. Perhaps this is why Marin’s book spoke to me so heavily.

Now I am left with more questions than answers, more eye-squinting stares of wonder than decisive nods of the head. Taking a page from Deve’s book, these questions came to mind:

  • Putting personal feelings and opinions aside, what are we doing, as Christian leaders, to build the bridge between the Church and the LGBT community?
  • How are we modeling Jesus’ call to love one another?
  • What steps can we take to emphasize the importance of listening and understanding? Or as Marin stated, “How do we elevate the conversation in order to build peaceful, protective bridges with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people?” (Marin, Loc. 220)

It seems as though listening is an important concept underlying this semester’s theme. I simply know that we will not make progress in finding common ground by publicly shaming and denouncing those we do not believe are living moral lifestyles. Marin stated, “Unless you have been sexually attracted to someone of the same sex, you can never fully grasped, as a heterosexual Christian, what that means.” (Marin, Loc. 401) As I pondered this statement, I realized that this message applies to many aspects of our lives and relationships – unless you have been through divorce, you can never fully grasp the pain and hurt the partners are going through. Love and compassion supersede judgment and finger-pointing. One way or another, we are all broken people.

Marin also said, “Validation is different from affirmation.” (Marin, Loc. 429) Empathy, listening, understanding, processing, praying together, these things will not only serve to build bridges between differing communities, but it shows love for one another. And after all, Jesus pleaded: “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35) And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

References:

Marin, Andrew. Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2009.

Thatcher, Adrian. God, Sex and Gender: An Introduction. West Sussex, UK: Blackwell Publishing, 2011.

 

About the Author

mm

Ashley Goad

Ashley is the Global Missions Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana. She's a UNC fanatic, Haiti Enthusiast, Clean Water Activist, Solar Power Supporter... www.firstserves.org www.solarunderthesun.org www.livingwatersfortheworld.org

7 responses to “And They’ll Know We are Christians By Our Love”

  1. mm Julie Dodge says:

    Well written, Ashley. And yes, yes, yes, they will know us – or not know us – by our love.

    I also stopped and pondered Marin’s assertion that unless you have dealt with something personally, you will never quite get it. And to some degree I agree. Yes. I will never know exactly how another person feels. And yet. because I am all about this empathy thing, I also think that one of the says that we love people is by stopping and considering: How might this person feel, given their context, circumstance, experience? How might they think or perceive the world, given their context, circumstance, experience? What has been their context, circumstance, experience? When I do that, I make the attempt to set myself aside and to see the other person. While I may not get that entirely, the act of being with them and showing a genuine humility, can go a long way. I think that’s a step toward love.

    • mm Ashley Goad says:

      Julie, that’s absolutely an act and a step towards love. I think you embody empathy more than most of the people I have met in my life…combined 🙂 Okay, maybe that’s an overstatement, but I do think our society as a whole, including our Christian faith families, lack a considerable amount of empathy, and that is what has cause bridges to burn instead of building bridges. Perhaps I am just speaking from my own context of the Bible-belt south east. What a difference we would make if we would stop and think before we speak, put ourselves in the others’ shoes, and really pray for the ears to listen and the heart to understand.

  2. Ashley…
    Your post reminds me (and us) that we are all called, as Marin pointed out, to follow Christ faithfully. I think it also points out how we carry power. I am beginning to recognize more and more the log I have in my own eye prevents me from seeing clearly any speck in another. Perhaps the conversation will take us to truly wrestle with how does one live into “validation is different from affirmation?” Clearly we have forgotten the message of the hymn you reminded us of … sometimes the reasons for the Church’s decline is so simple and so hard. Thank you …

    • mm Ashley Goad says:

      Carol, I was sitting in a room in Russia, of all places, and there was a poster on the wall, in English, with conversation helpers. Apparently, Russians are known for their quick tongues and harsh appearances, not their kind words! The poster suggested saying, “How does this make you feel?” and “What I hear you saying is…” It asked the listener and responder to be cognizant of their accusatory tone, and instead try to listen and converse with empathy and understanding. Indeed, at the bottom of the poster, it said, “Validate your partner.” Now, of course, all of this was in English, so I don’t know what good it was doing for the Russian pastors, but I do wish I had taken a photo of the poster and put it in my own church! … So I am left with your question… How do we live into validation and at the least making the other person feel loved, cared for and heard?

  3. mm Deve Persad says:

    Well thanks for the shoutout Ashley (I think) – questions are so much fun, except that now more people are asking them – perhaps its time to think of a new blogging strategy – or does that mean it’s working….anyways…very much agree: love and listening are two principles that require deeper understanding on the part of those who profess to follow Christ.

    Taking a stab at question 3, my response would be to not allow ourselves to be dragged down into a discussion regarding gender labels. There’s so much more to our identity than our sexual preference and it’s there that we begin to help each discover more about who God created us to be. Too often, as believers in Jesus, our fear of the topic makes stay on the surface and treat people in like manner. However, Jesus had a way of peeling back the layers and allowing people to then make their own decisions about what they would do with their discoveries…that’s my take…thanks for the push.

    • mm Ashley Goad says:

      I always love giving you a shout out, Deve! Your questions are working… You are the clear blogging leader of our group!

      Here’s what I loved about your reply: There’s so much more to our identity than our sexual preference.

      Indeed. You are right. How do we assist those – heterosexual or LGBT – in finding their identity in Christ? How do we help them peel back those layers…and help those who are amongst our congregations peel back their own layers to listen and relate with humble hearts?

      So many questions…

  4. mm John Woodward says:

    Ashley, thanks for a wonderful post…beautifully done and heartfelt! (I love the “five year old in 35 year old body”…great line! I see that being you! I too blushed at times!) What you bring up I think makes this entire topic so very hard (and probably why I struggle so much.) As with your friend, you see something of the hurt and separation that his orientation caused him with his family and his church; and you experienced something of the love that he now shares. What are we to do with this as Christians? I remember Steve Chalke’s talk in London, and how he performed a wedding of gay friends for this very same reasons! And so I see this and know this…but this doesn’t really give answers to my questions concerning a biblical understanding the these issues. And even looking at it from our friends perspective, of love and hurt…are we getting to the real core issues (not just for gays, but for everyone)? So, as you can see, I seek to want to settle some place…but I torn between what I see as wanting to accommodate and care for people and what I see as being faithful to God’s truth and design. So, I would appreciate prayers as seek to find my way…and hope to error always on the side of love. Thanks Ashley!

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