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There is a God, and I am not Him!

Written by: on March 22, 2018

What an intriguing title: Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community. [1]  Embedded in the title is the overarching theme of the book and a bit of an indictment for the evangelical church. Historically, the conversation about and with the LGBTQ community in the evangelical church has been at a level that is less than elevated. One might call it one-sided and often not very kind. I agree that it is time to elevate the conversation and I see that happening. Here we are, after all, discussing the topic in full public view!

Along these lines, Marin makes a valid point. “The purpose of elevating the conversation is not to answer those [difficult] questions for you, but rather to give you the framework for gays and lesbians to answer those questions with you…” [2] I’m sure you can understand how radical that is. There was a time in my life when I would have called those words heresy! It was that time when everything seemed so clear and it was easy to use the Bible as a  “defensive literary tool, instead of a powerful book written by Jehovah” [3]

The answers to life’s most challenging questions are seldom wrapped up in a neat little package with a colorful bow that someone leaves on our doorstep for us to discover. Life itself is often messy, confusing and full of contradictions. And, more often than not the questions and subsequent answers these situations invoke reflect that complexity.

When I was a “younger” pastor I had all the answers. I gave advice (from my deep well of experience!) freely, and—regreattably for those who had to listen—without reservation. Life was a series of events and choices that if made correctly would turn out exactly as one wished for, hoped and prayed. The older I get, and the more experience I have with life, faith, and ministry the further I have moved from a monochromatic view of the world and God to a fuller-spectrum view.  Now a few years down the road and a lot of water under the bridge, I sometimes refer to a line spoken by the character Father Cavanaugh in the movie Rudy. “In 35 years (40 for me this year) of religious studies, I’ve come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts; there is a God, and I’m not Him.” I’m not suggesting that there is no absolute truth, only that I am no longer the final authority on it!

I remember finding out that one of our close friends in Europe was gay. He was and still is a fine man and friend. I had difficultly—and truthfully still do—reconciling my doctorial stand and what I understand the Bible to say about practicing specific lifestyles and the acceptance of those lifestyles. However, I have a greater struggle when I see the pain and suffering caused by Christians who act less than Christlike. There are no easy answers, and acting less than Christlike is not one of them. In this way, I was not unlike Andrew Marin, who was faced with the reality that some of his closest friends are gay.

In an effort to engage with Marin, I must say that I grapple with the idea of “embedding” oneself into the LGBTQ community for the purpose of understanding and engagement for the cause of Christ. It is, however, what missionaries like me regularly exercise within cultures and people groups. I would struggle less if there were an expression of a call to a community and not simply the application of a buzz word for “evangelizing” or misunderstanding it as the only means of engagment—these are my words and not Marin’s. I believe Marin exhibits that call and I know of at least one other example of that clear call.

In the bigger picture, I struggle with the vitriol on both sides that leads to agenda that politicizes and diminishes people as well as their beliefs and values. This only serves to polarize, which some might prefer but is not a helpful preference. I’m not convinced that in this context the “us verses we” is the proper stance to approach engagement.

To get to the heart of what I wish to express, I am convinced that God is a God of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. I still must understand the Bible to say that the practice of homosexuality is a sin. But, I also understand Jesus to say, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone…” (John 8:7) God is a God of grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

Second, historically, evangelical Christians have not generally acted in a Christlike manner. If we dare to call ourselves the Children of God then we must strive to look and act more and more like Christ. I am not convinced that the saying, “we love the person but hate the sin” is an adequate answer to justify mistreatment of anyone for any reason. In fact, for the Christian, there is no adequate reason for the mistreatment of anyone for any reason.

Finally, engagement is critical. Engagement is never one-sided. It is a conversation where both listening and hearing are taking place. It is a stance that seeks first to understand before being understood. It is a position of both respect and humility, a conversation in which one seeks to walk humbly, love mercy and do justly, in that order.

 

  1. Andrew Marin. Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation With the Gay Community. 4.1.2009 ed. IVP Books, 2009.
  2. Ibid., 83.
  3. Ibid., 84.

About the Author

Jim Sabella

15 responses to “There is a God, and I am not Him!”

  1. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Ahh, Jim, I could so resonate with your growth in humility and teaching people absolute truths. It seems the older I get the less I am sure about. I laughed out loud picturing you saying: “there is a God, and I’m not Him.” Yep, that’s a good response to the complications life throws your way. Like you, I look back and cringe at the wealth of knowledge I had with such limited life experiences, and I silently thank God for the grace He and others have given me. I just picture God bringing to the minds of others the good things I’ve given and fades the rest away like a song fading out. He allows them to just remember the good stuff. Magical thinking, I’m sure, but one can hope.

    Jim, you embody this statement. “It is a position of both respect and humility, a conversation in which one seeks to walk humbly, love mercy and do justly, in that order.” Thank you for the inspiration that you are.

    • Jim Sabella says:

      Thanks for your kind words Jenn. I appreciate your comments. I too pray that God will allow people to remember the good stuff!

  2. Mary says:

    You are so right, Jim! Life is messy. If God’s answers on every topic in the Bible were so clear there would not be so many different firmly held convictions in many areas.
    I love your overriding solution – We are not God. We could use more to the humility and grace and love to treat others as Jesus would.
    I think that my biblical position on this is probably similar to yours. I’ve studied and read and studied some more trying to be sympathetic to the opposite viewpoint. Like you, I’m older and wiser. I’m still studying.
    I was convicted by Marin’s call to us to be willing to sit down and have a conversation, even reframing the questions if need be. Both sides have stereotypes.
    I wondered as I contemplated how Jesus ministered to people – unless the sin was obvious (adultery) – Did Jesus ask people what their sins were?
    Did He not just minister to the whole person, and is there something in this as an example to us?
    Your heart shows in your words, Jim. Thank you.

    • Jim Sabella says:

      Before Jesus would engage with and minister to someone, did he ask people what their sins were? Nope, I don’t believe he did. That is an excellent point. Thanks for your kind comments, Mary.

  3. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    You noticed, too, that Marin approaches his relationships with people in the LGBTQ community from a missional perspective– humbly, as a learner. Yes, as long as we draw battle lines and create an opponent, we will never fully recognize that Christ has reconciled all things to himself.
    We just had an author visit and share at our church on his book, Life At the End of Us Versus Them. https://www.amazon.com/Life-End-Us-Versus-Them/dp/152551024X Made me think of your post. (I’ve added it to my growing post-doc queue of books to read someday).

    • Jim Sabella says:

      Thanks for the book recommendation, Katy. I would have loved to hear the author speak. You made me smile when you said you had a growing list of post doc books that you would like to read. I do too, and I’m adding more every week. There’s even more than a few that we’ve already read that I will go back to. Appreciate your comments.

  4. Jim,
    Thanks for a great, thoughtful post (as always). You ended with this thought:
    ‘Finally, engagement is critical. Engagement is never one-sided. It is a conversation where both listening and hearing are taking place. It is a stance that seeks first to understand before being understood. It is a position of both respect and humility, a conversation in which one seeks to walk humbly, love mercy and do justly, in that order.’

    Isn’t this what Marin did that was so remarkable – he went to the extreme of molding his life around engaging with this community which he didn’t understand and/or know.

    What a difference that made, right?

    I have found this to be true in my own life as well – where there are real relationships, real engagement that is where minds, opinions and lives are changed – and critically, where life-giving, God-honoring witness is shared even when there is still disagreement.

    Thanks, Jim!

    • Jim Sabella says:

      Thanks for your comments, Chip. I think you make an important distinction by using the term “real engagement.” That is what makes a difference. In real engagement there is a lot of listening and processing trying to understand the other person’s position. All too often engagement means I’m talking. Sometimes full and real engagement is only listening and asking questions— no advice, no yah that happened to me one time, no condemnation. Real engagement is an art that can be learned and must be practiced. I appreciate your comments Chip. Thank you!

  5. Kristin Hamilton says:

    I have so much respect for you and your ability to take in all aspects of a discussion, Jim! You have a knack for drawing us back to what matters.
    Thank you for bringing the missional/incarnational aspect into the conversation. I don’t think any person in the mission field would last long if they did not truly love the people they were working with and continually said things to alienate them! We are not called to add souls as notches on our proverbial belts, but to love God and love people. Your reminder that none of us are God is crucial. Do we trust God enough to do what we are called to do and trust God to be God? I need to keep asking myself that.

    • Jim Sabella says:

      Thanks for your very kind words Kristen. I’ve struggled with the “notch on the belt” thing for many years. When we finally got to Prague and the majority of the people we met were, for example, hard core atheists, I had trouble reconciling what I thought I knew about atheists and what I experienced when engaging with an atheist. They love their families! They’ve never had affairs, are not hooked on drugs and don’t hate people. They loved and respected my wife Sherry, our boys and me, and remain good friends till this day. That’s not “suppose” to happen—it’s not suppose to be that way. I feel strongly that if we are engaging with people only for a “badge” then we are using them. How ugly and unlike Christ is that! I appreciate your comments. Thank you Kristen.

      • Kristin Hamilton says:

        Jim, I hope the people you lead truly understand how fortunate they are to have your wisdom and grace on their side.

  6. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Jim I always enjoy the thoughtfulness of your posts. You try to take a step back and understand the author and how it relates to our life experiences within our culture today. I do believe the churches approach to this topic is completely short sided and does not allow for much engagement. I agree with you that engagement is key. Just as you pointed you, it requires us to explore the answers to these questions together and not for us to force our short sided answers upon anyone in any community.

    • Jim Sabella says:

      Thanks for you kind words Christal. I am a firm believer in engagement. To some people engagement is frightening because of a concern that it will somehow negatively impact our faith. I understand that. Even full engagement has boundaries. I like to engage with skydivers, but there’s no way I putting a parachute on my back! 🙂 Some fear engagement because they think it means putting the parachute on your back, when I think it actually means just listening and asking questions. No advice, no 3 step plans and no, I told you so. It’s a cappuccino and a piece of chocolate cake over a two hour conversation where all I do is listen, learn, understanding, repeat! I appreciate your comments and insights Christal. Thank you!

  7. Lynda Gittens says:

    “I am convinced that God is a God of grace, mercy, and forgiveness”
    So true. Jim, I agree that we should not look at “us versus we” The bible spoke on the few sexual actions of the people and Paul addressed it in Romans. The bible says that our God is a God of order.
    When we go face our feeling to faith, we are challenged to make a choice. How should we as people help each other address that challenge?

  8. Jim Sabella says:

    Thanks for your comments Lynda. If I understand your question correctly, I think relationship is the key to helping each other address challenges. Relationship carries with it relational capital that allows us to speak freely when it will help us to help others. I appreciate your comments, Lynda.

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