How Must It Feel to Be Welcomed But Not Affirmed?

ALLEGIANCE. Swap faith in the sentence ‘salvation by faith alone’ to allegiance – salvation by allegiance alone. Self, this is a thesis by Matthew Bates. It reminds me of a chunkier more concrete way of loyalty for the gift of grace – I give Jesus my allegiance, reminiscent of His own imperative, “Follow me,” as I reciprocate His love by doing just that: I follow Him. As Andy Stanley might say, the acid-test is on me, the Christian. All non-Christians are absolved.

What is a disciple of Christ, but a learner? They cannot help but be open to learning, for they’re following Jesus. The extension of following Jesus is I don’t know where He’s taking me; my allegiance truly is by faith, knowing He is absolutely trustworthy. He, the Word, is the lamp to my feet. Every single step. As a repentant sinner, I’m helpless without Him, yet spiritually invincible with Him. And in following Jesus I’m to follow no other.

So often as a ‘follower’ of Christ, however, I forget how much Jesus included those whose lives were running off the rails. He sought them out. He risked His life to talk with them and to help them. He spent time with them, reclining and eating of all things, in a culture where eating with people said so much about how you felt about them. He healed them repeatedly, and often Jesus found in the broken person a receptive heart – a heart just waiting to be loved, to be sought out, to be redeemed – a heart ready to give allegiance.

The allegiant person is spiritually poor, and it’s only the gospel of Jesus that flips many realities – hence, the poor in Jesus are infinitely and eternally rich. The Jesus I follow isn’t a rhetorician nor a lobbyist nor a spin-doctor. I might ponder Him as a rabbi, but the truth is, He transcends description. And, as the gospels seem to have it, His love always flew in the face of the religious elite whose piety was so off-course.

Now I come to an issue that has bamboozled me a long time: people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex. One step further and we’re into the same-sex marriage debate. Don’t worry, I’m not going there!

A Christian frame-of-reference is the well-worn term, ‘welcoming but not affirming’.

‘Welcoming but not affirming’ seems to have become a mantra from the book by the same title by Stanley J. Grenz. In some ways, the mantra has skewed over time what appears to be the original intent of Grenz. It has come to be used as a way of discriminating in terms of discipleship, at least it’s seen that way by those affected, not simply to disaffirm same-sex unions.

Over time God has put me into dialogue with a few (doesn’t have to be many) individuals who fit either loosely or tightly in the LGBTQI community. Not through what they said, but more through what I felt, I sensed them experiencing the conditional love in that turn-of-phrase, and the outworking of conditional acceptance, that I doubt could ever be a reflection of God’s love for them. I have heard some say they couldn’t set foot in a church that brandished such a ‘welcoming but not affirming’ vision.

I think we need something better, more loving, more unifying, and more Christlike, than welcoming but not affirming. Sorry, I don’t have the answer. I feel God bringing me again to a place where the complexities perplex my urge for simplistic answers. And I cannot suppose churches aren’t very well intentioned in coming to that theological position. After all, many expect churches to state their purposes; to come to a landing on where they stand.

I sense that a person in the LGBTQI grouping takes ‘welcoming but not affirming’ to mean, ‘we welcome you, but we do not affirm you,’ instead of what it’s supposed to mean, ‘we welcome you, but we do not affirm of your lifestyle.’ I know that if I am welcomed, but part of me is unwelcome, I do not feel welcome. So much can come down to dichotomies of view regarding sin. And there’s the issue: something so central to another person is viewed as sin.

For them it’s more than an insult. It’s damning, and it offers them no semblance of hope. It’s damning, and for many people in the LGBTQI grouping Christianity might as well be damned as a result. I can begin to understand. It saddens me when the church does not reach people for Christ.

As a church, I think we need to do better than say we welcome but do not affirm – and leaving it open to confusion. On the surface, it appears well-thought-out, as a direct response to the issue of marriage that departs from the biblical ideal (man and woman). I think the common person sees right through it, however, when they begin engaging with someone whose life is affected.

Sure, it fits with biblical sensibilities, but it isn’t the fullest measure of the love of Christ, which is a love that trusts that the Holy Spirit works best when I get out of the way; when I focus on how loveable the other person truly is, in the sight of God; when I worship God by how devotedly I love others. Others argue that truth is part of love, that tough love is part of love, and I can only agree. But there is also much more to love than that.

When I place myself in the situation of the person who has lived their whole life wondering if they’ll ever be ‘worthy’ of love outside their minority group I’m saddened. I begin to think of this kind of person who, like me, is made in the image of God. The person whose life hangs by the thread of acceptance, only to be severed by the scissors of rejection the moment they have the authenticity and courage (or audacity, if I feel threatened) to be honest.

The person in dire need of Christ, Whose love is the only saving love they’ll ever know. The person God has put in my midst to love, when I may struggle to muster such compassion, even though that’s my job (as an allegiant one) to issue compassion to ‘the least of these’. This is not easy. I’m on a journey to somewhere better – for them, for me, for God.

What about the son or daughter, the husband or wife, the father or mother, the brother or sister who has wrestled with their reality for years, if not decades, and in some cases their entire lifetime. Would I quietly cast them off – out of the family or community or friendship circle? Or, as with so many, do they begin to challenge my perceptions?

Is God working within my repentance (for I can only do my own)? The theodicy is that they wrestle, like those with chronic pain or a grief that never ends, for how many of them would not otherwise choose to be ‘normal’? (This is not said as a slight on anyone who identifies as one within the broad LGBTQI grouping.)

That’s my question of myself… how must it feel to be welcomed but not affirmed? I think I have some vague idea, because I’ve experienced somewhat the unbiblical exclusivity of church, but nothing like the person who feels estranged not just from church but from much of society as well. What such a person – every person – needs, is the church. The church should be the sanctuary of peace for all persons. A place where all persons, no matter their particular brokenness, can be discipled with grace.

As an allegiant, surely it beckons me most to love without condition.

As an allegiant, could it be that God is asking me to ponder what it might feel like to be a bearer of His image and someone of LGBTQI orientation? I think so. That my care might rise to the worthiness of love. That no matter the nuance of my theology that I’d be affirming of an LGBTQI person, as they are, and in that way, be accepting of them.

I find being Christian in this age of same-sex marriage, and the linking of LGBTQI issues, akin to walking a tightrope. What I need most is balance.

Jesus, please give me the balance of wisdom to love the marginalised well. Amen.

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