Recently on Twitter, I have been having a debate with someone I don’t know from Adam about sexuality, compassion and sin. I realise that Twitter arguments are not a good idea in general, but it has sparked off some serious thoughts about the ways in which Jesus talked to people – and the ways in which Christians are encouraged to talk to people – who live outside of the church context, in a position of vulnerability, or are marginalised for various reasons. I have already posted about the ways in which certain types of evangelism have made me uncomfortable in the past, but this is about more than evangelism. It is about relationships, and it is about the way we choose to share the Good News with others, and the need for compassion.
Because it is supposed to be GOOD News.
Here is a summary of the conversation:
(Context: Someone I follow posted about the Church of England’s recommendation that couples in same-sex relationships should be “given recognition and compassionate attention from the church.” M. replied to this, saying “those who wrote the report are fools who ignore what God has clearly said”)
Me: What’s so wrong with being compassionate with people?
M: It is not compassionate to encourage someone in sin
Me: No-one said encourage. They said recognition and compassionate attention. The church has ignored, misunderstood and hurt gay people.
M: There’s no such thing as gay people, just sexual sinners
Me: Oh ok, that’s made all the hurt go away. You’ve found the solution!
M: (summary). The hurt is necessary so that people will see their sin. Better they are caused pain in this world than experience the pain of Hell.
Me: We are called to be loving, not hurtful. Hurtful attitudes are not Christian. We need to be like Jesus with the woman at the well, not like Pharisees.
M: Jesus exposed that woman’s sin. She was an adulteress and he told her so.
Me: Go read that story. He used no such word. He told her of living waters not hell fires. We must imitate this. Telling her of living waters was extravagant and disruptive love. She changed for that love, not for fear of hell fires.
“M” and I pretty clearly disagree in our thinking on sexuality. But the debate goes much deeper than that: it is about what sort of method message we should use to approach people who are deeply hurting.
It got me thinking about my own conversion to Christianity. The thing that made me deeply want to follow Jesus was not the notion that if I didn’t I would burn in Hell. What compelled me was the way in which someone shared the sweetest truth with me – the truth of grace. This, followed by an experience of the Holy Spirit which convinced me that God really did exist and really did want me to follow Him, was to me fresh air and cool water on a hot day.
Whatever “M” says, LGBT people have been hurt by the church’s reaction to them, and the hurt does not bring us closer to God but drives us further away.
Drives us into the belief that we have no value to God.
Drives us into exile from Christian fellowship.
Drives us away from faith.
And drives (some of us) into less than healthy life choices – if you believe you are going to Hell regardless, what difference does it make?
To return to the woman at the well (read here) , Jesus did speak to her of her relational issues, but notice how first he tells her of the living water. He tells her he is the Messiah (she is the first person in the gospel of John to receive this truth!), and she responds by spreading the news! Did she go straight to the village to tell them that they were going to hell unless they repented? No, she went to tell them of the wonderful man, the one who could tell her everything she ever did.
The woman at the well wasn’t “just” a woman with a messed up past. She was also a Samaritan, and Jesus as a Jew wasn’t even supposed to walk through her village or touch anything she had touched. He also wasn’t supposed to be alone with a woman. And yet he went to that well to find her. He spoke to her. He touched – probably drank from – her water jar. He did not leave her or avoid her or scream at her about Hell. He saved that for the legalistic Pharisees.
The woman at the well was probably considered to be scum, the lowest of the low. People probably crossed the road to avoid her, as in the other story of the Samaritan told by Jesus. She lived on the margins and she had no voice.
And yet she saw, she saw and she loved Jesus.
How should the church be speaking to people considered undesirable? With hell fire, or with living waters?