The Reckless Love of God
The things a church chooses to be vocal about are telling. Putting themselves down on paper, or online, or on film is a signal that this is something they care about deeply. The things a church chooses to be silent about are telling. More than ever, declining to comment speaks just as loudly as commenting.
What do I do when a church who's ministry has meant so much to me decides that they don't have time to speak out about people of color being racially profiled and killed by police? That they don't have time to speak out against the abuse allegations alleged against the President of the United States? When they don't have time to speak out about our governments refusal to let in certain types of immigrants on the basis of racial and religious stereotypes? When they don't have time to speak about those things but they make time to preach and fight against laws that would stop the practice of gay conversion therapy?
I'm speaking about Bethel. You can read about the law they have an issue with here. I'm not even going to spend a lot of time on the idea that what they seems to oppose more than anything isn't so much being prohibited from performing conversion therapy, but rather from getting paid to perform conversion therapy, but let's not let that thought slide by totally. If Bethel wants to keep practicing their pseudo scientific therapy without exchanging money for it they are welcome to do so.
My real issue is how they've decided to talk about this. You can watch the sermon here where senior pastor Kris Valloten compares homosexuality to pornography addiction, and draws the conclusion that sexual abuse and molestation are directly linked to people being homosexual. You can watch as he perpetuates the dangerous idea that "Jesus has changed therapy. When you receive Jesus Christ you are totally changed" and that if we just lay hands on the gay and pray they'll be "cured". (UPDATE: you can't actually watch this sermon anymore without upgrading to a paid account since the sermon is now officially a part of the archives but looking at the sermon series they offer and a quick google search will give you a picture not only of what they think but what LGBTQ members of their own congregation have to say about their theology)
It's hard for me to know where to begin because my words are so jumbled up in my head trying to get out as quickly as possible. There are gay members of this church who hear sermons like this preached from their pulpit. Gay congregants who heard that their desires are born out of a sickness. That their attraction to someone of the same sex is a result of something being wrong in their brain and that if they just pray hard enough, or really give Bethel enough money for therapy, they'll be healed and cured.
Conversion therapy kills people. This is not me being hyperbolic. A friend of mine prayed for literally decades to be healed from the sin of homosexuality. He went to his church for help, he went to counselors in his church for help. And he was told over and over again that if he just pressed more into the presence of God and accessed the power of the Holy Spirit those desires would be taken from him. That someday he would be able to either marry a woman, or live in celibacy but be totally at peace. If he only just believed and asked God it would happen. And he tried so hard. He tried for years. Until he couldn't try anymore. He fell in love and he wanted to be with the person he loved. And his church turned their backs on him. Told him they couldn't have him on staff anymore if he continued this way. So he ended the relationship and tried even harder to be who his church so desperately needed him to be; a success story who prayed the gay away. And when that still didn't work he killed himself. His note said he couldn't live with the knowledge that he would never be healed from his sickness. He begged God to help him and didn't understand why God didn't help him. He tried so hard and in his mind he failed so the only thing left to do was to end his life.
And this is the therapy Bethel wants to make sure they have the right to continue to practice and make money off of. This is what they call religious freedom. There are ways to advocate for their position without the type of hurtful language they have used. But they haven't chosen to do that. Where were the sermons about welcoming refugees when The United States was planning to ban Muslim immigrants? Where was the sermon on the unjust practices our African American brothers and sisters face in their communities every day? This is the hill they are prepared to die on? Gay conversion therapy?
I know people who's views on homosexuality are way more conservative than mine who understand that gay conversion therapy does not work and is not healthy. I cried my eyes out when I read the article linked to above and again when I watched the sermon. What are we doing? How is this the way we are communicating? I think of my dear friends who are gay and love God with all of their heart and how painful words like this are for them. I think about if Jesus lived today what his words on this would be. If his words in the New Testament are anything to go by I think it would be a whole lot of nothing. He never spoke about this issue. When he did speak though he only every spoke with love. Overwhelming, neverending, reckless love of God. Now where have I heard that phrase before?
This post isn't about changing your mind on homosexuality. You don't have to believe as I do. But I do think we can all agree that the way we talk about this is not something that takes place only in the abstract world of debate. These are real people, with real hopes and dreams and souls. And the way we talk about them matters. The type of people we compare them to matters. The way we present ourselves to them matters. Don't stand under the cross of Jesus and use words that would grieve him to his core. They will know us not by our commitment to religious freedom. They will know us not by our willingness to take a stand against the "depravity" of this world. They will know us not by our therapy practicies. They will know us by our love.
The overwhelming reckless love of Christ.