I was not raised in the church. While some tell me this is a big disadvantage for a Pastor, I find it a great advantage. You see, I don’t carry all the baggage so many who were raised in the church seem to be carrying. For me, a trip to the church would be simple; all it requires of me is a small backpack filled with t-shirts, jeans and a few socks – ok, I would need some grooming items as well, but nothing more. So, as I found myself in Seminary dealing with those who carried steamer trunk after steamer trunk I found myself in some very interesting positions and conversations. As I look back, the one experience that stood out the most happened right after I graduated and started to pastor my first “full-time” church.
As soon as I graduated from Drew University, I decided to head back to Las Vegas – life is easier when you are surrounded by family and the institutional church to me, seemed more like a luggage manufacture (The United Church of Samsonite – UCS) and less like a community. To make a long story short, I took a job at one of the UCS churches in the area, a position I both loved and hated. While I was there our “worship guy” (we could never come up with a title that seemed to fit our vision and his desire) had a brother who was dying of AIDS because of his “life style.” One day, I decided to visit his brother in the hospital and you would have thought I called for the crucifixion of Jesus.
When I got back to the office, there were a few members of the church there to ask me some, as they put it, very important questions. As I invited them back to my office, the third degree started. – Why did I visit a “non-member” in the first place? Did I touch him? How long did I say in the room? Did I wear a mask when I was in the room? Did I go home after the visit and shower and wash my clothes? After about a half-hour of questions, the truth came out – Why did I visit a “queer” who had AIDS and did I think of the other members of the church who might get sick? My jaw hit the floor, this was 2002, and we knew AIDS was not passed by casual contact – but the stereotype lived on.
I could have taken this moment to tell them to get out and deal with it, but I decided to us the moment as a teachable moment. As we sat around and talked, we opened our bible and started to take the time to discuss the care we are to have for those who are sick, regardless of what we think about their lifestyle. It was a moment where we could see the love of God working in our lives and the lives of others. It was in that moment where the seeds of acceptance were planted and all present saw a new way God could be working in our community.
For me, the idea is not to force anyone to think differently, but to love them to the point where they see it for themselves.