“Jesus can no more bring himself to stiff-arm you than the loving father of a crying newborn can bring himself to stiff-arm his dear child.”
– Dane C. Ortlund
Remember these hats?
What emotions come to mind when you see these?
Do you remember the news stories of people getting beat up, thrown out of restaurants, and being rejected for wearing this hat?
Do you remember if someone was wearing just a plain, red hat some people jumped all over them (even if the person did not support Trump)?
This hat or even something similar triggered people to actions – whether it was to beat up, reject, remove, or mock. Fearing other’s reactions, people began not wearing their red hat.
Fear of other’s reactions… This describes a “red hat” mindset happening in the church today. But, it does not end with just putting the hat away. No. Instead, it has ended with some leaving the faith, some staying silent till they implode on themselves, and some literally jumping off the deep end.
There is no red heart for seeing this “red hat” in the church.
“I am gay.”
Those words haunted my mind. I kept them quiet. I tortured myself to keep them silent. I was taught over and over to hate myself until it was gone. I was told God could not use me unless this thing was out of my life. Inferiority and self-hatred became my morning, afternoon, and evening thoughts. I already was seen as a freak with my disability. I didn’t need more added to that fire. Yet the more I buried that thought, the more it yelled, screamed, and scratched at the door of my mind.
The mental cacophony of chaos erupted March 2020. I had become a monster. Lashing out in ways that would rival a Disney villain became my default mode. I could not let anyone know of the beast in me. Self-hatred turned into self-destruction, and I drove down the wrong way on a road hoping I could kill the monster within.
A Red hat alert
Being gay (or even struggling with same-sex attraction) is seen as a death sentence in the church. Opening up can cost your position, job, family, friends, church membership, etc. Opening up about this issue in the church is worst than owing the IRS money.
You have to dress right, speak right, and your whole demeanor needs to look right. People in the church have noses sharper than a bloodhound to sniff out “the gay.”
I remember when I directed a Vacation Bible School skit at the church I grew up in. I was playing the villain’s sidekick. I was pulled aside by the pastor and rebuked for playing my character “too gay.” What did that even mean? All I knew is I couldn’t let others see the truth in me. So I “straightened up” the character.
When I finally opened up to people in a church, I remember the reactions. One guys asked me if I was checking him out. Annoyed, I responded, “Don’t flatter yourself.” At the college I attended, I was told to hate myself and do anything it took to get rid of that thought. I literally tried to cut it out of me. Stephen Field became a man of angry outbursts to keep people from getting too close.
Rejected, emotionally beaten up, spiritually abused… That becomes the world of those who wrestle in their minds with the thought of being gay and being in the church. We hide everything about us so to avoid the bloodhounds. Hand gestures, conversation topics, dress style, voice inflections, everything is changed in order to not be found out.
If it looks like a red hat, then it must be a red hat. Therefore, we must get rid of it or silence the person with the red hat. A red hat can be buried in a closet with ease. Burying “the gay secret”? Not as easy.
A rED HEART
Just as a red hat caused people to jump to action, there is a red heart that caused someone to jump to action.
In Luke 7:36-50, we see this beautiful, red heart.
While dining with a Pharisee named Simon, Jesus is approached by a sinful woman. Immediately, the Pharisee reacts to the spiritual stench exclaiming, “If this man was truly a man of God, then he would know not to allow a woman like that to touch him.” You can almost see him gag at the thought of her even in his home.
Sound familiar? How many people in the church gag at the thought of someone struggling with their sexuality hugging them? How many people in the church stiff-arm anyone with a rainbow symbol? “If only we knew that person was gay, we would have never allowed them into our church.” We may not say it out loud, but we say it with our looks and with our social media posts.
This woman mustered all the courage she had to come to Jesus. She didn’t come to see Simon the Pharisee. She came to see Jesus and to touch the savior. All she knew was she needed Jesus.
How did the red heart of Jesus respond? He allowed her to touch him, cry on him, and kiss his feet. His heart opened up for her to show this intimate act in public. Jesus rebukes the Pharisee, looks at the woman gently and lowly saying, “Daughter, your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” Did he give her a book to read? Did he schedule her for counseling? He claimed her as his own, forgave her, and sent her away in peace.
Luke 8:26-39 is another beautiful example of the red heart of Christ. A man rejected, chained in the cemeteries is found and healed by Jesus. The town people saw the man healed, clothed, and in his right mind. They were fearful of the man before his healing. Afterwards, a great fear swept through them. A life changed by the love of Jesus is more powerful than a life before. Yet, how many times do we look at someone’s struggle with their sexuality and chain them to the cemetery? How many times do families pull their children close in order for them “not to be infected”?
The church is to be pure in it’s doctrine and in its love. It should never worry about who is there. A true red heart does not care about red hats. Instead, a red heart bleeds love onto an icy heart.
Ending the debate to start loving
We can debate each other on interpretation of passages, the right or wrong of being gay, the agendas of Pride Month, and a whole list of other things regarding this issue. But, it will not change the fact there are people in our churches who are gay, who struggle with being gay, and who need love.
“They chose to be gay. It is their fault!” Of course, I chose (for my own happiness) to be one of the most ostracized persons in the church by being gay, married to a woman, and a Christian (does that make any sense?). Think about the phrases we use when someone comes out. What do those say to that person? Are we trying to dismiss them? Are we trying to shut them up? Does their red hat flare our red anger?
When I came out, I lost my family. My parents told me they did not have a relationship with me and I am no longer privy to family matters. I lost friends from college. I was lectured and treated as a pagan sinner. I had a friend tell me he no longer wanted to be my friend or hug me, because he didn’t want me developing romantic feelings for him. I had a close friend call me gross, disgusting and I belonged in Hell.
My wife? She supports me and walks each day with me. She knows it is difficult, but there she is by my side. She has proven her love for me over and over. Yes, we are staying together. We have to rely on God to guide us each step.
In John 16:5-15, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit. He is the advocate who will bring sin to our attention and guide us in all truth. The Spirit does a lot better job than we can of bringing up sin and guiding in truth. Instead of us being the Spirit in other’s lives, we need to encourage each other in the faith to bring about the joy that comes from faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 1:12; Philippians 1:25-26). This is what true fellowship looks like. This is what the church is meant to be like. Pharisees are concerned with an image. Christ’s followers are concerned with following the Spirit and loving each other.
So many times we say, “I am loving someone by telling them off.” Jesus did not do that. So why should we? Jesus was harsh to religious leaders. Look through the Gospels to see that he did not stiff-arm people. It is not our image that makes us worthy to come to him. It is with our heavy burden he beckons us to experience his heart and to rest in him.
It is time we stopped looking for the red hat or things resembling the red hat, and look into each others’ eyes. There we will see a person made in the image of Christ, needing love, needing acceptance, needing someone to cry with them as they battle self-hatred, and needing someone to find shelter in.
I am beyond grateful for some people in my life who reached out, loved on me, and have been with me each step of this journey. Talking about them still brings me to tears. They showed me who Jesus really is, and they still do. Christ will not let go, and neither do they.
To those who are struggling to open up with this issue. You are loved by God. He knew you would be dealing with this. It does not take him by surprise. Jesus really loves you. You are not a monster. You are a beautiful, wonderfully made individual who can look to Jesus and run into his arms. Speak up with your story, slow down the voices of your fears, and honor God by following his Spirit (even if your path looks different). When we all get to Heaven, we will worship Jesus. As we look around, we will see the beauty God has made in his diversity (Revelation 7:9-10). How can we reject that from our churches today?
The heart of Jesus beats in our chests.
How can we stop looking for red hats and start loving with the red heart of Jesus?