There is a fundamental problem with the term ‘Christian’ which is that it doesn’t have a concrete definition. You can be a Christian and believe very different things than others who also call themselves Christians.
So you might believe that God has decided that a few select people will be saved and everyone else won’t. To others that won’t sound like a very loving God at all and they believe in a God who is so loving that He won’t force anyone to choose Him, but is also so big that everyone can.
Or maybe you are a Christian who believes that God created the Earth in six literal days. 24 hour days, not a second less, not a second more. Then there are Christians who believe that evolution is real and is in fact the method that God used to create the Earth over a long period of time and that the part in Genesis that talks about creation is more poetic than text book.
And these are only a couple of very simple examples from a list that could go on and on.
You might agree on certain issues with certain people but yet disagree with the same people on other issues.
Then there are the millions of ways that our different ideas about God and faith are brought to life in how we treat others, love God and think about ourselves.
The church is a beautiful melting pot (David Brent anyone?) of people, from all over the Earth, with very different experiences, cultures, thoughts, ideas, views, journeys and stories that don’t lend themselves easily to be categorized simply as ‘Christian’.
Which is why when I hear preachers and Christians talking about how Christians need to stand up for ‘Christian’ ideals or ‘Christian’ beliefs I can’t help but ask the question, which ideas are those exactly?
Now a little about cakes.
In Belfast recently, a bakery owned by a Christian family decided not to decorate a cake with a picture of Bert and Ernie and a pro gay marriage message as it went against their beliefs that homosexuality is a sin and that marriage should remain exclusively between a man and a woman.
Now those who couldn’t have their cake and eat it are bringing legal action against the bakery for discrimination.
Northern Ireland’s very own version of The Great British Bake Off.
Anytime anything like this happens there will be the inevitable call from some Christians that ‘Christian’ beliefs are being trampled on and that our rights as Christians to stand against something we believe to be wrong is being ripped from us.
But there are a few problems with this sort of thinking. Primarily the idea that when some Christians use the terms “Christian” they assume that all Christians believe the same as they do. But this isn’t the case. It is simply not true that all Christians believe their right to believe in something without fear of discrimination is being taken from them, because not all Christians believe that homosexuality is wrong. Furthermore, many Christians believe that there should be no prohibition on two men or two women from being married. Whether you believe homosexuality is a sin or not has absolutely no bearing on your status as a Christian, any more than what you believe about the Loch Ness Monster. (Although if you don’t believe she exists I have serious reservations about you)
This creates a tension where we leave with an idea that we know what all Christians stand for when often we only leave with the idea of what, some Christians stand for. This leaves many on the outside because they incorrectly see themselves as outside of what it means to be have faith in Jesus. Causing hurt, loneliness, distress and pain because of who they are.
So when we use the term Christian, it is very easy to leave thinking we know what all Christians believe about a certain issue, when in fact, we can’t.
Which leads to another problem with this sort of thinking.
That when it comes to conversations around the LGBT community within our churches, we treat them as an ‘issue’ that needs to be dealt with, rather than treating them as real people that are often hurting and struggling to be open with their communities and their families because they are afraid of how we will react.
They live in fear and when we come out with unhelpful slogans such as “Love the Sinner, hate the sin” we make it increasingly difficult for those who are gay to feel peace and safety to come out to their churches and their families.
If rather we stopped treating people as issues or parts of the problem, perhaps there would be more openness to dialogue and reconciliation.
This is a sad indictement on the church and one that we quickly need to address. If anything, this is the issue that needs dealt with.
Finally though, there is one final reason that this sort of thinking about LGBT people is unhelpful.
The idea which I briefly mentioned earlier, that our religious rights are being trampled on and destroyed. That before long Christians will have to sit by and watch as our Christianity is slowly removed from the public sphere.
But here is why that can never happen no matter which laws are made or what ideas are spread.
As far as I know, nobody anywhere has ever had their right and their ability to love their neighbour removed from them.
Which of course is the foundation of the greatest commandment. To love God and to love your neighbor. When our discussions remain focused on ‘issues’ to the detriment of showing grace and love to everyone regardless of whether they are a gay person who wants to get married or a Christian bakery, we have lost sight of love.
We want to be right. Because being right gives us security. But love…Love is subversive, and frightening, makes us vulnerable, gives us hope, breaks our heart and leaves us open to engaging with the unknown.
But mostly it is the greatest source of life.
Jesus never mentions gay marriage but yet by how many react in the church to it, you would think that it was the single most threat to our faith in the very same Jesus who didn’t seem to care half as much as we do.
Love is also why Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek. Not because he wants us to have scars but because he knows that when faced with true love, even those who oppress us may leave knowing something has changed. That when we spend time with tax collectors or those today who similarly look like they are the antithesis of what we believe, we see that actually we are just real people trying to make sense of life and God the best we can.
So I am a Christian and I support same sex marriage and I believe that everyone should have the right to stand up for what they believe.
But never at the expense of love.
Never at the expense of showing compassion.
Never, when it builds a wall between us and those we don’t see eye to eye with.
Because, love is the answer.
Not Bert and Ernie.