By Joee Gibson Johnson
Empowered to Love. I heard this statement and it immediately resounded in my heart. Yes! I am empowered to love, but as easily as I stated such a phrase out loud to myself in my very best Christianese accent, I also heard the Spirit of God ask, “but are you truly walking in the power of that love?” I could have answered this question easily if I was asked it a year ago. Up until that point I had been serving in church leadership, regional prayer leadership, founded and directed a non-profit, taught, and served in healing and deliverance for many years.
As those who serve in ministry and those who are recipients of it can attest, while a love for Jesus should be the primary impetus, sadly, it is not always as it should be, even though it may not be easily discernable from the pews. Conversely, with the ministry of healing and deliverance specifically, even as it is done through the power of the Holy Spirit, a minister without a heart filled with the love of Jesus for His people to be healed and set free, is much less likely to produce fruit from that ministry. Over several years, my team and I had seen many miracles, inner healings and physical healings, and deliverances take place, with all glory given to God. Nevertheless, this question was not asked of me prior to my Sabbatical over a year ago. It was asked a few months ago and it gave me reason to pause. No longer did my life have the title, the meetings, the conferences, the Sunday requirements, the prayer sessions. It did not, nor does it currently, have the hallmark of a typical Church-recognizable ministry. In fact, it looks radically different.
On November 15, 2018 I was invited by a friend of mine, Cody Harman, to view a documentary titled “Man Made.” This feature length documentary, produced by Tea Leoni, traces the varied lives of four transgender men, as they prepare to step on stage at the only all-trans bodybuilding competition in the world. It was shown at the Crocker Arts Museum and in Auburn as one of the featured presentations at the BENT Sacramento LGBTQ Film Festival, during Transgender Awareness Week.
Cody is a Sacramento-based bodybuilder, chef, fitness coach and one of the contestants in the film. He is also a (ftm) transgender man with over 250,000 followers on YouTube and known all over the world for documenting his transition from female to male. These are just a few ways the world would describe Cody. I didn’t know any of that when I met him. I’d describe him as one of the humblest, kind, disciplined, and talented people I know.
I was introduced to Cody through a mutual friend on the way to 2018 Sacramento Pride some months before. There I was, in a car with Cody, and another friend of mine who is a lesbian, and another transgender male. I spent the day immersed in a place and in a culture of which I had never been a part. I was kindly welcomed and very humbled they would let me tag along. It was during this car ride that a very spirited and lively, honest and respectful discussion took place regarding the Church, the bible, the definitions of male and female roles in society, and so much more occurred. It was the first of many of these conversations that have continued over time and that hopefully will never stop.
Due to some very boring kind of happenstance did some of these friendships arise, but in God’s economy is there such a thing as coincidence? I think not. His Spirit was moving and manifested itself in ways that when viewed with an undiscerning eye could be criticized by the religious mindset, but easily understood by those not confined by a judgmental or self-righteous spirit. It is my belief that conversations such as these, in a respectful, loving, non-judgmental environment will be imperative in healing a relationship between Christians, specifically the Western Church, and the LGBTQ community.
Admittedly, it is in my very limited experience and exposure that I am able to speak, but I was welcomed, accepted, and loved “just as I am” by this community. I was shown a radical love. But, I have to ask the question “why would I consider it radical?” Love shouldn’t be radical. It shouldn’t need an adjective to describe it. Love should surround and permeate and encompass all people. That shouldn’t be a radical concept. Unfortunately, it is. I can say from my great and lengthy experience in Church, radical love (or just plain ol’ non-radical love for that matter) can be sometimes hard to find.
Many times, Church is filled with judgement and condemnation. Songs have been written that say we will be known as Christians by our love. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this song should serve more as a reminder than utilized as a statement. If we ask the LGBTQ community if Christians are known by their love, the answer will most likely be a booming “no.” We are more likely to be known by our judgement. In fact, I asked Cody the question “In your opinion, are Christians known more by their love or condemnation?” to which he replied “definitely condemnation.”
This begs the question, if we as a Church are Christ-followers, and Jesus didn’t come to condemn, why do we so often sit in judgement of others, especially in the LGBTQ community? In Matthew 7:1-5 (ESV) while delivering the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus states, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Jesus speaks of judgment in this passage. He issues a warning: the judgment we show is the judgment we will receive. This should be a frightening concept to some. Jesus also acknowledges the hypocritical nature of humans and especially those sitting in judgment of others. Therefore, another question that must be asked is “why some choose to ignore certain sins and focus on others?” For example, why would a pastor rail from the pulpit regarding homosexuality, but refuse to speak about those in his congregation that are walking in some other sin? Do they speak about the man who is beating his wife and child, or the wife who is cheating on her husband, or the business man who is cheating on his taxes, or the man or woman who got drunk the night before and is standing at the altar on the prayer team? Does he speak about the mishandling of Church funds, the elder who committed adultery, the pastor who solicits prostitution? Are these the groups that he speaks about? Not usually. If the Church is going to focus on purity and insist all the sinners leave the House of God, then it will be an empty house, and that includes the office and the pulpit.
Romans 3:23 (ESV) states, “we have all fallen short of the glory of God.” If we are to believe the Word, then that means all. Why is one particular group focused on? Is it possible the answer is because a homosexual person might be (though not always an accurate assumption) easier to identify, given their physical appearance? An adulterer is not easily identifiable in the pew, especially not when our sole interaction is usually the obligatory “Hi. How are you?” followed immediately by “Great! Good to see you.”
Ironically, in one of our discussions, my lesbian friend said she is more uncomfortable in Church because she is identified easier (and either given the face of pity or is ignored entirely) than my transgender friend, who by the naked eye alone appears unequivocally male.
Or possibly the answer to the question is to look at condemnation from a spiritual warfare perspective. Condemnation and judgement can be attributed, in this case, to a religious spirit. A religious spirit operates with many different characteristics, attributes, personalities…partners, if you will. It utilizes condemnation, judgement, and shame to do its bidding. Think of the recipient of the judgment. Once judged, they feel rejected, abandoned, worthless, inferior. These will breed self-loathing, self-hatred, can produce an addiction(s) to cope, escapism, hopelessness, depression, and possibly suicide.
This religious spirit is entrenched in self-righteousness and pride. All pride is rooted in fear. So, what is the one that is judging afraid of? Is it the possibility that their own sins might be discovered? Is it possible that they create a show of someone else’s shortcomings in order to divert attention? Is it possible they too have same-sex desires? Is it possibly a fear of what is unknown and not understood? It is possible. If it isn’t, why did Jesus address it in Matthew 7:1-5? (Judge not, lest you be judged.)
Romans 3:23 (ESV) states that we have all fallen short. I cannot judge or determine who is saved or unsaved. That isn’t my place. I can’t even fault the LGBTQ community for not loving Jesus. In fact, if Jesus has only been introduced as a Judge and not as a Liberator, Healer, or Defender, why would anyone want to know Him?
I asked Cody, who grew up in a Baptist home and went to Christian school, “who was Jesus to you as a child?” He responded with “God’s son sent for us. He’s how we are saved.” I then asked, “Who is Jesus to you today?” To which he replied, “A good story.” He then stated “If people followed what Jesus actually teaches, it would look very different. I’m actually kind of confused by that.” This answer comes from a person who heard the stories and teachings of Jesus’ life, but cannot reconcile His teachings with the lives of His followers. This answer should mean something to the Church.
It fails to live what Jesus teaches, and is a reason many people, regardless of their sexual orientation, leave the Church, or have no desire to walk into one. Hypocrisy abounds. Of course, this is a generalization of the Church and its people, but sadly the negativity will often speak louder than the humble and loving. It just stands to reason then, the humble and loving need to get louder and more radical!
There are so many divisions in Christianity. Too many to list, but homosexuality is a prominent choice of weapon. Divisions of whether or not pastors can be gay; is it a sin to have same sex attraction but not act on it?; should they be allowed to be in the House of God if they are openly living a homosexual lifestyle?, etc. The list goes on and on.
Meanwhile, teenage children are becoming addicted to drugs, being thrown out of their home, overcome with depression, walking in fear of physical harm at school or home or on the street, or killing themselves …and that represents just one age group. All of this is justified with the statement that “because they are in sin they are disgusting, should be rejected or rehabilitated or scorned.” This is done because they are told it is what Jesus said. Who can blame them for not wanting to run to Him?
Each group has their arguments and judgments, dogma, doctrine, and each are convinced their position is right. However, John 16:8 (ESV) in reference to the Holy Spirit states, “when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…” This verse does not say humans will convict the world, it says the Holy Spirit will come. I trust the Holy Spirit much more than I trust a human being, who knowingly or unknowingly, may allow their flesh to determine sin and righteousness and therefore walk in judgement. This scripture, in fact, releases us from a need to convict another human being in their walk before God.
With all the various arguments and loud voices, it’s possible to get confused and consequently become complacent. It’s also difficult sometimes for people to stand up or even question the status quo. Add to that, purposefully loving a people group that is outside the mainstream Christian bubble who are solely meant to be either prayed for, scolded, ostracized or pitied. To that I would reference Jesus and the countless times He was with the outcast, the downtrodden, the leper, the pariah. I certainly wouldn’t say the LGBTQ community are any of those titles, but if we are going to appeal to those who sadly can’t identify anyone in the community as anything other than that, I’d appeal to them and ask the proverbial WWJD “What would Jesus do?” Certainly, if the LGBTQ community is viewed as such, how can they not be a group that is sought after in love?
If we trace judgment and condemnation to the religious spirit that we have previously established is motivated by pride, and acknowledge the pride is really covering for fear, then we have to ask the question what conquers fear? According to 1 John 4:18, the answer is simple. It’s love. It states, “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” Who is love? According to 1 John 4:8, the answer is God. It states, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” So, how do we as a Church reach a community that does not usually want to hear about Jesus? We love. How do we heal and bring reconciliation of the Church to God for having judged and condemned His children? We love. How do we bring reconciliation to the LGBTQ community and the Church? We love.
It’s so simple. Jesus was about breaking it down for those of us who like to over-analyze and get caught up in the minutia. He said under the new Covenant, in Mark 12:30-31 The Greatest Commandment is this: “…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” This shouldn’t be radical, but it is! It’s radical to love this way, when our human nature is to judge and condemn. Through the Greatest Commandment, we have been empowered to love!
Daily we need to ask ourselves if we are loving radically. Today, I can answer this question with a decisive yes! It doesn’t look the way it used to, but it’s not supposed to. Love is all that’s needed. No conferences, no meetings, no teachings on who Jesus is and His power. No need to pursue an outcome. Just love. If we do it by God’s Spirit, they will know us by our love.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t share from experience, this kind of love will cost each of us something. If we are to sit with those who are being judged, we can guarantee the gavel will come down on us as well. We can take heart though. “Love never fails” (1 Cor.13:8) and we are in good company.