Several years ago during Lent, I went to a local coffeehouse–also a lesbian hangout–to prepare a sermon. With my books spread out on the table, deep in thought while my fingers danced on the computer keyboard, a young woman unexpectedly sat down next to me.
“What are you working on?” she asked.
In hushed voice, I hesitantly replied, “a sermon.”
Her face lit up. “So you’re a pastor? That’s great! I’m ___________, and I’m a lesbian. Do you mind if I ask you a question?”
Bracing myself, I knew what was next. “So, is your church open and affirming?”
“What do you mean by ‘open and affirming?’ I asked, trying to appear calm and sincere while nonchalantly sipping my coffee. Surely she must be on to me.
“You know, is your church open and affirming of the gay and lesbian lifestyle?”
Of course I knew. After all, this is Minneapolis.
Now I could have simply told her the cold hard truth and promptly ended the discussion. “Sunday’s a comin’!” is the pastor’s mantra, and I had a long way to go before the sermon was ready for delivery. But she seemed genuinely interested in friendly conversation. And with me, a pastor. Moreover, she didn’t appear militant. So not wanting to kill the conversation, I took the bait and attempted to answer her inquiry.
“Our church seeks to be open and welcoming to all sorts of people, including those in the GLBT community.”
“That’s great! I completely agree!” she said.
“Well think about it” I replied. “What sort of people did Jesus hang out with much of the time? The super-religious people of his day accused him of being a drunk, a friend of prostitutes and ‘sinners.’ It got him in a lot of trouble, eventually leading to his awful death.”
“I guess you’re right.” She seemed genuinely intrigued, so I continued.
“I envision a church with all sorts of people learning what it means to be followers of Jesus living in a broken world. We want to be open to everyone from across the spectrum of faith, including those who are unsure of what they believe. The gospel, this amazingly good news about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, is something we want all individuals, whatever their temptations may be, to know and love. So from that perspective, yes, we are an open and affirming church.”
So began a long and fruitful conversation on the gospel and same sex attraction. It probably wasn’t the answer she expected. We even discussed the necessity of repentance and faith, not just for the non-Christian but for Christians.
Mind you, this wasn’t the time or place to give a comprehensive gospel presentation–at least not yet. My initial aim was more modest: to simply talk respectfully and seek to understand someone with whom I often struggle to find common ground, sprinkling the conversation with compelling gospel truth.
Later that night, I was reminded of something John Calvin wrote: “…wherever you cast your eyes, there is no spot in the universe wherein you cannot discern at least some sparks of his glory” (Institutes I.V.1). And while Calvin was referring to the heavenly bodies above, if I had eyes to see past this lesbian’s sexual sin-marred physical body, surely I would behold sparks, even faint ones, of Divine glory. “For although God’s glory shines forth in the outer man, yet there is no doubt that the proper seat of his image is in the soul” (Ibid I.XV.3).
Contextualizing Calvin, I wasn’t speaking merely to a lesbian. While she and others may ultimately define her by her sexual practice, a greater truth emerged: I was beholding a woman–a person–created in the Imago Dei, who was living in a world that’s not how it’s supposed to be because of this anti-God virus that infects us all. That night, God gifted me with the grace and pleasure to talk with a sin-riddled woman shot through with God’s glory, despite her sexual orientation and practice, or the nature and gravity of her sin.
I didn’t finish my sermon that evening. Instead, I chose to wade into the complex world of a fallen Daughter of Eve who perhaps considered her need for a Savior, one who was open to some hearty discussion with a pastor during Holy Week.
And you know what? Given the chance, I’d do it all over again.