Are conservative Christians fighters by nature who thrive on the front lines of the culture wars? While there may be some of us who tend to be more confrontational, a recent incident suggests to me that most of us who identify as followers of Jesus are drawn to compassion more than conflict and are given to building friendships more than engaging in fights.
Last week, one of the pastors of my home congregation was informed by the police that there would be a gay protest outside of our church service on Sunday morning. A local gay website carried this announcement: “We will meet just before Service begins, and protest as they gather, we will have a silent protest as service is going and let them have it as they leave for the day. Remember we will be peaceful and respectful, something they don’t understand. We are going to STAND TOGETHER AS A COMMUNITY to show that our love is stronger than their hate.”
In response, I wrote on my blog: “On behalf of FIRE Church, I want to extend to you the warmest welcome and let you know that we are thrilled that you are here with us on Sunday. We have been praying for you for a long time!”
Interestingly, the blog entry, which ran about 325 words, received more hits than any of my previous entries. What made it so attractive?
Scott Volk, the pastor who received the heads-up from the police, posted a gracious invitation to the protesters on the same gay website that announced the event, letting them know they would be welcomed warmly. “In all our years here,” he wrote, “we’ve only desired to reach out with love to everyone in the local community here whether they are labeled as gay or straight. Hopefully, you’ll see that love demonstrated on Sunday as you protest.”
When Sunday morning came, about ten protesters showed up, and they were greeted with water, snacks, and genuine Christian love. Within a few minutes of dialog, they left, telling us we were too nice and loving to deserve a protest. When I posted an announcement on my Facebook page with this update, it received more “Likes” than any other post in memory. What prompted such a positive response?
On Monday, the organizer of the protest called into my radio show to apologize publicly for the protest, explaining that their “anger . . . was aimed [in] the wrong direction.” He continued, “Once we got there Sunday morning we were greeted with absolutely perfect love. I mean, it was fantastic.”
He accepted my invitation to meet him for dinner in the near future, not for the purpose of having a theological argument (I assured him that was not my intent) but to discuss how we could live side by side in the same city with such profound differences dividing us.
On Tuesday, I posted an article in the opinion section of a Christian news site, recounting this narrative and ending with the conviction that it is possible to “reach out and resist,” meaning reaching out to the LGBT community with compassion while resisting the activist agenda with courage. And I quoted Pastor Scott’s invitation to those who doubted his claims to truly love LGBT people to join him and his family for dinner one night. As he wrote, “to call someone hateful without ever meeting them, seeing them, or hearing them speak, is an indication of a heart that needs love. I make myself available.”
The response to my article, which was not triumphant in tone and put an emphasis on Christian grace, was amazing: Within 36 hours of being posted, it had been shared more than 12,000 times, whereas I was told that the average opinion piece there receives about 100 shares.
It looks like a clear pattern had emerged in the responses to my blog, Facebook post, and article. The Christian readers were thrilled to see love in action.
Without a doubt, when we are convinced of the rightness of an issue, as people with strong biblical beliefs, we will take a stand, regardless of cost or consequence. (I know there are cowards and hypocrites among us, but there are plenty of committed Christians who are willing to stand up for what is right, even when it means swimming against the tide and going against the grain.) And there’s no question that some of us are drawn to conflict and controversy.
But for the most part, we would rather be friends than fighters, ambassadors of reconciliation rather than culture warriors. The events of this past week underscore that clearly.