Recently a pastor described to me the experience of sitting in the office with a church member and being asked a familiar question, “Pastor, Is God displeased with me?”
This leader had demonstrated and publicly stated their welcome. The congregation is known as fully welcoming loving, sensitive, and affirming. So, why does this question come up time and time again in inclusive and affirming spaces? Is the welcome not sufficient? Should more be said? What’s missing?
What we know is that early lessons and messages hold great power in our lives. When one is told to “be good,” a world of off-limit behaviors is created. When one is taught to fear God, patterns of dishonesty, hiding and self-doubt develop. Negative messages repeat like a tape stuck on replay long before the words lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are accepted about oneself. Fear of God’s denial, objection, and rejection lingers and can suddenly paralyze a gay or transgender person.
As religious leaders we share with our congregations the “good news” of God’s unconditional love. Of course, we know that a host of societal and cultural pre-conditions are spoken over pulpits and in classrooms year after year. Yet, we can boldly cool cauldrons of doubt and prophetically speak words of encouragement, hope and inspiration to the whole congregation and especially gay, transgender and all marginalized people.
From our study of sacred texts, our lived experiences, and journeying with God we develop understandings of God’s character.
God as creator
“For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are your works; that I know very well.” Psalm 139:13-14
God as loving parent
“Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for a child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you.” Isaiah 49:15
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1
At times of questioning we can reassure our members and friends of at least one essential thing – God’s all-surpassing love. In these poignant moments of ministry, when we help calm troubled hearts and remind one another of the unwavering strength of love and grace, our calling is truly vibrant.