Content note: hate speech
Here I am, sitting on my comfy bed a million miles away from home on a wintery European afternoon, contemplating where to send my family’s Christmas package (my parents’ place in the country? My littlest sisters’ flat? My other sister’s flat and/or work address? Will it even arrive in time???) When a news report pops up on my screen about a New Zealand pastor telling a gay man to kill himself (you can watch the report here if you want).
Now I’m not one to splash my political/theological beliefs all over the internet… heck, I barely speak about them in real life either. I bet a bajillion dollars that most people I come into contact with have no idea that I semi-regularly go to church and try to follow along with the French sermon. But this got me riled up and it’s time to blow my cover.
Being both a kiwi and a (far from perfect) follower of Jesus, this man’s behaviour made me feel sick and ashamed. That anyone can tell someone to kill themselves and feel morally justified in doing so is disgusting, let alone someone who supposedly follows the teachings of Christ: a person who’s message was all about radical love and standing up for the marginalized and outcasts of society. Someone who would rather associate with the downtrodden, the people who were deemed unfit to be in community with, than stand alongside the self-important religious leaders.
The fact that this man is in a position of power, with a church family under his care, makes it all the more disturbing.
Jesus instructed his followers to care for the widows and orphans in our communities. It is estimated that up to forty percent of homeless youth in America identify as LGBTQ, and that people who identify as LGBTQ have a much higher rate of depression, becoming victims of abuse, and suicide than any other demographic. The last thing the church needs to be doing is driving vulnerable people further into despair.
When I was 12 we performed some sort of role-play in Sunday school which involved talking with someone who identified as LGBTQ. All I remember is the boys in the group putting on their best “gay voice” and everyone thinking it was hilarious. I have since found out that one of the kids who went to that church is LGBTQ, I’m pretty sure during this lesson they were in the group below so wouldn’t have been there, but if they were that would have been just another moment in a countless string of moments where they felt isolated and pushed further out from the church. And I’m sure this kind of behaviour becomes a lot more escalated and less innocent in youth groups of older ages (not that I have experience in youth groups over the age of thirteen). Church should be a safe place, especially for vulnerable teens, but for a lot of people it isn’t.
I don’t have answers on how to fix all of this, all I know is that the actions of this pastor and many others like him do not align with the example we have been set. Did Jesus say to care for the downtrodden, but only if they agree to change their lives? No, he gave no conditions. Just love your neighbour as yourself. Not love your neighbour but only if s/he looks, acts and believes like you do.
We are called to care for the orphans, but it seems all we’re doing is creating more.