Hugh Hollowell runs Love Wins Ministries, a great ministry to the homeless in downtown Raleigh. He becomes a friend to these people, loving them and listening to their stories. He avoids and disdains poverty tourism and the drive-by charity that is typical of “homeless ministry.” A few months ago Cherie and I were privileged to be able to spend a little time with him, hearing about his work.
Hugh told us about some of the folks he ministers to. The story of one of them really struck me hard.
She is a young homeless woman who sometimes comes to his chapel services. A few years ago she was a teenager growing up in a town in western North Carolina. One day she was sick so she stayed home from school, while her mother went to work. The girl was watching TV and she saw a morning talk show that featured interviews with some lesbians. Some things clicked in the girl’s head and she seemed to understand herself better. When her mother got home from work the girl confided to her that she believed she was a lesbian. Her horrified mother went to see her pastor, asking him what she should do. The pastor told her that her daughter should be removed from the home. So the woman turned her daughter out. She took a bus to Raleigh and ended up on the street. Like many, if not most, homeless women, she was abused and she turned to prostitution. Before long she was HIV positive. And these days– sometimes–she ventures into Hugh’s chapel on Sundays, where all are welcome.
I suppose it doesn’t much matter to this woman that the people of North Carolina passed their “Amendment 1.” Sure it’s another slap, another sneer, another insult, another pronouncement that she is defective, vile, and inferior to those who God favors–those whose innate sexual attractions are to the opposite sex. But what is one more reminder of that to someone who has been through what she has? She’s already had her life destroyed and one more shot probably won’t matter.
But to some it will. To some it will be further evidence that they are inferior, unworthy, and evil. To some, it will cause pain.
I can only wonder, in sadness, how these, our brothers and sisters, feel when we demean them, denying them the civil rights we enjoy, all the while telling them, “Oh but we love you. It’s just your SIN that we hate.” So say we, sinners all. We hate your sin, your “lifestyle,” because God hates it, we tell them. The attraction you feel, which we may follow to lifelong intimacy with a spouse, is for you a curse. You must never marry. In your shame you must remain celibate, something almost none of us would have the strength to do. But our sexual orientation is favored by God and yours is SIN. How dare you presume to want marriage? Shame on you you perverse sinner. So say we, behind our insincere claim that we love everybody.
This shall pass. In 1875 North Carolina amended its constitution to forbid interracial marriages. Then, as now, thousands of good people believed that in so doing they were protecting marriage and society. Then, as now, religious people insisted that God wanted the constitutional amendment. But they were wrong then, and they are wrong now. As a wise man said, the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.
Voters do stupid things all the time. Governments do evil daily. This is not surprising and doesn’t grieve me. I expect it. But I do grieve for the church and the role it played in this. Even though MANY devoted followers of Jesus worked very hard to defeat this amendment, the public face behind it wears the badge “Christian.” To the unbelieving world this is just another reason to avoid Christians, church and Christ. We followers of Jesus are assigned the blame for acts of meanness like this, even though so many of us fought against it. And no doubt the vast majority of those who voted for this believe that God wanted them to. They are church-going Christians. That is the saddest part of it all.
But it SHALL pass. Despite appearances that this divide is the churched versus the unchurched, it is more accurately generational. While huge majorities of seniors oppose gay marriage, equally large majorities of those under 30 favor it. Even among evangelicals, the most conservative of Christians, a majority of those under 30 favor allowing gay people to marry. This amendment will someday be merely yet another embarassing reminder of our past mistakes.
It wasn’t that long ago that Christians nearly uniformly believed that women are innately inferior to men. They were not allowed to be pastors or to teach men. And plenty of Bible verses supporting that position could be produced. But almost all Christians now look back at those days and wonder how we could have been so wrong for so long. But that was different, some will protest. We were wrong then, but we aren’t wrong now. We can exegete our way around those bible verses, but these mean what they say (or more accurately, they mean what we say they mean).
May we soon move past this ugliness. May the people of God repent. May that young woman in Hugh’s chapel, and the millions like her, be bathed in the love of God’s people, and made to know that her sexuality does not make her defective, does not make her inferior, does not render her unworthy of a spouse. May love win.
And it will. Because God is love. Love never fails. And no matter how badly we screw up, even when we do it in God’s name, in the end, love always wins.