Monday, August 25, 2014

The Outcasts In The Pews

Last night I had a very vivid dream. It was a dream that I had dreamt before, though as most dreams do, this one had its variations from previous versions. Last night's was also stronger. It went like this:

Once again I found myself in the small-ish evangelical country church that I grew up in from the time I was a baby 'til when I was about 16 or 17 years of age. On this morning, the crowd was sparse and one of my former pastors (whom I won't identify and is not on Facebook) was in town as the guest preacher. He was preaching the standard evangelistic message: "We are all fallen and originally sinful because of the sins of Adam and Eve, but in God's great love he sent his son Jesus to be nailed to a cross, and his blood provides a sacrifice for our sins. God loved us so much and we could choose to believe in Jesus and spend a glorious eternity in heaven, but if we did not choose to believe that we are sinners and in Jesus' sacrifice, we were going to eternal damnation, or Hell, when we die." The pastor also made a point to distinguish homosexuals as particularly sinful and depraved.

After his short message, most of the congregants gave their "Amen's" or other affirmations, though 1 or perhaps 2 people quietly objected. Then I attempted to speak, struggling for my voice to be heard. In this dream, as in several others, I had a speech impediment, but I just knew that I had to say something. I stood up and, as best I could, I protested the pastor's message, saying that it could produce immense feelings of guilt, that we are not originally sinful, and that it is a bizarre notion that we must be "covered in someone's blood" in order to be saved from damnation. Most of the congregants either objected or outright left the building en masse, while a handful agreed with me and stayed. I walked up close to the front of the church and I earnestly argued that every single reputable psychiatric and psychological association in North America (and at the United Nations) has stated that homosexuality is not an illness, and that those in the LGBTQ community are not sinful, depraved, or sick.

The service concluded. Immediately, a very tall, lanky man, probably in his 40's and looking like he had been bruised and beaten up by life, slowly approached me, leaned over with tears in his eyes, and whispered in my ear: "Thank you so much. I'm gay." We embraced for probably 15-20 minutes, and I assured him that he was not a sinner and that God saw him and loved him very much.

There are outcasts in our pews each and every Sunday morning who are being indoctrinated with guilt and shame. Oh God, may I - may we - be there for them with listening, non-judgmental ears, loving hearts, and arms that embrace.

Mark Andrew Nouwen