I got the news that World Vision had reversed its’ policy on employing gay and lesbians right after I got done with work. I was outside the school where I aid elementary age kids, special needs kids, and though I sometimes struggle with feelings of inadequacy in my job, I am actually a pretty awesome paraprofessional. Turns out, I’m pretty great at caring for kids in need.
And I was in my car when I got the news and I sped away, lest any of my little guys climbing the bus would see me, should I start to cry.
Before I headed home where I would find my mom, on the phone with another mom of a gay kid, telling her, “We will not respond the way they did. I refuse to be like them. We will be like Jesus, instead.” Before I got the text message from my brother, a very simple and needed, “I Love You.” I pulled over and parked in a vacant lot.
I turned off my ignition and I didn’t cry. I just sat there. Breathing. Stunned and struck by betrayal and pain and anger, wave after wave of it, and I couldn’t form a coherent thought or calm my heart. But in the midst of it, a memory came to me of a conversation I once had with Jay Bakker.
Jay, if you don’t know of him, was born into Christian Royalty. His parents were televangelists and their faces were amongst the most well-known and adored in Christian culture. Then the scandal. His dad had an affair, resigned, and then went to prison for fraud, leading Christians to banish the Bakker family outright. And for years, Jay would never step foot in a church.
Jay and I bonded over coffee in our shared experiences of feeling orphaned by the faith that raised us. And we also bonded over a shared hero, a man who, in a very real way, saved us.
That man is Brennan Manning. I will say it today and tomorrow and every day for the rest of my life that no one has left a larger impression on my faith than this man. Besides Jesus, he is the one I am most looking forward to meet in Heaven.
Jay was also swept off his feet by the Ragamuffin himself, and when Jay was set to publish his first big book, Son of a Preacher Man, Brennan agreed to write the forward. It was Jay’s dream come true.
Not long after, Jay heard from a representative of Brennan that he decided to pull out. He was afraid of the backlash he might receive by associating with the Bakker family. To this day, Jay says that that was the greatest let down, it left him completely disillusioned.
Don’t idolize your heroes, he told me. They will inevitably let you down. They’re human, too.
Years later, Jay was asked to pen an endorsement of Brennan’s book, and in the years between, they built a relationship based on forgiveness and trust and love. There was restoration. And Jay was brimming over with grace.
What Brennan had done was deny the Jesus in Jay. What he did was wrong and unfair and deeply hurtful. He ditched Jay when Jay most needed him, ran straight off the road off the gospel.
And yet, at the same time, in the Midwest, a teenager was reading Brennan’s books and his life would never be the same. A teenager would read these words, “God loves you just as you are and not as you should be.” And it would be enough, just that line, to give me the strength to move forward.
Though I understand that World Vision essentially had a gun to its head after evangelical leaders incited a mass backlash of dropped funds, it doesn’t make what they did right. Their reversal hurts more than anything I read from the evangelicals ranting. It was the kiss of Judas. And in the end, this was simply wrong and ungodly and deeply defeating.
I read Richard Stearns apology to conservatives through gritted teeth, because it is that bad. Richard Stearns, the man I praised the other day, disqualified me in a way against serving alongside him, and begged the forgiveness from those like Graham, Burk, Moore and Piper. And it does really hurt, this abrupt abandonment, this puncture of what was so much hope and pride and encouragement. Suddenly, reversed.
But, and not many years ago, it was Richard Stearns who shook up my faith in the best possible way. I read his book The Hole in Our Gospel, twice, and I recommended it to every person I knew. It was and still is one of the best Christian books I have ever read.
And who can understand the vehemence of yesterday upon him and his? Who can completely throw out he, Stearns, who left a life of luxury, to serve the world’s poor? Who can deny that World Vision is a rarity in Christianity, a group of folks whose sole purpose is to give the gospel hands and feet, bringing bread and water and mercy? Who can look at those pictures of kids being fed, of kids writing letters, those going to school and becoming kingdom builders themselves and write off an organization that is doing such beautiful work?
The truth is, friends, I am sitting in a coffee shop and writing this, and my teeth are still gritted, because I am writing things I am not feeling. But I believe, wholeheartedly, that there will come a day when I will. I know I will.
And when it comes to forgiveness, I take something like that very seriously. If it’s not flowing through my veins, then it’s not really there and I refuse to pretend it is. So I’ll say it true, as it is, right now:
I am not ready to forgive those that held starving children as ransom because of who I am and I am not ready to forgive Richard Stearns for this profoundly deep betrayal. I am not ready to forgive either of them for the devastating message they have sent to gay children everywhere.
But I can do grace. I can reach into the deep pockets of all that I have left and let it be a balm on my heart, let it tend to me until that moment comes when, as Anne Lamott says, “it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back.” I can give and give and give even as I’m pissed off and hurt because although they don’t deserve this, neither do I.
And my rage isn’t wrong, because this isn’t right. And so I will channel it all into doing my job here as a blogger, as a believer, loving gay kids and talking about the Jesus that wouldn’t change them for the world.
And though a Christian nonprofit embracing me, if just for a moment, is quite an event of subversion, I know in my own little world, the most radical act I can take is to say this: Yes, I love Jesus, too, and you’re my brother, and the Love of God makes us both enough. It might be offensive to you, infuriating perhaps, it might even tempt you into dropping a kid off the face of the earth and blame it on me, but here’s the truth:
My chains are gone. I’ve been set free. My God my savior, has ransomed me.
And like a flood, his mercy reigns, unending love, amazing grace.