Winter 2014

It’s not Either/Or

Loving those who make different lifestyle choices

In The Scarlet Letter, a fictional story set in 1642 Puritan Boston, a woman pregnant by adultery is forced to wear a scarlet “A” for adultery. In the New Testament, the scarlet letter might have been “P” for prostitutes or “T” for tax men.

In our day, as Christians, we could likely fill the alphabet, including “I” for illegal alien, “H” for homosexual or “A” for someone who has had an abortion.

Certainly, sin is sin. And we speak truth about sin. But our culture also influences which sins we condemn more than others. Then, we create a “list of the damned” and can’t see past what they have done to who they are.

How many of us would have stood by an adulterer like Hester Prynne against an entire community, questioning their thinking, their lack of compassion, their missing of a teachable moment? Jesus did.

How do we balance the fact of sin and the need for grace?

In 1975 I left Laredo, Texas, to move to a foreign land: Austin. My mom’s parting words of truth as I headed to college included one Scripture: “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits’” (1 Corinthians 15:33, New King James Version). Apart from that, her only advice was to “stay away from the hippies” (and other evil company).

During those college days, I knew that Jesus was a friend of sinners (Matthew 11:19), but I was not Jesus. For the most part, my interaction with sinners meant “calling them out” of the life they were living, with very little grace. I diligently sought to become a Christ-follower … and kept away from the hippies.

Some 20 years later, my daughter decided to attend the same university. I was proud, nostalgic and worried. How would she handle the market place of strange offerings? After moving all of her stuff into the dorm, we sat down for “the talk.” I said, “Baby, in this place you have to intentionally search for the good. The bad needs no search; it will be looking for you.”

In order to help pay for school, my daughter worked in a large dorm as a resident assistant. She soon became friends with the other RAs, several of whom were homosexuals. I bit my lip as long as I could but eventually expressed to her my repulsion of their lifestyle and my concern that she was spending her time with people like that.

My daughter embodied the call to speak the truth but live grace.

One day, after one of our disagreements over the matter, she said, “Dad, you are such a hypocrite. You like to talk about compassion and helping the immigrants. You say that we must start with the gospel and then talk about the other things. Do you believe that compassion and the gospel are for everyone except homosexuals? What makes being gay the worst sin?”

Then my daughter added, “Dad, I tell them that it is because they will not turn to Jesus that they will be condemned, but I will not love them less nor cease to tell them that Jesus loves them.”

My daughter embodied the call to speak the truth but live grace.

Living-out the tension

True Christlikeness is the difficult tension of living uncorrupted yet having the grace to live among those who make different choices. The tension of speaking the truth yet loving people no matter what they choose. The tension of faithfully serving others, even as their choices hurt you or themselves.

Jesus didn’t excuse the sin of the woman caught in adultery. He told her, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11, NKJV). My daughter loved her friends enough to tell them the truth and still walk with them.

In Jesus’ high priestly prayer (John 17), He says that He specifically sent us “into the world … not out of the world.” How do I make sure that I am having an impact on the world and not the other way around?

For me, the answer lies in that high priestly prayer: “Sanctify them in Your Word” (verse 17). Staying in God’s Word is the foundation that helps us live out that tension. Only when we consistently examine the cultural conventions of our day against the truths of Scripture can we hope to stay centered, resisting cultural pressure to either excuse or emphasize certain sins.

Hebrews 4:12 tells us that “the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (NKJV).

Sometimes the differences we perceive between us and others (whether merely cultural differences or actual sin) get combined with our own prejudices or fears. When that happens, we compromise our ability to see a missional opportunity.

Only being sanctified in the living Word can help me to truly “discern the thoughts and intents” of my heart. Then I can separate from my personal repulsion (which is my own sinfulness) and catch sight of the opportunity to live out the example of Jesus. And when I live in a covenant community that also endeavors to do the same (like a daughter who is willing to challenge her dad), I’m far more enabled to first see the opportunity, then choose to act on it.

Dr. Alejandro Mandes is director of EFCA Immigrant Mission and GATEWAY and the executive director of Immigrant Hope.