So many people in the Christian community have very little love or caring that they tend to want to extend to members of the LGBTQ community. Well, things are actually a lot better than they used to be, without question, but there are those, usually who also are conservative on other things as well, but not always, that believe that there is no way to understand Christianity than as very anti-LGBTQ.
One of the exceptions is the Presbyterian Church USA. I was on the front lines of the move to remove the road blocks for equal treatment for LGBTQ persons in the ministry, and will simply say, it took a lot of work and even at times tears, but we did it. I had left that church by the time they decided on the marriage issue, in favor of equality, but believe me when I saw I was cheering them on from the sidelines.
Now, in the days of Covid-19, I haven’t been going to church, but I have started listening to services on the internet. The youtube video is from Shandon Presbyterian, a congregation in Columbia, SC. The pastor is this wonderful woman who speaks with great love and compassion.
The video is 52 or 53 minutes long and covers the entire morning worship. However, the sermon itself starts at about minute 15 give or take a couple of minutes. I will sum up the message of grace in this particular broadcast.
She starts out from the long-known and talked about the belief of the denomination historically in predestination. For those not familiar with this particular concept, it is the idea that God ordained who would make it into Heaven. This dogma came directly from the founder, John Calvin, who was above all else a lawyer. He saw a world where human beings were wicked and unable to change that, he called it total depravity. He also believed that God was all-powerful, and all capable, and all good. Therefore, there was no way for humanity to be saved without direct decision and action by God.
His teaching was that the “Saints” were chosen and only he knew who was saved. Humanity was totally unable to do anything to affect that fact…had no power whatsoever.
The result is that his followers extrapolated from that, that people were either saved or damned. Nothing they did could do anything to change it in either direction. It was totally up to God who already knew the answer. They then decided that since these two groups were separate and there was no way to know, there much surely be some sign that would let them know what they were headed for at the end of life. They even had a glib statement to describe this situation. “God chooses who goes to heaven and who is damned, to show the glory of God.” Not a very convincing or reassuring motto, for sure.
Except that some of them decided to be creative about “reading the signs”. Needless to say, they soon found ways to tell who was damned, judging themselves, almost always to be part of the elect. Such things as how much money they had in the bank were often the dividing point for the two groups.
Now that was a long set up. But now for the word of grace as preached by this fairly young (probably middle-aged perhaps a bit older in fact but to me she looks young). She started the sermon by asking the question, do you have to believe in predestination to be Presbyterian.
The answer was that no you did not. In fact, while many get a kind of comfort from knowing that “God is in charge”, it is not, in fact, necessary to believe in double predestination (some headed for hell, others for heaven) to be Presbyterian. In fact, it is probably better to forget the whole thing, and just know that God’s grace applies to everybody and we can live in awareness of that grace or not.
Take that in the context of a denomination that accepts LGBTQ people as part of the entire church body, with the responsibilities and rights that membership allows anybody, is a ray of hope. It is also a change from the often rigid “believe my way or the highway” attitude that many of the Christian community have put up as obstacles for persons who are not necessarily in total agreement or understanding of faith statements that others seem to have no problem with.