A few weeks ago, I had lunch with a church planter from New England. On a regular basis, people call the church and ask him if they are “welcoming.” He told me the conversation usually goes like this:
Pastor: We welcome everyone to join us in worship.
Caller: Are you welcoming to gays and lesbians?
Pastor: Yes, anyone and everyone is welcome.
Caller: What I mean is, are you welcoming and affirming? I’m a lesbian and I want to know if I will be expected to change in order to come to your church.
Pastor: Anyone is welcome to come to our church. But when we meet Jesus—really experience him—we change. No one gets an opt-out of that. No one comes to Jesus and gets to stay the same.
Caller: Would I have to change my sexuality?
Pastor: Jesus is in the business of changing everything about us – our sexuality, our relationship to others, our money, our desires, and just about any aspect you can think of. So yes, coming to Jesus means change – not just for you, but for all of us.
Caller: Well, then this church isn’t for me.
My friend said the conversation is usually over once the caller realizes the church holds to traditional teaching regarding sexuality. He told me he always shakes his head and thinks, Who do we think we are, that we can come to God and tell Him what we will and will not change?
You and I are like the lesbian caller.
Thinking about that phone call and the demands that were made before she would come to church led me to reflect on the nature of repentance and the ways – even if we don’t want to admit it – we are all like the lesbian caller. We want to be affirmed as we are.
If I join your church, will I be expected to change my prejudice and bigotry toward those of different races? I want a church where people look and think like me.
If I join your church, will I be expected to change my living arrangements? I know cohabitation isn’t best, but I don’t want the church prying into my personal life.
If I join your church, will I be expected to reach out to lost people with the gospel? I don’t want a church that’s always harping on evangelism.
If I join your church, will I be expected to give generously? I don’t want a church that talks about money too much.
If I join your church, will I be expected to serve? I’ve got a lot going on, and aside from a few hours a week, my schedule is off limits.
The list could go on. At the heart of this conversation is repentance. Can I come to Jesus on my own terms? Or will I have to change?
So many of us think of the lesbian caller and unknowingly respond like the Pharisee going to the temple to pray: “I thank you, God, that I’m not like that.” Meanwhile, we cling tenaciously to the sinful attitudes and actions that characterize our lives. And then we go home unjustified… and unchanged.