The other day I was at a church event with two other church youth groups (we try to do stuff together here in Ramona). We were having a blast, just goofing around. If you've worked in youth ministry you know these times, they're some of the best parts of working with kids--just getting to hang out with them and tease each other. During all the fun one of the leaders started heckling some of the kids by calling them "fags." I knew it was all in fun and deep down it bothered me, given where we were, so I just joked along and said, "that's not too culturally sensitive. How do you know I'm not gay?" And without skipping a beat he said, "well you're in the wrong place." I laughed but was truly hurt by that... not because I'm gay (and I'm not) but because I knew there was some truth to what the leader was saying.
I was reminded of a passage I recently taught on in our youth group, the story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician Woman. If you don't know the story, Jesus is hanging out with his disciples and a Syrophoenician Woman--someone that had no business coming to Jesus for help, he was the Jews messiah--comes to Jesus begging for help. Jesus calls her something quite derogatory saying, "it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." Now what was Jesus doing here? I am sure, at least I hope, that the disciples were surprised to hear Jesus talk this way. I am defiantly surprised to hear Jesus talk this way. But perhaps Jesus was talking to his disciples more so than he was to the woman. Think about it, the disciples looked at this woman and probably thought "dog." They had no problem thinking this way. But then I can almost see Jesus turning to his disciples as he says, "it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." It's one thing for the disciples to think it, but another thing for Jesus to say it. Jesus says this just to expose it for how ridiculous it really is. Here is a woman who desperately needs help, who is begging for just the crumbs from Jesus' table, and Jesus calls her a dog. This is not the kingdom Jesus has been proclaiming. There's a level of sarcasm in Jesus words, as though to say, "yeah, she's just a dog, huh? NO, that's ridiculous!" Jesus' final response is to do exactly what the woman asked. The disciples must have felt some conviction, hearing Jesus say what was in their hearts and seeing him expose it for what it was.
What does this story have to do with what was said a couple of days ago? Well, when the leader said, "well you're in the wrong place" part of me would have loved for Jesus to show up and just say, "yeah, church... totally the wrong place for gay people" just so we could all see how ridiculous it is to say that.
The problem is that the church has basically said this--"well you're in the wrong place"--in its' heart and needs Jesus to expose it because it's coming out in their actions. Whatever lip-service we give to being welcoming communities, we have yet to see the folly in our hearts, the plank in our eyes. The truth is we really believe that church is not the place for gay people, for Mexicans, for pregnant teens, for abortion doctors, whoever it may be for you and your church... we don't think they're in the "right place" if they find themselves in our communities. We should hear Jesus' words ringing in our ears, "it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs"--"yeah, they're in the wrong place"--challenging the words of our hearts and calling us to bust our doors open to those in need, to anyone begging for crumbs.