This past weekend, I attended the Gay Christian Network Conference. In its 10th Annual Conference, held in Chicago this year, roughly 700 folks attended the 4-day event. I have a suspicion I’ll be processing my experience at the GCN Conference for quite some time to come.
On Saturday morning of the Conference, Rachel Held Evans spoke in the morning session. Her talk, titled “What’s So Annoying About Grace?” was certainly something I needed to hear. Rachel challenged us all with remembering that God’s table is open to all who trust in Him. This was a message that so many of my fellow attenders needed to hear, but it carried a flip-side. The annoying part about grace is that it covers all of us who don’t deserve it. Not just those of us sitting in the conference room, but also those who may have hurt us deeply. Rachel mentioned a few names that have been more controversial in recent times: Phil Robertson and Mark Driscoll. These are certainly folks that have made me cringe a few times. They’re on my list of “People Who Give Christians a Bad Name.”
But grace covers them, too. It covers their ignorance and careless words the same as it covers my pride and gossip and self-promotion.
We Christians like to put things in the way of God’s grace, according to Rachel. We don’t want it to be as inclusive as it is. We try to build up things to put in the path of God’s grace. We seek to exclude because we think some people don’t deserve God’s grace.
The annoying (and amazing) part of God’s grace, Rachel shared, was the way it is lavished upon people that don’t deserve it. Like me. Like you. Like Phil Robertson.
I used to work in foster care. I drove all over West Michigan to visit my foster kids and attend court hearings. And after I left that job, I took a job that had a 45 minute commute on the way home every day. During this time, I started listening to Christian Talk Radio.During this point in Rachel’s talk, my mind drifted to a horrible habit I carried off and on for a couple of years.
At first it was just out of curiosity. What are they saying? What are they telling thousands and thousands of Christians every afternoon? What concerns them? What do they see as the issues? Some things didn’t surprise me. They cared about ending abortion. They cared about people coming to know Christ. They even had fun trivia games that I would play along with every now and then. But, there were things that got under my skin. Things like talking derogatorily about undocumented persons, the poor, and the LGBT community. The messages about gay people weren’t just focused on “defending traditional marriage.” I heard their hosts bemoaning anything that protected the rights or safety of their gay neighbors.
While many different hosts of American Family Radio’s programs were deeply offensive, the hardest to listen to was Bryan Fischer. He hosts “Focal Point” every weekday afternoon. You can Google him if you really want to know the garbage he has said. It’s not the intention of this post to drag out countless examples of how he’s perpetuated a hatred of LGBT folks for years.
I was disgusted with the things I heard him saying. They wounded me deeply. They made me feel that as a person who happened to have a gay sexual orientation, that I was ‘less than’ or ‘unworthy.’ But, in my disgust, I kept listening. I listened to keep myself angry at the vile things that certain Christians were saying. I knew he was wrong. I knew he was misrepresenting Jesus. But I kept listening. I was so upset with what he was doing that I listened to keep reminding myself of how horrible he could be. And guess what?
It hurt me. It hurt my relationship with God. My building up these reserves of disdain for this man didn’t hurt him one bit. I was the one affected by it. Duh.
I ultimately stopped listening because I realized it was destroying my soul. It was hardening me and taking away my tender-heart. Staying away from American Family Radio helped my mood. It helped my disposition. It helped my relationship with God. It felt like I had dealt with it. All better, right?
That’s where Rachel’s Saturday morning talk intersects with this story. I was still trying to withhold God’s grace from Bryan Fischer and the other conservative talk show hosts from American Family Radio. I still wanted to them OUT of the Kingdom of Heaven. I didn’t want them representing me or my friends as examples of Christians.
But I was challenged to give up the anger I was holding towards Mr. Fischer. I can’t be angry at God for being generous towards someone else because I don’t think they deserve it. Because guess what? I DON’T DESERVE IT EITHER.
And that’s what’s so annoying (and amazing) about grace.
Thank you, Rachel, for reminding me of this.