The man sounded angry, standing in the midst of a mob of people holding placards and signs.
“Repent of your wickedness,” he shouted. “You’re going to hell!” I didn’t appreciate these words being directed at my wife and I.
We were on an escalator minding our own business. People around us looked unconcerned at the threats of eternal damnation. Some were looking at the small group bemusedly; most were pretending to ignore them.
We were in Las Vegas for the weekend. We weren’t there to gamble, drink, party—in fact the hotel we stayed in didn’t have a casino or smoking area attached, of which we were thankful.
"The only way we can truly show love to those who disagree with us is through God’s love."
“The end is near,” the man shouted. Well, that was something I did agree with.
As the escalator brought us closer to the man and his group a thousand things ran through my mind. I wanted to go up to him and say that he didn’t know anyone there or their reasons for being there so how could he be sure they were damned. I wanted to say, “Jesus loves you, mate . . . and everyone here.” But I didn’t. I chickened out. Instead, we got off the escalator and kept walking like everyone else, pretending to ignore him as he kept shouting.
What struck me was the thought that all of these people, no matter their reasons for being there, were loved by God and made in His image.
I was reminded of this incident the other day as I watched another situation unfold on my newsfeed.
Recently, Pasadena Seventh-day Adventist Church in California planned a screening of the documentary Journey Interrupted—featuring interviews with a group of people who identify as Adventist but also have same-sex attractions—presented by the independent ministry ‘Coming Out’ ministries. According to the film’s publicity material, many of those interviewed have made a commitment with God’s help not to act on their attractions.*
A petition calling for the church to cancel the screening did the rounds. The story was national news in America and international news online.
The day passed peacefully but Pasadena’s response was surprising.
The church went ahead with the program. The protesters picketed. A similar petition and campaign saw representatives of ‘Coming Out’ ministries banned from a trip they were planning to the United Kingdom.
Church members could have bowed to the media pressure and cancelled the event. They could have shied away from the press, staying inside the church, drawing the blinds and bunkering down to weather the storm.
Instead they were positive and proactive. They distributed pastries and drinks to the protestors. They offered them lunch and even held their banners while they used the church’s bathroom facilities. The pastor and the Know His Love leaders went out and spoke to the protestors.
Interestingly, I could not find any media coverage of the church’s loving response. As with most things in the media, once the promise of conflict had gone it was on to the next drama.
“This is what ministry is all about,” said Wayne Blakely, one of the film’s participants and event organiser told me via email. “Seeking to agree where possible and treating one another with kindness.”
“It was an amazing day. It was handled the way any Adventist church faced with opposition should handle this kind of situation.”
For me, there are some obvious lessons to be drawn from these two experiences.
Firstly, belligerence will turn away even those who are sympathetic or open to your message. The media wants drama but the Bible tells us “a soft answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15).
Unfortunately, in this day and age, dialogue is being shut down. There are no arguments left to make that will be listened to or accepted. We must open the dialogue and understand the arguments and agendas that abound. Too often we worry what people will think or how we’ll be perceived in the media. Pasadena showed us an excellent example.
We must hold firm to our convictions while demonstrating the love of Jesus in a practical way (not just talking about it).
Love cuts through the rhetoric. Actions speak louder than words. The only way we can truly show love to those who disagree with us is through God’s love. Only by being filled with His love can we impact this world.
As Christians we are rendered ineffective when we don’t love people enough to stand fully by our convictions. Love that doesn’t care what others think, doesn’t seek it’s own agenda but puts everything at risk for God and others. There is no argument against that.
* I have not yet seen the movie or any presentations by the group.