Crossing The River
“While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan” (Joshua 3:17).
I return to the story of Israel’s crossing the Jordan to tell a personal story. It is tempting to turn back, when confronted with rivers that threaten to overwhelm us. It takes courage to take those first steps into the river, especially when the risks seem larger than the rewards. But, if we have experienced God’s provision in the past, we may find that necessary courage in our relationship with God.
My background in evangelicalism had formed in me the belief that one could not be gay and a faithful follower of Jesus. The bible seemed clear. While I didn’t believe, we should discriminate against gay and lesbian people in the public square, when it came to the church that was a different matter. Then, some twenty years ago, my brother came out as a gay man, and my entire paradigm for understanding sexuality, especially as it is informed by scripture, was turned on its head.
I learned this truth from my mother, because my brother wasn’t sure whether I would be receptive to his revelation. After all, I was a pastor, and while I was “tolerant” of gay people, he might have known about my interpretation of scripture when it came to sexual orientation. At least, he wasn’t ready to take a risk in sharing the information with me, and so he left it to my mother. I understand why he did this. I probably would have done the same. I realize that not everyone will do as I did, but for me this revelation forced me to ask tough questions about what it means to be family, and Christian, and church.
I was faced with a dilemma. Do I hold on to my beliefs, or do I fully embrace my brother? Since Jim is my brother, whom I love and could not reject, I began to pray, and study, and talk with people who were gay and Christian, and I began to discern this truth: God loves and accepts my brother as he is. There is no need to change that identity. In many ways, that was the easy part. The next decision was more difficult. How would this new understanding of the Bible and human sexuality influence my ministry? I must confess that I took small steps into the river. Even those steps caused trouble. Not everyone in my church was ready for change. It wasn’t until I moved to the next church, that I became more vocal, and even then, I wasn’t able to move the congregation to full acceptance and affirmation, but the seed was planted. In my current congregation, it took time, but we have crossed the river. Not everyone came with us, but the reward has been worth the risk.
As was true for the people of Israel, God stood in the middle with us, until all who would cross made their crossing. Some did so with some fear and trembling. Others with hearts filled with joy. All came through, with God in the middle of the river with them. Crossing the rivers of life are not easy, but often they are worth the risk.