I think I’ve always grown up hearing that people matter. At least most people.
I’m pretty sure the people I attended church with, the leaders and pastors in my life wouldn’t say “most people.” They’d say all people matter. It’s just that the language I heard (and I used) and the approaches I watched (and I participated in) didn’t always reflect that every person matters to God…and to us.
When I was a kid, what I heard went something like this…
- “They practice a false faith.”
- “Their doctrinal system is wrong.”
- “They are sinful.”
- “They are lost.”
- “They are hell-bound.”
- “They. They. They.”
It was always “they.” And we were “us.” Us and them. Higher and lower. In and out.
There were lists of taboo “sins” that separated them from us. These “sins” were apparently rotten, stinking “fruit,” that allowed us to judge whether someone was in or out.
- Their filthy language.
- Their gay lifestyle.
- Their smoking, drinking and chewing and going with girls who do.
- Their lack of church service attendance.
- Their movie or TV choices.
- The list goes on...
I don’t think anyone in my church experience would ever have said that “they” don’t matter. But the focus was too often on what separated them from us. Their choices, their lifestyles, their language, their sexual orientation, their appearance… all the stuff that was used to judge whether they were in or out.
So, they were out.
For a good number of years now, I've been journeying through this challenge of "us" and "them." And I’ve been confronting my “us-isms;" the subtle, but profoundly disrespecting and devaluing ways I've "othered" people who I saw as different from me. It's been one thing to acknowledge that "people matter;" quite another to celebrate that every human being bears the image of the Divine. And they do. It's the opening declaration in the human story and all of scripture echoes it.
People matter because they bear the image of the Divine.
Every person. Every. Person.
- Every ethnicity.
- Every sexual orientation.
- Every economic class.
- Every neighbor.
- Every person without a home.
- Every person struggling with a mental illness.
- Every person whose lifestyle, choices, behaviors, language and relationships are different than mine, than yours.
Every person bears the image of the Divine. And that’s why they matter.
Notice the two lists above. One list places LGBTQ on a "sin" list. The latter list recognizes characteristics about human beings. The first list makes it easy to judge people and justify their exclusion based on behavior. The second list acknowledges that every person is an image-bearer of God.
I have dear LGBTQ friends who have been rejected by their parents, pastors and churches. Over and over and over. They've not been merely misunderstood; they've been mistreated. They've not been merely questioned; they've been sequestered. They've not been merely dismissed; but dehumanized. I've wept and ached with my friends. I've apologized on behalf of any Christian - or any person - who has disrespected and denied their dignity.
These friends help me follow Jesus because of his image in them, his likeness in the way they love others, forgive others, sacrifice their time and energy, and give themselves to the transformative work of LOVE, of Jesus in our world. They are beautiful souls. Amazing friends.
In his inaugural synagogue reading of the Old Testament (Luke 4), Jesus pointedly announces himself as the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy regarding the One who would come "to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." And then he follows this "good news" with stories from their history, stories of their revered prophets who crossed religious boundaries, defied sacred practices by including tribes long rejected by his audience. Because... all people matter to God; all people are created in God's image.
Through his life on earth, Jesus shows us what it looks like to live and love as image-bearers: beautiful, fully human beings. Jesus’ invitation calls us to awaken to what is already most true about us - all of us. His call is to live into our already core identity as image-bearers.
Here's another challenge in understanding Jesus' life and message. As we read the Bible to understand his kingdom, we each come to the scriptures with biases and approaches that are used - in part - to substantiate the biases we already hold. But the more I read the Bible, the more I’m challenged that I’ve missed the point way too often. Over too many years I had ignored context. I had dismissed cultural realities. I had not always done the work to try to understand this ancient text. And because of this, I had missed Jesus’ radical, all-inclusive invitation - not to a church or a religion or a doctrinal system - but to his Table of belonging as family.
Over the past several years I’ve had to wrestle with honest questions like…
- Is doing the next “right” thing always the most “loving” thing?
- Are there times when the traditional understanding of “right” should be challenged, even overturned?
- Have I talked about how much people matter, but used a lens of “othering” to differentiate myself as somehow better?
- Have I accurately understood biblical context and language and intent regarding homosexuality and marriage?
- Can I read science and scripture side by side without setting aside my faith - regardless how the creation of the universe happened (and is still happening)?
- How do I surrender to the Mystery and Grace of God?
- How do I practice the kind of message and lifestyle I see in Jesus?
- What do I do with Jesus’ declaration that there are people we’ve rejected from our "tribe" - and it’s counter to his kingdom?
Maybe you're asking similar questions. Maybe you're wrestling with what it means to be part of a kingdom that is inclusive. Maybe you're wondering...As we learn to follow Jesus together - rich, poor, straight, LGBTQ, believers, doubters, young, old, steeped in religion, no religion at all - how will we not only put out a “welcome” mat, but how will we offer a chair of belonging at the Table. How will we lead and serve and love...together?
This past weekend my friend and pastor, Jason Miller, spoke eloquently and bravely about sexuality and scripture and our practice. He challenged our faith community with this: As we differ in our understanding of a historical, traditional view of marriage or a progressive view of marriage... how will we experience and practice unity? How will we allow Jesus to be the basis and center of our faith and community?
This three-word phrase: Because People Matter is actually a complete sentence. There’s a period at the end, not a comma.
Let's love, Because People Matter.