My conversation companions froze in their places and averted their eyes. What would happen next? His voice was rather loud. We were in the second pew and seemed exposed to the whole community. Or that’s what it felt like to be caught in that moment.
At the closing worship service of a synod assembly, I was seated early in the second pew talking with two supporters about the same-gender “Freedom to Marry” legislation in Minnesota. A man dressed stiffly in a suit and tie awkwardly made his way into the pew and sat beside me. He listened briefly to our animated talk and asked what we were discussing. When he heard our subject, he quickly proclaimed: “Homosexuals are going to hell. The Bible says so.”
Worship would begin in less than five minutes. I began to ask him questions about his experience with LGBT people – family and co-workers. I learned he had already condemned his gay cousin and that their relationship was fractured. He was fearful about what same-gender people being out and married might mean in our state.
I gently suggested that we turn to Romans 2:1 because it describes the Apostle Paul’s first chapter: “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” In other words: Do not judge others, lest you be judged by God.
We talked until the organ prelude began and our conversation was shut down without resolution. As I lifted my hymnal for the opening hymn, I noticed that my conversation partner did not have one. So, we held the same book of Evangelical Lutheran Worship for the entire service. We stood shoulder to shoulder, singing hymns and liturgy, and sharing Christ’s peace and Holy Communion. A connection was made. Disagreements were put aside, if not released.
As we left the sanctuary, we shook hands. He offered a blessing for my safe drive home. I wished him well. We had moved from judgment to blessing during that service. Engaging our neighbor, even the ones who would condemn us, is the work of reconciliation. It is amazing what the love of God in Christ Jesus can do. Reconciling works…for the sake of the world.