I want to return to that last conversation a minute.
“Personally, I really wish I could be affirming, but...”
Most of my life, I believed that attitudes like this one were exclusively problematic for their potential to bring an agenda that would corrupt our interpretation of scripture.
But not too long ago, I began to process this question:
What if that agenda isn’t MY agenda?
See, if I’m being honest, I’m not the most empathetic person in the world. The instinct toward compassion and empathy I see in my wife puts me to shame. It comes more naturally to her.
No, my compassionate empathy isn’t innate, but has developed through exploring and imitating the life and teachings of Jesus -- who constantly extends surprising welcome and compassion to people who were seen by the religious community of their day as unclean outsiders. More often than not, Jesus pushed the boundaries of love, justice, and inclusion to such extremes the crowds turned violent against him for his perceived heresy.
I have spent much of my life among those crowds, finding myself inside the commonly accepted standards of church & culture, while maintaining the exclusion of those predetermined to be on the outside.
That only began to change when I let myself consider and be transformed by the radical movement of Jesus. As a result, I am different than I once was. I feel different than I once felt.
So if the empathy inside of me is really just an encapsulation of what I understand to be the character of Jesus, why would I not let that be an influential consideration in how I understand the rest of the Bible?
In fact, to try to discern and interpret the rest of scripture while holding back my understanding of the character of Jesus would be like trying to untangle a knot with one hand tied behind my back.
Now I’m not saying there are no other considerations or that our empathy should be our primary consideration. And I'm not saying that our feelings are always correct or that all of our feelings come from the work of God in our life -- we should certainly always be asking ourselves whether the way we feel is consistent with who we see Jesus to be.
But if you consider your own compassionate empathy, and it reflects your understanding of Jesus, then I encourage you to bring that to the table of interpretation, not hide from it.
For too long, we’ve been told our feelings don’t belong.
For too long, we’ve been told not to bring compassion to an interpretation party.
But maybe embracing the boundary-shattering compassion of Jesus is exactly what’s needed to see God’s movement in our world clearly.
Note: As usual, this is a blog post about the need to take complicated interpretation seriously, not a public space for anyone to publicly debate the status of my LGBTQ brothers & sisters. There will be zero tolerance for that.