Five days before I preached a sermon on homosexuality, I got this comment on my blog:
Keep your phony ass bigot bulls**t and your pious sense of higher status to yourself, you piece of trash. You can try to stop me all you want, but you are still a n****r and a cult-leading fag. No wonder your father didn’t see you for 11 years. Who would be proud of their n****r son starting a cult?
I tell you what: I’ve never felt so hated. I wish I could say his words bounced off me like bullets on Superman because I was wearing my spiritual cape, but I can’t. Nope. No super spiritual response here.
Just a discouraged pastor who wanted to crawl up in a hole and not come out. I know I won’t get any “hall of faith” votes for saying this, but I honestly wanted to quit ministry, life, Jesus, and everything.
All because some internet troll blasted me on my blog. And on Twitter. Then on my blog again after bypassing my filter. Then on a new Twitter account after I blocked the first one. Then back to my blog on a new IP address. One last Twitter account.
Over and over again, “Jesus” (as he called himself) berated me and called me the n-word—more times than I care to remember. Over 50 comments later, I was sitting in a corner bawling my eyes out because I felt so hated by “Jesus.”
In desperation I prayed for Jesus to make “Jesus” go away.
I asked for him to make me feel better, but he didn’t. No, he did something better. Instead, he said: “Now you know what it sometimes ‘feels’ like to be gay. Now you know what the gay community has to face from family/neighbors/the church.”
And BOOM, just like that, God blindsided me with a 100-mile-an-hour curve-ball that literally left me breathless and in tears.
God used the words of an ignorant troll to cut my heart open, and then he filled it with love for the gay community. I literally didn’t know what to do but cry and say sorry.
That’s how I started my sermon on homosexuality five days after “Jesus” trolled me online: “I’m sorry.” I swear you could have heard a pin drop. I guess no one expected me to start a sermon on homosexuality by saying “sorry”:
I’m so sorry.
I’m so sorry for anyone who has ever felt hated, like I did, because they are LGBT or Q.
I’m sorry for anyone who’s ever heard a parent say, “You’re no longer welcome here, because you’re LGBT or Q.”
I’m sorry for anyone who’s ever felt unwelcome in the church because they are LGBT or Q.
I’m sorry for anyone who’s ever felt like “Jesus” hated them.
Jesus doesn’t hate you. He loves you more than you can ever imagine. I don’t know if we’ll ever agree on the issue of homosexuality, but what I do know is Jesus loves you. I know that he loves you, and I also know that I haven’t done a good job of showing you that, and for that I’m so sorry.
I said something like that, cried, read from the Bible, cried, said “sorry” a couple more times and talked about how badly I hope that our community is someday known for loving the gay community.
Wanna hear something crazy? I made a bigger difference in the gay community through that one sermon than I have in over 10 years of ministry.
Why? Because it was the first time I really cared about gay people, and they could tell.
That night I shook hands, hugged, and became friends with several gay people (most of whom disagree with me theologically). I also got emails from others who admitted they’ve always felt hated by Jesus and the church—until that night.
But, Sammy, you might be thinking, how do you love someone whose actions or behaviors you find really unacceptable? How can I love someone who I believe is living in sin?
Great question. Do your thing, Mr. C. S. Lewis:
There is someone that I love, even though I don’t approve of what he does. There is someone I accept, though some of his thoughts and actions revolt me. There is someone I forgive, though he hurts the people I love the most. That person is me.
If you can’t say amen, say ouch. It’s true, isn’t it? It’s true that you and I have plenty of practice loving, forgiving, and taking care of someone who disgusts us at times. And it’s true that there are plenty of things we do that we don’t like, but we can love ourselves and accept ourselves without approving of everything we do.
Please don’t miss the point. This is not about what the Bible teaches about homosexuality. This is about the hypocrisy in my heart (and maybe yours). This is a reminder to extend grace and love to our gay brothers and sisters, just as we readily extend it to ourselves. Or as they extend it to us.
Guess what the LGBTQ community in Toledo said when we asked them what they thought about Christians: “We are hesitant to say anything, because we are stereotyped a lot, and we definitely don’t want to do that to all Christians.”
When I read that, I cried. I cried because their response confirmed that I’m such a hypocrite. I cried because now when I look at our gay brothers and sisters, I no longer see a threat or an “issue” to debate. I see people who feel hated by Jesus. I cried because, for the first time in my life, I want gay people to know Jesus loves them more than I want them to know my theological position.
Why do you think so many in the gay community feel so hated by Jesus and the church? Do you think it’s possible for us to disagree and still love people radically?
Sammy Adebiyi grew up in Nigeria. He is currently the young adult pastor at NorthPoint Church in Toledo, Ohio, where he lives with his wife and three daughters. He is also a national speaker for Food for the Hungry.