Not so long ago, a pastor emailed me an interesting story. A year before the pandemic began, a young woman was baptized at the church he serves during their Easter service. She is gay and came from a non-denominational church that told her she could not lead in worship because of her orientation. Since joining, she has blessed this congregation at least once a month with her musical gifts.
He shares that this young woman drove past another United Methodist church in the area before Christmas and saw that their sign had been graffitied with spray paint. Loving her new church home motivated her to care for this church, so she stopped her last-minute Christmas shopping, went to Home Depot to purchase graffiti remover and drove back to the church to clean the spray paint off their sign. As she finished, a man from the church drove up and thanked her for what she had done.
Later in the day, she visited this church’s website and was shocked to learn that they felt very differently about homosexuality than her new home church. While she did wonder if they would have welcomed her help if they knew she was a lesbian, she told her pastor that even after learning that she was “incompatible with Christian teaching” according to their website, she still would have cleaned the graffiti off their sign anyway.
On Saturday, I was reminded of this story by another related to the hostage situation at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. While much of the national focus was on the motivation of the captor, The Washington Post shared a vivid example of the interfaith progress faith leaders have made in this community. As the hostage standoff happened nearby, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Islamic colleagues gathered together to pray (and worry) for their friend Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker.
“Then around sunset came the most emotional moment thus far: the arrival of three Muslim women, friends of Cytron-Walker’s wife, bearing her favorite food — their samosas. When Adena Cytron-Walker saw the trio, she collapsed into their arms.”
God’s love is different because it upends our expectations and is generous beyond measure. Where we expect someone to love those they share much with, the love Jesus embodied and calls his disciples to is unconditional. This love doesn’t see interfaith distinctions as roadblocks to affection, and it doesn’t impede a generous moment of discipleship even when there are divisions present that are painful.
I was moved upon hearing this story of interfaith friends offering the support they could at an impossibly difficult moment. And I was equally impressed that this young woman gets what so many seem to miss about the generous discipleship Jesus calls us to.
We are called to love, even when we disagree. Friends, family, and enemies. People who look different and who see the world differently. Democrats and Republicans. Vaccinated and anti-vax. No category of person we can imagine is beyond God’s love, even if some remain beyond our ability to stretch toward. It is that simple, and yes, that hard.
Imagine how different the world would be if we perfect the art of calling forth generous disciples. Think of the impact it could have upon our toxic politics and broken relationships.
I find hope in these stories and in the possibility that the Church might once again call forward people who will change the world.