In Jesus' time on earth, leprosy was a big deal. Once people got it, they had to go off from everyone and live by themselves, or with other lepers. They were shunned and feared. No one wanted to be around them, as it was a horrible disease and no one else wanted to get it. Any time they went anywhere where that there might be healthy people, they had to yell "unclean, unclean."
Back around 2003-2004, I read a book that I found fascinating: Second Touch by Brock and Bodie Thoene. Set during Jesus' ministry, the story revolved around lepers. The Thoenes do some heavy research for their books, and the way they presented this story about lepers, and what they went through, helped me learn a lot more about the disease.
There are still leper colonies today, but it isn't something most people need to worry about.
Yet, we still have our own lepers. Not so much in American society, where just about any sin is not just tolerated, but put on display in parades and shouted from the housetops.
But enter almost any local church, and you'll find the lepers. Or maybe you won't find them. I am sure in Jesus' day, there were people who had leprosy and tried to hide it. They knew what would happen once everyone found out they had it. They would be shunned, kicked out of society and out of the city. So human nature being what it is, there had to be lepers who tried to hide it. And can you blame them? They would go from having friends and a loving family, to having nothing. Isolation, loneliness, and pain, just waiting for death.
Our modern day lepers in the church don't have a physical disease that is eating away at their flesh. They have something that is eating away at their soul, their self confidence, their lives.
Who are they? They are our brothers and sisters, parents, friends, children. They are people addicted to porn, people struggling with same-sex attractions, people addicted to sex or other things they are afraid to confide in anyone about. Just like the lepers of old, many try to hide it. And why not? They would face judgement, shunning, some would be kicked out of their homes, and some would even be kicked out of their churches.
I have told this story before on my blog, but it fits here, so I will share it again. Southern Gospel singer Kirk Talley told it on a live CD he did a few years back.
There was a young man who played guitar in the band at his church. He struggled with being attracted to other males, so he did what anyone in his shoes should be able to do: he went to his pastor and talked to him. His pastor seemed understanding, and said he'd pray for him. Then came the next church service. While this young man was on stage with the rest of the band, the pastor told the whole congregation what this young man had told him. He then turned to the young man, and told him to get out of the church, that his kind was not welcome there. So a horrified and heart broken young man took his guitar and walked out of the very place that should have been a safe place for him, but instead had done to him what the lepers of old had done to them: he was kicked out and shunned.
Every time I think of that story, it breaks my heart, and it also makes me angry. I'd like to get a hold of that pastor and shed some righteous anger on him. At least I hope it is righteous.
There was a day I walked into my pastor's study and told him something I had never verbalized to another person.....that I, Mark Buzard struggled with same-sex attractions. He and his wife never treated me differently, or if they did, they seemed to show more love and caring towards me. I am sure it wasn't an easy thing to have a member of his congregation tell him, but he did all he could to help me in his remaining years at my church. I will always be grateful to my pastor at that time, David Blowers, for being Jesus to me.
And if I wasn't fortunate and blessed enough to have one pastor who loved me through my struggles, I got a second one. I'll never forget the day, though it has been 12 or 13 years now. My former pastor left unexpectedly to fill a position of leadership in our denomination. My current pastor, Stan, had just come as our assistant pastor. We got a new pastor that was older and I didn't know, and I was feeling a bit lost.
One day I was really at a low point, so I called Stan, my assistant pastor. I'd known him for about 9 years, having gone to Bible college with him. He came, and I sat looking at him, wondering how on earth I was going to get up the nerve to tell another pastor this thing I struggle with. I started to tell him, stumbling a bit over my words, and had only gotten out that I wasn't sure how to tell him, when he blew me away. He said before Pastor Blowers had left, he had pulled Stan aside and told him what I was dealing with, and that I would need him.
Not to minimize what my former pastor had done, but Stan became even more involved in helping me. Fifteen years later, with him being my full time pastor for several years now, I know I can call him any time. I know he is praying for me. He occasionally sends me a text asking how I am doing.
And God has blessed me with others. I am so thankful for the friends who know the worst about me, and don't run, don't shun me, don't kick me out of their comfort zone.
Are there those who would? Yes, even in my own church. I have heard the comments, the snide remarks, the mockery. They didn't know someone was in their hearing who was hurt by their words. They had no clue a modern day leper was just a few feet away. (Note: since "coming out" on my blog about what it is I struggle with, I have yet to hear or experience any negative comments, though I am sure there would be a few who would if they knew)
Too many churches have a mental list of sins they are comfortable with. If they know of someone who struggles with things like pornography or homosexuality, they wouldn't want them in their church. But something they may be unaware of, or refuse to consider: they are already there. The silent lepers, hiding their disease, afraid to admit their struggle, for they fear what would happen.
Christians need to quit putting their head in the sand and thinking the lepers are all "out there". They aren't. They are wherever you are. They are in the pew in front of you, across from you. They may be the person sitting beside you in church......they may be someone in your own house.
The chances of your church having at least one person who is struggling with same-sex attractions and/or identifying themselves as gay, are greater than your church not having any. The chances of you knowing a person struggling with same-sex attractions is greater than you not knowing. Your church, your family - they are everywhere. In my own church, I know of three, including myself, though I do not know the identity of one of them.... or if that person still goes to my church.
And even greater than the chances of a person dealing with SSA, are the chances of someone in your church struggling with pornography. There are likely several people in your church, in your family. It could be your husband, brother, or son..... not that women are not susceptible to it, but it is more of a male problem than female.
Check out the statistics from Covenant Eyes on teens and pornography, if you can make it big enough. If not, click here: http://www.covenanteyes.com/2010/08/19/teens-and-porn-10-stats-your-need-to-know/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_content=4378167
I don't know about you, but that is scary, and sad. And how many of those kids will go on to fighting the addiction all of their lives, because they are too afraid to tell someone.... so they become another of the lepers, hiding in the shadows.
Sexual sin can have worse and more long lasting effects than other sins. I get that, but it is time the church stopped treating those involved in it like they are lepers. We tend to put sins on a level of not so bad to worse, and homosexuality and pornography are close the worst sins on our chart.
We can't go the way of some liberal churches and wink at these sins, and tell those who are involved in them that they are fine and don't need to change, and I am not saying same-sex attraction is a sin, but to many Christians it is. The sin is when the person gives in to lust and or the act of sex.
I firmly believe with all of my heart, that if the church had a more compassionate view and tone towards those struggling with same-sex attractions, porn, and anything else that is in the same category, those in our churches who are struggling with those issues might come out of the shadows, admit they have a problem, and ask for help.
But instead, we take a harsh stand not just against the sin, but against the person, and only eternity will show how many people we have driven more into their struggle and sin and/or away from God and the church by making it so hard for them to find help in the very place where they should be able to get it: their church.
My church is not perfect. (hey, if it was, I wouldn't be allowed in!) The people are not perfect. I am sure that if some people find out about my same-sex attractions, they will fear me, judge me, and shun me. That is very likely. And that is sad.
But I am thankful for those who know, and love me and call me their friend and brother. My pastor and his wife, Stanley and Sandra Grabill. My former pastor and his wife, David and Debbie Blowers.. and several others. If the church was filled with people like you, those broken people, the lepers in our church, would not feel they had to hide, but would feel safe in coming forward for help.
That is what Christianity, and being like Jesus is all about.