Loving Our Neighbor

“People need to forget religion and just focus on God.”- Bobby Berk (Season 1 of Queer Eye)

Queer Eye is one of my favorite shows, and, in my biased opinion, one of the best shows. If you watch The Fab Five on Netflix, I think you’d find it hard to disagree with me on that statement. Individually, they each bring a different personality along with a career and skillset that lovingly helps transform a person’s life that is usually in need of it.

While grabbing a glass of red wine, I usually pop an episode on before I head to bed for my enjoyment to unwind from the work day. These five men never cease to make me laugh (Jonathan Van Ness in particular- a little favoritism biased on my end), and of course, make me cry by the end of the episode. The heart touching theme to each episode comes from five guys who meet a person exactly where they’re at – no matter their background (race, gender, politics, religion, and sexual orientation), and leave them in a better place using each of their crafted skills to highlight that person’s qualities.

“…..meet a person exactly where they’re at” is a line that often draws me back to what the Gospel does and what Christians are called to do for others. Throughout the series both Van Ness and Bobby Berk have recalled their religious trauma growing up, having been gay, and the hurt they’ve experienced from the church. During one episode, in a loving exchange between a Christian man and Bobby, he recalls his time growing up in church praying to and begging God that he would not be gay. Bobby’s experience with the church made it hard for him to even enter a church in another episode while making over a Christian woman. Van Ness explains in one episode that it’s not God that he feels alienated from, but the church and its politics.

The encounters with both Christians resulted in a loving experience for all five guys who, sadly and most likely, haven’t always been recipients of that same love from Christians. Bobby (the Christian man) addressed the church’s past mistreatment of the LGBTQIA+ community at the end of his episode, and reassured them how loved they were by his family. Tammye (the Christian woman) consistently reminded them how loved they were by God then proceeded to speak over them individually about their God given gifts.

I shudder to think how often the American church has been a stumbling block for people because the church chose to respond with religion instead of grace and love. I resonated with both Van Ness and Berk’s perspectives towards the church, having grown up in the environment seeing similar responses. This ultimately led me to years of rebellion against my faith and a complete deconstruction of everything that I had learned growing up. I knew Jesus loved me and “all the little children”- per our Sunday School song. I knew that he died on the cross for all to give eternal life to anyone who believed in him. However, the love story that was preached on Sundays didn’t necessarily translate into action from the church towards the LGBTQIA+ community, immigrants, people of color, etc. It seemed as if politics and religion were prioritized over the true message of the Gospel. Eventually I found myself leaving the church and wanting nothing to do with it.

Matthew 22:36-40

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

God’s love is incomparable to human love. Unlike earthly love it’s completely unconditional- no matter what you’ve done, who you are, what you’re doing. The Creator of the Universe is madly in love with you; contrary to what religion says. Much like the Fab Five, Jesus meets us where we’re at, as we are, and loves us enough to not leave us there- only, Jesus does it better. As much as I love the Fab Five and would love nothing more than to drink wine with and let Jonathan Van Ness do my hair, no one does anything better than Jesus. His grace is sufficient enough for you to cover all of your mistakes and imperfections that you’ll ever make and have here on this temporary earth. His grace and love are both transformative, and when we encounter Jesus, we are changed forever. I’m not talking your behavior, I’m talking about your heart and perspective. Religion says clean up your behavior, but Jesus says “follow me”.

I imagine that Jesus weeps when we mistreat image bearers of God. Every one of us who professes to be a Christian, will have to give an account for how we loved our neighbors.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”- Jesus (John 13:34-35)

I’ll speak for myself here: this season, God has opened my eyes to areas where the church needs to do better. If the church cannot show true repentance for areas we’ve done wrong and love our neighbors well, how can we ever point an unbelieving world to Jesus?

I’ll be honest; this post for me was originally hard to write. In the grander picture, I do love the church which is why I am vocal about change where needed.

I’m part of a great church here in Austin, and was part of an equally great church in NYC. If it wasn’t for the body of Christ and community, my faith would probably be lost by now. I’ve only been able to endure the tough seasons and the experience of pain from loss because of both Jesus and my closest friends in the church. I was welcomed back with open arms even with all of my baggage. My friends willingly went into valleys with me to wrestle with my questions and doubts, and love me at my worst. They’ve uplifted me in dark seasons in ways that most people don’t know. The American church has done countless good things for communities and cities. Today you’ll often find more communities full of Jesus loving people who live out the Gospel and love their neighbors well.

This post isn’t meant to criticize or beat on the church because by no means are we perfect. We will let you down at some point because we are imperfect human beings at the end of the day. It’s hopefully just a loving wake up call to be better; something that’s been on my heart for a while.

To end this; I’m excited for this new generation of Believers and the future of the church. I see a generation who is actively pursuing the true heart of Jesus and bringing us back to the simple Gospel. Going beyond the walls of the institution, and extending the table to see the Kingdom of Heaven in its fullness.

“This is what God’s kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.”- Rachel Held Evans

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