Jennifer was nervous.
When a friend had enthusiastically raved about one of their church's local ministries, Jennifer thought it would be a good way to love some neighbors in town she did not yet know. Now, though, her stomach was fluttering, and she began having second thoughts.
Stepping out of the car along with three other women, Jennifer balanced two hot pizzas in front of her. While her co-conspirators grabbed sodas and gift bags from the trunk—filled with scented body lotions, chocolates, and other goodies—she glanced around.
The gravel parking lot of The Doll House was crowded. It was Friday night, and the sky had been dark for several hours. Though she'd driven past the eyesore hundreds of times, Jennifer never once thought she'd be setting foot on the property. The sordid "entertainment venue" had a bad reputation in town and, though she knew it was silly, Jennifer was worried that someone she knew would see her there.
Respectfully, the women entered the establishment. As heads turned in their direction, it became evident that Doll House patrons and dancers and management were not used to seeing groups of well-coifed women showing up for the X-rated entertainment. The group quietly sat down, ordered drinks, and waited.
When the show ended, Sandy, their leader and an alum of the adult entertainment industry, followed a familiar hallway back to the dancers' dressing room. Knocking gently, Sandy introduced herself, and asked one of the women if she and her friends could come in and visit. With their permission, she signaled Jennifer and the others to join them.
Hesitantly, they did.
The Bind in Which We've Found Ourselves
How do we love the neighbor whom our church or community has identified as "sinful"? Whether it's the man in our congregation accused of white collar crime, the coworker who binge drinks on the weekends, or the neighborhood teen who becomes pregnant out of wedlock, we, like Jennifer, want to love well.
What typically comes so naturally to us when it comes to loving others—offering a ride to the doctor, sending a casserole to a new mom, writing a letter of condolence—can suddenly become riddled with conflict when we've identified the one on the receiving end of the love as someone who is a special sort of sinner.
Though I can't speak for my friend Jennifer, I can tell you what this looks like for me. My discomfort makes me reluctant to engage with my neighbor that God loves. I fear that if I do engage with him or her I'll somehow communicate that I condone the behavior in question. And I even fear that it will appear to others whose opinions I value—a family member, a friend at church, a pastor—that I do not condemn strongly enough! If I were completely honest, what I'd most prefer is for my neighbor to clean up his or her act, and then beg to attend church with me.