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Learning to Love Your Sinful Neighbor

Learning to Love Your Sinful Neighbor

Our reluctance to move toward those identified as 'sinful' keeps us from living like Jesus
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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 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-coiffed 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 alumni 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.

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Margot Starbuck

Margot Starbuck is a TCW regular contributor. Follow her on Twitter @MargotStarbuck.

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July 29, 2013  2:18pm

Jesus could go to people and into places because he is God and knew who would be receptive and who would not. For us to go into such places is likely to be a waste of time or even dangerous. Even if we know someone who is in such places, having effective witness to that person would probably be more effective and less dangerous if we could talk with him or her privately elsewhere.

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Angela Miller

July 14, 2013  8:55am

I re-read the article and the author states that you can go to the gay pride parade she doesn't say to march in it. I know it seems like splitting hairs but I truly think there is a difference. Marching in the parade would imply approval and support. But going to the parade, standing in the crowd would give you the opportunity to talk to those who need Jesus. The article was so excellent. God is working on me to love like Jesus did! I need to step out and be courageous!

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July 06, 2013  1:24pm

Thanks so much for writing this. I plan to forward it to a few friends because I found it very challenging. I find it interesting that a lot of people have criticized you for your suggestion that you model Christ's love by marching with your lesbian friend in a gay pride parade but not for the suggestion about having lunch with a fellow teacher who may have behaved inappropriately with a student. I would find both uncomfortable but the mere fact that I do makes me think that this is something Christ would want me to do. If you stand at arm's length from "sinners" how can you reach them? They won't want to hear what you have to say. Not to mention in God's eyes we are all sinners. Liars and gossipers are always condemned along with fornicators and adulterers. But we only think about the latter.

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