Who is welcome?
Several years ago, when I was a young pastor serving a church in the western part of the Netherlands, a lady in the congregation asked me to preach about the wedding garment. It took me some time before I understood what she meant. Most probably, she was not happy about the way some people were dressed during Sunday worship services. She wanted me to say that respect for God requires decent clothing.
I never preached the desired sermon, but the text to which she alluded – Matthew 22:11-13 – came back to my mind when I was thinking about a tough discussion which upset Dutch Christians at the beginning of this year. The discussion was provoked by news items regarding the expected publication of a Dutch version of the Nashville Statement on sexuality and gender. It was said that about 200 Christian leaders from the Netherlands had signed the Statement. In the aftermath of the discussion, people tended to distinguish between two types of churches: churches in which all are welcome irrespective of their sexual orientation, and churches in which this is not the case. Somewhat ironically, a local church in the ‘all are welcome’ camp decided that a minister who had signed the Statement was not welcome to their pulpit for the next Sunday.
This decision may seem inconsistent, but perhaps it was less so than it looks, given the specific position and responsibility of ministers in the church. In any event, it helped me to realise that one should not restrict the whole discussion to the question as to whether all are welcome or not.
In the parable of Matthew 22:1-14, all people found by the king’s servants are welcome to the feast, both bad and good (see v. 10). Yet the man without the wedding garment is cast out. He is not welcome to participate in the feast, because his failing to wear suitable clothing shows his lack of appreciation of the miracle that had happened to him. He thought that his presence at the feast was the most normal thing in the world. In other words, he showed no awareness of his unworthiness and need for changing his life.
All should be welcome to the church: rich and poor, homosexuals and heterosexuals, black and white, good citizens and criminals, egoists and generous people. All are welcome, because we are all equal in our unworthiness. We are all welcome as we are, in order not to remain as we are, but to receive a new life. Obviously, for some the struggle involved in living the new life may have implications that do not apply to others. Yet we are all called to this struggle and can be triumphant through the Spirit of God alone.
Only those who do not assess the true value of the miracle of being called to the Church of Jesus Christ risk being excluded. In that respect there is no difference between members of the LHBT community and others. All are invited and need to accept and wear the wedding garment.