Well, it finally had to happen.
You hear about things like this happening in church, but we never thought it would happen to us—but it actually did in church on Sunday.
Let me set the stage: Some friends of ours—who happen to be youth leaders here at our church in the UK—are getting married. On Friday evening (teens night) the youth did a mock wedding ceremony for our friends in which they made them switch outfits—he wore the wedding dress, she wore the suit. It was great fun.
Then Sunday during the announcements, one of the elders showed some slides of the event and everyone was having a good laugh. But all of a sudden there was a commotion at the back of the church. Somebody was yelling, “This is wrong! This is sick!” and for a moment we thought it was a joke, part of the funny slide show. But then we realized it wasn’t … a couple in the church were striding angrily down the aisle, she in the lead yelling out that what was happening was against God’s laws, that cross-dressing was a sin, that it was making God angry, and that it was sick and wrong. We were all in shock; it was so surreal.
Fortunately the head elder jumped up and ushered them both out, and a stunned silence followed. Nobody really knew what to do. We were sitting near our friends who are about to get married, and we could see the bride-to-be was visibly upset. Then she stood up and left the service in tears. Several of us followed her into the foyer to try and comfort her, as clearly she was very upset by the outburst.
Reflecting on the experience, there are a lot of lessons to be learned from it, I believe. It shows us, for one, that there are people within the church who are willing to sacrifice relationships for the sake of “being right” with their brand of truth with a capital “T.” Even if they had a legitimate point, in no way was it handled in an appropriate or even biblical fashion. Scripture makes it clear there is an appropriate way to deal with conflict resolution; shouting out your opinions in the midst of a church service isn’t one of them. Further, think of what a nonbeliever, visiting the church for the first time, might have thought of such an angry outburst. What kind of example does it set? What message does it send?
But lest we be too hard on the couple; what about their situation? The hardest part for those who have been hurt is to extend grace to them, and not to go with the initial gut feeling to strike back out of hurt and anger. Situations like this—when we feel threatened, when people are attacking us—calls us to “be the bigger person” and not to lash out. Stepping back from the situation with some perspective, perhaps the way they felt they had to handle the situation says more about where they are at—spiritually, emotionally, etc.—than anything else. One response could certainly be, “Good riddance! Clearly they just need to leave the church. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” But this would be merely to answer one wrong with yet another wrong.
So all of this leads to the question: How should this situation be handled? What are the possibilities? In my opinion, I think the church leadership would be making a mistake simply to let the couple leave in their anger. It needs to be handled by being dealt with in the very near future. They need to have a conversation with this couple soon, before it fades into memory. While the message needs to be firmly sent that what they did was wrong—for biblical and relational reasons—the goal of all forms of church discipline is always restoration, not punishment. The best-case scenario for all involved would be for the elders, in grace, to restore this couple to fellowship in the body. It seems clear as well that the issues with which this couple struggles with need to be addressed as well on some level.
Further, I believe the elders should address the situation from the front in a church service, and explain how they handled the situation and the reasons why. Not only does this provide an opportunity to discuss what constitutes appropriate and biblical conflict resolution, but also it demonstrates to the church that we are indeed a place of safety. It is the job of leadership to create and to maintain a safe and healthy culture, and this becomes a golden opportunity to reinforce the fact that the leadership takes such values seriously. People in the body need to know that their church is a safe place where healing, forgiveness and restoration truly do take place.
We are the church, warts and all. It is unfortunate that these kinds of things happen from time to time, but they clearly do. How we respond to them and how we handle it after the fact becomes an opportunity for grace to be demonstrated in the most real of ways.