The Difference Compassion Makes

Last Sunday we continued our series in Genesis 1-3 with a message about gender and sexuality. We closed looking at 1 Peter 3:15-17 where we heard God call churches like ours to be both compassionate and courageous.

Today I’d like to zero in on compassion by passing along a true story found in the book, “Embodied.” Many people from the LGTBQ+ community have stories of being treated badly by people who profess to be Christians. Thankfully, others can share stories of being loved with compassion. Below is a story of someone who experienced both. By God’s grace, may we be a church like the second one in this story.

“My friend Lesli was born female. But from the time Lesli was four years old, [Lesli] experienced life as a boy. Lesli felt like a boy. Thought like a boy. Played like a boy. “When all of the other little girls wanted to play tea or house, I wanted to play football,” Lesli told me. “At the age of four I proclaimed that Wonder Woman was going to be my wife and we would have super-powered children. I thought nothing of it.”

Lesli also remembers loving Jesus wholeheartedly from a very young age. “My earliest memories are of the church nursery and Sunday school. I have always known that I was a beloved child of God. I cannot remember a time when God’s truth was not an integral part of my life.”

Lesli’s struggle increased with age, making it hard to fit in at youth group. “I started to keenly feel a distance between myself and other girls,” Lesli remembers. “I could not relate to their emerging womanhood. They were spending hours putting on makeup, styling their hair, and talking about boys. None of this interested me in the least.”

Like most kids wrestling with their gender identity, Lesli was wrestling alone. No one to talk to, no one to listen. Nobody seemed to care. Lesli sank into dark periods of depression. And when isolation met depression, suicidal thoughts quickly followed. “I lived this charade until high school rolled around,” Lesli said, “becoming increasingly despondent and suicidal.”

Finally, Lesli summoned the courage to go to the pastor for help. Lesli explained [Lesli’s] dysphoria to him, hoping for some pastoral guidance. Instead of offering guidance, Lesli recalled, “My pastor escorted me out the back door of his office and told me to never come back again. And I didn’t. I didn’t step foot in a church for the next eighteen years. I hated Christians, especially pastors, from that point on.”

“As you might recall Lesli was booted out the back door of a pastor’s office after going to him for help. But people need love and community. If they can’t find it in the church, they’ll search for it elsewhere. And that’s what Lesli did. [Lesli] quickly found love and acceptance among LGBTQ people, many of whom had also experienced ridicule from Christians. Lesli also fell in love with a woman named Sue, and they ended up getting married. Sue had a rare disease that caused her hands to shake. One night, she went outside for a smoke, but her hands were shaking so badly that as she was lighting her cigarette, she lit herself on fire. Lesli was inside doing the dishes when [Lesli] heard Sue screaming. Running outside to see what was happening, Lesli found Sue engulfed in flames. Immediately, Sue was rushed to the hospital, but the burns were too severe. Three days later, Sue died.

The crushing blow of losing a spouse was unbearable. Half-dazed, Lesli scrambled to find a church that might be willing to do Sue’s funeral. After not setting foot in a church for eighteen years, Lesli called the only church [Lesli was] aware of. It was a church Sue had once volunteered at, and it happened to be one of the most conservative churches in the area. The pastor picked up the phone. Stammering, Lesli said, “Hi, my name is Lesli, and my wife just died. We’re lesbians, but, um … I want to know if you would do my wife’s funeral.”

The pastor didn’t say, “Let me think about that,” or “Maybe, but you have to first know where we stand on the issue of transgenderism and the lesbian lifestyle.” With compassion and conviction, the pastor said:

“We would be honored to.”

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” the pastor went on to say. “You must be truly grieving right now. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose a loved one. Please, Lesli, let us take care of all the details of the funeral—the cost, the arrangements, whatever you need. Please, Lesli, let us love you through your pain.”

The church surrounded Lesli with love—something Lesli had never felt from Christians. Lesli had experienced such love and kindness from LGBTQ people. But not from Christians. And it was this simple embodiment of Christlike kindness that reignited Lesli’s passion for Jesus and brought Lesli back to faith in Christ. Lesli will be hanging out with us for all eternity in the new creation, all because one pastor had the courage to manifest God’s kindness.”

What a difference compassion makes! One pastor was willing, no honored, to extend love and compassion to Lesli. And he didn’t do it alone, the whole church got involved, and God used that to draw Lesli back to faith in Christ. I wonder where the “Lesli’s” are for us? Maybe it’s a teen in five15 who has never told anyone that he doesn’t really feel like a boy? Or a woman in your community group who has struggled with same sex attraction, but never been sure if it was safe to open up about that, especially after the occasional joke and eye-rolling about homosexuals? Or is it a gay co-worker who is about to get a cancer diagnosis? May Lesli’s story inspire us to be ready to respond with compassion to the “Lesli’s” God brings our way.  “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

– Mark Mullery