Five years ago, my friend Darrel started a church in Fort Worth called Southside City Church. The church’s primary focus is serving men and women living with HIV/AIDS, and they developed these relationships through a partnership with a local non-profit that provides housing and resources to homeless individuals living with HIV/AIDS. A significant percentage of the men and women involved in life at Southside are LGBT individuals who, alongside heterosexuals from all walks of life, have finally found a place to belong. Darrel has a day job. He doesn’t earn a living through his role as a pastor, yet Darrel and his family have devoted their lives to the church, which ends every service with a meal so folks from all social classes and every corner of the city can enter into one another’s lives in a meaningful way.
I lived closer to Fort Worth when the church was launched so I would attend every Sunday evening. What drew me there were the vans of previously homeless men and women that rolled up every Sunday. What drew me there were the children of all ethnicities who worshipped Jesus alongside me, Chaplain Jerry, and teens who showed up off the streets. Everyone played a part in preparing the food, creating the clothes closet, setting up for Sundays and cleaning up the kitchen. You didn’t know who was HIV positive and who wasn’t, who had a criminal record and who didn’t, who had a college degree and who dropped out of high school. Everyone was equally invested—with no distinctions—and the relationships were mutually transforming.
Southside is so remarkable because communities like Southside seem so rare. Christians have been known by what we oppose for far too long. We’ve been known to oppose policies so strongly that we’ve unintentionally neglected people, and these people matter to God. We don’t have to exchange our values in order to affirm human flourishing, but fear has insulated us from men and women made in the image of God—men and women starving for intimacy. I’m afraid if many of them walked into our churches they would find cold stares and condescending half-smiles. Not only is this an incredible injustice, but we’re missing out on relationships with individuals who have as much to offer the church as we have to offer them—people God created, people He sees, people He is pursuing with His relentless love that He intends to demonstrate through the Body of Christ.
Not everyone can spend their free time launching a church for the homeless, but you can do something. There is a disproportionate percentage of LGBT youth living on the streets, with some studies suggesting up to 40%. Many of them have been kicked out of their homes because of their unchosen orientation. Bullying is alive and well in the schools on your corner, and bullying isn’t just an idea mentioned in the news—it’s little boys and little girls being told they’re “****ing faggots” before they’re old enough to know what the words mean: words that will haunt them for the rest of their lives, words they’ll remember when they wonder whether or not the world would be better off without them.
You can make a difference. You can begin volunteering for a few hours a week at a local LGBT youth center just for the sake of getting to know a kid and encouraging them in the process. You can consider, as a family or small group, making a meal every other week for the men and women at a local homeless shelter like the one Southside serves. And when you do it, approach it as a natural way of establishing organic relationships with people who will change your life. Rather than dropping off a meal to feel like you’re doing a good deed, listen to the stories of the men and women you begin to engage on a regular basis. Consider whether or not your kids need them as much as they need the whimsical giggles your children will bring to unintentionally brighten their lives.
If we, the church, don’t enter into the lives of the hurting, someone will. But just like you need more than a meal to flourish, these overlooked individuals are starving for intimacy and asking questions about meaning and belonging. They most likely won’t approach the church for very legitimate reasons; it’s time we approach them. Perhaps instead of being known by what we oppose, we’ll begin to be known as a community that’s for human flourishing in the name of Jesus Christ.