The 1980s-1990s phase of the AIDS epidemic in the United States gutted an entire generation that included Seventh-day Adventists. For many survivors, that period is a deeply traumatic memory: they lost friends and loved ones; many nursed friends through severe illnesses; and all of them faced a repelling, rejecting, and—to say the least—avoidant denomination.
Church wasn’t “family” for them, so they were family for each other.
I reread Luke 10 today, thanks to Herb Montgomery, and noticed this statement for the first time:
When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you.” —Jesus, Luke 10:5-6
I don’t often hear that a blessing or peace is something someone brings with them rather than something they find at a destination, something that others give them. In our culture, it’s the host who shares the grace, the host who shares the blessing, not the visitor, not the person receiving welcome.
So often when we talk about who is welcome or received, especially in churches, the congregation or pastor or elders are usually described as bless-ers. They have legal and sacramental authority, they often own the property, they can expel people or invite them into membership: we imagine the power to “bless” resides with them.
That’s not the dynamic at work in this verse.
In this verse, it’s the itinerant community that blesses. The power to bring peace moves with them, and reluctant or rejecting hosts can resist it.
This is encouragement for people who don’t have conventional power yet may not realize that they aren’t without all power. Families may be icy tundras and congregations may be just as cold. But we have the ability to offer the mainstream “peace” and wholeness, and they have the ability to repel both.
The first generation of LGBTQ people memorialized a community that the mainstream would rather forget, they took peace with them into their congregations, and that peace very often returned to them without first “resting” at church.
These experiences were incredibly painful for them, and yet, the blessings of community, mutual care, kindness, group mobilization, and collective strength emerged from them to bless the wider world.
Congregations like California’s Glendale City Church continue to benefit from the peace of that generation: members affected by that era’s domestic AIDS crisis as patients or as caregivers shared their stories and gifts among themselves and with other church members. They allowed each other to care, pray, and support, and still do.
I imagine that this shouldn’t be so much an exception. But it was in the time of Jesus, and it’s not much different among the religious today. What could be different is how we respond to the pattern and whether we build community despite the Good Folks™ and the fear and stasis that keeps Others in every generation out.