15 Years of Isaiah’s Experience—Happy Anniversary to Higher Ground!

On a bitter cold winter night fifteen years ago, in the upstairs level of a Whole Foods Grocery in Greenwich Village, New York City, a small group of men met to take the Scriptures seriously on a matter of desperate importance to them: same-sex attraction. That was the first meeting of a ministry begun to help those who wanted to follow Jesus, honor the Scriptures, and deal with such desires realistically. We, the Village Church of Greenwich Village, wanted to support such hearty warriors, those who faced down the facile cultural answer of “Just be gay,” who eschewed the dead end of identifying with their desires, and who looked to the Lord for the strength to develop in their gender, heroes one and all. That ministry, originally called G.A.M.E. (Gender Affirming Ministry Endeavor), later renamed Higher Ground, has been going ever since.

 

Last Monday marked the fifteen year anniversary meeting, conducted online. Participants hailed from Orlando, Brooklyn, Long Island City, Canada, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Poughkeepsie, Sacramento, Cleveland, Miami, Buffalo, and, of course, Manhattan. (There were other locations also that I didn’t catch.) These guys, different faces of course from that first meeting, convened yet once again to encourage one another in this discipleship.

 

I had the privilege to attend and recall for them why we started the ministry in the first place, and what went into it. I told them of the inspiration of Isaiah 6:7-11:

 

And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” 8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” 9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ 10 Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” 11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste…”

 

At that time, in 2009, there was a public church registry kept by Exodus, the largest, nationally recognized Christian ministry to people with unwanted same-sex attraction.  Any church that welcomed SSA people with truth and love could sign up for the registry to be identified as a solid place to go. We were the only church in New York City on that list. Yes, you read that right. Only one in a city of eight million people, and the center of gayness. I understood God to be calling us to an experience similar to Isaiah: to speak to a culture that would not listen. To hold forth a message which, in spite of its power to transform, would be rejected. Just as God tells Isaiah that his unheeded message would heal (v10). In fact, even while we were helping people, many would plug their ears and gnash their teeth at us.

 

I was right. In 2013, that national ministry, Exodus International, collapsed under the cowardice of its president. In 2015, the United States Supreme Court rendered the Obergefell v. Hodges decision and same sex marriage became law of the land. A journalist attended our group under false pretenses to attempt an expose for the New York Times. Some people left the Village Church explicitly citing the presence of this ministry as the reason.

 

But the Bible did not change. And the power of the Holy Spirit to bring people into the way God’s freedom did not diminish. It just became a narrow gate. Sometimes these guys can get discouraged in the face of cultural contradiction. But I reminded them of Jesus’ promise in Matthew 5:11-12:

 

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

When Jesus says, “the prophets who were before you,” He is talking about people like Isaiah. People who with their lives preached a message that was true and nonetheless rejected.

 

That is these guys. Their reward is great. Heroes, one and all.

 

 

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