Today I want to write on a topic that I am embarrassed to say I have never addressed in this space before. I think that there are a lot of Christians – Evangelical or otherwise, who don’t know what to do about the LGBTQ+ conversation, which has become the elephant in the church. So many times I have heard people whom I respect tremendously side step the issue by saying things like, “I’m just not called to that issue” or “My ministry is just really focused on XYZ right now” or “I don’t want to close ministry doors by speaking on something I don’t know much about.”
We reduce our brothers and sisters to an “issue” or a “lifestyle choice”. I’m not talking about your alt-right, Westboro Baptist Church types either. I’m talking about people that are near and dear to my heart who love Jesus and fight for equality in the church but who are strangely silent on this particular demographic. Even in our politics or current events we can somewhat acknowledge in a rather roundabout way “Oh what a shame.” when we here of another report of LGBTQ+ violence. Some are even bold enough to admit (usually behind closed doors) that it doesn’t seem right that same sex couples don’t have the same legal advantages that straight, married people do, although we aren’t quite sure if it’s okay to be okay with same sex marriage, and are definitely not bold enough to say something about it. It usually ends with a fleeting moment of sympathy and then back to our regularly scheduled programming.
It’s as if we have taken the places of the Pharisees, trying desperately to reason among ourselves, what are we going to do about all these LGBTQ+ people? They have turned our theology upside down and are really causing a ruckus! And instead of setting a place at the table to have a conversation or even humbly admit,
“I don’t know where you are at or what you are going through, but I want to.”
we either don’t acknowledge them or quickly turn to blanket statements that offer little more than a facade of superficial Christian love. And you know what?
I’m guilty too.
2016 was a year that revealed some dark places in my heart. It has always been my nature to seek harmony with my fellow man and see equality and justice in the church and in the world. However, how many times have I sought a cause where I wasn’t the one who could stand to benefit? The 2016 election cycle made me see that it wasn’t until I was a single, pregnant mom that I could truly empathize with women who find themselves at the door of Planned Parenthood. It wasn’t until I was a single parent working and in school full time with an infant, struggling to put food on the table that I could empathize with those “welfare moms” seeking government assistance. It wasn’t until I found out my child was autistic that I truly cared about advocating for the disabled. It wasn’t until I married a DACA recipient that I truly cared about immigration issues and reform.
There is power in simply giving a damn. The sad thing is that most of the time, the only person we care to give a damn about is ourselves.
So how did I get here? Me! The one who cares deeply about social justice and equality, but who is practically privileged in every way? Why should this white, straight, cisgendered millennial, ever give a second thought to LGBTQ+ issues, let alone acknowledge that these are Christian issues too?
To quote retired Bishop Gene Robinson,
I’m one of those sappy religious folks who actually believes in the Holy Spirit.
I believe with all that I am that the Holy Spirit orchestrated what happened next.
And it all started with this shirt.
To this day, I don’t even remember how I came across this picture, but I am sure glad that I did. Honestly, I probably never would have clicked on his website if it wasn’t for the fact that his name is Matthias, the same as my sweet 5 year old. At first glance I wasn’t really sure what I thought about “LGBT Christianity”, but there was this magnetism – this joy in his writing that let my guard down and piqued my interest.
For some time before this, I was in a season of studying the bible to see what it had to say about Egalitarian theology, specifically regarding what it had to say about gender equality in the church. If you are a Christian woman in the church with a fire in your belly and a mission in your heart, you are likely to be met with resistance in the form of what are commonly referred to as the “difficult passages” that Complementarians use to justify silencing women in the church. Knowing the heart of Jesus, yet wanting to be true to His word, I took to looking at the historical-cultural context of said passages and held fast to my Christian Feminist leanings.
As passionate as I am about Feminism, I can’t help but notice the double standard when Christian Feminists feel slighted when Complementarians condescendingly state “the bible clearly says” in regards to the difficult passages that are used against women from preaching, teaching, leading in the home and in the church, but who will use that same sentiment towards the “clobber passages” that are used as weapons against the LGBTQ+ community. But hey, I let it lie. Most of the Christian community was silent on this issue, why not me?
And that’s when this delightful thorn in my side came along and wrecked everything. It took less than 140 characters to offend me out of laziness and into conviction, prayer, and study. I couldn’t sweep it under the rug now. I was that “straight, well meaning Christian” who was sympathetic enough to feel sorrow at the plight of LGBTQ+ people but wasn’t quite sure where I stood or what the practical steps were to even begin to think about entering this world, let alone what I could do to help – if I even should.
But really, see the entire thread ^.
Now let’s shift gears for a moment for a flashback sequence to 2009. At this point I had just started my second year of bible college and was of the mind that I was going to end up in Vermont in some sort of ministry capacity. And what was Vermont known for in 2009? The Marriage Equality Act, a bill that allowed Vermont to recognize same sex marriage for the first time. I immediately started trying to figure out how to reach these troubled souls with the gospel. As a part of my “research” I rented the documentary For The Bible Tells Me So which features (now) retired Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Bishop to be consecrated by the Episcopal Church. I was literally sitting there trying to come up with a strategy for how one goes about proselytizing to “those people”. I was so blinded by my narrow, unstudied view on what the bible says about homosexuality that although I was moved, grieved even, by the tragedy and divide in this film, I was nonetheless convinced that they were wrong and I was right.
Ride’s over. Back to 2017.
So I began to seek out LGBTQ+ voices and just listen with an open heart and mind for probably the first time in my life. I didn’t engage too much, in fear that my apathy would show. I had heard about the Gay Christian Network when I read Searching For Sunday by Rachel Held Evans last year, but never really looked into it. It’s practically an accident that I ended up stumbling across the link to access the livestream for the GCN conference on the first night of the conference. I wasn’t sure if this was for me, but I was ready to listen and learn.
I was nervous thinking about how complicated my theology was about to get if it turned out that Jesus was okay with all of this, but I couldn’t deny that God was there. And I couldn’t push Him away or ignore the elephant in the church this time. Love kept drawing me in.
In July, my family walked away from the Evangelical Church for a trial separation after seeing that the justice and equality of Jesus didn’t seem compatible within the rigid framework of the Evangelical machine. It’s been a sabbatical of sorts, finding Jesus in unexpected places and truly examining why we believe what we believe (Thanks Scot McKnight). So you can imagine my jaw hitting the floor when it turned out that Gene Robinson was a keynote speaker – whose story I first heard 8 years prior, when I was trying to systematically forge a plan of action to reach “the homosexuals”. It turned out “those people” ended up reaching me. After almost 6 months, I finally “had church”. And it turned out that the ones that I marginalized for so long were my people.
After that conference was over, I felt a fire inside of my bones like I had not felt since I began my journey studying Egalitarianism as it relates to women in the church. I finally felt alive, like for the first time I was giving a damn about something that was not serving my own interests. I felt completely consumed by love as if the weight of apathy was melting right off of me. The regrets I have of slighting the LGBTQ+ people in my life in the past are many. Humility has come back for me in 2017. I choose to move forward with the resolve that I don’t want to one day say with regret, “It wasn’t until my son or daughter came out that I started giving a damn about LGBTQ+ people and issues.” I choose today. I choose now. You can set people free with the sound of your voice (or the signs from your hands). In the words of Ling Lam,
“Every time you speak up you are chipping away at the conspiracy of silence.”
Apathy, be damned.
It’s time to let love in.