National Coming Out Day from 1 Evangelical perspective
I told Bet Hannon and Adele Sakler last week that I’d post today, for National Coming Out Day, as a straight ally to my LGBTQ friends . . . and I have composed at least half a dozen very distinct posts since then, each with a different focus and different twist. And this morning during my normal time of prayer I found myself composing blog posts in my head rather than approaching the throne of the Triune God. Hmmm . . .
Reality is that I am not going to change anyone’s mind in this post, but that I am going to anger or disappoint people who see things differently than I do now. But I believe obedience to the Triune God requires me to say all this today; so how do I go about this as a layperson with less credibility than many of you?
I finally decided to narrow it down to addressing the real people in my life, because there are plenty of places for any of you to get big general pronouncements of ethics or correct theology or correct exegesis. And I DO address the real people of my life with this issue, face to face and on the phone and in many other avenues. It is important to me.
Why is it important to me? Because, as Rachel Swan first told me, we each have our “queer card” (the place where we hide who we really are for fear of being rejected); and because I think this issue is a microscope that lets us examine the reality of our soteriology: What are we saved from? What are we saved for? How are we saved? What does that salvation look like when we walk it out? Finally, for all of us of any faith or no faith, this issue gets at the heart of “what is THE GOOD LIFE?” What will really satisfy us?
But I’m not going to do an essay on a satisfying life, or an essay on soteriology, or an essay on ethics, or an essay on community. When I did debate in junior high and high school, I learned how to study both sides of an issue to argue either side in a way to win the debate, and I also learned how to recognize that TRUTH goes way beyond talking points to win the debate. Each person who reads this is capable of choosing real study of both sides, and each person who reads this is free to stick blindly to their own side without really considering the other side beyond what it takes to win the debate against them in your own head. I can urge the first and caution against the second, but you are you and it’s your choice.
So instead, I’m giving you glimpses of my words to the people I love in regard to sexual orientation, ethics, and lifestyle:
To my boys, in age-appropriate ways and at age-appropriate times:
It is my heart’s desire that you experience the life God created you to experience, in every arena. I pray you love the Triune God and learn obedience and learn appropriate freedom. I pray you learn “how life works”, and can navigate that reality in ways that fulfill you and fulfill God’s purposes for you fully. I long for you to know scripture more and more thoroughly, for you to study many spheres of knowledge, for you to experience the reality of prayer, the reality of action, the reality of solitude, the reality of community, the reality of contemplation, the reality of hard work both physically and mentally. I long for you to have wonderful friendships and to grow into a fully satisfying sexual partnership that will last a lifetime. I am excited to see how that plays out for you!
Sin is what separates you from God or from others. Part of maturity is learning to recognize that separation and realize that God is after a healing of that separation, and that God personally provided THE WAY to real salvation. Accept God’s gift of life in Jesus Christ, and pursue that life with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. It is our relationship with God that satisfies the part of us that nothing else can satisfy, and God so desired that relationship that God provided in Christ (in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection ) all that you need to be able to experience that life daily and for eternity as you turn away from the things that do not satisfy and turn to the things that DO satisfy.
Do not be afraid of your sexuality or of your identity as it develops. Sex is a wonderful part of the life God plans for most of us, and God will walk with you there just as God will walk with you in all the other areas of your life. Do not feel you need to run or hide from God because sex is sin. Sex is not sin. Turning from God toward something that you prefer over God is sin. Let God lead you even in your sexuality, and let God affirm you no matter what you experience there, and bring forgiveness and/or healing when you find you need healing or forgiveness. Sex is not just for procreation, but is for intense connection to another human being. Treat it with respect, treat yourself with respect, and treat others with respect!
Develop a community of friends and family around you that are safe for you. Tell them what is sacred and private. Let them nurture you as you nurture them. Do not feel you need to allow yourselves to be exposed to or hurt by those who prove themselves unkind or sick emotionally. Minister to those people, but know with everything in you that you do not need their approval.
It is my prayer that you will find me safe, even as you find me real and full of character flaws that have impacted you and will impact you. I pray you will forgive me, and I pray you will be able to build a relationship with me that meets your deep needs from me as your mother and as your friend. But you have the right to increasing privacy from me as you grow, and to complete privacy from me as adults. You get to choose as adults the role you want me to have in your lives.
Treat others with respect and love, and do not become people who are unkind for any reason. Most especially, do not become people who are unkind and who justify their unkindness by their religious beliefs!
To my straight, evangelical friends and family:
I am grateful for you! You model for me real love and real life, and God has used you to make me. You have taught me to think and live and love. You have shown me God’s forgiveness and restoration. Losing you would be devastating!
But today I need to tell you that the Bible we’ve been reading all our lives doesn’t say some of the things we thought it said. It DOES say that there is a law that leads us to the TRUTH. It DOES say that we are called to obedience in all things, even as we learn the freedom of obedience. But it doesn’t say that the gender roles we were taught are more than cultural, nor does it say that the sexual and marital ethics we were taught are the only way to fulfill the fruit of the Spirit at the end of Galatians. We ARE to be faithful, temperate people who use our sexuality to honor God and each other. But our ultimate calling is not to the Christian version of the American Dream. Our ultimate calling is to wholehearted devotion to the Triune God.
I believe that homosexuality is something we misunderstand in just about every way as a subculture, and I believe the main reason for that is that we are more invested in our idea of the Christian version of the American Dream than we are invested in the real Triune God or in God’s real people. I believe we need to repent, and commit ourselves to obedience even if it is painful because it turns all our ideas about gender and family and stability and safety upside down. I am not calling us to turn away from God’s WORD, but rather to actually hear it and live it in ways we are failing to hear it and live it now.
We are willing to turn our back on our homosexual parents, siblings, and children because we believe it is a sinful choice that God is against, and we have invested so much into that belief (in our rejection of them and in the cost emotionally to us) that it is scary to even consider that that stand goes against the whole of scripture even as we have ourselves preached it and taught it. We are caught between many rocks and hard places, because to even consider that perhaps God created them to have the desires they have with as much joy as God created us with our desires (let alone that God is glad for healthy expression of their sexuality and not just of our own) is to start to face our inconsistencies, fallacies, and guilt, and is also to expose ourselves to the same kind of rejection and social norming and persecution that we have exposed them to.
But we are called to extend the gospel to all, and to know that gospel ourselves as we do it. That means studying anew the letters of Paul and Peter and James and John. That means studying anew the words of Jesus. It means knowing Christian history. It means knowing science and philosophy and ethics. And most of all, it means living it out. We will be held accountable. Clergy won't get off the hook because of the vows they took to their denominational beliefs. Laity won't get off the hook because they were limited to the beliefs they were taught. Each of us will be held accountable for all that we could have learned from God through all the channels God tried to teach us . . . and the opportunities for that learning and practice are so rich for every single one of us!
In Jesus' parable of the sheep and the goats, the “what they did and didn’t do” that separated the sheep from the goats was not the ideology they embraced, or the forms of justice they espoused verbally. It was the ways they extended kindness to real people, or the ways they failed to extend kindness to real people. And the kindness was not extended in order to bring the objects of the kindness to faith, even, or to obedience. The kindness was extended in a lifestyle of kindness, oblivious to whether the object of the kindness was the Son of God Himself.
I do not mean to simplify our faith, or to simplify what obedience means. Study it out yourself. Analyze it again. But don’t miss living it.
To my gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer friends:
I ask you to forgive me for my silence that has been my part in creating a pain-filled world for you.
I thank you for your friendship, which has allowed me to experience myself and God and reality in ways I was not capable of experiencing without you.
I affirm that I do not believe an orientation is sin. I affirm that I do not believe homosexual sexual activity is sin, anymore than I believe heterosexual sexual activity is always sin. (If you believe in the concept of sin as that which separates one from God and from others, certainly you can see ways that either heterosexual or homosexual activity may be sinful in the wrong situations or with the wrong motives. If you do not believe in the concept of sin, then we stand separated by that belief rather than by our orientations or actions, but it is my hope that you will be willing to extend me your friendship anyway.)
I am amazed by your stories of faith and struggle and suffering and change. I am amazed by your perseverance in membership in faith communities that have rejected you. I am grateful for your dedication to TRUTH and for your courage in the face of a world set against you.
You are individuals with individual callings. I pray you will be wise in your choices in safe people, in safe places, and in safe communities, so that you can avoid victimization you have not chosen, even as you gear up knowingly for victimization as you push the world to be a safer place for our children.
You are my parents, my cousins, my children, and my friends. I want for you pretty much the same stuff that I wrote that I wanted for my own children. For all of us, but especially for you, I want a world where we have freedom to publicly believe what our hearts and minds actually believe, and where we can choose to live the way God leads us to live without fear of brutality or rejection or poverty.
May you experience fully God’s best for you . . . with the love and support of our culture rather than with its opposition and hatred!
To All of Us:
We cannot afford to not spend the emotional energy it takes to fully consider this. We cannot afford to be hardened into ideological numbness that lets us justify cruelty with phrases like "love the sinnner but hate the sin". If you are angry at me and about to unfriend me on FaceBook, feel free to unfriend me, but afterwards take time to consider why it provoked those emotions in you. Take it to God, and ask God to enlighten me if I am deluded, but also open yourself to ask God to enlighten you if God has something new to show you here.
I grew up listening to Focus on the Family, and come from the place where it was shocking to me to consider how a Christian could be a Christian and yet accept homosexuality as okay. One of the posts I considered writing was my story in how God brought me from there to here. But instead I have addressed us all with the challenge to be willing to fully live out each of our own stories without fear, and to accept each other as we encourage each other to do the same.
God created each of us. God created sexuality to work a certain way. God is bigger than our politics, and even bigger than our theology. I am clicking "publish" with the prayer that God will accomplish the Triune God's purposes on this day through this drop in the bucket.