No, I’m not gay or transgender or bisexual. It just so happens that I conform to traditional norms in my sexual orientation. However, I am in this post “coming out” in full support of those who don’t.
I don’t mean to appropriate the “coming out” designation, as if I can in any way compare what I’m doing here to the courage LGBT folks must summon to risk the scrutiny and shame of revealing this piece of their identity to the world. Let’s be clear–comparatively speaking, my “coming out” is a walk in the park on a sunny day. Really. I’ve got it easy.
That being said, there is some risk for people like me too. I come from a very fundamentalist Christian background. I grew up in a socially conservative denomination and, when I became an adult, entered into a more socially conservative sect so strict that it counted my childhood beliefs as heresy. In short, homosexuality has always been considered sinful in my religious tradition and to suggest otherwise would be compromising my Christian values to appease changing cultural norms. Up until a little over a year ago, I didn’t know there was any other way to be a Christian.
At this point, most of the people I associate with would consider themselves “progressive Christians” (yeah, believe it or not, that’s a thing). Nevertheless, I still have many family members and old friends who would be disappointed, indignant, appalled, and outraged by this revelation. Nevertheless, it is what it is. It’s who I am now, and it’s where I am now; there’s no use pretending otherwise. So, in case there is confusion, let me be as clear as I possibly can:
I fully accept people who identify as lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, and queer as children of God who–to the same extent as Christians who do not identify as such–are forgiven, redeemed, saved, justified and liberated while not being in any way condemned for their sexual orientation. Whether manifest in mere inclinations or in actual behaviors, I do not believe that sexual proclivities (provided the relationship, if there be one, is consensual) has any affect whatsoever on a human being’s standing before God. Homosexuality is not a sin.
How I Got Here…
For the most part, my shift in thinking on this particular issue is the result of a broader shift in my understanding of what it means to be a person of faith. In 2013, I underwent a deeply humbling experience that caused me to rethink the “know-it-all” mentality with which I’d been living my life and instead adopt a posture of openness and curiosity. While this shift wasn’t necessarily religious in nature, I was a religious person so, naturally, it bled over into my religious life.
I started questioning the particular branch of Christianity I was in, and then why I should even remain a Christian at all. I dove headfirst into the most reputable sources I could find on church history, Biblical criticism, and postmodern theology. All of that wasn’t too long ago, and I’m still working out what I believe and why it matters. In my searching, though, one of the many things I began to reconsider was whether or not I could find any ethical justification for an opposition to LGBT lifestyles.
Then, the Pulse shooting happened. At that point, I think I had already made up my mind about full acceptance of the LGBT community, but the massacre in Orlando really forced me to make it explicitly clear–if only to myself. Around that time, I started following LGBT theologians on Twitter–people like Broderick Greer, Austen Hartke, Dianna Anderson, and Samantha Field. I started hearing heartbreaking stories about the experiences of LGBT people in the church–the abuse, the shame, and the social ostracism. The more I listened to them on their terms, the more absurd it seemed that I could have ever been part of a system that fostered such painful experiences while still calling myself a Christian.
Somehow, I have grown up with the uncanny ability to disassociate the compassionate Jesus of the gospels who befriended the outcasts of society and scoffed at prioritizing ritual purity with the Jesus of American Evangelicalism who calls me first and foremost to ritual purity and only then to being nice to the outsiders if they too are willing to conform. Well, not anymore. I’ve gone back to the Jesus of the gospels.
The Jesus of the gospels was all about love. He served people instead of shaming them. He healed, fed, comforted, and forgave. He didn’t have a bad word to say about anyone… Okay, that isn’t true. Actually, Jesus did criticize some people. But he reserved his judgment for the religious elite–the self-righteous hypocrites who looked down on everybody else. To a large extent, the gospel narratives show us a Jesus who came not to save people from their sins–but rather a Jesus who came to save people from the sins of others. That’s the Jesus I believe in; that’s the Jesus I seek to follow.
I’ve been wrestling for a long time with whether or not I should write this post. First, I am admittedly dreading the potential upheaval and I really don’t want to have those debates. I’m still working out my ideas about God and faith, and I’m not sure my nuanced, speculative spirituality is a rhetorical match for the dogmatic certainty of others.
Also, though, I don’t want to make this issue about me. A post like this is a bit pretentious and self-aggrandizing. “Ooh, look at me, I’m being all vulnerable and stuff. Can I have my cookie now?” I feel like, as I’m expressing my fears over the rejection and criticism I’m likely to encounter, the entire LGBT community is going, “Hold my beer…”
Ultimately, I made up my mind about “coming out” when the following tweet crept across my feed:
I am not trying to stir up controversy or cause trouble. I’m not trying to start a fight with other Christians about what the Bible really says or whose side Jesus is really on. For me, this isn’t about a debate between conservative and liberal strains of Christianity. Rather, it’s about letting people in the LGBT community know that I fully value them as human beings. It’s about me making it public that I’m on their side, because I believe Jesus would be too…
“But the Bible says…”
Okay, time to address the elephant in the room. Presumably, the reason why Christians are so opposed to same-sex relationships is that they are condemned in the Bible–the sacred scriptures of the Christian faith.
I’m not going to go into detail on this–you can google it if you are unfamiliar with the texts, but there are a smattering of passages where “homosexuality” is condemned in the Bible: from Leviticus 20:13 where the law of Moses calls for the death of one who “lies with a man as with a woman” to 1 Corinthians 6:9 where Paul lists “men who have sex with men” among things such as theft, greed, and slander that will keep people out of the “kingdom of God.” For the person who wants to take the Bible seriously, these passages can be rather problematic.
That’s the story I grew up with, anyway. And, although I’ve felt the growing disinclination to condemn same-sex relationships for years, I didn’t think I could because that would mean throwing out the Bible. God said it; I believe it; that settles it–even if it hurts people. Truth is truth…isn’t it?
Well, it turns out that interpreting the scriptures is a much more nuanced art form than I was raised to believe. The true meaning of the text (however we define it) doesn’t just jump off the page when we read it today in 21st century English. To get an accurate reading, you’ve got to understand ancient languages and cultures, as well as the motives of the authors. A deeper reading of scriptures provides alternative understandings for all sorts of issues. In particular, as scholars, theologians, and ministers have wrestled with the “homosexuality” passages, non-traditional interpretations have emerged.
For example, it might be suggested that condemnation of “homosexuality” in Leviticus can only be understood under the broader umbrella of “purity” laws for their community at the time. And, perhaps same-sex relationships were condemned so strongly because procreation was important for the continuing growth of the Israelite nation.
Or, if we look at the condemnation of homosexuality in the New Testament, it can be understood in terms of the Roman cultural custom of the day for men to have younger male sex slaves. The word Paul uses in Corinthians, it is often pointed out, is a word he invented. So, perhaps he was speaking of a particular form of same-sex relationships rather than same-sex relationships in general.
If you’d like to see a more in-depth analysis of the “homosexuality” passages, I recommend checking out this article. Or, read God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines. Now, before you bristle at this kind of scholarship as liberal propaganda or the work of Satan, think about this…
Perhaps the traditional reading of scriptures is right; perhaps same-sex relationships are sins that need to be repented of. But, before you rush to that conclusion, I want you to seriously ask yourself a very important question–and say it out loud if you need to: “What if I’m wrong?”
If you don’t feel the slightest bit of hesitation when you ask yourself this question, you’re probably blissfully unaware of the suffering endured by the LGBT community as a result of discrimination–much of it coming from people who claim to be Christians.
You probably don’t know that the rate of suicide among LGB youth is 4 times the rate of that among straight youth. And, if you think that’s just because they know they’re guilty of sin, you probably aren’t aware that suicide among LGB youth whose families reject them is 8 times higher than that among LGB youth who report no rejection from their families. Do you even care that, each time an LGBT person is victimized, their chances of inflicting self-harm increase by 2.5 times?
The harm your view is causing LGBT people might be worth thinking about because, if you are wrong when you condemn them to shame in this life and punishment in the next, where exactly do you think your soul is going to end up?
If for nothing else than for concern over your own salvation, you might want to ask, “Is condemnation of same-sex relationships really worth the risk?” When it comes to this new take on Pascal’s wager, I think I’ll leave this section with a gem I heard recently from my pastor–just something to think about as you are trying to decide your own position on the issue:
I would rather have to explain to God why I let someone into heaven than why I kept someone out.
I’m sorry it took me so long…
In conclusion, I would just like to briefly address anyone from the LGBT community who might be reading this. I’m sorry for any pain that I’ve caused you–whether overtly or merely by being complicit in your persecution. I now believe that you are fully loved and accepted by God, to the same degree as anyone else. I also don’t think you need me to tell you that; you are your own person and don’t need my validation. I just want you to know that I’m here now, and I’m listening.
I hope you’ll forgive me for taking so long to come to this conclusion and make it known to the public. I still have a lot to learn, and I can only ask for grace as I seek to be a better human being. Please be patient with me. I will mess up. I will get it wrong. I will look the other way when you need me to intervene. I am weak, but I will try my best to be strong. I can’t promise that I won’t disappoint you in the future but, for now, I can honestly say with every fiber of my being that I am proud to be an ally.
Image credit: I google searched for a “rainbow cross” and happened across an article regarding the one pictured above. Apparently, someone had been anonymously chaining a large wooden cross to posts on “Gay Street” in New York–presumably sending a passive aggressive message of condemnation to the LGBT folks living there. The people from the community reacted by creating their own cross and covering it with a rainbow–sending a message of love and inclusion instead. The story seemed rather apropos for my thoughts in this post, so I thought it would be the perfect image to use… https://www.popsugar.com/news/Gay-Street-Rainbow-Cross-New-York-City-43463838