This is a lengthy post. If you're not interested in reading it through, I completely understand. However, I hope that those who do read it all will come away, at the very least, feeling that I did my best to approach something so sensitive as gently and clearly as I poosibly could.
I had promised this post would be light after my first post lamenting the brokenness of the Body of Christ. I wanted to make fun of my blog's title alluding to the catch phrase so many of us shudder at when mentioned. I'd recently had someone throw it at me in an attempt to challenge advice I'd given.
"WWJD? Or is it WWKD?", they said with contempt.
It made me laugh then, but after some reflection, I concluded that I'm really only qualified to consider "What Would Kim Do?" and I do that all the time. May as well own it.
I wanted to have more fun than that on the heels of that heavy post I'd written just a couple of weeks ago. Particularly because those words reflected what's really driving this blog, a passion God's put in me for unity among believers. Unity isn't easy, though, and talking about it isn't always fun. You can spend five seconds on my Twitter feed and see that.
Even so, I am a super fan of social media. I use it like I used the telephone as a teenager. But now, I can talk to many people at once. Even people I don't know. And I'm convicted that my faith dictates that I use social media respectfully and see it as an opportunity to share my love for Jesus and His love for others, with people who don't share my beliefs. And I'm aware of what they've seen. And heard. And a whole lot of that hasn't been pretty. Some of it has even come from me.
Some time ago, I'd determined that the best way to be open with my faith, and the least offensive approach possible, was to remain neutral. That means that I avoid politics and hot button issues, particularly those that have been championed by the "religious right." If discussions come up I attempt to engage, assuming the best of others and with a mind open enough to just admit that I'm not the God I say is so amazing and uncontainable, so I probably don't have it all figured out. Even when I think I do. And while my goal of promoting open dialogue is important, my decision to be neutral in public was, at it's core, about the actual people in my real life who needed to know more about my love than my feeble opinions. I did not want to be that friend or family member whose posts let my people know that I'd already decided what I thought and didn't need to know their hearts. Christians included. Because what matters most is how we consider people's hearts.
I tend to go further than neutral, though, with those in my feed who do claim to share my faith. I make efforts to respectfully challenge the ways that some confuse politics with their faith. I also have a pretty messy past that included being a young single mom who went from drug use to college when Jesus rescued me. I didn't pull myself up by my bootstraps. I couldn't even afford boots because I was on welfare. Those pieces of my story have allowed me to speak into the often polarizing opinions of my fellow believers because if they know Jesus, if I do, then we should all welcome the challenge to engage respectfully because we carry His Name.
But before I had a chance to tell you more about me with some levity, before I got to throw up another neutral flag, people all over America, calling themselves Christians, went completely crazy on each other and the unity I had written about seemed so far from so many people Tweeting and blogging that day. Actually, it was most of last week and was the result of World Vision's first announcement of the plan to extend employment to celibate or legally married homosexuals. People cheered and people wept and some called people names and sponsors decided not to fund World Vision and LGBT folks decided they would and the Christian Right said people were soft on sin and the Left said the Right cared more about hating gays than loving children. Many on both sides said they couldn't even accept that the other side worshipped the same Jesus.
I made an attempt to address a post I saw on Twitter and, in keeping with my neutral position, I just mentioned that their post came off as hateful. The whole strand became one insult after another and I felt like my commitment to peace here in the neutral zone was interpreted as defense of the actions that were making so many angry. And then I read Jen Hatmaker's blog bringing the sort of validation and understanding that I had been hoping to achieve in the first place. As I read, I felt so glad for her reasoned words and thoughtful attempt to keep us from turning on each other.
Then came the comments. One after another, I saw that many people didn't appreciate her post at all. Over and over again was the accusation that she wasn't standing on the "right" side, but that accusation was coming from all sides. And I realized what that meant, there is no neutral. Homosexuality is THE issue defining the American Church and we are all going to have to pick a side. Because if we don't, hurt people, who are acting in anger, are going to pick one for us.
I thought back to those actual people in my real life and had the fear that my silence and neutrality left them with the same impressions. In an effort to protect those relationships I'd opened myself up to misunderstanding and misinterpretation. I began to pray for the courage to stop being neutral and pray that I would still be invited to the table in my honesty. That's the cry of many in all of this. At least it was.
Then World Vision changed it's mind. And what had already been such a hard day became worse. Unless you were standing on the Right and cheering in victory. But my Twitter feed was flooded with disgust and hurt. And I saw that for many of them, it was just another moment with the Church that was like all the others they'd had. Just one more time Christians had said, "You're too different to be one of us. Too gay."
I was convinced. I knew that my burden, for the division in the Bride of Chrsit, was too important to be lost in this supposed nuetrality. My attempts at peacemaking were shut down because by refusing to commit to a position in a climate of extreme distrust, I'd been assumed to be the enemy. Of everyone. And I wasn't fooling anyone. I'm not neutral on this. Nobody is.
So, I'm here now, attempting to correct that.
It's hard to describe something so complex without being long winded. And I've got Pentecostal preacher DNA in me so I pray you stick with me. My views on homosexuality are informed by some very personal experiences and I don't want to be misunderstood. If my thoughts make you angry and you want to comment and discuss I welcome that. The comment will be more meaningful, though, if you read it all. Don't put a label on me without hearing me out, please. And as I describe my heart on this, I'd appreciate it if you'd respect that it is from my very tender heart and is deeply connected to a faith and community I hold dear. A faith that we may not define identically and a community that is as messy as the varied understandings of God, but one we all claim to love.
Having said that, I need to tell you something many will be tempted to attack me for even daring to suggest. I'm not going to pretend that's not true. Just don't stop there, please. That's all I ask. It's for everyone to read, but because of where I'm coming from, my words are directed to Christians in the LGBT community. Please allow me to tell my story.
I relate to your experience as a Christian who is gay. I don't want to insult you by insisting my experience has been identical, but I do ask that you hear what my experience has been and remain open to considering that my hurt has been so much like yours that I anticipated much of the response I saw. I understood where it was coming from.
I'm hoping that my evangelical tribe will also enter into this willing to consider that what seems to be a simple sin issue is often the symptom of something so far below the surface that focusing on behavior leaves many feeling hopeless and rejected.
And I know how that feels. I don't know, but I do know, how it feels to be gay in a conservative Christian church. An evenagelica church. A church so far to the right that mainlines blush. And I mean to tell you that I do know. My personal experience has felt like what you've described.
I'm not saying I know people who've told me how it feels, although I do. I even taught in a Christian school where parents were hoping their kids would repent of their gayness and I'd think, "Why would a parent send a gay kid here?" So, I understand how that experience looks for the LGBT people who've been there and those in my life, who've shared their stories, all contribute to my thoughts. But I am clearly telling you that I understand the experience homosexuals describe of being in a church that says they "love the sinner and hate the sin" and show that "love" by reminding the sinner of the unacceptable nature of that sin. I heard people say that all sin was equal but understood by what they said to me, that that didn't include mine. My sin was worse.
But, you're probably shutting down because I'm not gay. I have no right to assert that I know how it feels to be gay.
Ok. Agreed. I don't know how if feels to be gay. But I know that your stories, those I've been reading and the stories poured out to me in person, they're your's, but they sound like mine.
I get it. Please don't be quick to discount what I'm saying. I know how it feels to be someone whose very nature, from conception, directed them to behaviors that the Bible calls sin. I know what it's like to be treated like my actions were simply "backsliding rebellion". I know what it is to live two lives. One away from church and one in it. I know what it feels like to be shamed for my thoughts and struggles and the ways my behaviors repulsed those who said they loved me. And many did love me. But some made it hard to believe.
Like the Sunday night, in a circle of people chatting about where to eat, my pastor's wife turned the conversation to holiness and before I realized it, she'd taken a step towards me with her finger aimed to my face and said, "And if you'll behave like that in public, WHAT WILL YOU DO IN PRIVATE."
And I know more. I know how it feels to have that deep hatred for yourself that comes from knowing that no matter how much you wanted to not be who you were, so you could never sin that way ever again, it wasn't going to happen. I know how it feels for my sin to be everyone's bullseye. And I know the stigma of being the wrong kind of sinner. I know the pain of sharing something so deep and awful only to be told you haven't prayed enough or read the Bible enough or you'd have stopped thinking those things. I know what it's like to wonder if God was big enough to save me. I've wanted to know if what was in me, who I am, from conception until now, was even something He could love.
I know how that feels.
I know that because I have a mental illness.
DO NOT jump to the conclusion that I am saying homosexuality is a mental illness.
I'm not saying that. Please. Don't.
And don't discount my experience as a ridiculous comparison until you take an honest look. As poorly as Chirstians have handled homosexuality, they've not done any better with the mentally ill. Can you just step into my story for a bit and hear that what I've heard sounds a lot like what the LGBT community has heard. I've heard that I was choosing to be depressed, unstable, emotional, dramatic and that doesn't even touch the ways that my diagnosis wired me to crave drugs and engage in promiscuity. To be clear, I'm not making the claim that the manogomous sex of homosexual couples, who are legally married, is the moral equivalent of drug use and fornication, and I will get to where I am on those things, but I am saying that when I was growing up and doing what I felt powerless to stop, when I was a mom and a wife attending week after week, hiding how outrageous I was behaving in private, wreaking havoc on my home and fearing each day would be worse than the last, at all those times I heard the message that I was choosing who I was and could change it if I really wanted.
If I REALLY loved God. And I'd wonder if I did love Him, because I couldn't behave in a way that evidenced that. Even though I tried and begged Him to make me something less wrong.
And could you lean in a little more to hear me say something else? There isn't any word study or question about translation nor cultural context that says my behaviors aren't what the Bible meant to define as sinful. I'm not trying to tell you that those lenses that interpret Scripture in ways that support affirming homosexuality are invalid either, I'm not qualified to do so. What I'm telling you to consider is that there isn't a church in America that will contextualize my behaviors in a way that says they aren't sin. Yet, it's still coming out of who I am. I was born with my disorder. I did not choose it. It makes sense to me when the LGBT community tells us their orientation is not a choice, I've lived that experience. But, the fact that it makes sense just doesn't lead me to the next step that says if it isn't a choice, it can't be sin. I want it to, not just for you, but for me. It just doesn't lead me there. And I do recognize that my propensities manifest differently and I'll give you that your monogamous homosexual marriage doesn't have much to do with my life. I just need you to hear that my own experience validates yours and I stand with you when you say you didn't choose this. I know how you feel when people deny that and condem you in response.
What was so prominent all over the Interent last week, though, was that "evangelicals are gay haters who are ignorant to believe it's a choice." Some might be. I just know many who aren't. Many who've been personally involved in sorting these things out with a friend or a child. I can tell you that for some people very close to me, I've prayed many hours that God would let me be convinced by the arguments presented to affirm homosexuality in a monogamous relationship or even a marriage, as we know will become the case in our country. This isn't going away.
But that's the root of the problem in all this division caused by the single most important issue in the Church in our lifetime. We can't be unified if we assume hate. It's not a hate issue. Don't allow yourselves to become the image of the same intolerance you've felt by jumping there.
It's a Bible issue. American Christians disagree about the Bible. And in America, of all places, that should be ok.
It's not about people splitting hairs over "six little scriptures." That blatantly overlooks that for the community of Christians you're labeling as hateful, there is no insignificant number of scriptures in the Bible. They all matter to the Christian who's cornerstone is "Sola Scriptura." Many on the Right don't care as much about homosexuality as they do about the inerrancy of the Bible. And yes they know, we know, yes I know, that the Bible says all sorts of things that we don't currently apply. But, there are theological reasons and supports delineating why we apply some things today but not others and it's not valid to ignore the reasoning in order to pretend that the commitment to Biblical authority is simple minded and rooted in intolerance. It's a larger discussion than that.
We hear that there are theologians and academics who've shown how to understand the Bible in a way that affirms homosexuality, among other ideas that challenge deeply held traditions. I've personally looked at those arguements as I've prayed. I've wanted to believe them. But, there are theologians and academics that ascertain the Bible to be reliable and trustworthy. There's so much work out there that's been done on this, and so much that's very compelling. We need to be honest enough about that to quit ridiculing people who've fallen on the side opposite of ours. I've got a side. The arguments that convinced me won't let me throw out what's troublesome. How I wish.
I've been most challenged by the focus on the words Jesus said and the liberty of giving less weight to the other contents. Clearly, Jesus' words carry a certain authority that surpasses any other contributor to Scripture. But the "evangelicals" you're rejecting (as you've been rejected) believe all of the Bible to be inspired by God, Himself. They're not dying on the hill of homosexuality or gay marriage. They are on the hill of the inerrant, authoritive, Word of God. And even when I go back to Jesus' own words, I don't have much hope for myself. There's so much about the Sermon on the Mount that is the antithesis of who I am and although I'm specifically talking about my behaviors attached to my mental illness, we all fail miserably at living up to that passage.
So I find it hard to understand why it's so important for me to conclude that the scriptures that are about this cultural divide can be read and understood as irrelevant and unimportant. Insisting that a tradition that can be traced back two thousand years, turn to deny the authority of what they believe to be God's Word, in order to affirm reading Scripture with what feels like ambiguity, is disrespectful and intellectually dishonest. Can you go there with me? Can you, in what you believe, just respect what I believe and can we quit saying that believing what we blieve can be the damming evidence of hate and bigotry?
Because even in believing that, I don't stand on opposing gay marriage or gay rights. I believe we are all image bearers of God and even though I think those six scriptures are relevant, I can't conclude that imposing limits on people's personal lives is loving. Because someone in my life, whom I care for deeply, went to New York to marry her girlfriend. This is a couple we've spent time with in our home. And then the marriage failed. In Texas. After acquiring property. So someone I love doesn't have any idea how to get a legal divorce and settle the matter because Texas won't honor the petition for the divorce of a marriage is doesn't recognize. If Texas facilitates this divorce, it'll set the precedent for recognizing gay marriage here. I really have heard all the arguments for the sanctity of marriage and why I need to protect it. That just really starts to break down for me when people I love are not able to get their lives in order because legalizing gay marriage means America is no longer "saved". It's not as important to me that our government affirm my understanding of Scripture as it is that people who claim Jesus, affirm His claim that we would be known by our love for each other. I also have complete confidence in the God I serve, and the Holy Spirit who lives in those who know Jesus, to be completely capable of saving and revealing sin to anyone at any time under any circumstance. And I don't think that He needs America to reflect Christian values as much as He commands that Christians reflect Him.
And I say that knowing that there are hateful bigots out there who really just want America to stay the same. And there are some who want that, but don't hate. Just like I know that I sat in a sanctuary, and heard another pastor's wife, include in her study of the Bible, that no Christian should ever need psychiatric medications. And that school of thought is still rampant. The stigma I deal with when people find out my truth is an obstacle for me. I understand what it is to be the kind of different that suggests to others they have permission to not count me. I've had a Christian tell me that my coming to her about an offense, an offense others validated was actual, was trouble making and unfounded. She said any hurt I had was born out of my own wrong thinking rather than her actions and people she'd shared the conflict with had wondered with her if I was saved. So please don't attempt to minimize my clear understanding of being marginalized by mean people claiming to do it in the spirit of WWJD.
I just also know that we are all image bearers of God and reflect the diversity and complexity of Creation. But we also live affected by sin, so those complexities often hide under pride and anger. Sometimes they are covered by hurt and raw defensiveness. Like that Christian who can't see her own behavior through the distraction of my diagnosis. And it does hurt me and make me angry. I do distance myself from people who respond to me in that way because it's not a healthy reflection of the Grace Jesus so willingly died to give me. But I can't forget he died that same death for her. She gets the Grace, too. Even when she can't recognize she needs it.
It's hard to accept that. I want to turn over the tables and crack the whip like Jesus did. But I don't get to turn over any tables unless they're mine. I set my table up to evaluate the humble offerings of sincere worshipers along with the other money changers. I've got my own way of telling people that what they bring isn't right or worth enough. That's what the money changers were doing. That's why Jesus swept through there to shut it down. Because only He has the authority to value or reject what we offer Him. And that Christian who can't validate that my thoughts have worth, because of her limited understanding of mental illness, is still sincerely bringing her own humble offering to Jesus. I must force myself to see that in her just as I desire people to see that in me.
Not doing so makes me a Pharisee. Its so easy to simplify what it means to be stuck in dead religion based on a caricature we draw from Scripture. But being a Pharisee is demonstrated by elevating your own laws and measurements, as proof of knowing God, above those of God, Himself. And Jesus' words were that we would be known by our love for one another. That means that just like evangelicals shouldn't use homosexuality as a determination of a person's salvation, the open and affirming community shouldn't use the commitment to the inerrancy and authority of Scripture to determine a lack of salvation either. And while I agree that the Church should be THE champion of human rights, as an individual Christian, who heard Jesus say that I'd be hated because I love Him, I HAVE GIVEN UP MY RIGHTS.
We are a nation of people who exercise our rights by voting, promoting and protecting the rights that seem good to us. But Jesus says we are not Americans first. We are followers of Jesus before any other identity. That means we care more for the rights of others than our own. Even when those rights may encroach on ours, but particularly when rights affect those who are marginalized. Because Jesus laid down His rights when we had been marginalized from God by our sin.
"We are now seekers of justice and correctors of oppression" I've heard it said to describe our roles. All of us.
If we take that idea to the furthest extreme, and based upon Jesus' extreme response to our own oppression we should, we cannot avoid asking if insisting that America affirm my definition of marriage is really the best way to represent Him. So maybe evangelicals should lay down their swords on something that's inevitably going to change as our culture has. We're waging this battle out of the wrong identity. It's damaging relationships with people who don't know Christ and it's a battle that will NOT BE WON. Gay marriage will become legal in every State in America. And it will also become illegal to exclude legally married homosexuals from employment. At what point do we let go of a culture that is gone and start learning how to navigate the culture we actually live in?
And the Christian LGBT community isn't off the hook either. Because if following Jesus is less about our own rights than the rights of other's, you have to be willing to ask if forcing churches and vendors to facilitate weddings for homosexual couples is about following Jesus or about being an American with rights. If we do what He said, then we should be advocating for the rights of those whose views of the Bible might collide with affirming ours. In fact, it's what He did. He advocated for our rights, though we were undeserving, and in doing so, totally and completely laid down His life. If the pressure to vilify evangelicals continues and gains more and more momentum, you will be marginalizing and oppressing the very group you say marginalized you.
That's not the way of the Cross.
And even that step forward in unity is really myopic and all about us. Because when we understand that "we are seekers of justice and correctors of oppression" we will turn away from this infighting and encourage each other to do want God has called us to do. And we will be like the very first believers in Acts, who held each other accountable in what they did and did not tolerate division. Even in conflict, Paul and Barnabas agreed to disagree and stayed the course of the Gospel. People aren't always going to follow Jesus in a way that makes sense to you. As long as we are all doing so respectfully and are really and truly rooted in love, we need to submit to the instruction of Paul and quit condemning one another over the differences in our convictions.
And I can already hear my evangelical friends many of whom are REALLY uncomfortable that I'm even leaving room for another view of Scripture. I assure you that I'm convinced and committed to trusting in the inerrancy and authority of the Bible. I'm just confident that I can firmly believe what I believe and still engage with another believer, whose view is different, with respect. It's not possible to tell someone that what they believe is invalid and expect them to feel respected. I'm also, like I said, not equipped to make a thorough defense of my belief because although I've explored the subject and am convinced it's true, I'm not an expert. Add to that the constant ways the Holy Spirt moves to sanctify me and I am assured He's moving the same way in others. I've walked with Jesus for a long time and I can tell you that my faith now, looks nothing like it did when I first met Him. Every day I'm humbled as I am more aware of my flaws, not less. I don't need to insist I'm right because doing so often lead to doing wrong and I serve a God who always is right.
The ugly is out there. I know it with you. It's just not coming from everyone who doesn't agree with you. People are more complex than that. Even the hateful ones. Remember how it feels to have people fixate on the surface level instead of going deeper to see the heart. There are Christians who are probably scared because culture is changing fast here and we don't always find our refuge in the only comfort that sustains. American Christians are facing a real change in the country they grew up in and many are worried they'll lose their right to practice their own faith. So they're hanging on to laws and stigmas they're comfortable with in the hope that protecting those things will protect themselves. But, there is no opinion or law or stigma or judgement beyond the power of the Gospel even when we forget that and sometimes see those things as part of it.
Which is what it's really all about. Let's just all gather at the feet of Jesus, on that mount, as he teaches. It's moving and inspiring to think of what He's saying our lives should be like. But it's also crushing and hopeless because deep in our hearts we KNOW we cannot do it. It's not who we are. We have no illusions that we can pull that kind of love and humility and forgiveness off all day every day never considering ourselves first. It's devastating.
But, Jesus, the author and deliever, not only of the sermon, but the very truths it describes. Jesus could live like that. And he did. Because we couldn't. We can't.
But, Jesus, wept for us, and He prayed for us to be this beautifully messy unified Body, and then He gave up His life to pay the penalty for our failure to live that which He said was required. And at the foot of the Cross the blood drips over all of our imperfections, and even who we are, to save us. And there are people there who don't like each other. And the blood drips on that, too.
But, Jesus, He rose to remove any doubt about Who He Is.
Because that's all that really matters.