I can’t really remember a time since my freshman year in college that I didn’t have people around me who identify as gay or lesbian. That was the first year that someone came out to me, but looking back… yeah, there were others. To be honest, it’s hard for me to think back on those times. I feel bad for the way I responded to those friends. Not because I was anti-gay, but because I had no idea just how blind I was to my friends’ struggles to maintain their faith in light of their sexuality.
I wish I had understood how hard it was for my friend A to write the letter she did. We had been fast friends from the moment her Dad came to serve as our pastor. I was surprised as I read the multi-page letter explaining she was a lesbian and how she hoped we could still be friends… I thought, why wouldn’t we?
I wish I had known why my friend M had called me so many times shattered and undone in the middle of the night. All I knew was that I couldn’t be her only anchor in every storm of life she faced if I were going to be functional at my job. When I told her to stop calling at night, I didn’t understand that it was one more rejection.
I didn’t understand the pain they were walking through because I had never heard a pastor preach about or against sex of any variety. I had never been told that my desires and crushes were forbidden and against the will of God (unless you count the “not until you’re married” admonition). My sexual ethic was simply an understanding that the pursuit of a healthy emotional relationship should trump the physical practicality (my mom was a health educator and very matter of fact about how things worked); in other words: love wins over casual sex.
So, when I was approached by a woman I knew to go out on a date, it was a very easy thing to say “no” because I honestly was only interested in her as a friend. My goal was to be smart and good, to wait until I was in a relationship that was all about love and lifetime. Since I was interested in men, it never dawned on me that other Christian people might have a problem with a same-gendered couple sharing that lifetime relationship of love.
Our child came out to the family as I was beginning my seminary journey. I soon realized my dreams for my child needed to take on a slightly different shape. It was a moment that changed the way I listened to a lot of things. Marriage equality, anti-bullying efforts, access to safe and affirming places to socialize – all of these took on greater importance. Questions about the Bible, our church, my workplace and what I believed all combined into a call to look beyond the rhetoric I was becoming familiar with in our denominational debates.
I can remember sitting in a darkened auditorium, listening to a dramatic reading/musical presentation of the book of Acts. And as Peter heard God say in his vision, “don’t call unclean that which I have made clean” it was as if I were hearing that story for the first time. As story continued on stage and the disciples wrestled with taking the gospel to the gentiles and the outcasts, questions roiled in my mind… Who have we cast aside? Who are we treating like modern-day lepers? Do we have a right to call unclean, those whom God has claimed. Those whom God has called to serve and lead? In that moment, I believe God broke my heart for the church-inflicted pain and injustice that have broken God’s heart for generations.
Even as I celebrate each step forward in the church and beyond, my heart aches for the many LGBTQ people gifted and called to leadership who have been sidelined, treated as though God can’t be trusted to raise up the right women and men to build up the Body of Christ. I am crushed by the knowledge that others have been driven from the church, losing or denying any desire to connect to the God who created them. And I am challenged daily by the women and men of faith who stand firm in spite of it all, speaking boldly for themselves and others about God’s justice, love and abundant grace. I am shown time and again that the scriptures I read were not written by people like me- people of privilege. Jesus came to restore and reconcile those who have been pushed out to the margins and to remind us who are already IN how to love, accept, affirm and reconcile all of the neighbors God gives us.
I still stumble as I try to find my way as an advocate for my child, as a friend who wants to hear others’ stories, and as one who wants to work for true equality for all people. I suspect I will for while as I learn how to ask, listen and speak out. And as I learn to see my privilege for what it is. I trust that my journey in ministry will lead me to more opportunities to work alongside sisters and brothers of all genders, raced, tribes, tongues, orientations and backgrounds… all to the glory of God.