I first learned about unconditional love, acceptance, and identity not from Christians, but from gay people. Alternatively, the first things I distinctly remember learning from Christians were that God hated me, that my family was an abomination, and that we were going to hell.
My mom came out to me in the 90’s in the South in one of the bravest and most vulnerable moments I have ever been honored enough to share with another person. Imagining others’ reactions to her orientation, she warned me and my sister not to tell anyone.
When I confided in just one other person, our entire town—and a neighboring town—learned of my mom’s orientation. My mother, my sister, and I became targets of homophobic bullying and harassment and were kicked out of our school, church, and town.
Life Lesson #1: God is cruel and hateful and Christians cannot be trusted
This experience essentially negated any interest in a relationship with God that I might have had. Considering how much my family had gone through—and that I had no friends—I really could have used a relationship with God at the time.
Between dealing with my family’s suffering and my new-found hatred for God, I entered into a long bout of depression. I was a staunch atheist, or at least a very pessimistic agnostic, in response to a growing mistrust and hatred of Christians.
God, as he is prone to do, never gave up on me no matter how vehemently I had given up on him.
At a pre-college summer camp away from home, I made the first friends I had made in a while. And they were Christian friends, no less. But they were different. They were kind, patient, loving, and had very little in common with the other believers I had known.
Their version of Jesus was quite new to me. Did you know Jesus loved people? Like, really loved them? I had never heard that. And when I shared all the reasons I would never be a Christian, my friends apologized and said Jesus would never treat me like that. They told me Jesus loves my family.
Their version of Jesus was quite new to me. Did you know Jesus loved people? Like, really loved them? I had never heard that. And when I shared all the reasons I would never be a Christian, my friends apologized and said Jesus would never treat me like that.
For the first 17 years of my life I hadn’t heard that God is a loving and merciful Father whose heart cries out for relationship and reconciliation with his people. Hearing this Good News from my friend absolutely transformed my life and led me on a journey towards the risen Christ instead of trying to fit into heteronormative Christian culture.
Life Lesson #2: Relationships are key to reconciliation
As I started investigating this Nazarene-carpenter-God-man, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by him. He loved losers, outcasts, criminals, and the morally depraved. He loved the people that I related to most in the Bible. I fell in love. And I was terrified.
What would my family think? Would they think I hated them? Would my atheist friends think I was crazy? Would I even be able to fit into the Christian family? I felt like coming out as Christian had quite a few similarities to how others had described coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
Following Jesus has not been easy, especially when the Church and the LGBT community (the two communities I love most in the whole world) don’t always love each other in the way we should. I have heard horror stories of gay friends who have been hurt, rejected, or abused by Christians. I have personally been betrayed by Christians who, not knowing my story, say hurtful, homophobic comments that make me feel so ashamed and unwelcomed.
Yet I have found abundant, everlasting, restorative love, acceptance, and reconciliation in Christ himself. And so it is Christ himself (above all other “lifestyles” and “worldviews”) whom I long for my communities to know more.
The Christian worldview holds that God is an incarnate God, that Jesus Christ lived among us and experienced the condition of our lives. When God desired reconciliation, he did not stand at a distance in unwavering judgment, uninterested or unwilling to engage. He entered our world and built relationship with us.
We can and must do the same in order to build a bridge of reconciliation with the LGBT community. And relationships require commitment. Authentic commitment says I love you because God loves me; I will stand by you—whether or not you change in the way I think you should—because God will never leave me.
Building authentic relationships with LGBT folks requires the posture of a learner, or a guest. Listen, listen, listen.
Listen some more.
Building authentic relationships with LGBT folks requires the posture of a learner, or a guest. Listen, listen, listen. Listen some more. Consider speaking. Listen.
And knowing one gay person does not mean any one of us knows the entire gay community; your one queer friend does not represent every queer person. Entering a community as a learner lays a foundation for reconciliation through relationships which embody Jesus’ values of love, justice, and mercy.
God makes his children in beautiful diversity which requires relationships based in humility, compassion, and an acknowledgement of the dignity we each possess simply by virtue of being created by God.
Life Lesson #3: As the greatest act of love the world will ever know, Jesus Christ is the source of love and our reconciliation with each other
I do not presume to have a magical answer for how we can build this reconciling bridge, but my own experience of finding a place at the Lord’s Table has given me some idea about how we can better welcome our LGBT brothers and sisters.
As a follower of Jesus, I have the great privilege of sharing the gospel—the message of God’s love and redemption—to the ends of the earth, which includes my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. This is my calling: to love, to invite God to restore human dignity where it has been stolen, and to pray and work towards reconciliation with the former persecutors of my family. I have the privilege of sharing about the undeserved gift of forgiveness of sins that Jesus offers.
I encourage my Christian brothers and sisters who share the undeserved gift to exercise biblical humility in calling others to repent. Gay people are sinners, as are straight people. And all are invited to receive God’s forgiveness! Too often we compare sins and cast stones in our attempts to call others to repentance.
We need to own the Church’s history of neglecting, harassing, withholding rights, systemically oppressing, and abusing our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters. As we call others to experience more of Jesus in repentance let’s also be aware of the lengthy road to repentance that we ourselves have to travel.
My journey of reconciliation with God and the Christian Church began with an apology. It cannot be said enough that a little apologizing goes a long way. Christ mourned with those who mourned and we can do the same. We can share in God’s heart for justice and his righteous anger when his children are mistreated, hurt, and heart broken.
In Luke, chapter 14, Jesus tells this story:
A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses…Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.’
Too often, the Church has denied, hurt and excluded gays both inside and outside the Church. To those reading this who have committed your lives to Jesus, I ask that you please join me as the family of God in praying that we would repent and return to the love of Christ which is at the center of the Gospel.
To my gay brothers and sisters, as one who shares in your pain, I sincerely apologize. I cannot promise you a smooth journey toward love and reconciliation. In fact, I can almost promise you the opposite. But I do know that Jesus is the source of love and reconciliation. In my experience, giving Jesus a second chance has brought more healing and love than I ever could have imagined.
As Jesus says in Matthew, chapter 11:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
You might also be interested in:
A Christian Response to Homosexuality
Homosexuality and the Church: A Meditation on the Tragic