In the late 80s I was confronted by the depth of my own homophobia. It’s not that I had been outwardly “anti-gay,” as I had spent time with some of the most amazing LGBTQ people for most of my adult years to that point. Yeah, I know, that sounds like, “some of my best friends are gay…” That’s because that was my inner reasoning. I wasn’t ‘grossed out’ or uncomfortable with LGBTQ people, but I sure as heck didn’t know how to reckon their sexuality and/or gender differences with my conservative upbringing. I think at that point I was still saying things like, “Their sin is no worse than mine,” and “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”
In 1988, my husband entered a relationship with Jesus after we suffered a devastating miscarriage. In the months that followed, I looked for God to get me through and found God shining in my husband’s eyes. It was an amazing thing. Compassion and empathy were magnified there. We talked a lot about the people who started Scott (my husband) on this journey and he told me about a couple of college friends who had invited him to Bible studies and church, and one in particular, Ron, who prayed for Scott every day. I encouraged Scott to call Ron and let him know about the change in his life. We met up with him and I was in tears as I hugged Ron and said, “Thank you.” I knew full well that Ron’s prayers had played a significant part in the transformation of my husband.
I’m not sure when I found out that Ron is gay. All I know is that it shook me to the core. Ron is a former pastor, and he is gay. My entire upbringing screamed, “Wait. How is that possible?!” Ron loves Jesus with everything he has and wanted my husband to have the same experience. But I have always been told that LGBTQ people could not be “faithful” Christians because they lived in unrepentant sin. Everything I thought I knew turned upside down.
In 1993, the movie Philadelphia came out. I won’t take too much time to explain it here, but in that movie Tom Hanks plays a gay lawyer who is fired because he has contracted HIV/AIDS. This is based on the landmark case that changed the way we handle information regarding people with HIV in this country. More importantly for me, it opened my eyes to something I had not considered before – being LGBTQ is not just about sex. It’s about who we are drawn to romantically and who we long to be in a deep, lifelong relationship with. Just like those of us who are straight.
I set off on a journey to understand. What I found (and am still finding) is that there are no easy answers. Battle lines have been drawn. There is much debate about whether or not being LGBTQ is a result of nature, nurture, or both. There are shouting matches about what Scripture ‘plainly says.’ There are people on all sides wrapping themselves in hate and anger. One thing is clear in my eyes, though: LGBTQ people are the oppressed and the church is often the oppressor.
This thought has stayed in the back of my mind throughout my seminary training. What does God say about the oppressed and the oppressors? What does God say about people created in God’s image? What does that mean for the church and LGBTQ people?
When Andrew Marin’s book, Love is an Orientation, came out almost a decade ago, I pre-ordered the book. Finally, someone was talking about this subject in a way that wasn’t inflammatory! I read it eagerly and soaked up the words about loving the LGBTQ community and repenting of the way the church (and I) have treated them. Marin rests firmly in the middle ground, insisting that the only way forward is for the church to fully love members of the LGBTQ community. He doesn’t take ‘sides’ which, of course, makes people on both sides uncomfortable. To be honest, reading the book again, it makes me uncomfortable, but when I first read it I felt as if I had finally been given permission by someone in the evangelical church to focus on love first and foremost. I still didn’t have answers to the ‘zinger’ scriptures, but I now had a direction.
I guess you could say Marin’s book was a ‘gateway’ book for me and my husband. After we read it, we talked to a few friends who recommended books for us to read and people for us to follow. Soon we tired of just hearing about the LGBTQ community, we wanted to hear from members of that community. That’s when we read Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate, by Justin Lee. It turns out that Justin’s story was very similar to Ron’s story. We started to hear about the horrors of ‘gay conversion therapy,’ and the ways in which a comment from well-meaning straight Christians could send LGBTQ Christians fleeing anything to do with the Church.
Our hearts were broken and, as a part of my seminary process, I started to realize that, just as I had learned with the verses weaponized against women in ministry, interpretations of those zingers may not be as cut and dried as I had long been taught. Marin addresses “The Big 5” in chapter seven, and Lee talks about them in chapters 12 and 13 of Torn. If you read nothing else, read those chapters of both books (well, read all of both books, really).
You see, the biggest accusation I hear about LGBTQ Christians and those of us who are welcoming and affirming is that we take a low view of the Bible and have no love for the written word of God. I can’t speak to every Christian’s motives on this (I know for a fact there are many who simply choose to dismiss the zingers), but I can speak for myself. Although I knew in my heart it was wrong to condemn the LGBTQ community to the wrath of God, I also knew I had to struggle with those verses, much in the same way I had to struggle with the verses men had used to condemn my calling to preach and teach. As I wrestled and struggled, I found that God’s wrath is never as deep as ours when it comes to who belongs and who doesn’t. I found that God deeply values community and relationships and people. I learned that the Bible rarely “clearly says” what we think it says – especially on controversial issues. And I learned that I was never called to convict or deny love to anyone.
This is one of those topics that easily divides us, especially in the evangelical community. It is also one of the topics that causes people to flee from the church and, possibly, from Jesus. I didn’t decide to become loving and affirming to the LGBTQ community because it is hip or cool. I asked God to open my eyes to the things that break God’s heart, and God introduced me to people who love Jesus but are told they have no place in his community. I met young people who would rather give up their lives than face the wrath of their Christian communities who “love the sinner but hate the sin.” I found out that God’s heart is breaking and many people claiming to work for God are the cause. I don’t want to be one of those people anymore.
I don’t take this position lightly. I hear often that by affirming and welcoming people in the LGBTQ community and not calling out their orientation as sin, I’m “loving people straight to hell” and ignoring the word of God. I don’t believe that is true but I remain open to the Spirit who corrects and teaches. I love Jesus, I love the Bible, and I love the Church. I believe I am following the two greatest commandments “upon which hang all the laws and the prophets.”