The following post was written by Kevin Harris, Director of Community Relations at The Marin Foundation.
“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” -Dorothy Day
There are those words by Jesus that seem to haunt and inspire me at the same time. They haunt me as I assess the implications that Jesus’ words have for my life and how I fail to live out those words and measure up to the high standard set forth by Jesus. While being taken aback, I’m often inspired as the text seems to point to ways of living that are possible as we seek to submit to God and allow our hearts to be shaped so that the love of God can be manifested in our lives.
One such passage is Luke 14: 12-14 where Jesus gave instructions on whom to invite over for dinner or a party. He then goes on to relate it to what is called the “great banquet” or I guess you could say “God’s banquet” to reveal a little more of God’s heart to us. God invites the people who have no standing in society and are looked at as outcasts. Those that one would have expected to attend God’s banquet had turned God down so God invited the outcasts, or those deemed as outsiders/outcasts, whose very presence would have offended the powerful and religious leaders. And reading the mentioned scripture, it sounds as if we are to do the same.
I think there could be a number of conclusions on who is seen and/or treated as outsiders today, but within the context of the communities typically discussed on this blog, I think of individuals that are bisexual, transgender, and intersex. I attended an event in Chicago on September 23rd this year called “Celebrate Bisexuality Day” and it was mentioned that bisexual men and women are almost twice as likely to commit suicide as gay and lesbian individuals. Bisexual individuals face the same risks for rejection as gays and lesbians when they come out to friends and family, but they also touched on the fact that they also often do not feel welcomed in the broader gay and lesbian community as they are told by many that they are just confused and they are really gay or lesbian. While reading the “National Transgender Discrimination Survey Report on Health and Health Care” that polled 6,450 transgender and gender non-conforming people that was released in Oct. 2010, I noticed that 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population. The study is only 24 pages and definitely worth checking out if you have a few minutes. Obviously there are many factors that contribute to the probability of committing suicide, but I think that community and a strong support network or a lack thereof is one of the biggest factors.
As the Church, we have to be a place that provides community and support while welcoming people to the “banquet,” especially those that are feeling alienated and lonely. Though support won’t automatically make the difficulties in life go away, individuals are much more likely to push on through pain and struggles if they know others will have their back regardless of who they are or what they believe or do. And I don’t mean to imply that it is only bisexual, transgender, and other individuals that have been treated as outsiders that need the Church, but the opposite is just as true. Until the Church starts seeking to actively incorporate bisexual and transgender individuals into the larger body of Christ, there will continue to be gaping holes. Without the strength, passion, creativity, wisdom, and other gifts that bisexual and transgender individuals possess, the Church will continue to limp and fall short of the beloved community that we are called to.