Last month, many in the LGBTQI+ community, as well as those who identify as allies, celebrated Coming Out Day. As most of us are probably aware, coming out can be a momentous occasion, but it can also be quite terrifying. And I can understand why: those who are more religiously-inclined tend to shun and scapegoat any and all who are not heterosexual—with God on their side of course—and even those who stand in solidarity with non-heterosexual folks. So needless to say, coming out can be quite the stress-inducing situation in our current culture (and most cultures that have preceded ours).
While I grew up in a family that was more hospitable toward the LGBTQI+ community, they were still in that old, religious mindset: “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” To that end, it is no wonder that this was the same exact worldview that was handed to me at an age I can no longer recall.
Now, I don’t blame anyone for giving me this view. Indeed, my parents and probably their parents before them were given the same view at an age they can probably no longer recall. And I’m sure the intergenerational regress could go on and on for millennia.
Nevertheless, I’m thankful that I see things differently now—much differently! In fact, my life’s journey has been such that I now tend to be one of the more boisterous voices in the theological community who champion for the full-inclusion of LGBTQI+ folks. Go figure, right?
So, what changed for me?
In brief, it started by actually listening to those around me who weren’t heterosexual. Novel concept, isn’t it? Instead of simply listening to what my straight pastors, or straight parents, or straight Bible study leaders had to say, I started listening to what gay folks had to say. I started listening to what bi folks had to say, and what queer and transgender and those who aren’t classified by any of these labels had to say. I started to actually hear them, and, wouldn’t you know it, I actually started to show some empathy.
And then one day it just sort of dawned on me: How could I call something “sin” in another’s life that wasn’t sin in my own? How could I tell two loving, gay friends of mine that what they were doing was sinful when I was doing the same thing with my non-gay girlfriend (who is now my wife)? I couldn’t!
This made me feel like Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus Road. My whole paradigm shifted. And I’m so glad that it did, for it has caused me to be much more loving, much more empathetic, much more gracious, and much more forgiving than I had ever been before.Before, I could so easily denounce the behaviors of others because, like any good fundamentalist, I had God on my side. His Book was clear. I could just pluck out any of the clobber passages I wanted, denounce “sins,” and then claim it as the loving thing to do. After all, I was helping them change their ways so that perhaps they wouldn’t burn in hell forever. I know, horrible, right? But it’s where I came from and so has its place in my story. I may not be proud of it, but have certainly learned a thing or two from the whole experience.
So here’s the rub: As long as we are constantly holding our beliefs loosely—rather than clinched with white knuckles—we will get to where we need to go. I’m convinced of this. Even if we begin our journey in the most religiously oriented way, we, like the Hebrew prophets, can muddle out of it and find the light.
We need each other though. Indeed, we need to learn from all sorts of unique individuals. During my process out of fundamentalism, if it hadn’t been for the love the LGBTQI+ community showed toward each other (and to me!), I’m not sure I would have found the light as of yet. I’m certain that I would have had a come-to-Jesus moment sooner or later, but perhaps it would have taken a lot longer. And who knows, I may have harmed more people than I already had with my bad theology. And I call it “bad theology” because any theology that brings death to others is not a theology worth having. Our theology needs to bring light and life to others, it needs to bring love, joy, peace, and all the other fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22–23). I hope more and more people come to see this as the truth.
At the end of the day, what matters most—especially for those who profess trust in Jesus Christ—is how we love. Jesus summed up the whole of the law and prophets by telling his followers to love God and their neighbor (Mark 12:30–31). To that end, if we are going to love our LGBTQI+ neighbors, we ought to start by accepting how God made them, not being so quick to judge, and by always welcoming them in to the great banquet table our Lord has set before us all. Should we fail to do this, should we fail to show them love simply because of who they are, then we’ll fail to love others as Jesus loves them. May we be the embodiment of love. Shalom, my friends.