I once voted against same-sex marriage, and now I’m married to a man.
That’s the short version of my long and tumultuous history with reparative therapy, church doctrine, and my slowly changing attitude toward LGBT civil rights. It’s a transformation that many gay Christians can identify with, and why, up until recently, the secular community has led the charge in the movement for LGBT equality.
This month marks the one-year anniversary of Obergefell v. Hodges, the ruling that made same-sex marriage legal throughout the country. It has been an especially poignant time for me because, having just married last month, I’m all too aware of the benefits my husband and I have received as a result of the courage and determination of others. Ever since my engagement to Constantino, I’ve more deeply felt the sacrifice of activists who led the movement to push for marriage equality. But now, as many churches dig in their heels and double-down on their rejection of the LGBT community, it’s time for gay Christians to play the pivotal role of reconciliation.
In 2008, I voted in favor of Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that sought to define marriage between one man and one woman. Although I had stopped my six years of reparative (ex-gay) therapy, I still participated in men’s “healing” groups and felt convicted that same-sex marriage was not part of God’s plan. I could support civil unions, but I refused to support a spiritual covenant. While I was acting with the best of intentions, my capacity to love stopped at the borders I saw drawn by Biblical law. My heart couldn’t understand anything more generous than love inside the lines.
It’s for this reason so many gay Christians sat on the sidelines while the secular LGBT community fought for progress. LGBT Christians have for years felt conflicting emotions, heard conflicting messages, and suffered conflicting loyalties. Some of us have trusted the church’s message against same-sex marriage and are only now starting to come around; others have disagreed for years but existed in a church environment too toxic to speak out. Gay christians were, for the most part, in the crossfire of this hostility.
How beautiful is it when God chooses to use those outside the church to deliver His message, rather than those wrapped up inside its holy walls? It happens in the Bible with staggering regularity. That has been our reality in the quest for LGBT equality, with the secular community grasping a love and acceptance unchained by law and dogma. The church’s ears have been plugged up by the wax of rule-based doctrine, while those outside the church have been the ones with ears to hear. My nonreligious gay friends were the ones participating in marriage equality rallies, signing petitions, and donating money. I thank God for the secular LGBT community, which led the way while a majority of gay Christians felt disempowered to act.
But a change of law, not matter how monumental, only goes so far. We need only look at the news of the past few months—anti-transgender bathroom bills, “religious freedom” laws, the slaughter of people in an Orlando gay bar—to understand how far we are from capturing people’s hearts. This is the next frontier: not just changing laws, but changing attitudes. The two go hand-in-hand, of course, but the latter is where gay Christians play a crucial role. While the secular push has taken us to marriage equality, gay Christians will be the ones who change the hearts and minds of the church.
Now is the time for gay Christians to take a more prominent role in LGBT activism. We can do one thing others can’t—we can be the bridge of reconciliation. We are the ones who personally know the most fierce opponents of LGBT equality: They are often our pastors, our friends, even our own parents. They have often been the source of our greatest wounds, but that emotional connection goes both ways. Now let us find the courage to speak back to them in love, and give their hearts an opportunity to listen.
Our commission is, in some ways, easier than activists before us. Our job is to simply live life in community with others. Let our friends and family see us date, see us marry, see us begin families. Let our churches bear witness to the health of our relationships, and the authenticity of our love for Jesus. Keep the debates and the arguments to a minimum, and instead let our most compelling argument be the way in which we live our lives. Let us produce good fruit, and then give it up as a peace offering. Not everyone will accept it, but we must try.
In this post-marriage-equality world, I see LGBT Christians more energized than ever. We’re optimistic that our two warring communities may one day find peace. Like the first break of the freeze in a long winter, we see evidence of icy hearts warming between the church and the LGBT community. Most of all, we see hope that the schism in our own hearts, and the rip down the center of our souls that has tortured us for so long, may finally heal and find peace.
David Khalaf and his husband, Constantino, write about marriage and relationship as a gay Christian couple. Follow us on Twitter: @daveandtino