In my previous life as an evangelical Christian, I had what I considered a healthy apprehension about gay folks. It was for the sake of my kids (or so I told myself) that I preferred to avoid discussing “that subject,” and sidestep any acknowledgement of the existence of “those people.” Like so many other awkward issues, it was invisible.
Actually, it was more normal in our evangelical world to avoid awkward subjects than to discuss them. In all my years of Christian education – K-12 plus 4 years of college – and Sunday School, and youth group, I don’t remember the subject of sexual orientation coming up anywhere, ever. Nobody wanted to admit its existence, I guess – maybe we thought if we acknowledged it, the power of suggestion might cause someone in our community to be lured into that world.
One thing was somehow clear, though: sexual orientation was all about sex. And shame culture demands that you don’t even think or wonder about anything in that realm, so we never moved beyond that one aspect – nor did we suspect that there was anything else to know.
So “don’t ask, don’t tell” was the name of the game. I didn’t want any information about what went on in people’s bedrooms. If someone was gay, it meant one thing: their bedroom was a place of abnormal behavior.
One day after my children were off to college, I was scrolling through Facebook when I came across a photo of one of my kids’ best friends – call him Danny. This young man had spent many days in my home, and I loved him like a son. Danny was one of my favorite people in the world.
In the photo, he was in a non-platonic embrace with another guy. I was stunned. I didn’t know how I felt.
I called my child and asked immediately, “Is Danny gay?” My child hesitated for just a moment, and then said, “yes, he is.”
Immediately, I knew how I felt. I said, “I love him so much. That’s all. I just love him so much.”
In a flash, all of my evangelical Christian judgment of all the theoretical gay people in the world melted away. Why? I think it’s because for the first time, I realized that gay people are just people.
In that moment, I realized that my evangelical upbringing had led me astray.
Gay people are people exactly like me or my kids – or anybody else – with favorite foods, favorite shows, interests, hopes, and dreams. Like us, they are works in progress. In fact they’re not “they.” They’re us.
The realization was instantaneous, but internalizing it was neither quick nor easy for me. After that moment of awareness, I retreated again and again to my original evangelical Christian anti-gay paradigm, the one I’d been comfortable with all my life.
But now that I knew about Danny, it wasn’t so comfortable. I couldn’t accept that, just by being true to himself, just by being who he was, he was anymore flawed than anyone else. God loved and celebrated him as much as anyone else.
I know the Bible well, and I have grappled over and over with the verses that you might be thinking about right now, and the teachings we’ve all heard about them. And bottom line, Jesus’ mandate to love our neighbor as ourselves resonates with more authority and holiness than all of those other verses put together. After all, it’s one of the Greatest Commandments. That other stuff – that’s all interpretations of verses (some of them very obscure and problematic) that have nothing to do with God’s love.
We all know that the Bible doesn’t always have the last word. As much as we revere it as the Word of God, we know better than to accept its position on, for example, slavery. I’m going with the possibility that the human writers of the Biblical texts simply presumed that God held the same biases they did.
I’ll share with you more of my journey throughout Pride Month. If you find yourself (or someone you know) struggling like I did with this issue, I encourage you to allow yourself the freedom to think for yourself – through a lens of love – about those among us who love differently.
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FEATURED IMAGE: “U Turn Permitted Sign” by Saunderses is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0