The Cost of Being a Bridge Builder Between LGBTs and the Church

The Cost of Being a Bridge Builder Between LGBTs and the Church March 11, 2013

The following post was written by Andrew Marin, President & Founder of The Marin Foundation.

I feel the costs of the corporate LGBT and Church disconnect have been well documented for what this culture war has left in its wake. The broader LGBT community’s retelling of this story, in most cases, has the Bride acting more like Bridezilla than the Bride who, when the doors swing open for the first time, is standing in her gown, looking as beautiful as she has ever looked, ready to walk down the aisle and be sacramentally joined with God to the person she loves more than any other on the face of the earth. And the Church’s retelling of this disconnect, at its core, is in most cases one of denominational and congregations division—separating what many thought was once one of the three unbreakable cords tied to the Lord for good works.

Within those overarching narratives are then the individual stories of those from each community, or those from both communities together, whose lives have been irrevocably shaped for good or for bad, in one way or the other, by one or both of the fighting “parents.” But the cost that is often overlooked is that of the bridge builders amongst the emotional, spiritual and in some cases the physical violence. What is the cost of the peacemakers who work to infuse the love of Jesus in the most unsettling of spaces?

There must never be a hierarchy on pain, betrayal, loneliness and whatever else forces one apart from another. These intense spaces are not just for the LGBT person or for the conservative person, who are generally the vocal point of this disconnect. These spaces are just as legitimate for the bridge builders themselves. Yet the unfortunately reality is that bridge builders are viewed as the ones who are to always have the perfect answer void of the overwhelming emotional or spiritual intensity to the people that they cannot help but be emotionally or spiritually tied to.

Through my daily work with The Marin Foundation, I understand better than most what it is like for a wide variety of people from across the faith and sexuality spectrum to vulnerably invite you into their journey, and in turn, you making the heavy decision to accept or deny the responsibility of that space.

That space.

“That space” I speak of is the heightened emotional and spiritual sensitivity that you are ever so aware of—and if I’m being honest, most afraid of. It’s the space you have been invited to not because it’s easily discernible and calm, but because it’s the most volatile. Emotional and spiritual volatility inherently come with that space. But what gets overlooked by everyone, including the bridge builders themselves, is the toll living in such volatility takes on their own emotional and spiritual person.

In certain situations this doesn’t mean you as a bridge builder are the culture war casualty’s only outlet; but in most scenarios it means you are their only outlet for the raw emotions and spiritual abuses they are unwilling to share with anyone else. Such pain causes retaliation—not to those you wish to love, but to those whose love you take for granted.

This isn’t a post about self-care, though I’m sure you’re aware of its importance; even though many, or if I may be so bold, all of us bridge builders wrongly cast to the side. Nor is this post a pat on my own back for making the choice to do this work. This post is about reality.

Reality of the pain; angst; years of oppression, doubts and regrets of what has been said and done by both sides, taken upon ourselves because Jesus commanded us to be ambassadors of reconciliation to constantly pursue that which is disconnected. But where does it go from there once you’ve taken on the burdens of others to facilitate this “God-ordained” reconciliation?

I pray you find an outlet in the Lord. I pray you find an outlet beyond the motives of others transposing their worst onto your best. And I pray you know to not take out what you can’t even formulate into words on those that only want to love and support you. I’ve made that mistake too much. And what I speak into life cannot be retracted. I can only try to reorient my own understanding of my bridge building calling from the external of others, to the internal of myself and those I love the most.

There was no path carved before me in that space, and in that other space of bridge building between LGBTs and the Church. But please, listen to me, one you can now hear who has walked this new path in contemporary culture wars: Always be acutely aware of your own capacity for intensity, no matter how much it might be. And don’t let the will to do the work of the Lord in such intense spaces override your greater understanding that those closest to you love you more than life itself.

Much love.

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  • Great post, Andrew. Speaking as a fellow bridge-builder, I’ve noticed that it’s much easier for me to talk to gay people and build bridges with them rather than with Christians. The LGBT community really doesn’t have any built-in intolerance towards Christians; as I’ve seen from each conversation I’ve had with them where I clarify these three simple truths about me:

    1) I’m a Christian.
    2) I don’t believe any zealots are right to treat the LGBT community — or anyone, for that matter — like garbage. They are completely missing the point of Christianity when they do.
    3) I support gay rights.

    That’s how I get the ball rolling, and the end results I’ve seen have only been wonderful healing with the LGBT community.

    I tell those three things to a churchgoer, however, and they’ll criticize my faith/quality as a Christian right to my face, stop talking to me overall, gossip and spread lies about me to other people to try and wreck my social rep at that church, and sometimes they’ll even try to enact church discipline on me. Twice in the past few months, I’ve considered leaving the faith entirely and converting to deism because if being nice to gay people makes me a crappy Christian, then that religion isn’t for me.

    The way I see it: many people who call themselves Christians have a lot of growing-up to do. Maybe there are some Christian-intolerant LGBTs out there too, but in my experience, churchgoers want to burn down any bridges that Christians are trying to build with the LGBT community 11 times out of 10. I never see that sort of intolerance, ignorance, or immaturity coming from the LGBT community. They WANT these bridges built because they are tired of being treated like crap. The religious zealots I’ve seen aren’t that way at all.

    • Andrew, thanks so much for this. And Peter, thanks for the follow-up. I am Christian, and I am gay – although I have done nothing like what you have done in terms of building bridges between LGBT and Christian communities. I want to send my thanks and prayers from the ‘far side’ of this tiresome division, and also offer a slightly different perspective.

      I wish that it was all good news from ‘over here’; that everyone in the LGBT community is eagerly waiting in a spirit of openness for reconciliation with the Christian community & faith (i.e. an open, inclusive, loving one). Sadly in my experience living in London – one of the worlds most mature gay-friendly societies – gay people can have minds just as closed, and hearts just as hard. So, bad news, I’m afraid – intolerance, ignorance and immaturity are not characteristics exclusive to Christians!

      We might explain or excuse a ‘zealot’ reaction of gay people to Christianity as a result of years of suffering, guilt and fear. But the other hand, especially for those benefiting from a modern, liberal, open society, I can’t help feeling that these people should know better. In any case, the ‘peacemakers’ caught up in this ugly culture war certainly have their work cut out. However I feel heartened knowing that people like you are building the bridge from your side – and challenged and inspired to help build the bridge from mine. I look forward to the day when we all meet in middle. I can taste the ice-cold beer already.

      Thanks again, and God bless.