This post is by Laura Statesir, our Director of Family and Youth:
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. – 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NIV)
For many years this verse was so important to me that I considered getting “faith”, “hope”, and “love” tattooed on my body. I doodled the words in various styles in my notebooks and in my Bible trying to find the perfectly designed expression of their significance in ink. Over time the meaning of these promises has changed in my life. The innocent idealism of my youthful faith has given way to something deeper and yet less certain as I’ve struggled with reconciling my sexuality with my faith and with my interactions with my Christian communities. I never got that tattoo. Perhaps, like many, I am still waiting to see how these words best fit my skin.
At the Gay Christian Network conference in Portland this past January I met many other Christians who are seeking a vision of how these words might be tattooed on their own hearts. They are LGBTQ individuals and their loved ones searching for a way to claim and receive these three affirmations in the midst of very difficult faith journeys. Much has already been written about the conference: the comfort of community, the inspiration of worshipping together, and the serenity of being surrounded by all who are welcome at Christ’s table. Indeed the conference was a time of healing and encouragement for many, but for others it was also an emotional week filled with doubt, anger, and loss. For me, the beauty of the conference lay not in the victory, but in the struggle; in the courage and vulnerability demonstrated by those who are still reaching towards the promised three that remain, yet just out of grasp.
Doubt and Faith: “I don’t feel God’s presence right now; I feel alone.” These are the bold and honest words spoken with great effort by the father of an LGBTQ child during one of the workshops. His child just recently came out and like many other parents wrestling with this, he is immersed in a dark night of the soul. He feels abandoned by God. He doubts God’s goodness as he struggles with why God would set his family on this journey. I heard these same doubts echoed in the questions of LGBTQ individuals throughout the week.
There are no magic words or silver bullets that can allay these doubts. We have to allow ourselves to ask hard questions and not be afraid of the answers. We have to allow others the space to doubt without trying to fix their faith with one-liners from the Psalms. It’s okay not to feel connected to God for a time.
In the safe spaces provided by GCN that weekend, something happens. Fearfully but with immense relief we give voice to our questions. We explore our doubts in the presence of others and begin to see that we are not alone. The doubts that have weighed us down, now free, become lighter and easier to carry. Only in acknowledging our questions can we find answers. Only in being honest about our doubt can our faith find room to grow. As Og Mandion said, “I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.”
Anger and Hope: We are angry. All throughout the conference I catch glimpses of anger boiling just below the surface. For many LGBTQ individuals it is righteous indignation at the ways we have been treated poorly by our Christian communities. This anger stems from being hurt, from the pain and bitterness of being rejected by our churches or Christian loved ones. And it’s not just the LGBTQ individuals; parents are angry too. One father’s voiced quivered with rage as he talked about how judgmental and unloving his home church has been towards his LGBTQ child: “I agree that non-affirming folks are welcome at the table [of Christ], but they can’t sit next to my kid.”
Anger, like doubt, needs to be expressed. We must give ourselves permission to be angry at the Church and at God. As Christians we are often taught to push feelings of anger away, to bury them deep down because expressing them is not Christ-like. But if we are not angry at the injustices in our own lives then how can we help right those wrongs for others? And how can we be like Christ if we’re not angry at injustice? We need our anger to drive us to action. Anger appropriately embodied can actually lead us to the hope that all churches can one day be a safe place for us.
Loss and Love: In the first main session of the conference I am surrounded by LGBTQ Christians and their loved ones raising their hands and voices in praise to God. But I am not singing. I am trying not to cry, again. The tears flow pretty much every time I am in a worship setting. Nostalgia and loss overwhelm me. For years I worked in ministry and experienced powerful worship with my brothers and sisters in Christ who I loved and served alongside. Then I was fired for being gay and lost, well, everything. Group worship now just reminds me of that loss: The lost sense of belonging. The lost sense of being a part of something sacred, divine and larger than myself. The loss of my community, of certainty of faith, and of something solid and unwavering to believe in. All of that pain breaks forth from its carefully constructed confines to the surface when it’s time for worship. And I know I am not the only one.
The sum total of all that I and many other LGBTQ Christians have lost by coming out is devastating. And yet, at GCN, surrounded not just by other Christians but by other LGBTQChristians, that loss gives way to something else, a sense that I truly do belong and am truly loved. I’m so grateful there is a place for us. I’m so thankful that we are finding our validation from God and ourselves and no longer waiting for a heterosexual, cisgender pastor to tell us we are loved. We have finally recognized ourselves as a force for good in the world. And if we can move through this loss then we can start looking outward at the needs of this world that we are uniquely designed to fill. We can take our experience of pain and transform it into empathy for others.
In the end, I believe the doubt, anger and loss I observed at the GCN conference are really just the first honest steps on a path towards faith, hope and love. It is doubt explored that eventually strengthens faith, anger expressed that melts into hope, and loss allowed to grieve that transforms into authentic love. Now that’s a powerful tattoo.
Photocredit: Busy Teacher Momma, Pintrest C.C.