The following is a letter written from bi-sexual Christian author and activist, Brandan Robertson, to the Christian Church at large. This letter was presented as a talk at Our Witness Conference in Denver, Colorado on April 23, 2016. For more content from Our Witness, click here.
Hello. It’s Me.
You know. The heretic. The one who walked away. The backslider.
Hello from the other side.
You know. I’ve loved you for a long time. Ever since I was twelve years old, when I walked down the aisle of the old Baptist church.
I didn’t have an ounce of hope in my soul. At the time, I was the son of an abusive alcoholic father. I grew up in a trailer park where a vision for the future wasn’t our focus. We were just hoping to get to next week.
At twelve, I was crushed. I had no plans for my life. I felt worthless. But as I made my way down that aisle and fell to my knees at that altar, tears washing down my face as the congregation was singing
“Just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and that thou bidst me come to thee, Oh Lamb of God, I come.”
I felt a love so powerful. So transformative, so redemptive, from a Heavenly Father who loved me more than my earthly Father ever could. I heard a Gospel that was truly good news for my young soul. I felt, for the first time, the spark of hope. I believed, for the first time, that my life had a purpose, had a meaning.
Dear Church, you have shown me so much love. You’ve formed me. You’ve made me into the man I am today.
It was just a few months after that experience with God, I sat in my backyard reading the Bible and I felt a gentle yet powerful tug at my heart. I sensed God calling me. Calling me to be a pastor. To give my life to serve his Church. To preach his word. To bring the love and hope that I had found in Jesus to the world around me. And ever since then, that’s been the focus of my life.
Dear Church, you taught me so much about what is to be a follower of Jesus. I’ve seen your love poured out on me, like the time when dozens of people showed up at our dilapidated trailer unannounced, offering to do renovations, replacing floors, buying groceries, and handing a wad of money to us to help my struggling family get by another week.
I’ve seen you reach out to people experiencing homelessness. I have seen you advocate on behalf of the voiceless. I have watched you preach the Gospel to the most lost and hopeless individuals, and I have seen new life spring forth because of you.
Dear Church, I’ve given my life to serve you. From internships, to Bible college, and seminary. Every ounce of my energy for the past decade has been given to preparing to teach you, to guide you, to give back to you all that you have given me. I love you and believe in you. I believe you have the power to transform the world.
Dear Church, my heart beats for you.
But something has happened recently and everything seems to have changed.
Dear Church, you taught me that I was created in the image and likeness of an eternally expansive, diverse, uncontainable, and indescribable God. Doesn’t it make sense, then, that I would be unique, diverse…different? Doesn’t that mean that we should not be seeking so much uniformity, but instead seeking out uniqueness?
So that when we come together as a whole, we make up a big, beautiful, diverse body that mirrors that image of God.
Why then, have you told me that I can no longer truly reflect the image of God because I’m queer? Where has the image of God gone? Isn’t it still here. Don’t I still bear it. Doesn’t God delight in me, just as I am?
Or was that just part of the sales pitch?
Dear Church, why is it that the moment when I feel most truly authentic and most truly connected to God, that you have pushed me away and said I am invalid? Why must who I am as a person cause you to fear me so much? Since when did I become such a problem?
When I kept my sexuality hidden, you lauded me. You told me I was anointed of God. That I was going to be used by God to change the world. Every week after church dozens of older church members would come up to me to tell me that they were so proud of me and knew that God’s hand was on my life. Now, when I walk into that same church, I only get side glares and people telling me that they’re “praying for me”.
That I’m more honest? More authentic? More devoted to Christ than ever before? Yet nothing is the same between us. Instead of a beloved member of your community, I’m a stranger and exile in the house of God. The place where I once found a warm embrace has now become a place of rejection and scorn.
Dear Church, you tell me you only do this because you love me. But love doesn’t check a persons sexuality or gender identity before embracing them. Yet, you tell me, “This is only for you good” and “I just feel that God wants me to share this with you.”
You look at me from across the table, or worse, from behind a computer screen, and lay out a case for just how deceived and dangerous I have become. I’ve received message after message that say things like, and I quote:
“Certainly you’re a leader, Brandan. It is safe to say that in current trajectory of your life you will usher many into a hellish existence. And when you need the blood of Christ to wash away your sins, where will you turn, now that you have renounced His redeeming work so thoroughly. But I already know, you have a victim mentality and you use your sense of victimhood to victimize others. Your behavior is repugnant to me.”
Comments like this are not random. They come from former friends, mentors, pastors. Message after message, you shame me. Rebuke me. Condemn me. Without ever actually talking to me. Asking about my life. You assume the worst. You seem no longer care for me as a person. Only that I renounce my honesty and return to the shadows of your theological perspective.
No one should have to face such condemnation. Especially from those who bear the name of the Christ who proclaimed- “I have not come to condemn, but to redeem.”
Dear Church, much to your surprise, I still have a deep relationship with God. I still read the Bible. I love the Bible. Good grief, I’m even working on a second degree in the Bible and theology.
I know what this book says. I know what God wants for me. And just because we’ve come to different conclusions about how I live my life and serve our God doesn’t mean that I need to be your next evangelistic effort. There can be space at the table of God’s grace for both of us. Christ heals divisions. He calls us to set aside our differences- yes, even differences about what is or is not sin.
Dear Church, don’t you believe the words of Scripture?
Don’t you believe what the Apostle Paul wrote in The Letter to the Romans:
“Who are you to judge another persons servants? So stop judging each other. Instead, never put a stumbling block or obstacle in the way of your brother or sister. God’s kingdom isn’t about what one person thinks is unclean and what another thinks isn’t, but about righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit. So let’s strive for the things that bring peace and the things that build each other up.”
Dear Church, why have you slammed your door in my face? Will you head Paul’s word?
Dear Church, didn’t Jesus say that we shall know true disciples by their fruit? Have you heard these stories? Do you see these lives? We’re passionately giving ourselves over to God for the good of our world. Our lives are overflowing with love, and joy, and peace, and patience, and… well, you know the list. Why, then, are you so quick to invalidate our salvation?
How could I have been saved so profoundly just one year ago and now be considered unclean? Has the cross of Christ become weakened? Has the power of his resurrection come up deficient?
Dear Church, please explain to me how my sexuality has become a “Gospel” issue. Since when has the announcement of God’s Kingdom and salvation through Christ ever been based upon what gender somebody falls in love with? Please tell me how disagreement about the interpretation of six verses out of over 30,000 in the Bible have come to represent the “greatest threat to the Church” today?
Dear Church, what are you so afraid of? Doesn’t the perfect love of Christ cast out all fear? Dear Church, where is your love?
Dear Church, don’t you believe in the power of the Living and active word of God?
Dear Church, believe it or not, it’s not in spite of, but because of the Word that I have decided to “come out” as queer. It’s precisely because that I believe that God is still speaking to us and that the Kingdom of Heaven is in our midst that I fight for the rights of my LGBT+ siblings in society and in the church.
Dear Church, we’re not an issue. We’re not imaginary. We are queer followers of Jesus and we are here. We have a voice. We are committed to the radical, self-sacrificial way of Jesus, our Lord. And while I know that our existence doesn’t fit in your theological paradigm, it is reality. And when reality and theology clash, it’s probably time to rethink your theology.When your theology pushes people away from God, from hope, from life. Something has gone terribly wrong. When shame, self hatred, and fear is the result of your teaching, you can be assured that your words are not from God.
Dear Church, even in the midst of all of this, I still have grace for you. God has chosen to make up his kingdom of beautifully broken people among whom I am the chief. I know that many of you have the best intentions. You really do want to do what’s right. To stand on the truth. To love me in the way that you believe that God demands. I have been sitting in your seat. I too struggled to accept LGBT+ people. To accept myself. I understand your struggle. I’ve been there too. It took a lot of work. A lot of time. A lot of prayer. A lot of openness to the Holy Spirit to stand where I am today.
And that’s all I am asking of you today.
Not to change your mind overnight. But to be humble. Make room in your life to learn. To rethink. To ask hard questions. To listen to and accept the stories that make you feel uncomfortable. Do it, not because your life needs to center around this topic, but because of the fact that there are people in your life, in your faith community, that are LGBT+. I guarantee it. Do it because Christ commands it of you. Do it because every person matters to God. Do it because real lives are on the line. Do it because the Gospel of Jesus calls us to sacrifice our comfort, our privilege, and our power for the good of the other. The least of these. The minority.
In that way, I guess, this is, in fact a Gospel issue.
Because if the Gospel you proclaim isn’t good news to the poor, liberation to the captive, recovery of sight to the blind, and God’s ridiculous grace for all, then it isn’t the Gospel of Jesus. It’s, by definition, a false Gospel.
This Kingdom is a kingdom for misfits. For minorities. For queers. For the outcasts. For those who don’t seem to belong. This Kingdom is a Kingdom for all who reflect the image and likeness of God. And I’ve got news for you. That means all of us.
Dear Church, LGBT+ people are already the Church. You don’t have the power to exclude us from participating in Christ. The table, the Kingdom, and the power is God’s and God’s alone. And he has welcomed us in.
Dear Church, God is doing a new thing in our day. God is decentralizing those who have held power and privilege in his name for too long. A revival is breaking forth. Droves are finding renewed life in the way of Christ. Our voice is getting louder. Our influence is gaining strength. And our agenda, well, it’s simple:
To see the Kingdom of this world transformed into the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.
To see justice roll forth like a river. Equity and peace on every corner of the earth. It’s to embody the Spirit of Christ to our world.
And that’s a dangerous agenda, indeed. For it challenges the systems of power and oppression in our world. It threatens to unhinge all that we’ve built to make our lives comfortable. But it’s an unstoppable one.
And to my LGBT+ siblings, let me say it again. We are already the church. We don’t need to wait to be included. We already are. Just as we are.
We are the Body of Christ.
We are included in the Kingdom of God.
We do bear the image and likeness of God.
We are not broken.
We must stand strong, live into our calling to be ambassadors of Christ and his reconciling message to our world. We must refuse to return evil for evil, judgment for judgment. We must embody grace, patience and forgiveness. But that doesn’t mean we stay silent.
We must open our mouths. Open our hearts. Open our lives. And let the light of Christ within us shine forth, so that the world can see our good works and glorify God because of us. We are the channels of renewal and revival. We are the future.
May we not grow proud or resentful. May we instead seek to embody both grace and truth. Because truth will win out. Grace will win out. Love will win out in the end. I guarantee it.
Dear Church, Here we are. This is our witness.