I first saw hate up close and personal in my early teens. I intervened when a couple of guys from school decided it was a good day to beat up one of my best friends because they perceived him as being gay. Did you get that? They didn’t know, they just assumed, and they deemed him worthy of a beating because of it.
Something in me broke that day. I felt it snap, and as I jogged around the cemetery near my house that evening to shed the remaining adrenaline and anger from the fight, I lashed out at God. Yep. That’s right. Little ol’ teenage me was furious with God. Please let me explain.
My parents raised me to believe that God loves everyone. They raised me to believe that diversity was beautiful and is a reflection of God’s Wholeness. I was also raised in the Catholic Church, though, and I learned at some point like all Midwest kids, Christian or not, that the Church* believes that God hates gay people. My parents didn’t believe that, though, so I didn’t believe it, as it’s much easier to believe that God’s Love trumps man’s belief about God’s hate if that’s what you’ve been taught. Honestly I never really thought much about what Christian culture said about being gay because being straight afforded me the privilege of not having to think about it, until the day that I experienced what Christian intolerance of God’s beautiful diversity does to real people.
Even as a tender young teen I recognized that whether people were religious or not, negative beliefs about “what God thinks” had seeped into and ingrained itself in our Midwestern culture. These beliefs took some hurting and messed up young men and twisted them into monsters. These beliefs victimized people who were gay or perceived as gay. And it all made me ANGRY. More angry than I’d ever been in my life. So as I ran that day I prayed angry. I told God that I felt in my soul that He was LOVE, and yet the words from the Bible that people attribute to His words about gay people had been bringing about the OPPOSITE of love for many of His people for DECADES, maybe centuries. I told Him I needed to understand what His REAL thoughts were on the matter, because I couldn’t reconcile the hateful, oppressive, and/or judgmental words people spewed from “His Word” with my understanding of His all-consuming LOVE. Then with all of the hurt and anger that I felt for people I didn’t even know but loved anyway, I told God that if He really was a God that could hate people, could say things that CAUSED hate toward people centuries later, well then… I was done with Him.
For the next few years I held God at arm’s length. I pushed Him away, forgot about Him when I could and even questioned His existence. I went off to college and my world continued to grow. Then one day as I walked through campus, God, with His reach that extended past me holding Him at a distance, smacked me upside the head and told me, “There. There’s your answer. Now come back.” I received the answer to my angry prayer in a way that I will never forget, because God is cool like that.
Whether you believe that being gay is a sin or not, I’m going to ask you to do a couple of things:
1. I’m asking you to pray fervently and seek confirmation from God that you are “right.” Ask for God’s answer, and ask for a sign that you can’t mistake. While you’re at it, ask God why 85% of LGBTQ youth in schools are bullied and harassed. Ask why LGBTQ youth often don’t feel safe, supported or respected in schools, in a space where they go to learn. Ask why the suicide rate for LGB folks is a lot more than double that of straight folks, and is higher still for transgender folks. Ask why/how parents can loathe their own children enough that LGBTQ youth make up 40% of the total homeless youth population and are disproportionately represented among foster care youth. And then, maybe, ask what you can do about all of that. I was called to DO something about these ways in which some of God’s most marginalized and hurting people are treated, especially by Christians. If you end up heartbroken and needing a way to do something, too, you’re welcome to join me.
2. Take note on how your take on God’s words and how you put them back out into the world affects people’s self-worth.
3. Listen wholeheartedly to people who disagree with you. One of my favorite bloggers wrote earlier this week that echo chambers are dangerous. When we only speak to and hear from people who look like us, sound like us, believe like us, we shut ourselves off from the beautiful diversity that surrounds us. This is a shame, because a lot of times God shows up in that diversity or in those moments when we look outside of ourselves. We must be willing to listen to each other, especially to people who are not like us, so our human experience and our empathy can grow. I believe our stories help us connect with one another, and whether you believe like I do or you don’t, we need to forge connections, listen to and understand one another. What better way to practice empathy than to listen wholeheartedly to someone with whom you disagree, without any intent to argue or debate, and take a moment to see the world through their eyes? Then we’re better able to hear the voice of God, because He often shows up through someone who vulnerably opens themselves to us. This may mean seeking someone with whom you can have a civilized conversation or it may mean reading stories from other points of view. Just remember to do it with a soft and open heart so you can feel empathy for the person willing to be vulnerable enough to share their story.
Now, for the kicker: I understand that you probably feel that your position is right and the other position is wrong, but maybe there is no right or wrong here. When we think that we are right we automatically elevate our beliefs to a superior position. This keeps us from giving others the courtesy of really listening to them and we close ourselves off to growing and learning. So maybe we should be less worried about what is sin and what isn’t, who’s right and who’s wrong, and just allow our actions to reflect love.
Through my journey, God has led me to the belief that being gay is not a sin. There are loads of Bible scholars who believe this too. I could point you toward some of their research, but I believe this really must be a conversation you have with God. I’d share my answers with you, but since God uses our experiences and knowledge to speak to us, your answers will look and sound different than mine. I don’t doubt the answers I’ve received from Him or the beliefs I hold, but I have decided that even if I did, I’d rather err on the side of loving people in a way that leaves them with self-worth, dignity and respect, than believe that being gay is a sin and “love” people in a way that condemns, victimizes, kills and/or pushes them away from God. If I am wrong? Then at the end of my days when I get judged by Him, He will look inside my heart and see that I did EVERYTHING I COULD to reach, heal, protect and love His most hurting, marginalized people. I’m okay with that. (Quick side note: My mama bear instincts extend to ALL hurting, marginalized, lonely people.)
Just one more thing, in case you’re still wondering how negative Christian messages have permeated our culture and have done all of the above when so many Christians are well-intentioned. This “Love the sinner, hate the sin” thing. It’s gotta go, for so many reasons. It’s time to lay that tired phrase to rest because it does a lot more harm to our LGBTQ family, God’s image and the Christian reputation than it does good. Don’t believe me? Simply because I’m an LGBTQ advocate, I have been vilified, Bible-thumped, ridiculed, unfriended and condemned by fellow Christians. I have been called a cancer, a devil in disguise, a traitor to God, and a vine that would destroy the church. All of this was by various well-intentioned Christians who tell me that they “love the sinner, hate the sin.” What they really show me is that they are so busy labeling and “hating the sin” that they can’t even tolerate me, much less love me, someone who is just doing my best to love God and love others. I guess what they don’t understand is that their words and actions don’t make me feel loved or feel like changing my mind. They’re never going to reach my heart and make me consider that maybe I’m wrong and they’re right. Instead they really, really hurt me. I get that they are trying to be true to their beliefs, but in their zeal to tell me about God, they leave me feeling alone, hurt and angry. These actions done in the “name of love” by my fellow Christians threaten to push me away from the Church (not from God, just the Church and it’s people.) If they are doing this to me, an ally who isn’t gay, and it hurts me to this extent, you can understand why I want to advocate for and protect my LGBTQ friends. So with that in mind, let’s all just worry less about being right or being wrong, and just be love.
*Since things have changed in the past 20 years, I no longer believe the message that God hates gay people comes from the Church (with a big C.) I’ve seen so many churches and churchgoers working to change that in the last several years that I know there are many who are affirming and loving. If you’re looking for an affirming church, this might be a good place to start.