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Friday, November 18, 2011

Six Things my LGBTA Taught me About the Gospel, part 2

Return of the Prodigal Son
I spent a couple hours last month experiencing something absolutely incredible: I was given the opportunity to talk with a loving Christian woman who struggles with the fact that her adult daughter came out as a lesbian two years ago.  She had initially reacted badly to her daughter's confession, and for a time their relationship was shattered.

It took a lot of forgiveness on both sides, but they are on speaking terms now.  However, their relationship had stalled.  She had so many questions about what her daughter was going through, but she needed an interpreter to translate the Christian perspective through LGBT eyes and back again to show her why her overtures for a deeper reconciliation were getting rebuffed.

As we began speaking, I told her about Matt Shepard's death and James' suicide, and what that had taught me. Then I told her about all the wonderful things I was learning from the LGBT community, and I saw such a transformation in her body language as she moved from frustration and loss to real empathy.  For me, seeing that woman's love for her daughter break out unfettered by her suspicion of and frustration with the gay "lifestyle" was absolutely humbling. 

We had scheduled for a one-hour conversation at a local college ministry, but three hours later we left with a hug and a promise to check in with each other again.   She said she felt ready to pray for the well-being and safety of the entire LGBT community and to take a stand against hate in her church.  And, she said with some trepidation, she might even get the courage to meet her daughter's partner and be civil-- but she's not quite ready for that yet.  She still needs a little more forgiveness and time, as we all do, but I feel confident that their relationship is on the mend.  

So, as I finish out my list of lessons I have learned from the LGBT community, I wanted to end with the different perspective that the LGBT community has regarding my faith community, in the hopes of showing why so many well-intentioned evangelicals stumble around on two left feet when interacting with the LGBT community. And so, without further ado...

 4.  If we're all supposed to die to the self, then why do I have to go first?  

 I've learned from my friends that the biggest hindrance to reconciliation with our exiled LGBT family is our hypocrisy.  That really shouldn't come as any huge surprise.  The problem, as it seems to me now, is that most evangelicals don't believe that their own sexuality and the so-called "gay lifestyle" overlap a lot.  They therefore feel free to demand that LGBT people give up an important part of one's pursuit of happiness without a second thought to their own sexual continence.  If you're "defending" marriage, my friends want to ask my Christian community, then why aren't you starting with yourself?

Notable Sign at Marriage Equality Rally in SacramentoHere's my problem:  So, we supposedly believe that being gay is a sin and undermines "true" marriage, right?  For the sake of argument, I'm not going to challenge y'all on that.  But now what?  Where do you go from there?  The problem is that, in Christianity, all sexuality is broken because all humans are fallen.  Marriage is no longer what it was in Eden; now it's a stopgap for sexual incontinence, if you believe what Jesus and Paul said about it.  If you believe the one premise, I would contend that you need to believe both.  Our sexuality is broken, too.

If that's the case, then perhaps the true culprit destroying marriage isn't a bunch of people who largely want to be just as monogamous and domestic as the rest of us.  It's the people who already have the right to marry but are opting out of that institution who are the problem, and, well... that's us.  We're being hypocritical, and they know it.

According to recent studies, the divorce rate and premarital sex rate among Christians is nearly indistinguishable from that of the rest of America.  And, as has been making headlines recently, adultery and pornography are both pretty widespread in the pews, too.  In the way we normally think about marriage and sexuality, these actions are all a threat to the familial institution, right?   So why aren't we tackling our own sexual brokenness to "save marriage" just as hard as some of us are fighting against gay marriage?  You can't walk up to someone and demand a complete abandonment of that secular ideal of happiness if you haven't done so yourself.  It's like having a conversation about salvation like this:
Christian:  If thy right eye offends, my friend, pluck it out! Here's a knife.   Better get carving.
 Sinner:   Woah, wait just a minute!  Jeez, are you nuts
Christian:  Of course not.  We must die to the self and offer ourselves as a sweet-burning sacrifice to the Lord.  Take the knife; take up your cross and follow Him. 
Sinner:  Is this, uh, required? You haven't even...
Christian:  Of course it's required, it's in the Bible.  You go first, my friend. I'll be right behind you.

Think of it this way:  gays and lesbians have been fighting for over a decade for the right to participate in the ideals of the very nuclear family that evangelicals claim they're protecting.  They want to be monogamous and form cohesive bonds with one another.  Christians, in contrast, are rebuffing their attempts to join the "sacred institution" even while they are tearing it down themselves, one divorce and affair at a time. That's just one more reason that our shrill arguments about gay marriage and whatnot fall on deaf, deaf ears.  Our LGBT friends and family have seen the hypocrisy firsthand, and they have no reason to respond to any call that the church isn't following themselves. Nor should they have to.

Every Christian is called to an extreme sacrifice of the old self for the new; it's about time that evangelicals embrace the difficulty of that command as much as we preach it for others.  

5.  Christian, lay your weapons down: there are no enemies in front of you. 

And they shall beat their swords into plowshares Having observed Christian culture  as an evangelical with one foot out of the door since I was twenty has taught me a lot about the culture wars.  It started when I found out that I was attending the infamous "Baptist Church" from The Laramie Project and had a not-so-positive reaction to the news.  It reached an unprecedented level of repugnance after my friend James killed himself and nobody else seemed to care, and it came back into balance when I discovered InterVarsity, my minister friend, and a community of other Christians struggling with the same thing.  After living through all of this, if there is one thing I feel like I now know for sure, it's that conservative Christians are living in a decade of moral panic.

We don't know why our communities are slipping so far out of control-- churches in decline, families divorcing, young people leaving the church en masse or rejecting Christian social values-- and in response we are drawing lines in the sand and starting crusades  against the prevailing culture.  While that battle makes perfect sense to me for my LGBT brothers and sisters (after all, it's their lives being smothered and lost, and so they must naturally fight), it doesn't fit Christian theology.  Our battles are supposed to be against "against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12).   Our only true battlefield as Christians is the spiritual, and only weapons God allows us to use in the battle are God's word and prayer.  Every other part of the Armor of God is a defensive tool to keep us from getting hurt by the powers of darkness. 

If our battle is in heaven, then there shouldn't be human casualties to our warfare.  In the last twenty years, however, vast numbers of us in the Evangelical and conservative communities have let their spiritual battles degrade into cultural wars, and a lot of different groups of people-- not just gays and lesbians-- are ending up as collateral damage.  When our leaders and parishoners are more concerned about a "hidden homosexual agenda" in schools than they are about keeping children from being brutalized by homophobic children, there's something wrong.  We teach our kids that every person in the world is loved by God and He offers them grace and reconciliation.  But then we teach them about gays and lesbians entirely in scare quotes, or-- even worse-- refuse to talk about them at all. We can't keep fighting a culture war which destroys the people we are called upon to love. 

I've seen it first-hand. A friend of mine once thought it was more important that her middle school child know that homosexuality was wrong than it was to keep him from yelling vicious taunts and threats at "that gay kid."  Another friend's church family decided it was more important to keep clear principles on homosexuality than to show affection to him; as a result, he suffered two years under a virtual damnatio memoriae among his own church family, and nobody came to his defense when the bullies came knocking on his door.   I've listened to people from everyone from Focus on the Family to my old preacher talk with disgust and hatred for those who disagree on everything from homosexuality to evolution.  For Christians, principles are meant to uphold the dignity of God and his creation, not to destroy others.  Most of us already understand that, but somehow with the hot-button issues of the culture wars that idea was lost in translation. 

At some point in this debate over the soul of America, the Christians who were engaging in moral debate in the public sphere missed a crucial, watershed moment: the point where they had to decide whether people or principles were more important.  Unfortunately, a lot of them picked their principles and accepted that people would become casualties to those beliefs.  That's the moment when we lost the culture wars, if such a thing actually exists-- for the two are supposed to be indivisible.  Godly principles are based upon love of God and of neighbor. Thus, the moment when Christians divorcing their moral standards from the rule of Love, they ceased to have any real Christian footing.  Consequently, the godly principles of the culture wars drifted from any foundation in God's love and became just one more line in the sand: a foxhole, a stretch of razor wire, a deadline. 

I will never tell my co-religionists that they need to drop their firmly held moral convictions, because I know how deeply such convictions are tied into our spiritual well-being.  Asking a Christian to separate their moral lives from their daily existence unravels one's personal wellbeing very quickly.  I would rather ask you, my friends, to reconsider how to put those convictions into action out of love for Christ and for our neighbors.

As for me, after looking at all the Pyrrhic battles where Evangelicals are currently deployed in trench warfare against their own family members, their neighbors and friends, I looked at the gay marriage battle and asked myself, "Am I willing to die on this hill, and take everyone else with me?"

For me the answer is "no." 

This, however, leads me to one more point, which brings us to six lessons, six gifts given me by my local LGBT community:   

6.  You can't say "I love you" until you also say "I'm sorry."

The entire point of the Gospel message is seeking perfect love and forgiveness from Love and Forgiveness Himself.   And, it's about seeking reconciliation from those we have rejected, be it God, which is an important component of grace, or whether it be from each other as we are alternately the culprit or the victim of injustice.  We are supposed to embody the love and forgiveness of God to those who are still separated from Him, but in this case, we are the injuring party.  We as body therefore need to seek forgiveness from those who have been grievously hurt by the church's members.

As my friends have repeatedly shown me, the LGBT community did not create this breach.  We did, years ago when we let our principles dictate that some parts of God's creation should be treated as less than fully human.  If our two sides are to ever be reconciled, we need a radical kind of forgiveness, and the first move needs to be ours.  Christians are called upon to be the healer of that breach and take responsibility for the tears in our relationship.  It means abandoning the moral high ground we thought we deserved even though we must stand eye-to-eye with our fellow imperfect human beings. 

It's a tough thing to do, as that means accepting that we have collectively sinned against others, but the only thing I can think of that would be more beautiful than the Church seeking out the vulnerable and wounded ones we have exiled would be letting some of those exiles forgive us our trespasses.  

The gift of reconciliation is powerful, a force driven by love and forgiveness; it the power of the Gospel itself, and reconciling others to the love of God is a powerful blessing for both sides.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
You will cry, and He will say, 'Here I am.'
If you remove the yoke from your midst,
The pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, 
And if you give yourself to the hungry
And satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
Then your light will rise in darkness 
And your gloom will become like midday. 
And the LORD will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.
Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins;
You will raise up the age-old foundations;  
And you will be called the Repairer of the Breach,
The Restorer of the Streets in Which to Dwell...   

1 comment:

  1. Wow. Beautiful and powerful message, one I hope will grow and spread, and someday be recognized in our culture as the true face of Christianity that it is. (Look, a windmill! Charge! :-) )