I gave money to a campaign for a billboard in Charlotte, NC. The billboard is a message from my church here in San Diego – an apology for the actions of people who denied marriage rights to LGBT people by voting in favor of Amendment 1 to the state’s constitution. Especially the people who did so under the pretense of it being God’s will.
It’s not a message for the churches and the Christians in North Carolina. It’s a message for the LGBT people, and their allies, who feel the very real and frightening effects of a prejudice based on fear, ignorance, or hatred. It is a message of hope to people who feel that there is no place for them in the church – and, by extension, in the kingdom of God – to let them know that not all Christians want them rounded up and quarantined in electric fences left to die.
I gave money to this campaign because I know what it is to feel isolated and alone in the church because of my sexual orientation.
Throughout my adult life, I’ve been asked some form of the following question by people who don’t share my faith:
How can you continue to be devoted to a Church that doesn’t want anything to do with you?
Increasingly, I have found it harder and harder to answer that question.
Three different times in my life I’ve been compelled to leave a church because it didn’t want anything to do with me. Yet, in my entire 30 years of living, I have never gone more than a month without attending some church, somewhere. Most of that time I’ve not just attended, but have been involved in the “putting on” of church. I have donated vast amounts of my time, and small amounts of my money, to church causes. I’ve written songs, skits, and Christmas plays for the church. I’ve uprooted myself and moved across state lines to start new churches. I’ve taught and cared for children in the church, led worship behind a guitar for the church, designed websites and graphics and media for the church, and organized more church events than I can recall.
In a time when young people are leaving the Church in droves for a variety of reasons, I’ve simply been unable to do the same. Something in me keeps believing, keeps coming back, keeps hoping that Church will find a place for me. Even after it doesn’t, repeatedly. Even when every week a new video showcasing the church’s hypocrisy makes its way into my news feeds.
So the question is still… why?
Why do LGBT people stay in the church? Why do we spend years denying, ignoring, running from, or hiding our orientation or gender identity? Why do we subsequently spend even more years in reparative therapy, “ex-gay” groups, prayer circles, and healing centers, desperately trying to change this unchangeable part of who we are to help us fit in with the status quo? Why, even after reconciling our own faith & sexuality, do we hang on, remaining in our churches and trying to maintain relationships until it is utterly uncomfortable and impractical to do so? Why, after all of this, do we then even bother seeking out an affirming church where we are welcome just as we are?
Maybe we are just gluttons for punishment. Maybe we’re weak-minded people who lack the self-confidence to move through life without the support system of a faith community. Maybe we’ve just got a few loose screws.
But maybe not. Time and again, I meet lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Christians who are some of the most dedicated, committed believers I know. They love the church. They love Creator. And they believe, emphatically and without reservation, that Creator loves them and has a place for them in the kingdom. The fact is, LGBT Christians often do a better job at living out the way of Jesus than do the Christians who exclude them from their worship services.
Really, it would be so much easier to wave a big middle finger at the church and go about our lives. It really would.
I tend to believe that LGBT Christians, as a result of having spent so much of our lives feeling the brunt of Christian hypocrisy and hate, resonate on a deep level with one of the most profound truths of the Judeo-Christian story: Creator loves the outcast.
We are Rahab the prostitute, whose red rope is woven into the story and lineage of Jesus himself.
We are David the lowly shepherd, whose family and nation would have laughed him away, made into a king.
We are Gideon and his three hundred ill-equipped soldiers defeating a host of Midianite warriors.
We are Sarai, barren and past our prime, gifted with a son who would launch a nation.
We are Hagar, a slave and surrogate mother banished from her home, meeting God in the desert.
We are the leper, touched by the hand of a Healer.
We are the orphan and we are the widow, esteemed by Creator even if forgotten by our fellow man.
We are the fishermen and tax collectors and homemakers and heathens entrusted with a movement of grace.
We are the Canaanite woman with fervor and tenacity that enthrall the Rabbi and change his mind about the dogs who feed on crumbs that fall from the table.
We are Thomas who doubts, but who touches the hands of his redeemer.
We are the thief dying beside our Savior, listening in worship as he promises us a place in his kingdom.
Actually, it’s really not that hard to say why I devote myself to a Church that doesn’t seem to want me around. I do it because I get it. I get what Jesus was trying to do. I get it better than most, because I need it more than most. That might sound arrogant to you. That’s okay. For those of us who are gay and have come to trust Christ’s love despite experiencing a lifetime of hate from Christians, it’s just a hard-earned reality.
LGBT Christians have a profound understanding of Judeo-Christian story of faith. We believe in the mission of Jesus, in making a way for the outcast. We get it. We understand that that no one – not the lesbian, nor the Pharisee who excludes her – is beyond the reach of grace.
And, of course – despite the provocative title of this blog post – it’s not just gay Christians. It’s all of the marginalized and sidelined, the people who don’t see the world in the same stark shades of black and white that the American church prescribes. It’s everyone who tires of the hypocrisy and discrimination and selfish warring done in the name of Jesus and says, “This is our faith too, and we won’t stand by while it is hijacked. We won’t allow voices of hate to speak for us.”
Our faith is tested, refined by fire. It is real and actual – not illusory – and we live by it every day. We are going to rescue the Church from the power-hungry, the self-appointed gatekeepers, the ones who exclude and hold the gospel hostage and simply don’t get it.
And, by the grace of God, we will do it with mercy, and meekness, and peacemaking, and humility, and sometimes just a little bit of table-turning anger – just the way Jesus did.
I’m not trying to decide what’s right or wrong
I don’t think that job is up to me
But they’re selling passports to the gates of kingdom come
Like they’re the ones who hold the key
And they’re not
-Jill Phillips, “You Don’t Belong Here”