"I go to church. I want to learn about God. I slip quietly into the pews, and listen to the Word of God preached from the pulpit. I don't talk to others and leave quickly after the service."
My Taiwanese trans friend tells me this about his desperate hunger for God. The church he attends rallied vehemently against same-sex marriage and GLBTQ rights alongside many other Christian leaders in the country. "I have to close my ears. I don't talk much to other people," he repeats.
This is the reality of GLBTQ Christians, or seekers like my friend -- they have to glean the life-giving words of the Gospel from the same lips which rally against their orientation and identity. They can't thrive in a community which doesn't accept and affirm them, they can only survive, sitting quietly and leaving quickly.
I am a gay affirming Christian because of these heart-breaking stories I hear. Gay affirming, in that I believe GLBTQ Christians can marry and receive the blessing of God and God's community.
To be honest, I am not certain this is the correct stance to take. Long ago, I repented of an idolatry to certainty. I gave up the need to be sure of anything, because I saw how I had wielded my certainty as a tool to harm others, and I still carry shame from the unrelenting posture I held towards people who deserved better from me. But I think I have grown closer to understanding what it means to live by faith, a life led not by certainty but by the Spirit who gently compels me, not by compulsory doctrinal laws but through persuasive convictions.
The Spirit gave me an empathetic heart and a gift of suffering with those who suffer. When I hear stories of my GLBTQ friends and family, compassion overwhelms my entire being, and I am quick to utter, "You are okay. You are okay to be who you are. You are okay to love God and to long for a family." One could argue this is an emotional response, not strong enough to stand against orthodoxy, biblical teaching, and historical witness. Perhaps, but if compassion is my worst sin, then I say with beloved fictional character, Huck Finn, when he was confronted with the moral dilemma of civil disobedience in order to help a slave escape,
"All right, then, I'll go to hell."
Empathetic listening pushed me into a gay affirming stance. But coming to that conclusion hasn't stopped me from continuing to listen. This week, in a historic ruling, SCOTUS declared marriage equality in all 50 states, and I rejoiced with all those who rejoiced, crying a few tears of joy myself. But I was also in a hurry to listen beyond the celebrations, because that's what you do when you learn to be a faithful listener. You are always searching for the quiet sounds, those drowned out by the majority voice. I saw one Facebook commenter say this,
"...many Millennial/Gen Y Christians are perhaps too nervous to speak up about today's ruling. I myself haven't posted on my own Facebook page for fear of appearing to be a bigot, and for fear of offending my gay friends who are celebrating today." (from @lkoturner FB page)
This made me a little sad, reminding me of my own sense of fear and shame when I first began posting gay affirming articles on my social media feed.
It is frustrating and uncomfortable and discouraging to see thoughtful and reasonable Christians disagree so strongly on this; as evidenced by the list of evangelical leaders who signed a statement opposing the SCOTUS ruling and equally thoughtful leaders sign one affirming it. But I have made it my platform that we can disagree and still be in community. In fact, we must continue to sharpen each other with dissenting opinions lest we become homogenous, insulated, an echo chamber of unilateral consensus.
Before we arm ourselves with rhetoric, let's first listen well to the other side. Like I have said, let's be evangelized. For a few moments, imagine being on the other side of the debate and feel how the other side feels. I have tried to do this by reading through the minority dissent of the SCOTUS ruling, discerning the struggles of evangelical church's concerns, seeking out how a Side B gay Christian committed to celibacy is responding, listening to the voice of a celibate, partnered lesbian, and trying to find common ground with those I disagree.
I am gay affirming, but I believe in the sanctity of marriage. I worry gay marrying means gay divorcing, and that Christians have spent far too much time fighting to prevent gays from getting married and not enough resources supporting lifelong commitment in this new civil liberty.
I am gay affirming but I also affirm a strong sexual ethic of lifelong monogamous sexual relationship.
I am gay affirming but I want religious liberty, and freedom for Christians who hold different theological convictions to be able to do so without legal repercussions.
I am gay affirming but I believe in the Triune God, the gospel of Christ's salvific work on the cross and resurrection, the pursuit of shalom in our world and developing fruits of the Spirit in our moral character.
I am not the only one calling out for this, but I would like to be one of the ones to issue this urgent plea to my Christian family of believers: we can rise above this deeply divisive contemporary social change with a profound care for one another's humanity. Please refrain from name-calling, gloating, fear-mongering, and please don't cast anyone out of the Family of God for expressing their convictions. Despite evidence of comment sections, I am betting a large majority of us are moderate, reasonable Christians genuinely wrestling with how the Holy Spirit is moving in the winds of our culture, our faith community, and in our hearts. So let's begin creating a kind and civil vocabulary with which we can engage and dialogue. Every respectful exchange is a work of reconciliation. And we desperately need ministers of civility to apply a healing balm to these controversial days.
Cindy blogs at cindywords.com. You can subscribe to her newsletter and receive her FREE e-book, Outside In: Ten Christian Voices We Can't Ignore.
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