I was eleven years old the first time I had a conversation about homosexuality. It was at the family dinner table, and for whatever reason, my parents said the word “gay” in front of me for the first time. I piped up, “What’s that mean?” and my dad proffered an explanation. ”I don’t know anyone like that!” I said, all earnest insistence.
And Dad said, “Yes, you do, Julie. You just don’t know it.”
Perhaps it is precisely because of this that the issue of who someone loves, or is attracted to, has never been, for me, an issue at all. Intentionally or otherwise, my parents never made it anything to get wound up about. And because I was consistently surrounded by messages of grace and love when it came to church, it never occurred to me that God would take issue with someone being gay either.
I was in high school before I heard the horrid word “fag.” I was sixteen about the time I heard rumored whispers about my friend Steve, my very favorite vocal duet partner at church. My freshman year of college one of my roommates transferred to another school because she’d been labeled “lesbian” and couldn’t take the heat that came with it. My first year of seminary, Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence and beaten to death. Not long after that I saw, firsthand, the angry signs of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church.
And for the last several years, I’ve watched the Church I love struggle mightily with what seems to be a lack of ability and/or willingness to have honest, open, informed conversation about our brothers and sisters in faith and creation who also happen to be gay. I’ve often equivocated when asked, “Do you believe being gay is a sin?” fearing my job would be on the line otherwise. I’ve found ways of talking about God’s love for those who identify as part of the GLBT community such that it would be easy for congregants to ignore my words if they didn’t agree with me. I’ve held my tongue when those around me held forth on the great sin of homosexuality, not wanting to enter the fray of conflict.
I will not be silent or vague anymore. Because here’s the thing: I love my friend Doug fiercely–he is a shining example of what it means to love God and follow Jesus. And my friends Rob and Joe? Their 35-plus year commitment to one another is one of the finest testaments to love I’ve ever seen. And between these ones I can name, and the other friends and family I cannot name (for their own emotional and professional safety and stability), I have come to the conclusion that those of us who stand with “them” ought probably say something about why we do.
And so here’s why I do….
- I stand with them because there is a whole lot in this world I will never understand, but I do understand that it is never okay to judge someone outside the love of God. Ever.
- I stand with them because I know the hearts of some of them and they are hearts full of goodness and truth, and I cannot believe that any one of them would choose the misery, judgment and exclusion that has been present in their lives–I believe they are simply trying to be who they are, even if who they are isn’t appreciated, understood, liked or affirmed.
- I stand with them because the Bible says very little–IF anything at all–about what we know in this day and time as homosexuality. It’s really rather nebulous. But the Bible is very clear about loving your neighbor. About taking care of those who are left out. About caring for one another as we have been cared for by the One who created us. (And yes, I’d be happy to provide some materials for study and consideration on this.) We Christians used to use the Bible to justify slavery, the subjugation of women, too–for these atrocities we have begged pardon. Maybe one day…
- I stand with them because I believe it is the right thing to do.
- I stand with them because there is a great deal God and I will have to reckon with at the pearly gates. I’d rather the judgment and ostracization of another human being not be added to the list.
Someone once said to me, “Julie, your thoughts on this are all well and good. Kind-hearted and compassionate, even. But unfortunately God isn’t always about being kind-hearted and compassionate. You have to make room for judgment.”
Maybe. But the thing is? The faith I was given, the stories I read about God and Jesus taught me that we are, each of us, loved beyond our wildest imagining–no matter what–and that it’s the ways we mistreat one another that most often break God’s heart. Rampant hunger, homeless children, war-stricken countries, generations of poverty, unchecked disease–these things, yes, I think they probably warrant some wrath and judgement from our God. But the love Rob and Joe have for one another? It mirrors God’s love, as opposed to acting against it.
I know and love more than a few folks who do not agree with me and who would, at best, call me misguided. And my only answer for them is the unwavering faith I have in a God who loves–so much bigger and broader and wider and deeper than we ever know. A God who calls us into life together and pronounces that life very, very good.
The judgment, the bullying, the pronouncing some of God’s children as less worthy than others, the name-calling, the leaving-out, the hatred, the fear, the insistence on naming the supposed of sins of others–I cannot believe any of this is what God intended. And I believe we can do better.
A couple of weeks ago, the my five year-old daughter told me she was going to marry her best friend, Caroline. I told her that was fine, but asked her why she wanted to. She told me about another friend at school who has two mommies–”So it’s ok, Mommy, right?” I smiled, hugged her tight, and told her, “Yes, baby. It’s okay that Eric has two mommies.” She doesn’t know any different. All she knows is the love she has for her friends and how happy they all are together–no matter how all the relationships shake out in the end. Lucky girl.
Maybe a little child–yours, mine, ours–shall lead us all into such generosity of friendship. Such adamant insistence on loving each other. Such grand and hopeful welcome.