Called To Love and Forgive

By: Ean Barnard

The toxic teachings of our churches and parishes have left the lives of many gay people tattered and torn. From birth many of us have been rhetorically baptized in a spiritually cancerous bile that has dampened our spirit and pierced our soul. That cesspool of malignant messages - sometimes overt, sometimes subtle - will not disappear now that we have decided that we don't believe them. Our trial is oft repeated, and seemingly endless, on many days and in many ways. It comes in the subtle assassination of the spirit, when we are only acknowledged to be admonished ("you people" shouldn't be getting married, adopting kids, teaching Sunday school, kissing on television, etc.). It comes in the inability of many of us to be "fully present" in our parishes and congregations, hiding vast swaths of our lives from people in the one place where we should be able to be most transparent before God and man. It comes in the form of "Christian politeness," where people who know of our sexual orientation greet us out of a feeling of obligation, and then hurry along lest they have to endure the excruciating trial of holding a conversation. It comes in the brazen refusal of many to acknowledge that our personal integrity - the decision to be honest about who we are despite the obvious risks - has entailed an enormous personal price tag that the majority of people would not have the gumption to pay. It comes in the obvious embarrassment many have about our presence, and the groundless speculation that sometimes engulfs any heterosexual men who choose to befriend us. It comes quietly and ominously in the lack of a "safe harbor" from the sometimes scathing realities of life, in the place where others can usually take refuge - their church. And it comes in the outright attack on us and our families, the poisonous messages that we have heard since childhood - the same messages that have driven many of us to seek solace in the things of this world: booze and bodies, money and materialism.

Christ said He was the vine and we are the branches. The branches usually interlocked with vines are not orderly things. They are knotted together, bunched up, intertwined in bonds not easily broken. So are we in relation to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. If we choose to part ways, something will die in us that cannot be replaced. Our need for nurturing from a Christian community will be lost. If we choose to part ways, something that must die in them will live yet again to poison another generation. The vicious cycle of sewing self-hatred into the lives of young gays and lesbians will be continued. As one considers the herculean gulf between our hope and our reality it is tempting to lose heart. Being reminded of Christ's presence in this midst of this tumult is sometimes reminiscent of the story of the little boy who is told not be afraid to be alone at night in his bedroom because God is with him. "That's good," the boy tells his father, "but I'd like someone in here with skin on." Collectively, as gays and lesbians we are in daily need of the hope offered by the storied Breton Fisherman's Prayer: "Dear God, be good to me; the sea is so wide, and my boat is so small."

We need not feel abandoned on this sojourn, bereft of "friends with skin on". In every major Christian denomination, there has been an increasing groundswell of non-gay women and men who have been moved by their consciences to stand with us and for us, in many cases in spite of becoming a target of the ostracism, rejection, and ridicule many of us have come to expect in our various denominations. Working with them, we have begun what will undoubtedly be the primary calling of the next two to three generations of gay Christians. This calling, which is as incredibly imperative as it is infinitely just, is to make known to all this fact: just as the sun, and the moon, and the winds, and the rain are ordained by God, so, too, are we. We are loved by God in our lives, in our sexual orientation, in our relationships, and in our families.

Our belief that we are created by God, and are fully accepted "as is" in His Church has many people awfully distraught. The fact that so many of our non-gay brothers and sisters in Christ are standing with us on this point makes the same folks terribly confused and even angry: nothing engenders a sense of self-righteousness more quickly than other people not joining in our condemnation of others. And the thought that some churches are even marrying and ordaining us has some very, very concerned friends of Jesus downright apoplectic. Though the Roman Catholic Church is the only major Christian denomination with an official teaching on what should be considered "scandalous," the isolating experiences of gay men and women when we appear in congregations not yet ready to accept us are nearly universal. For in these places and spaces people are truly "scandalized" by our decision to be "fully present" in the House of God. If you want the elders of the church to lay hands on you to "cure" your homosexual demon, that is fine. If you wish to sob hysterically in a Catholic confessional booth, that is fine as well. And if you want to get up and ask for the congregation to pray for you as you attempt to be heterosexual that is even better yet. But do not, in these spaces, appear simply as a child of God, willing to give love and hoping to receive it in return. Do not appear as someone who rejects the idea that you are either damned or disordered. Do not appear as someone who is simply another branch attached to the Vine of Life, hoping to learn and grow in a supportive community. For to do this, as we all know, will be to risk a rendezvous with a heart wrenching realization: you will always be "less than" in the eyes of many. Less than normal. Less than whole. Less than welcome.

In many cases the fear of our full presence is as transparent as it is suffocating. Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ question where "we" came from, and if this "gay thing" is going away anytime soon. But as gay people we know the answer to both of these questions: we have always been here, and we will never go away.

It is the answer to this second question that is most ominous to many of our fellows. For many of them would rather us renounce God, curse them, and fling ourselves into endless debauchery rather than to come to church "as is" and refuse to leave; we must remember that the people who incurred the most wrath from New Testament Pharisees were not non-believing Gentiles but Jews who did not follow the law "correctly." And in a place where honesty should be sacrosanct, many Christians would rather us lie and hide than tell the truth about ourselves.

In fact, in 2006 U.S. Catholic bishops even officially stated that gays should not reveal themselves in their parish communities. What kind of welcome is given to people who are told to hide? If all are invited to the table of God, what does it mean when one group of people are told to eat in the garage for fear of offending the other invitees? And what does it mean when the sexual orientation of a group of people is called an "intrinsic evil." One can try to play a shell game where you try to distinguish sexual orientation from the rest of the human person, but do you know of a heterosexual who can do that? And the continued use of these labels ("intrinsic evil", "abomination", "sins against nature", etc.) are indeed the foundation that many people use to justify violence against us.

The fear that surrounds our presence at God's Table cannot be simply disregarded under the glib rubric of "homophobia," even though homophobia is as much a fixture in churches as altars and pews. Rather, the fear is something more primal, a fear that cuts to the core of many people's religious and spiritual beliefs. For what if the toxic teaching that homosexual relationships are immoral is wrong? For now the question becomes, "What other doctrines must now be examined?" Which must then be followed by that question's unmistakable corollary: "What other types of sinners and actions must we now accept?" To the thoughtful person who ponders his or her faith seriously, it opens up a realm of re-evaluation that might be painful or troubling.

We cannot escape the fact that our refusal to let anyone take our God away from us, combined with our declaration of normalcy, rankles a good many of our Christian brothers and sisters. The reaction against us has in many instances been both swift and ferocious. Their reaction begs the question, "Why are they so afraid of us?" For it is our fear of people that is, in fact, the root of many of our world's divisions. These fearful people have a need to believe that there is something wrong with us, and they are clearly not comfortable if we refuse to agree with them. In fact, in a macabre way our experiences are somewhat reminiscent of that old Jack Nicholson film "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." We are often considered "sane" only if we agree with the notion that we are fatally flawed and damaged.

Despite these negative reactions we are becoming more welcome by our fellows, not less. We cannot, of course, make any predictions for the future. But as gay people we can take heart that we are headed in the direction, with the normal zigzags of progress, towards full inclusion in our churches and parishes. This awakening of possibility - this quickening in the hearts of people the world over who believe they have been called to knock down one of the last few remaining man made barriers to God - is not only vitally important for our lives, but for the lives of our yet un-born gay brothers and sisters.

It is at this point that our desire to profess the Christian faith meets the challenge of living that faith in our daily lives. For even as we take a stand for ourselves, and for future generations of gays and lesbians, we are called to be loving and forgiving of those who would deny us love, comfort, and affirmation. As gay people our struggle to love our Christian oppressors is complicated by the fact that though their actions are often odious, their motives are only occasionally nefarious. It is true that we encounter self-righteous sinners who sometimes take not so secret pride in pointing out their supposed virtue as opposed to our supposed carnality. And it is also true that we encounter bigots in the pulpit who hide their personal animus towards us behind a clerical collar. Camouflaging personal antipathy towards other people under the guise of promoting religious respectability is as old as civilization itself. And we cannot forget those religious people who deduce us down to merely images of sex acts, blithely disregarding the rest of our humanity in a way they would never think to do to heterosexuals. If there is any doubt about the existence of these environments, simply show up to a parish or congregation and be yourself without really emphasizing your sexual orientation. This mere acknowledgement of the truth will send many folks into cartwheels without even any open discussion of sexuality. We cannot lightly dismiss the insidious effects of all of these spiritual shenanigans on our personal development while growing up, or on our own emotional psyche today. But to close our hearts - to allow our anger and bitterness to overwhelm us in the midst of this tumult would be to abdicate our place in God's Kingdom for a spiritually corrosive kingdom of pain and misery.

And it is here, again, that we can take another look at the story of Isaac, hours after his near death experience on Mount Moriah. His would-be slayer is not some stranger, some foreigner, some thief in the night. It is his father. Isaac must sense, despite his horrendous experience, that his father deeply loves and cares about him. The memory of the flames of the pyre cannot possibly incinerate the memories of love, comfort, and care his father Abraham had given him throughout his life. It must be these memories of goodness, these expressions of love that enables Isaac to not withdraw from his father. We will not deny the reality of the titanic waves of pain and suffering that has been dealt to us in the name of God. And unlike the experience of Isaac, these wounds are often repeat events with no clear end in sight. We will not accept the idea that our lives or relationships are cheap imitations of "real life," second rate counterfeits mimicking authentic personal integration and love. We will no longer allow the filth of self-rejection to pollute our lives as we attempt to be someone we're not in order to get to somewhere we were never meant to go. But even as we reject these messages, and teachings, and doctrines of inequality, we are equally called to forgive others for any offenses against us. It is from Jesus Himself that we learn this life changing principle: "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."

We may intuitively reject any notion that we are the ones who must first forgive. The terrain for us has often been brutal, even given the evidence of general societal change. The six states of pain we are all familiar with as gay people - invisibility, lack of hospitality, ostracism, ridicule, rejection, and hostility - have been frequent companions with us on our life's journey. These states of pain are not unique to us as human beings, hence we need not feel especially targeted for torture by the world, but they affect us in unique ways that do not protrude upon the lives of our heterosexual brethren. Whatever messages of love and acceptance that we received as developing gay youth were incredibly dwarfed by the indelible messages that telegraphed that we were dirty, immoral, or incomplete. This was especially true in most religious settings most of us were raised in as children.

There is something unique in our experience of living life as a minority that cannot always be identified either by sight or by outward behavior. Nothing else quite compares with this type of experience. For example, if someone is Jewish in a majority Christian environment, he or she may move about life without revealing his or her Jewish identity. However, the same person would not go to his or her home - the supposed primary space for affirmation - and be an invisible Jew amongst their family. And that complication does not even begin to tap into the mysterious and sometimes terrifying ways in which we come to realize that we are different in sexual orientation than the majority of our young friends. The instinct to "hide," because we are told by our religious communities that there is something "inherently" shameful about us, spawns all manner of emotional problems and dysfunctional coping strategies. Being gay does not make you more likely to have problems in life; being treated like a pariah does that exceptionally well. How many times did many of us, before coming out, find ourselves in situations where family, friends, and religious people said nasty things about "us" while ignorantly assuming "we" weren't in the room? And how many of us have, after coming out, known other closeted people who have family, friends, and ministers who have disdained "us" while remaining close to them? Many of us have had these types of experiences with religious communities that are worthy of the most tawdry of television dramas.

There is indeed "drama" in being gay. It is not a drama, however, most of us would have written if we had any control over the script. The scenes where people disparage us without knowing we are in the room can be incredibly hurtful. The characters who are committed to spreading the myth that our community's committed partnerships, no matter how longstanding, are simply about sex disrespectfully dismiss even the most stable of relationships. The strained dialogues with "Christian folk" who pretend to ignore the existence of our significant others is degrading. And the monologues from preachers and priests we listened to during adolescence were particularly painful. The almost constant barrage of people on television admonishing us for one thing or another (there is no group in society, sans mass murderers, who are so popular a subject of scorn) is not a pleasant motif to encounter each and every day. The fact that most of the people with particular animus towards us do not know us personally either relieves us or makes us angry, depending upon the day. And to add insult to injury, this life of navigating constant negativity is dismissed by many as "much ado about nothing," a waste of time by a society that should focus its energies on "true injustice."

It is this sentiment, the thought that somehow we are imposing upon our faith communities simply by focusing attention on the challenges of our lives, that most mocks our membership in God's family. Some seem to believe we should be sorry like when we were little kids and inadvertently brought up an uncomfortable subject at the dinner table. But now the annoying subjects we bring up have emotional and spiritual life and death consequences for many of us. And indeed, we are sorry. We are sorry about the shunning. Sorry about the condemning. Sorry about always having to be the annoying kid. And after years of pain and pressure, when our self-control is exhausted and many of us lash out wildly at the "God folk" who have almost suffocated us to death, there always appears some scrupulously pious and incredibly thoughtless defender of the faith who wonders aloud, in all seriousness, "What is all the anger about?"

We live in a modern world of tort and court, where we grow up absorbing the dictum that people are entitled to restitution for the wrongs caused by others. When we survey a world that has sometimes hurt us intentionally, and sometimes abandoned us through benign neglect, there comes a bellowing cry: "Who is going to pay for this!?"

It is here, in this lonely place of loss, that we tally up the cost of our pain and give it to our God. We give it to Him many times reluctantly, thinking that other people can soothe our suffering. We give it to Him many times angrily, as we question both His love and His justice. We give it to Him many times in desperation, as the dysfunctional coping mechanisms that we have adopted spiral our lives into an abyss. If we left to our own devices, it is doubtful many of us would have the strength to even begin to let go our pain. "Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you" we are told in Psalm 55. To those of us who choose to stay connected to our God it rapidly becomes clear that our burden is, in fact, our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Christian leaders of all denominations continually hark back to the image of Christ on the Cross, reminding us that discipleship is a package deal bundled with both burden and hope. The burden for us as gay people is not, as many of would want us to believe, the burden of being somehow "damaged" or, as the Catholic Church prosaically puts it, being "[unable to relate] correctly to men and women." In fact, the burden we bear is far more elephantine. We are called to love, forgive, and serve the very people who would shut us off from the very God that calls us to love, forgive, and serve them. This type of taxing tour de force is simply unattainable by sheer human effort. We need the Prince of Peace. He is the hope that will keep this burden from overwhelming us.

"Peace be unto you." These are the first words of the resurrected Christ to his astounded male disciples. Some view this simple statement as a promise while others see it as a command; what becomes clear as we go through life is that each of us defines "peace" in our own way. For some of us, a place that is simply absent of outward strife is peaceable enough for us to feel secure. For others, perpetual interpersonal tension is just as acrimonious as the most vicious verbal squabble. Despite these differences in temperament one cannot escape the observation that those of us who find our peace within ourselves, and not in outside circumstances, are generally better able to handle the rougher parts of life. This inner peace only comes from God. Jesus says in the Book of John: "Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give peace to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid." [John 14:27, New Life Version] As gays and lesbians, we live in a world where our peace is frequently imperiled - sometimes purposely and sometimes inadvertently - by policies, politics, and people. We cannot, and should not, attempt to live our lives oblivious to the obstacles that are placed before us by the world. Peace does not involve us overlooking pain and peril. However, we engage the world when we decide it is best, not in knee jerk reaction to the machinations of others. Depending on our personal beliefs, we may believe Satan to be either a real being or simply a symbol of the force of evil in the universe. Either way, it is certain that the destruction of our peace is a major mechanism for the forces of darkness in this world to disrupt the relationship with our Creator.

Proverbs 15:1 tells us that "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." It is our "gentle answers" to the attitudes, beliefs, and actions of others that will allow us to stand firm our commitment to love others as God loves us as well as our commitment to our own equality and freedom. We are called in Colossians to "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful." We can, in fact, be thankful that there are practical ways to live out our Christian commitments in sometimes difficult terrain.

"If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men," the apostle Paul writes in Romans 12:18. Though we usually focus on this verse's encouragement to pursue peace, we often fail to notice the supposition underlying Paul's directive. Paul assumes that, as people living in community, there will be conflict. Gay people are not the first (and certainly will not be the last) group of people who have been the targets of slights or insults. Much of our ability to enjoy the God given opportunities of life will rest upon our ability to wisely avoid un-necessary antagonisms and entanglements. This is actually not a new concept that we must learn as we grow older; in fact, it is one of the first lessons passed on from parents or older siblings. "Ignore him/her/them," is a phrase most of us can recall being told in response to our protests about some childhood tormentor.

The fact of the matter is that all offenses against us fall into one of two categories: intentional or inadvertent. An inadvertent, non-recurring offense rarely merits the potential ruckus that would accompany an attempt to rectify its sting. Deliberate offenses are more difficult to ignore - especially if they occur repeatedly - but these types of situations force us to think strategically about our own serenity. If someone is intentionally attempting to goad us into retaliation, anger, defensiveness, or shame, why would assist them in accomplishing their goal? The biblical maxims that call upon us to overlook the offenses of others jive quite nicely with a practical, common sense approach to life and people. It is often said that love "covers" the offenses of others. It also very practically protects our inner peace: "Smile politely and ignore them" is an incredible rule to live by. It renders the offender helpless. It gives the aggrieved freedom from strife. "Smile politely and serve them" is even better. It calls to the life shown to us by Christ.

As Christians, we have been given specific guidance in this area. Ephesians 4:2-3 says: "Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace." This can be sometimes challenging for us; once we decide we will no longer be ashamed of who we are, we often become hyper-vigilant in regards to perceived personal affronts. This may be a logical result of the suppressed anger and frustration many of us experience before, and during, the process of coming to terms with our sexual orientation. However, our emotional pendulum must oscillate back toward a center of balance where we protect ourselves from harm while simultaneously refusing to allow every slight to throw us off balance.

If we refuse to defuse our hyper-vigilance (or we are simply not at a place emotionally to do so), we run the risk of seeing monsters and goblins everywhere. Most of us encounter such people eventually; they are the ones who believe that homophobia and gay hatred is the driving force in the world. Caught up in the spiritually draining task of tallying up the wrongs of every person, place, and institution that has ever been less than one hundred percent fully supportive of non-heterosexual people, these folks have become infected with what can be called "barking dog syndrome." Most of us have had the experience of walking past a house where a solitary dog watches us and then begins to bark incessantly as we go about our business. Most dogs will only bark while they see the unfamiliar person in front of them. But some will continue to bark and clamor long after the person has passed from the scene.

This fruitless activity mimics the behavior of those of us who get caught up in the tedious chore of tallying up each and every non-affirming affront, whether deliberate or inadvertent. We put our lives, our happiness, and our relationship with our God on hold while we continue to figuratively "bark" at people who are no longer there, and who have in most cases have gone on with the business of living life - often completely oblivious to our continued anguish. In fact, some of us even compound this misery by purposely hurling ourselves one hundred percent in the opposite direction of ignoring insult. By willfully "hunting for hurting," we put ourselves in situations to "test" if some person or institution will seek to offend or slight us; all of this rigmarole only serves to sap our spirit and move us further away from the peace needed for a productive and serene life. The Proverbs remind us "He who covers and forgives an offense seeks love, but he who repeats or harps on a matter separates even close friends." [Proverbs 17:9, Amplified Bible]. Our hyper-vigilance, though it may seem logical, will invariably make it more difficult to live at peace in the world, and especially with our fellow sisters and brothers in Christ who have not fully accepted our presence.

The primitive arguments against same sex relationships, which are being proved to be false as our biological, psychological, and social knowledge is augmented, are also eroding because of modern biblical scholarship. Testing this idea is simple. Ask anyone opposed to same sex relationships to give a decent exegesis of the biblical texts without somehow resorting to a version of "Well, that's what my church told me," when you trap them into a corner. Appeals to authority are not adequate when deciding issues of such vital importance to peoples' lives: there have been too many charlatan preachers, too many Protestant pretenders, too many anti-popes to hold on to the idea that ordination equals automatic wisdom and righteousness. We need not reject religious authority wholesale, but religious authority - like those in Salem during the witch trials and the immoral papacy of men like Rodrigo Borga (Pope Alexander VI) - show us that our religious leaders sometimes get it wrong. Our prime example is St. Peter. This man, Cephas, the "rock" of the disciples (and Catholics believe the Church itself) has to be corrected by St. Paul in regards to the scope of Christ's Kingdom.

Christianity was not to simply be a Jewish religion as Peter first proposed. If the "first among the apostles," a man who walked with Christ, managed to mangle the first theological question facing the Church after the Resurrection, how can anyone reasonably say that religious leaders after him can never err in deciding religious doctrine? We reject, with no equivocation, the idea that not agreeing with these toxic teachings are tantamount to a lack of faith in Christ. We refuse to countenance the idea of "love the sinner, hate the sin" in regards to who we are to created to be on this Earth. And we reject the notion that we need to become "hyper-religious" to atone for something that needs no atonement. These toxic teachings are destined for the ash heap of history, its adherents grouped along with those who opposed inter-ethnic marriage and equality for women.

Those who try to propagate the idea that gay people are part of the family of God while destined to be denied the opportunity to have the same opportunities of life as everyone else are like the ancient Greek clown Callipedes, who was known for a buffoonish act where he simulated going places while running in place. These people are running in place while the world is passing them by - with too many people no longer willing to stand idly by while we are denigrated and disempowered. "Our Christian God wants us to have this, but not you," is the argument of many of our heterosexual Christian brethren; this must be a very comforting, and certainly convenient, reality for them to exist in. Many of our fellow Christians also say that our sexual orientation is a "cross to bear," conveniently forgetting that crosses, to be redemptive, must be freely chosen. The "crosses" put upon us are those chosen by others with their own personal agendas and theologies. If there are those among us who would choose to lead lives based on this slightly sweetened puree of self hatred that is fine. One of our rights in the world is the right to choose to be miserable. But that is not the choice all of us will make.

The struggle for gay equality within our churches is just the latest clash in an endless conflict about the meaning of being a Christian that has been going on for centuries, beginning with the conflict between Peter and Paul. Our opponents maintain that their "orthodox" or "conservative" views maintain history and tradition, blithely forgetting that many of the ideas and practices we now hold dear (the equality of women, the immorality of slavery, the need for conversion to be "genuine" and not forced) were once radical ideas. They also maintain that the views of churches are synonymous with God, refuting ever y historical instance when organized religious structure failed to live up to the requirements of Christ. They argue, in many cases, for what can be called the "Gideon Church." The Old Testament hero Gideon called for volunteers to battle against the Midianites, a call that resulted in 32,000 male volunteers. With God's help Gideon eventually only picks 300 of the 32,000 to actually be a part of his military cohort. This small band was victorious, and since their numbers were so small, it was evident that God had been with them in their efforts.

Many of our fellow Christians want a "Gideon" as opposed to a "universal" church, only composed of them and those who completely and totally agree with them and their theology. But how does that idea fit into the open invitation of Jesus Christ? Christians have for centuries been caught in a "zero sum game" where I am 100 percent sure I am right and you are wrong. But what if those percentages are changed? What if I decide that I am 95 percent sure I am right and there is a 5 percent chance you might be. I still stand firmly in my beliefs. But, I concede, that since I am not God, I might just owe you an apology if we both get to heaven. Most of us, unfortunately, do not possess that type of humility, so we continue to demonize and injure each other, arrogantly confident that "we" are the prophets, "we" are the defenders of truth, and "they" are destroying God's world.

And it may well be that it is with our fellow Christians that it is most difficult to ignore injury. The most casual of Christian believer is as sensitive to the cry of "Pharisee" as small children are to the playground charge of "tattletale". Many times we find that it is the irresistible to point out when Christians behave toward us in ways that violate the very Bible they are supposedly attempting to uphold. And in many cases, this is done with such zealotry that calls to mind the words of author Justus George Lawler: "...smugness about the impeachable orthodoxy of one's own views, combined with a prosecutorial zeal toward the supposed errors of others, is a sign of fear, not confidence."

It is in these times that we must careful to not violate Jesus' command that we look at the "beam" in our own eye before we attempt to judge others. Even in cases when we do not outwardly show our disdain for fellow Christians who we feel have injured us, it is imperative that we resist the temptation to nurse resentments within ourselves. We must also remember that we sin when we are inwardly delighted with the discomfort that others may have around us; Christ's second requirement of the "Great Commandment" - to love others as we love ourselves - leaves no room for such amusement.

The truth is that we have sometimes been as derisive and dismissive of "non-affirming" Christians as they have been of us; and if we begin stereotype all "fundamentalist" or "conservative" Christians as bigoted and mean spirited we run the risk of mimicking the very antipathy we ourselves have experienced. Continuously fixating on the offenses of these people towards us only results in an incessant state of anger that suffocates our joy and withers our resilience. To let go of such offenses is as much an act of self preservation for ourselves as it is an act of mercy towards the offender. We must resist the temptation to avenge every slight. When we attempt to right every wrong we see, hear, or experience, we unintentionally allow the sheer volume of abuse and affront to be fashioned into a self-made noose that will eventually strangle us emotionally.

We do not need to fear these people who believe that our relationships and lives are somehow "less than" their relationships. The Lord has need of us, just as he has need of them. He needs us to help the poor, and care for the sick, and build up the next generation of believers. We must stand firm not just for ourselves but for two other groups of people. We owe it to the generations of gay and lesbian people who will come after us and need to live in a less hostile world. We owe it to them because they will need to live in a world where people acknowledge that the societal rules that govern all of us must be universal in application and not tailored to anyone's specific religious theology. And we owe it to those gay and lesbian people who came before us. Who knows what many of them may have achieved, or how they may have been able to love, if they had lived (paraphrasing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's comments about women) in a world that valued their gay children as much as their straight ones.

So we should stand and choose the most revolutionary path available to us. It is not incessant arguing with opponents. And it is not even walking away from our parishes and churches. It is simply walking away from a non-sense argument that deems us "less than." Because the most revolutionary thing anyone can ever do is simply to walk away, with dignity and pride, refusing to let go of our peace or our happiness. We must be confident that one day we will be able to look about the world and say about our community "Whoever you are, wherever you are, you are now and forever free." Until that time, we can stand with dignity resting on the words of the German poet Angelus Silesius: "THERE IS STILL NOTHING HERE MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN I AM, BECAUSE GOD, BEAUTY ITSELF, HAS FALLEN IN LOVE WITH ME."

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