There is an old story where a priest tells a young boy, “I’ll give you an orange if you can tell me where God is.” To which the wise child responds, “I’ll give you TWO oranges if you can tell me where God is NOT.”
I have been doing a lot of thinking about how we keep the Presence of God in our lives as LGBT Christians, when traditional and conservative Christian theology may not always be the most comfortable place for any of us to be. It can be such a difficult situation, especially for a man like me who is beyond acceptable even to many gay, lesbian, transgender, and even other bisexual Christians, due to the fact that I share intimate relationships with both a female and a male partner. I love God and embrace the teachings and Holy Spirit of Jesus just as equally as those who belong to the most extreme conservative fundamentalist church. Yet, in order to attend, I would have to hide half if not all of my life, since the woman I love is resistant to any sort of church, even the very liberal one I belong to. She was too traumatized by conservative Christianity as a child. Yet, I still love God as much as those who say that God hates me so much for not hating my sexuality and who I really am.
You have heard the old expression, “Nothing is Sacred anymore.” I disagree with this as much as I disagree with statements such as, “You love too much”, “You care too much” and “You are too forgiving.” In my faith everything that God Created is sacred. From the majestic to the sublime there is no place where God does not exist, where God’s Love does not shine, where God’s Presence cannot be. It is simply we who are caught up so in our fears and worries that we cannot see that Heaven is within us, Jesus never really left us, and God is always with us.
It to me is a shame that people have nearly as many negative stereotypes attached to “Christian” as they do to “gay”, “lesbian”, “bisexual”, “transgender” or “queer.” Just today I was listening to a conservative Christian woman I work with relate to a co-worker of a gay man who is a client of my company. “Every time I hang up the phone with him,” she said, “I feel like I should wipe it off to keep from catching AIDS.” Yet there have been times when I have said that I am a Christian (even before they find out that I am bisexual with multiple partners and an avid supporter of LGBT rights, which really blows their reality and the box they may have been thinking inside apart) that people have automatically assumed things about me. They assume I’m waiting for the End Times. I am a conservative Republican. I believe in a literal devil running around tempting me to sin that I blame all my own shortcomings on. I am a hardcore moral absolutist bent on imposing my morals on everyone else. And of course, I am fervently trying to get everyone to convert to my religion and my church, regardless of the path they have chosen, in an effort to meet my “soul saving quota” and “brownie points” with God. (I will say that I will witness my faith to any who express an interest, but I do so only to share with them the Gift Of Love I have found and the joy I have discovered through the personal teachings of Jesus, not to “earn points.” God is not a scorekeeper to me.) And some have even been jealous of my faith and how I have reconciled my Christian faith and my sexuality that they do everything possible to tear it down.
I am fairly certain is awkward for more than a few of us who are both LGBT and Christian to know that unless we see a church with a sign that says “Open And Affirming”, we are either unwelcome or in threat of persecution. Sure, there are lots of churches we can attend who may display the “compassionate conservatism” approach of “love the sinner, hate the sin” (which in my experience can be translated as, “tolerate the non-conformist, constantly use fear, guilt and “tough love” to attempt to make them doubt their faith in God, themselves, and God’s Love for them, and withhold a certain amount of love and total acceptance until they conform”) but that to me is a mockery of what Jesus was really all about. Jesus was not manipulative. Nor did He really seem to care too much about sexual orientation or sexuality in general unless people were using it in a dishonest or exploitative way. And He certainly was not obsessed with strict adherence to religious dogma, as He knew as many of us do today that it simply obscures our vision of God instead of enhancing it.
So, one may say, how do I live my Christian faith in light of the fact that I am by no means the stereotypical definition of “Christian”? Well, I personally believe in something called, “evangelism by example.” I am not speaking of the traditional model of evangelism seeking to convert people to Christianity out of fear of hell or Armageddon or death or a punitive image of God, or to give them a “quick fix” for all of their problems through blindly believing a black and white doctrine and not putting their trust in God, thinking through their problems, and working through them with God’s help. I am speaking of letting my gratitude to God for all the blessings in my life be known (my favorite expression when someone says I “lucked out” is that “I don’t believe in luck, only in Grace”). Of letting people see firsthand how the teachings of Christ really do have just as much relevance and meaning in today’s world as when He was walking the earth in human form. Of letting people know how I have applied these teachings in my own life and had life more abundantly.
And this is not through a literal interpretation, or through making a big show of my prayer or my faith, or even talking religion or theology constantly. As many of us know, the Bible taken literally can be disturbing and in some cases even potentially dangerous. In a theocracy based upon literal Biblical interpretation, anyone LGBT would be executed. One example of a literal interpretation that breaks my heart and comes to mind as I write this is when I read of the young gay man who took Jesus teaching of “If thine right eye offend thee, pluck it out” too literally. He took it to mean that if a part of one’s body was tempting one to sin, it must be gotten rid of; when he did not cease to have homosexual urges, he self mutilated his genitals. Whereas I see the same teaching as, “If you see something that offends you, or know something is offensive to or has a negative effect on you, make a conscious effort to avoid it.” For some this might mean violent movies or media, for others it might be spending a lot of time in an environment where anti-LGBT hate speech is propagated.
Some of my favorite teachings of Christ come from the famous Sermon on the Mount, including the Beatitudes. It would take me an entire book to elaborate on the Sermon (and such a wonderful book has already been written by one of my favorite theological writers, Emmet Fox, entitled “The Sermon on the Mount”), but among my favorites are
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the dominion of Heaven.
All of these have special meaning to me: If I keep love for others in my heart, regardless of what kind of fearful perceptions I may occasionally allow to overtake me, then I will still be one with God. If I spread an attitude of love and kindness and joy, and sow positive thoughts, actions and feelings, then I will reap a harvest of abundant joy through a closer walk with God. If I wait patiently on God for the opportunities I seek to come into my life rather than seek to achieve them at the expense of others, I will be able to remain pure in heart. I don’t need to even talk theology or religion to demonstrate these truths in my life, they are simply deeply part of who I am.
I would like to share with you the way I try to “Praise” God in my own life, in a way that hopefully will help you feel closer to God in everyday life, wherever you are. One does not have to belong to any specific church to do this, or any church at all to practice these.
Pray. Prayer, in my experience, is most effective when done so quietly and to oneself, in a quiet place where we feel closest to God. Whether this is in church, lying quietly under the stars, while driving to and from work, just before sleep, during the morning cup of coffee or tea, or while out for a walk, I have found that it is best to be doing something that helps us to remember our oneness with God and get rid of the illusion and separateness from God that many of us have through conditioning. An important phrase to remember is what Jesus taught, that the Kingdom of Heaven is within us, and not in some faraway place that we must earn entry to. God has placed access to it in all of our hearts. All we have to do is say yes to it. Establish a time each day when you can turn focus inward and hear the still, small quiet voice of God in your heart.
Prayer does not always have to be a very ritualistic activity, following a certain method or rote. It can help to meditate upon such phrases such as, “If the only prayer you ever say in your life is ‘Thank You, God’ then that would be sufficient”; or “The most sincere form of prayer is the longing of the heart” or “Be still and know that I AM”. There have been times when I was depressed or hurt and I could not even find the thoughts or words to pray, and I simply let myself feel God’s Love surrounding me, knowing that God would take care of me. And sometimes these were the most effective prayers of all. When I pray for others, I do not pray that they will do what I would do or that they will follow the path I think is right for them, or let any judgments I may be holding in regards to their situation interfere, for that is not what I would wish for them to do. I simply pray for them to be surrounded with God’s Loving Spirit and the unconditional Love that Christ taught us all about. The outcome, to me, is only between them and God. Since I believe that God’s Will is for all of us to have abundant joy, love and happiness, I can trust in God’s Will for them and what will bring them joy rather than what my own will would be.
Most of all, I feel prayer should be a joyful, honest, and intimate conversation with God, approached with love and never fear. I talk to God as if God were my very best friend, for God is that to me and so very much more.
Responsibility. It means not only to be responsible for my own actions, but also responsibility to treat all others with love and respect, for all of us are created equal as children of God. That means not only other LGBT people, or Christians who share my own faith and beliefs about God, or people who are part of my own inner circle, but everyone.
It means when I allow fear to get the best of me, and I may for a moment have my connection with God obscured by my own shortcomings, that I need to take a moment, center, and refocus and realize that since God is with me, there is nothing to fear or worry about. I take a moment to ask myself if my response to the person who may have upset me or whom I may feel somehow persecuted by is a loving one. It means to me to reflect on the Golden Rule and ask myself if I would want to be treated as I am treating my neighbor.
It also means being responsible for myself, and my own life to the extent that I am capable of. It means that if I have a goal where my own actions have some effect on the outcome that I do not merely pray in vain repetition and expect God to take care of things that God has given me the strength, knowledge and ability to do. Instead I seek guidance and wisdom to realize the gifts and resources God has given me and the strength to take action boldly, confidently, and with faith to realize my dreams. I think a good example of how God expects us to be responsible is illustrated in the parable where Jesus is being tempted and the devil tells Him that if He is REALLY the Son Of God, to cast Himself off the pinnacle of the temple, and God will send angels to catch Him. Jesus tells the devil that we are not supposed to tempt God. Now, although I do not believe in a literal being called the devil, I do believe that this is supposed to teach us that although God will always take care of us, we do have to maintain a certain level of responsibility for our own lives. We must, “Do our best and let God do the rest!”
Acknowledge God’s Presence in our lives daily, even in the smallest ways. Acknowledge that God is truly the Source of all that brings us joy, all that we love, and all that we know. For those of us who are LGBT, as well as those who are heterosexual, this includes every aspect of lives, including our sexuality, whatever that may be. I don’t merely believe in God, I know that God IS, and I have seen and felt God’s Love in my own life. I keep a gratitude journal daily, and try to find at least five things each day that I am grateful for, and every day it goes well over five. Nothing I have, know or am could have been without God. Period.
Acknowledging God’s Presence is to me taking a closer look at what may seem like a “coincidence” or “luck” and seeing it for what it really is-a blessing from God. It means taking every small moment, a person’s “thank you” or a simple smile, or someone picking up something I dropped and handing it to me or a compliment on some work I did, and thanking God for making that moment possible.
For me it doesn’t mean trying to look through the Bible for hours and seeking to find “proof” as some people do, of God’s existence. Rather, it is opening our eyes and seeing how very real God’s Love is in our own lives. There have been so many miracles in my life that there is no way I cannot be aware of God’s Love for me. Think of a time when you were happiest and felt the most loved, and know that it was no accident, but rather an affirmation of God’s Love in your own life.
Individuality. This means taking to heart the glorious and colorful rainbow of God’s Creation, and knowing that there really is in our Creator’s House “many mansions” and a place and a purpose for each and every one of us. It took a long time for me, as I am certain it has for many of us, to really embrace this truth. But I know beyond a fraction of a shadow of doubt that no matter how many others may not understand or accept me, God does, and I am simultaneously joyful and grateful for the person that God has made me to be.
I look at the diversity of nature and I see a world where there is room enough for so many different aspects of God’s Creation that it is not in the least bit difficult for me to see that God is not static in the sense of Creating an exact and uniform absolute to which we are all required to conform. I know in my heart that no form of sexuality or sexual orientation is “unnatural.” If I need a reference point to discern what is good or bad, I always refer to what Jesus taught, to Love One Another as God has Loved us, and that determines what I know is right or wrong for me.
This is very important to remember when we are faced with those Christians who see anyone LGBT as an “abomination.” It is important for all of us to know that this is not God speaking to us but these people speaking from their own understanding of God, which does not mirror ours. The unfortunate part is that along with the belief that God condemns certain people or certain behaviors comes a belief that that it is these individuals’ “Christian” duty to force us into repentance. As I have said many times before, the most effective way to retaliate is to ask God to Love these people. Because I feel if they knew just how loving God really is, they would be so busy thanking God for all the blessings in their life that they would have no need to attempt to pressure others to believe as they do.
Who we are as individuals is in my opinion just another chapter in the book of irrefutable evidence of an omnipotent, eternally and infinitely creative and loving God. Regardless of your sexual orientation, regardless of whether you are a liberal or conservative minded Christian, regardless of whether or not you are married, in a monogamous relationship, an open relationship, or single and celibate, regardless of your sexuality, regardless of what doctrines you do or do not believe, regardless of your race, gender, hair length and color, or any other factor you are still a beloved child of God with a purpose. Even if that purpose is simply to be there as a light to others who are similar to you, yet individuals in their own way. What is important in the relationship of my individuality to my faith is that I always strive to live the complete truth of my being with love and respect for all others, coming from a place of love, respect, and caring for all others. Everyone is different, with a different purpose, and I think that it is what is in the heart that matters most.
Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God, Seek and Ye shall find. By seeking the Kingdom of God first, I simply mean that we must focus on the Source in order to find true joy and abundance in our own lives. Seeking to examine how Jesus would respond to those who persecute us, with love and forgiveness and compassion rather than anger or trying to play a game of “my faith is better than yours”. Seeking to do the loving thing, even if we are irritated, angry or upset. And trusting in God’s Grace to help us if we are at the end of our ropes.
To me it means seeking the resources we need for support, the community we need to feel supported, whether that be a faith community, a support network for other LGBT people, or both. It means trusting that God truly has nothing but Love for us, and will guide us if we simply believe. Seeking a way to live the truth of who God made us to be in such away that not only we have an abundance as we unselfishly pursue our dreams, but can give to others in need along the journey. Seeking ways that we can embody the unconditional Love God has for all of us which Jesus demonstrated to us through his life and death.
Seeking to me does not have to be an elaborate or desperate search, but just an awareness and a trust that God will bless us with the things we need in our lives. How often is it that we search madly for something we feel a deep need to find, only to find it was there all along; this happened to me with love. I wanted desperately to find a woman who would love me for who I was, who could accept the individual that I am, who could accept my bisexuality and my need for an intimate relationship with a man as well. I knew she was out there, yet never seemed to be able to find her. Through all this time, the first woman I ever fell deeply in love with and I had remained friends. When we had been in a relationship before, I had kept my bisexuality a secret, thinking she would never understand. Finally, a series of “coincidences” brought us together again, and I knew that before I would even consider committing to her again, she had to know the whole truth. Acting totally in faith, I told her everything only to find out that she too is bisexual and understands my needs completely. I knew at that moment that God had heard my prayer long before I even said it; same as when I met the bi man in my life, who was having difficulty finding acceptance for his relationship with a woman among other bi men and in the gay community. God knows our needs at times before we are fully aware of them ourselves. Yet had I not taken that leap of faith and trusted in God, a wonderful relationship never would have happened. So seeking the answers is only part of the equation, we must expect and believe that they will come, pray for awareness to know when they are here, and the faith to act on the blessings God sends our way without fear.
Seeking God’s Kingdom first to me means putting all of our trust in God, and then remaining aware of the blessings that follow.
Exemplify. That is the final part of all of this method I use to keep a constant awareness of God in my own life. It means to me not to merely talk about my faith in God and the teachings of Christ and God’s unconditional Love, but to live what I believe. It signifies far more to me for someone to truly live what Jesus taught rather than talk about how well they know the Bible. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, it is clear to me that it is the person who can look past any judgments they may have, and truly love their neighbor, who is doing “what Jesus would do.”
A perfect example of this: I was attending a meeting of bisexual activists in a town nearly two hours from where I lived. Of the group there, I was one of the few who was not atheist or agnostic; some were even a bit uncomfortable with my involvement with any form of Christianity, regardless of how liberal I am. On the way, my car began to smoke and was still doing so when I got there; I turned it off and checked it and it eventually stopped, and it seemed to be okay. When I attempted to leave, after the meeting, I found that my car was completely inoperable. Since I was the last to leave, there was no one there to help me out. The couple who held the meeting at their home and who had never met me prior to my attending, not only offered me to stay the night in their living room, but went so far as to offer me a shirt to borrow when mine was soiled attempting to fix the car. They offered me a pillow and blankets to sleep on, and invited me to share breakfast with them prior to my calling the mechanic the next morning. Complete kindness to a total stranger, for no other reason than unselfish giving to another. I recall sending them an email when I got home saying that what they did was a true example of Christian Love; to which they responded they were not Christians. Yet what they did was more Christian than what most people who talk constantly about their Christian beliefs have ever done for me.
I looked for a way over time to try and do something nice for someone like that, and I finally got my chance. A repairman who had come to a previous residence of mine to fix some damages due to a flood and who had come when I needed the help even though it was after hours for him was talking quite a bit about the fundamentalist church he was very involved in, bordering on evangelizing to me. As he was working on my home, I noticed him looking with severe concern at a few of my books on the shelf, including several liberal Christian books, books on other faith traditions, and books on bisexuality. I felt certain that were he not on the job, I would be getting an earful of being told I was a sinner who needed to (if you’ll pardon the expression) “straighten up and fly right.” In an effort to steer the conversation away from talk about differences in what our churches believed, I said, “I really appreciate you coming out at this hour and doing such a good job.” He responded by saying that he and his wife had just married, and he was working hard in hopes of getting a maintenance contract at our community. After he left, I sat down and wrote a letter to the property manager suggesting that he get the contract. I wanted to do something loving for him even though I knew he was one of the Christians who considered my faith a mockery of Christianity, and to whom people like me (and all LGBT Christians) are “enemies of God” as his particular church teaches. And it felt wonderful to do that.
By being an example, I mean that we are able to see God in both the sacred and sublime, and to acknowledge the sacredness of everyone and everything. I mean that we do not talk about our faith but that people can “know we are Christians by our Love” and our actions. It is far better to me to “walk the walk” by practicing the Golden Rule than “talk the talk” about how much more morally superior or “Biblically correct” we are in our faith.
I think that it is so obvious what Jesus meant when He said that a tree will be known by the fruit. If we are embodying Christ’s Love and God’s Love through our actions, it can say far more and mean far more to others about our relationship to God than what church we belong to or how often we go or what exact beliefs about the Bible we claim to have. It can show others that to be a Christian is not about being self-righteous, pious, or judgmental, but rather about showing our gratitude to God for all the abundance of joy, love and blessings in our lives as LGBT Christians by living the Golden Rule of “Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself.” It’s about Love, and that is what God is all about. If more people knew that, I truly believe it would be on earth as it is in Heaven.
There is one final meaning for “E”, besides “Exemplify” and that stands for “Expect” as in “expect a miracle.” For when we truly stay awake to, aware of, and in gratitude of God’s Loving Presence in our lives, we can become even more aware of the miracles in our own lives, and even find that they happen more often. Sometimes we even see that they have been there all along, it was simply we who were too blind see the abundance God had already blessed us with.
So remember “PRAISE”:
Prayer is vital for staying connected to God
Responsibility for oneself and others is important to faith
Acknowledge God’s blessings in your life
Individuality is God’s Gift to you
Seek God first, all blessings will follow
Exemplify the Golden Rule the best you can.
Praise the Living, Loving God!
John Campbell is a native of Alabama.