I have noticed that many people who are Christians seem preoccupied with making sure that everyone knows. You know what I’m talking about: “Christian” music; “Christian” schools, “Christian” bookstores, and the like. The person who, upon first meeting, emphatically states, “I am a Christian” as part of their introduction to a stranger. The treating of one’s faith as a brand name and a label as opposed to a way of life that is based upon the Spirit of Christ filling one`s heart and soul.
Yet, I have also noticed that many of these same people and organizations often display behavior that, while it may indicate an allegiance to a certain dogma or doctrine, is frequently in direct opposition to what Jesus’ ministry was all about. It is often judgmental, based on adherence to a legalistic understanding of God, and exclusionary of those who do not follow it by rote. To these individuals, it does not matter how aligned our actions are with the teachings of Christ in regards to love for one another, practicing forgiveness as opposed to the need for holding a grudge or in some cases vengeance, putting all of our trust in God, seeking to do as Christ taught and helping those in need, and not attempting to play God by imposing our own personal sense of judgment upon others. Once it has been determined that we are LGBT, or non-literalistic in our understanding of the Bible, or that we do not subscribe to the same doctrines and political platforms of their specific church, at once, we are no longer “true Christians” in accordance with their beliefs and understanding. They then see themselves as the “true believers and followers of Christ” and our faith is dismissed as counterfeit or in extreme cases, heathen. I sometimes wonder if the advertisement of one’s Christianity in words is meant to clarify that they are in fact followers of Christ to those of us who may see their behavior as not in the Spirit of what we believe Jesus to really be all about.
Let’s imagine, for a moment, that the question about belief is posed to us by someone who we just met, someone who as no idea about our sexual orientation. Before you answer in the affirmative, think of how you could possibly show them instead of merely saying yes. And then think of how we as members of the LGBT community, might be able to be seen as answering that question without even needing to speak the answer — not only by those who might persecute us based on what our particular understanding of God, the Bible, and Christianity or our sexual orientation or sexuality may be but by those who do not even believe in God. Writing this from the point of view of a bisexual Christian involved with a female and male partner, I will try to express what belief means to me.
There is a saying I heard, I am not certain of who originally said it, but I love it: “Preach the Gospel constantly. When necessary, use words.” Same thing with the phrase “You talk the talk but can you walk the walk?” Or the ever famous, “talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words.” Or my personal favorite, having grown up in the “Show Me State” of Missouri: “I’m from Missouri, you got to Show Me.” Real faith in God is, to me, beyond mere belief, but demonstrated in our actions in everyday life.
In any case, I feel that there is definitely some substance in the idea that we are saved by both our faith and our works as Christians. But before people protest that they may feel it is only by Grace alone, let me elaborate a little more on what I mean by that. Perhaps the “works” are an active demonstration of our faith; that is to say, we do the things that we do, the physical manifestation and embodiment of the statement, “What Would Jesus Do?” not to illustrate an allegiance to a particular dogma, doctrine, or political platform, but rather as a demonstration of our understanding of the heart, life and teachings of Christ as we know Him. For anyone can say they believe in God, or believe in Jesus, or believe in anything, yet it is another thing completely to back that up with action.
For many conservative, evangelical Christians I have met, the concept of belief in a certain doctrine or way of understanding the Bible as opposed to truly practicing the Way of Jesus is what defines them as a “Christian”. They feel that merely embodying Christ’s Way of unconditional love, forgiveness, kindness, and acceptance of all as God’s children is not enough, rather, those of us who do not adhere to a specific understanding of Biblical Law are not “true” believers. But one thing I have noticed in my years is that it is for this very reason that so many, not just LGBT folks, are so turned off by the concept of God, Jesus, and Christianity. Too much emphasis is placed upon the “correct” doctrine, belief, or dogma, and too little is placed upon the real answer to the rhetorical question, “What Would Jesus Do?”
I personally think that a companion question to “What does it mean to believe?” is “What does it mean to be saved?” To a great many Christians, even in this day and age, true “salvation” is reduced to “staying out of Hell” or “being taken up in the Rapture” or “protection from evil,” rather than a radical new way of living and inner peace that can come from embracing the True Spirit of Christ. For a lot of people, even in this evolved age, the motivation for a relationship with God through Christ is one motivated out of fear of evil, the devil and hell, rather than out of Love and Gratitude to God. And I think this is clearly evident in the ways that individuals of certain belief choose to demonstrate their faith.
When I share my faith with another person, I do so not out of the fear that God is some sort of cosmic policeman or judge with a “quota” of won souls I am required to meet. Or the fear that their soul is in danger of being “left behind in the Rapture” or in “danger of hellfire”-at least not in a literalistic sense. Rather, I do so to share the wonderful gift I have been blessed with in my relationship with God through Christ that could help them through their own struggles. It might save them from being “left behind” in a sea of hopelessness and aimlessness that can result from the false belief that God does not love and accept them and care for them as they are, from the real hell of not knowing God’s Love, and the hell of consequences that can come from sowing the wrong seeds of anger, jealousy, holding grudges instead of releasing others who have hurt us through forgiveness, turning way from those in need, turning a cold shoulder to love out of the fear of being vulnerable, and having no trust or faith in God’s Unconditional Love.
I feel that when Christ died He gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, which empowers us to new life, and longs to live through each and every one if us if we are only willing to open our hearts. If we open our hearts to the Loving Holy Spirit, then we often find ourselves truly compelled by that Spirit as it calls us to do as Jesus did in our relation to all the rest of God’s Children. To me, that is expressing our sincere gratitude for all of the blessings God has given us in unconditional love and limitless Grace by demonstrating in “real time” our understanding of what Jesus taught us the most important Commandment was — To Love God with all of our heart, and Love our neighbor as ourselves. By actively living the second half of that statement, we demonstrate that we take the first half seriously. That to me is real belief in Jesus: Walking the Walk, and doing what Christ would actually do.
For the LGBT individual, when we are often immediately dismissed as non-believers due to our sexual orientation/sexuality, this can be a challenge. But we are empowered by God through the Holy Spirit to have all of the strength we need to do so.
I see many people in the LGBT community who seem less concerned with reaching out to those in the community who are in need of knowing God’s Love and acceptance, and more concerned with proving wrong the beliefs of those who oppose us or attempting to justify our identity as Christians to them. I am not saying that fighting the persecution of our own is unimportant, not in the least-as I feel that it is exactly one of the things that Jesus would do. But, to me, the most important thing we can do, aside from responding to hatred with love and compassion and practicing forgiveness and love for those who persecute us, is to reach out to others in our community as well as outside of the community who are hungry. Those who are searching for the Truth of God’s Love, who thirst for the peace that only the Holy Spirit can bring.
And expressing our belief as Christians does not always have to be as dramatic as some would have us believe. I see occasionally how the “ex-gay” ministries treat the “reformed” as “true examples of faith.” I see real faith in God and Christ in the LGBT individual who refuses to allow the condemnation and persecution to break them down and instead continues their commitment to their faith while maintaining the real identity that God created them with. And who boldly lives a life of compassion, mercy, kindness, love, and forgiveness. Christ Himself said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” To me that means that what is important to God and to Christ is not abandoning who we are or what makes us who we are. But rather, seeking at all times to embody the Love and teachings of Jesus in the best way we can, seeking to let God’s Loving Spirit flow through us as we are to others.
How can we as LGBT Christians best demonstrate by our actions to others who may see our faith as counterfeit, inadequate, or inferior that we are believers? To many, it may mean attempting to assimilate our identity to an understanding similar to that of those who persecute us. But, I see a bit of a danger in that, and it has been evident in the way some bisexual and transgender folk have been treated by a portion of the gay and lesbian community. Though, fortunately, the people who have chosen to do so are not representative of the entire gay and lesbian community. Tragically, there are some gay and lesbian people who have chosen to attack those of us who are bisexual as “outsiders” in that that some, though not all of us have different types of needs and relationships.
In an effort to be accepted by the conservative Christian community, this group has chosen to identify one being gay/lesbian or heterosexual as two clear cut and defined ways where is no middle ground; one is either born a hundred percent homosexual or heterosexual. They say that one must determine which of the two they are and choose one or the other, and then maintain total chastity outside of that relationship. They strive to assimilate into the same type of relationship that married heterosexual conservative Christians do, the only difference being the gender of the partners. I think that is wonderful if that is where God is calling them and that is what their heart is calling them to do. And many bisexuals who may not be specifically attracted to a person’s of both genders, but rather a person regardless of gender do the same thing.
But unfortunately, along with the assimilation to certain views can come an assimilation to certain judgments and persecutions as well, against those of us who are bisexual and also some of us who are gay, lesbian, or transgender and who may have different relationships, forms of consensual sexual expression, or ways of living. We may be as equally committed to justice, kindness, and walking with God, even though our chosen path may be a different one. But in the struggle for love and acceptance, those of us who do not fit black and white standards are far too often seen as a threat to acceptance for all.
For the bisexual Christian, and especially those of us who are concurrently involved with a partner of both genders, it can really pose a challenge. Especially when there are some among the LGBT Christian community who view our way of life as being incongruent with being a Christian, no matter how loving, caring and honest said relationships may be. Some bisexuals are attracted to an individual regardless of their gender. Others of us are equally attracted to both. Some bisexuals are comfortable with monogamous relationships and some are not. My personal belief is that just as God would not create some us as gay or lesbian and then expect us to repress or change those feelings, or never have an intimate relationship, God would not create some of us bisexual and then force us to repress one half of our desires. Instead, God blesses such relationships where we are able to express both sides of our being in a way that is honest, loving and respectful of others, rather than deceitful or dishonest.
I think that the issue is that a point of view that bases the measure of faith upon what one does or does not do in their intimate/sexual lives, regardless of their sexual orientation, is not the most adequate measure of faith. If a person is acting with love and respect for all others, then that issue is solely between that individual and God. A more applicable compass to me is the heart of the individual, their ability to show love and kindness towards others, they way in which they conduct themselves in relationship to the rest of God’s Children. I wholly believe that Jesus and ultimately God are far more concerned with our ability to practice charity than chastity.
It is true that the gay and lesbian community has made tremendous strides towards acceptance in recent years. Yet, acceptance of the bisexual community has not been as evident. There are a lot of us either in monogamous and also open or dual relationships who are out and confident, and open, honest and respectful of others. Yet, unfortunately, there are still a great many bisexual men and women who remain in “hiding”, largely due to non-acceptance by, not only the heterosexual, but also some portions of the homosexual community. Some live silently their whole lives, in a state of repression of their bisexuality, and others live a quiet life of desperation filled with “discreet” encounters behind the backs of their wives/husbands/partners, which is filled with betrayal, hurt, and often unprotected and indiscriminate sexual activity. But there are other ways that can come with greater acceptance, understanding and discussion among people. I feel there is a great need among those of us who are bisexual and Christian to communicate and fellowship with others that will lead to better, more honest and more whole lives than may be currently possible in this society.
One of the ways I am able to share my belief is by simply being there for other bisexuals such as myself and sharing my faith with them. I tell other bisexual men who are married and carrying on two separate lives that it is better to come clean and be honest about it; if they cannot maintain monogamy in their marriage there are other options besides betraying or deceiving and potentially hurting and creating brokenness with another. In many cases, such as my own, with counseling and therapy and an understanding spouse or partner they can agree on a relationship where they can love a person of both genders without the need for deception, betrayal of oneself or one’s spouse, or feeling as if they are betraying their faith in God.
That is, however, only a small part of the path I have chosen to walk with God. I want to go back to three thoughts on how all of us, regardless of sexual orientation or sexuality, can truly demonstrate that we too, are believers:
Choosing to forgive those who persecute us and not “fighting fire with fire”:
Rather than attempt to argue which Scriptures are the most accurate and which ones are allegory, or play a game of “my God/Interpretation of Jesus is better than yours”, I feel it is crucial that the LGBT community do its best to seek common ground wherever and however we can. When we meet someone who may be adamantly opposed to certain aspects of our lives or our beliefs, I feel it is best to avoid those “hot buttons” and seek and strive to determine what common causes we may have. Say, for example, that we meet someone who is Christian and who may not agree with who we are, yet we agree on another issue, perhaps feeding the hungry or caring for the sick and disenfranchised. I have known of miraculous cases where an LGBT person assisted someone who was initially in opposition to their identity yet was able to let go of that prejudice when they witnessed the real Christian love and compassion being demonstrated in the life of that person. The recognition of that love transcended the deep-seated fear of the differences implanted in them by anti-LGBT prejudice. If we choose to find our commonalities and try to work together in action, rather than trying to have a theological debate, sometimes the results can be truly miraculous. I opened my home and heart once to a homeless couple who were initially vehemently opposed, on a conservative Christian basis to my identity. Yet, I maintained my strength and faith in God in the face of persecution and strove to show love and kindness to those in need, and the results were truly a blessing. I did not argue about what was “right” or wrong.” Instead, I strove to simply show Christian love, even to those who saw me as “not really Christian” due to my sexual orientation and relationships. And though they may not agree with my life, they do see me as a brother in the faith.
Putting our faith in true action:
This is not limited to support and fellowship with other LGBT Christians or even just other Christians. God will often call us with a “mission of ministry” somewhere. It could be joining up with a group during the holidays or anytime to help provide food for the hungry. It could be volunteer work for an organization to benefit the disenfranchised. It could mean going through those old closets (no pun intended) of clothes and finding that which is no longer worn and donating them to those who have no clothes, or simply being there for a friend or a family member in a time of emotional need. Once, when I was laid off from a job and had free time on my hands in between finding another career, rather than let the clouds of depression take me over, I put my time in between interviews volunteering to assist patients with AIDS and other life threatening illnesses. It was a challenge at times, as some were conservative Christians in belief but somehow, miraculously, there was never an issue over what areas we had differences of opinion or belief on. I have seen in action that when I have been acting out what I believe Jesus would want me to do to help others, even if there are radical differences in view, this often is never an issue.
“Coming Out” about our Christian faith:
I am not talking about doing this in the same way I discussed at the beginning, by “advertising” our faith by verbal communication alone. Just as I think faith cannot be demonstrated by “works” alone, neither can it be demonstrated by “words” alone. In addition to putting into physical action the saying “What Would Jesus Do?” this to me means sharing with others in a non-preachy way the miracles that God has blessed us with on our own lives, and expressing that we attribute all of the good in our lives to God’s Love and Grace. It means sharing a bit of hope we may have found in a sermon or event at the church we attend, a spiritual insight we were blessed with through prayer, Bible study or fellowship, or through a friend or family member. It means being confident and totally unashamed about our identity as Christians to others, regardless of what their opinion might be of our faith-whether they might view our faith as “wishful thinking” or not being “real” faith. It means not being afraid of what others in the LGBT Community who have been afraid of anything “Christian” as being “anti-LGBT” will think of us, but rather sharing with them that just as God Loves us, God Loves them, too. It means showing everyone that we know that God Loves us unconditionally as we are and that our love and desire for God is so great that we are willing to ignore the condemnation that many Christians have displayed to the LGBT Community over the years. It means that we seek the Kingdom of God first, no matter what persecution or ridicule we may sometimes face from other Christians. That kind of courage to me shows real belief in something.
But, to me, there is one certain way of demonstrating that we believe, and it comes from what is probably my favorite Christian hymn, the one with the refrain, “They’ll know we are Christians By Our Love.” What does that mean to me?
It means, in very aspect of our lives, that we strive to be loving and compassionate just as Christ was in His ministry here. It means that we never to lose sight of the fact that God is Love and that God Loves us each and every one with an unconditional Love, even when, perhaps especially when, that may seem to be the biggest challenge we have ever faced. It means reaching out to those who are in need, even when we feel as if no one is reaching out to us. It means taking the time to care, even when we may be led to feel as if no one cares. It means choosing to love and forgive those who may have hurt us, rather than seek to vindicate ourselves in some way. It means taking seriously the Law of sowing and reaping that Christ spoke of, even when it seems we are sowing seeds of love and compassion in vain, trusting in God that the love we give to others is never in vain. It means choosing our words carefully sometimes, and calling on the Spirit of Christ in our hearts to enable us to be non-judgmental instead of attempting to exert our will over others instead of what God’s Will may be for their lives. It means taking the time out of whatever we may be doing that is important in our lives to let someone else know how important they are to us. It means sharing the blessings God has blessed us with others. It means seeking our hearts based on what we know about Jesus taught to find the most loving way to treat others. It is calling on the ability of discernment God has blessed us with to see the good in others instead of that which we may fear.
It was recently demonstrated in light of the tragedies attacking the United States in recent months when people of all faiths and walks of life stopped what they were doing and put down the dividing lines to reach out and help others in time of severe crisis and pain. Even as a few Christians chose to divide by exploiting the fears and insecurities created by the tragedy to evangelize in a way that supported their prejudices, many of the very people that they were condemning as somehow “responsible” for the tragedy due to an “incorrect” beliefs were going to great measures to assist in helping those in need. Most of all, it is seeing each and every human being regardless of whatever differences we may have as equally precious children of God, and treat them as such. God understands that all of us will sometimes fall short in that ability, and will forgive us when we do, and help us strive to do so.
I feel that the best way that anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, sexuality, race, denomination, doctrine, belief or whatever factors that may seem at times to “divide” us and create the illusion that we are somehow not all equally loved and blessed children of God to show that they are “believers” is to truly demonstrate the Great Commandment of Christ in action. That is, to express their love for God through their Love for all of God’s Children. I think the reason so many become caught up in the ability to adhere to certain dogmas and precepts as being cornerstone to faith as opposed to this one Commandment of Christ is because it can be, at times, far more difficult to live, given our tendency as human beings to place the tangible physical world as having more of a solid foundation than the spiritual world. But, in reality of those of us who have experienced God’s Love firsthand in our own lives know it is the other way around. Then we are able to make the step from “believing” to knowing, knowing and rejoicing in the fact that God IS the source of all we are, know and love. We go from God being unseen to being seen and recognized in everything. We love God and strive to show it even in the face of those who say that God does not love us. That, to me, is what really believing is all about.
John Campbell is a native of Alabama.