As I read my local newspaper or even thumb through my lesbian magazines, I find that my GLBT brothers and sisters are facing a crisis of faith. Our families and their churches shunned us for our homosexuality. We turned our backs on the Church and our families, attempting to live honest and free lives. We decided the only way to be free was to be without God as we doubted that God could love us yet we felt ourselves unfulfilled. Slowly, we decided to risk a return to faith to fill that void. Now, many churches are wrestling with the question: Do we welcome the GLBT community to worship? But is that the issue we should be discussing or should we discuss what the GLBT community needs from a church?
How many of us truly feel that God’s love is evident in our lives? God’s perfect love for us is displayed in Christ’s life on earth. Can we truly claim that love though? Do we even feel worthy of it? I think, for many of us, the answer is no. And I think it can be traced to how our homosexuality is treated by our families and society. Now, I am not going to discuss the GLBT community in terms of being victims. I rather want to discuss what our ideal of love is and how it might hinder us from a loving relationship with God. I know for many a true, deep, and abiding love was first displayed in our childhood homes. We learned of love from our parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters. These people were to love us unconditionally, no matter what we did. Many of us probably heard a variation of “Blood is thicker than water. Your family is always here for you.” This creed told us “Home is where when you go there, they have to take you in.” Our example of God’s love was based on our family’s love. Think of the children’s songs “Jesus Loves the Little Children” and “Jesus Loves Me”. Both speak of Jesus as gentle, loving and accepting. These first images of God are still burned into our subconscious. This is why it hurts us so deeply when we are cast out for being gay. Not only is our family withdrawing their love, it seems God is too. Can you still hear your mother’s voice telling you God would damn you if you followed this path you had chosen? Did your grandfather answer your telephone call with “I don’t have a grandchild by that name, you are dead to me”? Far too often, our families use God and the Bible to condemn us and scapegoat us for the good of the family name. Is it any wonder so many gay and lesbian youth attempt suicide? The people closest to us, who promised to always love us, have cast us aside. If our own mother and father can not love us, how can God love us? For many of us, God is not all-loving, all-knowing and forgiving. God is even more vengeful, angry and heartbroken than our dearest relative is. We are raised with an authoritarian God that does not forgive us and love us in spite of ourselves. Our God demands strict obedience and sacrifice, much like our parents.
I do not mean to say everyone who is gay had angry, authoritarian parents or was raised with a vengeful God. I think that the GLBT community’s crisis of faith stems from our perception of God. Many of us come from evangelical, conservative backgrounds. We do not see God loving us even though we are sinners. We see God demanding someone die a horrible death in atonement for our sins. Those who were raised with a more loving image of God have had their perceptions warped by the Conservative Christian movements and the press they have received. Even if your experience of God is a loving one, it is very easy to be turned from following Christ by the behavior of His more vocal followers. We do not see love that knows no boundaries. How then can we claim God’s love?
This is our struggle and the Church’s true dilemma. We need to recast God in a loving, accepting light. Isn’t that what the Gospels teach us to begin with? Jesus treats those He encounters with love and respect, no matter their stations in life. He casts aside the societal and spiritual norms of the time to bring the Gospel, God’s Good News, to those most separated from God’s glory. These lessons do not help us heal our wounds though. We still feel outcast and unlovable, unable to claim our place in the light of Love. How do we attain that state of Grace?
There are no easy answers. For many, finding a family of choice who love and accept you is the first step. For others, finding a loving church or life partner are the keys. A good first step is to allow yourself enough to examine your heart, mind and life and admit what you find there. This is probably the most frightening undertaking of your life. It may be the same moment you admit you are gay. The admission may only be to the image in the mirror. But it is crucial you find some way to accept what so many have rejected. It won’t be easy to accept yourself and even tougher to learn to love yourself. If a friend or lover helps you find that acceptance and love, count yourself blessed. If you must do it alone, remember the words to “Footprints in the Sand”. No matter how bleak things seem, Jesus is carrying you.
I pray each of us is able to find our path back to our faith. Since we have traveled so many lonely and rocky paths, we all have special gifts of strength, love and compassion to share with a weary, intolerant and tired world. May God use your talents and bring you strength and peace.