Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound;
that saved someone like me;
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
Thus went a slight revision of the lyrics to this song at a church in Southern California that was doing a candlelit vigil shortly after the horrible murder of Matthew Shepard, one that was attended by a friend of mine in the bisexual community who is an atheist. Although she may not share my belief in God, she does share my beliefs about love, human kindness, honesty, and treating all others with respect and dignity (more proof to me that there are some atheists who behave more in a more Christ-Like way than some Christians I have encountered in my life) and we often have some intellectually stimulating conversations. And when I sang these words in church during a solo for the time of Communion, I felt compelled to do the same. For I, too, feel that God saved me, but I have a difficult time with the concept of me being a “wretch” before embracing the Truth about the real Loving God that was illuminated by a new found and spiritually clear understanding within my soul of the teachings and way of Jesus.
As I have written before, I believe that the comment made by Paul that “all have sinned and fallen short” to simply be a Biblical statement of human nature that Paul saw very clearly: No one is perfect, and sometimes no matter how loving we try to be, we sometimes allow fear to get the best of us and can lash out in ways that are potentially destructive and hurtful to others, whether deliberately or carelessly. I cannot believe that God would create us with “evil” within us. I firmly believe that the concept of “Original Sin” has nothing to do with sexuality (whether it be hetero, homo, or bi) but instead is a way of spiritually alluding to the potential that exists within all human beings to choose love or fear as the motivator in their actions and decisions. In my own personal experience, God in my life and heart guiding my actions ensures that I will always strive to make decisions based upon love. Before I had God in my life almost all of my decisions, and unfortunately some of my actions which resulted in pain for others, were fear-based. I believe that when Jesus and the Bible writers speak of “Satan” that they are speaking of fear, and fear, in my own life, is the demon that God redeemed me from.
I think that any discussion of “Grace” should begin with a definition. What do you think of whenever you hear the word, “grace”? To me it conjures up an image of not merely flawless, but elegant, dynamic, perfect action, something planned, orchestrated and followed through beautifully, effortlessly, and awesomely. This, to me, perfectly describes God, and every part of God’s Creation, seen through loving eyes. When things in life don’t seem quite so perfect, it can be difficult at times to really trust in God’s Perfection, but a little faith has gone a long way with me. It’s gotten to the point in my own life that when good things happen I no longer chalk it up to “good luck” or “good fortune”, but to God’s unfathomable Love and Grace. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. Even when I seem to do something quite gracefully, I know that God was one hundred percent of the energy behind that, for without God I would be nothing. To me God’s Grace is less about suddenly finding salvation than opening my heart and eyes and realizing that I have had it all along. We all have Grace, if only we listen to our heart and truly believe in a Loving, Living God who is omnipresent, omnipotent, and unconditionally loving beyond what any human thought can truly comprehend. Yet when some refer to God’s “Amazing Grace” they are referring to salvation, or being “saved”.
I think that an important angle on “salvation” for those of us who are LGBT and also Christians is to reflect on exactly what we are being saved from. Many conservative Christians who attempt to share the Gospel with us would have us believe that God would like to save us from what they believe, in their understanding of the Bible, to be a state of sin that is the result of our natural sexuality. They would give us the argument that our sexuality is not of God, but of evil, and therefore a state of sin and distance from God. I would like to suggest that “salvation” can mean different things to different people. And in my opinion and belief, it comes not from believing in one specific doctrine or understanding of the Bible, nor repression of our natural sexuality, whatever that may be, nor from trying to change and be a different person than the one God created us to be. Rather, it comes from embracing a new attitude and a new way of looking at God, life, and love.
I feel personally that the modern church, particularly the conservative evangelical church, is far too preoccupied with the sexual behavior of others than the spiritual behavior of others. I find it puzzling at times how many of those who oppose LGBT rights and same-sex marriage are so vehemently supportive of the death penalty and the right of everyone to own a handgun. For those of us who are LGBT, we are simply asking for equality with people who are heterosexual, for the freedom to express love and caring. Yet some of those who fight us for wanting to have the ability to love as we want to love want to have the right and the ability to kill another human being should they feel threatened by them. This is what Jesus would do? I don’t think so. I unfortunately see a lot of Christians who are more obsessed with being Biblically inerrant than being loving and actually following Jesus’ teachings. He Himself made the point over and over again that Love was more important than religious Law and ritual. Yet so many today seem to be modern day Pharisees.
Saved. What does that word mean to us, who are considered unsaved by most conservative Christians because we chose to embrace or sexuality as a gift of God rather than a sinful desire? I certainly cannot speak for every reader here, but I can tell you what it means to me.
It means never having to apologize to anyone because I am attracted to both women and men or committed to both a woman and a man. It means not having to repress my feelings, not having to feel guilt and shame about who I am. It means I am able to turn inward and focus on God’s Love for me when I am harassed for being bisexual instead of lashing back in fear at those who torment me, feeling love for them and praying that they will find inner peace and joy and cease feeling the need to judge and condemn others. It means, more than anything, knowing that God Loves me just the way I am, and that the loving and consensual expression of my sexuality, though it may be different from “mainstream” society, is nothing to be ashamed of at all.
I sometimes meet Christians who may be more conservative in belief than myself, and though I find that they may be accepting of my being bisexual and poly-fidelitous (for those unfamiliar with the term, it means having an honest relationship with more than one person, in my case a woman and a man, and remaining faithful to both) and rather liberal in my Christian beliefs, they will follow up their comments of acceptance with, “It’s okay. God forgives you for these sins. That’s the joy of being a Christian, is that grace and forgiveness.” My conservative Christian father attempted to push me to read a book once by a conservative Christian author, who seems to be very loving an open-minded, but I get the impression from his writing that while he believes that God accepts those of us who are LGBT, we are still committing a sin against God whenever we are with a same sex partner. Perhaps this is the case or perhaps not. But I personally feel that our sexuality in and of itself, no matter what it may be, is not “sinful.” It is the method in which we choose to act upon it that renders it loving or unloving. In my case, being bisexual could be acted on in a myriad of ways: I could do as I see many married bi men do, and keep it a total secret from their wives or girlfriends or partners, sneaking out on the sly to bathhouses and public parks for “casual encounters”, which most often include unprotected sex. Instead, I have chosen to be totally honest with my wife, and tell her that this is a part of me, this is who I am, and instead seek an open and honest relationship with another bi male in a similar situation. On the other side of the equation, I know have known bisexual men who have led on and deceived gay men, promising them they would leave their wives or girlfriends and be their one and only in order to have sexual intimacy with them, when they have no intention of doing so. I would not do this either. Any man I have ever been involved with, whether he was gay or bisexual, has known, from the beginning, that I am bisexual and love a woman. For some bisexuals, they may choose to be monogamous yet still open about their bisexuality with their spouse or partner, and find other ways to express these desires. But I am hurt when people say that bisexuals must uphold a standard of monogamy in order to be a moral person, an ethical person, or a good Christian. Honesty in a relationship where there are more than two people involved, however, is an absolute. Everyone is different, and I firmly believe that diversity should be honored. I think the key is finding out what it is that we really need, and then acting from a place of love and concern for others.
Part of grace to me is sharing with others the Grace God has blessed me with in my own life, which is the primary reason I write for this magazine. Perhaps there is a bisexual man or woman reading this article who yearns for a personal relationship with God through Christ and the Holy Spirit but fears that God would require them to “choose one or the other” or give up a relationship that is very meaningful to them and someone else, or more than one someone else. Perhaps I can convince them of what God has done for me, enabling me to be honest about who I am with myself and with others, even though at times being honest has led to others rejecting me on the basis of my sexuality alone. Perhaps I can let others know that embracing Spirit does not mean leaving their natural sexuality behind, but can rather lead to a deeper peace about and appreciation of it — that the things which bring them sexual fulfillment that others call “unnatural” are in fact, very natural. Perhaps I can let them know that bisexuals, gay men, lesbian women, and transgender people are all a part of God’s design. Perhaps, most of all, I can let them know that in embracing my bisexuality and my need for physical, emotional, and sexual intimacy and relationship with both a woman and a man that I do not feel in the least bit confused, but rather doubly blessed. And that I am trying, wherever I can, to reach out and bridge the gap between the homophobia in the heterosexual world, and the heterophobia in the homosexual world, and the biphobia in both.
Grace is something that I do not believe any soul ever has to earn, nor do I believe there is any magic formula for it. When I think about how I can communicate to others about God’s Grace I always think of it as giving someone a gift: How would you feel if you suddenly knew that God loves you just as you are, and did not want to change you or ask you to repress yourself but merely asked that you turn within and find Christ’s Loving Spirit in your heart, and join Him in always striving to do the loving thing towards other human beings, even when it hurt. To strive to turn the other cheek and forgive instead of striking back in fear and anger. To learn to see the God and Christ in others instead of finding the things that we don’t like. To always show our thankfulness for all God has done for us by passing on that love to others who need it. To be so joyful with all of the blessings, grace, and love God has bestowed upon us, completely free of cost or condition, that all we want to do is be loving to all the rest of God’s Children. And to realize that God will help us to achieve any dream we believe in if we simply put our trust in God, do our best, and act with love towards others. I wonder why most of Christianity has chosen to take the metaphor of hell symbolizing the agony of feeling separate from God’s Love and used it as a literal fear-driven tool to win others over to being believers instead of instead focusing of the wonderful Kingdom of Heaven Jesus told us we could find within, the strength we have in God through Christ, and the ability to move mountains of fear down to dust with faith in God’s Unconditional Love.
To me God’s Grace is not about sparing me, the miserable sinner, from hell, but about telling me that I am not a miserable sinner but a Child of God, and that the only hell is a result of turning away from God and letting fear create the false illusion that God does not love me or is not there for me. Grace is about realizing that God knows that I am a human being, and occasionally do give in to anger, fear, and worry, and that I can pray for the strength to be loving and not give in to those negative emotions. It is a blessing to me just to be alive every day, even on days when life may seem difficult. Grace is about miracles. There is positively no other explanation I can give for all of the wonderful things in my life other than God’s Grace — period. Even the things I worked hard for, God gave me the strength to do so. And when I have erred and “missed the mark” and hurt another of God’s Children, and learned from that, I know that God will always forgive me. I always do my best to model that in my forgiveness of those who have hurt me, intentionally or not.
I would like to close by saying that I know I am not the only bisexual, poly-fidelitous liberal Christian out there, and that it is my prayer that the others who have been so blessed by God will speak out as well. Sharing the Good News that embracing God and Christianity does not mean that we have to give up who we are. I pray that in this next century, the New Eden will finally be a reality as Christ is present in the hearts of every soul, and that people will be able to know a Christian by their loving kindness and care for all others rather than their political party, sexual orientation or sexuality, or denomination/doctrine of belief. In my heart, that really would be amazing. And I have faith that one day, that will happen, for with God, nothing is impossible.
John Campbell is a native of Alabama.