Gay Christian. It’s a phrase any self-respecting member of the Religious Right would immediately identify as an oxymoron. As the founder and editor of Whosoever, I get letters everyday from conservative Christians who tell me it’s impossible to be both a practicing homosexual and a Christian. The tones of the messages range from loving to hateful, but the message is always the same, “turn or burn.”
I’ve developed a thick skin to these messages and I am hardly ever shocked or surprised by their content. But I did receive one message that set me back on my heels. It read in part:
“You are weak and terribly interested in being liked and accepted. You remind me of the pathetic sheep who belonged to the Pep Club in high school. Why play a game that you can’t win?”
The message itself was not as shocking as who it was from — a reader named David who identified himself as a 36-year old gay man. It was the first time I had ever been attacked by a member of the gay community for my religious beliefs! To David, I am weak for wanting to be part of a religious system that obviously doesn’t want me.
Apparently, David is not alone in his criticism of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender [GLBT] people who also wish to remain Christians. In his essay, “Is Gay Spirituality Really Masochism?” gay athiest leader Don Sanders portrays GLBT Christians as traitors to the larger gay community:
“Under Christianity, homosexuals have been the most persecuted of all minorities for almost 2,000 years. It is with amazement that I look upon gays who, today, seek accommodation within the parameters of its various institutions. Is it at all logical for us to expect the church to say it has been wrong all along? To admit to such an error would be to undermine the very authority by which it holds millions of followers in thrall.”
Sanders even goes so far as to equate gay Christians with Jewish Nazi’s and black KKK members. To Sanders we are working for the oppressors, becoming their pawns, and trying to fit into a system that will only use and abuse us.
I have an answer for both David and Don.
CHRIST PERFECTED THROUGH WEAKNESS
David’s accusation is the most stinging, I believe. Nobody likes to be called weak and pathetic. It goes right to the heart of your self-worth. But, as Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10, our weakness is power when it is perfected through Christ:
“‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will all the more glady boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Just as the old Sunday School verse tells us “We are weak but He is strong.” By ourselves we cannot change thousands of years of church dogma and abuses of the Bible and Jesus’ message. For Christ’s sake we are weak, bombarded by insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities .. not only from inside the church, but from within our own community from people like David and Don. But God’s grace is sufficient. As Paul assures us in Phillipians 4:13: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” Through the grace of God we are made strong in our weakness. Subsequently, GLBT Christians are becoming a force to be reckoned with within the church.
Aside from being weak, David also accuses GLBT Christans of playing a futile game by trying to win the acceptance of the mainstream churches. He says it’s a game we’ll ultimately lose. Don echoes this criticism, calling it illogical to expect the church to admit it is wrong to exclude GLBT Christians from its fellowship. I don’t see why they’re so pessimistic. Everyday more and more churches open their doors to accept GLBT Christians as full members. More and more denominations are moving toward ordination of GLBT Christians. If it’s a game, then we seem to be winning!
However, I don’t see our struggles in the church as a game. It’s a very real battle for the heart of the church. All GLBT Christians seek is for the church to truly embrace the teachings of Jesus that they say their faith is founded upon. Jesus’ ministry was one of inclusion, not exclusion. GLBT Christians are here to remind the church of its origins. Alone we will not succeed, but with the grace of God, perfecting our weaknesses, we shall one day overcome.
KNOCKING AT THE CHURCH DOOR
But why do we even want to succeed? Why be part of a church society that oppresses our GLBT brothers and sisters with such zeal? Are we as GLBT Christians really Uncle Toms to our community at large?
I fail to see how working to open the doors of a major institution in our soceity to GLBT people could be seen as selling out or working for the opposition. It’s merely an attempt to work within the existing system. We are no more Uncle Toms than African Americans who work to be elected to office so they can alleviate some of the suffering of their constituents. By working within the church structure, GLBT people are having a profound affect on church doctrine. Our victories help alleviate some of the suffering of our brothers and sisters who otherwise would have walked, if not run full speed, away from the church and God.
If we stood outside the church door and shouted our demands we’d never be heard or accepted. By coming into the church, showing our deep faith and love for Christ, we are moving the stony hearts of the congregations. It is through our genuine love and faith, that we prove we too are members of God’s eternal family.
There have been many setbacks and disappointments that have forced many GLBT people out of the church and subsequently, out of their faith. Some GLBT people persist in their faith however, undaunted by the rejection. Why do they keep coming back to the church, even after taking untold amounts of abuse? Is it a misguided and pathetic attempt to be accepted, to feel more “normal?” I don’t believe it is. I think there is someting stronger that pulls us to the church. I believe many GLBT people see themselves in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who wrote in The Strength To Love:
“Many continue to knock on the door of the church at midnight, even after the church has so bitterly disappointed them, because they know the bread of life is there.”
It’s not the acceptance of the Pope, the priest, the preacher or the parishioner that GLBT Christians ultimately seek. We knock at the door of a church that has abused us over and over again simply because we know the “bread of life is there.” We know the bread of life is for everyone, without exception, and we seek that bread from the church. Often we encounter a church that has lost the meaning of the bread, and has become selfish. The church is blind to the big picture of the all inclusive message of Christ. In its myopia, the church has set itself in the place of God, giving the bread to only those who meet its narrow set of requirements.
Yet, we continue to knock because Jesus assures us in Matthew 7: 7-8, “Ask, and it will be given you: seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”
Many GLBT don’t even see the point in approaching the door, let alone knocking on it. “They’ll only turn you away, they’ll call you names, they may even force you to change to come in.” Yes, all of these things have happened to GLBT people who have knocked upon the church door. Yet, some of the more persistent GLBT Christians continue to knock. We hope against hope that one day the door will open, and we’ll be welcomed with the unconditional love of Jesus. King says that is the basis of the faith that keeps the church’s outcasts knocking.
“Faith in the dawn arises from the faith that God is good and just. When one believes this, he knows that the contradictions of life are neither final nor ultimate. He can walk through the dark night with the radiant conviction that all things work together for good for those who love God. Even the most starless midnight may herald the dawn of some great fulfillment.”
I am convinced that all things will work for the good, because GLBT Christians love God. We do not love “the church,” “the creeds,” or “the dogma” that keeps us an oppressed minority in the church. We love God, and that gives us hope that in the depths of our darkest midnight, we will one day awake to the dawn of that great fulfillment. We proclaim that fulfillment the day we can joyfully walk through the church doors into full membership in the body of Christ!
This is what keeps GLBT people coming to the church. It’s not a pathetic attempt at acceptance, it’s not a game we’re trying to win. We want our rightful position noted as true followers of Christ. We are secure in our acceptance by God. Now we must make God’s community realize we too are full heirs in the kingdom of God!
To the world our attempts may seem foolish, born of a great weakness to be liked or accepted. If we look foolish, then so be it! What better reason to be a fool than to be a fool for God? Our foolishness, our weakness for God, is made perfect through Christ, and as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:27-31, that foolishness equals power.
“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world the shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even the things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption; therefore, as it is written, ‘Let those who boasts, boast of the Lord.'”
One day the doors will open. The weak, low and despised GLBT Christians will be used to shame the strong. Our foolish persistence will be used to shame the wise. When that day comes my gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters, let us not boast of our own righteousness. Instead, let us boast only of the Lord and the great things God has done in and through our lives.
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.