To be afraid is to have more faith in evil than in God. (Emmet Fox)
If I were to single out one bumper sticker that is often seen on the cars of fundamentalist Christians that upsets me far more than any of the others, it would be the two word one that makes fun of the “No Fear” bumper stickers and reads, “FEAR GOD”. It’s not that I have a problem with the fact that some Christians believe that they should fear God, I solidly support the right of everyone to believe what they want to, as that is what I would want to receive from others. But it was this type of attitude towards God that made me, for many years, want no part of Christianity. I cannot help but wonder if this those who display such a message realize that they are not only pushing people away from God, but turning people against God as well as creating nightmares and silent hurt for many people.
Speaking from personal experience, and years of psychotherapy for severe panic-anxiety disorder that was rooted in a fear of an angry, punitive image of God, maybe you could say that I have a special aversion to this type of tactic. I recall long ago asking a fundamentalist if they thought that teaching people to fear God in an attempt or effort to encourage them into a closer relationship with God was really an emotionally or psychologically healthy thing to do. After all, if people began relationships or stayed in them because they were afraid of what the other person might do if they did not, we would call it very unhealthy. The reply was something along the lines of “Oh, it means that you RESPECT God. Not really “fear” but “revere” God. It means that as long as you do what you`re supposed to then you have nothing to fear-you know, `perfect love casteth out fear` and `fear not for I am with you`-it`s all in the Bible.” Translated roughly I took that to mean “As long as you believe the exact inerrant doctrine I do then you have nothing to be afraid of-otherwise watch out.”
Fear is an interesting thing. I was appalled at one time to see a book called “The GIFT Of Fear” that encouraged people to listen to their fears when assessing a new situation they are not quite sure of. While I certainly agree with many of the thoughts that the writer had about protecting oneself, I do think there is such a concept as being too careful and letting fear make decisions for you that can only be made with a leap of faith. I think following our heart and taking some chances is a good thing. Perhaps it was my aversion to hearing fear referred to as a good thing. Fear has been the devil in my life — one that I once fell victim to, not because of really wanting to but being, well, afraid I had no other choice.
For those who don’t already know, I am a bisexual and polyfidelitous (having committed and honest relationships with a female and a male partner) man in my thirties, who was raised in a harsh Southern Baptist fundamentalist Christian environment. It was an atmosphere that was exceedingly negative against any form of sexuality whether it be hetero, homo, or bisexual, even a person’s sexual thoughts, though there was a tolerance of monogamous married heterosexuality as sort of a “necessary evil” for married couples. Around the time I reached adolescence, in the early ’80s, the church I was forced to attend was very much a part of the Religious Right. This was right at the time that they were really building an all out attack on all forms of sexuality other than post-marital heterosexual missionary intercourse since Communism had ceased being a threat and the fundamentalists were looking for a new scapegoat. So I was being forced to attend a church that was not only bashing all sexual thoughts and feelings that were not in accordance with its very narrow interpretation of the Bible but was also using fear to deter everyone. Add to this that I was realizing in a more profound way that I was different, I was sexually attracted to both the girls and the boys in school, and felt strong feelings towards both. Talk about timing!
I am blessed that my Mother is more liberal than everyone else is. Her attitude then was basically the same as it is now (though it took my coming out as bisexual to her to find this out): Sexual orientation is a way God makes someone and it is not a choice. It is perfectly natural, and the way one is born. All forms of sexuality, whether it be heterosexual intercourse, oral sex, anal sex, or masturbation are all natural and gifts from God and are nothing to be ashamed of. Our sexuality and what goes on in the bedroom is between us and God and really no one else’s business. If a person is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender then they have every right to love as they wish as long as they are not hurting anyone. God makes every one of us differently and can understand the different needs each of us has, whether it be for a same-sex marriage or in my case an honest relationship with two people. If there is one person in my family that has encouraged and helped me to embrace my own uniqueness without shame and also to embrace a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, it is my Mother, and God Bless Her.
But she ended up joining the bandwagon with my father for a long time. Not out of sincerity but out of her wanting to be obedient to him. He has always been very narrow minded and particularly about issues of gender, sexual orientation, and sexuality. And though for many years, I was angry at him for taking this stance, and trying to force his beliefs on me, I have actually reached a point where I can feel sorry for him, as I do all other fundamentalist Christians. (Though quite sincerely, my Father only literally interprets parts of the Bible that support his own feeling about things, so I really wouldn’t call him a fundamentalist) I feel sorry for them because they are operating out of fear. I make this contrast — whereas my Mother always spoke of God as Loving, and her faith and belief in God was founded in love and gratitude for life and seeking to embody God’s Love as demonstrated through Jesus’ teachings, my Father always spoke of God as to be respected and feared and obeyed. His faith in God was based in fear of consequences, moral absolutes, and fear of the unknown. Which brings me to an important point, that those who encourage others to fear God are themselves scared of God. Their fear that they have no control over their own lives and destinies and that God will punish them for not following a path that is not in accordance with a literal Bible reading compels them to attempt to control others.
A lot of fundamentalist or conservative Christians who either outright bash LGBT people or who display the “love the sinner, hate the sin” approach (which I have come to realize most often means, “hate the sin and persecute the sinner, and pretend to love them while totally disrespecting their uniqueness and doing everything possible to instill guilt, fear, and shame in them about their own sexuality in a stealth manner”) really do not have any hate, anger, or animosity towards us at all. They are literally terrified for us because of their sincere belief that we are unacceptable to the same God that we love just as much. They are afraid that if they cease to interpret the Bible literally, then their faith in God and Jesus will miraculously vanish and they will lose their beliefs totally. And they fear that by accepting us for whoever we are, if that is not in accordance with their interpretation of Scripture (which was usually taught to them by someone else with the same fears, and not founded in Jesus’ life and ministry at all) then they are, in effect, sending us to “burn in hell forever”. So those of us who are LGBT or in their opinion otherwise “Biblically incorrect” suffer the same fear that they are suffering from.
Have any of you ever noticed that those who persecute us are often very angry people? Most times the people who have bashed me for my beliefs and my sexuality have seemed angry and even jealous of my faith. I believe that jealousy is a by-product of fear. (“That person has something that I fear I cannot, or will not have”) I believe that this may motivate a lot of what we are subjected to. Most of the angry conservatives who attempt to judge me are very repressed in their own freedom, feel extreme guilt and shame about their own sexuality regardless of their orientation, and are trapped in a vicious cycle of desire and guilt over having it. Again, I feel that when a person is afraid they become defensively angry. I feel that some are angry because they honestly feel that if every word of the Bible is not totally and literally true as written, then they fear that there really is no God and it is all imagination. To this I say, if you have to believe that the Bible is literally true in order to believe in God’s Love and Presence in this world, do you really believe in God or are you worshipping a book? Others may be angry because they are jealous; many have confessed to me in deep conversation that, “I believe that what you’re saying could be true, and I wish it was, but I am too afraid of what God will do if I abandon the doctrine.” And still others who on the surface say “You are a sinner” secretly not only hold the same beliefs as I do, but are struggling with their own sexuality. They are “wrestling with the angel.” They love God, they love Jesus, but they also cannot deny that they are different from what is “Biblically acceptable” in their background. This I think in some people can create the rage that becomes hate speech. I’m not saying that every single person who uses the Bible to beat LGBT people over the head with is secretly LGBT themselves. I don’t believe that. What I do believe wholeheartedly is that every attempt by conservative Christianity to bash those of us in the LGBT Community is rooted in fear. I think that Jesus was correct when He told His followers that there would be things revealed that we were not yet ready for. I think some of His followers are still not ready for just HOW all-inclusive God’s Love truly is.
One thing I think that it is so crucial for those of us who are LGBT and Christian to understand is that when we are witnessed to by those who say that we are in danger of eternal “hell” is that the people who are doing this to us are often already in hell. They are in a hell of fear created by believing in a concept of God as judge, punisher, and tyrannical parent. Most of the same people who preach the dangers of hell have always seemed to me to be constantly frightened by if not totally obsessed with hell, the devil, and what they perceive their neighbor’s sin to be. I often wonder why there seems to be in more conservative churches a tendency to focus on the private lives or perceived sex lives of others and in more liberal churches the concept of reaching out and helping others in need — regardless of what parts of doctrine they do or do not believe, what their sexual orientation is and what they do at night in the bedroom. Or why the “Religious Right” is more concerned with the threat of the devil and proving the Bible inerrant than on the social relevance of the teachings of Jesus Christ and how to apply them in the 21st Century. Or, when Jesus had nothing to say to condemn a person’s sexual orientation, why thousands of dollars that could be used to feed and clothe the homeless and hungry are spent on anti-LGBT propaganda ads that do little more than fuel the fire of fear and apprehension that is already stirring, or ads for “reparative therapy” for LGBT people that can cause severe psychological harm for those who enter into it. I still say, fear is the root cause of all of these.
Not many people share this belief, but while some think money is the root of all evil, I think that all acts of wrong we can commit against another of God’s children, or “sins” are rooted in fear. I will go further to say that I personally believe that the external force referred to by the Bible and more theologically conservative minds as the devil is actually fear. Think on it for a moment. If we truly embraced the Truth one hundred percent all of the time, even in our weakest moments, that God’s Loving Spirit was guiding us every step of our way, and that God would provide a way for us, would any of us ever feel the need to hurt another person? Fear of not having enough or being enough causes some to steal. Fear of being honest and admitting our humanity causes us to deceive others. Fear of the God we were taught to believe in causes us to turn away from God’s Love and leads to a spiritual void and emptiness, and a lack of awareness of God’s Love for us. This can lead us to become bitter and angry and do unloving things to the rest of God’s children. Why is it so difficult to look at worshipping God as a matter of reverent love instead of reverent fear? Perhaps because fear has a lot to do with things we do not understand completely, and cannot see clearly, and sometimes that can be the very nature of God; but that is where faith comes in.
I think that especially in the area of sexual orientation and sexuality, which is one of the most powerful drives and natural parts of our beings that the Creator endowed us with, fear is natural-these are powerful feelings, and powerful feelings can be scary. But I am suggesting that we do something that may not be too easy at first, and that is to remember that no aspect of our lives, including our sexuality, would exist without God. To me there is no such thing as an “unnatural” act, if it is shared with love and respect for the people involved, is consensual and among adults regardless of the gender, and not for the purpose of psychological manipulation or hurting anyone. I wholeheartedly believe that my sexuality and my being bisexual is a gift from God, and when I finally was able to worship God out of love, gratitude and joy in life, I was finally able to let go of the fear. I will say that it was a struggle at times, especially with my upbringing, but one that was well worth it.
The first step was having faith that God Created me as I am, and that included whatever my sexuality and my sexual orientation. I made a commitment to show my gratitude by always striving to live the truth of who I am with love and respect to all others, and honesty. For some bisexuals, that may mean monogamy, for others like myself it meant having a loving relationship with a female and a male partner, with no secrets, no lies, and no deception. I know of many bisexual men who hide the truth about who they are from their wives, and simultaneously hide the same from the men they become involved with. Others were honest with their wives and came out as bisexual, and even if they agreed to a promise to remain monogamous in their marriage found the wives filing for divorce and not allowing them to see their children anymore. But in many cases, when these bisexual men and women have come out to their spouses or partners, they have been able to work things out between them where everyone is happy. They have found that their relationship grew even more deeply intimate due to the extreme level of trust such an act shows. I was blessed with a woman who had at one time hidden her bisexuality from me as I had mine from her. Just as I was willing to understand her need for a same-sex partner that she had different but equal feelings for, she was willing to understand mine. I know many bisexual men and women who have come out to their heterosexual or homosexual partners, choosing honesty, who were pleasantly surprised at the results. And even in the cases when they found that the other person was fearful and did not understand they still were so happy not to have to live a lie anymore, and were eventually able to find someone who did accept them for who they were. In one touching case, a bisexual man I know lived the “secret life”, having several relationships behind his wife’s back, and then finally being honest out of love; it ended in a divorce, but they remained friends. Years later, she on her own came to terms with her own bisexuality, and several years after that, they are happily together again.
I think that the best way to let go of fear is to work on breaking it down a tiny bit at a time, by shattering the myths that others still cling to in fear about LGBT people. The first place we must begin, in my opinion, is by honestly studying the Bible and what Jesus’ ministry and teachings were really all about, and understanding that His teachings are about being a loving person, not giving up being who God made us to be. We need to see the wealth of information that proves that anything other than heterosexual is perfectly natural and normal. And we have to take every opportunity we can if we see prejudice and fear-based myths being spread to create more fear, to state the positive truth of our own lives. Christianity is not the problem, the Bible is not the problem, and the church is not the problem, nor is sexuality the problem: the fear and misinformation and selective interpretation of the Bible used to reinforce these false and fearful beliefs is the problem.
How often have you heard of a person constantly putting down LGBT people, until they suddenly find out that someone close to them is this way? I can recall a lot of male friends who when I told them I am bisexual and involved with a man as well as a woman there was a sudden fear that I was going to be attracted to them, just because they were male. They were heterosexual and wanted no part of it. Or people who assume that because I am bisexual that I see every person walking as a potential partner. Or people who assume that just because I am intimate with more than one person that I am open to indiscriminate sexual intimacy with everyone. Or that I have sex in bathhouses, never use condoms, that I have AIDS and try to give it as many people as possible, that I am out to say, “Everyone is really bisexual ” when I know for a fact that they’re not, that I don’t really love or care about the woman or the man I’m with. I have even been asked, “So you have sex with little boys, is that what that means?” But I think anytime you have a label other than “human being” there are a million stereotypes than can go along with it-people attach stereotypes to “Christian” as well. I think the key is to let our light shine and illuminate the shadow and darkness of fear that people believe about us, and I think maybe they can being to see the God and the Christ in us than the negative things that they may fear about us. Somebody told me once, “I don’t care who you sleep with, or how many, or what you do, as long as you’re happy and not hurting anyone. You’re a good person with a good heart, you do good things for others and you love God, and that’s what really matters.” And that statement was the beginning of me totally letting go of the fear because in my heart that is what I think Jesus would say.
I think the only power fear has is what we give it, by not trusting God, and in the words of Jesus that whoever we are, God has a place for us in this world, made us the way we are, and loves us just the way we are. Sometimes it can feel a little bit like walking on the water to maintain faith when we were raised to be afraid of a concept of God that was opposed to the very nature of our being. For what my humble opinion is worth, I can attest to the wonders and miracles and blessings Loving God, the Holy Spirit, and my following the Great Commandment of Christ (even when it was the scariest thing in the world to do) the best I can has brought into my life. I know for a fact that God supports and affirms me and blesses me just as much as God supports and affirms and blesses a heterosexual monogamous conservative Christian. I really think that God is a lot more concerned with our ability to love and care for one another than our sexuality; if anything I think that God wishes we would let go of all the fear that we have in regards to it. As far as HOW to let go of fear, the only thing I can recommend is the same thing that Jesus did: to pray and to believe, even if it is the tiniest spark of sincere faith, because that is all that it takes, that it will be done. Faith, after all really can move mountains. God does listen, does care, and will be there for us. God has been there for me, and I know God will be there for you too.
As far as letting go of fear, I will close with these thoughts that were of great help to me:
1. If you are a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender person who is trapped in a homo/bi/trans-phobic and sexuality-denying/body denying environment, where you must hide who you are, or listen to constant negativity, ask God to lead you to an environment where you are free to come and worship as you are, where you will be accepted as you are, affirmed as you are, and loved as you are.
2. The truth is out there, and it will definitely set you free. There are hundreds of resources on the Web as well as through your local LGBT Community Support Groups and Open And Affirming Churches that will help you heal from the fears and myths that people often use to condemn LGBT people — myths that others hold about us or that we may could have internalized and believe about ourselves.
3. Ask God with an open heart to bring into your life those people who will be open and accepting of you.
4. Know in your heart that God made you as you are for a reason, and wants you to be happy.
5. Fill your heart and life with as much positive affirmation as you can. Just because others may be under the fear-based perception that you are a “sinner” does not make you any less capable of being a loving person, or embodying the way of Jesus by sowing seeds of love everywhere you go. God affirms you, even if other people who are fearful do not.
I cannot say that you will be able to let go of your fear overnight, but these things helped me. I know that being able to share about my faith here has helped me. I know that there may be lots of people, even other bisexual Christians who do not agree with all of my views, opinions, and beliefs, and that’s okay. I don’t think any of us are all the same. God’s Rainbow is much too big for that for me. But if there is just one soul out there who could hear me say, no matter what, God loves you just the way you are. God is there for you regardless of who you are and seeks to help you through applying the gift of Christ’s teachings, to live the truth of who you are, have an abundant life and do so with love and respect for others. If just one person understands this, then I feel as if I have shared some of the abundant Love our Almighty, All-Loving, All-Inclusive God has blessed me with so graciously.
John Campbell is a native of Alabama.