I have at times, as I am certain a great many others have, speculated on what it would be like to be able to travel back in time and confront myself when I was younger, and speak to the person who I was at that time. I wonder what the person who I was then would think of who I am now, and more importantly, how they would react to the place where I find myself now. And the outcome I visualize is always the same: the person who I was then would hysterically laugh me right back into the future.
If I were to approach the person who I was 20 years ago and related to them exactly how things would be transformed in that relatively short period of time, they would instantly deem me to be certifiably insane. They would scoff at the concept that I had come to accept and be at peace with myself as a bisexual man and they would shake their head in disbelief that I was well over 15 years into a life of sobriety, but those would not even compare to the utter ridiculousness with which they would regard my assertion that I now joyfully consider myself a Christian and a beloved child of God fully at peace with God, myself and my sexuality.
I can almost hear the cynicism and sarcasm with which I would be met: “Impossible. There’s no way that will ever happen. First of all, who you are and being at peace with God is entirely incompatible. You can’t be a Christian and be at peace with your honest sexuality. Second of all, there is no church who would ever welcome you as you are. And besides all of that, you know that if there even is a God, you would never be able to meet the requirements. I have no idea who you are, but you don’t know me at all.”
I think about whether I would respond with, “No, I think you are the one who does not know yourself or God, and is not willing to get to know yourself or God yet,” or if I would just smile and walk away shaking my (present) head in disbelief. In retrospect, I am fully aware that no one, not even a future version of me could have said anything which would have convinced me otherwise when it came to the audacious proposition that I would ever truly accept myself and find peace with God in any way, let alone finding peace as a bisexual who also happens to be a Christian. The only thing that would end up persuading me would be God, when I finally opened up my heart and mind and gave God the opportunity to help me grow, evolve and be truly free.
I forgive that frightened, ignorant and un-evolved version of me, and rather than look back and judge him to be foolish and irresponsibly unwilling to confront his fears, I feel sympathy instead. After all, look at what he was up against: the general attitude and climate today regarding being LGBT and Christian and the two being compatible-even for as far as they have evolved at this time-are still somewhat initially problematic and uncomfortable to anyone faced with the challenge of reconciling the two and cultivating a healthy relationship between spirituality and sexuality. In comparison, the societal attitude 20 years ago regarding such an idea was even less friendly, and there were far fewer resources at the time than exist in the present day; no one could search Google, there were very few religious institutions which were being openly welcoming towards members of the LGBT Community, and there was an even more prevalent sense of fear and animosity towards the LGBT Community in general at the time.
Although in that time frame things have evolved a great deal, and there is a greater sense of connectedness of the LGBT Community in general which has developed and new doors of possibility have opened to a greater sense of acceptance of LGBT individuals in both society and in many communities of Christian faith, we still have a long journey ahead. Consider the mainstream media, to begin with.
It to me is a depressing reality that all too often the adjective “Christian” is not synonymous with “someone who follows the spiritual path taught by Jesus Christ,” but rather associated with “right wing, socially conservative, anti-LGBT, fundamentalist evangelical Biblical literalist or legalist.” In my opinion, a good example of this is musical genres: in nearly every instance I have seen when a band or musician refers to themselves as “Christian”, it seems as if “Christian” always translates out to “fundamentalist evangelical”. While there are definitely a few exceptions to that rule (such as the band Micah’s Rule and a few others), LGBT or LGBT accepting artists generally will not be identified as “Christian” bands or artists. I once tried to start a liberal Christian rock band, and found very few musicians who shared my passion or enthusiasm for the idea, so the project became unsuccessful for the time. I ended up just expressing my own liberal Christian ideas in lyrics while in self-identified “mainstream” rock bands.
Similarly, it is a terrific challenge for anyone to set foot in a book store defined as a “Christian” bookstore and attempt to locate even one volume which encourages full acceptance and affirmation of LGBT individuals. While there are multiple categories espousing the abusive lie of “ex-gay” ideologies, and those painting horrific if however false outlines of the imagine “gay agenda,” I sincerely doubt there is a single bookseller who defines their store or stores as a “Christian” book store which has a section, a shelf, a book or so much as a pamphlet intended to be affirming, accepting or inspiring for those of us who are LGBT Christians.
And then we have the idiot box, and the one type of programming which the majority of everyone does watch: the news. While there are thankfully a few networks which are willing to provide a forum for LGBT Christians and LGBT friendly/accepting churches and clergy, this is not nearly as prevalent as it could or should be. And unfortunately, there is still a multitude of people (at least in some areas of the country I live in) who consider the only real source of “the news” to be one specific “news” channel that also happens to be notoriously and consistently one of the worst offenders of perpetuating the allegation that “Christian” and LGBT are incompatible, and border on perpetuating fear and animosity towards the LGBT Community. I won’t mention any names, but they advertise themselves as being “fair, balanced and unafraid” while somehow simultaneously being constantly adept and proficient at the exact opposite of all three. (Come to think of it, it to me is not too unlike those who begin a conversation bragging of their being a “Christian” and end up behaving in a manner that is judgmental, if not outright hateful of others, their actions mirroring the exact opposite of what they claim to be.)
I could go on with other examples of how a great many (and in my opinion, far too many) have created the immediate subconscious association with the word “Christian” as being incongruent with being LGBT but you get the idea. And the result of all of the above and other examples can lead to the same result: far too many people immediately associate “Christian” with a certain mindset, and dismiss the idea of someone who is LGBT being “Christian” as being either an impossible or laughable suggestion, or something to at the least to be suspicious or skeptical of.
It has been especially challenging at times for me to express my faith to some. Not only do they consider me suspect in that I am unashamedly a bisexual, but they cannot begin to understand that I have also been able to reconcile the fact that for me, bisexuality means that I experience both the attraction to and the need for a committed and honest relationship with both a woman and a man and maintain both relationships. And even if they can look past all of their apprehensions about that, then they take issue with the fact that in my own faith, I respect and acknowledge those on other spiritual paths as being equally loved children of the same God.
Both conservative fundamentalist Christians and atheists alike, both heterosexual and LGBT people I have discussed my beliefs with (including other bisexuals) have been in a state of shock and many times respond with ridicule. I have heard just as many people assert that an LGBT Christian cannot exist as I have another old and tired fear based lie, the one of “bisexuals don’t exist.” (And it is not just bisexuals these days who are hearing this: just recently I heard it stated from a legalistic fundamentalist that their belief was that no one LGBT could exist.)
While I DO agree with the idea that legalistic, fundamentalist and dogma driven Christianity is not compatible with being an LGBT person (I have seen that it is possible, but know for a fact it isn’t very healthy and a guaranteed recipe for low self-esteem and self-destruction), being a Christian (which by my definition is a follower of Christ who seeks to worship God rather than the Bible itself and strives to follow the teachings of Jesus in their life), and being LGBT is extremely compatible.
Believing in and Loving our Creator, and being a Christian in the sense of approaching life using the Path Jesus taught doesn’t require anyone to engage in the futility of attempting to change who God Made us to be, but it does require us to place full trust in God, and being willing to see things in a different perspective. In fact, in my case, as with many others I have talked to, it requires letting a counterfeit faith built on a precariously shaky foundation of fear and the opinions of others crumble completely, and reconstructing it one piece at a time on a new and solid foundation that has a faith unseen in a God of Unconditional Love, with our experience of God being the bricks and the teachings of Christ as indestructible mortar to hold it all together.
It also requires that we place our full trust and faith in God to guide us through the process of reconciling our spirituality and sexuality, a process that for those of us who were indoctrinated into a fear based and legalistic understanding of the Christian faith or forcibly fed dogmatic teachings can be challenging and may take some time. However, it is that very step, often one of the most frightening to those of us who have come to know that we cannot and should not attempt to be anything other than precisely the unique individual God Created us to be and one which we come to the conscious decision to make when we ask, seek and knock for an answer to the pleading and desperation our heart can experience when we know there is no way we can be asked to choose between who we are and God’s Love that is the most worthwhile and conducive to true spiritual growth and fully realizing our potential as a child of God.
As I began to study the Bible with an open heart and mind while going through that part of my spiritual journey from the person I was 20 years ago and who I am now, one of many verses that always jumped out at me was the following from Paul:
“…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God Who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for God’s good pleasure.” -Philippians 2: 12-13
What stood out to me the most in that, other than the fact that it seemed to directly address the apprehensions I felt about the process and facing and letting go of old fears and ideas that accompanied it was that despite how challenging it seemed, despite any adversity from others I might have felt, and regardless of how frightening it might have seemed, was that it carried with it something more. In learning to come to God as I am rather than who others had alleged I had to be, and finding peace with God, I was allowing myself to be open to be a vessel of God’s Love and Work in the world, as I feel we are all called to be regardless of sexuality or sexual orientation. I was letting the things about me which made me different from others become a non-issue and focusing instead on what purpose God Had for me in this life. Once I could move past all of the old rhetoric and dogma and be at peace with myself and with God, I would discover and be able to discern what my place was, and what role I could play in God’s Plan to make this world a better place and the one God Wanted. I could make a positive difference in the lives of others, and be a loving part of God’s Creation, bisexuality, unorthodoxy and all.
How we reconcile our spirituality and sexuality is not as important as the sincere and concerted effort, and it is a different process for each individual. I’ve related many times the steps that I went through to arrive at the place of peace with myself, my sexuality and God many times as I was persistent and patient in finding the correct path to living the full truth of who I am in a way which was hurtful to none, loving and respectful to all others, and helpful to others as much as possible. It was quite a journey filled with feelings of hopelessness and despair offset by moments of deep joy, clarity and awareness requiring all of the faith I had and some I never realized that I had until I experienced it.
But the important factor I want to relate here was the end result: What it came down to was learning to embrace my uniqueness as a gift and a blessing which enabled me to feel a greater sense of gratitude to God and a sense of being closer to God, rather than something which created feelings of unworthiness, self-hatred, inadequacy, false guilt, shame, anxiety, fear and a feeling that who I am and being a Christian were “incompatible.”
I learned to accept that yes, there were many others in society who viewed my sexuality as “unnatural” but that was their opinion, one based in fear. I learned to see it as a gift, one to be used with care and respect and responsibility.
I learned to accept that there would be heterosexuals and homosexuals who dismiss bisexual identity as being “confused,” a “fence-sitter” or “playing on both sides.” I embraced it as a gift which made me more compassionate and understanding of differences, as an opportunity to share clarity and understanding, being a “bridge builder” and encouraging others to know that however we experience attractions or love, there is no correct “side.”
I learned to accept that yes, there were and would always be those who do not accept the fact that I feel the need for intimacy with both woman and a man, and do not understand how I experience being a bisexual. I learned to embrace these aspects of myself and see them for the gifts that they are and even though I have commitments to both a female and a male partner, I cherish them equally as blessings and maintain the same level of honesty, commitment and integrity with both.
I learned that yes, there would be people from the most conservative legalist Christians to adamant atheists and many in between who deemed my radically liberal understandings of theology and my assertion that I too was a Christian as absurd. But I refused to allow those differences to stop me from remaining confident in my faith, and honestly trusting in God to assist me in responding with love, as Christ would, rather than fear and negativity in the face of judgment.
And over time, the prospect of my being able to say that yes, I am a bisexual man who is happy and confident in who I am and grateful for such and yes, I am a Christian who Loves God and does the best I can and my part to assist with God’s Work and Will in the world – two concepts which to others and to myself which once seemed totally incompatible and irreconcilable, are now an indivisible and inseparable part of me, one of many facets of who I am. I have come to know that despite how some others might disagree with my beliefs, my path, or my beliefs that no words they can say can ever cause me to cease being a unique and beloved child of the same God-regardless of how differently we might understand God.
What I really came to learn through the years is that in letting go of the old fears and ideas and judgments and approaching God honestly, it enabled me to feel a greater sense of belonging than long in the past when I was convinced and terrified that in order to be a child of God I had to fit a mold I was not made to fit. It was okay that I “colored outside of the lines,” so to speak, by society’s definition and lived outside of certain fear based standards set by the “mainstream” or a term I find more reprehensible, the “norm”.
To God, there are no lines. It is we as human beings (or spiritual beings having a human experience, if you prefer that analogy) in our apprehensions and times of fear that seem to possess this inherent and limiting need for neat little boxes, black and white absolute answers with no room for variances, and all of the mysteries of life somehow explained and contained un-editable in the pages of one book written thousands of years prior to the knowledge we have been blessed with now. There are some who cling to the Bible as we know it being absolutely one way with no room for interpretation whether that interpretation is hurtful and exclusive to others rather than being in the Spirit of the Loving God Jesus taught about or now. (It’s not too unlike the person who I was 20 years ago was certain that there was no different or better way than I knew. That was it, I knew what I had been taught, and that settled it, whether I liked it or was at peace with it or not.) All one needs to do to receive a demonstration of how far more infinitely diverse and Creative God truly is rather than attempting to limit and contain God is take a look around. And there is more than ample room in Creation for anyone, regardless of sexuality, sexual orientation, gender identity or differences. God is vast and infinite enough where there is room for everyone and an infinite amount remaining.
In trusting in the person God Created me to be, I was able to develop a greater sense of trust in God, and learned what it meant to stop the agonizing process of constantly asking God why things were as they were, and beginning to listen.
I absolutely acknowledge that even for those such as myself who have finally come to a sense of peace with our sexuality and sexual orientation and spirituality, and with all of the blessings the LGBT Community has seem recently towards a greater sense of acceptance that there is still much work to do. I had this point driven home the other day browsing a site full of outrageous quotes from fundamentalist/legalist Christians compiled from online forums which served as a grim reminder:
“Well there is no such thing as a liberal Christian. Period. An impossiblilty.”
I purposely did not correct the grammar and spelling. And I will not even begin to share the vitriol posted there about LGBT individuals. These all came from “Christian” message boards (there’s that term again; I assume that once again, it is to clarify matters when the contents seem to run so contrary to the label).
And I also acknowledge that it can pose a perceived stumbling block to any of us who are LGBT Christians being taken seriously and having our faith seen as genuine. While I, and I am sure a great many of us don’t base the validity of our faith on whether others share it or not, or even if they dismiss it, I cannot for one moment imagine that God would not Want anyone to be deliberately subjected to such negativity. I know that Jesus Knew that this would happen, as He states in Matthew 5:11-12:
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
And those are such powerful words, words which have brought me great peace. Not just when I have faced persecution from non-Christians calling me crazy for believing as I do, but also when I feel persecuted by legalistic Christians for a faith they feel is irreconcilable and offensive. My reward IS great in Heaven, and not some far off place, but within me, in my heart and soul where God resides and is as close as every breath, for I believe that heaven truly is within us. And I also believe that those of us who are persecuted for what it is we believe, especially when we are challenging old and unloving religious ideas, are in good company.
Although the above verse can be very encouraging and inspiring should others dismiss us as being incompatible with being a Christian or doing God’s Will in the world due to our being LGBT or different from what their definition of “Christian” is, there are still numerous occasions-be it in conversation on or offline or just about anywhere – when the rancor directed at us by some can be a bit overwhelming. There is to me a somewhat disturbing prevalence of late of those who claim that their Christian faith is “under attack” and are threatened by the concept that our understanding of God has evolved past the fearful one they are living in to be more loving, more accepting, more inclusive and more understanding. While I am not the type to indulge in “Scripture Wars” and I don’t want to engage in a great deal of debate with someone who is more focused on being “right” than being a decent person, I have over time found a few coping skills I refer to should someone desire to accuse me of “unworthy or undeserving” of calling myself a follower of Christ or a child of God.
If the scathing posts of accusation and indictment hurled at the LGBT Community by some conservative evangelicals are any indication, it seems as if the vast majority of their justifications as to why LGBT individuals are incongruent with Christianity directly relate to their seeming obsession with what goes on in our private sexual lives. This appears to be a morbid fascination they have, reminding me of how when there is an accident on the freeway, there is an equal amount of traffic on the opposite side of the accident slowing down to “look.” They say it is so offensive, so immoral, yet they seem to constantly revel in it. Just one glance at Fred Phelps site or many of the “Christian” organizations who seem to go into copious, shocking detail about sexual practices is an indication of the level of interest in both things people do in their private lives and some that even the most open minded would have a difficult time imagining. (I cannot help to be reminded of the instance years ago when someone as a prank played a pornographic film on a conservative Christian cable channel and the complaints of those being appalled came only when it was over.) In extreme instances, I have heard some justify cold blooded murder while condemning acts of love and mutual sharing between same gender partners.
It to me all goes back to the belief that repression is to blame for a great deal of this attitude, but I digress. But regardless of the cause, I can state with confidence, if the fuss that some make which creates this need to persecute the LGBT Community is all related to how we express intimacy in our private lives, this should never create the illusion that we are somehow “unworthy” of calling ourselves Godly or in God’s Will. And I think it is a poor excuse for justifying condemnation. Why do I believe this?
Because to me, whatever consenting adults do in private is a non-issue to God, regardless of the orientation of those involved. Jesus had nothing negative to say at all about private intimate lives of LGBT individuals in the Bible which those who hurl condemnation at the LGBT Community reference as literal and infallible so often. While anyone can interpret the Bible in an attempt to create that illusion, I am always reminded of what Jesus said about the religious legalists of His time in physical form, the Pharisees:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law; justice, and mercy, and faith” – Matthew 23:23
This was one of many tirades He spoke against them for putting Law over Love and causing others to feel separate from God. This, along with His Teachings of Love, forgiveness, kindness, compassion and showing our Love for God by Loving One Another were the primary emphasis of what He Taught. My suspicion is that He Thought that there were far more important issues in life which we needed to focus on, and imperatives far more critical than how we expressed intimacy privately, to place emphasis on.
As unfortunate as it is, there seems to always be legalist Christians who cannot seem to disassociate being LGBT from this fascination and interest they have in private things which should only be in between individuals who care for one another and God. But remember when others level accusations that your sexuality makes you somehow an affront to God that this is their fear, their belief, their opinion. Who you love and how you love is a non-issue and should never serve as a barrier between your realization and awareness of God’s Unconditional Love, Plan and Purpose and Place for you.
Consider also that in affirming and accepting ourselves as valued and blessed LGBT children of God that it can also be a gift in that it can open our hearts to be even more compassionate and accepting. As an unorthodox believer and a bisexual, I know that having endured judgment from others and wholly embracing the teaching of Christ to “judge not lest ye be judged” that it has enabled me to be more open and accepting to others I might not have been as accepting of 20 years ago before I found peace with myself and with God. Instead of seeing ourselves as “unworthy” of God’s Love, why not as an alternative consider that God Created us as we are and enabled us to find peace in that so we might not only reach out to others like us in need of acceptance, support and affirmation but to any others, LGBT or not, who feel alienated, alone, afraid or disenfranchised?
Another thought to consider is in being at peace with ourselves as LGBT Christians and at peace with God, it offers us the unique gift of empowerment to bring forth that peace and offer it to others who seek it; it enables us to bring more peace to the LGBT Community overall. Those of us who are LGBT Christians (at least, I know for myself and many others I know) constantly encounter those who are dealing with a sense of brokenness with family or friends, or even themselves, and much of it stems back to issues concerning God or religion. Who is better equipped or intended and capable of helping another to find peace than those of us who have truly experienced and know God’s Unconditional Love and Acceptance firsthand?
And it is not just the LGBT Community who I feel that we as LGBT individuals secure in our faith (or even in the process of growing secure in our faith and reconstructing it upon a healthier and more stable foundation) can allow God to Reach out through to others and Work through: it is everyone.
And it matters not one iota if they scoff at what we say, or our courageous proclamation which they might deem as an outrageous proposition that we are beloved and blessed children of God and Godly people. Don’t tell it, show it For it is through our actions, not what we profess to believe vocally. Our actions are the most definitive expression of our true faith, one which speaks louder than words. Sexual orientation or sexuality – regardless of how anyone judges it – in no way prevents us from practicing the Great Commandment of Christ to Love God with all our heart, soul and mind and Love our Neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22: 37-38). Whatever issues we might allow to divide us or that we conflict with others about in no way render us incapable of “doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with our God” (if you subscribe to that interpretation of what God “requires” in Micah 6:8). In putting aside fear and letting our individual lights shine with hope, faith and love, we can encourage and inspire others with our own sense of joy and peace, and whatever our sexuality is will be what it should be, a non-issue. I know that time can and will arrive.
I think back to a moment about visiting myself 20 years ago and what I would say to me at that time. And I think that instead of shaking my head, I would smile instead and tell him he has a long, wild journey ahead with something new at every turn. Some low lows and some wonderful high points, and he was headed for a better place.
And then I think about what someone 20 years from now might report back to now. Has society finally broken free of the last somewhat “sanctioned” prejudice – that against the LGBT Community? Has the new Pope issued a proclamation that all couples deserve the right to marry regardless of gender? Is the term “LGBT Christian” replaced by just “Christian” where no one is excluded based on orientation? Have the mainstream media and church made sexual orientation a “non-issue”? What is the social climate now? Is there a greater acceptance of bisexuals and transgendered individuals?
I think the answer is determined by what it is we do now. We can play our part as people of God in making the future we long for, and the one I feel God Wants, a reality. And I think it can only be accomplished one step at a time.
While society may temporarily have a limited idea of what it is to be a “Christian” and a narrow definition, those of us who are LGBT Christians or any radically thinking and progressive Christians can play our part in shining light upon the idea that each and every one of us is a “person of God” and a child of God. A “person of God” to me is not one who is attempting to become God, by imposing and projecting our own beliefs upon others. A person of God, to me, is one who acknowledges that God is, and whose actions embody the Loving God I know that I discovered in the Teachings of Jesus, and to me a “Christian,” a real follower of Christ – will never have to tell me that they are – it will show through in their actions. They can say whatever they want about beliefs; we can always show our love for God in how we treat them.
Wherever you are in your spiritual journey, never, ever allow anyone to accuse you of being “unacceptable” to God. If you have not already, place your full trust in God, as frightening a thought as that might initially be, by trusting in the unique person God Made you to be. Realize that your sexual orientation and who and how you love, and your sexuality used honestly, loving and responsibly is a gift which is fully compatible with your spirituality and take the steps towards reconciling the two and know it is possible with faith. Ask, seek and knock for guidance on how to live the full and unedited sincere truth of the person who God Made you to be and best share your gifts with others and play your part in God’s Creation.
Most of all, trust God to lead you (and often times carry you, as it states in that Footsteps poem) along the process of your spiritual journey all along the path. Even if it seems like an impossible task now, I can state from experience that even though you could be under the false illusion that being both authentically who you are and an Unconditionally Loved, Accepted and Blessed child of God with a place and purpose in God’s Plan are at this time irreconcilable, it is merely an illusion. There is no need to choose between being one of “God’s People” or following Christ and being true to who you are. There is but one choice you need to make: the one to choose to know, accept and rejoice in the fact that you, just as you are, and God are, and always have been, indivisible.
John Campbell is a native of Alabama.