1 Peter 3: 13-15:
“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is right? But even if you do suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is within you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”
Fear and trouble. Those are probably the most common reactions when our beliefs as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians are attacked. We’re afraid that our attacker will do us harm. We may not fear physical harm in most situations, but mental harm. The attack may leave us mentally troubled. “Is my attacker right? Does God reject and hate me because of my sexual orientation or gender identity?” You may know, deep in your heart, that you are loved by God, but an attack on your faith can leave you feeling helpless, fearful and troubled.
1 Peter holds hope. Who can harm you when you are zealous for what is right? Being a GLBT Christian is right! Be zealous for it! Indeed that zealousness will attract attackers and cause you to suffer for righteousness sake, but we’re assured of blessings! Have no fear, don’t be troubled, continue your reverence for Christ as Lord, despite anything your opponent may say or do.
Let’s look closely at what it is we are called to defend. We are called to defend “the hope that is within” us. We are not called to defend the church, we are not called to defend any theology, we are not called to defend the Bible, we are not called to defend God, we are not called to defend any “truth” outside of ourselves.
Our hope is within us. What is that hope? Paul tells us in Romans 5:2 our hope is “sharing the glory of God.” What is the source of that hope? Jesus Christ. The savior who says “whosoever believes,” the savior who puts no conditions on his love and acceptance. This is the hope that is within us, and this must be what we defend. But how best to make our defense?
First, let’s look at the purpose of spiritual self defense. In making our defense we are NOT looking to convert or change the mind of the attacker. The purpose is not to enter arguments of “proof texting” or attempting to see our beliefs prevail. Instead, our purpose is to defend our own sense of spirituality, our assurance of salvation through Jesus Christ. Our defense must leave us spiritually intact after the encounter. We must also walk away from the confrontation knowing we conducted ourselves in a Christian manner. That’s why it’s important to respond “with gentleness and reverence.”
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King called this method of spiritual self defense “having a tough mind and a tender heart.” A tough mind is “characterized by incisive thinking, realistic appraisal, and decisive judgment. The tough mind is sharp and penetrating, breaking through the crust of legends and myths and sifting the true from the false.” This is how we must approach every situation when it comes to defending the hope within us. We must break through the legends and myths of fundamentalism, sift the true from the false, and boldly make the claim that we too are sons and daughters of the living God. This is imperative for GLBT people. It is something we cannot neglect to do, for our very spiritual lives depend on cultivating a tough mind because “there is little hope for us until we become tough-minded enough to break loose the shackles of prejudice, half-truths, and downright ignorance.”
However, we must not neglect to also cultivate a tender heart. To be tender hearted, we must truly love. We should never seek to use others for our own gain, we must cultivate the beauty of friendships, especially with those different from ourselves. We should not be self-centered and selfish with our time. We should practice genuine compassion and help ease the pains and afflictions of our Christian brothers and sisters, whether we agree with their dogma or not. We should strive always to see people as people, not enemies.
This is what our tender heart must strive to do, love all, and in doing so, eliminate all enemies.
DEFENDING OUR HOPE
The rules of spiritual self defense are similar to the rules of physical self defense. By studying them, we can see ways to apply them to our spiritual defense. Physical self defense entails:
- Knowing one is worth defending
- Developing the determination and confidence necessary to project capability and assertiveness
- Learning how to assess and handle dangerous situations
- Understanding natural defenses and training to use them
Let’s look at each point individually, and see how it applies to spiritual self defense.
Knowing one is worth defending.
This is a simple [yet challenging] principle of loving oneself. You must know, at your core level, that you, as a GLBT Christian, are worth defending. You must grow your self-esteem, realizing that you are a valued child of God.
This point is most important because you cannot proceed in self defense without mastering it. Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves, but if we do not love and value ourselves, how can we love and value our neighbor? We are also told to love our enemy. Again, if we have no love for ourselves, loving our enemy will be impossible. The only way to successfully defend yourself spiritually is to love yourself. Work on loving yourself, forgiving yourself for past problems, and moving on confidently.
Jesus assures us of our value in Matthew 10:30. He tells us “even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” He tells us later in John that he comes so we may have life and have it abundantly. You are a child of God, and worth defending.
Developing the determination and confidence necessary to project capability and assertiveness.
This is where we can express our zealousness for what is right. It is right and good to swing wide the gates of heaven for everyone, the GLBT Christian, as well as the legalistic Christian who tries to shut the gate on us!
We must be assertive, zealous, in our defense. We must exude confidence. We must make it known that God works in our lives everyday! Anything else shows a weakness in faith, and we become an easy mark.
The best way to project capability and assertiveness is by keeping calm in the face of adversity. We must do this by mastering our anger. Assaults on our spirituality are certain to make us mad. Our attacker has no right to question our sincerity or our motives. When they do, they make us mad.
Responding in anger only reveals the doubt within yourself. Remind yourself that getting angry is not going to fix anything, that it won’t make you feel better (and may actually make you feel worse). Every time I responded with anger to an attack upon my faith I felt rotten. I came away questioning! I wondered if my attacker was right! When I could calmly assess the situation, I came to realize that God loved me no matter what, but that I could not continue to react in anger! I must give a gentle and reverent response whenever my faith is attacked.
Take the time now, before an attack, to learn what makes you angry. Understand why certain things press buttons within you. Deal with those inner issues. Learn to deal with your own internalized homophobia and anger. But remember, the fastest way to show the weakness of your conviction is to become angry with your attacker, no matter how justified your anger may be!
Learning to manage your anger can be a lifelong endeavor. I’m still working on it. Sometimes I slip and let loose when I shouldn’t. I’m immediately sorry, but I have to continue to work at it, every single day!
Let me give you an example of a typical letter that makes me very angry. Jamey writes:
“What benefit is there in saying homosexuality is not a sin when it is well known by everyone who truly has fellowship with God that it is a sin? Is God a liar? I wonder, how can you have the spirit of God living in you? The holy spirit convicts us of sin and if you are not convicted then how can you be a child of God? I have never in my life heard a true disciple of God say that homosexuality is not a sin. You must care for yourself more than you do for the will of God. I live in the fear of God and I ask that God convicts me of sin and he does so. I know that neither I nor anyone can follow God unless they are willing to surrender their own lives in this world. If somehow you were deceived in you own mind, why don’t you let the Bible speak for itself? But then again you love to twist the Bible so as to fit your own disgusting lifestyle.”
Whew! That’s a heck of an attack. Just reading it now makes my heart beat faster! This is what we are up against. Jamey uses the usual phrases and buzz words that set me off! He implies that “true” Christians know homosexuality is wrong. Since I believe that homosexuality is not a sin, I therefore am not a “true” Christian. Obviously the spirit of God is not within me, since I don’t agree with his interpretation of scripture! Since I don’t agree, I must care for myself more than I do the will of God! [Since Jamey knows God’s will for my life better than I do!] I obviously haven’t surrendered my will to God since I twist the Bible so I can continue my “disgusting lifestyle.” The nerve of this guy! Where does he get off speaking to me like this? How best to respond? With gentleness and reverence, of course.
What Jamey asks for is justification. He wants me to write him back and justify that the spirit of God lives within even me, a lesbian Christian. Guess what? I don’t have to. Jesus told the Pharisees in Luke 16:15: “you are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts.” God knows my heart, God’s spirit lives in my heart. There is no need to justify myself to Jamey, or any other human being. God is my defense. His blessings in my life are evidence of God’s grace and justification of me, a lesbian Christian.
Jamey, and anyone else, is welcome to disbelieve that the spirit of God lives in me. It makes no difference to the reality that I too am a child of God. It won’t be Jamey standing at the Pearly Gates with outstretched arms. It will be Jesus. The savior assures us, “whosoever believeth in me shall not perish, but receive life everlasting.” That includes me as certainly as it does Jamey.
Learning how to assess and handle dangerous situations.
In physical self defense, this warning is usually meant to keep you from putting yourself in harm’s way. By learning to recognize dangerous situations, you can learn to avoid them. This certainly can come in handy in a spiritual self defense view. No one is encouraging you to look for fights, or to start unnecessary arguments. It’s always wise to try to pick your battles, if at all possible.
Often, however, we cannot avoid the dangerous situation. It can sneak up on us when we least expect it. That’s why we must learn beforehand how to assess and handle them when they do appear.
It’s necessary at this stage to learn how to handle fear. When a challenge arises we are fearful for the hope that is within us. We are afraid we will lose that hope or that our attacker will have the power to take it from us!
By allowing the actions and words of others [including the church] to harm our spirits, we commit spiritual suicide. It is not the attacker that ultimately harms us, but ourselves! How much more important is spiritual self-defense now? Not only must we defend against outside attack, but we must prevent that attack from convincing us to commit spiritual suicide!
Build a fortress around your hope, and defend it strenuously against fear. God is the fortress around our hope as Psalms 27:1-3 points out: “The Lord is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me, uttering slanders against me, my adversaries and foes, they shall stumble and fall. Though a host encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.”
Our source of hope is also our source of confidence. Jesus assures us, in Luke 21:12-15, that if we trust in him, we will rise above our fear:
“… they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be a time for you bear testimony. Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; for I will give you a mouth and a wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.”
Trust God to give you the words, the defense, when the attack comes. Remain calm and centered, always trusting that when you are persecuted for your faith, God will give you the wisdom to respond in a way that your attackers cannot withstand or contradict.
We must also remember that our attacker is working out of fear as well. Something about a gay Christian has challenged their beliefs. They make a bold and confident attack, but you can be certain, they are afraid. They are fearful that what they’ve been taught to believe about homosexuals may be proven erroneous! Out of their fear they attack, hoping by tearing us down, they will feel better about their own beliefs.
Understanding natural defenses and training to use them effectively.
In the end it is love that leads to successful spiritual self defense. For “perfect love casts out fear,” [1 John 4:18]. Out of faith, hope and love, the greatest of these is love. It is ultimately love that soothes our anger, it is ultimately love that casts out fear, it is ultimately love that defends our hope. Learn to love and you will have mastered the art of spiritual self defense.
But what is love and how can we train to use it effectively?
Let us begin by looking at the word love. What kind of love are we talking about? Is it the warm fuzzies you feel for your dog? Is it the erotic love you feel for your lover? Is it the love of companionship you feel for your closest friend? No, it is none of these. Love of neighbor is an attitude, purely under control of the will. We are commanded to love in this way. This is a love of compassion, a love of benevolence, a love of good will. We are called to love, even if we don’t like.
Paul defines this agape love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:
“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
Christian love takes no joy in condemning others to hell. In our Christian love we do not demand our own way, we do not demand that everyone believe as we do. In our Christian love we do not boast that we have the only way to God, we are not arrogant enough to think our beliefs are right and all others are wrong. Christian love is not irritable or resentful. We do not resent those who do not believe as we do. We do not become irritable with their opinions. No, in Christian love, we bear all things, we hope all things, we endure all things, because love is eternal!
How on earth can we do all this? We certainly cannot do it by ourselves. God is the only one who can help us to love in this way. Left to our own emotions and motives, we could never love anyone like this, not even ourselves! We must seek God’s strength on a daily, maybe even hourly basis, to love others in this fashion! It is hard for me to love Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson in this way, when I know they would eliminate all homosexuals and transgender persons if they could! But I am commanded to love them! With God’s help I can develop an attitude of love toward people like this. We must maintain an attitude of love, even if we don’t feel any love.
However, feelings are an integral part of our love of neighbor. Empathy, sorrow and anger, can be feelings prompted from love. I feel all of these when I think of religious right leaders. I empathize with their mission of bringing God to people, I sorrow when they miss the point of unconditional love, and I get angry when they try to marginalize me and shut the gates of heaven on me because I’m a lesbian. But my feelings all spring from the love I have for their ultimate well-being. That is why the other feelings are so real, because these actions deeply injure my sense of love!
Consider the example of Jesus. He did some very radical things. He upset tables of moneychangers in the temple, he blasted the scribes and the Pharisees of the day, he rebuked, he disapproved — he did it all out of love. He was [and still is] trying to shake humanity out of its unloving, selfish state. Sometimes, he had to use extreme measures, and extreme words [take for example the passage where Jesus states “if you think about murder, you’ve already done it”]. These radical statements and actions are designed to shake us from our complacency so we can listen to Jesus’ message, his two greatest commandments! Love God with all your heart mind and soul, and neighbor as self!
Once we shake that complacency we can look to Gandhi to take us one step further on the road to genuine Christian love. He not only encourages us to love our enemy, but to honestly try to understand him, and engage him in dialogue. Both Gandhi and King emphasize the ultimate goal is not to “defeat” our oppressor, but to make him our ally and friend. Jesus would agree. In Matthew 5:25 he tells us to “make friends quickly with your accuser.” Gandhi’s Soul Force principles offers us a way to do that. They may be hard to take at first, but we must strive to learn and implement them as GLBT Christains.
“I believe that my opponent, too, is a child of God and that we are members of one human family. I believe that my opponent is not my enemy, but a victim of misinformation as I have been. I believe that my opponent’s motives are as pure as mine and of no relevance to our discussion. I believe that even my worst opponent has an amazing potential for positive change. I believe that my opponent may have an insight into truth that I do not have. I believe that one day my opponent and I will understand each other and that if we conduct our mutual search for truth guided by the principles of love, we will find a new position that will satisfy us both.”
These principles do require that your opponent is willing to have a serious dialogue with you. Often, like Jamey, they are not. They want to prove they are right and you are wrong. They will try every trick in the book. They’ll call you names, they’ll condemn you to hell, they will disbelieve your sincerity. The only thing you can do in this situation is respond in love. Do not argue, do not return reviling for reviling. Respond in love, remove yourself from the situation and go on. Leave the rest to God. Your duty is to love them, not to change them. You may not agree with them, you may be frustrated by them, but never hate them. Only love them. Your response in love will have a greater impact than you can imagine!
By responding in love in every situation you are fulfilling the call of both Jesus and Gandhi to love your neighbor. Loving your neighbor means loving the person you see. You must love the person that is before you, whether it is Jerry Falwell, or a family member who cannot yet accept you as a gay Christian. You must love them as they are, not as you wish them to be.
For example, I received a letter from Anthony Falzarano, famous ex-gay and leader of an ex-gay ministry. One of the lines of his letter was this:
“whether you believe it or not… we do love you or we wouldn’t spend the time debating this.”
This is why Anthony’s use of the word “love” makes my skin crawl. He does not love me as I am, he loves me for what he believes I can be — ex-gay. That makes his love loathsome to me, because he cannot love me where I am, he only loves me where he wants me to be.
That is not the love of Christ, that’s the love of Anthony.
We must love people as we see them. This is how we must love our attackers. We cannot love them with our love, we must love them with God’s love! If we only show them our love, it will be loathsome to them, they will find it offensive. But if we truly show the love of God, they cannot help but see God in our lives! I would like the legalistic Christian to be less judgmental, less dogmatic, and less spiteful to GLBT people, but they are not. My duty at that point is to love them as they are — legalistic Christians! It is not my job to change them, or shape their beliefs to what I would have them be. No, it is my job to love them. God will handle everything else.
By responding in love, we have sufficiently defended the hope that is within us. We have taken careful measures to handle our anger and our fear. We have taken time to cultivate a mind of love, and created a tranquillity in God that no attack can disturb. We have developed a tough mind and a tender heart. We know that nothing can separate us from the love of God, and are assured that in all things we are more than conquerors, for as St. Paul so eloquently writes in Romans 8:38-39: “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Those words are meant for every Christian, gay, lesbian, bisexual, trangendered, straight, or asexual. When attacks come, when someone seeks to do you spiritual harm, always remember, nothing, not their opinion, not their disapproval, not their words, not their venom, will separate you from God! You are God’s child, you are always connected, no matter what. Rejoice in the knowledge, my GLBT brothers and sisters, that ultimately nothing stands between you and God! That is a hope worth defending
Whosoever founder and Editor Emeritus Rev. Candace Chellew earned her Masters of Theological studies at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., was ordained in December 2003 and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. Her first book, “Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians,” was published by Jossey-Bass in 2008. She currently serves as the Spiritual Director of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C.