Until just a few years ago I didn’t know there could be such a thing as a gay Christian. I am now a reformed heterosexist, formerly guilty of homophobic, wrong-headed thinking. I didn’t know about GLBT Christians until I came across magazines such as “Whosoever.” It takes people like Candace Chellew being “out there” to show others that gay Christians do exist. Since that time I have exhaustively read and studied Scripture, looking for the truth. The truth is that The Lord loves GLBT people and does not condemn them for loving people of the same sex. I was raised in a strict fundamentalist home, but I recovered. In my way of thinking, if a person like me can be educated, then there is hope for other misinformed people who must struggle through a life-time of dishonest propaganda.
The GLBT Christian coming out of the closet is likely to meet with opposition. This opposition can be divided into two categories, or common obstacles. Obstacle number one is the religious political extremists, e.g. The Christian Coalition. It is sad, indeed, that children of God would attack other believers. Keep in mind that hate is a big money business. There might not be any hope for these people. But, their hope is that we will remain silent. Therefore, the best thing we can do is bring the truth to their potential victims. If we do not counter their attacks, if we do not reclaim the name of “Christian,” the general public will not know any difference.
Just as sad is obstacle number two, which is people within the GLBT community itself who wants nothing to do with organized religion. I do not condemn them. Theirs is a completely natural reaction. When many people hear the word, “Christian,” an ugly image pops up in their head; an image that looks a lot like the big-haired televangelist men and women railing about “The Homosexual Agenda.” In this country, just about every horror story GLBT folks tell involves atrocities committed against them by Christians. Given these two enormous obstacles, why would any GLBT person want to be a Christian?
One answer is that many GLBT people are already Christians. You were raised a Christian, gave your heart to the Lord, and you remain a Christian, in spite of all the obstacles. You are saved by God’s grace, not by the erroneous opinions of the Religious Right. As the apostle John said, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12 NIV)
Because we are Christians, we are commanded to “…Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15, 16 NIV) As Christians we are all ministers. And as such we have an obligation to model Jesus in everything we say and do. As painful as it may be, we have an obligation to be out of the closet as Christians.
How do we re-claim the title, “Christian?” In my upstairs office at home, on the wall above my desk, is a quote by the author Larry King (not the radio guy, the other one) that says, “The Best Way To Work Your Way Through The Bad Times Is To Work Your Way Through The Bad Times.” The corollary would be, “The best way to re-claim the title of ‘Christian’ is to reclaim the title of ‘Christian.'” That is the short answer. The long answer involves these seven steps.
Step #1: Visibility.
If you have a church building, advertise it. Remember that this may expose you to gay-bashing vandals, but if your goal is to reclaim the name “Christian” you must step out in faith, regardless of the negative consequences. But remember that the church is not a building, it is the people. In the New Testament we are told in several Scriptures (1Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15, and Philemon 1:2) “Greet also the church that meets at their house.” (Romans 16:5 NIV) It is entirely possible to form your church group in someone’s home. But, if you have a building for your church be sure that it is advertised as such.
Another method to be visible is to wear an emblem identifying yourself as a Christian. I often use a little cross pin to anchor my AIDS awareness ribbon to my lapel. Many GLBT folks will wear rainbow pins, Lambda or pink triangle pins, but have never worn a cross pin. I’d like to see an aggregate pin which combines the cross and the rainbow, such as is on my website.
Step #2: Volume.
Here we’re talking about the level of sound you make in order to be heard, particularly if your church building were to be vandalized. If you choose to form a church of GLBT folks, be prepared for obstacles. If a zoning board says you can’t build a church in a certain area, but you know the opposition is solely based on the fact that you are a church of GLBT folks, turn up the volume! Be vocal. Contact the news media.
Step #3: Persistence.
In the face of obstacles, keep on keeping on. Fight the good fight. Remember that you are a Christian no matter what your adversaries claim. It is difficult for the church body (that means you and your brothers and sisters in Christ) to meet persecution. But, it is easier for the church body, united, to endure persecution than it is for you as an individual to face problems. Nothing succeeds like persistence.
Step #4: Publicity.
First, speak up for yourself as an individual. Share your faith with others. You can do this in a non-confrontive, friendly way. At work for instance when others are talking about what happened at their church last night, share what happened to you at your GLBT church. If there is an antigay article in your hometown newspaper which deserves a response, speak out as a Christian. Use the title of ‘Christian.’ Be bold in your faith. Christ died so that you might claim His promise of “Whosoever…” When you write your letter, be sure to identify yourself as a GLBT Christian who loves Jesus. Your local GLBT church body may choose to use methods popularized by the door-to-door missionaries who are already “out there” in their own way. Do not use this method unless you are traveling in a group. It doesn’t take much imagination to see the dangers inherent there. A better approach might be to determine who the religion editor of your local newspaper is, and send church announcements to her for publication. Study old copies of your paper to see how other churches prepare articles and announcements. Advertise in advance of fund-raisers (car-washes, bake-sales, etc.) and other church functions.
Step #5: Organization.
Give serious thought to becoming pro-active instead of just re-active. Set yourself a game plan for action. Do your homework by studying the accomplishments of those who have gone this way before you and your church. What do the UFMCC churches do to remain in the business of winning more souls for Jesus Christ? There is also an abundance of information provided by the NGLTF, PFLAG, GLAAD, etc. on how to organize a local GLBT group. Adapt some of their great ideas to your needs as a church body.
Step #6: Image.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…” (Galatians 5:22, 23 NIV Bible) What image do you want to produce? Do you prefer the image of a shrill, hostile, Christian? Or do you prefer to be more Christ-like? Make a choice. Stick with your choice. Perhaps you have watched a day-time talk-show at a time when the guests were a mixture of homophobes and GLBT people. Who looked the most intelligent? Who looked the most stupid? How do you want to look to the world? Remember that there should be something attractive about us as Christians. When people look at us, they should get a glimpse of Christ. There should be evidence of “the fruit of the Spirit” in anyone who claims to be a Christian.
Step #7: Prayer.
This is, perhaps, the most important step. Paul said, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18 NIV) To me this means to be in a constant attitude of prayer. Walk with Christ. If we maintain a constant attitude of prayer we are walking with Him. In such a state, we will also be modeling Him. If a person is aware of Christ being by her side right at the moment she is attacked for being out as a GLBT Christian, she will have help. Scripture tells us, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though the waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah” (Psalm 46:1-3 NIV) To be awake and aware of God’s promises at the exact time we need them is a blessed comfort. The best way to achieve this state is to walk with Christ in a constant attitude of prayer. Pray for a tender heart. When we put ourselves “out there” in a position where we will suffer the ugly words hurled at us by the Radical Right, we learn to develop a thick skin. But, when this happens, we risk developing a callused heart. Pray for the Spirit to help you to remain Christ-like and “teachable.” Pray that you never become so thick-skinned that you are no longer sensitive to the workings of the Spirit.
Jim Bilbrey has been married to his wife Cindy since 1972.