“Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and that thou bidst me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.” “Just as I am, and waiting not to rid my soul of one dark blot, to thee whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.” “Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt, fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.” “Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind; sight, riches, healing of the mind, yea, all I need in thee to find, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.” “Just as I am, thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; because thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.” “Just as I am, thy love unknown hath broken every barrier down; now, to be thine, yea thine alone, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.” – Charlotte Elliott, 1835
Regardless of whether you identify as a Christian or not, what that means to you individually, what church you attend, what churches you have attended in the past, or possibly even if you have never set foot in a church, then you more than likely have likely heard the above hymn. I know that legendary evangelist Billy Graham, whom my parents used to watch on television when I was much younger, utilized it as the music during his “altar calls”, wherein after a sermon, there would be an invitation to come and accept Christ, and many individuals would reach a decision to do so and come to the altar as it was played.
Back when Mom and Dad would watch the Billy Graham Crusades, I was still in the state of mind where I would automatically associate anything to do with God or Christianity with fundamentalism or legalism, which I was certain I wanted no part of. This is when I was in my teens, and the fact that my parents embraced Billy Graham with such enthusiasm was compounded by a fundamentalist relative who would always send me newspaper clippings from her local paper called “My Answer” (now appearing on his website these days), where it appeared to me at the time that Dr. Graham would deem most things a sin and who was fervent that I heed all of the advice in the said column.
During my parents brief exploration of evangelical fundamentalist Christianity (having the unfortunate timing of occurring during my teenage years when I was first discovering my sexuality and becoming aware that I was not like other boys in the fact that I was realizing that I was attracted to both girls and boys and that I was becoming aware that I was in fact bisexual-a secret I dared not utter to anyone, let alone my parents) they seemed to gravitate more towards Billy Graham than the 700 Club and others among the more extreme evangelism efforts, at least at first. I know they were big fans of Dr. Charles Stanley and Robert Schuller’s “Hour Of Power”, both of which I felt were less extreme in view but which I still deem as being not very inclusive and being turned off by back then as well.
Eventually, attending a fundamentalist church who informed them that “voting Democratic was voting for the devil”, not caring for some of the comments uttered by Robertson and Falwell, and arriving at the realization that it was making me very distant and alienated although they were unaware at the time of the precise reasons why, Mom and Dad were turned off by extreme fundamentalism as well. Mom went on to come to the realization that her initial belief that God Loves us all as we are and only asks that we practice the Golden Rule was in fact, correct to begin with and to this day, continues to be unconditionally loving, supportive, and accepting of me as a liberal Christian and an out bisexual man in an honest relationship with both a woman and a man. Her sincere belief is that no one should judge anyone, and if whatever someone does is not hurting anyone, God doesn’t judge them either. Her faith is a true blessing-it is a wonderfully simple, uncomplicated and sincere faith from the heart that I continue to learn from every day.
Dad held fast to certain aspects of more conservative Christianity (anti LGBT, anti feminism, anti any other faith being legitimate and valid) but eschewed the concept of absolute Biblical literalism as “ludicrous”. (I vividly recall one conversation where he was discussing the insistence on some that the story of Adam and Eve was literally true, and his frustrated comment of, “I’m supposed to believe in a talking snake – seriously, now.”) He’s presently in a state of seeking, I believe, at the moment. Aside from the common ground he and I share in the concept that the Bible should be taken seriously but not literally, we don’t discuss spiritual matters too much. We fought a great deal over it in the past, as although he let go of certain aspects of fundamentalism, he is still rather anti LGBT in his viewpoints.
My father still firmly considers Billy Graham to be more moderate than many evangelicals and in the state of spiritual maturity I find myself in today I would definitely tend to agree. I did some research on his current stance on the place LGBT individuals hold in the Kingdom of God, and to his credit, Dr. Graham seems to have grown and evolved in his perspective, as evidenced from a piece I read in 365Gay.com dated 2005:
“Cautious even in his more active years, Graham now seeks to shun all public controversies preferring a simple message of love and unity through Jesus Christ. Asked about gay marriage, for instance, Graham replied that ‘I don’t give advice. I’m going to stay off these hot-button issues. I don’t throw rocks at anybody,” he said. “That’s not my message. My message is the Gospel of Christ.'”
Upon a search for his views on LGBT issues, I discovered more than a few instances where he refuses to engage in judgment against the LGBT Community, a perspective which seems to have evolved over the years. Several hardcore legalistic Christian sites and blogs in their penchant for the extreme have labeled him heretical and the antichrist for refusing to cast judgment, and this seems to have cost him the inclusion among the most radically conservative and harshly legalistic Christian circles-I discovered several sites dedicated to discrediting him for preaching tolerance. Even more to his credit, he seems to have stood firm in his decision not to outright condemn LGBT individuals.
Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for his son Franklin, who I recall using September 11th in the same vein which Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell did, capitalizing on the vulnerability many felt in the aftermath of one of the greatest tragedies I have ever witnessed in my lifetime tragedy as an opportunity to engage in fear based evangelism, essentially stating on the Fox News Channel (which some houseguests were watching the day of the event) that 9/11 was a “wake up call” for people to reevaluate their prospects for eternal salvation. On other occasions, he referred to Islam as “offensive” and “evil” and has been condemning of other faiths: regarding this matter, Billy said to Larry King on CNN, “He has his views and I have mine.”
Also unfortunately, upon doing some further online research, it seems that the Billy Graham Ministries still maintain the belief that being LGBT is a sin in need of being “cured”, and firmly believes that marriage is only between a man and a woman – which to me is not being truly inclusive or accepting. In my honest opinion, to say to someone they are included and accepted but somehow having an inherent imperative that they are a sinner in need of change or repentance – while it is absolutely not being “condemning”, I would classify that more under a stance of tolerance. And the concept of “tolerance” of LGBT individuals, or any form of difference, especially when accompanied by the expectation of change, conformity, or “recovery” and transformation to any absolute, church, doctrine, dogma, or socially defined standard of behavior absolutely does not qualify as being a sense of truly inclusive or unconditional Love. Full acceptance of another as they are, regardless of whether or not we possess full comprehension or understanding of those differences, does.
But I have to admit, I wholeheartedly commend Dr. Graham Sr. for not joining the bandwagon of blatant LGBT bashing which tragically many evangelists with a following have elected to engage in. While I might not agree with all of his perspectives on the Christian faith, I have far more respect for evangelicals such as he than others I have encountered. Mom, now quite comfortable in embracing a more liberal interpretation of Christianity than the one she had explored in years past still has a lot of respect for him as well. She loves the hymns and the fact that people have found hope through Billy Graham’s ministry, although she disagrees as I do with anyone being excluded or required to adopt a specific set of doctrines to discover the joy of knowing God and experience full inclusion in God’s Kingdom.
However, this is now; back then, when I was a teenager and we were residing in the most conservative areas of Southern Baptist country, anything regarding an “altar call” meant succumbing to the God of fundamentalism and “repenting” of things that I in my heart did not feel anyone should have to “repent” for and changing and conforming to a very narrow set of rules. Such beliefs caused me to completely reject anything to do with God or Christ for quite some time: I absolutely could not love a being that would create a narrow set of rules and condemn anyone who did not conform to eternal punishment. At that time, and in the locale we lived in, I associated anything “Christian” with this skewed perspective.
Hence, I wanted nothing to do with an altar call. Whenever someone tried to tell me that God Loved me, and that’s why I should “go down and be saved” when I was being forced to attend a very legalistic church during my parents’ brief stint into fundamentalism, which included youth group trips to listen to fire and brimstone evangelists a plenty, I would get the pressure to drink the Kool Aid, as I called it, and commit to joining fundamentalism. I would always respond with questions. Questions such as, “How could a God who loves me send me to hell forever for not going to a specific church?” or “Why would a God give human beings natural desires and then make it a sin for them to act on them?” They would generally retaliate with, “Oh, the devil does all of that and constantly tempts us all.” I would in turn retort with “But isn’t God supposed to be more powerful than that?” to which the final response was usually frustration accompanied with an angry comeback, “Look, do you want to spend forever in hell? That’s the main reason you need to repent.”
It never gelled with me. While I did have a genuine and sincere admiration even then for the Golden Rule, of Jesus and His teachings, the New Commandment to Love God and Neighbor, and other passages from the four Gospels, and I desperately longed for there to be a God who truly would Love me “Just As I Am”, this was nowhere to be found in what I knew at the time of the Christian Church. My search seemed futile, or I was searching in the wrong places or somewhat halfheartedly. I considered a Unitarian church, and had felt comfortable in Episcopalian churches when I had been much younger, but I was in a state where I had become very closed minded towards any concept of a God. To me at that time, the concept of accepting Christ, or turning to God was equal to giving up who I was, anything I loved or enjoyed that didn’t fit into some very narrow parameters, and living in constant fear of hell or punishment. I had my own personal hells of teenage angst, and I didn’t need any more. Finally, after a particularly terrible evangelism rally I attended with a youth group which bordered on psychological abuse, where many were frightened and upset so badly by the pastor they were in tears, I got up, walked out, and would not return to a church for nearly fifteen years unless I was attending a wedding or a funeral.
It was, therefore, for quite some time, that I associated the hymn “Just As I Am” with fear. For me at the time, it was a genuine apprehension that the use of the phrase “Just As I Am” was merely being paid lip service rather than a genuine embodiment of the concept that God would truly accept those who were making a conscious decision to accept Christ and Christianity with a truly unconditional love. For there always seemed to exist, if not spoken, some type of condition or requirement attached to “accepting Christ”.
And for many years of my life, I didn’t. Nor did I really acknowledge or embrace God, or really want anything to do with God, Christianity, religion, or even spirituality. It didn’t matter how often God attempted to reach out to me exactly where I was-in retrospect I can now see that God attempted to reach me a multitude of times, only to find me too enraptured in my own fears to listen or allow myself to realize it. I would not eventually give God a chance until years later, when I learned to be honest with myself, and most of all, honest to God.
The process accelerated considerably when I found myself in my late twenties at a juncture in my life where, to put it bluntly, the you-know-what hit the fan and I was hitting bottom. I had found a destructive substitute for the living water my soul thirsted for in alcohol, abusive relationships, fake friendships, self-denial, repression of my natural sexual orientation as a bisexual regardless of how many others already knew and were attempting to get me to just come out and stop pretending to be someone who I was not, and a dead end career situation. One Christmas Eve, coming home from imbibing myself into oblivion at the bar, I decided that I had reached my limit. Depressed, I contemplated just checking out of this life altogether to see what would happen, but instead of writing a suicide note, I wrote my first honest prayer – in the form of a letter – to God.
As I wrote it, I approached it with an open mind. I remembered all the times others had reached out to me sharing the possibility that there were other flavors of Christianity than born again fundamentalism and denominations which were not obsessed with hellfire, guilt, and Let’s-Count-The-Days-To-Armageddon 101. I remembered the comments which had been made to me by an ex-girlfriend who had both encouraged me to acknowledge and accept my own bisexuality and who opened my mind to the possibility that God had no judgments about it and would accept me as I am and that being a Christian did not require me to change or repress my sexuality, that it could be reconciled with my sexuality. Most of all, I opened my mind to the suggestion that just perhaps, God and Christianity were about something different than I had been taught all of those years; perhaps it was about love, being kind, forgiving and caring which had mostly always been my nature, about embracing this life fully instead of obsessive concern about what follows life as we know it, about feeling connected with a Higher Power that Loved me with a truly unconditional Love and was Loving Creator, Friend and Guide rather than judge, jailer and monitor.
After I opened my mind to the possibility that God would accept me at face value, I asked for some of the things that would be good for me, and some things which were substitutes for what my soul truly craved. I asked for a better sense of peace about who I was, and for help in getting my life together from the mess it had become at that time. At the time I also wanted the perfect relationship, (although what I really needed was to learn to accept and love who God Made me to be before I could do that successfully) so I asked for that as well, under the false illusion all too many of us fall under from time to time that the right one would “fix” things. Regardless of whether I was misguided at the time in some of my exhortations, and in spite of my inebriated and vulnerable state at that time, I felt that sincere spark, that real proverbial mustard seed of faith – entertaining the possibility that perhaps I had been wrong about what God was all about all along and perhaps I really could be loved at face value.
Nothing happened for a month or two, and I stashed what I had written away. But in the subsequent months, interesting things began to take place: I spent less time in the bar and more in the gym, and got myself into better shape. I slowly stopped drinking all of the time, and by three months later, I was barely drinking at all. My career picked up, my financial situation improved, and then a few months after that, I did meet the girl of my dreams at the time. Things were looking up, and getting better.
Less than a month later, everything fell apart. The relationship crumbled, for I was still not comfortable enough in my own skin to maintain a solid relationship with myself, let alone anyone else. The stress and upset over this, and a serious tumble from the wagon led to my job and career at the time falling apart. It was not until all hell broke loose and I really hit bottom that I remembered my prayer.
I panicked. My first impulse to all of this was that God was angry at me somehow. Things had improved, and I had not given credit where credit was due, and now I was experiencing the full extent of wrath as I understood it. Or maybe it was all a trick, all counterfeit after all, as the pastors of my youth called the idea of a God who did not have harsh rules and restrictions. My belief that God would accept me as I am must have been wishful, alcohol induced thinking, I thought, still allowing old ideas about God to poison my being in close proximity to truly getting to know God. Looking back (isn’t retrospect always a lot clearer?), what I could have done was finally taken the opportunity to develop a more solid relationship with God, and spend the time finding peace with God and myself honestly. Instead, I elected to throw gasoline on the fire by falling to my knees and embracing the metaphorical altar call in a fearful death grip. I confessed how I was feeling and what I thought had happened to a legalistic, fundamentalist Christian and they devoured my vulnerability in an instant. I fearfully begged an angry God to forgive me, repented and felt wrong even as I did, as none of what I was saying felt right or sincere, and thus began one of the worst times of my life.
I lived in terror, although according to them, I was supposed to be at peace, having finally “renounced” what they referred to as my “evil past”. Every day was filled with fear, guilt and shame as I attempted to repress my bisexual feelings, fearing every thought was being monitored or punished. I would pretend to agree about anti-LGBT issues in mixed company, yet when alone I would be devastated; one side of my mind would say that I was betraying God, the other would remind me that I was betraying myself. In secret, my alcohol abuse had reached its’ pinnacle, and was about to cost me another job and I was alienating all of my old friends. I eventually was able to let go of the alcohol thankfully, thinking that the fundamentalist concept of God I was in a deluded devotion to would at least help with that.
Fortunately, I was able to get to the point where I refused to agree with the LGBT bashing, even though I dared not come out as bisexual. To throw them off, I would in their company condemn other bisexuals but not same gender love or marriage. I refused to believe God would send anyone to eternal hell, but that opened up another terrible metaphysical can of worms: I became trapped in a belief that God “punished sin” through bringing hardships in this life, which led to my terror that anytime something went wrong, I had done something wrong. I feared “demonic attacks” from all sides whenever I was undergoing hardships when I was not convinced God was angry with me. I was truly miserable, even more so than I had been beforehand. I felt no joy, I felt no peace, and I certainly did not feel anything remotely resembling “God’s Love”.
And worst of all, it felt like nothing more than a tremendous lie. I just felt wrong about it, and it felt more wrong than anything this group of people referred to as being a “sin”. It never felt sincere to be embracing that type of fundamentalism. And it wasn’t: deep down, I knew it, and God did as well. I asked God to please help me, not the monstrous and downright devilish concept God I had come to believe in and dedicate myself to and adulation to out of fear, but the real God I knew in my heart, Who I feel had been waiting silently, standing by and watching patiently for me to say that I had had enough and was ready to try something new and different – and sincere.
Thankfully, God reached through all of that as well and got my attention. I have related many times the process by which God enabled me to traverse my own dark night of the soul during that time: how that still, small voice reminded me that the true heresy and blasphemy was denying my true self and believing in a God of fear rather than Love, how I was verbally abused and judged by a fundamentalist who refused to pray for me because I was “out of God’s Will”, how the cable went out and I spent months reading not only the Bible but other spiritual and psychological writings and points of view, as well as many other books which enabled me to free and clear my mind, and how I made the decision to find and join an open and affirming church in a more liberal and accepting Christian denomination more in alignment with my own honest and true beliefs about God and Christianity.
And I will never ever forget how wonderful it felt to consciously make a decision from the heart to go through a Confirmation and join the church, to really honestly answer that “altar call”. It was the knowing in my heart that I was being truly honest with God in that I was seeking a path where I truly felt as if I was being accepted just as I am, not for whatever the beliefs of others thought I could be with potential, but just me, the real person God had made, the bisexual, the one who believes that there are many paths to God, the eccentric, the non-conformist and radical liberal.
You might think that’s where it ended – but that was only the beginning. Now that I had truly been honest with God, and myself, there was still a great deal of work, and growth to endure. The astounding difference was in that I was honestly prepared to take on the challenge then, and I knew that God was with me. Yet as I would discover in the years to come, I still possessed a few more layers that needed to be broken down.
And that led to another chapter in the journey. As I finally accepted, acknowledged, and embraced my identity as bisexual, and proceeded through the challenges of reconciling my spirituality and sexuality, I found myself facing more challenges in my spiritual growth. I had already come to the wonderful understanding that there was nothing unnatural about any aspect of my desires and had made tremendous progress in reconciling my spirituality and bisexuality, and had come to see my bisexuality as a gift and a blessing, and a part of how I was “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139).
But I also understood that being bisexual for me that meant that I felt the need for a committed relationship with both a woman and a man. While I had no shortage of Christian friends from my new church who gladly accepted LGBT people in general, I encountered some who considered the fact that I desired a relationship with both a female and a male partner, however honest and committed it was, somehow made me ineligible from calling myself a Christian, or, in the words of one person, how it “disqualified” me from calling myself one.
In my heart, I knew this could not be and was not the truth. But those old and persistent apprehensions in my mind persisted. And once again, it was time to be even more deeply honest with myself and with God once again. I recall going into the church sanctuary alone one late Saturday night (I had a key as I was a volunteer for the church, and would go in to set things up for Sunday services). I got on my knees and opened my heart to God once again. I was not willing to repress half of who I was in order to be loved any more than I had been to choose between being who I was and being a Christian. And I also was not willing to play the same game I had before and pretend to be someone I was not; I was not willing to choose between loving one or the other and then feign some facade while secretly, inside, a part of me was cut off and repressed. Past experience had taught me that it is better to find a method to live the truth of who I am with respect for others rather than create some masquerade. I refused to maintain a front of fidelity to one person while living a double life as I witness so many bisexual men, and women doing, and I could not lie to or betray someone who might have different expectations or understandings of our commitment than I had. I had already learned the error of conforming to the standards of others under the fearful illusion that no other alternative existed in my brief excursion into legalistic Christianity, and it nearly destroyed my faith until I was fully honest with God about who I was. And that was all I was asking for here as well: a way that it could all work out, a way to be who I was with respect and love for all concerned.
As I had discovered previously, when one asks, seeks and knocks honestly, God does answer if we remain faithful and aware and God did once again. A great deal followed, which I have written of before, including my becoming involved in volunteering for support organizations for other bisexual people, discovering that there were other bisexual Christians in similar relationships, and embracing a wealth of resources which presented themselves when I opened my eyes and heart and opened up to the possibility that there was no limit to God’s Love to someone who felt as I did, either, regardless of how unqualified some may have deemed me to call myself a follower of Christ. I came to find that there were many others who felt the same and had worked through the issues I had struggled with, and they helped me in my faith journey.
But there was one moment – post some time I had spent with some new friends, shortly after finding acceptance from other members of my family, and a feeling of belonging overall that truly stood out to me, and it seemed to come out of nowhere, where I just experienced this resounding and overwhelming sense of peace and being loved by God exactly as I am.
It washed over me like a healing balm, as a sudden wave of cool, clear and refreshing water would suddenly flood a miserably arid and parched area of land as I experienced clarity. It did not, and still does not matter how many others might deem my faith as counterfeit, or consider my unapologetically and joyfully living the truth of who I was made to be as blasphemous, heretical or any type of affront or offense to God. I transformed from a state of concern to a state of knowing without question in that moment that God truly blessed and accepted me just as I am. I knew fully in my heart and soul that being bisexual, feeling the need for and having a committed relationship with two partners as a result of that was not a sin, and nothing about me or my sexuality or sexual orientation was unnatural, and that my relationships, however unconventional, were a gift and blessing rather than condemned by God
I came to fully comprehend that just as no one who is LGBT is ever asked to choose between God or their faith and their sexuality or sexual orientation, I too also did not have to choose one gender or the other, or being one orientation or the other. There was a place and a purpose for me too, and my desire was to seek all the guidance I could to live my truth with honesty and integrity and help as many others in whatever way God might call me.
While others, be they vehemently anti LGBT in general or skeptical of a bisexual faithful to two instead of one might elect to obsess upon, dwell and focus upon or allow their fear and distaste for who I am to prevent them from fully accepting and acknowledging me as a follower of Christ and a sacred child of God, I understood that in God’s Eyes, it was quite literally a non-issue and did not present any type of barrier whatsoever. And thank the Loving God, this has stayed with me any time I have felt afraid, any time I have felt persecuted, excluded, or left out, and anytime I might be enduring times of trial and those old nagging fears can arise as a result of stress.
My point in this brief recount of critical moments in my own faith journey – that of a bisexual man who was at one time not only resistant to the idea of God or Christianity but at one point fully rejected anything related to either to being in a place where my spiritual health is of utmost importance, and my relationship with God as I understand God and my interpretation of the sacred teachings of Christ remaining the foundation and the cornerstone of my life – is to illustrate that I feel that faith, spiritual growth, and attaining a true and profound sense of peace and Oneness with God cannot always be something which happens immediately, or overnight. It is, as with all worthwhile and rewarding endeavors and personal challenges we may face in life, a process.
For example, when I did approach God and faith with the idea that the fundamentalist group I was involved with so long ago, the expectation was planted in my psyche by them that if I just listened to their interpretation of God, of the Bible and of their beliefs, without questioning, but denying myself and what I knew from my own heart and experience to be true, I would suddenly be “repaired” from whatever I seemed afflicted with in life. And I witnessed then and have since witnessed in the lives of others that more often than not the reason the same talking points are revisited continuously in those types of churches; it is frequently done with an intention to stave off any questioning, and to reinforce one absolute, black and white definition of thought, faith and group intellect.
When one elected to accept the call to the altar, with it seemed to exist a given expectation that they would relinquish any aspect of themselves which was not in accordance with the teachings of the church extending the invitation to salvation which was also accompanied by a requirement for that individual to close off their minds from any contact with any type of influence which might run contrary to the church or organization’s teachings or group mindset. This, combined with the constant reinforcement of fear (mostly imagined fears of external forces which are supposedly and allegedly powerless against God or fears of the unknown, or fears of losing the “favor” of their interpretation of God), low self worth and low self esteem (“original sin”, anyone?), and the repetition of keywords, phrases, and promises that they possess the one sole “Truth” present a recipe and a catalyst that may provide temporary solace from whatever hardships which might be present in the life of the individual seeking God, but which in the long run can prove to create even more distress, leave that person feeling more distant from God’s Love and the True Message of Jesus, and leave them with a sense of belonging (contingent on their level of conformity) but inside feeling spiritually empty, alone, and alienated from a true sense of peace with God.
Many even become hostile and angry, in my experience. Some embrace the doctrines of Law as if they were modern day Pharisees, and use it as a weapon to exclude anyone who might pose the difficult questions or challenge legalism with Jesus’ exhortation that we are to Love rather than judge one another. This to me is not only very incongruent with what Jesus taught but not what I feel God would want: how is one supposed to share the joy of God’s Love with others when they themselves are feeling frightened, feeling as if they are unable to be true to who they are, and constantly on guard against any differing spiritual point of view or diversity among other individuals in God’s Creation? I don’t feel personally that they can be fully successful in doing so; I feel that the majority of those who come to God in that fashion end up coming to God more out of fear than out of Love; and at least in my experience, that does not create a lasting relationship or a sincere one. And definitely not one which is conducive to sharing God’s Love with others; there seems to be more focus on shoving dogma down their neighbors throat than being compassionate.
And once that type of teaching gets ingrained, it can be a stain on ones soul that can be extremely difficult and take quite some time to fade away. I often encounter, as I have referred to before, “atheist fundamentalist”. I have always believed that you if show me an atheist who is dead set on berating the beliefs of others to the point of hurtfully evangelizing their non-belief to others, I will show you a former victim of fundamentalist brainwashing. They may have left behind legalistic Christianity, but old habits, and especially old fears, can be as persistent as they come. The fear in this instance not being of God, but on the imperative in their beliefs that it has to be black and white, one way or the other, my way or the highway. Most of this is the result of fear, which even for someone who has experienced a sense of spiritual wholeness and peace can pose a stumbling block they can fall victim to years after they have departed the fearful environment.
As I became in my own faith journey to a place where I could be fully honest with both myself and with God, I had to do a lot of letting go. Letting go of the need to always have a solid answer for every question. Letting go of old fears and a black and white absolute reason and explanation for everything that happened, negative or positive. Letting go of the idea of God as a magic genie who would fix all of my problems and concerns and compensate for my errors in judgment and instead learning to call on God for strength and to guide me to do my part in realizing the life that I desired and taking responsibility for my actions, and taking action to improve my life. To say that this process definitely involves some spiritual “growing pains” is an understatement to say the least.
I have many LGBT friends who have been through similar processes. Those of us who identify as LGBT and who have come to the glorious revelation that we are not required to change who it is we are to be loved by God often experience a struggle on the journey. For those of us who were once enslaved by the yoke which legalistic Christianity can burden those who are ensnared by the fear based understanding of God that it carries with it, and especially those of us who are LGBT and who were made to feel inferior, defective, or undeserving by these fear based teachings to the point of self hatred and self repression, it can be extremely challenging. I am thankful that myself and so many others have made it through that challenge.
But in my experience, sometimes as strong as we feel we may have grown in our faith, I have on occasion found it appropriate and necessary to continue to examine our thinking, to ensure our ongoing spiritual health and be unafraid to pose the question to ourselves: have we truly released and let it go? Or do those old fears disguise themselves and continue to manifest themselves in our allowing ourselves to become mired in self-sabotaging, self-defeating, self denying and self destructive behaviors (abusive relationships, self imposed martyrdom, or simply denying ourselves a break or some time for ourselves guilt free) all accompanied by the false delusion that “we couldn’t deserve or expect any better”? Regardless of how devoted we might be to our spiritual fitness, I know all too well how we can be susceptible and vulnerable to the frailties of fear that can accompany the human experience.
I came to realize, as recently as a few years ago, that this was precisely the snare I had permitted myself to fall into with some feelings I was experiencing and some actions I had allowed myself to fall into. I would have days free of conflict and full of joy and be under the false impression that something was wrong with that-after all, didn’t I have to suffer in some small way? At some times, I would volunteer myself to the point of neglecting to take care of myself and still feel as if I was not doing enough in service to others. While it is certainly wonderful, a blessing, a virtue, and a gift in and of itself to be selfless, I also feel that God wants us to embrace our own blessings, sense of joy and peace in order that we may be better suited to be of service to others.
Or another time, when after a rather challenging period of time, I literally had a wonderful few completely stress free days where I was dwelling upon joys and blessings in my life and I actually felt guilty for feeling so good! This was exacerbated by thinking on others I knew and others I didn’t who were dealing with difficult times, and in some instances where it seemed there was little or nothing I could say to do to help them find peace in some way as I could not fathom how these things could happen to anyone. I mentally shook myself and knew that this was lingering residual negativity from past thoughts and beliefs, and I had to keep myself in check and do a lot of prayer and soul searching to wake up and get spiritually grounded once again. And I have seen it happen to friends as well.
Those old ways of thinking can be insidious if one allows themselves to let stress get to them, and it can happen to all of us at one time or another. When I caught myself engaging in that pattern of thought, I knew immediately that it was precisely the mentality I needed to completely overcome and eliminate. The idea that we should even begin to equate being a Christian with suffering, denying ourselves the right to be ourselves or our own sense of peace, joy and well-being in any form is to me a horrible lie that I believe we must eradicate to move forward in our walk with God, to continue on our faith journeys, and grow stronger and better served to communicate God’s Love to others as we are called and instructed to do by Christ.
And two of Jesus’ teachings constantly serve as a beautiful reminder of this fact to me: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10) and “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). In both instances, what I hear Him saying then and now is that embracing His teachings about God are meant for us to discover the ways to have a more fulfilling experience of life, and that the new way of approaching God He gave His life to show us was one free of fear and religious ritual, and instead based in something that can come so naturally and wonderfully as demonstrating our love for God through our love and respect for one another.
And these days, fast forwarded long past the times when I associated God with fear, I enjoy the spiritual journey with every new and coming day. I had to smile the other day when I saw a great license plate frame driving to work that said, “2 Blessed 2B Stressed” and I felt as if I could relate; I feel truly blessed and wish I could share those feelings with everyone.
Yet I still have times when I have questions, when I call on God completely unsure of what to do, and it mostly occurs when I think of others. What do I say to the person who is crying on the other end of my phone, with no source of income, a debilitating illness, no health insurance, and no hope in sight who cannot seem to break free of a sense of despair no matter how much hope I might attempt to impart? What do I say to the friend who has confessed to me that they too are bisexual but have no idea how to tell their conservative wife, who he knows would run and take the kids if she knew? How can I explain to the suicidal friend with a tattoo that says “Jesus Never Loved Me” that there is a God of Unconditional Love that loves her and truly would accept her as she is if she would just open her heart and mind to a wonderful new realm of spiritual possibility? How do I comfort the person who suddenly and unexpectedly lost their partner of 22 years? How do I convince my friend who is absolutely certain that “God is out to get him” that God is really the Solace and Salvation from whatever difficulties he experiences in life, and that “Christian” does not always mean “ultra conservative fundamentalist”?
These are tough questions, and I don’t always know the answers. I know from honest experience that what may work for one person may not for another, and that the journey God has Led me on could be very different for them than my own. I can offer my testimony and live by example, share what God has Done in my life with them, but until another can fully experience God, in their own way, by first being fully honest with themselves and then honest with God, coming as they are, there is little to nothing more I can do than be there. I wish there were more ways I could help them know that God would welcome them as is with open arms and no conditions.
As I was re-reading and re-listening to the hymn “Just As I Am”, I keep thinking to myself that maybe it’s time for a new type of altar call, or even just a slightly different take on the idea. Perhaps it is time for those of us who might have felt unwelcome or excluded by that concept in the past to rethink and reinterpret that concept as well. When I read the lyrics to “Just As I Am”, automatically at surface level there is a great deal of traditionalist, orthodox language which might prove to raise the defenses and skepticism of those who are apprehensive about the idea of a truly Unconditionally Loving God. Perhaps a shade too traditionalist, but it need not be to embrace the message. Or perhaps just as many have grown to rethink and reinterpret Scripture with an open heart and mind, the same type of interpretation can be applied to hymns we may have known and loved as well.
Just because this is an oft played song at altar calls in legalistic churches, and on the surface level it could trigger or stir old, outdated fears of low self worth, a need to be forgiven and “repent” of our true God-given natures as LGBT individuals, we can still embrace the joyous and hopeful sentiment with a slightly different interpretation:
“Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and that thou bidst me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come. “
Many, including myself, feel uncomfortable with the idea that Christ dies on the cross as a “sacrifice” to God for the “Original Sin” of humankind. But He need not be seen as a blood sacrifice to appease an angry, petty and vengeful Father, but rather God incarnate Who suffered agonizing death to leave with us the message that God asks that we let Love override law, rules and religious ritual and Whose Loving Spirit is ever present and with us always.
“Just as I am, and waiting not to rid my soul of one dark blot, to thee whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”
Many might interpret the “dark blot” or the “spots” in need of “cleansing” referred to in this verse as their very identity as an “unrepentant” LGBT person. (I have heard this insinuated in the testimony of an “ex gay” who later became and “ex ex gay”). But for those of us who have come to know God and know that God Loves us as we are at face value, this is not a requirement for accepting Christ or Promising to change, attempting to change, or changing or repressing one’s natural sexuality, sexual orientation or any aspect of who they are in order to receive the fullness of the joy of God’s Grace is positively not a prerequisite; that is strictly an invention of human fears.
The only type of encouragement I have seen in Christ’s teachings that suggests one approaching God needs to make any type of a change to me is what He says in Matthew 9:14 about not putting new wine into old wineskins lest they become damaged. To me, He is saying that we should undergo a cleansing when we come to God, but this to me is a different type of purification than the psychologically devastating and damaging lie of any sort of “reparative therapy” or repression of one’s natural self as God Made them. In fact, I feel that it concerns something not related to any form of sexual expression or relationship among consenting adults of any gender whatsoever. I feel He is saying that which we truly need to do is let go of old fears, old negativity, and any old ideas about God which might not have been sincere and prevented us from having an honest relationship with God. In tandem with that comes the willingness to let go of self destructive behaviors we want to move past, as well as any negativity we have allowed into our lives.
“Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt, fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”
I see no need for any different manner of interpretation here at all; in fact, this is a very accurate description of how I felt when I approached God honestly, and I have many Christian LGBT friends who have echoed the same sentiment.
“Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind; sight, riches, healing of the mind, yea, all I need in thee to find, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”
While I’m not sure I would personally agree with “riches” being something I would seek in God, and I don’t agree with the concept that anyone is necessarily “wretched” (when it is used as to signify “original sin”), I don’t think there is anyone who can claim they have never done anything they feel bad about doing to another or a moment of selfishness they desire to feel forgiven for, so I can’t say there is too much that qualifies to me on this verse to be exclusive either.
“Just as I am, thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; because thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”
When I think of being “pardoned” as finding a sense of forgiveness or redemption for mistakes someone may have made in life along the way – in irresponsible decisions, actions which were hurtful to another, taking the blessings of life for granted rather than the need to be forgiven for just being who they are, and being “cleansed” as God metaphorically washing us of any sense of guilt, fear or shame we might have held on to, this verse carries a lot of meaning to me as well.
“Just as I am, thy love unknown hath broken every barrier down; now, to be thine, yea thine alone, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”
Once again, this verse to me speaks for itself – there is no cause or reason why I can see that anyone at all would even want to think of this one in a different light.
Notice that I did not suggest that any words should be changed at all – merely the perspective on those which have at times been used as weapons to attack LGBT individuals. The key point I am trying to make with this is that it is all in the interpretation of how it is that we approach God that can make all of the difference in the world if we are earnestly and sincerely seeking peace with God.
This is precisely what I was referring to when I speak of being Honest to God. We cannot blindly accept another’s ideas about God, we have to go within our hearts, our feelings, our very identity and comprehend that we have no need to disguise who we are, or hide and be ashamed. We literally can come just as we are, no questions asked, at any time, with no invitation necessary.
If we approach God from a place where we are truly being honest about who we are and how we feel, and honest about our own beliefs, and the spiritual hunger and thirst we long for rather than resigning ourselves to become enslaved to someone else’s ideas about God, I know from experience that it can make all of the difference. If we as LGBT individuals approach God with the full faith, trust, and understanding that nothing about our sexual orientation, sexuality, who we love, or whatever might make us different from or misunderstood or feared by others can disqualify us for full inclusion in the Kingdom of God, and the full brilliance of God’s Unconditional Love and Grace, and the sincere belief that Christ’s Teachings are all inclusive and show us that we are all loved and accepted at face value, then what we once may have feared more than anything can become the Greatest Gift we will ever, or could ever receive. Giving in to God, as I have heard it referred to, becomes a surrender out of Love rather than a surrender in fear.
I can only speak for myself, but for all of the terror I once felt years ago about the concept of accepting Christ and surrendering to God, years later, after doing so, I only regret taking so long to give God a chance. When I review the past without all of the fear obscuring my eyes, I see all of those times God reached out to me, those obstacles and barriers I had created as we all can tend to do out of the false allegation and illusion of it being “too good to be true”. My insistence on remaining in my comfort zone of fear resulted my resisting the joy I could have known so long before and spared the agony that I went through, although I know it was a growth experience I am ultimately grateful for and one that has made me appreciate things all the more.
Yes, it took being fully honest with myself and with God, and it required me to experience quite a journey and a long road of growth, but it was the best thing I ever did in my life. And shockingly and in direct opposition to the fear, apprehension, and cynicism I may have held at one time, not only did God not require me to change who I am to be Loved and Accepted at face value, I actually was able to feel a deep sense of peace, gratitude, and purpose with myself, even the aspects at one time I feared God despised about me (when in reality, those were not despised by God but merely rather by others falsely claiming to speak for God and using God to mask their own fears.) In fact, I can truly say that it was not until I was fully honest with God that I was able to fully acknowledge and accept myself including my sexuality, being bisexual, my individuality, my relationships, my decisions and my differences and discover a sense of peace about all of that for the first time in my life. In fact, I was able to come to a place where I saw my differences for the gift that they truly are.
Sure, I have had my fair share and then some of those who call me unworthy of calling myself a Christian. I have had more than my share of conservative and liberal Christians, as well as atheists who call me insane, who attempt to discredit my faith. But I refuse to let it phase me anymore: it truly is between me and God. God has sent me multitudes of angels in human disguise to support, comfort and guide me when I have endured persecution and tribulation, and I know God would do the same for any who ask, seek and knock honestly. I and no other may fully understand God, but I do feel at this point in my life that despite the occasional difficulties we might experience on occasion accompanying the adventure of life, life is intended to be a joyful endeavor rather than a struggle. And I truly believe that God would rather than we find ourselves in a state of perpetual love and joy to radiate to others, for there is still not enough of it going around these days.
If you are reading this, and you find yourself considering the possibility that perhaps God does, or would accept you just as you are, be bold and not afraid, and take it beyond the realm of joyous possibility into a reality! I know from experience, for any LGBT individual, the concept of turning to accepting God can seem problematic, as that can insinuate a requirement of giving up or repressing a critical aspect of who God Created us to be. While God will not ask you to change who you are, other than a possible willingness for you to work on releasing the unnecessary baggage of old fears and ideas and negativity, you are not in any need of any sort of Divine repair or defective in any way due to your sexual orientation, sexuality, or who you love or who you are. You don’t have to choose one over the other. It’s a non-issue for God, and if anyone tells you any differently, it is their opinion and they don’t speak for God – it is strictly between you and God alone. Certainly, some may attempt to discourage or discredit you – but refuse to allow it. You have every right to call yourself a Christian as anyone, regardless of individual definitions and semantics. Never be afraid to tell others the Source of your faith, and your strength.
And most of all, be honest with God. Don’t accept beliefs about God because you fear you would not be accepted otherwise. Don’t promise God or yourself to follow rules which are the invention of human prejudice and would prevent you from being true to the person God Created you to be. Don’t try to change who you are or pretend to be someone you are not – be sincere. Just trust in a God Of Love if you should begin to feel old fears attempt to create a barrier, and persevere.
I know all too well from experience that taking that step and trusting God may not be the easiest thing. I can relate to that initial sense of loneliness, desperation, hopelessness, fear and isolation all too well as a result of past experience and my own long and often strange but ultimately rewarding and fulfilling faith journey.
God does Unconditionally Love accept us all exactly as we are, including you, including me, including everyone else, those we might agree with and those we don’t. Allowing the fear to be cast from your soul and realizing this can become the greatest Source of strength, peace and joy you have ever known in your life. All that is required is that first step, that willingness to open up to a new and joyful possibility you may not have previously considered possible and then opening your heart and mind, and most importantly of all, being Honest to God.