Not too long ago, I received a response to an ad I ran while seeking musicians to put together a new band. In this particular instance, it was an established band that was seeking a new singer, and I sent them a link to my Web site and my resume as a musician that included many of the lyrics I have written. As they were checking out my background, I was checking out theirs, and discovered that although they were not a ministry minded band, or labeled as a “Christian” band, they were all heavily involved with far-Right fundamentalist Christianity, including involvement with extreme anti-LGBT rights organizations. This unfortunately included my becoming the recipient via e-mail of fundamentalist generated petitions to limit rights for women and other groups.
Their manager, after reviewing my material, contacted me to see if I was interested and to comment on my Web site and lyrics. He was commenting on some of the content and said, “I’m guessing you are a Christian or some similar background.” And I had to think about how to respond for a moment. Because I knew that even though I would affirm that I am in fact a Christian, if he knew the whole truth about me and my beliefs, or who I am, I would be dismissed as a “counterfeit” Christian by him. It was one of those moments where I truly began an inner reflection on what being a Christian is to me. And, more importantly, how those of us who are serious about our faith yet have not broken from the traditional and dogmatic conservative Christian viewpoints on sexuality and sexual orientation can articulately express our Christian faith and beliefs to others. How do we remain firm in what we believe and who God made us as individuals to be, yet share in mutual Communion with others who may have differing beliefs from our own?
I came to a few new conclusions, as well as affirming with a stronger and more solid foundation the beliefs I have always embraced in my heart, so I will share some of those now:
1. Jesus was a liberal; a radical liberal who led others from merely believing to knowing that God Loves everyone, and gives that Love freely to all who ask, regardless of who they are.
Regardless of what the Right would have the general voting public believe, regardless of what their interpretation of the Bible is, or what they believe about the life of Christ, one thing remains crystal clear for me as well as many other LGBT Christians — whether you believe He is the flesh and blood Incarnation of God literally or a human being that was fully and completely aware of the direct connection each and every one of us has to God, the thing He emphasized the most in His teachings was Love, and God’s Love. Sure, it is very easy for someone who is quick to see the negative aspects of everything in life to hone in on His teachings of hell, consequences, and the “End Times.” (I have noted that many who focus on His words on these subjects have a negative perception of life and the world to begin with, focusing on gloom, hopelessness, and despair as opposed to hope, healing and salvation). But all I see in Him is hope. Hope for the outcast, the meek, those who sacrifice greater personal gain in favor of doing the thing that is most loving and compassionate toward others. I hear the fundamentalist admonition that if one does not believe every single word of the Bible as literally true is not a “true” Christian, and then I see how Jesus seemed to only become frustrated (though not angry) with one group of people — the “literalists” and “Legalists” of His time. In His teachings, I see that Love overrides religious rules, regulations, and tradition, and that God’s Love is not a commodity or a service that can be brokered by human beings who seek to be God-like themselves. I see that He taught that Heaven is not a place that we go or should look for or search for, but a place within each and every one of us that is as close as our heart. And that it is accessible to whosoever believeth, not only conservative, white heterosexuals who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. I have a feeling that if Jesus were sitting in on a debate among the top conservative Religious Right members, He would feel the same towards them as He did the Pharisees: whitewashed tombs. I don’t know about all of you, but I feel compassion and sorrow for those who are wrapped in a fundamentalist mindset, as to me it puts a lot of limits on God’s Love. But I affirm their choice to believe as they do, as I believe Jesus would too. I think He would only be upset when they tried to use their beliefs to control others or to keep others from feelings at one with God. And although I feel it is extremely important that we as LGBT followers of Christ’s Way continue to share our less dogmatic understanding of the Gospel, I am very firm about the belief that it is not best to “fight fire with fire.” We should not to get into a game of “Whose Jesus is the REAL Jesus?” Just as I see conservative Christian fundamentalists become confrontational, I all too often see liberal and conservative LGBT Christians retaliate with more confrontation. True, our immediate reaction to being labeled as “abominations”, “sodomites” and “false Christians” may be a hurt and angry one. But I really think that in these situations, rather than attempt to “convert” them to our different way of thinking, it is better to turn the other cheek, walk away, and pray for God’s Love to surround them with joy. For if they were truly joyful, I feel that any judgment they may have would melt away. Both liberal and conservative theologians can debate for hours on a topic to attempt to prove a point (I often refer to it as “Scriptural Warfare”). But it seems that a better use of the time God has blessed us with would be to go and do as Jesus would do by doing something loving for another person, and not engaging in debates over whether or not one interpretation of the Bible is better than another. It is far better to “walk the walk” than “talk the talk”, as I feel the Pharisees and Scribes did, in my opinion.
From my own personal experience, I can say that I used to spend hours in chat rooms and conversations among fundamentalists, attempting to stand my ground. And it led to nothing other than frustration and often anger, an emotion that hurts me to even feel. But after a while, I tried a different approach, and began to frequent environments where there were other kindred spirits as myself, who were hungry and thirsty to embrace the Loving God and Christ that my faith is based upon. Some of these were LGBT people, some were heterosexual, some were devout atheists, seeking to know God’s Love, some were recovering fundamentalists seeking to rediscover the Loving image of Jesus from their childhood that had somehow gotten lost as they grew older in a dogmatic environment. I found that it did more for my spirituality and my personal relationship with God through Christ to share my faith and beliefs from those who wanted, who needed to hear what I had to say and were seeking new and different ways to approach the Christian faith than it ever did to try and “defend” my faith to those who, in more than a few cases, were simply looking for a confrontation.
This has occurred with my bisexuality and the different type of relationship I am involved in as well, within the LGBT Community, both Christian and non-Christian. I would attend many gay and lesbian events, all in the interest of showing my support of the whole of the community instead of just the “bisexual corner” of it, only to find myself looked down upon by gay and lesbian individuals in the same way that I was looked down upon by conservative Christians for my sexual orientation, sexuality, and my liberal theological beliefs. It did not seem to matter in many cases that I was a part of the greater LGBT Community, just as in many cases among other Christians it did not matter that I loved God and believed in Jesus. Because I was not a gay man but a bisexual man who loves both women and men and is in a relationship with both female and male partners I was somehow “not good enough” to participate unless I was just like them. It reminded me all too much of how I can have a conversation with someone else who is a Christian who thinks that because I do not believe every single word of the Bible as literally and infallibly true, then I am not worthy of calling myself a Christian. But I learned over time, it was more beneficial for everyone concerned if I continued my complete support of the entire LGBT Community but focused on reaching out to others in the bisexual community. Not spending so much time trying to educate others who believe that bisexuality is not real that it is, but reaching out to other bisexuals, in need of support and friendship and an understanding soul. I would rather use the time, energy, and gifts God has so graciously blessed me with to reach out to someone who want and needs to hear what I have to say than to debate the legitimacy of my faith or my sexual orientation with someone who has differing views.
I see, in Jesus, a vision of someone who wanted people to embrace what He taught not to coerce them into a certain doctrine, but for their own peace and well being. He desired nothing more than for everyone to understand and know that Heaven, total Oneness with God’s Love was accessible to them. He sought to give them the keys to that Kingdom within and to all the joy that God has created for this world.
2. Heaven and Hell are real, but they are conditions of the soul; Jesus showed us how to stop living in Hell and dwell with God in Heaven always.
I once told a very well meaning but very fire and brimstone oriented conservative Christian who was telling me all of these vivid descriptions of what Hell was like (which he had apparently gotten from a combination of Dante’s Inferno and Clive Barker “Hellraiser” movies) my feelings on the subject.
“I know what hell is like, it’s feeling like there is no God, or that God does not Love you. And that to me is far worse than any vision of demons, fire or torture you can tell me about.” No, that did not stop what he was saying to me. Nor was it intended to. It’s really how I feel. I feel the same way about Heaven. Heaven, for me, is the knowledge that God Loves me, just the way I am. God made me just the way I am, and God wants for me the same as all of the rest of us — for me to be happy, embrace the gift of this wonderful diverse world and the wonderful life full of promise I was given, one day at a time. And to not only treat others with Love and respect the best I can, but to share the Love God gives me with as many others as possible.
Yes, it is possible if one is of a literalist mindset to interpret Jesus’ teachings about Hell as admonitions of a real place of death and punishment. But I personally believe that to do so can be to miss the point of what Jesus was trying to express. Perhaps it is just me, but to me I see Him as teaching that if one loses their connection to God, and to Love, the result is a burning fire of regret that no amount of money, fame, personal gain, worldly things, or anything else can ever quench. Whereas if we take the time to acknowledge our Oneness with God and let God’s Love flow through us, to others, we will find that we never lack for anything, despite our seemingly hellish external circumstances.
3. To be a Christian is a life not of sacrifice but of joyful gratitude and giving.
I recall when I was much younger that I equated being a Christian to sacrificing anything that was important to me or that made me happy in order to please God. And while I have made more than a few of what some people would definitely call sacrifices for my faith, I have seen them as gifts. There have been numerous occasions where doing what I knew in my heart was the “right thing” or the “loving thing” and as a result, as people put it, “missing out on an opportunity.” The “opportunities” they were speaking of were instances where yes, I would have had some short term personal gain, but it would have been dishonestly and at the expense of another. All the times when I could have easily taken advantage of other peoples’ generosity or kindness but refused to. And all the times when dishonesty would have been the perceived “easy way out” but I chose to own up to what I had done and make up for it the best I could.
And, quite interestingly, I have found that every time I have done something like this, passing up an “opportunity” for selfish personal gain, blessings have fallen right into my life. Is this coincidence? Let’s just say, as I have said before, I don’t believe in “luck,” I believe in Grace.
I may not believe the Bible literally, but I do the best I can to live by the One Commandment that Jesus simplified everything into: to Love God more than anything, and to Love One Another, treating others as I would want to be treated. That to me means that I have freedom to be who I want to be, and live how I want to live, yet I must remain conscious of all of my actions toward others. I wonder if everyone will ever see the beautiful simplicity and power of the Great Commandment, and the joyful freedom that Jesus granted us with that. Do I always succeed? Do I always say or do the most loving thing possible, even when I am under stress, pressure, or fire? No. I don’t think anyone can answer that question in the affirmative. But God knows that. And I know that I’m forgiven and that God understands when I fail to do the most loving thing.
4. Jesus was more concerned with our spirituality than our sexuality.
For all the talk I hear amongst fundamentalists speaking out against anything other than married, monogamous heterosexuality, and especially against LGBT people, did you ever notice that Jesus had very little to say on the subject? I think the reason is simple: Sexuality is a private matter, between the people involved, and God. I think Jesus was for more concerned with getting the message of us being aware of God’s Love and treating one another with love than what we do in the privacy of our bedrooms or which gender(s) we are doing it with. I think it is far more important that we are honoring the Golden Rule.
5. God Loves AND blesses each and every one of us regardless of what we believe.
If anyone ever needs a way to stand firm in their faith in the face of adversity, I think the very best thing we can do to affirm that is to count our blessings. Whether those blessings are simple memories or major positive events in our life at the present time. I can only share one major recent event for myself — a healing, and what I see as a sign.
Many people who have read what I have written may not be aware of this, but for nearly six years, I had personally suffered from severe panic/anxiety disorder. It may not have come through in my writing, but it is not something that I chose not to talk about, as I have always chosen to try to turn focus away from it. Until a couple of months ago, when it began to increase and become so severe that I could barely function. I had panic attacks that were so severe that I actually was becoming physically ill from them. Certain words, phrases, and reminders of things that I was once afraid of — mostly concerning my fundamentalist childhood — triggered all of these attacks. This came up after years of therapy, prayer, talking it out, and affirming my faith again and again, both in private and in public. I had managed it well for the past three years, but now I felt myself losing my grip again. When I first began to have them years ago, I was told by the members of the conservative Christian church that I was leaving behind for the last time that they were the result of their prayers for my repentance and return. They told me that I would be plagued until I repented and returned to their fold.
I was working, under a stressful deadline, and began to have a barrage of negative thoughts that led to what, I think, was the single most severe panic attack I have ever had, which I feared for a moment was the beginning of a heart attack. It was the icing on the cake, and I for a few hours felt myself struggling. Underneath it all, even in my darkest moments, I kept my faith. Yet at that moment, it seemed very, for lack of a better term, cloudy, which matched the weather that day.
I was driving home that afternoon, and as I crested the hill for my home, I saw something that I have not seen in many years, a full rainbow stretching across the hill above my house. And at that very moment, I just knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that everything was going to be fine. It was, to me, once and for all, a solid reminder from God that no matter how many people in this world stressed me out, no matter how many bad memories from my fundamentalist childhood came back in a weak moment, or no matter what anyone said, God Loves Me with an Unconditional Love and that I am at peace and at One with God.
I was healed at that moment, and I see that as nothing other than a real Miracle. I have not had a single panic attack since then, for the first time in many, many years.
And I want to sum up the thoughts I have been sharing with this:
How do we, as LGBT Christians, stand firm in our faith? There are many ways: through our loving actions towards others; through our unrelenting praise in the shadow of those who would call us “false Christians”; and through seeking to read the Bible and understand the teachings of Christ with an open heart and mind, and applying their eternal Truths in this, God’s ever wondrous world, that continues to grow and unfold daily.
But I think the single best way is to let our individual light shine, the light God has given us to brighten the world, in our own special way. It is being ourselves, fully and completely, and living the Truth of who we are with love and respect for all the rest of God’s Children. It is standing firm in what we believe even when it seems the darkest — just as Jesus did. It is understanding that the Resurrection, whether we understand it as literal or metaphoric, represents that with God, Faith and Love even what seems insurmountable and impossible can be very real. It is sharing and celebrating with others all of the blessings God has blessed us with, and the Peace and hope we have found in Jesus, to Whom no one was an “abomination” or an outcast. It is living what we believe, rather than debating it with others. It is understanding that those who might not understand our sexuality, our spirituality, our beliefs or our lives many times mean us no harm at all, and turning the other cheek and forgiving them.
A lot of people don’t understand why I am so open about my bisexuality, or my alternative type of relationship, or my somewhat radical beliefs about God, Jesus and the Bible, especially when it involves me being open and vulnerable to harassment, criticism, and being cast out. But I think maybe it’s because I hope that someone will see that it does not matter who I am, it does not matter that I am not a subscriber to traditional doctrine, God Loves me and has blessed me in my life. And maybe someone who reads what I have to say is looking for some hope and affirmation, and my words can be a rainbow in their life, and a light in their world.
John Campbell is a native of Alabama.