The Wilderness

There seems to be a pattern in the growth of many Christians. It seems at some time, many of us must go through the wilderness. In Old Testament time, the wilderness was a physical place; it was a desert. In our modern times, the wilderness is an allegory; time spent away from God.

The wilderness is not a pleasant place. It is described as dry, barren, sometimes dark, often infested with beasts, serpents and robbers. It has pits and the shadow of death is there (Jere.2:6; Isaiah 43:19). Why we as children of God must go there is often a mystery. It seems to be a place of testing, learning, growing, refining and humbling for the child of God, (Deu.8:2). God knows you’re there (Hosea 13:5) , but often we’re not sure where God is.

Many famous bible folk have spent a lot of time in the Wilderness. Moses was there for 40 years, after he killed the Egyptian, before he began his ministry to the Israelites! (Acts 7:28-30). He spent another 40 years there with the Israelites. All total Moses was in the wilderness for 80 years! (Amos 2:10). David stayed in the wilderness all the years he was hiding from Saul. When he entered the bible describes him as a young man. He left the wilderness when he was 30 years old. [1] We are in good company, historically speaking.

I personally am well acquainted with the wilderness. I was there for 22 years. I stayed there because I couldn’t allow myself to believe that you really could be a gay Christian. I heard others explain the theology and I agreed with them intellectually. But I couldn’t get a grip on it at a belief level – the level of the ultimate intimacy with God. Could God truly love me, and not care that I was a lesbian? Could all the mainstream church’s be wrong in their interpretation of the scripture? Was my lesbianism a “blessing” from God? I had been so shamed by my former fundamentalist church, the thought of my gayness as a blessing seemed like blasphemy.

It took me a long time to work out those questions. God kept sending me the answers. But the answers were in unfamiliar packages – different styles of worship and distinct feelings of mistrusting the messages. All the while the current of life was carrying me farther and farther away from the God I had known and loved. The current was sweeping me out into the ocean of life and into the world of the flesh. I wandered, with mixed feelings, trying to find God in strange places. I missed the God I had known in my youth. But I was also afraid to face my God thinking that I was shameful. So I visited churches hoping to find something familiar, an old feeling of acceptance and love, something that would ring true to my tortured soul.

I had been raised Catholic as a child. I met the Lord as my personal savior in high school and was very active in Christian organizations while in college. I joined and quickly became a staff member of a large independent church which worshipped in the style of the Assembly of God churches. After two years, I was accused of being homosexual and of coming on to the pastor’s niece. At that time, I was unaware of my sexual orientation and was seeing a young man – because you were suppose to.

The false accusation was meant to be as hurtful as it could be. I was very publicly fired and removed from the church membership. I was devastated. I felt that if I had already been punished for being a homosexual, I was going to find out what homosexuality was all about. I found my local gay community center, and discovered that my attraction to women was much stronger then to the young men I had been seeing. In this way the church had done a favor for me. God used their maliciousness to point me in the right direction to discover who I was before I made a mistake and entered into a heterosexual marriage. I was elated at discovering who I was and what that meant. I was also devastated at the thought of losing my God. That is how I entered the wilderness.

My wilderness was full of self-doubt and anger at the Christian population. I saw them as being the enemy. And indeed they present(ed) themselves as the enemy of gays and lesbians. I became ashamed to call myself a Christian, because it linked me with the fanaticism and hatred that was being publicly displayed by right wing fundamentalists. I truly believe that the anger and venom that they pushed upon our gay community kept me away and keeps many away from the Christ that only wants to give us love.

I’ve marched in gay pride parades and been called a sodomite. My own parents were among the people who yelled the loudest, that hell was the only place fit for MY KIND. I’ve engaged several fundamentalists in discussion, trying to explain and show the error of their logic, but logic seemed to elude them. I found solace within the gay community, but I was searching for my God. Where was God in all this?

I attended gay Christian church’s from time to time, but nothing was clicking. About the time I was ready to give up, I picked up a copy of Stranger At The Gate by Rev. Mel White. I was outraged as I read his testimony of how he had been abused by the “Christians”. Here was a pastor, who endured all kinds of tortures for his sexuality. I admired his strength and noticed that through it all he had found Jesus again in a real way. He had made it through. Maybe I could too.

I again tried attending services, looking and seeking. I claimed the scripture, “Seek and you SHALL find” (Matt. 7:7). I asked God to prove that passage to me. I attended my local MCC and when the band started playing, very softly and sweetly, “I need you – I want you – I love your presence”, my heart melted and I knew I was home. Many of my questions still aren’t satisfied. But I was able to reconnect to my God and leave the wilderness. According to Rev. Sandra Turnbull of MCC-Long Beach Ca., the experience is like “being born again, again”. [2]

I am a very different person now, then the one who entered the wilderness so long ago. There have been a lot of experiences that I won’t forget, a lot of betrayals by people I loved, and many wounds to overcome. A lot of my attitudes are different and I can now see that my lesbianism is a gift from God.

More mainline denominations are learning that they need to listen to gay Christians. The research is there for anyone to look at, as far as the “clobber” bible passages go. If they look at it with an open mind, they’ll see the truth of the scriptures. The “clobber” passages have been misinterpreted and taken out of context, so that at a simplistic surface level, they condemn us. Fundamentalists quote these passages without questioning their true intent or understanding the Greek words that they came from. If the mind is closed, all that’s left is bigotry! The commonly used phrase of “hate the sin but love the sinner” is a justification phrase created by the fundamentalists to excuse their hateful behavior toward gay and lesbian people. “God Hates Fags”, or “Turn or Burn” are not examples of God’s love. “If you don’t do what we think the bible says, there’ll be hell to pay. [3]

We have a community of severely wounded brothers and sisters that need to know that they’ve been lied to by the mainstream church’s. We as gay Christians need to be sensitive to the fact that fundamentalists have used “in your face” tactics with our community members, just as they have with us. We need to not be aggressive but rather be caring and sensitive in our sharing of the good news of Christ’s love. We need to look at ourselves as gay Christians. We need to not emulate the fanaticism and radical style of the fundamentalists. We need to show Christ’s love and be sensitive to everyone’s wounds. No one gets through the straight church background without incurring wounds. We have this as a unique part of our community. No one makes it through mainstream Christianity unscathed! Some are hurt more, some less. Rev. Nancy Wilson of MCC – Los Angeles, Ca. says, “It seems that those who cry Jesus the loudest are often the most abusive in their behavior”. [4]

As we worship the God of our fathers, we need to do so with a purity of heart and an honesty that is acceptable to the God of our future. I thank God for seeing me through all of these life lessons, and for strengthening me from all of the experiences.

[1] New Bible Dictionary, 2nd edition, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, P 268
[2] Metropolitian Community Church, Long Beach. Cal. Sermon 10/5/97
[3] Jallen Rix, “We Have Learned To Hate”, on “The Sacred and the Queer” C.D. Triam Agency, 1995
[4] Metropolitian Community Church, Los Angeles, California. Sermon 7/5/98