At a recent concert, GLBT Christian singer Marsha Stevens made an observation that made me re-think my attitude towards the anti-gay members of our Christian family. For those of you who don’t know who Stevens is, here’s a brief history: as a teenager, she wrote a Christian song that became a worldwide favorite and was included in many hymnals. When she came out of the closet years later, many churches ripped her song out of the hymnal and sent her the copies, just to make a point. She now works with up-and-coming GLBT Christian musicians, while continuing her own ministry.
At this recent concert, she told the story of how she and her partner got backstage passes to a Gaither concert. Stevens said she was surprised at how many people — including the Gaithers — not only remembered her some twenty years after she had come out, but even expressed their support of her ministry to GLBT Christians. And then she made the observation that struck me so forcefully: If God had been able to work in her heart over the twenty years since she came out of the closet, surely God had also been working in the Gaithers’ hearts as well.
I know a lot of us are frustrated by the current atmosphere in the nation — the election results have weakened our hope in our nation, and the level of animosity we have experienced at the hand of our fellow Christians makes us question where God is in the American church. But Stevens realized that transformation is in fact possible, even in places where we least expect it. Just because the people in our churches can’t accept us as Christians now doesn’t mean they will never accept us. If we hold to the statement that God is completing the work God began within us, then we can trust that God is doing the same in the lives of everyone else in the Church.
There’s an excellent scriptural example of this — his name is Paul. If you remember the story of Paul’s conversion, you’ll recall that Paul wasn’t drawn to the miracles and compassion of Jesus. Nor was he persuaded by Peter’s sermons or by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. When the Church first entered the world, Paul didn’t get it. After all, this Church was actively ignoring the clear commands of scripture! They were teaching falsehoods, preaching blasphemies, and allowing all sorts of unsavory characters into their midst! And so Paul took action-he was in the midst of persecuting Christians (having already helped put Stephen to death) when the risen Christ appeared to him. And even after he accepted the Christian truths, he still spent years learning, maturing, and growing in faith.
The next time someone from the Christian family rejects your Christian faith as invalid, don’t get all riled up. Instead, think of Paul. If Paul can come to understand the glorious acceptance we have found in Christ, then so can your neighbor. It may take twenty years for some of our opponents to recognize the clear testimony of Christ’s presence in our lives, but it is possible. Perhaps this is one reason why Jesus tells us to love our enemies – because if we love them in God’s love, they may one day be our friends. If God can transform us, God can transform our enemies. And may it be so in the name of Christ.
Steve Pearson is a Protestant mutt and failed theologian who has a Ph.D. in Literature and teaches at a midsize university in the South.