On my recent birthday, I received a card from one of my fundamentalist relatives. As usual I was happy to get it; and preparing to read of the goings on of my family on the other side of the country as well as a birthday greeting I innocently opened it. Along with the usual greetings I received a rather upsetting message that hurt me very deeply. It was a list of “requests” from this relative, that I love very much but whom I know I will have a difficult time ever discussing my personal life with. Among the requests were the expected admonitions that I do not dress conservatively enough, that I should adopt a more conservative image, and take better care of myself. But one life in capital letters was what hit home: “You need to accept the Will of the Lord and stop demanding your own.”
I did not have to have an explanation to know what they were talking about: they had finally learned last month that I share a home with a woman who I am not married to, and that we are not just roommates or friends. They found out despite my Mother’s trying to keep this information from them because she knew this is what would happen; my female partner has had severe medical problems which came up in a family conversation. It was immediately suggested that these problems were some ort of “punishment” for “sin”. (I won’t even consider what the card would have said if it had been revealed to the sender that the woman I love and I are both bisexual, and involved intimately with same gender partners as well as each other, however honest and consensual those relationships may be.)
My initial reaction was one of hurt, anger, and a brokenness between this relative and myself. But I got to thinking about what she had said, and after a few moments, I realized that she was off target in what she said. Not because I was not accepting God’s Will, but because I was not “demanding my own” and I in fact, HAVE accepted God’s Will for my life. God made me a bisexual man, just as God made the woman I am with a bisexual woman. And though our arrangement may not work for some people, even some other bisexuals, it is the best way for us. It has only brought us happiness, and enriched our lives, and has given us an openness and acceptance of others that we might not be able to understand if we had been made any other way. And constantly, God sends us others who are like us – those who are seeking hope, guidance, and strength. Even if all that we do is provide to others, like us, who may have been suffering from the false illusion that they were unacceptable to God because of who they are an assurance that God has a purpose for them as well. Yet, at the same time we seem to encounter an equal amount of those who are in opposition to us. Some are Christian and some not, but most of them are of the conservative Christian variety. We may share the exact same values as far as treating others with love and respect, feeding the hungry and providing shelter to the homeless, and being there for those who need us. Yet we find ourselves separated by what seems a vast chasm when it comes to issues such as the infallibility and inerrancy of Scriptures, sexuality and sexual orientation, gender roles, and respect for religious traditions outside of the Christian faith. And I think that, too, is a challenge God has blessed us with: how do we find commonality with those who persecute us and share in the bond of our faith in God while maintaining the individuality that God has blessed us with?
I think that it all comes down to a matter of semantics, but more than that I think it also involves the ability of letting the common ground become the heart, words, and Spirit of Christ Himself as opposed to debating whose version of the Bible is the “correct” one. I am suggesting that liberal and conservative, heterosexual and LGBT, legalistic and non-legalistic Christians seek to find their common ground in Jesus as opposed to church and denominational doctrines and creeds. I believe that far too many Christians are more concerned with what they define as “true Christians” should not do and not concerned enough with defining what Christians should do to embody Christ’s teachings. In my opinion, far too much time is spent debating whose interpretation is more accurate and too little time is spent exemplifying what Christ was all about. Far too many opportunities to embody the True Loving Spirit of Jesus are sadly crucified and lost in the name of the human need to be “right.” To satisfy the human fear and insecurity that only faith in God can remedy. To be “God’s chosen” when in fact God has chosen ALL of us as worthy of Love.
I am heartbroken that so much time and money that could be put to use to help those who are truly in need is spent trying to convert one group to another’s version of Biblical Truth. That there are people living without hope on the streets when thousands of dollars are spent on “ex-gay” programs that in so many cases have led to psychological damage to others. That school boards are arguing over whether or not evolution or Creationism should be taught when violence and drug abuse is rampant in our school systems. That there are rallies of people who hold violent protests outside of abortion clinics, both those who support the right to choose and those who do not, at war with each other instead of working together and reaching out to people in need. That after all this time HIV and AIDS are still a health crisis to the LGBT Community and the rest of the world, and more money is spent on programs that conceal medical facts and preach, “Just be heterosexual and wait until marriage” than efforts to eliminate the HIV virus. That so much time is spent debating whether or not sexual orientation is a “choice” or not among the Christian church than what it would take to feed, clothe, and provide shelter for the homeless. Why can’t everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, sexuality, doctrine, denomination or belief put that all aside and work together for the common good of all as Jesus taught?
Three questions for you, as one LGBT Christian to another. There are no right or wrong answers, but you might find it interesting to pose the same questions to others, at random and see what they say:
1. You are driving down the road in the middle of the night. You spot a shape on the side of the road that you back up and realize is a beaten and bloodied person. You cannot see their face, but they are crying, “Help me.” You immediately get out of the car and see that the man is Fred Phelps, in his hand a broken, “God Hates Fags” sign. He does not know you are not heterosexual. What would you do, and how would you feel?
2. On the bus, you sit down next to someone who you have never met, and they ask for a moment of your time. They are from a local church that is raising money for a member of the church who is homeless to have an operation, and ask if you have a few extra dollars to donate. You reach for your checkbook but suddenly you realize that this church is one that picketed outside the last local LGBT Pride festival, and that this person was in that group waving a sign that said, “Save our children from the homosexual agenda.” They do not recognize you. What would you do, and how would you feel?
3. You are on your way home, and as you turn into your neighborhood, you see a broken down car in front of your house. A woman and her child are standing next to the car. The car has a flat tire, and the woman asks you if you can help. As you slow down, you see bumper stickers from the Family Research Council and a sticker that says “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” Your partner is standing out front of your house waiting for you to come in. What would you do, and how would you feel?
As I said, there are no right or wrong answers to these questions. But they make me think about the opportunities God gives us to grow as Christians beyond concepts of doctrine. They make me think about what commonalities we as LGBT Christians might be able to find with even the most conservative of Christians and about what blessing those who persecute us is really all about. Let us take a look at some things that Jesus said, and how some tenets of Christian faith can truly reach across barriers that seem impossible, for with God nothing is impossible.
Point One: God is the Creator of the Universe, and all of us
Even if you are talking with someone who is the most homophobic, literalistic, the Bible is inerrant and infallible minded Christian, this is a place of common ground I think that all who believe in God can agree on. It doesn’t matter if they think God thinks we are “abominations,” or that they think God is a big bearded “He,” or of they believe in a literal seven day Creation. Despite what some would have us think our individual take on details of belief is not necessary to share in the wonder of the reality of God.
Think about it: one thing we as LGBT Christians have in common with ALL other Christians is the fact that we believe in, love, and worship God and seek guidance and hope and strength through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. That, to me, has always been the sole purpose of the Life and Death of Christ: His Message was that every last one of us is a child of God, and that includes those who persecute us. His answer to people persecuting one another was very simple, that we should learn to be as God is, unconditionally loving and focused on love for one another instead of trying to take inventory of what we feel their “sins” are. We need to stop defining God’s Will for the lives of others based upon what we know God’s Will may be for our own lives, but may not be right for another. We need to let go of our ego and the need to be “right” and fearful adherence to dogma and doctrine override our ability to feel the same kind of compassionate love and acceptance of all that Jesus did and that God does. Show me a fundamentalist who wants to convert anyone to their doctrine in a hostile and bitter manner and I will show you someone who is deep down inside, very afraid, and very in need of truly knowing God’s Love. Perhaps that would be a good starting point to remind these people who persecute us that they too are loved unconditionally by God.
Point Two: Jesus Was the Physical Embodiment of God
It does not matter whether one believes in Immaculate Conception, that He was born on December 25th, or exactly when or how the Second Coming is supposed to occur. These are all to me details that are not requirements to believe in Jesus Christ or to follow His teachings. All that I believe is necessary to find common ground is that we in some way feel that Jesus was God’s Nature expressed in human form, whether that means He was wholly Divine or wholly human or, as I feel, both equally.
All Christians, whether they are “Every word of the Bible is literally and infallibly true,” or “I love and respect Jesus as the greatest Teacher and Gift God ever sent us but question whether or not He was truly the flesh and blood Son Of God,” and everywhere in between, regardless of denomination or sexuality/sexual orientation have one thing in common and that is that we follow Christ. Yes, our understandings may be different, but His Spirit never lies. And His most important Commandment, to love God and one another, is one thing that all Christians can agree on. So rather than argue over we believe that Jesus is God’s Divine Prosecutor for sins on an unknown Judgment Day as some Christians do, or whether He was simply a Great Teacher, why not focus on His parables and the things He referred to as really living the Christian Life? I think someday perhaps it will be possible when people realize that regardless of what one’s belief is about what Jesus thought of issues regarding sexual orientation and sexuality, He was, and God is far more concerned about our spiritual behavior than our sexual behavior — that is to say, how we treat one another than who we love.
Point Three: Regardless of What Else Jesus Said, He Said We Are Not To Judge Others
This can sometimes be a difficult place to find common ground, but even with someone who is a Biblical literalist it cannot be denied that Jesus instructed us not to judge. Yes, the common response is, “I am not judging you, God is, read the Bible,” but even that is a judgment based upon their understanding of the Bible and their interpretation and beliefs. It cannot be more “literal” than “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2).
And in every instance in life, I have seen this to be true; think about it for a moment: Whoever begins the judgment, be it conservative Christian groups who judge LGBT people or LGBT groups who judge them right back, each with our own interpretations playing “scripture wars” with the other, it just perpetuates itself, and no one wins. Anyone who reads my writing will know that I do not believe in a literal “devil” or personification of evil. But if I did, I can imagine it doing something to pit one Christian against the other (in this case the non-legalistic and affirming versus the Biblical literalist) in a battle of doctrinal semantics over something as natural and God-given as human sexuality in order to divide the Oneness that Jesus wanted for everyone.
Point Four: There Is Wisdom In The Bible
Bible issues are difficult to discuss with those who persecute us, but regardless of whether or not we define it as a book about God written by people or a book written directly by God, there is a treasure of spiritual wisdom to be found within it. Even if we may interpret some parts as metaphors, parables, and fictional stories that represent spiritual Truth and another may see every word as historical fact, we all seek to find God and become closer to God and Christ by reading it. And the biggest message I think everyone wants to find within the books is one of hope in times of fear and adversity, faith when faith seems absent, and how faith, hope and love really do create miracles, even today. The teachings of Christ about faith in God and the power of love and positive thinking predate any of today’s bustling self-help industry. He taught us very simply that the “Kingdom” so many seek in their lives — the purpose and meaning that all of us seek, the deep connection with God that all of us, regardless of who we are, seek — is not something we can look for out there but it is within and all around us. Jesus was just showing us how to open our eyes and see it.
Let me give you an example of how two people with diametrically opposing views of a much debated book of the Bible can still be correct: Revelation. Where many and especially those who would be quick to persecute a Christian who is LGBT see it as a literal forecast of events to come, and a “final judgment” (though it is overlooked by some that Christ mentioned that it is those who are loving and kind to others who would stand more favorably on that day than others who were judgmental and placed law before love), I see Revelation as a parable written by a people under persecution that illustrates a beautiful, timeless, common and eternal Truth. Regardless of how difficult life may seem, regardless of how much pain we are enduring, regardless of how our own individual world seems to be ending and plagued with “demons” and forces and events beyond our comprehension, if we turn to God, whether our belief is in God within or somewhere “up in Heaven”, we will be “caught up in the Spirit” in our own sort of “Rapture” and let God handle the things we cannot as individuals. And, somehow, after all of the trials and tribulations, God will bring us through and “make all things new,” and more glorious than before. And most times that becomes a reality through our own finding the Kingdom in our hearts. Through a deep personal relationship with and trust in God through Christ. Simplified, whatever we are going through if we trust in God peace will come.
I have told certain people who take Revelation literally as a prediction of a time when the world will end and God will cast their enemies into hell and end their suffering of my belief that it is a key to surviving difficult times here and now instead of some future specified date and I have received a few very positive responses. I did not challenge their belief that I was going to hell, nor dispute their beliefs about the End Times. I simply gave them another way of looking at something that they could apply and use in their lives here and now. And I think a few actually appreciated it. For where they have no solid documented proof that the end times are in motion, most everyone can relate to the reality of God carrying them through difficult times and bringing them through to a better place. They have experience of a new “heaven” within after enduring the various “plagues” that may have tormented them but that God saw them through.
Point Five: God Works In Mysterious Ways
It is this common yet often difficult to accept fact that creates the allure of a fundamentalist mindset, and the ensuing fear that results from such, which in turn leads to the persecution of those of us who do not accept or feel the need for such a belief system: to me, faith in God and trust in God when we do not have “all the answers” spelled out in black and white is a very solid faith indeed. Many people adopt the idea that “The Bible said it, I believe it, and that settles it and you better do the same thing,” for the same reasons people may seek out psychics to predict their future or contact the spirit of a deceased relative, dabble in occult practices however benign their motivation may be, or spend their lives seeking out unexplained phenomena (and please note-I am not condemning or judging these choices or fundamentalism, only making a point). They are seeking answers to questions that there may be no black and white answers to. To exalt the Bible, and in many cases to place the “infallibility of Scripture” above the words of Jesus, Who taught that Love was more important than Laws, as the final rule conveniently provides a sense of false security that relies more on what the Bible says than a personal and individual relationship with and faith in God.
I would venture to suspect that most if not all people who persecute members of the LGBT Community are doing so for one reason: they are afraid, and they are afraid because they do not understand, and some are too afraid to try to understand. Jesus pointed the way to that understanding through a teaching of Love. He mentioned that there were a lot of things that we were not ready to see. Jesus hinted in His ministry that all that we were to know and to discover as we listen to Spirit was not to end with the Bible or His ministry. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12) He encouraged us to remain child like, in order to see God; knowing that most children are free of judgment and division, that they see a wondrous world around them abundant with miracles, life and love, and do not need “explanations” and detailed breakdowns of everything; some things simply “are.” God simply “is,” there is no need of “proof” to know God is real and loves us. I believe that until children are taught, they possess no judgments on any other group of people, based on sexual orientation, denomination, religious belief and so on .
Jesus simultaneously affirmed diversity and peace among all of God’s people as He encouraged us to not be so concerned with what God’s Will was for other people. Rather we are to focus on doing our part to care for one another and try to embody the same type of unconditional love for one another that God has for each and every one of us. And there are going to be things in this world that we do not understand. My point being for all of this: those who persecute us may not understand, and in the fear that creates, they may become defensive and want to lash out. Perhaps we could bless them by helping them through a situation they may be enduring such as the unexpected death of a loved one that they do not understand. Sometimes a fellow Christian regardless of how far apart they may be from us on beliefs may be hurting over a situation that they cannot explain through Scripture, and maybe they don’t need “reasons” but only someone to love and care with compassion. Real Christian compassion and love can cross over any conflict in belief, and for a conservative Christian to see someone who is LGBT, someone who they have only seen as a “sinner and sodomite” reach out from our heart and care about them can truly be a powerful moment. I had a moment in my past where an extremely conservative Christian went out of his way to do needed repairs to my home, and not once did he try to “convert” me or persecute me, but was very kind, even though I could tell he did not approve of my beliefs or my life. And when he left, I went out of my way to write a letter commending him to his boss for a promotion, hoping that it would help him and his family. And I actually felt it in my heart, I felt my heart grow from that. We were able to share in the Christian journey together by doing good for each other without engaging in a debate about who was the “more authentic” Christian. So as with all things, all things are possible with God’s Love.
Just as God loves each and every one of us with the same unconditional Love as LGBT Christians, God loves those who persecute us as well. God knows that these people have a different understanding, and God is beyond the human emotion we understand and those who persecute us experience as fear and understands everything, for everything has a purpose in Divine Intelligence. It is great that all of us, as the hymn says, “have a friend in Jesus” to better enable us to respond to the persecution and hate that is born of this fear and misunderstanding. It does not matter that all Christians do not affirm diversity-God does. And God will send us angels to be there for us who do understand and support our individuality and who we are. And who are those angels? Other children of God. And sometimes we can act as angels for others, other persecuted LGBT or somehow different Christians. That is what I strive to do in service to God to show my thanks for the abundant life God has blessed me with.
As a bisexual man who loves both a woman and a man and who is also very radical in my views on sexuality and diversity, even to some of the more liberal Christians, but who also has a deep love and devotion to God and commitment to following the Spiritual Teachings of Christ, I often find myself persecuted from all directions. But then I remember: it is because of the things that some people persecute me for that I have had the opportunity to share my faith with others who might never otherwise know the peace and hope and faith and love that following Christ’s way brings. He speaks the truth that what we sow we shall also reap. That those who place Law before Love can become “whitewashed tombs” as the Pharisees and miss the Kingdom within in all its glory. That Love is the Highest of any Commandment. I do all that I can to reach out to others like me who have been made to feel as if they are “unacceptable” to God and unable to be a Christian without abandoning who they are. When they see that I am who I am and God Loves me for who I am they suddenly question their turning away from God or Christianity and have reconsidered the idea that perhaps they have a place in Christianity as well. I do my very best to show mercy to anyone who persecutes me, who is in a fearful place. Because I understand they are coming from a place of fear and insecurity in the realizing that the world is not always black and white but instead a glorious rainbow of diversity that God Created in Infinite Love and Wisdom. Just because we do not understand something there is no reason to be afraid. Not everyone loves me, or my chosen path, but I do my best to do as God would do and has done for me, to love them unconditionally as a precious child of God. Jesus posed the question: “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?”(Matt 5:46) And He also said, “Love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great; you will be (children) of the Most High.” (Luke 6:35). And my reward has been great. How about you?
John Campbell is a native of Alabama.