Where there is love,
Where mercy abounds,
Where justice prevails,
There surely is God, found in our midst,
Where there is Love.
Those beautiful lines are the chorus to a hymn that I sang for the opening of the Valentine’s Day service of my church a few weeks ago, and they express for me what God, Jesus, and Christianity are all about to me. Love is the central focal point of my faith in God, and in fact, “love” is about the closest to a “definition” of God as I can get. Love is something we talk about a great deal at church, and we do our best to practice it every moment we can, even when at times it can seem difficult in our day to day lives. It is no coincidence to me that the pastoral prayer and the prayer ending the sermon each week begins with the words, “Loving Spirit,” when we enter into prayer with our Creator to give thanks for all we have, express our concern for others in need, and reflect on what wisdom and inspiration we may have found from what has been shared. I so often tell others that I feel that the best way we can show our gratitude to God for all we have been blessed with is through showing our love for one another, for each and every one of God’s Children, and for the love of the lives God has blessed us with. Jesus Himself extolled the value of Love over Law when speaking to the religious leaders of His day. It to me is ironic that when many of the religious leaders of today are quick to point out that Jesus would condemn this person or that person or this behavior or that that the only thing He ever seemed to “condemn” was being unloving towards another of God’s Children.
It is diffiuclt for me to define “love”. It is almost easier for me to define what love is not. I once thought that love was about being madly infatuated with someone and caring deeply about someone to the point that we would do anything at all for that person, and that love was about us changing to become what would make that person happy instead of being ourselves so that we could be loved more. Imagine my surprise when God lovingly allowed me to learn the lesson profoundly (until I finally comprehended, and sometimes those lessons are the most difficult) that real love, unconditional love, is the exact opposite. Love is about not having to change who we are for someone, but in our ability to be ourselves as God created us and to be loved, valued and affirmed for that by someone, and the ability to give that gift to another. I can honestly say that the fact that I am bisexual is something that God has blessed me with that I might learn more about what real and unconditional love truly is. And it was only due to God’s rescuing me from a path of chasing madly after a love that was conditonal and somewhat false that I was able to fully accept myself, understand this, and become a more loving human being.
I recall being deeply in love with someone but due to my enslavement to fear, I was unable to be honest with myself and therefore unable to be honest with the one who I loved. All too often in our relationship, I found myself agreeing with opinions that I did not share, so that she might love me more. All too often I found myself hiding my feelings for fear that she would never understand my bisexuality and that she would cease loving me if she ever found out. And all too often I found myself concerned with what her reaction would be if she knew the truth.
And when she abandoned me, before I even had a chance to share the truth about me with her, and my life fell apart, I was emotionally devastated. It was a heartbreaking expereince, but I now understand why it happened. During that time I have found a love that no one can ever take away from me and that is God’s Love. I never have to hide my sexuality or be ashamed of it in God’s Presence. I never have to be dishonest and withhold the truth. I never have to be afraid that I will be abandoned. I know God will always be there for me. Interestingly enough, since the time we have been apart, I have discovered that she may be bisexual herself. It makes me wonder if someday, God plans for us to share our truth with each other honestly, openly and I can help her find the love and acceptance that she needs from God through the liberating teachings of Christ.
Love challenges us sometimes, it challenges us just as the love in action present in Jesus challenged the Pharisees that He called “whitewashed tombs” who made a big display of how well they followed the letter of the Law but seemed devoid and empty of love for others and more concerned with following every detail, at the expense of their heart and soul. If a person has all these wonderful rules and rituals but has not love, what then, do they have? For some, following religious rules may be the way they express their love for God, but when they attempt to force others to adhere to the same rules, they can act in decidedly unloving ways. In attempting to withhold God’s love from others I feel they are not only attempting to keep others locked out of the Kingdom of Heaven but are ultimately keeping themselves out of the Kingdom as well. Have many Christians missed the mark of what Jesus seemed to teach more clearly than anything, that love overrides the human need for strict rules and regulations that would limit the sharing of God’s Unconditional Love with all the rest of creation, the “least of these?” Real love demands no compliance to any certain behavior in order to be given, just as with God’s love and the love Jesus embodied, it is given freely and unconditionally, no questions asked.
That is why I become so hurt when those Christians would attempt to intimidate and in my opinion insidiously coerce gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people to conform to their will rather than Gods will for their lives through promoting guilt, fear, and a feeling of self-hatred and hiding it behind something so sacred and holy as “Christian Love”. “Hate the sin, love the sinner,” they say, but they do not seem to understand that by calling something beautiful and natural that God created to give people a way to express love and caring for each other a “sin” that they are themselves doing something that violates the Great Commandment to “Love One Another”. Not only do their actions make us feel unloved by other people, but often times unloved by God, which is my personal definition of what “hell” is — the illusion created by fear that God does not love us.
My bisexuality is a gift in more ways than one, but one of the ways that I came to realize it as a gift from God is how open and loving and accepting it has caused me to be towards people that I might not have otherwise been able to feel the same deep compassion for. I feel no barriers in my love. I am not merely referring to romantic or sexual love but to a compassionate love. Were AIDS and HIV not something I should be concerned about myself, would I have devoted the same time and compassion that I have to helping to end it and offer hope and compassion to those who have it? If I were exclusively heterosexual or homosexual, would I be able to be understanding and compassionate and open to those with alternative marriages and commitments that are beyond what today’s mainstream society would consider “acceptable” or “appropriate”? (That is not to say that all bisexuals have non-traditional relationships by any means at all. Many are happily and monogamously married/committed, but others have different types of relationships.) Would I be as passionately committed to ending all hate and sexual discrimination if I did not understand how it feels to be both homosexual and heterosexual at the same time, where whenever I hear anyone in either community or those in between where I am slighted or slandered? Would I be as open to differences had I not realized how different society deems me and my LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ and other faith communities? Would I have used the gift God gave me to write and communicate with others to help others find peace and hope so fervently had I not had that need myself? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding no. God had a Plan, and God has one for you, whosoever you are. God needs LGBT children just as much as heterosexual ones to fill in the masterpiece of Creation and the diverse rainbow that is the eternally loving and creative Spirit of God.
Human love, as I learned with much difficulty and pain, is one of God’s greatest gifts, as God shares love with us through other wonderful people who come like angels into our lives, very often when we need it the very most. But there is the issue of how our Creator gave us free will, and no matter how much we may desire a relationship with someone who may no longer feel about us the way we feel about them, no matter how deeply God may desire for that relationship to continue for us, sometimes we have to allow that person to go their way and know that God will provide love for us.
Had I not experienced the horrible end to that relationship, I would not have been able to come to such a deep awareness and actualization of God’s love for me as the person who I was made to be. When I came back to God after years away, I recall asking God one Sunday in church during silent prayer, “What can I do for You?” To which I was answered “Reach all those who mught otherwise never be reached with Christ’s true Message: God’s Unconditional Love for everyone.” And when I joined the denomination I belong to, only knowing that they were accepting of gays/lesbians, to joyfully find out later that they were not afraid to include bisexuals and transgender folks in that belief, it was more affirmation that it was coming time to share with others like me how deeply God loves me and has loved me. That realization alone was an incredible feeling that brought me to tears — this time tears of joy.
Love is how I am able to discern that something is from God. Every time I have been somewhere where I felt God’s Presence more intensely or profoundly than others such as my church, my support group, or around a positive friend it never fails that I see the words, “Unconditional Love” somewhere. Yet it is so much more than that — it is a feeling. When I feel love, I know God is there with me. And although human love led me to a deeper and more profound expereince of God, nothing can compare to the feeling that comes from knowing God’s Love, especailly when we realize that the love we expereince in our lives is God’s way of bringing us a bit closer to understanding what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of Heaven. I have been, in my life, in churches that seemed a little like “whitewashed tombs” to me, or in churches where I felt a profound sense of fear. I recall someone saying perfect love would cast out fear. “Fear” and “God” just don’t go together for me. Same with “fear” and “love”. (Especailly when the Bible uses the words “fear not” 365 times — one for every day!) I have also been in places that many churches would consider “pits of sin” and being “in the presence of sinners” where I have felt more of a presence of God’s inclusive love than any church I have ever set foot in. God’s Love to me truly has no boundaries. God’s love is for everyone — that is what I want everyone to know. Call me a “liberal evangelical” if you will, but as the song says “the Lord of Love has come to me, and I want to pass it on”.
Isn’t that the greatest gift we can give someone, the gift of letting them know that God loves them? If we love them shouldn’t we, after all, tell them the real Truth, the real Good News, that God wants a personal relationship with them, one they dont have to “change” for? I reflect on the Great Commandment again, and how I have learned that above all things Jesus taught that we love God when we love others. That is how we show our gratitude to God for all the blessings we have received in our lives, by sharing the Kingdom with others — just by being loving. Praise God for giving us so many unique, different and diverse ways to share the love that is the fabric of God and the thread holding all Creation together, a thread that fear can never unravel. A love that casts out all fears and doubts.
I think that some Christians may be so caught up in all the tiny rules and regulations because when Jesus calls us to love even our enemies, those who would do us harm, it can be such a challenge at times. Yet we are called to do so as LGBT Christians. We are so used to the frailties of human love that we at times tend to forget the absolutely fathomless depths of God’s Love for us — a love and forgiveness that we seek to understand through understanding and discerning the words given to us by God through Jesus Christ. We should remember that we are conduits for God’s love, called to share the eternal Love God has blessed us with with those who long to experience it.
I know that in my personal relationship with God that I have found True Love — one that will last forever. I am so happy that God reached out to me and helped me to realize that I was never supposed to hide the light God blessed me with and intended for me to share through sharing my own story of self acceptance and realization with others. I am liberated through God’s love from what was a horrible veil of fear, secrecy, and internalized self hate. Those of you reading this who might be feeling distant from God right now take it to heart that no one, no matter what they say or do to make you feel bad, can ever take God’s love away from you.
The greatest of all the gifts God has given us is love. If you feel unloved, God longs to embrace you. If you feel loved by God, I encourage you to let someone who needs God’s love in their life, who seeks to know God but has felt cast out due to fear, know that God loves them. It is the greatest gift we as Christians can give one another. And if you ever want to know where you can find God when you experience the illusion we sometimes can, always remember that you need look no further than the love in your heart and the love that is shown to you through the loving actions of others — the smile, the hug, from the smallest display of affection from a loved one to the largest gesture of compassion from a stranger — for wherever love can be found, there also can be found the fingerprints of our eternally loving Creator, who so loved us that Jesus was sent to communicate that to us. What better way to show our thanks than to let that love flow through all of us, whoever we are, to light up the whole world, especially the lives of those who have waited in darkness for God to show up. It’s up to us, and if we follow Christ’s example of love, there is no telling how many lives we could illuminate.
John Campbell is a native of Alabama.