“I could not say I believe. I know! I have had the experience of being gripped by something that is stronger than myself, something that people call God.”
– Carl Jung, when asked if he believed in God
It’s one of those things I constantly maintain a deep sense of gratitude for: with all due respect for points of view and beliefs which differ from my own, I personally simply cannot comprehend how anyone could be an atheist.
As I am certain that anyone who has read what I have written before knows, while being confident and strong in what I believe, I am also a very open minded individual who elects not to judge others who believe differently on spiritual matters nor any other matter than I do – or even those who do not subscribe to any spiritual beliefs . Perhaps that is one reason why I have, at times in my life, had more than a few atheist friends who do not share my strong faith and belief in what I know in my heart to be the reality of God. I have no judgments against those who may not believe, and while I feel that my faith is a blessing and I wish that they too had the ability to embrace faith in God as they understand God, I have never been one to push my beliefs on another person who was resistant, but rather elect to share them with those who express a genuine desire to know more about them.
Often times, those who have chosen to not believe in God and I can peaceably co exist and our belief systems being incongruent is not the least bit problematic. When I am confronted with someone who is equally determined to not believe in God as I am compelled to believe in God, I practice the peaceful ethic of “agreeing to disagree” and respecting our differences while focusing on our commonalities.
The only instances where this has proven to be unsuccessful is on the occasions where I have been confronted by the type of personality which I half-jokingly reference as a “fundamentalist atheist” that I define as someone who is a diehard, on a mission, downright legalistic and hell bent to preach the word that their way and their beliefs are the only way. (And more frequently than not, that type of behavior is the direct symptomatic result of and defensive response to a former legalistic Christian indoctrination.) I have found consistently that a fundamentalist manner of thinking on any issue is just as detrimental to one’s soul as another, and this is certainly no exception.
I first encountered this “anti-God” version of fundamentalism when I had a rather upsetting experience some years ago while I was a participant in an online venue for those recovering from fundamentalist indoctrination. While there were some fantastic resources offered to assist those dealing with the after effects and psychological damage which can be the result of a harsh and legalistic interpretation of the Bible, Christianity and God, the emphasis always seem to drift towards the notion that it was best to discard any sort of a belief in God at all. The general consensus seemed to be that the best possible way to heal from exposure to a version of Christianity which was based in fear and a literal understanding of Scripture and dogma was to throw the baby completely out with the bathwater and reject any type of faith in God or Christianity.
I was one of a few individuals there who not only knew that there was no possibility of me abandoning my own faith in order to heal – and knew that the best possible healing for myself would be the result of my developing a healthier and beneficial spirituality rooted in Love – did not see or feel a need to eradicate one’s faith. I instead expressed my assertion that I felt it to be a better solution to encourage others to rethink and reevaluate their faith and develop a healthier spiritual outlook.
While many disagreed, most were respectful. However, there were a few which were ready to run me out quickly as one “not to be trusted”, and who threw me the old and tired critique which I have heard all too often as both a bisexual and as a Liberal Christian, that I “couldn’t have it both ways”. Yet as I know in my heart, this simply is not the case. Fortunately, the individuals there who “agreed to disagree” or who agreed came to my defense from those who were criticizing me for rethinking rather than abandoning my faith when I came to know the real God of Love rather than the phantom, negative view of God which fundamentalism had tried to embed upon me. One of them even stated to the person cyber-harassing me that they were in fact embodying the same type of fundamentalist thought everyone was there to recover from-only their insistence was upon “no God” rather than an image of God of based in fear and dogma.
I eventually moved on from there, instead opting to find healing and support from other groups where the primary emphasis was on the best methods one could employ to be able to let go of damaging beliefs about God and develop beliefs more congruent with the Loving God Jesus taught about. I tend to avoid those types of people who are as determined to influence others to reject God as fundamentalist Christians are determined to terrorize others into rejecting any concept of God as their own unless there is something I feel I can do to be the proverbial Good Samaritan towards them. I respect everyone as a beloved child of God, but I cannot reason with that type of black and white reasoning on a constant basis and I have realized from experience that to attempt to do so can be detrimental to my spiritual health if I am exposed to it in excess.
That being said, I still have kept company and still do with others who simply cannot, or refuse to believe in God for whatever reason. Some are electing to do so because they have been harmed by a legalistic Christian upbringing that told them that they must conform to an overwhelming set of rules based on Biblical literalism and which are inconsistent with the truth of who they are. They feel that there is no other option than black and white or either or instead of the vast areas in between (which I feel in reality is where I feel God truly resides). They fear that it has to be all or nothing, either/or, all one or all of the other. Then there are others who have allowed the trials of life to result in their suspicion that there cannot be a God which would allow any type of suffering for anyone, and therefore reject the idea of such a Presence existing, in the fear that doing so would only be setting themselves up for disappointment. And there are others who have merely allowed themselves to become so caught up in life over time that they have lost sight of that wonder all of us feel and realize as young children about the world, one rife with possibilities and without the limits we often allow cynicism to cloud over as we move forward in years. (Which is one reason I feel Jesus expressed the importance of not letting go of that innocence in Matthew 18:3 when He tells us that in order to experience the Kingdom of Heaven within that we need to “become like little children”-more on that later). In every instance, however, I have discovered one constant, and that is that their lack of desire to, inability to, and refusal to believe is somehow based out of and rooted in fear.
Most of the atheist friends I have had (both those heterosexual and LGBT), the ones who see my faith in God, let alone my embracing of a however liberal version of Christianity as a folly and a contradiction with the same level of fervor which a legalistic Christian might whether they are evangelical about their views or not have been rather respectful in general. When they discover that I am not going to look down upon them for not believing as they do, attempt to elevate myself above them or convert them, and that I respect them for who they are and see the good in them, they are not on the defensive or feeling threatened by someone who believes differently.
But on occasion, there have been one or two who were eager for a debate. Fortunately, the majority of these were good natured civil discourse and not argumentative. Usually it would begin with “How could someone like you believe in God or be a Christian?” with their automatic assumption that the only form of “Christian” is “Biblical literalist.” And once in a while, I would receive some joking ridicule from some of them. I cannot recall the exact context offhand, but there was an incident where I had been hoping and praying for a certain situation to be resolved in a certain way (in retrospect, it was something rather trivial in the grand scheme of things) and I was relating to this individual who happened to be an atheist and skeptical of my faith how things had turned out when it had not transpired as I had hoped.
“So,” he said, half jokingly, “Where is your God now? See, this is what I mean. I just don’t see how you can maintain this faith you talk about when you do what it is you think you’re supposed to do, be honest, be nice all the time, and have faith in something and have it fail.” Resisting the temptation to ask him what made him so certain my faith was dependent upon never having issues in life and things always turning out exactly as I had hoped they would in a given situation, I instead replied, “Everywhere. But mostly right here” and motioned at my heart. “It didn’t work out like I had thought it might, but that doesn’t negate the fact that God is a reality for me.” He sort of shook his head and rolled his eyes in a gesture meant to convey a sentiment of “I don’t get it,” and the topic shifted to something else.
Fortunately, instances like this were, and still are a rarity. For the majority of the time, at least these days, I do not find myself in conversations like that be it a natural result of the company I keep, or the fact that I tend not to engage in deep spiritual conversations with others who have no interest in doing so.
Certainly, for myself as well as many other individuals in the LGBT Community, the criticism and condemnation of us from legalistic Christians can be equally harsh to us, if not more so, than what we might receive from those who scoff at our beliefs, as these individuals claim to be speaking directly for God or on God’s behalf. I am not speaking of Fred Phelps and his ilk, as even the legalistic Christians can see that epitome of pure and blind hatred, fear and ignorance for what it is (at least, I would certainly hope so). I am speaking of individuals with a wider appeal such as Pat Robertson and the like, painting the LGBT Community, Liberal Christians, and pretty much anyone else who does not wholly share their narrow worldview as being a scourge or an enemy (and in the opinion of Pat Robertson, we are also partially responsible for God “allowing” thousands to die in the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks, Hurricanes – he hasn’t said oil spills yet, but I’m anticipating that one any old day now- and all sorts of other atrocities.)
I could go on forever about examples of this type of thinking, which I am certain many of us have heard too many times in our lives when it is probably better that we do not even acknowledge them but rather strive to let go of them. But one phrase that used to trigger me years and years ago, and prompted me to doubt and question my own faith and trust in God at one time was actually not a direct slur at LGBT individuals, but rather an anti-Semitic one. The comment came from Bailey Smith, one of the founders of Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, who once stated while speaking to a group of people in 1994 that, “God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew.” I read the quote somewhere years ago when I was dealing with some difficult times of my own in the process of reconciling my bisexuality and spirituality and it gnawed at me for a while.
I was offended enough by the anti-Semitism in the statement, because I have utmost respect for all people and all paths to God. But it also affected me on a personal level. Although he did not say, “God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a bisexual”. He didn’t have to, as I feel sure that he would have probably concocted an equally offensive version of the statement to apply to anyone in the LGBT Community. What I was most offended by was the very idea that God would favor some and ignore others on the basis of who they were and/or what they believed, as that was definitely not the God I knew that Jesus taught of. But for a time, it did have the effect of triggering old fears. Could God really be that small, embodying the worst aspects of humanity?
As I would hope we all know, the answer was and is a resounding “No,” and thankfully experience has taught me that is not the case, as it has for many others. Nonetheless, to have an awareness that type of thinking does exist, and there are those out there who consider anyone who is LGBT to be unworthy of God’s Love and Grace is definitely disturbing. I have had more than a few legalistic Christians blame anything negative which was transpiring in my life – be it health issues, money issues, illness, employment challenges on the fact that I am both a bisexual man and a Christian without fear and shame.
The very idea that I call myself a Christian is appalling to them, and it would seem that the fact that I consider who I am and being at peace about such to be a blessing and a gift from God is even more appalling to them. In reality, what is likely most offensive to them is merely the concept and suggestion that perhaps God does not share their prejudices and that God is greater than the fears they might cling to about others different from them or who think and live differently than they are accustomed to. To see another who is true to who they are and simultaneously fully aware of God’s Love and strong in faith despite how “others have told them” God perceives them is likely shocking and frightening; it overturns the rigid dogmatic thinking they have likely been indoctrinated into as an absolute truth. It suddenly throws a wrench into the neatly constructed machine of their faith were every part is accounted for, there is a clear and concise manual, and there are no parts they cannot account for and it might cause them to question their faith, as the mechanics of it are dependent upon the exact placement of every little part, and to see a contradiction exists and a piece is missing could cause it to collapse. Their faith is founded in rigid, legalistic thinking and fear, and they are terrified of any alternative. And I cannot fault them for that, but only pray that Love reach their hearts and let them know that there truly are no barriers or judgments in God.
As a bisexual, I have had plenty of experience with both heterosexual and homosexual detractors who assert and insist that I cannot and should not exist and that I must “choose one side” as one “cannot be both.” And as I previously stated, as one who identifies as both a bisexual and Christian, I have received and endured more than my fair share of ridicule as well, accompanied by a similar assertion that I “cannot have it both ways”.
I have had my proclamation of my faith in God met with an abundance of skepticism and criticism from all sides at one time or another. Atheist and Christian alike have accused me of not really eligible to consider myself a Christian or someone with a deep faith in God. I have had some Christians from the most harshly conservative and legalistic to the more moderate and even liberal tell me that I am an affront to God because of my sexuality, my being unashamedly bisexual, and polyfidelitous (having open, honest and committed relationships with both a woman and a man). I have had atheists both heterosexual and LGBT consider me crazy for holding fast to my faith in God and my faith and belief in the teachings of Christ and tell me that to continue to maintain my living as a polyfidelitous bisexual and a Christian is nothing short of a dichotomy. Both sides have thought my respectful acceptance of faiths other than Christianity was ludicrous as well.
The first faction considers my faith in God to be counterfeit, insincere and morally relative as it does not subscribe to dogma and orthodoxy and challenges so many established views, the second faction feels that it is merely setting myself up for a host of psychological issues and inaccuracies, but I feel that both sides share one universal quality: I feel that any group of people who are attempting to undermine the faith of another for whatever reason are influenced by nothing more than fear – a fear of taking into consideration a form of faith not founded in solid, establish, black and white absolutes. Again, it threatens to dismantle the mechanics of a faith (or non faith based belief) based on and in one accepted set and standard of absolutes.
And I know I am not alone among others who identify as both LGBT and Christian in being met with skepticism, derision, disregard, or in the worst instances, hostility and anger. It is an unfortunate and at times distressing reality that there are still so many-be they believers, non-believers, or among the undecided and uncertain – who remain so certain and steadfast in their belief for one to maintain being happily and ashamedly LGBT and Christian is an impossibility, or even an affront and that those individuals are willing to go to great lengths to have their opinion considered and accepted as an absolute truth by many at the expense of the well being of others. As unconventional even among many open minded people as aspects of my own life might be, most if not all LGBT individuals who I have known have encountered and dealt with a similar resistance at one time or another. But I attest that the root and the core of any resistance to the concept of a person being capable of being at peace with their spirituality, sexuality and sexual orientation, at peace with God and who they are, can all be traced back to fear: the imperative and the driving need for solid, concrete, black and white answers on all matters spiritual rather than merely letting go of a need for such and letting God take care of the details.
That type of fear-the fear that without everything regarding God being spelled out and clearly defined somehow rather than allowing oneself to embrace the questions and accept and acknowledge that God does not operate in black and white absolutes on every aspect of life-is the greatest obstacle and adversary which I feel anyone can face in their endeavors to truly develop and maintain a solid and deep awareness and faith in God. I can only speak for myself, but the only way I was able to truly grow into a deep and meaningful sense of faith and oneness with God was to cease attempting to find a fully written set of instructions for every circumstance set to go which would work for every individual, and instead look to the Spirit of the Bible and the resounding relevance of the way Christ taught which rings true eternally. It is not a faith that purports or attempts to have all of the answers, or know all of the reasons, but it is a faith which I have found to be on a solid foundation even during the times when it is tested, and one I can rely upon regardless of where I find myself in the mysterious adventure of life.
As we all know, life is not always easy. While it need not necessarily be complex, and we can always benefit from finding a sincere sense of appreciation in simplicity rather than complicating things, it isn’t always a rose garden and this life brings with it situations and circumstances which more often than not result in our being left with twice as many questions than we possess answers. Sure, life is full of wonders, joys and blessings. We all experience times of uninhibited joy, be it located in sudden and unexpected blessings or merely in the sublime, even those who have no real sense of faith in anything like my atheist friends have experiences in life which bring them joy, happiness, and a sense of bliss and appreciation for the joys of life itself. They call it “Good Luck,” I call it “God’s Grace,” but in my opinion it all is derived of the same Source, and the rest is merely semantics.
But there is another side to the coin, and all of the aspects of life which are pleasing and comforting to us can be shrouded over at times, as conflict is also a fact of life. On occasion we will find ourselves in the midst of circumstances which can have the effect of us temporarily forgetting all of the good in our lives (even that which those of us who do believe attribute to God’s Grace), if even for a brief moment, allowing the sunshine in our hearts and souls to be obscured for a time. It matters not whether we always strive to live the Golden Rule and Love God and neighbor to the best of our abilities, that does not exempt anyone from tough times; as Jesus reminds us in Matthew 5:45, rain falls on both the righteous and the unrighteous and in Luke 13: 1-5 that God does not show favor to any one group of people for being more virtuous than another. We can all struggle with difficult times, both those who are reaping the consequences of negative and unloving actions and those who are not.
The difficult times can present both our greatest challenges yet our grandest opportunities in life for spiritual growth and potential for developing a deeper sense of trust in God. Even though they may initially appear as creating possible questioning of our belief and trust in God, they can instead serve to strengthen the foundations of our faith, should we elect to allow them to.
Although I am thankfully long since past the false belief that God is in any way against or disapproving of me for being me, and at a sense of peace with myself, I admit, during the most challenging times, I have moments of hesitation as I am certain most people do. I still will have those times when the world seems to be crumbling around me – be it from work stress, illness, or other conflicts in my life or the lives of my loved ones, and I allow the demons of stress to have an influence on me. At those moments, I find myself struggling to find grounding and focus on my connection with God to get me through and might feel a time of wondering where God is and how in the world the situation will be resolved. The difference now is in how I have chosen to respond when I am confronted with them. At one point in my life, I might have entertained the false idea that these events transpired as some sort of “smite” or “punishment” from God, or God being silent when I needed Love and Guidance most of all.
But now, when I do have hardships and trials enter my life, while I sometimes do feel shaky, nervous, and concerned and in those moments where I am treading with trepidation through whatever trial I am facing, and every so often I will become anxious and allow my fear to catch me in the moment-panicking before going within-I know that is has absolutely nothing to do with God “abandoning” or “forsaking” or punishing me. I recognize that it simply “is what it is.” It could be a consequence I reaped from not fully considering the implications of a hastily made decision, it could be a natural effect of a poorly made decision on my part, or more often than not, it could just be an instance of “stuff happening.” Perhaps it is a life lesson I need to learn, perhaps a door is opening as another closes, or perhaps I may not know the reason for years to come. Perhaps God knows that I already have all of the answers (via experience, knowledge or instinct) to whatever challenge I am facing within or externally or both, and it is intended to be a worthwhile and enriching growth experience for me to go within and discern what my course of action should be in that situation. It is most often in times like these-be they trivial nuisances which we elected to respond to poorly and fearfully or full-fledged proverbial “dark nights of the soul” – in which it can become convenient to give into and withdraw into our fears and draw away from our faith, and our awareness of and connection to God’s Love.
For a time in my life, it did that for me. Until I arrived at the wonderful realization that it was precisely in these times of duress when we have some of our grandest opportunities to develop an even deeper awareness of God’s Unfailing and Unconditional Love for all of us and serve to strengthen rather than distance our connection to the Divine.
This is by no means a new concept by any stretch of the imagination.
Despite what some who adhere to Biblical literalism might want us to believe, it is obvious to me that God has encouraged us to evolve considerably from the times in which the Scriptures were written to the present day. However, there are many aspects of our humanity, our emotions, and the framework upon which our faith is constructed which have remained unchanged and constant and are still as equally valid as they were then. Some emotions and thoughts about God are truly timeless and as relevant now as they were thousands of years ago.
I am not merely speaking of the spiritual teachings of Jesus, which are timeless, relevant and at the heart of developing an understanding of the Living, Loving God. Take the Psalms, for instance, as a shining example which I feel illustrates this point profoundly. While the Psalms are rich with great spiritual wisdom on a diverse array of topics, I feel that they are also a fascinating psychological study of the human psyche and how we relate to God.
When I read the Psalms, I see 150 instances of individuals not only striving to communicate with God, but seeking God – not in the physical sense, but the spiritual. A great many seem to project very human emotions such as the desire to defeat perceived enemies (Psalm 109), and reference the political climate of the times in which they were written (Psalm 110), and others even seem to express some of the darkest of human emotions such as vengeance (see also Psalm 109).
But I can see even more Psalms which seem to be echoing many relevant ideas we hold and struggles we still encounter, albeit in a different context, today. I see in the words written in many not only sentiments I myself have expressed at times, but also the thoughts which countless others desire to communicate with God, asking for help (Psalm 28), guidance (Psalms 68, 71 and 72), healing (Psalm 6) and the strength to forgive others (Psalm 32), offering gratitude (Psalms 75 and 103 and 104) and praise (Psalms 97 and 111), seeking strength in the face of adversity (Psalms 3 and 7), affirming reassurance in challenging circumstances (Psalms 23, 61 and 63 come to mind), affirming individuality and a deep connection with our Creator (Psalms 139 and 145) and at other times merely wondering “Why?”, “Have You forgotten about me?” and “Are You still there?” (Psalms 42 and 43).
There are countless examples, but every time I revisit them, I find the Psalms are still overflowing with spiritual wisdom and insight – even if that insight is in the words of another relating their personal feelings and experience of God to us – regarding nearly every topic we could imagine. The Bible I most often read from and reference, which includes an Inclusive Language version of the New Testament and Psalms and I did the experiment once of reading a Psalm or two a day along with a passage from the Gospels each day and it was very enlightening and enriching. I learned quite a bit in the process, and while it may not have answered any questions I find myself posed with from time to time, what it did do was affirm that I am not alone in the times when I might find my vision of God temporarily obscured, or suffer the illusion that God is distant during tough times.
And something very interesting came as a result: I was able to find pearls of wisdom which left me better equipped to take on the tough times when we might feel as if God is on sabbatical when we need God the most. I realized that when I get these feelings, or when any of us struggle during adversity, not only are we not alone in experiencing those feelings, God truly is everywhere and it is in how we respond to circumstances which will determine our level of realization of the fact of God’s Presence.
So what would be a good method of reassuring ourselves should we have others inquire of us, or even pose the question to ourselves during hardships of “Where is God” when we might mistakenly feel for a moment or a time as if we have lost God, or God has misplaced us, or is absent? Although my first answer is once again “everywhere” and “in my heart,” as I responded to the individual who inquired “where my God was” many years prior, and I still believe that, I feel that perhaps an illustration of what I mean by that would better suffice.
When we are in the midst of a traumatic experience, or loss, God is still ever present – if we are trusting, open aware and observant, and know where we should focus to find God. God is speaking through the caring and loving actions of those who comfort us in our time of sorrow, who sympathize with us, who stand by us in our seeming times of despair. God is in the moment when we suddenly have a cherished memory suddenly surface and momentarily eliminate any source of stresses we might feel under from our consciousness. God is in that unexpected burst of energy we were unaware we could call forth from our personal wellspring when all of our resources seem to have been spent and exhausted be it to help another in need or save ourselves, in our drive to carry on and persevere when all seems lost and we feel as if we are one on one with a sense of hopelessness. God is the spark of encouragement we receive in the words or wordless communication from a friend, loved one or even random stranger that reminds us we are never required to give up hope even when things seem impossibly bleak and futile. God is in what might initially seem like a serendipitous, chance encounter with an individual whom we find offers a valuable insight we might be seeking and searching for which provides us with a ray of Hope and a solution to that which has been perplexing us. And God is in the random act of kindness another shows to us in a time of need as God is in us when we do the same for another. God is in the devotional or the heartwarming news item we read this morning as we were wondering how we were going to get through what promised to be “one of those days.” God is in the rainbow we envision, either in a literal sense after a storm or in the metaphorical sense when we discover new knowledge or insight from others who offer us hope.
But it is not merely through the actions of others in which God is ever present and manifests, should be remain spiritually alive, awake and aware. God is constantly all around us and most of all, within all of us. If we seek God and Heaven Within as Jesus said instead of searching externally for concrete answers or “proof,” it can enlighten us to the fact that the very idea that we are alone and on our own is merely but a product of an overactive imagination polluted by negativity which we may have allowed to seep into a subconscious in need of being swept clean and new.
Just as the Psalmists did in their times of frustration and struggle, even if God appears to us to be silent or absent, we should still keep the channels of communication open; perhaps not necessarily via prayer and supplication, but merely by going within ourselves in and listening, as God will always be there, as close as our hearts. By listening, I don’t mean to infer that we literally should always expect a tangible response be that through something we see or hear or even the words or loving actions of another: sometimes, God talks back to us through helping us to develop a clearer personal insight utilizing our own gifts of reasoning, experience, and self discovery.
Even better still, one of the best ways I have found to jump start my own awareness of the reality of God in my life should I feel under pressure, duress, or isolation is to do something proactive to allow God’s Love to flow through me to another. Even if we reach a state where we might feel a temporary disconnect from God, our soul cannot forget those fleeting moments of joy and awareness in our lives that always make us smile, and what better way to illuminate our own darkened or shadowed soul during tough times than to strive to shed some brightness into the life of someone else. Whether life finds us living joyfully and unashamedly and with passion and purpose or finds us in a place of apprehension and a state of being unsure how to proceed, if we allow God’s Light, and the Spirit of Christ to shine through in every action to the best of our ability, so often it can become more visible and present to us as well, should we have lost sight of it momentarily during the midst of a darkened passage we may find ourselves traveling through along our journeys.
For the LGBT individual, and especially those of us who are Christians, I acknowledge that being bold in regards to our faith, having let go of some imagined requirement for repentance others may have attempted to yoke us with, and celebrating and cherishing our freedom as beloved children of the same Creator can prove to be challenging amidst all of the potential detractors who always seem anxious for the opportunity to exclude us from God’s Love. But if we always remember that they do not speak the final word for God, regardless of what their claims might be, what seems like an onerous challenge can become a bit lighter of a burden.
Yes, there are more than a few on both sides – believers and those who do not-who would cast me out. They can practice selective Scriptural interpretation to condemn me or any other LGBT person until the end of time. Yet, our very existence, sense of community and peace we have attained individually as LGBT Christians is to me a scathing indictment of their false accusation that we are somehow “unacceptable” to God. It isn’t spelled out in black and white anywhere in the Bible in a sense relevant to our day and age that there is anything flawed or wrong with any of us, and Christ Himself was explicitly clear that we are not to judge one another but to love one another.
While that is likely sufficient affirmation for many of us, there is more to it than that for me. While some denominations continue to exclude those who are LGBT and remain unflinching in their insistence upon demonizing LGBT individuals as well as the gift of human sexuality in general, the God I know and Love is not exclusive and Loves everyone, and is not concerned with who we are but rather how we treat one another. While some may judge my sexuality as “unnatural,” I know in my heart that it is just an aspect of how I was Made. While some might consider my being bisexual and having two partners to be a sin, I know in my heart that it is not a sin for myself as a bisexual to have honest, caring and committed relationships with both a female partner and male partner with love and respect for everyone involved, just as I know it is not a sin for a woman to love a woman, a man to love a man, or anyone to love anyone as long as any relationships entered into are sincere, honest, committed, loving, caring and respectful. While it would be wonderful to have others be more understanding and accepting rather than fearful and merely tolerant, I do not require their approval, acceptance or agreement to know that I am validated and Loved by God. God accepts all people as they are, regardless of what their sexual orientation or sexuality may be.
And I thank God every day for not only the peace I have found in self acceptance and knowing I am loved just as I am, queerness, quirkiness, and all, but also how that awareness has served to make me more loving and respectful of all others and refuse to view the world in black and white or drab gray, but rather in all of the colors of diversity of Creation. When others do criticize me, or attempt to sell me the lie of God forsaking me for who I am – I may not always know why I am enduring times of trial, but I remain forever certain it has nothing to do with God turning away or condemning me for living the truth of who I was Created to be with love and respect for others.
Many of us who are LGBT and Christian may know these things; it is my hope that those who do not know or think it impossible will come to know and experience and embrace the peace that accompanies them. And while I wish it were possible for miraculously and overnight for the ugly shadow of prejudice which unfortunately still seems to prevent full societal acceptance for LGBT people – and LGBT Christians to be lifted, I realize that it is a slow process, and one we should definitely hold steady on faith in. During these challenging times especially, fear and all sorts of “phobias” – homophobia, biphobia and transphobia-run rampant and those who remain judgmental are coming from a place of fear that it will take mountains to move. Challenging, though not impossible in time with faith and Love.
It might require time, peaceful struggles for justice, and the patience of Job (another excellent story representative of faith in times of trial), but I have total faith that the day will come when there will no longer be such a prevalent lack of full acceptance for all LGBT individuals. In the interim, I feel it is critical that all of us who identify as LGBT and Christian remember that others cannot speak the final word for God and we must not allow their perception of God obscure that of our own. Simultaneously, we must strive to always find our common ground, and work together towards that goal, even at times when we may not understand or disagree with one another, as that is the surest way to maintain our awareness of God working with us, in us and through us towards a greater place of peace, acceptance and understanding.
And I feel that if we wish to display God’s Presence in our lives to others-be they critical or supportive-in a truly profound way, that the very best way of doing so is through embracing the joy in our own lives and then demonstrating it through assisting others in need to find it. Rather than discuss feelings of persecution, be courageous in sharing our faith (not to mean evangelizing, but just sharing) and live unashamedly as both LGBT and Christian. Attribute the joys in our lives and the peace we have found through accepting and living freely as we are to God and our faith, and acknowledging that they are gifts and blessings rather than sources of guilt and shame, and being as much of a source of joy and happiness as we can to others through our attitude, our actions, our charity. Let others know that we are not afraid of God and have no need to be, and neither should they regardless of sexual orientation, because we know there is no reason to fear a God of Love. Just as negativity and fear are contagious, so, too are joy, hope, compassion and love and when spreading the latter, everyone wins.
If there is one thing experience has taught me about the nature of God other than the deep sense of knowing that God is Love and the ever present Source of all to Whom I am eternally grateful, it is that God is also incomprehensible, and still in many ways a mystery. And even though in life with its twists and turns I often find myself with more questions than solid answers, that has absolutely no negative effect on my knowledge that God is real whether we believe it or not; I simply cannot not believe. I agree with Carl Jung, I don’t believe, I know, and in both the bad times and the good.
Even if we believe, and/or know, we still might all experience our own proverbial “dark night of the soul” at one time or another in our lives. In times of crisis, it becomes easier for us to allow God to be obscured in our vulnerability where fear can creep in and attempt to plant its poison roots. And moments arise when we do feel as if we have been “forsaken,” when in reality nothing can separate us from God. While our perceptions may shift and evolve, God is unchanging and ever Present in all that we do and know, regardless of our level of acknowledgment or awareness of such.
But it is how we elect to respond to such difficult circumstances that can make every bit of difference. Experience has taught me time and time again to expect the best possible outcome should I trust and maintain my faith and resolve to do the right thing, even and especially when it seems that things are at their worst. When it seems as if at some juncture doors are closing, I have become more comfortable in trusting the process and allowing others to open, and seek to always discern the “silver lining” in any given circumstance, as to dwell upon the negative is only counterproductive to anything good transpiring.
Rather than “expecting the worst” I have learned it is far more beneficial to “expect the best,” as lowered expectations only serve to limit God’s Love. Christ taught the value of focusing on the positive, and the value of faith and rightfully so. I know that regardless of how dire things seem, for God, nothing is impossible if we maintain faith and seek to act as we are called and inspired to do to play our part in resolving whatever challenges we face in life or accomplishing what goals the Divinely Inspired desires of our heart define and draw forth with Love.
One key element of my faith which has been of great help for me is if I should find myself becoming too caught up in the details and questioning the reasons for this or that to remember what Jesus said about having a child like faith (which I believe to be one based in a sense of wonder, having no regard for dogma, and simplified down to base elements such as “God Loves us all” and “We should always be good to one another.” It means approaching God with a sense of pure Love and Trust, discarding all of the details, the particulars and the endless debates and proof-texting about what this or that does or does not mean in the Bible, and the attempt to explain things there is no seemingly meaningful rationalization for. I don’t know why bad things happen to good people sometimes, why good things happen for unloving people sometimes, or why things sometimes turn out in ways that at the time don’t seem fair. But we don’t have to, even if we could, to know God is real and that we are Loved. God is not what makes the bad things happen; God is there for us when they do. Still, in our humanity, we seem to have a built in predisposition for wanting answers to the “Why’s.”
At those times, when I feel my mind crowding, I have to revisit those simple feelings of faith, of being loved, of seeing and feeling God in everything around me, and of allowing myself to look at something in nature or the human mind or some other miracle remind me of the reality of God, and the assurance that none of us are forgotten by God, none of us is ever or will ever truly be left alone, and we are Loved. Although since the days of the Psalmists, our faith has evolved and should continue to evolve as God blesses us with more knowledge and understanding about the world and each other, I feel we should never ever discard that child like sense of faith that does not question or pick apart and attempt to dissect, but rather simply is. It is a place where we don’t care about reasons, we just want to trust and know that we are Loved and cared for, even if it may not seem that way to us at the time.
It may not work for everyone to do so, but I can state with confidence that I do not have and would not want a faith so limited that every single detail of every aspect was detailed in a book written thousands years ago rather than a faith that grows and evolves daily, one which is based in the journey of discovery and learning all of the details through life, through interaction with others, through experience, and through seeking the answers rather than having them immediately handed out from the beginning. Certainly, there are some constants, such as the spiritual guidance I find through the teachings of Jesus, through the Psalmists, and through the insight of those who wrote the Bible and their journey of discovery as their faith evolved. But to limit my faith to one narrow interpretation of the Bible – and to assume that God was finished speaking when it was finished being written would so limit the joy, the wonder and the adventure that a simpler faith which embraces the questions and the journey has blessed me with, and created my belief in God to be on a strong foundation.
Does having a faith which questions rather than professing to know and have all of the answers, one based in wonder rather than a solid fixed doctrine tailored to every aspect of minutia, and one which is not stagnant or fixed in a primitive and un-evolved idea of what God is signify that I have a rock solid faith that is never troubled, that is never tried and tested, that is never shaken, even during the rough times, the downs and the proverbial dark nights of the soul we sometimes all find ourselves facing? No. Not always. Even those of us who feel a deep spiritual connection to God, who find peace in the teachings of Christ, who strive to practice the Golden Rule as often as we can may at one time or another find ourselves struggling or find that our connection to God, our perception of God, or our knowledge of God’s Unconditional Love for us seems obscured. Do I always understand God? Heavens no. God is always a wonderful and incomprehensible mystery, and as much as we might evolve in our understanding, I don’t know if it is even remotely possible that we could come close to even a fraction of a full understanding, at least not in this lifetime.
But more importantly, does a faith based in a sense of trust and wonder provide me with a deep sense of knowing that no matter what, I am somehow loved with an Unconditional Love, that I am taken care of? Does it assure me that no matter how distant God could seem in a time of distress that God is somehow unfailingly Ever Present and constant in some form even if I can only feel that in my heart, soul and being? And most of all, does it serve to remind me that God is not only a reality, as close as my heart, and when all is said and done, that God is very much always there and everything really is okay?
To that, I answer resoundingly: Absolutely, and without a doubt.
John Campbell is a native of Alabama.