The following post is a contribution from Kathy Baldock. Kathy is a loving and caring ally of the LGBT community who is working to repair the breach between the church and GLBT Christian community and is available to speak, inform, listen, and converse on the topics of dis/inclusion of the gay community in the Christian church and marriage equality. To find out more about Kathy and her work visit Canyonwalker Connections and Affirming Christian Network
(Before thoughts: if you have received this link from a friend or family member who is part of the gay or transgender community, please do invest the few minutes to read it and then consider if perhaps you are currently in the place I was a few years ago. I had no gay friends, I knew nothing about gay or trans Christians and believed my interactions with them to be within the dictates of Scripture. And then . . . )
I had a conversation last week with a friend, Ross Murray, the Deputy Director of Lutherans Concerned. We talked about the work he does for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Lutherans into the Evangelical Lutheran Church America and its congregations. Over a several day period, Lutherans Concerned staff conduct conversations and exchanges with leaders and congregations in hopes of extending a genuine invitation for full acceptance and inclusion of all people into a church body. The process is called “graceful engagement”; how lovely and honorable a term. I think I may even be a bit envious.
I am a twenty-five year veteran of the Evangelical Church. We haven’t learned tolerance and inclusion of the gay community quite as well as some of the other denominations. We are the ones that go to Bible studies regularly, worship for forty minutes, sit through hour-long sermons each Sunday and never just leave after communion is over. We are fat on information and skinny on justice towards the gay and trans community.
The deeper I grow in my faith, the complexities of all the personal Bible input over the years can now be reduced to very simple statements. If I cannot get these very basic points solid, I am of little use in the world to the God I say I live to serve. I may know verses ad nausea or have stacks of Bible study books on my shelf, but, I need to be concerned if I am not accurately reflecting Jesus Christ and drawing people to Him.
The whole of my faith can be summarized in three words: mercy, compassion and love. Erase these three words from my intentions, actions or reactions, and, I look more like me than Jesus. It has taken me decades to get this. My how-I-show-up-in-the-world theology can be embodied in a few verses:
Micah 6:8 “Love justice, do mercy and walk humbly with God.”
Isaiah 58:6-12 paraphrased: What God wants is for us to loosen the chains of injustice, set the oppressed free, share our food with the hungry, provide shelter to the poor, clothe the naked, spend ourselves on behalf of the hungry and oppressed and then He will supply our needs, make our light shine in the darkness, guide us, satisfy us and strengthen us.
Matthew 5-7 The Beatitudes of the Red-Letter Jesus. All of it.
As I have grown in my relationship with Jesus, it has become less about me and more about how I imitate Him. Am I guilty of many of the self-centered behaviors I see scarring my world, defaming my Jesus and wounding the oppressed even further? Absolutely. Years ago, my friendships were limited to inside the church, my actions were very vertical between me and God and my knowledge gave me the “super-ability” to evaluate not only how well I was doing with God (oh, at least a B+), but also how well others were doing too. Today-me shakes my head at yesterday-me. It was a comfortable Christianity and it worked well for me. But, when you are a Christian, it is so not about you. Maybe what I experienced and learned can benefit someone reading this or maybe it will look familiar enough to cause you to make closer inspection of yourself.
Until 2001, I did not even have any gay people in my circle of friends. None. Yet, armed with my Bible and what I witnessed and heard, I comprehended enough to “know” they made a choice to be gay, that being gay and a Christian were mutually exclusive and they were entrenched in a lifestyle that excluded some of the moral values I treasured. There are 6.9 billion people on the planet, we each have about 70,000 thoughts each day and live, on average, 67.2 years. And, I had how many gay friends? None. Yet, I created a story in my own imaginings of who they were, how they acted, what they wanted and how they were to be treated. My gay-view was for the most part based on 7 verses in the Bible, none of which I had ever read in context. I had not studied one word in the original Hebrew or Greek that was translated as “homosexual”, nor had I investigated the circumstances in which any of these verses were written. And still, I had made my decision concerning about 5% of the world’s population (that is over 300 million people). Are you seeing yourself in this at all?
To bolster my own uniqueness on this crowded orb, I could proudly tell you that I “am fearfully and wonderfully made”, but did I allow the queer community the same honor? No. Without the investment of time, relationship or dialogue, I was designated as Story Teller of Others, Judge and Assessor. And, I did not even see that I was doing it. I could have given you fifty verses as to why I was right and justified and would not have listened to the contrary. If anyone had spoken to me about my attitudes towards the gay community at that time, I would have felt justified in my theology. I was a “good” person, but remained snugly entrenched in my comfort zone.
I felt compelled to tell “the truth in love” and did so quite a few times. (Cringing as I type this.) Not the truth-will-set-you-free kind of truth, but the let-me-lock-you-up kind of truth. Some of you that have spent time with me in the last few years could never imagine I could have ever been like this. Of course, I would have been polite to you and you probably would have liked my company, but I would not have seen you as an equal in the things of God. My Christianity was a list of do’s and don’t’s for me and for you.
So, why the shift? Concurrent processes were happening in my life from 2001 to 2006. My marriage of twenty years was ending and I was hurting enough to glue myself onto God. I was spending more time hiking, a sacred place for me to think and pray. And, it was on those trails that I ran into Netto. My wonderful buddy Netto. Native American, the singularly best female athlete I have in my friend circle, an agnostic and a lesbian. If it were any other time in my life, I would not have been ready for relationship with her.
My know-it-all attitude was already being confronted by having my Christian marriage ending over fidelity+ issues and I was open to considering that maybe I did not have all the answers, maybe I did not understand as much as I thought. I was in that scary place of failure and being unsure. I was ripe for change.
To stretch in any area of growth and to shed the comfort of assurance is unsettling and intimidating. My comfort was broken just enough to allow challenge to some of my core beliefs about several things. So, for me, it was crisis that opened me more to God’s Spirit. My own voice and opinions were becoming less loud in me; I was hurt and willing to listen. This was a pivotal point in my own faith walk. I moved out of the known and into the scary. In several areas. Letting a lesbian into my formerly well-ordered, well-understood, well- doctrined world confronted the more horizontal part of my Christianity—the way I treated people. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is very easy to do when the tribe you travel in looks like you and you all follows the God-rules. What about when your neighbor is, you are told, amongst the most dangerous to family and faith? Or not of your faith, your political party, your heritage, your sexual orientation? What if your neighbor is homeless and poor and uneducated? Or disabled or a minority? Or obese or young or old? How are you doing with those “others” ? I really hope my sincerity about this journey resonates with some of you readers. I have been there. It is far easier to ignore all those “others” but could you ever really justify that Jesus would have done that? He hung out with the ones ignored by others: the extortionists, the prostitutes and the smelly laborers. I think He might be with the ones most of us would steer clear of : the minority trans teens, the immigrants, the homeless, the street hookers. Would you follow Him there? Or just wait for Him at the 10 o’clock service? The stretch is near impossible for most of us to imagine and I really do empathize.
I stepped outside the known and over the next five years, Netto and I hiked about three thousand miles together. Really. Hiking together is just code in my life for conversation on trails. I was able to really know Netto and dozens of her friends. Balancing the 7 verses about same-sex behavior in the Bible in tension with the love mandate of Jesus pushed me into that “I don’t know” space. Yuck. I was growing in my own relationship with God; it was less about rules and more about grace and mercy. Grace and mercy on me from Him. It flowed outward to those around me. I had to understand it before I could extend it. I often say, you cannot export what you do not have. I can now see that the way believers treat the needy, the less powerful and those on the edge says more about their own relationship with God than just about any other indicator. When I see grace come out of a person, that is what is in their reservoir. When I see anger and intolerance come out, then unresolved pain is in their reservoir. I was personally going through massive, miraculous, marvelous healing and grace was filling the newly available places in me. Grace was filling my reservoirs and it was coming out.
That is the long/short of how I got to this place. I have been where the bulk of the Christian church is today in its views of the gay Christian and gay and trans communities. Now, I have been solidly working within the gay and trans Christian community for almost five years. The division is obvious, the breach is wide and the opportunity for dialogue is now.
I call the work I do “repairing the breach” from Isaiah 58 :12; I have an advantage as I stand in this broken down, cavernous space between the church and the GLBT Christian community. Been on one side, know the other. The traditional church is fearful that the family, marriage and their interpretation of the Bible is undermined by GLBT Christians demanding their place at God’s Table. It may even feel like a betrayal of your faith to just listen to what they want to say. Maybe though, where I was is where you are? Have you ever read those 7 verses in context, for yourself or with a concordance? Have you ever gotten close enough to a GLBT Christian to see that indeed the fruits of the Holy Spirit reside in them? Have you ever listened to their story? Not the one you think you know. I was wrong and, not just a bit wrong. I had to risk not knowing to listen to them and to God.
Martin Luther King said, “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other because they have never communicated with each other.” This so resonates with me. I was guilty of it. I made up my own story about gay and trans people according to my truth about them. Are you doing that? When you humbly get outside your own understanding and story and engage another person that is nothing like you, it can be challenging and scary. What if you are wrong about them? What else might you be wrong about? It is safe to be able to fold things up into tidy packages and place them in the “I understand this” box. When something does not fit, oh my, who else, what else might you be wrong about? This is a terrifying experience to those that thrive on control and having answers. (you know who you are.) If you are that person, you can barely consider the thought of dismantling this fortress. If your M.O. is to push for answers and you need to assess blame and you must always be right, ooooh, this will torque your brain in many painful directions. When was the walk of Christianity promised to be easy?
Fear blinds us, fear prevents love, fear causes hate and destruction. The Bible tells us the opposite of love is fear. If you are not loving the person that looks the least like you, the problem is you. No excuses. We need to get this right and stop blaming “others”. Jesus offered no caveats on the treatment of others. “But, they sin Lord, they are wrong, they don’t deserve it.” And, you sin, you’re wrong and you don’t deserve it either. Youknow this is the truth.
What would it look like to question your “truth”? Could you lay down the 7 verses and the sword try “graceful engagement”? Could you try to see the beauty and uniqueness of the other? If this scares the stuffing right out of you to do dialogue and risk being wrong, you may well need some grace in your reservoir, and that is between you and the Holy Spirit. Some one on one mentoring in your personal relationship with God. I know I could not have been welcoming and loving to the “others” in my life in the place I was ten years ago. Kind, nice, yes, but loving, no.
So, how are you showing love? And, in my area of particular calling, how are you showing love to the GLBT Christian and gay and trans communities? Speaking “truth in love” is usually a smokescreen. If you have not earned respect and trust in the life of the other, you have no right to go down that path anyway. You get to serve and love. You will never argue people to a loving God. I wrote a blog post “Three Things GLBT Christians Want You to Hear”; perhaps you might start there for some insights. Ask questions, and listen. Ask a GLBT Christian their story and humbly begin to replace your story about them with their story. Take the chains off them, take the chains off your mind. You will find commonality and people who really do love God. Focus on the places where you can come together in agreement. The process may well be long; it took me over five years to see my gay friends as equals. You may well be a better student of the Holy Spirit, my process was not intentional, God directed me through it for His purposes. I did not get up one morning and decide to go hug a homosexual.
As for the non churched queer community, they never bought into the God-rules, so stop laying them on them as if they had. I Corinthians 4:15 tells us not to be meddlers in the world. When the gay and trans communities protest for their civil rights and you feel “threatened”, it is not persecution directed at you. You are meddling. Civil rights are determined by our courts and government, not by the Bible. (check out my post about Marriage Equality, another article I never could have written five years ago.)
And, to my gay Christian friends, many of you are wonderful at extending grace. Some of you . . . not so good. You are angry at the injustices, the hate, the discounting and disqualifications laid upon you. You have had a tough road paved with disappointment, pain and non-acceptance. I have heard a thousand stories. Grace needs to be in your reservoir too. Some of you have it to overflowing and have taught me the beauty of extending it to those who really do torment you. You need to walk to this place in the middle too. Pray for forgiveness towards those who treat you unequally. As your oppressors drop their weapons, forgive them and bless them. In I Corinthians 16:9, Paul saw “a great door for effective work has opened to me and there are many who oppose me.” And, it is so now. The door is open, walk through in love too. Many do and will oppose you. If we each walk to the center, maybe we can indeed repair the breach together. A breach is a break, a rupture in relations or promise. This split can’t be pleasing to the Jesus we say we follow. He is a tough act to follow, but that is what disciples do, they follow.
Equality for the GLBT community is coming and we, as Christians, both straight and GLBT, have a great opportunity in this to grow in grace and love as we challenge our judgments and fear. We can either do this the world-way of yelling and polarizing or the Jesus-way of engaging with hospitality. Up until now, the church has been very guilty of conducting ourselves in the world-way. We are not looking very Jesus-like to those outside the church. Please, don’t dismiss me and hang onto 7 verses as a validation for ugly behavior. Above all else, you are expected to treat every one of God’s creation (that is all of us) lovingly and respectfully– all people, every group of “others”. Start with the fellow believers that have a different sexual orientation than you. Then go on to the next group of “others”. And watch yourself grow and become shining lights, salt of the earth and reflections of Jesus.
So, are you going to stick on “fear” or respect that we are each “fearfully and wonderfully made”? Can we work on our own relationship with God so that we can get better at love and then extend it in the meeting place of graceful engagement? The church should be leading the way in modeling the right way, the Jesus way to peace. Trade in your fear for His love. There is growth and blessing in stretching, on both sides of the divide.
And, thanks to Ross Murray for working actively in the process of graceful engagement in the Lutheran Church for inclusion of all others. Those Lutherans, they do more than just make great jello salads! (You can listen to our I 43 interview with him from August 23 to 30 at 8 am and 5 pm PST on www.AffirmingChristian.com, click on “Listen 24/7” and then it will be archived.)
And as for my buddy Netto, a year ago, after eight years of hiking and doing life together, she is now a regular member of a United Church of Christ Church. Her life has significantly changed as she trusts and now loves God. She says “It was never anything you said to me Kathy; it was how you treated me and treat others.” My friend who was disgusted by Christianity and Christians. Relationship. God used this lesbian agnostic to change me and He used a now-able-to-love-Christian to change her. Plan A. His plan.