Shortly after coming out to my church, I began to notice just how many LGBTQ people our congregation had. While my time prior to deciding to come out had been full of nerves and worry, my time after was filled with new friends and role models.
In particular were two couples, both made up of two women, who inspired me simply by existing.
They were strong, funny, and, most importantly, out and proud. I felt comfortable talking with them about my life and my crushes and wondered if someday I, too, would be in a relationship like either of theirs. They were the lesbians any queer young woman could ask for.
Every year, my home church holds what they call “Full Inclusion Sunday,” where they lift up LGBTQ issues within the church. On one particular Full Inclusion Sunday, one of my inspirational lesbians went up and told part of her story. Although I don’t remember much of what was said, there are two things that still stick out to me.
First, I recall the sense of pride I felt in how welcoming my church was. Second, I remember this woman, who was in a relationship with another woman, announcing that she was a proud bisexual.
I had made the mistake that so many make: I judged someone’s sexual orientation based on their partner.
As both time and conversations went on, I learned something even more disheartening: none of my inspirational lesbians actually identified as lesbians. I had made this mistake four times.
It is said that one should never judge a book by its cover. Well, I’d like to add that one should never judge someone’s sexuality by who they date, or who they marry. Sure, it may feel like an honest mistake; I identify as bisexual, and I still did this.
But if we truly want to be an inclusive and welcoming Church for all, we can’t make assumptions about people based solely on what we see.
People, much like Scripture, are more than what we see on the surface.
When we make assumptions about Scripture based on just what’s on the surface, we end up with overly simplified and often inaccurate interpretations. We assume that Jesus really likes talking about sheep and riddles or that the same rules that applied to a group of people thousands of years ago still apply to us in the exact same ways today.
When we fail to dig deeper, search for context, and really learn about the history of the text and the people it was written for, we stop ourselves from gaining any true understandings of Scripture.
Similarly, when we make assumptions about people based on who they’re involved with romantically, we end up with overly simplified, often inaccurate ideas of who is in our pews.
We reduce people to a false gay/straight dichotomy, even if we have worked to make our language inclusive of all.
Plus, we set ourselves up for situations in which single people get to assign themselves a label (if they so choose), but those in relationships get assigned one by us. When we fail to dig deeper, search for context, and really learn about parishioners and their relationships, we stop ourselves not only from knowing people, but from truly knowing those who make up the body of Christ with us.
Making assumptions based on one’s partner not only erases the possibility of bisexuality, pansexuality, and other non-monosexual orientations, it keeps us from showing each other true hospitality.
To show true hospitality means getting to know someone so well that we don’t have to rely on surface appearances or snap judgments to figure out their sexuality. It is to accept them and learn about them so that we understand them as a full person who may or may not want to open up to us about their orientation.
To show true hospitality to someone is to worship in ways that lift all people up, regardless of their relationships.
It is to speak in ways that affirm all sexualities and all parishioners, whether they are in relationships or they are single.
To show true hospitality to someone is to let them take the lead and tell their own story. It is to leave our expectations at the door and recognize the divine beauty in the contributions of all orientations.
If this is a mistake you’ve made, don’t be too hard on yourself. Like I said before, I identify as bisexual (in fact, I’ve written about it several times on Believe Out Loud’s blog!), and I still made assumptions about other people.
Having said that, we all have room to do better and try harder.
I’m getting married in a month and a half, and while I love my fiancee, I know neither of us wants to be defined solely by the other person. We are both bisexual children of God who wish to be seen and known as such, and I know we are not alone.
Let’s extend true hospitality to all and lift up learning and knowing instead of surface judgments of the people in our pews.
Photo via flickr user Mars Hill Church Seattle