When I was in college, a friend asked how I as a Christian viewed her as a lesbian. I told her that I didn’t think of her any differently than I did of other non-Christians because I believed any life not based on the Lord Jesus Christ was sinful and destructive.
Oof! At least I didn’t rose-tint my opinion.
But I pondered for a long time whether I could have honestly given her a less loathsome response. I could not come up with an alternative.
To my relief, that woman and I were friends again within twenty-four hours. She recognized that my theology was at odds with my compassion, and she had the largeness of spirit to accept me despite my beliefs.
Around the same time, another relationship ended because of my religion. I loved a woman desperately, and the thought of her going to Hell made me frantic. She was not queer in any way: it was just that she didn’t think Jesus was God, and so, according to my views, she would be damned. After months of agonizing, I told her my belief, which convinced her I was crazy and hated her. I was at least half-crazed by then, but hatred wasn’t involved.
A decade and a half later, in 2010, I finally gave up my faith in a judging, condemning God.
It took that long because my sexual attractions were to other women. I clung to the most obvious interpretations of Biblical passages, worrying that otherwise my desires would dictate my beliefs and close my ears to the voice of the real, external God. In my fear of being swayed by self-interest, though, I was blind to the opposite impulse in myself—my readiness to assume that anything painful must be true.
Since my change of heart about God, I have continued to have some of the same conversations about sex and Hell that I’ve always had, except now I am told what I used to tell others. When I recently came out as bisexual to an Evangelical relative, she said, “Nobody’s perfect… I mean, we’re all broken…. I mean…. This isn’t going well.”
I know she wanted to affirm me, however much it sounded like condemnation.
Maybe she would have done better if I’d let her prepare a statement in advance—although she couldn’t have improved on the vulnerability of admitting: “This isn’t going well.”
Another long-term friend of my parents told me that Satan was trying to trap me, but she could hear my dead mother begging her to save me. That gave me sympathy for the woman in college who’d decided I was insane and dangerous—but it also gave me sympathy for my mother’s anguished friend.
We don’t yet have adequate language to describe Christians who care about LGBTQ people but cannot yet read the Bible in a way that justifies non-hetero sex. Such Christians may vote for marriage equality. They may stand up to their church’s stigmatizing homosexuality above other sins. The heteronormativity they find in the Bible may even strike them as absurd, but they don’t trust their own fallen instincts as a truer moral guide than the Word of God.
I’m not saying they’re right, because I don’t think they are.
I am just saying the word “homophobia” does not capture their situation. They are not afraid of lesbians, gays, bis and trans folk—they are afraid of God. My longing is that the LGBTQ community, especially LGBTQ Christians and allies, can model a path to loving these non-affirming Christians.
Such radical love can build bridges as these Christians learn to fully love us. Some of us have suffered too much to enter this conversation now, but for those of us who have the internal resources, I believe empathic communication is our best way forward. Listening is as important as stating our case.
As a society, we can and should require each other to act with respect toward every human being—but requiring people to agree with us? I’d be surprised if anyone really wants to live under the effects of that rule.
Demanding agreement is like demanding religious faith: all it can produce is resistance or charade, never transformation.
If we can find the grace for continuing dialogue, understanding can grow and lives can change in their own time, perhaps slowly, but truly—like mine did.
Photo via flickr user Savannah Roberts