Growing up the thing that fascinated me the most about God was his size. My mother would tell me that God is bigger than everything. She would also tell me that God is everything, which I always questioned because wouldn’t that mean God would even be bigger than himself at times? Yet, my mother never scolded me for my questioning, just told me that it’s a normal part of being a Christian.
She explained, “There are just some things we will never know, and that son, is just fine.”
This question of size came up most often while sitting in Sunday service listening to the pastor’s sermon. Sunday after Sunday I would listen as our pastor would tell us the meaning of the Bible, not his interpretation, but rather the factual meaning. When he would say “homosexuality is a sin,” all would reply “amen,” and that would be the end of the conversation.
However, little teenage me could never let it end that easily. How could anyone possibly imagine God to be that simple? How could anyone actually think they are big enough to capture God’s meaning in something as juvenile as language?
When I brought my concerns back to my mother she assured me that my questions were valid. She also told me that the pastor’s biggest flaw is that he didn’t leave much room for faith. She said, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen.”
She explained that faith is one of the most important values for a Christian.
Faith allows us the levity necessary to come to terms with the fact that no matter how many times we read and reread the Bible we will only have a minimal understanding of all that is God. Faith is the thing that allows us to know God loves us despite all of our unanswered questions. It is faith that protects us from the sharp talons of this world.
After coming back from The Reformation Project’s (TRP) Regional Training Conference in Washington, DC, this past weekend, I couldn’t help but think about my mother’s childhood lessons on faith. The Reformation Project, founded by Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian, trains Christians to support and affirm LGBT people. The conference introduces attendees to biblically-based cases for affirming and integrating LGBT people into all aspects of church life.
When I first heard the premise of the conference I was excited because I knew I would finally get the opportunity to hear interpretations of the Bible that were contrary to the hate speech I grew up hearing. I couldn’t help but daydream about all the new insight on scriptures I would be able to discuss with my loved ones when I returned home.
However, as I sat in the church’s pews I couldn’t help but feel like I was back to being that teenage boy again.
I listened as the speaker told me the meaning of the Bible, not their interpretation, but rather, the factual meaning. They would say a point, all would reply “amen,” and that was the end of the conversation. However, my now twenty-four year old self still cannot let it end that easily. It began to feel like I was being asked to exchange one model of Christianity for the same model, just now with the word “queer” scribbled atop it. When has adopting the ways of one’s oppressor ever resulted in finding one’s authentic self?
However, what set this conference apart from my experiences with Church growing up was that, though the conversation ended in the sanctuary, further dialogue was encouraged in the breakout groups that followed each presentation. In each breakout session of about 10-15 people, we were all encouraged to bring up questions we may have had leaving the sanctuary.
The majority of the questions posed were related to clarifying certain argument points and being clear on what we would say in response to non-affirming rhetoric. Once we were finished with our questions, we each paired up with someone and acted out a conversation where one person was on the affirming side and other the non-affirming side.
As the person representing the affirming side, I spent the majority of the conversation simply responding to homophobia.
My counterpart would say one thing; I would discredit it with my own reading of scripture, and the conversation would continue as such until the facilitator called time. It was this idea of having to “respond” to homophobia that was the most triggering for me because, in fact, it is nothing new.
I am not only a gay man, but also a gay black man who has lived the majority of his life in response to people who think my very existence is “sinful” and “lesser than.” While listening to the different speakers, I felt myself being armed with scripture instead of affirmed by it, and this truly troubled me.
My main reason to better know the Bible isn’t birthed from a desire for some outward form of resistance, but rather from an inner form of healing and growth within God. My intent traveling to this conference was not to recreate scenes I deal with on a daily basis.
Instead, I hoped to gain information that would allot me enough serenity to no longer even feel the need to engage.
The most dangerous aspect to one believing they have the Bible’s homophobia completely debunked is that when an opponent introduces an argument you do not have a ready response to, what then becomes of your plan of action? I certainly left DC with more information than I came with, but I am not entirely confident that I’ll be able to use all my talking points effectively when confronted by a conservative who “knows” the Bible inside and out.
Again, what happens when the person I am conversing with is a little better versed than me and is rifling off scriptures that I am not yet equipped to combat? In my experience, this is usually the part where I begin to question myself. Yet, if the concept of “questioning” isn’t acknowledged as being okay, than it may be easier to feel defeated in these moments instead of continuing to seek better understanding.
Without a shadow of a doubt, I know that identifying as any of the letters in our LGBTQ community is not a sin. However, I know this not only because of scripture, which clearly states “God is love,” but also because of the times God has made his presence known loud and clear within my own life.
It is those times that formed this unmovable faith within me.
So even when I have questions of God, and even when someone is reading misinterpreted lines of Leviticus, I know for sure that faith is all the evidence I need for all things I cannot see. Granted, many would insist that personal experience is not a valid enough argument. However, my response is, “Why isn’t it?” This may be the Baptist coming out of me, but what is God if not personal?
With this being said, I am still grateful for the work of the Reformation Project. Just yesterday while out to dinner with one of the youths I mentored at my previous job, he shared with me how his grandmother attempted to exorcize him after finding out he is gay. He told me about how she is a religious woman who is always quoting Bible scriptures as a means to explain why his sexuality is sinful.
Without a blink of an eye I pulled out the packet of information we all received during the conference, and together, we went page to page reading and learning more about God’s teachings. It is this sort of discourse that I care most about. If the man on the corner wants to scream “God hates the gays,” then why not just allow him to scream? I would rather spend my time affirming members of our LGBTQ community (as well as individuals who stand in solidarity with our community) that we are all loved just as God intended.
Being able to provide a counter-narrative of the Bible to our LGBTQ community is vital; however, it is not the end of the work.
Let’s not simply adopt the model of our counterparts but rather set a new standard. Let us not continue to make God out to be as small as our opponents portray him. Let us allow God to be large, loud and all-encompassing.
Photo via flickr user caruba