I grew up in the Baptist Church and we did not commemorate the liturgical season of the Christian Church. When I became a pastor, it was my church in Sacramento that schooled me on Advent and Lent. I developed a deep appreciation for the spiritual concepts of developing patience (a core part of anticipation of Advent) and practicing releasing during the Lenten season. Lent is the appointed time in which we do our spiritual spring cleaning and get real before our God – the letting go of pretense, of ego, of trying to live our life on our own strength, apart from God. This is the season we take a real and sometimes harsh examination of ourselves and ask the question, “How am I doing?”
This is also the time of the year when love is typically in the air as we anticipate the arrival of Spring. And for a Pastor, that can only mean one thing – it’s time for premarital counseling sessions as couples prepare for summer weddings. Who doesn’t like to hear stories of romance and courtship? When you are in love, you just want to stay in that state of mind and keep those fires burning. I understand why some couples may not want to go through counseling prior to getting married – it is easier not to dig deep and stir stuff up that could cause conflict. Who is going to manage the money and pay the bills? How are we going to handle holidays? Wait, you had how many partners in the past? And if there is any emotional or physical abuse in the past, having honest and open communication will help with the landmines that are in every relationship.
The Lenten journey is kinda like a premarital counseling session. This is a very personal and individual time for us to be naked, if you will, before God. Sure you can try to pull the wool over the eyes of your partner to mask the real you, but eventually the truth will rise to the surface. If you identify as a Christian, you are claiming to be in relationship with God. If you are in a same gender-loving or queer relationship, having the time and space to explore the concept of a healthy marriage is vital to maintaining longevity. As I like to say, “Parents, Preachers and Politicians have given us so much baggage, we need to do the mental and spiritual spring cleaning of our hearts before we share it with another.”
Prior to being in a relationship, you were accustomed to living your life solo, doing things how you wanted without regard to the needs or feelings of a partner. The Lenten season provides Christians the opportunity to create a realignment of our hearts so we will not veer towards solo or selfish living. This spiritual realignment helps us love one another more perfectly.
As a queer Christian, I recognize there are some Evangelical Christians who may crinkle their noses at my supposedly oxymoron title. One of my favorite teachings that keeps me grounded is – “For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” I could use this teaching to shake my finger at those who question me or my marriage or I can point the finger back at myself and accept those who do not accept me. Being a Christian, in our very name, means that we are Christ followers. We are to be imitators of God. The way we imitate God is by imitating God’s heart. We can and are expected to love others in the way God loves us – whether it is the person we are about to marry or the person we want to cross the street to avoid. We become imitators of God when we take the time to quiet our mind and spirit in order to know the heart of God. Imitating God’s heart will strengthen our heart and strengthen our relationships. And who doesn’t want that?
Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow is the Senior Pastor of Metropolitan Community Church Detroit and also works with congregations on LGBTQ inclusion as the Director of Ministerial Outreach for the African-American Roundtable, a program of the Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies (CLGS) in Religion on the campus of Pacific School of Religion. Rev. Dr. Stringfellow has been consulted by media outlets regarding his work on marriage equality and religious liberty and the role people of color and communities of faith play in this national debate.