Church and it’s members have been on my heart the past few weeks, and I know my blogging skills are always better when I write about what I’m most passionate about in the moment. As you know, I’ve blogged about my faith before, and my background. I am a Christian, and while I grew up in the church, I made a Profession of my personal faith when I was 16. I’m not always stellar about studying Scriptures, or praying, and I struggle to be as good bringing up my kids in faith as my parents were. I grew up in a very spiritual home, the kind I wouldn’t describe as religious because it was more than that. Just because we went to church twice on Sundays and to Christian schools wouldn’t qualify as spiritual, but it was that we learned bible stories, we prayed as a family, I know my parents prayed for us, and encouraged spiritual growth. I want to be that for my kids, but, since consistency is definitely a weakness, it’s always a struggle. However, I hold dear to my heart what a friend who’s kids were grown told me, that our kids sometimes turn out in spite of us. Believe it or not, that comforts me when I have days I think I’m failing. So to say we rejoiced last week as our 3 oldest made profession of faith in the form of being baptized would be an understatement. I’m glad God is still tracking them even when I’m not doing the best job at it.
I feel that as a gay Christian, one who came out late in life but grew up a Christian, I am in a unique position. I’m comfortable in church, even when I don’t agree with how they view my marriage to my wife. I can approach the topic with more of an objective view to begin the dialog. Having been at one point long ago on the other side of the argument, I can see that perspective. I don’t take it personally, so I can begin the debate without so much emotion. Mostly. 🙂
But let me back up a moment. When I was growing up, I was a kid who saw the world in black and white. My faith was strong, as well as my opinions. I guess that hasn’t changed much, I still hold strong opinions, but they are different than what I had earlier in life. I viewed homosexuality as mostly a choice, and felt the Bible was pretty clear on the topic. I don’t feel that way anymore, and as much as it sounds like I’m simply changing my mind to justify my life, I just feel like sometimes God uses life to get you to see things differently. And He definitely did in this case. I had a negative view of gay people, so God showed me my brother. I came around, but not 100%. So God put some gay neighbors and birth clients in my way. I came around a little more, but not enough to show God’s true grace. Then, God gently pointed out that there may be a reason I was struggling, and put my wife in my path so I could finally see not only who I was, but how my mind needed to shift to be Christ’s love for this group of people in the world, who I am now included.
I’ve had it easy coming out, all the way around. I’ve lost some people, but I’ve kept many more than I’ve lost, as well as gained new. Coming out to my family was merely a blip, and they love and accept me all the same. Even church, for the most part, has been semi non-eventful. Christian churches are lightyears ahead of what we were even 20 years ago. The churches I have attended have slowly graduated to more of a tolerant, “you are welcome here”, type attitude, rather than “we need to ask you to leave”. While I would love for it to be full acceptance, I think it’s important to acknowledge the progress that has been made and to be thankful that it’s progress. This is one reason why we are far from done with the church. It’s easy to lose sight of the progress when you have not reached your goal, but it’s really important. We find ourselves remembering that with children often. We have our goals for them, but it’s a long road. When they haven’t mastered what we want of them, it’s easy to feel frustrated and want to give up. But then you see the steps they have taken, and it’s important to encourage and praise those steps.
The church we are attending now is in this category. We are welcomed and encouraged to attend, though there are barriers we cannot breach, and we disagree on how we view openly gay people. I know our church views it as a sin, yet welcomes us anyway. Hackles are rising as this is read right now, but take a deep breath! Yes, I see that this isn’t ideal, but it’s a level above, “hate the sin love the sinner”. Of course, we don’t agree that we are sinning, and it’s a bit uncomfortable to know that this is how we are viewed, but I don’t get the feeling that on a personal level we are being labeled that way. Nobody’s stopped us in the hall to challenge us or invited us to attend an ex-gay meeting or to coffee to convict us. I know there is some intent of, “We welcome you because if you come long enough, perhaps we can persuade you to realize you are wrong and change your ways.” It is partly the intent, and yet, I get the feeling that it’s not the whole intent. It’s a scaled down level of rejection, but it’s somewhere in the middle. I don’t agree, but, it’s progress.
I think most gay Christians end up in one of 2 categories: They attend a church, realize it’s not 100% affirming, and either leave and never go to church again, or, seek a church that is affirming, regardless of how that church is meeting their spiritual needs. I can respect that, and it is sad that it can be so painful for the majority of gay Christians. Choosing to turn their backs on the church can often end spiritual growth as well as seeking a church that is affirming yet not suited to the rest. Of course, I am sure there are many affirming churches that meet spiritual growth as well!
Here’s why I think it’s important to not turn and walk away. Because if we did that, like so many other couples before us, the church never has to think about this issue any deeper than an impersonal issue. Each couple or individual that walks away means that the church has dodged the bullet for the next little while, secretly hoping that it might not come up again. Because it’s uncomfortable. Because change and growth is uncomfortable. Because realizing there may be more to the issue can be uncomfortable. But when we stay, quietly, lovingly, consistently, it begins to change from an issue into a person. And until an issue becomes personal, it’s simply an issue. A black and white topic.
Churches are far from perfect. As much as we want them to be perfect, they cannot be. They are a product of a fallen world, made up of sinners, and made up of mankind. No church is perfect, just as no person can be. This is not a condemnation of them or a reason to walk away, but an acceptance that perfection belongs to God alone. Churches, like people, can neither be all good, or all bad. They are good because they were created by God, bad because they exist in a fallen world. There are always levels of “goodness”, sticking points, and mistakes. A good church, like a good person, is one who fails regularly but strives to be better, admits mistakes, repents, and tries again. When we walk away because we believe a church is in the wrong, we mistakenly believe that the church is perfect. We don’t treat our relationships the same way. We know our friends, our spouses, our children are imperfect. They hurt us at times, they make mistakes, they believe they are right when perhaps they are wrong. We challenge them at those times, we confront the hurt, we point out the mistakes. We forgive. We accept people for who they are, the whole chaotic mess, the good with the bad. We need to do the same for the church.
I’m not saying we accept all the bad because of the good. But, Christians need to treat the church the same as they want the church to treat them: We aren’t perfect, but we love unconditionally. And we challenge beliefs, mistakes, and imperfections lovingly.
We focus so much on trying to convince the church that they are wrong, that we forget that as gay Christians we can’t give up on the church. I’ve made the mistake already. Several blog topics have been addressed to Christians and the church, trying to convince them that they are wrong. It’s easy to do and it’s an easy target. But now, I’m convicting people like ourselves, to be the love, the light FOR the church in this moment. Don’t we need to be showing the church that we love them unconditionally, even though they may be wrong on this topic? We ask for grace, but we also need to give grace. The church isn’t perfect and it never will be. But, there is hope because of God’s grace and love for us and the church.
We aren’t going to give up on the church because my calling as a Christian is to show love and grace. Jesus himself points out that it’s easy to love people who love you. Anyone can do that. The challenge is showing unconditional love even when you don’t agree, or you could justifiably walk out in righteous hurt and anger.
I believe the key words are grace, love, and speaking the truth in love. I believe the church’s stance on homosexuality is the last big bump in the road, just as slavery, interracial marriage, remarriage, and women in church office was in the not so distant past. I believe it takes time, grace, and open discussion to turn things around and we need to be patient.
We aren’t going to give up on the church because the church needs us like we need them. We need each other.