As I write, it’s been a mere two weeks since I gave a message and wrote a blog post where in both, I “came out” as a gay loving, homosexual affirming pastor to my church, friends, and family. No big deal, right?
Honestly, I never quite imagined the kind of responses I would receive, each one walking me further along the tip of the iceberg of what one must surely experience when “coming out” as a gay person in our culture today. Perhaps I should have know, but who could really? I will tell you this, my perspective on what it can look like to “come out” as a gay person in America has forever expanded with disturbing awareness. The handling of homosexuals and homosexuality by many Christians has become no less than the new racism of the 21st century.
Just shy of death threats, which are probably not far around the corner for me, even as a front-line, controversial Christian writer and pastor, I have been shocked at the negative and hurtful responses from some. Even more disturbing is the calculative results that conclude all the hateful, vial responses have come exclusively from Christians, the very people who profess Jesus as the model for their life.
I prepped our church weeks before that Sunday, and even tipped my hand to the cards I was going to play in addressing more specifically the issue of homosexuality, hoping to ease us further into the waters that I had already increasingly tipped our toes into from the very beginning of the formation of our ministry. On that day, a few chose to not listen or even consider my teaching before I could even teach it, opting out of attendance. Among those, there was a stated fear of receiving new information that could potentially change their mind, others among them just walked away… no words, no communication, no nothing. People who had journeyed close by my side for some time, left it, without a sound, statement, or blink of an eye. The relationship in the end perhaps became disposable or just too difficult. It was clear that some who came, already formed their conclusions, but went through the motions of being present before quickly telling me of their no longer future presence; of course, through a text or email.
I understand, I really do, this is a complicated issue. There are a lot of strings and traps attached. I have been on the other side of the fence. I get it. It’s a tough issue, it takes time. I hold nothing against. Same love, same respect.
I never asked anyone to agree and repeatedly communicated that one of the defining values we have as a church is that our unity is not based on us all agreeing upon a certain set of beliefs, but on our willingness to agree to disagree and yet have the maturity, tolerance, and humility to still love, respect, and do life and ministry together from a foundation of Grace. Our church is purposed on being less of a church and more of a table, where everyone has a seat in the conversation, the life, the relationships, and the feasting on the Grace of Jesus.
For some, this unique church ethos is a fresh wind of hope and delight they never knew could exist. For many, they are thinking, deconstructing, and reexamining their faith, asking the ultimate question of their biblical understanding, “have I read this right?” All, while still seated, connected, loving, respecting, serving, and experiencing authentic, spiritual community. Many our clapping on the insides with overflowing enthusiasm, others are giving Christianity another chance as they find this compassion, courage, unique church culture, and revelation of scripture something of the miraculous.
It is truly a beautiful thing.
Outside of church, there has been the silent treatment. People I always heard from, going unheard from. Glares, non-verbals of disappointment. The unspoken, yet clearly heard voices of shame. Others communicating their disagreement openly and respectfully, others, not so much. Waves of de-friending, all from… Christians.
I truly admire those who disagree with my perspective on the issues, yet still pledge their love, friendship, conversation and desire to stay by my side. They refuse to let their stance on the issues usurp their stance “with” me. In the same spirit that Jesus died for the ungodly, they are willing to stand with what they perceive is unbiblical and perhaps ungodly… me. Not from a condescending spirit, but from one of unconditional love, togetherness, and respect. This, I deeply treasure and joyfully extend as it’s been extended to me.
Some are more passive aggressive. Disagreeing on the inside, and acting on their disagreements in the shadows. Murmuring, chattering, making me pay subtly, behind the scenes, all the stuff you remember from middle school, now on display in adulthood. Precious, isn’t it?
And this, just “coming out” as one who simply affirms and loves someone and something certain people are against. I can’t imagine “coming out” as actually being a gay person, as hard as it has been for me in just affirming them. Holy crap, batman.
Yet, I wouldn’t trade it all for the conversations I have had with people who are gay or have family members who are gay. One person could barely control the speed of their words as their excitement couldn’t be restrained in finally having a pastor to talk with who understood and supported.
Tasting and seeing, breathing for the first time. Resurrected to life. One after the other.
I wouldn’t trade it all for the atheists, the skeptics, the undecideds, the “done’s” who are actually finding new faith or a faith restored because of this courageous, compassionate, conversational, free, humble, serving, unconditional loving, Grace flowing flavor of Christianity and “church.” The original, the pure Gospel in flesh, and fleshed out, right before their eyes.
I wouldn’t trade it for all the friends who have shown themselves to be true friends. Who when the shit hit the fan, they stood with me and took it, and are taking it, boldly and even cheerfully. Some with even a Jesus-crazy, Grace-intoxicated smile on their face as if to say, “bring it on, you bastards.”
I wouldn’t trade it for the after-Sunday-service hug of my sixteen year old, heterosexual son, who had never quite hugged me that hard while speaking into my ear, “Great job dad, I am so proud of you.”
I wouldn’t trade it for the peace I have, and the sense of fully realizing the heart of Jesus in me and through me as I boldly and unapologetically love, affirm, and defend homosexual people and their families everywhere.
I will not stop. I will not be silent.
It may be cold…but this cold cannot touch the fire from above and from within.
I will fight as long as it takes, and I have breathes to take.