Respect for Gay Christians.

When I became a Christian I was a ten year old girl whose dad was a pastor, raised in a home where everyone had always been Christian.  My grandparents on one side were conservative Mennonites, and on the other side were Amish.  Reverence for God and traditional values were in my blood.  Had I not publicly vowed my faith, it would have been shameful for a lot of people in my life.  When I, as a teen, stopped going to church and publicly condemned the church for having abandoned myself and other freaks like me I’m sure my parents did grieve, and I’m sure there was some genuine embarrassment. When I returned to the church it was like going back to the house I was born in, it was warm and comforting.

I say this to illustrate the difference felt by someone I know who came to the church as a teenager already knowing he was gay.  He hadn’t been raised in the church.  He felt a deep attraction to the teachings of Jesus.  He loved the traditions of the church, he loved hymns and communion and the reverance of the congregation.  He also felt an intense connection to creation and felt he’d experienced God’s love in a way that his life would be empty if he didn’t pursue it deeper.  But he was gay.  He wore purple striped sweater vests and spoke in a soft voice and had mild mannerisms that could peg him as effeminate.  He wasn’t ashamed of or embarrassed by his sexuality, he felt he’d experienced God’s love while being gay and had fallen in love with the church while being gay and didn’t feel the need to pretend to be someone that he wasn’t.

I will never understand the guts or the passion or the sheer nerve that it took for him to walk into a church on a Sunday morning and confess his faith knowing that many of the people in that building would happily condemn him for his sexuality and see him to the door.  I will never, ever, understand the depth of the love he shared with his God that would cause him to take the risks that he took in seeking out a church.  It was easy for me to join the church, far easier to join than it was to leave.  Even coming back with my pink hair and tattoo and big ol’ sack of issues was easier than his first time stepping through the door would be.  I may have been questioned, and I continue to have my faith questioned when I raise my voice about the problems that I see.  Yet the questioned raised against me and the hatred I at times experience and the lovely threats and curses that have been spoken against me are a drop in the bucket compared to what an openly gay Christian experiences.

It takes an incredible love for God and devotion for learning to be a part of the body to move someone into the church while they are gay.  It takes an incredible devotion and constitution to stick out the faith while people are calling you a godless sinner, church after church asks you to leave, and heartbreak after heartbreak colors the path behind you red with suffering.  I could never question the sincerity of my friend’s love for God, I know that his faith has cost him far more judgment and condemnation than mine has.  His choice to remain in the faith is one that has to be renewed daily, while mine is one I could easily take for granted.

I see the determination in the eyes of my gay Christian friends, I see their love for God, and I am awed by it.  Is it easy to understand why, if some are so deeply convicted that homosexual acts are sin, my homosexual friends don’t always come to the same conviction?  Some have, some haven’t, some may never do so.  No, it’s not easy to understand.

But when I commune with them, I feel the spirit singing out.  I cannot reject them, because by doing so I would be rejecting the act of God that brought them into the church, and such a thing is unthinkable to me.

Respect.

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Being some things to some people

I tend to have a relaxed attitude about a lot of things that most Christians see as, well, impure.  Things like foul language, alcohol, homosexuality, piercings, dyed hair, tattoos, “revealing” clothing, secular music, R rated movies, llamas.  Okay, llamas have nothing to do with this post.  But if you look at that list of things, you’ll see a lot of things that can mark someone as different from first blush.  And none of those things really bother me all that much.  In fact, I myself have a nose piercing and tattoo and pink streaks in my hair, which can give the other tattooed pierced and dyed people of the world a natural affinity to me.

Why point any of that out?

Because I have a mission.  I’m not called as a missionary to Africa or Mexico or the uncontacted tribes of the Amazon, I’m called to the people right down the street from me, the people in the local pub on a Saturday night, the single mom in the park in the afternoon who just doesn’t feel comfortable playing with the other moms.  I’m called to those people, and part of being called to them is being called to their culture.

In the Mennonite tradition there is a strong history of devoting time and money to missions, and with that history comes a plethora of stories about the cultures that people have been called to.  Missionaries to Africa talk about learning how to wrap headdresses and men learning to be comfortable in skirts.  Missionaries to Mexico talk about learning to be comfortable eating the food they are served so as to not offend their hostesses (even when this means accepting offers of drinks and food when not hungry or thirsty, as refusing hospitality is rude in a way that Americans simply don’t comprehend).  Missionaries to rural China talk about learning to sleep on pallets on the dirt, and learning the intricacies of being a good houseguest that are also lost to most Americans.  All of these stories share a common theme, and theme isn’t that Americans are often viewed as rude and uptight.  That theme is that one must become other than one naturally is in order to witness to others.  That is, that one becomes a part of the culture one is called to.  You have to sit down at the same table, share the same manners, create mutual experiences, forge connections.

That calling doesn’t change when the person who you must love is just down your street.  Here in America, Christianity has created for itself a bubble culture.  A seperate culture.  We’ve taken the “be in the world but not of it” line to such an extreme that we aren’t really in the world any more.  I may be a part of a certain culture, but I am certainly not a product of it.  Obviously not, because my primary vocation is as a disciple of Christ, not a marginalized ex-punk mama.  I can be both things, actually.  They are not necessarily contradictory.  One must consider that Christ himself was radical, Christ himself was a rebel, Christ himself “spoke truth to power” and trashed the temple.  The people on the sidelines were the people he cared the most about, spent the most time with, and loved so passionately.  When I see dyed hair and heavily lined eyes and that dejected look of an outsider, my first thought is not “doesn’t he know that the way he dresses causes people to misjudge him?”  It’s, “Oh, Jerusalem, how I have longed to gather you as a hen gathers her young…”

It’s that calling.  My challenge to everyone reading this post is to think of who your people are.  And ask yourself, are you like them?  Do you share commonality with them?  Are you a part of them?  Are you living out the mission, or has it become just so many words to justify yourself?

It may be too much to ask you to be all things to all people.  Just be some things to some.