Friday, 3 June 2011
The pain of unjust suffering - LGBT lives and the invisible church
1 Peter 2:19 - 20
"For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God."
I used to think this passage was referring to Christians in one of those Third World countries where they had to go to underground churches and memorise the whole bible in case they were ever thrown into prison for believing in Jesus. Recently, though, God has been telling me that actually this applies to me more than I might think. Why do I think I suffer? Because I’m gay. Who makes me suffer? The Church. Yup, you heard right, and I’m pretty angry about it. Actually, I’d go so far as to say Jesus is angry about it too. “That’s a bold statement,” I hear you say. “Care to elaborate?” Don’t mind if I do :).
Isn’t it strange how Jesus can show you His heart when you least expect it? Usually in a situation you’d really rather He didn’t. Recently it happened to me when I was sharing my intercessory prayers in a crowded Sunday morning Baptism Service. That wasn’t embarrassing (Not). Thanks God. But actually, yes; Thanks God. I felt just a small glimpse of the joy Jesus felt at those parents bringing a new baby into the church and saying “Thanks for this new bundle of joy, we want her to grow up to know you as her friend and guide and a great source of strength and inspiration as she goes through her life.” It really warmed my heart to know that Jesus loves to welcome new people into the loving arms of His Bride; the Church. It’s just a shame that the Church doesn’t always get it right.
Jesus has laid a burden on my heart for the suffering we can endure as gay Christians who want to serve Godin their own church. We’re often made to feel like second class citizens because of our orientation. I know that as a lesbian who is not out at my church, I am on borrowed time. When I do choose to come out I am of the opinion that I will be asked to step down from the various leadership roles I've taken on. In the words of many an outsider: That doesn’t sound very Christian to me! And to be frank, it doesn’t to me either.
I recently remembered an occasion in my youth when I was about 15 or so. Myself and a few other teenagers in the church were deemed to be too old for Pathfinders group (church youth group), so we started a youth Life Group where we could talk about issues like evolution and whether we thought ghosts existed or Jonah really got swallowed by the big fish. You get the picture. I remember commenting (tentatively) to the Curate and youth leader who ran the group that I didn’t think there was anything wrong with being gay. There was a short discussion and the Curate said something along the lines of “Oh yes, I knew a gay man once and he was a lovely bloke... but it’s what they do.”
So... What exactly is it that I do? Try to Love the Lord my God with all my heart, mind and soul, perhaps? Maybe it’s because I try my best to seek first the kingdom of God? ...No? Is it because I try to live a life worthy of the Lord? Or is it because I try to rejoice in the Lord always? Aw come on, give us a clue! Cleary it’s none of these things. After much study and deliberation I’ve come to realise it’s simply because I want my significant other to be a Christ-following, loving, supportive, understanding... woman. And just like that, quick as a flash, I know that I’ll become a second class citizen in the church I’ve grown up in, worshipped in, walked with Jesus in, had fellowship in, met with the Holy Spirit in, learned to pray in... I think Jesus is pretty miffed about that.
It gets worse. There’s a whole section of my life and thoughts and dreams and fears that I can’t discuss openly at church because they’re linked to my sexuality. Even gay Christians who are out at church don’t feel like they can truly be themselves and bring their worries and cares to the leaders at the church they attend. At worst, they might receive a biblical ear bashing, or at best, a patronising smile and reference to “Jesus still loves you, it doesn’t matter what sins you’ve committed.” Yes... well, right back at ya! What the Church is encouraging here is a culture of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and much worse than that, a culture of downright fear.
My most recent encounter with the Holy Spirit gave me an insight into what Jesus really thinks of me; He told me I was beautiful :). I knew what he was getting at. The ugliest part of me (I thought) was my gayness. How could Jesus possibly approve of that part of me? It’s a sin, right? Big fat wrong! (This is what the Spirit has led me to believe, in any case.)
People say “Oh, Jesus is just the coolest because he accepts you for who you are!” And that’s great, and probably true. But I believe you’re doing Jesus a disservice there; He AFFIRMS who you are. Acceptance implies that there’s something wrong there to begin with; a flaw, something to be changed. What the Holy Spirit enabled me to do that day was to shake off the idea that Jesus merely accepts my gayness (pending a miraculous change). He loves that part of me. Oh, he adores it! He looks on it with such love in his eyes, and he delights in my unique brand of gayness when I use to get to know Him better and to love Him that little bit more.
He also told me that there was something I could do for Him; I could let Him love me that little bit more. There was this whole section of my heart that I was unintentionally hiding from God. I didn’t want Him anywhere near that part of who I was. It was locked up and hidden from his gaze; if he saw it, he might get all “holy” on me and say ,"I know you are attracted to women, but you know that’s wrong, don’t you? I need you to be celibate/straight.*” (*Delete as appropriate.) So I kept it wrapped up in fear and wouldn’t let Him in. I now realise that my sin wasn’t my orientation, but the fact that I was holding back part of myself from God and not letting Him love me the way He wanted to.
1 John 4:18 says “Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” (NLT). This verse, though I’d seen it many times before, now had a whole new meaning. By hiding my heart in such a way, I’d blocked God out and stopped myself from experiencing His perfect love; stopped Him from living in me, and I in Him. I was so sorry for that, and that’s what I’ve repented from, not from being gay.
I’m not saying I’ve got it all figured out yet; far from it. The journey from fear to love is a long and arduous one with many mountain top experiences and big valleys to match. But I’m pleased to say I’m on what I believe is the path Jesus wants me to be on, and I’m very excited to see where it might lead me.
So what’s the point of this little story? Well, I hope (for one) that you’ve found it honest and open, but I also hope that this gets shared around and maybe gets read by some person in authority in their own church. I hope someone has read this note and has been challenged by the story I’ve told. I’m not saying abandon what you think is right, I’m saying question it. Look at the gay person wanting to be God's hands and feet in your fellowship; look at their integrity, look at their heart, look at the fruit they bear. Are they really so full of sin and deserve to be put to the bottom of the pile? I’m not saying let all gay people who attend your church into the upper echelons of leadership. Be discerning. All I ask is that you don’t dismiss someone’s strengths and talents and willingness to serve God based solely on who they are attracted to.