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how to build bridges between gays and Christians

I work with a campus group called Building Bridges, a student organization that aims to heal relationships damaged by the painful fracture that has occurred between Christendom and the LGBT community.

The group cosponsors events with members of the local community, brings prolific speakers to campus, and hosts weekly meetings which serve as a safe space for both Christians drawn to LGBT issues (from a variety of backgrounds and for a variety of reasons) and LGBTs drawn to Christianity (from a variety of backgrounds and for a variety of reasons).

It’s not a place of anything-goes religious syncretism and neither is it a place of “my-way-or-the-highway” Bible-thumping.  The group serves as a demilitarized zone of sorts, where everybody is welcome to gather in a spirit of love for discussion, fellowship, and an exercise in sharing our humanity.

Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend their annual end of the year potluck.

The night began when about 15 of us piled into cars outside the Union to make our way over to a local community member’s home.

I began to hold back tears the second I arrived at the house.

A man stood stooped at the entryway as students filed into the warmly lit home.

“Bob, good to meet you.  What’s your name?” he asked each of us, shaking our hands and holding open the screen door.

Bob held an authentic smile and exuded pure amicability.  I was caught somewhat off guard by both his hospitality and his age.  He seemed normal enough – the chronically well-mannered sort you’re likely to find in Southern-Central, IL – liver spots speckling his well-weathered arms and a pair of glasses resting atop a crop of curly white hair.

But I was almost crying because I knew this demographic.  Old, white people are supposed to be homophobic.  He knew this was a group from the LGBT resource center…that there were gays, lesbians, agnostics, believers, and somewhere-in-the-middlers…and still he extended his hand to welcome us?

I had never seen anything like it.

“Mary, guests!” he hollered.

A woman who looked conspicuously like my grandmother stepped out from the dining room and spryly picked her way through the crowd to meet her new friends.

“welcome,” she oozed as she drowned me in a hug.

“hi,” I choked out, still kind of reeling.

We settled in as Mary and Bob were joined by Peggy and Scott.

We’re from First Presbyterian downtown, they welcomed.  Settle in, make yourself at home, we’ll all have something to eat in a bit.

“My stomach has been empty just about all day,” I laughed nervously, to which they laughed earnestly.

“Glad to hear it!  We’re not short on food here!”

I discreetly glanced to the spread sprawling across the dining room table – fried chicken, black beans, potato salad, chocolate truffles, and a million other things.  All soon to be within my reach.

The folks from First Presbyterian were starting to grow on me.

eat ALL THE FOODS!

We stepped outside for drinks, snacks, and a bit of fellowship until everyone came together in a circle to pray for our meal.

Over bread and butter, as I chatted with my queer friends and heard them speaking truthfully about everything the Lord and the scriptures had been teaching them lately, I realized something: for the past few months I had become so cautious and careful of speaking up about my Christianity around my gay friends that I subconsciously actually started to knee-jerk-avoid any topic of conversation about faith.  I think I figured that because religion is such a sore spot for so many gay people, I wanted to avoid bruising any of my LGBT friends any further.

Friends like this one student I had dessert with whose pastor (head of a popular local church) used to have him over for dinner until he found out he was gay.  Now he won’t let him in his house or be around his kids anymore.

Like this girl whose mom won’t talk to her anymore because this girl likes both boys and girls  – this girl who’s never had a physical or emotional relationship with another girl, but whose relationship with her mother is still forfeited by the sole merit of the admission of her nebulous attraction to the same sex.

Or this other dude who’s been pursuing celibacy his whole life, who’s caught in the middle of conservative Christians trying to get him to change his sexuality and liberal ones pressuring him to change his theology, this dude who just wants to love Jesus and make beautiful art and to walk humbly with his God for the days he has left here.

building bridges

building bridges – exec board 2012-2013

I know many gays have experienced very bad things from Christians, and apparently (I discovered) I would much rather sacrifice that part of my identity around them (while still trying to convey the unconditional love and acceptance of our Creator) than risk wounding them any further.  I realized that I’m always unconsciously monitoring myself and “turning down” the Christian faith knob when I’m with them.

But tonight, saying grace with and listening to thirty lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and ally friends talk about their genuine love for the Lord and others was like a slap to my face.

How dare I assume that you can’t be gay and also be a fully-fledged Roman Catholic, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Reformed, or whatever the heck you are.

Being gay and Christian?  Queer and a follower of Jesus?

I know that it sounds a lot like foolishness to both the Christian and the secular world.

But if God can choose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, the weak to shame the strong, surely He is capable of using the queer and the forgotten to shame the systems of injustice and oppression that persist here.

What amazing grace.

********************************************************************

You know what’s crazy, I think Mary’s 88 years old this year.

She’s married – and straight, always has been.

But her husband and her have lost two sons to the AIDS virus.

It was horrible.  I wouldn’t wish such a fate on my worst enemy.

But I am so grateful for what she has gone through because she gives me such hope.  Seeing her passion for the Kingdom and the love of Christ in her eyes is almost too much to take in at once.  It makes me want to beat the sin and evil completely out of my life once more and to proudly confess the kingship of Lord Jesus again and again and again.

So I think I want to do a better job about not hiding my Christianity in front of my gay friends.  Truly, the only respect in which I’m ashamed of my faith at Building Bridges is that my own belief is dwarfed by the overwhelming commitment to the Gospel I find there.

Earlier in the night, as we said grace together, I was grateful for the fact that all eyes were closed.  I looked around the circle at each face,  tears spilling out of my eyes.  Never had I expected to see so many so many godly countenances of age and character, so many wise and old souls standing together with us – holding hands, sharing stories, building bridges.

Bob, Mary, Peggy, Scott, and everybody else over at First Presbyterian downtown…you’re doing it right.

building bridges

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. I’m interested to read more…

    May 8, 2013
  2. Reblogged this on Agung Richard Elvon's.

    May 8, 2013
  3. This is great. building bridges with the LGBT community is important for the global church. We should love gays because God loves gays because God loves people: John 3:16 “God so loved the WORLD” . However, I am a bit confused by your post. Definitions are important: when you say ‘gays’ do you mean those with homosexual desire or those who embrace the homosexual lifestyle because there’s a difference. If it’s the former then it is true that you can, as you imply, be gay and christian. If it’s the latter then I think it is not possible to be a follower of Christ at the same time. It is vastly important in a discussion like this to define our terms.

    May 8, 2013
    • that is a great question, Tyler! Thank you for your comment 🙂 Yes, certainly, perhaps I should have been more clear in the original post as to what I meant. Let me ask you a question first, that might help clarify: what exactly is the “homosexual lifestyle”? How is it different than the “heterosexual lifestyle?” It has always been my understanding that “being gay” is not some physical act one does, but (an aspect of) who one is.

      May 10, 2013
  4. Brian #

    In so many ways, this echoes my own experience. I was largely exiled from church for questioning the “main line” of theology before the gay issue was really at the forefront. However, in many ways my experience with many long time friends that are gay has caused me to really question what the church is doing. I think we’d be hard-pressed to find an example of where Jesus blasted and flamed people who were uncertain of their faith and wanting to grow in their relationship with him. The only people that got flamed by Jesus (while on Earth) were the people (Pharisees) who thought they had all the answers whilst missing the biggest one of all time, Him.

    May 8, 2013
    • It’s almost like it’s safer to be one of the outsiders, one of the outliers…than one of the religious folks who is completely convinced they are IN. As my friend Christian once said, “It could be the case that we who promote equality for people regardless of sexual identity and orientation are wrong, and that come whatever final judgment there may be, we’ll have to answer for our position. But…if my greatest sin in the end is that I’ve been too open, too loving, that I’ve drawn the circle of inclusion to large, I’m willing to take that chance.”

      in the end, could it be any other way?

      May 29, 2013
  5. James #

    I would caution you against using the word “gays” to refer to people that experience same-sex attraction. When you do that, it makes me feel as if I am shoved into a box – the gay box – where Christians who experience same-sex attraction are identified by this sole thing that many of us actively fight against. “Gay Christians” – where “Gay” is the important modifier to “Christians.” We don’t do this with other things people struggle with (i.e. The Prideful Christians, The Thieving Christians, The Promiscuous Christians, The Lustful Christians). Jesus’ grace allows us to be viewed as righteous and holy, simply as his followers, his Christians. This article, while having good intentions, just further highlights the misunderstandings of sexuality in our society and in christendom. Hopefully through the dialogue that is created through these efforts like Building Bridges, we can eventually arrive to understand God’s grace, mercy, and justice in light of these issues. I truly appreciate your boldness and effort to have dialogue about this issue.

    May 17, 2013
    • Thank you for your comment, James 🙂 I think the reason I am comfortable using the phrase “gay Christian” instead of more nebulous terms like “Christian who is gay” or “Christian who is attracted to the same gender” or “Christian who struggles with same sex attraction” is that I don’t objectively consider “being gay” (or “same-sex attracted” or however you want to put it) equivalent to “being lustful” or “being oriented towards an intrinsic moral evil”( as former Pope Joseph Ratzinger put it).

      but my sincere apologies – my last intention is to put anyone inside of a box. thank you for pointing this out.

      May 29, 2013
  6. My problem with the title of this post is that it separates Christians and “gays”, as if one cannot be Christian and gay. There was a study that was published not too long ago that showed the vast majority of gay and lesbian people are religious. I won’t give my opinion on that, but, yeah.

    I guess a better question would be, “How can mainstream Christian churches change in order to be LGBT friendly?”

    For most Americans under 30, homosexuality isn’t an issue so we’re basically just waiting for older people to die off to see a more tolerant society.

    May 29, 2013
    • there we are improving our language again 🙂 and HA! like you need to give your opinion, I know what you’d say.

      but I agree completely. The title was meant to be purposefully intrusive, and I hope I got to that at the end there by realizing…who am I to separate these 2 identities from someone?

      I don’t know if I told you this, but I just got selected to attend this conference http://www.reformationproject.org where the question will be just that. And yeah, even younger Evangelicals are starting to change on the gay issue (case in point). It’s cold to say but true – the tides are changing on this and homophobia is going extinct with our grandparents.

      PS – my friend who is a queer studies major says something like 69% of LGBTs are not religious-identifying.

      May 29, 2013

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