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.
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.
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.