Homosexuality is one of the more controversial topics within Christian communities. Regardless of all the differences in opinion, our goal is to dialogue and help create a place where everyone feels loved within the body of Christ. We understand there are a range of view points to this topic, however we hope to enable productive conversation alongside disagreements, rather than one that is aggressive. In order to begin this discussion, we decided to interview Jane, an active member of the church who also identifies as gay.
"In Sunday school, one of the first songs you learn is "Jesus Loves Me". You know it, I know it, I even learned it in Spanish and sign language! I knew God loved me, but I didn't experience the power of His love and His presence until I was a teenager. From then on I was hooked, and really understood that nothing can separate me from God's love. I also learned more about the nature of love, in that it's like the ocean...moving in waves, but always constant." - Jane
1. When people in church found out you were gay, what were some of the responses and how did you navigate this? Was it still a 'safe' place for you?
I have had a mix of reactions, but overall pretty positive. Most people outside of my close friend group found out when I had to step down from my position in church. It wasn't a public stepping down, so people started to notice that I wasn't serving for a while. When they'd ask why, I would explain what happened based on my relationship with them. With most people I didn't go into too much detail because it's deeply personal and I also wanted to honor my pastors. Sometimes I would be dry and say, "I had to step down from ministry because I'm a big homo". Some people were shocked and didn't really know what to say. Others cried because I had to step down (they knew how much this meant to me).
I have friends who told me they had a feeling I was gay, but didn't want to say anything. I have found that there are a lot of Christians who are silent supporters of LGBTQ inclusion, and back me up 100%. On the other hand, I have friends who don't, so we agree to disagree. I am still friends with these people. Others are stuck somewhere in between, where they know what they have been taught, but struggle with what their hearts say.
I feel that my church is still a safe place despite my situation. To me, an unsafe place would be where people use violence, manipulation, malice, exclusion etc. to remove or change a person. I have heard of churches that do not allow LGBTQ people to take communion or become a church member. My church is not like this, and allows me to feel free to be myself.
2. You are a very loving and accepting person, that is one of the qualities I really felt just meeting you for the first time. Do you think your process was a part of that?
God uses all things for good and makes everything beautiful in its time (Rom 8:28, Ecc 3:11) I believe that God has used my journey to help me be more sensitive to people's pain. I know what it's like to feel misunderstood, to be left out, have panic attacks, and not leave my bed for days. When you experience pain, you can recognize that in others, so I make an effort to help others be seen, be heard, and to belong. I don't think I would make such an effort had I not gone through this. And that is a very good and beautiful thing.
3. How has God revealed his character to you? What do you think you learned the most about Him?
Outside of this renewed sense of His love and trustworthiness, I found that God is so much more inclusive than I thought. Here in America, Christianity has grown to such a level of privilege and power that I personally believe it's not healthy. Don't get me wrong, I am so thankful that I don't have to worry about bomb threats or vandalism at church, that I don't get aggressive looks or slurs when I pray in public, and that I won't get thrown into prison for my faith. However, in my opinion it's gotten to the point where Christian privilege has the power to say who is in and who is out.
This is the very power structure that Jesus challenged in His ministry on Earth. Jesus was always about the underdog and the marginalized. He empowered women, gave dignity to the "unclean", fed the poor, embraced the immigrant, and welcomed the gentile (aka ALL people) into the family. He loved all and served all. This reveals to me that it's in God's character to love people like me and others on the margins, and as a response, we should use our privilege (like how Jesus did) to elevate those voices and include them in the family of God. Also, He is for me, and not against me.
In explaining one of her personal encounters with God, Jane expressed to us what the weight of the words "Jesus loves me" were for her:
"It was like He was there with us, embracing His children with joy. He didn't hide His presence from us because He thought we were abominations, instead He poured out His Spirit on all of us because He loves us, and accepted us first."