9May

Trumped

I decided years ago that I was done with the creation vs. evolution debate. As a Jesus-follower, I often hear earnest sermonizing that God created all life forms in six literal days and that science is trying to undermine the truth of our Bible, but I no longer take on that conversation. My personal belief is that the creation story in Genesis is highly figurative and that God in science are on the same team, but I could be mistaken. Honestly, I don’t care. I see a divine fingerprint on the world around me, but the method of its origin has no bearing on my faith. It’s simply a non-issue to me.

I’ve taken the same approach with the sexual orientation subject too. Nearly all Christian denominations openly condemn the homosexual and transgender, but I never saw the point in getting worked up over it. After all, I’m straight. I can hardly claim to understand, much less consider myself an authority on those with other sexual orientations. Yes, there are passages in the Bible decrying homosexuality, but the Bible is a complicated book, and I didn’t see a personal need to delve into the linguistic and cultural nuances behind those passages in order to polarize my stance. The issue simply didn’t affect me.

That was before someone very dear to me shared the story of her husband—a conservative pastor and Quiverfull dad—admitting that he actually identified as female and of their transition to a same-sex marriage. I was stunned. My lack of a position on the whole subject left me in a philosophical no man’s land as I tried to wrap my mind around their story, and my own longsuffering spouse can attest to the many hours I spent talking myself through it. I kept trying to put myself in Melissa’s position, but I just couldn’t imagine finding out that my husband had always felt his deepest identity to be female. More, I couldn’t imagine coming out myself and continuing our committed, affectionate relationship as he became a she.

It finally dawned on me that I was trying to understand things from the wrong angle. My body and soul genders match each other, and my romantic inclination is as conventional as it comes; I’m not going to be able to conjure up the transgender or gay experience any more than I could picture myself a tsar. But I don’t need to. I don’t need to feel what my friend is going through in order to hear the emotions of her story, see the awe-striking love she and her spouse have shown each other throughout, or understand the way people’s reactions affect them. I don’t need to twist my mind around in search for empathy. It’s been right here all along… and so has my stance on the issue:

Love matters most.

Jesus said that when a religious leader asked him for the greatest commandment, and it’s one of my favorite things in the Bible. All those lists of laws and thou shalt nots are both summed up and solidly trumped by love. You would think, according to some sermons I’ve heard, that Jesus accidentally forgot to exclude homosexuals when he said “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But this same Jesus met with scathing criticism from the churchy crowd for his habit of hanging out with prostitutes, cheats, and other flagrant sinners. He had dinner with outcasts and approached people considered too vile for interaction, and you know, he never once remembered to launch an anti-gay campaign. He was too busy teaching how to cultivate peace, live authentically, and stop burdening our fellow human beings.

I realize that unconventional sexual orientation has become a huge moral issue to many people, and it’s often seen as grounds for terminating friendships. In the case of Christian communities, many adopt the strategy of trying to shun the offending person into repentance. Bullying can take the form of anything from hate crimes to prayer meetings to constitutional amendments, and we’re only kidding ourselves if we claim that our repugnance is rooted in the Bible. The Old Testament puts pride, eating pig meat, and doing things to gain popularity in the same category as gay sex, but the cultural stigmas on those actions have long since been lifted. If you pick up a clam on the beach today, you’re not going to face a religious firing squad even though touching shellfish is listed as an abomination in the same section of the Bible most often used to bash homosexuals. Like it or not, every single Christian interprets the Bible through a cultural filter, so I think it’s about time that we acknowledge our prejudice for what it is.

I imagine that some people are ready to jump down my throat right now with theology books in tow, but I’m less willing to join in the debate now than I was during all my years of disimpassioned neutrality. It really all comes down to this one truth beating in my heart:

The Bible says homosexuality is an abomination!
But love matters most.

God intended marriage to be between a man and a woman, period!
But love matters most.

If I remain friends with gay people, they will think I’m condoning their behavior!
But love matters most.

They’re unnatural and perverted and mentally unsound; they need to be cured!
But love matters most.

What if my child turns out gay?
Love matters most.

No matter our fears or aversions, our power as a majority group to put others down, or our arsenal of theological ammunition, love matters most. Jesus summed up centuries of religious law in this, and I don’t believe for one second that he meant “love” as an abstract semantic device that we can claim over the people we’re shunning. Jesus’s love was always hands-on—touching the sick, embracing muddy children, tearing off hunks of bread for the hungry, washing his followers’ feet—and he charged his believers with carrying out his heart for people. He charged us with grace, freeing us forever from the responsibility of judging or condemning each other. His is a legacy of radical community, beautiful in its unconcern with convention or religious respectability, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am to be a part of it… right alongside my friend.

~~~

I’ve linked to this before, but it’s worth a second read: A Mountain I’m Willing to Die On

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9 comments

  1. Thank you for this, Bethany. I too am straight and can’t fathom the issues or struggles or desires that my gay friends experience every day. So I just love them, and will fight for their right to love and be loved, no matter what. I’ve seen too much hate and cruelty and judgment and condemnation in my experience in the church. I won’t continue such things in my own life. I’m glad you strive to live in love too. 🙂

  2. I did not expect to start my day this way, and I certainly didn’t expect to be crying before breakfast. The honesty and bravery here are astounding and beautiful. Thanks, B.

  3. My heart just breaks for those in such turmoil, trying to understand who they are and feeling so lost and out-of-place. What a difficult path they have. Like you, I’ve never had to question that, and that makes me all the more willing to understand and believe those who finally find their voice. I read that story of your friend’s, and I thought, “well dang – if a man in that culture can have that experience, who could question it?”

    Love does matter most. I celebrate a friend and his partner who had the courage to have a marriage ceremony and reception in Mississippi! That takes courage, folks. My own marriage is not undermined or made less by a same-sex couple’s marriage or commitment. End of story!

  4. Yes, yes, and damn girl, YES.

  5. Well said. I will be sharing this with all of my friends…liberal and conservative and middle of the road.

  6. YEAH!!! Guess what?! My next Deeper Story post is about this . . . I’m only mildly frightened and I suppose that’s a good emotion to wrestle with as it feels like I’m coming out of my own closet (though I’ve never hidden from how i feel about gay anything, just haven’t WRITTEN about it yet.) and I want to know in some small way what it feels like to have to “come out” – though I recognize it doesn’t come close to the agony most LGBT face.

    Anyhew. Awesome post.

    Love,
    Erika

  7. I read your post and the introduction yesterday, and saved the rest for today. What an amazing story. Divine intervention at its best. And, a wonderful illustration of courage.

    Love matters most.

    Bethany, you totally take my breath away. And, did you know that our president was going to announce his positive stance on Gay Marriage yesterday? You have PERFECT timing! I think this is the tip of the iceberg of what I will be reading for some time.

  8. A friend of mine shared this on FB yesterday. The message is not new to me, but the powerful way it is conveyed is striking … and I with than 30 years of editorial and column writing on my resume, I have some background in this. Love does matter most. Those were our most direct walking orders from the Man whose name we wear.

  9. When we put it together in terms of love instead of sex (which tends to be how the debate about marriage equality tends to be phrased), it becomes much easier to see God in the discussion.

    Lovely post. Thank you for your bravery here.

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