She was one of the best students I’ve ever had in a youth group. She’s funny, smart, friendly, warm, and likeable. She exerted a quiet sense of confident leadership among her peers and she’s serious about following Jesus. She’s everything that a pastor would want in a member of a youth group.
And I’ll never forget the day she told our youth group that she’s a lesbian.
My God I love that girl.
And so did our youth group. Girls and boys listened attentively as she described her experience of “coming out” to her parents, siblings, friends, and now her youth group. Like so many other young women and men, her deeply personal experience was full of joy and pain.
“Thank you. That took a lot of courage," one girl said as she held back tears of inspiration.
“When did you know?” Another girl asked.
“Who did you come out to first?” Another asked.
It was a profound moment of vulnerability and acceptance. I was very proud of her and of the youth group.
“This,” I thought, “is what church is all about.”
That was years ago. Unfortunately, it still takes a lot of courage to come out of the closet. As elated as I was about that experience, today I read an article that made me continue to worry about LGBTQ kids in other churches. It’s titled, “Dear Rob Bell: The Church Isn’t Giving an Inch on Gay Marriage.”
Once again I begin to dread the message that awaits so many Christian kids who desperately want to come out of the closet but can’t for fear of being ostracized by their church.
The article takes Rob Bell to task for telling Oprah that the church is close to embracing gay marriage. It quotes Bell as saying,
"We’re moments away. I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense, when you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who are your brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and coworkers and neighbors and they love each other and just want to go through life with someone."
The article continues to allege that Bell is capitulating to a sinful culture. At the end of the article, the author staunchly reinforces his position.
“At the end of the day, when it comes to marriage and biblical ethics, the church is not giving an inch,” he writes.
If my youth group member should read this, or if any young person who identifies as LGBTQ should read this, please know that the article criticizing Rob Bell’s comments completely misrepresents the God of love as revealed by Jesus. Any church that claims that you are inherently disordered and not worthy of marriage speaks against the God who created you, all of you, including your sexuality.
Sure, many will quote the Bible to you. Using absurd reasoning skills, many Christians will point to “the Law” as evidence that the Bible is against you, but then they’ll eat shellfish, they’ll wear polyester, and some of them will even get tattoos, because, hey, Jesus sets us free from the Law.
But know this: the devil quotes the Bible as well as anyone. The devil quoted biblical passages to Jesus to tempt him to believe that he wasn’t who God created him to be. Jesus didn’t believe that crap. Neither should you.
In fact, whenever religious authorities used religious principles as a justification to reject people, Jesus sought to include those who were rejected into his beloved community. A man named Paul used the Law to persecute Christians, but then he heard the voice of the Resurrected Jesus. That voice converted Paul from interpreting the Law as a justification to persecute and scapegoat Christians to using the Law as motivation to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
But Paul took it a step further. He now saw that the religious distinctions that are used to divide “us” from “them” are arbitrary and actually against God’s will. For, as Paul claimed about the major distinctions of his day, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Then there’s Peter’s vision. Peter saw a large sheet come down from heaven. On the sheet were all kinds of animals that, according to religious Law, were unclean. Peter would be defiled if he touched them. But a voice came to Peter telling him to eat the animals.
“By no means, Lord,” Peter replied, “for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.”
The voice of the Lord came back to him, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”
The church is being left behind because it continues to call people who identify as LGBTQ profane when God has already made them clean. But I can already hear people protesting, “But the Bible says…The Bible is very clear…”
Let me be very clear: anytime someone quotes the Bible to ostracize, scapegoat, or demean another group of people, they interpret the Bible in the same way the devil did to Jesus. They deny the reality of God’s all-embracing love. When we interpret the Bible through Jesus’ revelation, we discover what Peter and Paul discovered — that the misuse of the Law kills, but the Spirit gives life.
The Spirit is leaving the church behind because the church has sacrificed the God of love on the altar of legalism that excludes. It may be that the Spirit is fully alive within secular culture, giving our LGBTQ sisters and brothers a safe place to own their God given sexuality.
Thank God for that. We can only pray that one day the church will catch up. Hopefully, as Rob Bell claims, we are just moments away.
To the girl who was in the youth group: God loves you and accepts you as you are. I pray that you fall in love with an amazing woman, that you get married, and that you reflect the love of God to one another.
Your church stands with you. And so do I.
Adam Ericksen blogs at the Raven Foundation, where he uses mimetic theory to provide social commentary on religion, politics, and pop culture. Follow Adam on Twitter @adamericksen.