I was in the middle of a degree in biblical and theological studies when one of my close friends told me she was gay. She didn't last long at her church after coming out to her small group. Those who would still talk with her would only talk about her sexuality. Soon, she didn't have any Christian friends left but me. She was talking with me and being honest about her life, relationship with God, and her struggles. I wasn't sure how to respond. At any moment I thought our friendship could end. I wanted to be there for her, but I kept asking myself, "Is it okay to be gay?"
I read every theological argument for and against homosexuality I could find. Every Bible verse and possible interpretation I learned. That's when I went to a Gay-Straight Alliance meeting on my campus. It wasn't an officially recognized school club but had become popular anyway. I went into that meeting struggling in my head and my heart and hoping for an answer to my question, "Is it okay to be gay?"
That night, I heard the stories of struggle, loneliness, shame, and rejection of others who were LGBTQ. I heard about the pain caused by Christians who actively persecuted the gay community. I listened to the deep hurt caused by well-intentioned people who created churches and institutions full of shame that ostracized anyone struggling or questioning their sexuality. I soon realized that my question was getting in the way.
God worked in my heart. I realized that my primary job as a follower of Christ wasn't to try and answer the question, "Is it okay to be gay?" and then enforce my answer on others. My job was to love my neighbor as myself. I knew I didn't want to be a part of those actively hurting or "accidentally" ostracizing anyone who identified as LGBTQ. My time was much better spent hearing the stories, listening to the struggles, and learning from those in that community. My responsibility was to speak out on issues of civil rights for the LGBT community and actively work to make the church a more welcoming place. I learned that "How do I love?" must come before, "Who is okay?"
I know there are many people who are where I was -- trying to figure out what it means to live out a biblical understanding of your faith while loving and supporting friends and family who are LGBTQ is difficult for many people. That's why I have been encouraged by a few recent initiatives: comingoutcovenant.com, onewheaton.com, and Believe Out Loud.
Comingoutcovenant.com was started by a friends and fellow members of the Evangelical Covenant Church Andrew Freeman and Phil Brockett. It is meant as a safe space and online community for members of the LGBTQ community and allies to share struggles and challenges about being gay and being Christian. It is also a place to promote dialogue based in the real stories and experiences of Christians. Those who are struggling with the same questions I did can go and read the stories of other Christians who are trying to learn what it means to be faithful to the call Christ has on their lives.
Onewheaton.com is a community of LGBTQ Wheaton alumni and allies who are reaching out to current Wheaton College students who might feel alienated, ashamed, and afraid. Their message to students? "You are not tragic." By sharing stories of Wheaton Alumni they hope to create a productive dialogue that allows students to safely think through their sexuality. They have a team of volunteer alumni who take the time to answer each and every email whether from Christians who are struggling, affirming, or even disagreeing.
Believe Out Loud recently released a video for Mother's Day that you can see below. It shows a young boy walking into church with his two mothers. While the parishioners look nervous, the minister stands in the front and declares, "All are welcome." It is a statement that every Christian should be able to make, and it needs to be heard in more churches.
This is why Sojourners has tried to speak out editorially at key moments over the past year. Here is Jim Wallis' column about bullying, a piece written last fall when the repeal of DADT failed, a piece about the positive signs of shifting opinion within the evangelical community, about responding to hate filled rhetoric, speaking out against the Religious Right who would want to criminalize homosexuality, racial discrimination, and its close relative (discrimination by sexual orientation), and how Uganda's anti-homosexuality bill was a betrayal of Christ's teachings. For years we have tried to promote a positive dialogue among Christians who might disagree theologically such as this article that is a conversation between husband and wife, Peggy and Tony Campolo.
These projects, whether you agree with all of their positions or not, are testaments to how Christians can create positive dialogue with those who have differing views, beliefs, and opinions. They begin where Jesus started, in the challenge to love God and neighbor. It is from this foundation, Jesus taught, that all of the rest hangs. God's move in my heart was to get me back to the most basic teachings of Jesus. It's a move of God that I know I need regularly, and I think the church does too.
[Editors' Note: Sojourners stresses the importance of dialogue amongst those on all sides of these issues. It is our utmost hope that differing viewpoints are not silenced, but are lifted up in a display of Christian and often interfaith sisterhood and brotherhood. It is for this reason, that we wish to engage first and foremost in dialogue on difficult issues within our editorial pages and we typically do not sell display advertising relating to issues amongst people of faith that have unfortunately and too often been reduced to political wedge issues.]
+Update: For a list of responses to frequently asked questions regarding the Believe Out Loud advertisements, please click here.