A friend recently asked me “why did I get started in building bridges [between the Christian community and the LGBT community]?” It’s a fair question, so since it’s locked in my mind (but free to the one who asks me such questions) and I decided to write it out.
When I was younger so much younger than today…
The little that I knew about gay men and women was sparse, mainly it came from a perspective that wasn’t my own; my mom says, my father says, my pastor says, society says, and so on and so forth. I may have been a good little church mouse in some ways, but in hindsight I uttered “that’s so gay” in place of saying something was stupid, I also uttered (and to my present horror) the 6 words that sometimes slip out in conversations between Christians in light of something that bothers them;
Love the sinner, hate the sin.
I had a friend in my younger years who is gay, but as we got older we both drifted apart.
So up to the time I went to a 4 year university after spending 2 years in community college my mindset was still love the sinner hate the sin, but God opened a door that changed my life forever. In the first semester of attending a college primarily aimed at Christians (I don’t like using the word “Christian college”) I met some wonderful people, some of them happened to be gay men and lesbian women.
This threw the proverbial monkey wrench into the gears of my mind and heart. Up to then what I was told was that there was a lack of compatibility with being a Christian and someone who was gay, a gay Christian for what I had been told up to that point was in fact an oxymoron, to be gay and Christian wasn’t possible…or so I thought.
That was in the autumn of 2005 when I started to think for myself in this area, I didn’t come to quick “eureka” moments, it took time to sort out what I believed for myself, and not on the hinges of what I had heard up to that point.
I think the culmination of what I thought in regards to whether a gay man or a lesbian woman can be a follower of Christ happened when I was driving to school in 2010 and I was wearing a shirt that had LOVE written across of it. When I drove to school I had 26 miles between my house and school, so the commute was lengthy, which gave me time to talk to God and listen among other things. As I drove that day to school God asked me about different circles of friends of past and present that I’ve been around; high schoolers in youth ministry, my few friends, my siblings, my parents, et al….but God asked me “do you love the LGBT community?” While I did make some friends at school were gay, my love for them was at a distance, and is love really love if not acted out in a tangible way?
God didn’t give me the solution of what I should do, so I thought of one on own. I recalled a part in the book (and now movie) by Donald Miller called Blue Like Jazz to which there’s a part of the book where he shares how he had a confession booth set up during a party of sorts, but instead of people coming to him to confess, he took the time to confess to whomever came in. With that in mind, that was my original plan, and where would I have this confession booth set up? Oh, just the Chicago Gay Pride Parade.
My mind was set in having going with the confession booth idea at the Gay Pride Parade in Chicago in 2010, but then that’s where God got in the way in a good way. At that time I was working at the local library and while shelving I came across Andrew Marin’s book Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community and I quickly put it on hold for myself and read it cover to cover on the same day. It gripped me deeply and since Andrew Marin and The Marin Foundation were out of Chicago I decided to get in touch.
When I got a hold of them via email I told them my intentions ala “Confession Booth” and I was told that might seem like a good idea, but it might be misunderstood, would you care to join us at the Gay Pride Parade and be apart of the “I’m Sorry Campaign”. Right then and right there I decided I would join up with them, and with some of my friends if they were interested.
For the record, the I’m Sorry Campaign, which has been the route The Marin Foundation and friends have been a presence at the Gay Pride Parade in Chicago for the last 2 years, is us taking time to talk to the people around us as well as the people walking in the parade that we’re sorry. Sorry for the way Christians have marginalized the LGBT community, sorry for the way we have acted as individuals as well as corporately, because at times Christians aren’t very Christlike and so we admit in different ways the way Christians may have afflicted the LGBT community.
So with the intent to go to the Chicago Gay Pride Parade I started talking to some friends about it, and eventually 4 of us went; Alex, Maria, Nathan and I. We met at the IHOP in Boystown and that’s when we met Andrew Marin and The Marin Foundation and friends as well as family. Now if you ever meet Andrew, he’s one of the most humble and gracious and loving guys I know, he’s also my hero, he’s also a big huggy kinda guy 🙂 We donned I’m Sorry shirts and conversations started pretty quickly. Some people thought we were getting on their case about their sexual orientation, that is, a I’m Sorry you’re gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender/etc. So some people were instantly up in arms what we had to say, but then there were the God ordained moments where grace was given and we could talk and we could apologize…these moments, these Kingdom of God moments were amazing!
Afterwards my friends and I chatted and we discussed coming back the following year. I decided that in addition to coming back I wanted to seek out a way to continue bridge building, the reconciliation and restoration process on a local level. So after some internet searching I found out when and where the local chapter of PFLAG met, I got in touch with them and I started (and still do when I can) attending. One thing I like about the PFLAG chapter I’m a part of is that we usually go around the room introducing ourselves and the question “why are you here” is presented.
When it is my turn I say, my name is Nathanael and I am a follower of Christ, it is my desire to build bridges between the Christian community and the LGBT community, not that they’re isolated but there needs to be more overlap. Being a person of faith has opened doors in ways I never expected, plus it also helps to give others who attend there a view that not all Christians are Bible-bashing homophobes who use a handful of verses to create a stance against the LGBT community all the while trying to preserve church as a hetero-normative place. I go there to build bridges, to listen and respect people and their stories, to love on others as God loves me and them.
I think my main reason why I choose to build bridges between the Christian community and the LGBT community comes from the way the church seems to act; it seems like the church has kind of sat back and said; ‘okay we’re here, and we’ll be here still when you get your act together’. That is static and unlike the nature of God. When I read the parable of the Prodigal Son, this is what I read;
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (italics are mine).
The father could have waited around for his son to get closer, but he didn’t, he was active and dynamic and ran to him, he was full of love and compassion for his son when he could have spurned or rejected his son, but he didn’t.
I want to be like that father, I want to get off my butt and run to the one’s Christians have marginalized, the ones the church hasn’t shown grace or Christlike love to.
I like how Billy Graham put it; “It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love.” Because that IS my job, I cannot be the one who doles out judgment as I have my own things to work out in this life, plus if I haven’t heard someone’s story how would I know what’s really going on? I cannot offer up a “love the sinner hate the sin” anymore because that’s not how God is, he doesn’t see us in sections and loves only part of who we are, granted through his love and grace there are things that can change within us, but that is God’s doing and not man’s. Sexual Orientation however is one of those things that cannot be changed, what you do with your sexual orientation can be changed, but not sexual orientation in and of itself.
So that is the long and honest reason as to why I build bridges between the Christian community and the LGBT community, it’s on my heart and I am willing to follow this path that isn’t well worn with the help of God. For it is God that helps me and sustains me, it is He who drives me into doing this.