June 2022 was quite a month for me. It started with the death of a long-time friend. It ended with my being on a phone call with my father while he experienced a stroke-like event. (Turns out: not a stroke. He’s home, and doing ok. Hallelujah.) In the middle was a thing called Pride Month, which had a little more visibility at our home than usual. Two of my kids identify as LGBTQIA+ and have embraced visibility more this year than ever before. (I got their permission to say this here.) So, one of these things is not like the other, but stick with me here and I’ll connect the dots.
Part 1: Online Community
Since Geof died last month, the online community he fostered for nearly 20 years (referred to as “RMFO” for reasons long since forgotten) has been renewed. I have hosted two Zoom “happy hour” calls, and both times 15-20 people have joined, chatted for 2-3 hours, and left with a request that we schedule another one. We have spent these hours catching up on life and recounting our own personal histories as they interact with the RMFO community: singles who met their future spouses in the group; couples once struggling to conceive who now have teenagers; marriages, divorces, job changes, moves, faith evolutions. Online friendships have led to “real-life” friendships, meet-ups, and job opportunities. At the end of the first call I realized that, while I had long considered many of these people meaningful to me, the call helped me realize that I was meaningful to them, too. My thought last week as I closed out the second call: this is the closest thing I’ve had to a healthy, functioning community in my adult life.
During last week’s call I talked about how my own personal views on some issues have evolved over the years, and how I have struggled to find an in-person community (specifically, a church community) where that evolution was welcome. Share those views too loudly and you will be welcome to find some other church to serve and worship at. Five years of quiet discomfort weren’t enough to dislodge me from my last church; their tepid COVID response was the straw that gave me the courage to break the proverbial camel’s back. Two years later I still haven’t found a new place to join. If I’m honest, I haven’t really looked too hard.
Part 2: My Dad
My dad is talking a little slower thanks to the medications he’s on after his health scare, but he’s not talking any less. When we talked last week after he got home from the hospital, we spent a while comparing current reading lists and discussing how some of the books I have given him over the years have helped guide his journey out of a fundamentalist faith into something much more open and gracious. That’s his story to tell, not mine. But what he said toward the end of the call stuck with me: that coming close to death now makes him unwilling to stay quiet on the topics important to him. And I thought to myself: that’s a lesson I should take to heart here in my 40s.
Part 3: Chuck Pearson
Chuck Pearson is a friend of one of the RMFO guys — someone I have never met but have followed on Twitter for years. Last week he posted a beautiful essay about his journey leaving a tenured professorship at a Southern Baptist university when he knew he would eventually be required to sign a “personal lifestyle statement” that would “[force] him to disown his LGBTQ+ friends and family”. Chuck ultimately found a post at another university, but still sat quiet about the topic of LGBTQ+ inclusion:
Ultimately, it stayed private because I didn’t want to burn those bridges. Even as I made that realization that I had to choose between two sides I cared about deeply, I couldn’t bring myself to take that final step of declaring my choice.
In his essay, Chuck quotes from an Alan Jacobs essay from 2014 that argues for Christians to stand firm against the cultural evolution of views on sexuality. Here is Jacobs’ conclusion [preserving the emphasis from the original post]:
Either throughout your history or at some significant point in your history you let your views on a massively important issue be shaped largely by what was acceptable in the cultural circles within which you hoped to be welcome. How do you plan to keep that from happening again?
Clearly Jacobs has in mind a call to resist the desire to be welcomed by “the world” by accepting “worldly” views on sexuality. But for me his question takes the exact opposite orientation. How long have I been convinced about full acceptance of LGBTQIA+ people in the church but been afraid to say so, knowing that it would make me unwelcome in the evangelical church circles I have run in my entire life? Far too long.
So let me make a long-overdue statement as clearly as I can. I am a Christian, and I affirm those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual as they are, unconditionally, including their full inclusion into the assembled body of Christ known as the local church. I know there are those who would say I cannot hold that view and be a Christian. I reject that assertion.
There are multiple serious approaches to the Scripture on the topic which I will not go into here. Suffice it for now to say that you cannot read Scripture as a flat text. It is the product of thousands of years of God’s progressive revelation as understood and recorded by humans. In the end you have to come to some conclusion on which texts capture most clearly the essence of who God is, and use those as the framework from which to understand the rest.
And so, to quote Brian Zahnd:
God is like Jesus.
God has always been like Jesus.
There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus.
We have not always known what God is like—
But now we do.
Jesus taught these two principles in summation of all the teaching: love God with everything you have, and love your neighbor as yourself. He embraced the outsiders and rebuked the self-righteous. He called us to follow Him in lives of self-sacrificial love.
In addition to Jesus’ teaching, we have the witness of the Holy Spirit in the lives of our LGBTQIA+ brothers and sisters — so many dear, tender souls who consistently model what it means to follow Jesus, even in the midst of a church that rarely welcomes them. And to that I can only respond as the Apostle Peter did after first seeing the conversion of Gentiles to Christ: “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” (Acts 10:47)
Rachel Held Evans summarized it this way: “The apostles remembered what many modern Christians tend to forget—that what makes the gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out but who it lets in.”
To this I say: Amen. May it be so.