I just walked into the office after a great program with a group of LGBT and allied kids at a local high school.
I took a guest with me, one of my org’s more dedicated volunteers. After the program, G. (the volunteer) and I walked across the street to get a cup of coffee and debrief our disbelief. Our program today was about LGBT history. G. and I were shocked at how little the kids knew about LGBT history. How is it that a group of gay kids in NYC – where it’s relatively safe to be a gay kid – had never heard of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and seemed only somewhat aware that LGBT folks in New York State were given the right to marry less than a year ago? *sigh* How does that happen?
My conversation with G. quickly evolved into one about a different kind of history. At G.’s prompting, we started talking about religion. G., who was raised an orthodox Jew, waxed eloquently and intelligently about how religion (both Jewish and Christian) has shaped gay life in the 21st century.
He said, “I think most people need to be reminded that religion is completely personal. People need to be given the power to figure out the Bible, or Qur’an, or whatever, for themselves and say f’you to any church, synagogue, mosque, or religious zealot that tries to invade their personal belief system. Religion is personal and it’s private.”
G.’s a smart man. There’s a lot to unpack in his thought.
I agree that people need to be given the power to figure out their holy books, their faith, and their theology so that they can stand confidently when religious people say unholy and hurtful things to them. But…
It’s pretty important that we remember Christianity is not completely personal. Christianity (and its grandfather, Judaism) isn’t an idea that people enjoy in isolation. Nope… Christianity isn’t personal. It’s communal, all wrapped up in relationships. It always has been.
Jesus drew disciples together into a community that followed him up mountainsides to pray together, across seas to minister together, and into upper rooms to eat together. The Holy Spirit draws believers together into the Church, a community of believers. Paul tells us that this church is the body of Christ – a strange Frankenstein creature with many parts that all (ideally) work together to show God’s illogical love to the world.
You and I may each have deeply personal relationships with our faith, but these relationships are meant to draw us together into what Christ called the Kingdom of God… a community.
And that may explain why churches have such tremendous power to hurt gay people. If our faith were only personal – ideas we enjoy in the privacy of our own soul – we might be able to cope with church-thrown nastiness by saying “I guess they don’t understand how my idea fits into their idea. Oh, well.”
But since Christianity is communal, the game changes. The church’s nastiness forces us to say, “They don’t want me to be a part of their community. They don’t think I fit into the Kingdom of God. They don’t want me to be part of our family anymore.”
And that hurts.
So, dear LGBT friends, let me remind you that “they” are wrong. You do fit in the Kingdom. You are a part of the family. Consider what the Apostle John said about Jesus (who, like many of us, was also rejected by his religious community for believing that outcasts should be loved rather than judged)…
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…
He gave us all the right to be part of the family. Anybody who tells you differently is wrong.
Also, please keep in mind a valuable lesson we all should have learned in high school: just because one group of mean kids won’t let you eat lunch with them doesn’t mean the band kids, drama kids, chess kids, golf kids, or whatever kids won’t let you sit at their table.
If a church has been hateful to you because you’re LGBTQ, click here to find another one who really wants someone just like you to love God alongside them.