Standing Together

“I wonder if God loves me.”

For most Evangelical Christians, that’s a statement that never really crosses our mind. At least, it’s not supposed to. And yet, if our exercise earlier this year at Open Table Talks: Faithfully Queer in Fresno was any indication, many who are questioning their identity as LGBTQ+ are struggling with the idea that this God we grew up hearing about - how His unconditional love surrounds us and will never let us go - could love even us. Rest with that a minute, would you?

Our exercise was simple; gleaned from a similar one that was done at Rachel Hollis’ RISE conference, and then the “Gloriously Queer” event at New Abbey Church in Pasadena: a one-page list of experiences and beliefs were passed around the room, each item on the list partnered with a checkbox that was to be marked if the reader had, or is, experiencing what was detailed on each line. Experiences such as “I have considered suicide” and “I wonder if I am going to hell” were part of the list. When all of the checkboxes were checked, the participants were to fold their paper in half, turn it in, and then all of the papers were shuffled and redistributed around the room. When each experience was read out loud from up front, those with the corresponding experience checked on their paper were to stand up, representing the person who anonymously admitted that they were experiencing that item.

While a number of them didn’t really surprise me as much, the ones that stood out to me were that over half the room stood up when asked if they had considered suicide, and a similar number of people stood when asked if they wondered if God loved them.

Friends, this is the church.

We are living in a church where what we teach on issues means that people around us don’t know if they are loved by God. After all, why would God love them when His representative on earth - the Church - has pushed out and marginalized so many? In his message at the Reformation Project’s “Reclaim and Reform” conference in Seattle, Pastor Mark Wingfield said that overwhelmingly the question that gets asked of him by LGBTQ+ people is if God still loves them. If that doesn’t break our hearts and open us up to the conversation, then I would venture to even question what you know of God, because the last I read, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that WHOSOEVER believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) John doesn’t tell us that God only loved those people who vote Republican. John doesn’t tell us that He came for those who kick out their gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender children. He says, “whosoever.” That means you. That means me.

“But I still love my gay friends - I just love them so much that I have to tell them the truth!,” some might proclaim. “I need them to know that the way they are living is going to send them to hell.”

After all, “love the sinner, hate the sin - right?”

Here’s the thing, though - for those of us who identify as LGBTQ+, it IS just that - an identity. Our identity as a queer person is inextricably tied to who we are - in the same way that a straight person cannot separate that part of their lives from who they are. So to boil it all down to a bumper sticker that doesn’t take the issue of identity into account is to do a major disservice to the LGBTQ+ community, and fails to communicate that you are really interested in having a conversation and investing in the lives of the LGBTQ+ community, but rather to put yourself into a self-righteous position of power as one who is the determiner of who gets into heaven or hell. And the last time I checked, that sort of piety was exactly what Jesus came to destroy. It was also ultimately what killed Jesus. When it comes to the issue of identity - you cannot separate what you deem as “sin” from the “sinner,” and any attempt to do so will have drastic consequences.

People sometimes ask me if I ever regret coming out and think about returning to a life back in the closet - especially considering the pain that I’ve experienced over the past year: coming out, losing my marriage and children…. Moving from my own house in Fresno to a bedroom back in my parents’ house… dealing with the pain of divorce. And while my life would definitely be simpler back as a straight cisgender man, there is no way that I could ever go back to where I was. It’s like someone who has only been eating McRib sandwiches from McDonald’s taking their first trip to a gourmet BBQ restaurant and then asking if they’d ever settle for a McRib again. Sure, there are moments when we might consider it, but the world has been so much more colorful and expressive since coming out and transitioning to Ellie. Above all, my relationship with God has become so much more authentic than it ever has been, because I now feel free to express my love for God in ways that I tried so hard to avoid because I had deemed them as “sinful” or “wrong.”

Listen, if you wonder even for a moment if God loves you - that isn’t God causing you to question it.

You, my friend, are beloved exactly where you’re at, and where you’re heading. God knows who you are, and who you are is beautiful. Why? Because you, my friend, are a bearer of the image of God. An image that is so vast and wide and, as Chris Tomlin puts it, “indescribable,” that when we try and limit it, we fail - and that is where we fall into the trap of making people overwhelmingly wonder if God really does love them.

If we are to call ourselves bearers of the Gospel, then that is what we NEED to be - people that spread the news that God loves them, and working to assure them of thatg. End of sentence. Anything less, I would venture to say, is not of God.

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