Last night I attended an event for Rev. Frank Schaefer. You may remember he is the pastor who made national news for being defrocked for officiating his sons same sex marriage in 2007. His story was sad and joyful and not always for the reasons one might expect. I believe we do better when we stand on the side of equal rights for all on earth, in heaven, and everywhere else in between. My husband and I can relate somewhat to Pastor Schaefer’s story in that we have stood by our children when it was time to tell them God loves and affirms them no matter what a particular church may be struggling to do or understand. That is really the joyful part. Let me be very clear: There is no greater joy than to stand with someone you love and affirm who they are in front of the world. Even and maybe even especially when “the world” is doing it’s hardest to do otherwise. Even when if feels like you cast yourself into a potential free fall. I coveted his joy. I experienced profound sadness in two parts of his story: When I heard the story of his son as a young teenager struggling with his new understanding he may be gay and then being exposed to his church’s Annual Conference (regional opportunities for United Methodist Church Conferences to meet and decide policy). As is often the topic of debate at this particular conference and at so many conferences before and after all over the country, difficult, bitter, hateful dialogue takes place when the debate begins over homosexuality and Christian practice and policy. Frank did not know about his son’s struggle and his son had just learned the church he grew to love did not affirm him. Tim, Frank’s son, lived with this pain for years, trying to change, trying to understand, alone with God. Tim had confided in the one and only person with whom he felt safe sharing such a tender truth. In fear, his friend told her mother and in turn, her mother shared with the Pastor the shocking news that not only was his son gay but also on the verge of suicide. That is where this hateful church policy has delivered us. It is not harming those who firmly stand in opposition because as I said before, it is a joy to stand firmly in love and God to the point of rejection. It harms the quiet, impressionable souls who are afraid to speak their truth. They are afraid of being rejected not for what they believe but for who.they.are. Pastor Schaefer did the only thing he could possibly do as a follower, a father, and a man of God: He affirmed his son, embraced him with great love and assured him he knew God made no mistake: gay or straight, his son would be loved and affirmed by God and by his family. So far, God wins this round.
But what about the church.
That is where my other sadness comes into play. Somehow we have taken our holy scripture and we have found ways to create what we believe to be “air tight” arguments that God rejects “homosexuality” and that LGBT persons need to transform (with God’s . I have been at the receiving end of only a small portion of this behavior, really, choosing to surround myself with people who take a more discerning approach to our holy scripture. I do not reject the Bible but I embrace it and stay open to how it is speaking to my life and the truth I experience. It is not so clear cut and it is never easy. When it becomes easy, I know I am doing something wrong. That’s just me. But when we use this book to craft ways to justify our hate and fear, well, there are amazing ways to do just that. When that happens, dialogue becomes all but impossible and we find ourselves in what I believe to be hell.
When you find you construct realities defined by walls that stand between you and what you love with all your heart, that is hell. You can quote scripture all day long, make your “air tight” argument, speak for God if you dare but in the end if it destroys more than it affirms, my advise would be to back away from the Bible for a bit, just for a bit, and listen. You can go back to it, love it, look at it, but embrace the love story instead of just the words. See if you can do something about those walls you build with blocks of scripture and verse. Consider who they serve. Then find words that define your fear and speak them in love. Consider how they are received and vow to listen in the same spirit.
Speak your truth in love and faith, not just faith. It will make a great difference. It will invite great blessings.