In my e-newsletter Field Notes, we have an “Ask Sarah” section where people can send in their questions to me and I try to answer them in future editions. Usually those questions are pretty simple and straightforward (i.e. what’s your favourite episode of Doctor Who?) but not always. The question that inspired this essay is one that I have been asked probably a hundred times in a hundred ways – not only through Field Notes but in my friendships, my churches, other believers, my whole life. Months ago, when this particular question came in yet again, I sat down and wrote this essay in response. But it was too long for the e-newsletter’s format and so I have simply waited, considering its inclusion in a future book perhaps.
But this past weekend, I stood in a roomful of people whom my friend Rachel Held Evans loved. (I can’t begin to write about losing Rachel, not yet.) Standing there, all of us gathered to mourn her and to be together, I was struck anew by how grateful I am for all the ways that she gathered us together. Too much of my life has been surrounded by people who were like me: they looked like me, experienced God like me, had similar stories to mine. And it was through Rachel and her work and her relentless habit of pulling up more chairs to the table that I was fortunate to stand in that diverse crowd as a sister and as a friend to many. I don’t take that for granted. One thing that Rachel did for me and many others was make us braver, she encouraged us to tell our stories, and to invite more people to the feast. I decided to publish this here for everyone to access now during Pride month in a small act of solidarity, in hope, in gratitude, as one small way to honour her legacy of inclusion and to hopefully add a few more chairs to all of our tables, too.
I don’t know how to begin this, and I’m afraid I’ll end up writing you a whole long letter. I guess the shortest summary of this is that I am feeling so torn and sick at heart about questions of LGBT inclusion in the church, and I don’t know what to do.
There is a part of me that wants to throw open my arms and embrace LGBT people into the church, fully and unconditionally (while still holding to more traditional sexual ethic about sex in marital context). And yet another part of me is incredibly hesitant and is much more comfortable arguing for celibacy, asking that other half of me if I’m being “conformed to the world,” rather than holding to the Gospel. I wonder if I am terribly blinded by deep-seated, centuries-old biases.
Then I question whether I am falling prey to “worldly” impulses and only trying to make Christianity more defensible in modern culture. I have prayed that I might discern. I have prayed that I might be freed from my troubled state and be freed from this burden I constantly grapple with. I have read essay after essay written by those advocating for LGBT Christians, trying to sway myself one way or the other, and I am still so, so stuck on the fence.
I have seen leaders and preachers like you, Jen Hatmaker, and Rachel Held Evans move to declare that love is love. And I admire you all so much. You have been incredibly influential in shaping (and, in some ways, saving) my faith, more than you will probably ever know, and in pointing me to the love of Christ. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are rooted in that love and that therefore your call for LGBT inclusion is also rooted in that same love. I know that this is not you abandoning the faith or abandoning Jesus, no matter what some critics might argue.
I suppose my question is this–how did you move to become LGBT affirming, and what did that journey look like for you?
From N. from Rhode Island
Thank you for your sincere and earnest question. You aren’t alone and I’m so glad that you’re wrestling with this. To be honest, Evolving Faith Conference grew out of our desire to get all of us wonderers in a room together so we could feel a little less alone! My inbox is overflowing with variations of the same question from so many people particularly church leaders all over the world. Your tenderness and care is obvious. And so I’m going to do something a bit different with my answer – I want to take my time here without being prescriptive. (This is my code for “get yourself a cuppa tea, this is going to take a minute.”) This is one thing I’ve realized about this journey: you can’t hand someone seven steps to a faith shift or change in theology – it is deeply personal. Thoughtful questions deserve thoughtful answers. I also want to acknowledge to you and everyone else that I – a white straight 18-years-and-counting married woman – am not the best guide for you. I can be alongside of you only. But if I can be one point on your journey, I’m happy to do that for you just as many others have done that for me. Just know that after you read this, I encourage you to turn towards the margins and to let them lead you further out into God’s shalom.
I can only tell you my story and hope that there will be something here to encourage or strengthen or instruct you as you continue to journey with Jesus in these questions.
Many years ago, when I was reading through the Gospels in a last-ditch effort to figure out who Jesus was and if he was worth following (I talked about that a lot in my second book, Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith), I came across a particular story that made me angry.
And that shook me, right to my core, because it made me angry at Jesus. Yes, I was so angry at Jesus. I loved Jesus and this anger was a new feeling (also I’m an Enneagram 9 and so anger as a whole is a new feeling sometimes but that’s another conversation).
In this story, a woman is crying out to Jesus for help because her daughter is possessed and suffering. But Jesus ignores her. She continues after him, begging for him to help her. The disciples grow impatient – not with Jesus, mind you, but with the woman. They ask Jesus to send her away because she won’t stop shouting at them for help. He tells them he won’t deal with her because he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. She must have heard him say these words because she falls at his feet and begs again for help for her daughter anyway. Finally he speaks to her, saying, “Woman, it’s not right to take the food from the children’s mouths and throw it to the dogs.”
The penny is in the air.
Quickly she says to him, “Of course you’re right but even the dogs get the crumbs from the table.”
The penny drops.
Jesus praises her faith and heals her daughter.
Catch that? He ignored a desperate and pleading woman. He tells his disciples that she isn’t worth his time. He insults her by calling her a dog. Then he tells her she isn’t welcome to what he’s dishing up.
As if being a woman in this culture isn’t enough of a hill to climb, our girl was Syro-Phoenician (some translations refer to her as a Canaanite). She was from region called Tyre and Sidon which was despised by the Jews as enemies because they had fought on the other side of a long ago war. She was a cultural outsider to Jesus and his boys in every way. She’s a foreigner, she’s a Gentile, she’s from a despised region, and she’s a woman – and she’s making a nuisance of herself in front of a crowd. This rarely endears vulnerable women to powerful men.
And rather than immediately leaping over those hurdles to welcome her and heal her daughter, Jesus seemingly ignores her, insults her, refuses her. There is no empathy, no compassion, from the way the story is written.
But she persists. What mother with a suffering child wouldn’t howl all the way down the road, too? She refuses to let these men talk about her as if she isn’t there. She gets in the way. She steadily holds her place. She doesn’t get angry, she gets clever. And Jesus throws up his hands, he knows when he’s beat. Perhaps he laughed ruefully – fine, you win. She gets what she wants: her daughter is healed.
It’s in this story that we are reminded – a bit too strongly – that Jesus was fully divine and fully human, too. Sometimes we lean so hard on the divine that we forget Jesus was also a product of his time and his culture. This passage reminds us in no uncertain terms that Jesus was a Jewish man in the first-century, conditioned to believe that Gentiles were dogs and outsiders to the promise. His response to her seems…well, prejudiced at best.
It shook me. So I did what I always do when I don’t understand: I began to read. I learned there are many ways to interpret this passage – some believe that Jesus was simply play-acting a typical response to her pleas to demonstrate how heartless such an attitude of exclusivity is to his disciples, that he always intended to heal the daughter but was making a larger point in the process to those who were gathered to watch. I hope that one is true.
A few scholars have tried to downplay the word “dogs” – “maybe it’s the endearing word that means ‘cute puppies’ and that would make it okay?” – but the fact remains: “dog” was a pretty strong insult with racial implications.
Another interpretation holds that it was a statement of historical representation in how the saving of the world went down: Jesus came first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles.
Or this whole thing could have been a “test” of sorts for the woman: Jesus was setting her up to build her faith and her persistence, to strengthen her.
But one particular interpretation caught my own imagination: perhaps Jesus was taught by this woman. Perhaps we are witnesses to his growth. Perhaps he was deeply struggling with his Jewish identity and the attitude that Gentles were, in fact, dogs, that they weren’t in on it. Perhaps he was conditioned to ignore or disdain people like her. Perhaps it was because she was a woman or maybe her cultural identity or her race. After all, Jesus was as fully human as he was God, so perhaps he had the capacity to be challenged on his cultural prejudices and then to grow, to realize his mistake. In Mark’s telling of the story, this is Jesus’ first conversation with a Gentile. And it wouldn’t be his last but never again would he treat a Gentile the way that he initially treated this woman. As Austin Steelman writes in the Harvard Ichthus, “Jesus shows us in this story that inheriting bias is inevitable, but holding onto it is a choice.”
However we interpret the passage or try to explain it, this woman shows up in the Gospels, twice, with her determined love for her daughter and her quick wit and her faith in Jesus and her belief that she belongs in the room even if she can’t be at the table. She also shows us that even the ones who should know this have to be reminded now and then.
I’ve thought of the Syro-Phoenician woman often since that first reading. It made me mad at Jesus the first time I encountered it but now I find it amazing and instructive, even convicting for us in the Church now: perhaps Jesus learned from this moment. A woman taught him and he responded. These sorts of stories in the Gospels can bother us if we believe that God is unmovable. But the whole of scripture shows us something so different: a God who is moved by compassion, a God who can be persuaded, a God who responds, a God who is moving towards us always.
Jesus isn’t the hero in that story even though he ultimately heals the child. Rather, the woman is the hero because she was persistent, she was unrelenting, she was clever, she turned insults into entreaties, she prevailed. She’s also an outsider who showed the insiders how it should be done in the Kingdom of God.
What does that have to do with your question? Well, a lot, actually.
Because some of the biggest issues of the Early Church were issues of inclusion. Who is in? Who is out? What do we have to do to be considered insiders? What makes us Christians?
Are we Jews? Are we Gentiles? What is new wine and what are old wineskins? A lot of the ink in the New Testament was spilled to answer these sorts of questions. There were councils and arguments, divisions and church splits, broken relationships and frustrations, too.
The Law clearly states Gentiles are outsiders! The Law has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ! We are better than them because we were here first! No, no, these outsiders were always part of the plan! Jesus came for the Jews first! In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile! If they want to be in, they have to be circumcised and become Jews! Over my dead body are you going to add anything like circumcision to the finished work of Jesus Christ! (That last one was Paul.)
To the Early Church initially, there was one way of doing things according to the Law, according to the customs of the day, according to the religious elite who interpreted the Law, according to the culture, according to our understanding of enemies, there are people who are clean and then there are the unclean. Everyone knew this.
And then came Jesus – the same Jesus who early in his public ministry encountered that Syro-Phoenician woman – and then came the Resurrection. And suddenly the old ways of exclusion must bow down to the risen King of Kings who calls everyone our neighbour.
Through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, God inaugurates a whole new world of open doors and generous tables. Second-class citizens belong. Outsiders belong. Despised, cast-out, refugee, immigrant, uncelebrated, oppressed, all find their place at this party. The food we never used to eat tastes good on our tongue, the people we never used to speak to become our dearest friends, the homes we wouldn’t enter become our place of belonging. This is reconciliation and we’ve only just begun.
The penny was in the air for me for a long time, much like it is for you over this question.
I spent a long time actively re-examining my beliefs and opinions about Christians who were queer. I wanted to know: all sorts of things: was it sinful? what is a path of flourishing for gay Christians? what does this mean for our churches? what about marriage? could LGBTQ+ people be a part of the Body of Christ, fully and completely? Would welcoming LGBTQ+ people into our community as fully functioning members be any different than welcoming the people who were divorced and now remarried – can a Plan B be beautiful? Is there a “foul line” of marriage and ordination? (Now it grieves me that this was part of my process, that bias was so implicit in my faith, but I am committed to telling the truth.) We aren’t alone – this is a question that a lot of believers are asking these days.
So, I read and studied the scriptures vigorously. I examined original languages and read testimonies from all sides of all issues. I studied hermeneutics from conservatives and liberals and those in the space between. I read books and had conversations, I weighed arguments. I listened and I learned. I prayed. I sought counsel. I waited, a lot. I listened to LGBTQ+ believers about their own convictions and experiences, several of whom had not themselves landed at an affirming position or were committed to lives of celibacy. I understood so much in my head, had all the arguments, knew all the verses and interpretations. This is good and earnest work – I hope you take your time to do it well. It’s worthwhile.
But I sense that this isn’t the question you’re asking me, not really. You have access to the same books and theologians as me. A quick google search gives you books to read, right? So instead I’ll tell you this: even after all that study, all that conversation, all that learning, the penny hovered in the air for me still.
Intellectually, I was mostly there. I became affirming of marriage equality in the civil sense, I understood that “gay” and “Christian” were not opposites. I moved forward in many ways. I publicly came out in support of marriage equality ten years ago and wrote openly about that.
But in my spirit, in my heart, I still sensed a barrier. And I also sensed somehow that the barrier was only the Holy Spirit’s to remove, not mine.
So I waited. I practiced inclusion from a practical sense and waited on God’s transformation for my heart along with my mind. My behaviour and practices were modified: I still needed God’s transforming power.
Then one day years ago, I was out of town preaching at a large church in the Midwest. The day was incredibly full with meetings and sessions, capped off with a crowded and noisy women’s event. Before the event began, I met a woman who came over to me with a warm smile who introduced herself as a friend of a friend.
Immediately, I was drawn to her warmth and her quick laugh, her obvious love for Jesus and the Church. She practically glowed with joy and radiated peace. I have met women like her in many places all around the world – to me, they’re women who know what it is to walk with Jesus. Have you ever met a woman like this? For some reason, we can just sense the presence of heaven on them and we are drawn to them. Whenever the Gospels talk about how people were drawn to Jesus, I get it because I meet people like this all the time, people who make me want to walk with Jesus because of how they walk with Jesus. They are winsome in the best sense of the word.
Anyway, I preached my sermon. Then I stood at the altar and ministered to women for more than two hours through prayer and conversation. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the woman I had met earlier in the night sitting patiently to the side, keeping an eye on me. Sometimes that sort of thing will make me nervous – is someone spoiling for a scrap? is this a stalker situation? But on that day, I visibly relaxed: I knew instinctively that she was praying for me as I prayed for others.
I don’t mind telling you that I was wiped out by the end of the night. I love what I do and it’s a tremendous honour, but this introvert was ready to fall to the floor out of exhaustion. There was nothing left in the tank, I was poured out.
When the last attendee had left the room, the woman who had waited came over to me and gave me a quick hug. Then she said, “I don’t know if you know this but I’m a pastor. You have prayed for so many women tonight and I would love to pray for you. Can I pray for you?”
Of course, I said yes but I was unprepared for what happened next. She reached up and placed her hands on both sides of my head, almost like she was anointing me, like an old Pentecostal preacher would lay hands on someone.
And she began to pray with such authority, such anointing, such tenderness, that I began to weep. She prayed prophetically and pastorally, identifying areas of exhaustion and depletion in me, speaking words of life and goodness and abundance to my parched soul. By the time she was done, I felt not only deeply seen by God but deeply loved. She was a conduit for the Holy Spirit that night. I left the event feeling incredibly grateful for that divine encounter. I have never before or since been so struck by the clear anointing of a “pastor” in the truest sense of the word.
In the years afterwards, this woman and I struck up a friendship of sorts, emailing occasionally to check on each other, praying for one another, becoming friends on social media, that sort of thing. My instincts about her were right on: she was an incredible woman of God and a good human being. Eventually I learned that in addition to being a powerful and mighty woman of God, in addition to being an anointed pastor, in addition to being a devoted follower of Jesus, in addition to being kind and bold, faithful and content, funny and compassionate and godly, she was also a lesbian.
And just like that, the penny dropped.
All the study, all the footnotes, all the scholars, went from being a jumble of intellectual opinions to a lived experience in one encounter with the Holy Spirit alongside a beloved sister in Christ. I was transformed. All of a sudden my arguments and thesis and references – while helpful to get me to that place of openness – became secondary to the obvious truth staring me right in the face and praying.
My own encounter there reminds me of something in Acts 10, an angel surprised an Italian centurion named Cornelius. Cornelius was a good man, a prayerful and compassionate and well-respected good man. The angel showed up in his home and told him that his goodness and faithfulness had caught the eye of God and so he had a message for him: find Peter and invite him to come over.
That was it.
Yes, our same impossible Peter, the impulsive speak-first-think-later disciple who walked with Jesus, had become an influential leader in the Early Church by now. The angel tells Cornelius to find Peter and even tells him where he’s staying – in a town called Joppa at the home of Simon the Tanner. So Cornelius does what he’s told, he sends his people to Simon the Tanner’s house in Joppa to find Peter and to ask him to come over to his house. We’ll pick it up from the author of Acts, Luke, right there:
“Peter went out on the balcony to pray. It was about noon. Peter got hungry and started thinking about lunch. While lunch was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the skies open up. Something that looked like a huge blanket lowered by ropes at its four corners settled on the ground. Every kind of animal and reptile ad bird you could think of was on it. Then a voice came: “Go to it, Peter – kill and eat.”
Peter said, “Oh, no, Lord. I’ve never so much as tasted food that was not kosher.”
The voice came a second time: “If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.” This happened three times, and then the blanket was pulled back up into the sky.
As Peter, puzzled, sat there trying to figure out what it all meant, the men sent by Cornelius showed up at Simon’s front door. They called in, asking if there was a Simon, also called Peter, staying there. Peter, lost in thought, didn’t hear them, so the Spirit whispered to him, “Three men are knocking at the door looking for you. Get down there and go with them. Don’t ask any questions, I sent them to get you.”
The reason Peter is disoriented by this vision is because it goes against pretty much everything he has been taught about food as a Jew. Levitical law makes it quite clear what is clean and unclean: Peter, like most devout Jews, keeps kosher. He would never eat something that Almighty God had clearly stated was unclean.
So what was God up to here? Suddenly those laws are…what…up for debate? What could this vision mean?
Of course, this moment wasn’t out of character for how Jesus had interacted with the Law: after all, he often challenged strict Sabbath-keeping laws, pointing out that the Sabbath was for the people, not the people for the Sabbath. In one instance, he takes the Pharisees to task for being so concerned with the outside of the cup that they forget it’s what is inside the cup that actually matters implying that we could keep all the laws impeccably but still be unredeemed in our hearts and minds and souls.
The laws that matter so much to the religious elite and the culture at large is important to Jesus of course but not at the expense of humanity. Jesus often tells us, “You have heard it said, but I say…” He always takes us further into God’s redemption and holiness, love and peace-making than we are prepared to go sometimes.
In so many ways, Jesus reveals all the ways we had misunderstood and mischaracterized and misinterpreted God. He shows us what God is really like, what God’s heart truly is.
We thought God was one particular way: it turns out that God is a father standing on the porch, spotting his ungrateful and sinful son while he’s still far away.
It turns out God runs down the driveway with his coat billowing behind him, his arms wide open, his eyes full of tears, to throw his arms around the child who broke his heart.
Back to Peter. He greets the men, invites them into the home to stay, and the next morning, he goes with them to see Cornelius.
You see? Peter hasn’t even met Cornelius yet but already he is changing – the penny is in the air. A devout Jew never would have invited those three men to stay in their home. That’s a level of intimacy you can’t have with outsiders. Gentiles weren’t welcome. And a Jew certainly wouldn’t have gone into the homes of non-Jews. It simply didn’t happen.
So Peter shows up at Cornelius’ house the next day and after a while asks him what he sent for him. Cornelius tells him that an angel visited him and that the angel told him to find Peter. “So tell me your message!” he says to Peter, no doubt looking at him with expectation. You’re up!
That’s when the penny drops. Peter nearly jumps out of his skin with revelation.
The vision suddenly makes sense to him: the Spirit had set them both up!
The story says, “Peter fairly exploded with his good news: “It’s God’s own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favourites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from—if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open. The Message he sent to the children of Israel—that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again—well, he’s doing it everywhere, among everyone.”
He goes on to tell Cornelius and his household – Gentiles! – the good news of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit falls on the whole room and all of the Gentiles are filled to overflowing – they are speaking in tongues, praising God, having their own little mini-Pentecost there in the home of a Gentile. It’s the craziest thing. Peter wants to baptize them with water so he turns to the other Jews in the room who also follow Jesus and checks with them: any objections? I mean, we don’t usually baptize these kinds of folks but what could they say? Between Peter’s vision and Cornelius’s vision and the obvious infilling of the Holy Spirit, let’s make what is obvious official, sure, and so everyone is baptized. As Lin-Manuel Miranda would say, the “experiment sets a precedent.”
This moment was not only for Cornelius’ sake: yes, he was saved; yes, he became a follower of Jesus and ultimately is baptized. That would be enough.
But this was also for Peter’s sake and for the sake of the Gospel and for our sake now, too: now we know God’s heart. The vision wasn’t just about clean or unclean food, the vision was about people! Gentiles are in, we’re all in. The outsiders are now insiders, too.
There is no more “clean” and “unclean” – Jesus is Lord for all, not just some.
As Peter shouted in that room, God plays no favourites. The door is open. Jesus opened the door for everyone, not just the Jews. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life; he’s the gate and the latch is open. He’s doing it everywhere, among everyone.
I’ve always liked that story.
The more time I spent with gay Christians whose lives were fully submitted to Jesus just like mine, who were pursuing goodness and wholeness and discipleship, who were fully alive in the Spirit, the more I felt like Peter in Cornelius’s house, ready to explode with the good news that we are all welcome at the Table of the Lord! I have been hollering like Peter, “It’s God’s own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favourites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from—if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open.” Hallelujah!
I’m foolish enough to believe that Jesus meant it when he said they – the world – would know us by our love. As Paul said, may our roots go down deep into the soil of his marvellous love. We may very well be surprised by who is bearing the fruit against which there is no law, by whose leaves are for the flourishing of the nations.
We might find ourselves on rooftops, dreaming dreams, only to walk downstairs with the scary opportunities to make those dreams come true.
The resurrection and life of Jesus Christ means that we’ve been grafted in, we’re adopted in, we’re all part of the family. The litmus tests from Leviticus or from a racial or cultural or ethnic grouping or perhaps another standard like circumcision or rituals aren’t a replacement for the finished generous work of Christ. God is gathering the family right in. The peace has been brokered: we’re at peace with God and now we’re also at peace with each other.
So much of the Apostle Paul’s writing was precisely because he believed in the welcome of God for everyone. He loved the outsiders because he believed with all his heart that they belonged, they were insiders to Jesus even if they were outsiders to the empire or to the religious elite, and that was what mattered. Paul is often the bible’s liberating voice of freedom and inclusion, determined to see the Church fully accept and integrate the very outsiders they were conditioned and taught to despise, to fear, to shun. Paul had a conservative sexual ethic, absolutely.
To be honest with you, I do still hold to a deeply Christian sexual ethic, an understanding of fidelity, faithfulness, purity, constancy, love, honour, concern, etc. far beyond mere consent. In my understanding and experience, it’s a path of flourishing. It’s just that I believe we’re all welcome to that ethic, it’s not just straight folks like myself. I believe that LGBTQ+ people are fully welcome to the life of Christ, to walk together with us, to lead us, to build healthy thriving marriages and families, to be discipled in the fruit of the Spirit, in prayer and communion and worship and community. Marriage, baptism, family, discipleship, communion, ordination, vocation, everything good about being humans following Jesus is open to us all without exception. And those who do not follow Jesus are also worthy of love, safety, security, respect, kindness, and full rights of inclusion, too.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes that we’re in it together. The old ways of division and separation and suspicion have passed away because Jesus has brought us together. We’re equals before Christ and so we’re equals with one another. The old prejudices and boundaries and privileges are meaningless to us, we’re renewing our minds to God’s truth: we share the same spirit of Christ. He writes to this church of Gentiles, “You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all – irrespective of how we got here – in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day – a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.”
The Church hasn’t done this well. Sometimes we’ve been an utter failure at it. We’ve been complicit in racism, in sexism, in colonialism, in abuse, in war, in persecution. This should sober us and make us wary of any instinct we have to turn a neighbour into an outsider, any knee-jerk reaction we have to excluding someone else from the goodness of God we’re experiencing.
This is life of the resurrection, too: a life of welcome to outsiders. In a world of boundary markers and who-is-in-and-I-want-them-out, we are part of the new world. We know that we were outsiders ourselves – we all were. That’s the point. None of us could save ourselves. But Jesus inaugurates this new world where all of us outsiders become insiders. And we live in a kingdom of hearts and minds now where we embody that by gathering the very ones that no one else wants and pulling them in, whispering, you belong right here with us. Oh, following Jesus is inconvenient sometimes.
There is always a moment of invitation. The penny is in the air. That’s okay. We meet our own version of Cornelius or the Syro-Phoenician woman or whomever. People, relationship, listening, love, this is what causes the penny to drop. All the work God has done to prepare us for this moment, to prepare us to confront our own definitions of outsiders, our own biases, our own prejudices, our own “but not them surely!” collides with the real people right in front of us and our experiences with the God who plays no favourites.
Proximity changes us.
And besides, if someone draws a line saying, “you’re out” I think the Christian response is to go step outside of the line in solidarity with the ones we want to leave out.
If someone creates a wall and says “only insiders here,” a follower of Jesus sets up camp outside the walls.
Our place is with the outsiders, creating a home of goodness and welcome, hospitality and laughter, truth and kindness, love and gentleness in the wilderness. The song we’re singing is that we all belong in Jesus and we all belong together.
I’m an imperfect ally but I’ve been learning and practicing, committed to this path for years now. It has cost me – it has recently cost me my church, it has cost me friendships, it has cost me professional opportunities – and I would pay every price over and over and over again to be in holy solidarity with LGBTQ+ believers (who suffer at the hands of our churches and our culture in a way that makes my paltry sacrifices look laughable) and to be alongside of each other as we all follow Jesus.
So remember to sit down at the feet of those who have suffered, those for whom this isn’t theory or theology, those for whom this isn’t an exercise in thought or opinion but their real lived life, the ones who, as Broderick Greer says, “engage in theology as a matter of survival” and I say, “I’m here to learn from you. Lead me. I will listen to you. I will respect your story. I will submit myself to the margins.”
I don’t write or speak or “lead” in this lane publicly very often because I want to centre the work of others and amplify their voices instead. There are SO MANY good folks to listen to but rather than overwhelm I’ll simply point you towards a few of my own favourite books and you can consider this a launching pad:
- Jeff Chu, my friend and brother. His book “Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Search for God in America” is wonderful.
- The Rev. Emmy Kegler‘s book “One Coin Found: How God’s Love Stretches to the Margins” was one of my favourites this year.
- Matthew Vines‘ “God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships” (Matthew’s viral video sermon was the one that played a significant role in Rachel Held Evans’ initial exploration of becoming affirming)
- The one I most frequently recommend to people and churches as their first starting point is Dr. David P. Gushee‘s “Changing Our Minds.”
- And Vicky Beeching‘s “Undivided: Coming Out, Becoming Whole, and Living Free from Shame” is a memoir and a good read.
- One final one is based here in Canada but it’s got a lot of online resources if you wish to start there. Generous Space Ministries is a lovely community of people.
I hope that helps. This is just a snippet of the path for me, hardly the whole story but we’ll wrap it up – the Spirit has you on a path already. May you be accompanied by the Spirit as you keep walking in the fresh air.
I wish you well on your journey. There are many of us out here, waiting for you. I know the penny is in the air – that’s a holy space to be. When it drops, let me know.