Food For Thought: Part 3 (God Loves Me)

part3As promised, I’ll be finishing up my thoughts on Brent Bailey’s post The Crisis of Relationship with God. You can read parts 1 & 2 here and here.

I want to mention again that while I’m not trying to devalue how these issues specifically effect members of the gay community, I’m also really passionate about seeing the “us vs. them” mentality take a hike. The way to do this is find ways to relate as people without a subtitle.  I am thankful that Brent took the time to explain challenges he faced in his relationship with God and the church and for the insight it provides into what others may be going through.  I’m also thankful for the realization that what he describes is not so different from some of my own experience, even though I am female and straight.

In the second half of his post Brent moves into what I think is a really great description of two essential elements of being in relationship with God.

 Two thousand years of Christian history have taught us developing a relationship with God requires two basic components that seem to be non-negotiable. The first is spending time with God through spiritual disciplines like solitude, silence, and scripture. The second is interacting with a consistent group of other Christians through participation in a local church, an intentional faith community, a religious order, or some other body of faith. Neither of these works without the other, but in my experience, both of these can be problematic for gay people.

Brent’s suggestion for why gay people may have a difficult time with these two components has to do with a persons understanding of how they are loved by God. Brent says,

You know as well as I do that affirming, “God loves everyone” is entirely different from affirming, “God loves me,” and the reason I equivocated was that my intellectual assent to the reality of God’s unconditional love did not translate into any sort of emotional, gut-level confidence that God loved me. You’ll notice I’m not saying anything about approval or sanction of certain behaviors. Before I even had the chance to get to those questions, I struggled mightily to believe God loved me: that God was for me rather than against me, that God was interested in me and actually cared about me, and that God desired a relationship with me as an individual.

This really resonated with me because I can understand the struggle to internalize and personalize God’s love.  I’ve spent my whole life in church and my relationship with God started when I was five, but it wasn’t until the last several years that I began to understand how God sees me.  I believe that coming to this understanding is a journey every Christian makes, and I have great empathy for gay Christians because most of us don’t have to deal with picket signs declaring how God hates us on top of everything else that might be telling us we are unlovable, but even still… being loved by the Creator of the Universe is not something that comes to anyone without struggle and doubt and questions. This should unite us. This should give us reason to relate to one another.

The  difficulties in the second component, participating in a faith community, are not unexpected. Brent points out the possibility of pain associated with the church and the difficulty of being in the minority. These things are understandable and true.  I don’t mean to beat a dead horse here, but again, I feel like a lot of the solution relies on our ability to see what we all have in common. I have known many people who’ve suffered hurt from the church for a variety for reasons that mostly have nothing to do with sexuality. I know others who find themselves at odds with the church body because they don’t see where they fit because their circumstances throw them into a very small category.

These are things that happen in the church to people. None of them are things that are specific to one group, so I have to believe that part of the solution is recognizing what we have in common and letting it unite in our desire to know God instead of looking for how we are the exception to the rule, or believing that we are a special case and that no one can understand us.

At the end of the day, for any of this to get better, we have to drop the labels– the ones we have for ourselves and the ones we have for others.  Has anyone else noticed that our labels come ahead of our distinction as Follower of Christ? Gay Christian, Straight Christian, Single Christian, Married Christian, Liberal Christian, Conservative Christian… I could go on.

Perhaps these assignments speak a lot of truth about what it is we are really following, and perhaps that’s something we should put some serious thought into. Jesus is the one thing we all have in common, why not define ourselves through Him and stop there?

Young People Walking in Meadow

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2 thoughts on “Food For Thought: Part 3 (God Loves Me)

  1. I suspect that anyone like Brent who reads this comment is going to hear it the wrong way, but I’m going to say it anyway and pray that they try to understand that my intention here is neither critical nor accusatory.

    What most of this boils down to is the voluntary adoption of the label “gay Christian”.

    In Galatians 3 and 1 Corinthians 3 St. Paul goes out of his way to teach his spiritual children that there are no adjectives prior to the word “Christian”. There are no Greek Christians, or Apollos Christians or Female Christians or Pauline Christians or Slave Christians. We are all merely Sons of God, adopted children through Christ’s revelation.

    To use what may seem like a trivial example to Protestants, I will talk about ethnicity within the Orthodox church to make the point.

    I attend a church that is predominantly Lebanese and Syrian immigrants to the USA. But our parish also has a lot of “white” converts to Orthodoxy. Sadly, much of the time, we allow our cultural differences to turn us into two churches under one roof. But, at our best, we learn to enjoy the benefits of both cultures without allowing the differences to become a wedge between us. We are not Syrian Christians and American Christians. We are only Sons of God.

    However, if someone from my parish were to start attending a Russian Orthodox church, and then began to complain loudly about the small differences in the rubrics and insisting that the Russians were “doing it wrong”, that would be a huge problem! This isn’t simply a matter of allowing one’s accent or taste in food to make it hard to relate to each other. This is now someone putting their own experience above that of others and using it to make value judgements and critiques. Now, not only is being a Syrian Christian simply an unnecessary cultural tag, but it is a deliberate and voluntary kind of isolation — I’m different from you and I want to stay different from you — completely unBiblical.

    Jesus himself prayed (in John 17) that we would be one as he and The Father are one. Not that Brent the Christian and Jim the Christian are somehow fused in some Buddhist way into a great Oneness that is God, no. We remain unique persons. Jesus and The Father are unique persons. But they are one. Being Brent the Christian is different from being a gay Christian which isn’t a unique person, but a Modernist category — inherently dehumanizing. Jim the Christian can relate to Brent the Christian. But Jim the Christian cannot relate to a Modernist Category.

    So of course people are going to feel isolated and removed not only from their church but from God if they voluntarily cling to such a category. This is not some backdoor way of trying to prove that you must reject same sex acts to be a Christian (although, I believe one must, I understand that’s an open debate for some people). This is merely to point out that even if you choose to believe that your sexual behavior is morally neutral and has no impact on your relationship to God, yourself or others, you deny your own belief when you voluntarily adopt a Modernist label and then put it between yourself and others. You make it impact your relationships with God and others by refusing to put the label aside and relate to people directly. If you force me to relate to you as gay rather than relate to you as Brent then of course we’re going to have problems.

    Now, I know that the argument will be that because we live in a heteronormative culture that everyone is relating to me as straight all the time in an implicit way. But I reject this assertion. People don’t relate to me as straight. They relate to me as Jim. Yes, part of who Jim is happens to be a man who is straight. But you have to know me and relate to me first before you can know that and include it into how you relate to me. The problem with Modernist categories is that they put the label ahead of the relationship. They say “you have to know this before you can know the person” and that’s simply backwards — and the late 19th and early 20th Centuries proved just how dangerous and violent that becomes.

    Brent, and others like him, may find that the prescription has less to do with changing the church, or even with changing themselves, and more to do with being honest about the ways in which how we frame a discussion and how we present ourselves have significant impacts on how we’re received — and ultimately we have way more control over these things than we do over the rest.

    It is an easy fix.

    • Katie says:

      There’s a lot here and I’m probably going to make a mess of trying to get to half of it so I’m going to dive in with something you said early on…
      “I’m different from you and I want to stay different from you”

      Specifically the “I want to stay different from you” part, I was really glad that you said this because it stepped right into something my brain has been tip-toeing around and just couldn’t get to. I feel like this is the strong undercurrent of the entire conversation when it comes to identity within the church. In a lot of cases it seems almost desperate, as though it’s not just I want to stay different, but I am CLINGING to my differences.

      I almost hesitate to say it, but I feel like a LOT of Christians, including but not limited to gay Christians, need their categories because there’s this underlying worry that as soon as they set them aside, as soon as they aren’t so busy defending their category and insisting they are unique in their hardships, that they will start to find that some of the grey area issues they deal with wont look so grey and they will have to face real self-sacrifice and that there might actually be space for God and His purpose, which might be different than the purpose they have been living for, which is scary.

      So they need to be caught up in the category, because while they want to feel confident in God’s love for them, they also don’t really want to know how to love God back. This might be a poor example, but it reminds me a lot of those people who want you to love them, they want you to do nice things for them, they ask for favors or to borrow things, and at the same time are completely self-deprecating, admitting that they are a terrible friend, who they never get things right or always fail in some way or another. They may be singing your praise as a friend, but the point is to make sure that you know that in your fundamental differences, you can never expect anything from them because they will always just be the screw up.

      They want to hang on to what they believe makes them so different because it gives them permission to receive love and never have to do any of the work of loving back.

      I feel like there’s a level of responsibility that we all know comes, whether we realize it or not, with letting go of the labels. So people like to stay tied up. This is NOT freedom in Christ.

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