As 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?