The following was originally written one year ago today. Thus, for those more familiar with my family, some timeline details may feel out of place. But for various reasons and after much prayer, I felt it needed to wait until now. Other than some updated stats, I left the writings primarily intact in order to reveal my honest thoughts at the time. They still reflect my views today.
As I write this I stare across the room at our rainbow-colored Christmas tree, still adorning our home until the beginning of the new year.
It is actually somewhat subtle with the lights on, but if you look closely, there amidst the branches are seven different colors of ornaments displayed in order (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet), mirroring the beauty of that natural wonder we see in the sky when sunlight reflects through droplets of rain.
As millions of families across the world recently filled their living rooms with their own artistic masterpieces of evergreens covered in ornaments, lights and tinsel, I cannot claim credit for this particular rendition. The artists in this case are two of my four children (who have actually now grown to be young adults).
As the rainbow in the past several years has come to symbolize certain things, it’s possible that some may find its juxtaposition against a symbol for a Christian celebration to be quite offensive (especially those in the conservative Evangelical tradition of which I am a part).
I find it quite beautiful.
Before I explain my kids’ aesthetic choice or my reception, I want to share with you two true stories – both seemingly unrelated to the topic at hand but important to the discussion.
Ginger Sprouse seemed to have a storybook life: a patient and caring husband, two amazing young children, and a beautiful farm to raise them on. But there came a point where she wanted something more, a case of “the grass looks greener over there.”
Growing weary of the life she was living, she found her affections turning toward a man who occasionally helped around the farm. She made up her mind she was going to leave her husband and have an affair.
In her book, Kinda Like Grace, Ginger shares the story of sitting at her kitchen table drinking coffee with a longtime friend from church. Pleading her case of unhappiness, Ginger sought approval to go through with her plan.
After a long silence, her friend, Lacey, responded with deep sorrow in her eyes,
“I’m not going to give you permission to do this. I am not going to tell you that everything will work out. You’re lying to yourself. You have a beautiful family, a loving husband and young children. It will be a disaster the magnitude of which you cannot even fathom…Please do not do this” (Sprouse 32).
After Ginger grew angry and shouted, “Get out!” Lacey reached out her hand and responded, “Please, just listen to what I’m telling you. The truth is painful, but I’m telling you because I care!” (Sprouse 33).
Refusing to take Lacey’s hand or heed her words, Ginger kicked her friend out and lost a longtime relationship that day.
That was not all she lost. By Ginger’s own admission, her choices ended up being the disaster her friend had warned of. While Ginger has since repented, turned her life around and experienced the kind of “grace” alluded to in her book title, damage was still done and the scars upon her ex-husband and children remain to this day.
For Lacey, who could see more clearly what lay ahead, “telling the truth in love” was more important than affirming Ginger’s choices in order to preserve a friendship. She had determined that kind of love was worth the risk.
“Mary” was enrolled in a Methodist pre-school in the UK starting at the age of three. There, in order to mold students into use of the right hand, she and any fellow left-handers were punished severely for any use of the incorrect hand. Any time they were caught, teachers and administrators would slam books onto their left hands or beat the offending hand, as well as other parts of their bodies, with canes and sticks.
At the time, many in the Christian world saw left-handedness as a curse based on the passage in scripture where Jesus separates the sheep from the goats:
“He shall separate all nations one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats; and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left…then shall the king say unto them on his right hand, come, ye blessed of my father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matt 25:32-34, 41 KJV)
“I would come home and my knuckles would be swollen and bleeding every day,” Mary recounted. “If I even reached for a pencil with my left hand, I was scolded and a switch taken to my back. We were accused of being instruments of Satan, essentially tainting the purity of the right-handed children we had integrated with. So, we were separated to spare them our satanic influence” (Fairchild).
Left-handed individuals throughout the ages have long-suffered various forms of persecution due to its association with wickedness. The word “sinister” comes from a Latin word meaning “on the left side.”
During the Spanish Inquisition, the Catholic church would condemn, and sometimes execute, left-handers. Amidst the Salem Witch Trials, left-handed people were burned at the stake as witches.
This was not just reserved for the Christian church. In the 19th century, Zulu tribes were known for placing children’s left hands in boiling water in order to scald them and prevent their use. In earlier parts of the 20th century, several scientists labeled left-handedness as an abnormality and associated it with savages, criminals and lunatics (Cox).
Of course, in modern times, while there are still many inconveniences for left-handed individuals and we still don’t have complete explanations for why 10% of the population is born left-hand dominant, most of Western society no longer associates it with evil or views it as negatively abnormal.
Still, people today like Mary, who were forced to undergo attempted right-handed “conversion therapy” have reported struggling with PTSD from the abuse and even speech disabilities because of the forced-training’s adverse effect on normal right & left hemisphere brain function.
Over the Rainbow
Most of us, of course, would view what Ginger’s friend, Lacey, did as honorable while seeing what Mary’s school teachers and administrators did as horrific. Lacey displayed tough love while Mary’s school administered outright abuse.
Likewise, most of us would see Ginger as misled and selfish (perhaps even perverse) while acknowledging Mary as a victim… a victim specifically of poor interpretation of scripture and bad science advocated by those in the privileged majority.
Under the topic of “rainbows,” it doesn’t take much to realize the connection I am making with the church’s response to LGBTQ+ individuals.
Most conservative Christians I know merely see themselves as “Laceys” in the situation, trying to love others as best they can by speaking truth into their lives in order to help them avoid inevitable disaster – even if loving them in that way means risk to their relationship.
Most LGBTQ+ individuals I know merely see themselves as “left-handers,” trying to live their lives as best as they can with their natural-born predispositions in a largely “right-handed” world. Some, of course, spend much of their lives desperately trying to adapt (often in secrecy), forcing themselves to live as “right-handers,” but inevitably failing or forever feeling handicapped. Others determine that the above is an impossible approach and so choose to live openly – even if that means risk of rejection by much of society.
There are, of course, extremists on both ends of the theological and political divide who spend significant portions of their time expressing remorseless intolerance and hostility toward the other, but the majority of people are simply trying to go about their own lives as best as they know how, while remaining faithful to themselves and their convictions.
So who is right?
While it’s easy to debate this topic with great moral platitudes and pronouncements of biblical verses, underlying all this are some sobering statistics provided by The Trevor Project (here, here and here) regarding LGBTQ+ youth:
- 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.
- LGBTQ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers. At least one attempts suicide every 45 seconds.
- LGB young adults who report high levels of parental rejection are eight times more likely to report attempting suicide and six times more likely to report high levels of depression
- In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25.
- 1 in 3 LGBTQ youth reported that they had been physically threatened or harmed in their lifetime due to their LGBTQ identity.
- Each episode of LGBTQ victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.
- 29% of LGBTQ youth have experienced homelessness, been kicked out, or run away.
An additional study shows that LGB youth who have undergone conversion therapy are almost twice as likely to think about or attempt suicide as those who have not undergone conversion therapy.
And, as reported by NIH, LGBTQ+ individuals are at significantly increased risk for substance abuse.
…meaning the church cannot afford to get this wrong and, unfortunately, has done an extremely poor job of it – a response that has too often been deadly.
I have long advocated for the church to have a more compassionate response to the LGBTQ+ community and even wrote a series of articles several years ago on the subject.
But several things have occurred since that have caused my understanding to evolve further:
Last year I saw the movie Boy Erased, based on the autobiographical memoir of a Baptist preacher’s son who was sent to a conversion therapy camp due to his same-sex attraction. The film, of course, shows the adverse (and even tragic) results of the therapy.
I had a visceral response to the movie but not in the way you would expect – for I had long before concluded that conversion therapy was ineffective and harmful.
As I watched a young man so desperately try to please his parents and the church by silently going through the motions laid out for him, all I could think was…
How arrogant for the preacher father to so quickly decide what was best for his son without slowing down to find out what his son really needed.
How arrogant for the camp leaders to assumedly decide what was going on in the youths’ heads without giving them a chance to be a voice for themselves.
How arrogant for the church to so easily spout off theological suppositions without considerations for the ways it was affecting people at the other end of it.
How arrogant of me, while well-intentioned, to write articles and “minister” to others on the subject without giving as much voice to the people on the receiving end as I give to my own – without practicing true empathy.
Most people in the evangelical Christian circles that I spend time with, unlike some of the more abrasive voices on social and conservative media, have a loving desire to “help” people in the LGBTQ+ community. But what we have a tendency to do is to “listen” with sympathetic sounding ears just so that we can win them over with our points rather than truly seeking to understand the stories of those we are engaging with.
We think we are Lacey’s speaking loving truth into loved ones lives, but we fail to see that for individuals who have same-sex attractions or nonconforming gender identities (many who have experienced it most of their lives and sometimes even decades), we come across more as abusive school administrators trying to retrain their bodies into right-handedness.
We unempathetically decide that the receivers of our “ministry” haven’t thought things through, disregarding the fact that most likely they have tried to work through these feelings (for hours, weeks, years on end, often through many tears) way more than we’ve ever even given a thought to it.
It doesn’t mean we can’t ever be right, but it does mean we have arrogantly given more weight to our own voices rather than the voices of the recipients.
We think, “Well, we’ve got scripture to back us up!” forgetting that so did the people who thought the sheep and goat passages were proof of the evils of left-handedness.
I think of an email exchange I had with a friend many years ago. We had been close friends in high school and he had since come out as gay. For the most part my responses, I thought, were kind and sympathetic, but a separate online exchange caused him to seek private clarification from me. I explained how I cared for him, but then went on to compare his “struggle” with same-sex attraction to my battle with pornography, indicating that while I understood unwanted attraction, he still had a choice not to act on it. He still had a choice not to “sin.”
What I failed to do was to seek to understand his feelings, to ask him to share his thoughts, and to give value to the weight of his experience – to learn something from him in exchange.
I had proudly imparted my Christian “wisdom” to him and that was enough. After all, I had my certain interpretation of scripture to back me up.
My relationship with him has never been quite the same ever since. Do you blame him?
Last Christmas I received a copy of the book Torn:Rescuing The Gospel From The Gays-Vs.-Christian Debate by Justin Lee.
Describing himself as “God Boy” growing up because of his passion for following Christ and later identifying as a “gay Christian,” Justin shares his personal story of coming to terms with his attractions and how he reconciled it with his faith.
I found Justin’s story and the book to be a refreshing read – not only because he remains respectful to both sides of the “debate” (from the “Lacey’s” on one side to the “left-handers” on the other), but also because he breaks past the usual tropes:
- He was never abused as a child, as many in the Christian community assert is a root cause of same-sex attraction.
- He did not have a distant relationship with his father or mother. In fact, he grew up in a close, loving home. Thus, there was no deep, psychological wounding to be blamed for the cause of his attractions.
- He is not a sexual “pervert,” trying to justify excuses for having promiscuous sex. From what I could tell, as of the writing of the book, he had remained celebate, waiting until he found a lifelong partnership through marriage.
And more significantly, he is both serious and honest with scripture. As much as I have criticized “bibliolatry” in the church and literalism that misses out on the original context of the authors, taking scripture seriously is still very important to me. In my battle against arrogance, I do not want to be so prideful as to think that I am somehow more informed than the Bible’s authors nor smarter than centuries of Christian theologians. Plus, in faith I really do believe the writings were inspired by God.
As I’ve considered many of the theological proposals by individuals as to why the Bible does not actually forbid gay sex, I have found many of their arguments lacking. Yes, some passages, such as Sodom and Gomorrah, have indeed been misapplied, but there are others – no matter how much I look at the Hebrew or Greek or historical context – where I personally just can’t get a different reading. Many of the counter-arguments have felt like theological twisting to come to a preferred conclusion.
Justin honestly acknowledges the exact same struggle. In addition, he outlines the debate amongst gay Christians themselves. Those on “Side A” believe God blesses same-sex marriages. Those on “Side B” acknowledge the reality of same-sex attraction but believe they should remain celibate. Justin lands on Side A but illustrates respect for the Side B position.
Most importantly, Justin demonstrates the human side of what it’s like to be caught between the reality of one’s own experience versus traditional Christian teaching.
As a follower of Christ, Justin tried desperately for many years to not be gay, even reaching out to ex-gay ministries. He humorously relates an episode of South Park in which Stan discovers his dog Sparky is gay. After commanding his dog to both sit and then shake, Stan then commands, “Don’t be gay, Spark; don’t be gay!”
When other Christians found out Justin was gay, the essential response to him was “Don’t be gay, Justin; don’t be gay!” If Justin had the option, he would have chosen just that.
Alas, the Christian doctrine he was surrounded with didn’t match up with the reality he was experiencing – a stark reminder to us all that there are still people behind our bold theological propositions.
Not long ago (prior to the pandemic) my wife began volunteering to give “Free Mom Hugs” at various events. For those not familiar with the movement, it is where moms (and dads now, too) show up at various LGBTQ+ public events offering to give free hugs to anyone who wants one.
Many LGBTQ+, having been kicked out of their homes or disowned, have not known the hug or loving touch of a parent in years.
Tears welled in my eyes as my wife described the various encounters with youth and adults, many who rushed to her as soon as they saw her with a “Free Mom Hugs” sign. She made a point of letting them lead in terms of how tight and how long the hugs lasted. For many, it was clear from the strength and length of the embrace, they wished the hugs could last forever.
My wife and I sat across the restaurant table from a woman I will call “Claire.” Because I’ve become a person who’s learning to listen, I asked Claire to share her story. She was a mom, formerly married and extremely active in her Christian faith, who struggled for years to give up on her lesbian identity.
She had heard from God all her life, and once she realized she was gay did everything she could think of to try to overcome her attractions: counseling, conversion therapy, praying through all hours of the night – even hoping marriage to her best male friend would somehow heal her. But alas, nothing worked.
The church had made it clear through its messaging that Claire could not be gay and a Christian at the same time. By this point it became evident to her that her same-sex attractions would not go away.
She described how one night, feeling utterly defeated, she lay face down against the tear-stained carpet and cried out to God, “Either let me give up on You or let me give up on life!”
Fortunately, Claire is still alive with us today. Unfortunately, that night she gave up on God – a God she had always loved.
Claire is just one of thousands of similar stories.
I shared in a previous post many years ago how my daughter M, as a young teen, identified as bi. After years of reflection, as a young adult, she now identifies as pansexual, though she is currently engaged to a male and will be married within the year – thus, living out society’s definition of a “normal” life.
What I have not shared is that my son H identifies as gay. He has been out to friends and immediate family for years, but I’ve not shared it out of respect for the level at which he has been public (there were still relatives he had not informed).
(**Please note that both M and H were given final approval on this article before it was ever posted.)
After hearing various clues, I actually “outed” H myself in private before he had to do any kind of official “coming out” to us, his parents. I did not want him to live in secret fear and shame, scared of our reaction or that we would reject him. I wanted him to know of our unconditional love for him and that I was proud to be his dad.
He said to me at the time that he was bi, but admitted later that it was mainly to soften the blow. It is now clear that his sole attraction is to men.
Now, before you think I’m some kind of noble dad, let me confess to you that where I’m at has not come easy. Sure we saw various stereotypical clues as H grew up (his love of “girly” things, many girl best friends, distaste of sports, love of musicals, and affinity to dance), but still I hoped the scary “g” word wouldn’t be true of him. After all, I too was not your stereotypical boy (didn’t care for sports, loved musicals, and spent most of my time in theater) but I still very much was attracted solely to females.
I never forced H into sports or shamed him for his love of “girly” things or tried to dissuade him from dance. I once told him that, because of the respect he showed to girls, he was more man than anyone I knew (a notion I still hold to today), but still I hoped…and even prayed.
After all, the person who first mentored me in my Christian faith identified as “ex-gay,” and while confessing he still had attractions, described his former life as nothing but painful memories. This made it so I had compassion toward those with same-sex attraction, but did not want that painful “lifestyle” for anyone…especially my son.
Once H was out, I hoped that he would still just decide to marry one of his girl best friends for the purpose of having kids – so that everything could be “normal.” Ignorant (and perhaps arrogant) at the time that such actions are easier said than done (that many gay people have tried it only to cause greater pain for themselves and others), I hinted at this idea to H more than once.
Many times, I found myself wanting to shout, “Don’t be gay, H; don’t be gay!”
Was it because of my love for him, or was it because, as an evangelical Christian, I might be embarrassed?
I’ve reflected a lot on Christian perceptions of people who are gay.
I’ve shared openly on my blog about struggles my children went through as teenagers. My eldest son, A, did drugs in high school and got in trouble with the law at the time, my daughter, M, rebelled, attempted suicide and was in and out of rehab, and my youngest son, C, barely graduated high school by the skin of his teeth. As young adults, they are all doing well today and I love them all the same.
But H, seems to have bypassed all that – never rebellious, never in serious trouble, extremely self-motivated, a gifted and straight-A student who graduated toward the top of his class, and accepted it into an Ivy League school on the equivalent of a full-ride scholarship. We are very fortunate that he escaped many of the statistics listed earlier regarding LGBTQ youth.
From societal definitions, based on those factors alone, H would be considered to be the “perfect child” (and, of course, we consider all of our kids “perfect”).
Yet, many in the evangelical Christian world would judge H more harshly than the rest…all because he is gay.
They might judge M as well, but the fact she is getting married makes it easier for Christians to sweep that under the rug.
There is something extremely wrong with all that.
Am I embarrassed by my kids? No, not the least bit.
In fact, I really am quite thankful.
It is precisely because of my overwhelming love for them that I owed it to them to listen…
…to watch the movie, to read the books, to have conversations where I listened to people’s stories.
It showed me that I was the one who needed changing the most.
So where does that leave me?
If I’m honest (after all, that’s the title of my blog), I’m not quite certain.
On the one hand, I still hold fast to the importance of scripture. Its teachings guide me in every decision. And there are scriptures I just can’t get past when it comes to this topic.
It’s for this reason, I hold no judgment for people who believe in “traditional marriage” and traditional notions of gender. They simply see themselves as “Lacey’s,” remaining faithful to God and loving others by not affirming them in choices they truly believe would be disastrous for their lives.
On the other hand, I’ve heard the voices of people that are at the other end of these theological and political proclamations – people who have had to live the experience of it daily and who have been hurt and shamed, felt their voices were unheard, and often been rejected by the church. They are normal people who just want to be loved like everyone else. And scripture, of course, has a lot to say about love.
It’s for this reason, I hold no judgment for people who are LGBTQ+. They simply see themselves as “left-handers,” trying to live life as best they can amidst a “right-hand” dominated world by embracing the uniqueness of who they believe they were born to be.
In my series on “Split-brain” and why people are leaving the church, I explore how people have a need to believe in something that is real. And often, when people’s interpretation of the Bible doesn’t match up with the reality they experience, it causes a crisis of faith.
In our left-brain dominated society, we tend to see things through certainty, causing us to view it as an either/or choice between scripture and real experience. We feel we have to toss out one or the other.
But is that always the case, or is it possible that when scripture seemingly contradicts reality, it just means we need to look a little deeper?
When astronomy, geology and other sciences began to point to the “reality” of a much older earth and universe, many people either rejected the science or rejected the Bible. But others decided that perhaps we needed to look at the “six days of creation” a little differently. Consequently, it has led to more profound implications for both science and faith.
When the biological realities behind left-handedness came to the forefront, the church was again forced to come to a new understanding of the “sheep and the goats” passage (without tossing it out altogether). It couldn’t continue to punish (and even abuse) children in the name of “love.”
Now we are faced with another seeming “contradiction.”
On the one hand, scripture appears to point to a certain set of conservative principles regarding gender, marriage and human sexuality.
On the other hand, we are faced with some cold-hard realities:
The reality is that LGBTQ+ individuals are at an alarmingly higher risk for physical abuse, substance abuse, depression and suicide. Added to this, those who undergo conversion therapy (something primarily promoted by the Christian church) become suicidal at double the rate.
To put it more bluntly, the church, in its attempt to save people for eternity, is actually killing them.
The reality is that for most people who experience same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria, it is not a “choice.” Few people would choose that for themselves, knowing the amount of rejection that lay before them. Many have spent most of their lives attempting to make a different choice but have only found themselves experiencing deeper feelings of failure and shame.
The reality is that, yes, there are people who are successfully “ex-gay” (I have met several myself) who have gone on to lead what is perceived as a “normal” healthy life, but the bigger reality is that those cases are few and far between. The majority who have attempted (I have met several myself) have only ended with further heartbreak and pain…and in one case I personally know of, death.
The reality is that most LGBTQ+ individuals have been presented by the church with a dichotomous choice: either give up their “left-handedness” or give up on faith. Many, faced with the impossibility of ridding themselves of the former, end up giving up on the latter, and giving up on God. Too many even give up on life.
The reality is that hundreds of families of LGBTQ+ also have been marginalized from the church. Many of them love Jesus and desperately want to continue to be a part of a church family, but often shunned by the community once their child or loved one comes out, they are presented with the dichotomous choice of love for the church or love for their child. There are many families out there that keep their children’s status a secret due to fear of how their church will react. More than likely, in your own church community, there is a family who meets this definition.
The reality is that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of gay individuals (meaning “same-sex attracted”) who love Jesus and desperately want to follow God’s will. Within that community alone, there are legitimate debates between them about how best to handle same-sex attraction (Side A or Side B) in light of serious examinations of scripture. Most of them, through years of personal experience and biblical study, are far better experts on the subject than I will ever be. Most have felt misunderstood and ostracized by the church at large.
Scripture, in my opinion, actually demands we face these realities. But in the seeming contradictions, what do we do?
How do we look deeper?
In my personal quest to avoid left-brain dominated thinking, I am learning to live with more uncertainty and the embracing of paradox. Therefore, my answers will probably not satisfy people on extreme ends of the debate who want more decisive language.
So which perspective do I more closely align with? The “Lacey’s” or the “Left-handers?”
Is God so permissive that we have total freedom to act whatever way we want, that there is no such thing as sexual ethics and, therefore, it is wrong for us to ever address such issues in people’s lives?
Is God so cruel that he would create a bunch of “left-handed” individuals, only to cast them aside like goats for all eternity?
Is scripture not to be trusted, to the point where I cannot be certain that Christ was born of a virgin and later died and was resurrected for my sins?
Are people’s voices never to be trusted, to the point where I must not believe the cries of thousands of people claiming they’ve already tried so hard and, in the end, just want to be seen as normal and to experience for the first time acceptance and love?
In the embracing of paradox, I’m learning that when faced with the juxtaposition of seeming contradictions, perhaps asking what is right or wrong isn’t the point. Perhaps the real question is “What can I learn from it?”.
And, therefore, when faced with the juxtaposition of “Lacey’s” and “Left-handers,” I find myself landing somewhere in the in-between. And for that, I have no proper allegory.
I find myself believing the following:
…that grace is very different and far bigger than we’ve ever known.
…that sexual ethics goes way beyond the topic of LGBTQ+. That the divorce rate, amount of infidelity, problems in the marriage bedroom, sexual abuse, and number of dollars spent on pornography and human trafficking prove that sexual issues intersect every demographic of people in society.
…that even in the church, we have made idols of both sex and marriage.
…that gender identity issues also intersect every demographic. That we have created confusing definitions of masculinity and femininity (many that are not even scriptural) that have left whole groups of people feeling dejected and out of place. (*For more in-depth discussion about this and above, please see this previous post – though I no longer endorse everything in the article)
…that no one, other than Jesus, perfectly loves. Every single one of us is so far from the holiness of God, that in our brokenness we often wound others – even when we think it is love.
…that our brokenness in sexuality, identity and love is so pervasive and has been going on so long that, like the fish who doesn’t know what “wet” is, we as humans no longer recognize the poisonous, murky water that continually surrounds us.
…that LGBTQ+ people are not the perpetrators of the murkiness in the water but rather the victims of the poison that was already there.
…that Paul’s entire point in the first few chapters of Romans was NEVER to create another list of sins but rather to show symptoms of the greater murkiness (for “all have sinned and fall short”) so that we would not judge and could appreciate the significance of God’s grace.
…that when we do judge others regarding their sexual ethics, we merely bring judgment on ourselves (Romans 2:1). And if we are even going to attempt to point out the speck in the eye of anyone LGBTQ+, we better darn well make sure to look first at the contaminated waters right in front of us.
…that every attempt by humankind to define what is sin and what is not (whether that is condemning something as sin or affirming something as not sin) is actually an attempt to bypass grace. It is a return to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in order to control things and achieve our own holiness by either: identifying a sin to overcome, affirm ourselves by pointing to our own righteousness, or make ourselves feel better by pointing to the sins of others.
…that God’s amazing grace through Christ (his unconditional favor) is the true picture of how God continually chooses to see us, regardless of any failings. That when God first created humankind, knowing full well what lay ahead, he still pronounced it “good.”
…that LGBTQ+ (along with everyone else) exist to be potential reflections of the light of God’s grace amidst the darkness of the waters.
…that the church’s primary purpose is to reflect that light perpetually.
Does this mean that we should never address areas for doing right? Of course not (for “everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial”).
My kids have the right as adults to not take care of their cars, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t told them to remember to change the oil and check the tire pressure,
What it does mean is that I will still always love and favor them whether they change their oil or burn their engines out, whether they take care of their tires or end up with a flat…
…whether they fail a class or end up with straight A-s, whether they have a successful marriage or end up in divorce, whether they end up in the hospital with depression or serve as the one treating the depression, whether they work in law-enforcement or end up in jail, flipping burgers or running a Fortune 500 company, on-fire for God or someone who’s still searching…
…whether they think Die Hard is a Christmas movie or just another action flick…
…female or male, gay or straight they will always have the same standing with me…
…as highly favored and fully loved just as they are…always.
That is what I seek to affirm in them. Not an identity based on what they do or how they see themselves or who they love, but an identity based on how God sees them through his never-ending grace.
And by affirming that, they never have to be embarrassed, never have to be afraid and never have to feel they fall short.
H…and M…and A…and C are worthy of that kind of love.
That is what they need to know and that is the answer to the question.
The tree will be taken down soon – my least favorite part of the Christmas season. I always miss seeing the decorations – especially the tree.
I think I will miss this year’s the most.
I asked H & M to share openly with me the reasons they decorated the tree the way they did.
For M, it was about embracing who she is. Even though she will be married soon, she wanted to fully come to terms with the reality of the feelings she has had for years. It was also a way of supporting her bro.
For H, he liked the aesthetic – especially since this will likely be the last chance he and M would get to do it and he wanted it to be something uniquely them. He also liked the juxtaposition of seemingly two different worlds.
And I thought, yeah, me too.
To be honest, if it had been anytime sooner, I don’t think I would have been ready for it. To take a symbol for a traditional Christian celebration and juxtapose it up against a symbol that has come to represent something we’ve been told for years is in contradiction to it? The thought of it can almost be jarring (nevermind, of course, that the tree itself reportedly comes from pagan traditions).
But sometimes jarring can be good. And this year I had to ask myself, “Why?”
Why should I struggle with it? It challenged me.
But the more I pressed in the more I realized that it was a perfect representation of the seeming contradictions I had been working through. Did they really contradict? Or were they a consummate synthesis of something else?
Two different symbols with multiple meanings intertwined:
The Christmas tree. The evergreen tree has become a primary symbol of the day celebrating Christ’s birth – when God became flesh. In a recent op-ed for the New York Times, Peter Wehner had this to say as he reflected on Christmas and Jesus’s ministry:
For Christians, the incarnation is a story of God, in the person of Jesus, participating in the human drama. And in that drama Jesus was most drawn to the forsaken and despised, the marginalized, those who had stumbled and fallen….
Why was a hallmark of Jesus’s ministry intimacy with and the inclusion of the unwanted and the outcast, men and women living in the shadow of society, more likely to be dismissed than noticed, more likely to be mocked than revered?
Part of the explanation surely has to do with the belief in the imago Dei, that Jesus sees indelible dignity and inestimable worth in every person, even “the least of these.” If no one else would esteem them, Jesus would.
The rainbow. In the biblical story of Noah, God gave the rainbow as a sign that he would never flood the earth again regardless of the inclinations of humankinds’ hearts – thus, it was a symbol of God’s grace. Starting in the 1970’s, the rainbow came to symbolize the multiplicity of individuals (from all different races, genders and ages) that comprised the LGBTQ+ community – a group of marginalized people, unwanted and often cast out, previously living in the shadows of society.
Some in the Christian community will say that I’ve compromised my Christian witness to my family by allowing such disparate images. But trust me, as my kids will tell you, if you live in my household, you’ve heard the gospel message a thousand times plus. And I think they’re probably a bit annoyed by it.
The question is, what is the gospel if not about grace?
I’m not here to ask people to suddenly change their scriptural interpretations or compromise ultimate convictions. There’s many questions and uncertainties I still have. But if there is one thing I am certain about, it’s that we must always be about love – and that the church’s love for LGBTQ+ people needs to start looking different.
As I gaze upon our rainbow-colored Christmas tree I see something different now. Just as rainbow colors appear when light from the sun reflects off dew from the rain, amongst the branches of the evergreen, I see a multiplicity of colors shining from the string of lights, each one reflecting the glory of the light of God’s grace.
It’s time for the church to keep shining that kind of light on the rainbow community.
If no one else would esteem them, Jesus would.
**Please note that all opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the ministry organization that I work for.
Resources for those needing help:
National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Trevor Project: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/get-help/
Cox, Savannah. “How Left-Handedness Came To Be Seen As Evil.” All That’s Interesting, All That’s Interesting, 17 Jan. 2018, allthatsinteresting.com/left-handedness-evil.
Fairchild, Phaylen. “The Children Who Were Beaten By Religious Leaders For Being Left Handed.” Medium, Medium, 4 Apr. 2018, phaylen.medium.com/the-children-who-were-beat-by-religious-leaders-for-being-left-handed-82e98a8048fe.
Lee, Justin. Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate. Jericho Books, 2013.
Sprouse, Ginger. Kinda Like Grace. Nelson Books, 2019.