I remember the first gay people I met. I had taken a job at a gift shop at the World’s fair in Knoxville TN in 1981. There were two co-workers, both of which told me early on that they were gay. I found them funny, easy to get along with and fun to hang out with.
After I married and moved the North Carolina mountains, I didn’t’ knowingly encounter another person who was gay. There was someone I suspect may be, but they were either in deep denial, or purposely staying in the closet, knowing that the conservative, mostly Southern Baptist culture they found themselves in would have been severely detrimental. I liked person very much, and felt bad for them. They were trying so hard to fit in, and I just didn’t think it was working out very well.
I remembered the campaign and vote for the Defense of Marriage Act. I wasn’t really on board with what was being proposed, and had asked, if the compromise of civil unions could be an option. I was of course quickly shot down in that regards. I don’t remember whether or not I voted, but regardless, I took the shut up and be quiet route. My opinions, at the time, would not have been taken seriously, especially in the environment I found myself.
Then I moved to South Carolina. Within 18 months, I discovered a broader spectrum of humanity, something that living in the Western NC mountains hadn’t afforded. I was privileged to not only meet wonderful people from other cultures and faiths, but of a variety of sexual orientations as well. I encountered people who most of the Christians I knew would have considered deviant, evil and a threat to society. I started asking questions, of the gay and lesbian people I got to know, quietly, carefully, using my favorite word, “why”. I got some strong, sometimes surprising answers that often sharply the conservative minded social theology I’d been hearing all my life. Yet instead of getting defensive or angry, I only became more curious. The conservative branch of Christianity was becoming more and more problematic to me personally for several reasons. What I was learning from the men and women I knew were gay, actually helped me to finally come to terms with the fact that I didn’t fit the mold of a conservative Christian.
One day a woman asked if I knew of a church that was open to gay parishioners and even more to gay couples. It still bothers me today, that I didn’t know of a single congregation in my area that I could recommend to her. I knew that being gay and a Christian were not incompatible, but I also knew, thanks to the rhetoric that had been gaining more voices, that a lot of people disagreed.
It wasn’t long afterwards that I happened upon a blog posting by John Shore. The topic at the time was about domestic abuse, something I understood all to well. But as I read more of his work, I found that he got what has happening to the LGBT community, as well as with what people went through when they questioned theological dogma, or dealing with family strife, personal loss and looking at Christianity from different perspectives. I began to frequent his blog, commenting, and starting to learn from the other people who also visited. John was one of the people who helped with the rebuilding of my faith showing that Christianity doesn’t have to be anything like the versions I had experience with.
I was invited by John to be a part of the Unfundamentalist Christians project; Something that has been an honor and a delight to be a part of. We started a Facebook page that grew like crazy within the first year. It has shown me that there are quite a lot of people out there like me, liberal, socially and politically, disillusioned with evangelical conservatism, and wanting to make a positive difference. UC has not been afraid to tackle tough issues like the needs and roles of women, how compassion should always trump dogma, and of course the desire for true equality for all people. The discussions, ideas and stories shared because of UC have been a spiritual and social education. That we have people from a variety of Christian denominations, plus several other faith mindsets as regular visitors has also been a delight for me. How can we learn about one another unless we get to know one another?
UC had the opportunity to expand to the Patheos.com portal, where I play a supporting role. Meanwhile John, who started us down this exhilarating road I’ll call Christianity Unfettered, quietly began a new project. A couple of days ago it launched. The NALT project is intended to be a voice for people like myself, a Christian who sees no disconnect between being gay and being a member of my faith. It seeks to counter the voices of hatred and bigotry, and to tell the world, that not all Christians think that being gay is a sin.
I don’t really understand the perceived threat felt by those who are against gay marriage or who consider the LGBT community as a danger to society. I don’t see how gay marriage threatens the continuation or validity of straight marriage. I don’t see why many in my faith have latched on to the false idea that being gay is a sin, and then easily ignore clearly harmful mindsets and practices such as gossip, greed, and pride…and seem to condone serious social problems such as sexual and domestic violence, the disconnect and disregard of the poor, the plight of citizens in war-torn nations, and the concept of profit over compassion being a good thing.
I try to operate under the ideal that says “God’s love is for all of us.” To me that love is not limited by religion, or culture, or income, or gender or who we prefer as romantic or life partners. That love is for every single one of us…no matter what. That love is intended to be made known and to shared among ourselves.
I don’t know why its such a hard concept to grasp. Maybe it is because it is that all-encompassing, that broad, that inclusive that is difficult for some to fathom. Maybe it is because for too long, people have been hearing that God only loves people who adhere to a set of rules, and act certain ways, and believe certain things. I find that tragically sad.
I know that God’s love is for all of us, and I was created a creature capable of giving and receiving love. I know that it was apparently very important for the simple message of loving one’s neighbor with the same fervor we feel we deserve, so important that it was discovered in cultures centuries and thousands of miles away from one another. I also feel so strongly that part of my purpose here on earth is to repeat that message as often as I am able in my remaining time here on earth.