I have offered thus far in my writings a challenge to those in the LGBT community. It is an easy challenge for me, honestly. It’s easy because I can sit outside the doors of a gathering and say, “Open up! Open the doors to those of us who are LGBT.” But there’s something even deeper than opening the doors that must be looked at. One of those issues is fear. Fear, it seems, is something that we can easily pass off as something to be put in a box labeled, “Get over it.” And while it’s easy to say this, it’s quite another thing to achieve it, when it is real and related to a history of fear experienced by those in the LGBT community.
I recently watched a movie titled “Lord Save Us From Your Followers.” In this film Dan Merchant seeks a dialogue in America between all forms of faith. In the most pivotal scene in the film Dan sets up a confession boothin the middle of the Portland Pride festival, inspired by Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz . He has decided, like Don, to confess to LGBT people, instead of having them confess to him. He confesses his own homophobia and a history of hurt from the church (universal) to the LGBT community. At one point a girl, who had been raised Southern Baptist, says to Dan, “I’m not used to a Christian saying something nice to me like that.” The film offers many examples, but it was this girl and others like her who moved me. They represent a large portion of those in the LGBT community that won’t darken the door of a religious gathering.
Why do I share this with you here–inviting the potential controversy? I share this because there is a sign on the door of many churches, whether public or not, but it’s there. It reads: “All may enter except LGBT. Those LGBT folks must know they will not enter the gates of heaven.” Many of us in the LGBT community are afraid–afraid of telling you who we are–for fear that we will hear that we’re not welcome. We’re afraid of not being able to share our whole lives–beyond anything other than the label of our sexuality. Fear, maybe even anger, keeps many of us from walking through the doors.
So how in the world do we, those of us reading [D]mergent, confront this fear? Maybe the place to start is by moving past the tears and the hand-wringing that has characterized the LGBT community’s history with the church. I have been toying with the idea of labels and confession. I owe this to a speaker I heard back in October by the name of Seth Donovan. The fact is so many of us need to be able to enter the sacred space of worship without bearing unrealistic expectations and labels. My dad used to preach that church is where you know there are “sin sick souls.” Yet when I enter a church I feel I’m coming into a place where I’m not allowed to be only that. In the LGBT community we feel as though we are seen merely as a label. Our sexuality defines us for people. Maybe it’s time for the church to say, “We see you–beyond the label of sexuality.” We seek a space where we are the confessing body being redeemed by the Trinity. Seth puts it this way:
I also walk through the world as a compartmentalized person: I am queer, I am gender-queer, I am a community organizer, I am a partner, I am a friend, I am white, I am middle-class, I am able-bodied, I am a Christian – I have a thousand identities and as a person in the 21st century am skilled in accessing and repressing those identities as I need to in order to be safe and to be loved and to get what I need. The other aspect of confession – the aspect of being able to confess my faith and confess myself as a whole person is vital to me in participating in the church…that when I walk into the church my theology has everything to do with me and all of my identities have everything to do with my faith – that there is no shame to be carried in with certain parts of myself…that my whole self can be confessed. That my faith and theology can be about my body and my gender and my relationships and all of the parts of myself that I am sent consistent messages should be things that I keep in compartments”
You see, we’ve shifted from a gathering of full confession to one in which our labels define our relationship to each other. So, I challenge all the heirs of Stone and Campbell (who, as our history indicates, set aside human labels in an attempt to unite the body of Christ) to embrace this idea. I bring this challenge because I believe that we have lost an important part of our history, which is fundamental to our identity. The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery states: “We will, that preachers and people, cultivate a spirit of mutual forbearance, pray more and dispute less; and while they behold the signs of the times, look up and confidently expect that redemption draweth nigh.”
And may we be this: May we pray more, may we dispute less, and may we become a true body of confessors, allowing the full person to be redeemed. Lord, in your mercy.