Fear: The Stop at the Door

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.

By Jules Kennedy

Julie Kennedy lives in the bootheel of Missouri.  She works with special needs students and a full time student at Southeast Missouri State University. She is a constant spiritual wonderer with a never ending love for the gathering of Christ followers.

3 thoughts on “Fear: The Stop at the Door

  1. Jules, I have the joy of having been involved in a region (No. CA) of DOC, and in churches who are open and affirming to the GLTB community and have involved these members without any discrimination throughout all levels of the governing of the church–as elders, pastors, and in some of the highest level of leadership of the church. Granted there are members of the church whose behavior I can’t control and who may be judgmental and not able to be as accepting, but in the main, the members are able to see past the labels to the person. We all seek to be accepting of people, and my husband laughingly says, “We even accept Republicans!” I deeply hope that you can find a religious community where you don’t have to hide so much of yourself to be accepted. Jesus said again and again in many ways that people shouldn’t judge others, shouldn’t condemn others, and accepted those who were in the unaccepted role in the Jewish/Hebrew community at his table and in his life–gave the ultimate unconditional positive regard and accepting them into his “inner circle” of those he asked to serve with him as disciples–except to those who judged and condemned. I don’t see him supporting judging and discrimination of any kind.

  2. “So how in the world do we, those of us reading [D]mergent, confront this fear?”

    This is the challenge for the faithful Christian community as well as for the GLBT community. As a member of a community filled with members who desperately want to be faithful and accepting (D)isciples the problem is how to communicate that acceptance to GLBT visitors, remain sensitive to the theologically less generous members of our community, and also answer the pointed inquiries from visitors who are not members of the GLBT community?

    In reflecting on the evolution of my own position on this issue I see that there was a time not so long ago that I thought the issue was rather clear – its wrong, and divisive and the faithful community shouldn’t have anything to do with it. I was not hostile (overtly) to those in the GLBT community, but it seemed clear to me that Scripture was clearly opposed to homosexuality as sinful, regardless of whether the inclination was genetic or cultural, and those who advocated for the community, both within and a without, were seeking to normalize the un-normal, and/or they were engaged in politics which had no place in the life of the congregation.

    I have come to understand homosexuality as “normal” for homosexuals and that they are what God intended them to be, like left-handers. To seek to change them is emotionally and spiritually destructive and, biologically speaking, doomed to failure. Moreover, as their inclinations are not in any way destructive or violative of the commandments, new or old, who am I to judge them as sinners? God created each of us to love and to be loved. If a GLBT person is able to find love and to find someone to love and to do so in a way which honors God’s commandment to love, then for me to judge their choice of partner, even when I am armed with a stray scriptural quote or two, is nothing less than a sin against the Holy Spirit.

    Having embraced this new understanding, it has come to me that this is the congregation’s task: to embrace all who come in through its doors as fellow walking wounded, and to offer each member, each visitor, each stranger, place of sanctuary and peace, a spiritual home where they can relax and rest as who they are and where everyone will love them and appreciate them as they are, not as they could be.

    Now my problem is effectively communicating this to those around me so that my congregation can work towards this calling.

    As for visitors from the GLBT community, they have been brutalized by society, and by the Christian church, all their lives. I would offer that there are many in each congregation, and many congregations, out there who will embrace them, and seek to offer them sanctuary. They need to take a few more risks, and trust in God a little bit more, in the hope that the family of God will one day answer the call to love one another in all of it’s fullness.

  3. Pingback: There is a problem « [D]mergent

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