God and the 48%

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Once upon a time, I thought I was alone in the world. This world, the Christian one I grew up in, said that people like me didn’t exist. There is no such thing as a Gay Christian, they said. The two don’t mix. You can’t baptize sin. It’s sinful to say you can. So, for a long time, I didn’t really know where I stood. It felt like a shadow. It felt like loneliness.

 

After I came out and all the pieces fell into place, after the false image of a furious God washed away to reveal love,  I wrapped my cross in a rainbow and paraded it everywhere I went. In my mind, I was like a chosen missionary. I was a unicorn, heroically weird, and uniquely qualified to say to the queer community: Look at me! I love Jesus and I’m not straight! You can too! And to the Christian community: Look at me! My shirt is on! I don’t go clubbing! Have no fear, for I will not flaunt! I wanted to destroy the false dichotomy I once endured. I wanted my witness to end this war.

 

I’ve seen this awful axe fall down and split people and families apart. I’ve seen the choice laid bare in tears from those who don’t know how to stop being who they are and can’t accept that they’re already beautiful. I’ve had conversations with wonderful people living successful, well-adjusted lives, except that their parents and siblings won’t speak to them, won’t answer the phone or reply on email, and those tears fall heavy. I’ve seen lives shattered in a second, and recoveries that have lasted a lifetime. This false dichotomy, this topical war, it’s not an abstract thing. It is flesh and blood. It is hearts and souls. There is a real cost and it is being paid in pain and shame and so many years lost.

 

And often, it all feels hopeless to save.

 

It feels hopeless, because Church is a wind that keeps pushing us further and further out, to the outer ring of out. I had to swear off Facebook on Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day. I had to get talked down to a calm heart during #IStandWithPhil. On the day that Christians abandoned ten thousand children in the third world, because gay married people in Seattle could suddenly apply to World Vision, I felt gutted. When World Vision caved and reversed their policy, I felt done.

 

It gets abusive, being a gay person in here. It makes you wonder sometimes if you’re even doing the right thing by inviting others in. I often wonder how many of us will stick it out.

 

For the last few years, I’ve held that mindset. I’ve held that worry. So the other day my world pretty much flipped upside down. Actual goosebumps prickled my arms. My eyes pooled up with tears.

 

Pew Research released their much-anticipated Religious Landscape survey, an annual look at religiosity (or lack thereof) amongst Americans. Much of the conversation was fixated on the decline of faith amongst Americans, which I am skeptical about anyway, but beneath the shuffle, there was something surprising. Startling. I didn’t actually believe it when I read it.

 

As people have left the faith, LGBs have turned to it. A six-point jump to 48%. That’s half. That’s one in two. And that’s nothing short of shocking. 

 

Given all that’s happened, all the experience, all the heartache, all the shame, all the anger, all the scars- unless this is some remarkable moment of reverse psychology- something bizarre is happening. Something that neither reason nor emotion can explain. Something that can only make sense once you factor in God.

 

I realized my mistake when I read these numbers. I had wanted to pry open the doors so others could come in, could see that God is not like what they’ve heard. But I forgot that He was already here. He always has been. On the outer ring of out. This edge is where He goes when He thinks of home.

 

God dwells in the margins. Walter Brueggemann once said, “the arc of the gospel is bent toward inclusivity.” And you only need to read the same book that has been shot like a dagger at the queer community to see that this has been the liberating story all along. God always drops anchor with the exiles. God lifts up the voices of the outcast in defiance of those that would say God’s love only goes so far, that God’s image is only reflected in a favored few. And it seems, He is doing it again.

 

It seems to be the never-ending work of God, collapsing all these false idols. God made man in his image and man returned the favor, so the quote goes, and history bears witness to that. God has been the slave-driver. God has been the abusive husband. God has been the fat-cat exploiting the impoverished. The name of God has been slapped on to our sinful systems, systems of domination and exclusion, systems intended to thin out everyone that doesn’t look like the most powerful one in the room. There has been so much maliciousness masked in God that it should hardly surprise us when a whole generation decides to drop out. No one can see God past those profiteering off of her.

 

So in response, God always goes nuclear. He goes and does crazy things. He goes and touches lepers and dines with tax collectors, lets a prostitute pour the perfume she saved for her tricks on his feet and then calls them all saved. He shows up at the well in enemy territory, at the hour only the shamed show up, to talk with an adulteress. He sends Phillip on a mission to make the first person evangelized an Ethiopian Eunuch. He drops a sheet of unclean food before Peter and tells him to eat it, tells him then to take this lesson and understand that people, too, are beloved, not unclean. And now He’s at it again. He is going to the people that have been banned from him, unfastening centuries of condemnation, drowning out every screaming picketer, pastor, blog post, every single word that stands between Him and us and saying, yes. You. I’ve always been here for you.

 

Always, God goes to those who have been hit hardest in his name and tells them another story. Tells them he’s for them. Tells them he’s in love. No matter how high or thick the walls may be- nothing can separate Jesus from his people, for he is a part of his people. He stirs loudly in their hearts. He always has. Always will.

 

48%. Hallelujah.

  • AnotherJosh

    Seeing God’s work here gives me bittersweet joy, even as I face the prospect of near certain rejection from my current church when they figure out that I’m not straight. Your thoughts here, and the news in question, are inspiring.

  • Jonah Venegas

    Such a good reminder, especially in a time when it only seems like the church is pushing LGBT people AWAY. And yeah, 48% is incredible.

  • formerroadie

    I wanted to thank you for this. As an Ally, I always want to be listening. This was an incredible read.

  • Cindy Thompson

    As a pastor I have long been proclaiming that today’s equivalent of the “least, last and lost” with whom Jesus ministered in the Gospels are, among others, LGBTQ people. I have been so filled with frustration that so many “good Christians” can’t see that, that I lost sight of the fact that God does not require our approval to continue gravitating to the people and places that the Church excludes. Thanks for pointing that out today!

  • Derry Cronin Gleason

    Benjamin, you are my voice! Your words have always guided me back to Jesus. As a stunned and heartbroken mother of four, three of whom are LGBT, you reminded me that my God had the answers. And indeed He did. In His Word. And they are loving, healing and affirming! Thank you for letting Jesus have your heart and life.

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  • Michael Edwards

    “This edge is where He goes when He thinks of home” — okay, I am crying like a fool now. Thank you for this tender, beautiful essay.

  • “It seems to be the never-ending work of God, collapsing all these false idols. God made man in his image and man returned the favor, so the quote goes, and history bears witness to that. God has been the slave-driver. God has been the abusive husband. God has been the fat-cat exploiting the impoverished. The name of God has been slapped on to our sinful systems, systems of domination and exclusion, systems intended to thin out everyone that doesn’t look like the most powerful one in the room. ”

    This quote especially affirms my own recent conclusions. I love what you have said here, you words restore beauty.

  • This is so, so good, Ben.

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  • It’s great when you find out you’re not alone. Despite the suppression of people’s stories, your are not the only one with a similar journey.