I’m not sure when I actually started to discover that there are people who are attracted to the same sex. It could have all started when my grandmother and I were riding in her 1993 silver station wagon and she asked me “honey, do you know what that blue and yellow equal sign sticker on the car in front of us means?” I grew up in church and remembered reading the word “homosexuality” in the bible in the same lists that talked about idolaters, people who cheated on their spouses, and those who kill others. We didn’t talk about it much, though. It was just one of those things you assumed everyone knew was wrong...after all, the bible was “clear.”
In 2007 something began to shift in me. Life was altered. My whole perspective had been reoriented around Jesus. From that point on, it wasn’t solely the words of a pastor that shaped the way I viewed the world, but the teachings and actions of Jesus. I began to wrestle with the things in the bible I didn’t fully understand. One thing for sure that I know: I developed this huge heart for people who identified as LGBT. Not in a “I want to make gay friends so they can become my projects and I can fix them sort of way” kind of way, but in a genuine, “I actually love these people and want to help bridge the gap that has been created between them and the church.” I’m not positive where this love came from, but I’d like to believe it came from God.
It wasn’t until high school that I actually began to interact with folks who identified as gay or transgender. I had classes with them and ate lunch with them. I remember very clearly one moment where a lady from church was substitute teaching in one of my classes. A friend of mine, who we’ll call Jack was sitting beside me. I don’t remember how the conversation got started, but I remember her telling Jack that “she hoped he wasn’t gay and that if he was, he needed to read the bible.” She continued. I remember the look on her face as she used the word “abomination.” She “knew” she was right. I looked over the see Jack’s expression. I’m not sure if it was a look of shame or if he was just dumbstruck by what she had just spouted off. I remember my heart breaking. I remember wanting to cry and scream all at the same time. I remember the mix of emotions simmering in me at the moment. I wanted to give the woman a concussion with my Spanish textbook. I also longed to reach over, look Jack in the eye, and console him.
For a lot of years my perspective of gay people was something along these lines: “I really have a heart for these people I know. The treatment they’ve received from the Church at times is crippling, but I can’t change the bible. I wish I could just throw those verses out because I don’t want to have to deal with them at all.” It was a painful place to be. For a lot of years, that’s exactly where I stayed.
Until last year. I started reading books about the gap between the LGBT community and the Church. I started reading a little bit more theology and read commentaries about those verses that talked about homosexuality. Those passages had context in the society in which they were written. I found that these verses might not actually be condemning to people who want to engage in loving, monogamous, same-sex relationships. That better satisfied my intellectual side, but I still wasn’t positive where I stood.
I was terrified that if I started affirming those in the LGBT community and was somehow wrong, I could be “leading people to sin.” That fear paralyzed me for a long time.
Fast forward to last summer. It was our first Sunday in Nanjing. I wandered off campus, past the sycamore trees, across the street, and into this cozy little coffee shop called Homeway. After ordering my coffee I sat down at a table, opened up bible, my journal, and began to write. Within a matter of minutes, a guy named Taylor, from our study abroad group walked in. (He’s been kind enough to allow me to share a part of his story.) I’m not going to lie, I was actually really looking forward to sitting alone and resting in my Sunday morning Christian bubble. Little did I know that our time together China, starting at this moment, would change my life and perspective.
Taylor and I talked for 2 hours about everything that can possibly be discussed. We’re both very open about our lives and struggles, so we ended up talking about some pretty dark things. There were times while listening to Taylor share an experience that my heart broke. It broke again and again and again. I was so inspired by his authenticity and strength. Among the things that we talked about, one that we discussed was his sexuality. He shared with me how hard it has been for him to reconcile his conservative Catholic upbringing with his sexuality. He told me how he has friends and family members who are convinced He’s doomed to eternal punishment. We talked about love, sex, and how we view those two. We believed the same things. We talked about God and experiences we’ve had that lead us to believe there’s someone out there who is good and bigger than we are. A couple of days later we hiked a mountain together, got lost, and found our way back to campus. We spent four hours sharing our hearts with one another. There were things I had never shared with anyone else that I somehow trusted him with, and vice versa.
Taylor changed my life. No longer could I pretend like people were issues to be discussed. I could no longer stuff this sneaking suspicion that love is love away in the back corner of my heart.
After returning from China, I remember feeling like my entire world had been flipped on its head. I had been tossed into obscurity and now asked to resume life as normal. I knew I had gotten to know far too many Taylors and Jacks to continue to limit a group of people’s human rights and consider them as less righteous than I. But after living 7 years believing that the bible was absolutely inerrant and clear, there’s a fear of condemnation that cripples you.
I was talking with a good friend one day about how my heart towards the LGBT community was changing, but how much I was still dealing with fear. I recall him saying something along these lines: “I guess it all depends on where you want to live your life: from a place of fear or a place of love.”
It was that moment that the weight on my chest that had been there for some time went away.
I’ve decided to live from a place of love.