I grew up in West Michigan.
Now I live outside of Atlanta.
Many of you just cringed twice.
Don’t forget, I spent 10 years living in and around Wheaton.
I have spent a considerable amount of time living and working in Western Christian Culture.
Right now, I am dealing with a very simple set of questions. How do I find a church that will be open to LGBT folks? How will my wife and I find a church that will be a great place for my kids? That will keep them relatively “safe” from some of the ultra-conservatism both my wife and I were damaged by? How do we do this without becoming apathetic towards the greater Christian body?
I think there are many supporters like me that struggle with the same questions. How do we find a decent church community where we will be accepted and loved in our desire for an open Christianity? Especially those of us who live in areas where openness to a God of extreme grace and love is, well, scarce.
I can’t imagine what it is like for those of you who are out and living in the Christian sub-culture. Trying to navigate the same questions. How do you find a church community that will accept you no matter your sexual identity? A place where you can join in and find a community to explore faith?
God calls us to love.
I became a Christian in High School. So for me, loving those outside the church is not all that challenging. I am essentially loving someone like me. I have always found the average Christian’s fear of those outside the church to be odd. I just don’t get it. I hope my children grow up playing with kids from different families with different ideas on life. That way, we can explore together what it means to live in this diverse world.
But I have found it more and more difficult to love the average Christian. The clichés, typical hate for certain politics, the wishy-washy nature of faith… It is very difficult. I find it very difficult to go to church right now. It is very very hard for me.
My wife and I joined a small group this year with folks from our church. We are currently (I say currently because who knows) going to a multi-site mega-church in Atlanta. So at first glance, our small group involves a group of stereotypical Christians. I am waiting for that moment when my thoughts and ideas about LGBTQ folks (and a few other things) will come out in the open.
Will I be accepted and loved? Will I have the chance to explore my beliefs and ideas without judgment?
After our first meeting, my wife and I were ready to bolt. The clichés and hero-worship just… well… you know… But we committed ourselves to learning a simple truth this year. My wife and I love people. We love hearing their stories, sharing life, getting to know people. We love it. But we have been tempted to write off a large sub-set of people around us. My wife grew up in southern Baptist churches… and her facebook feed just gets… interesting sometimes. We feel like we need to re-commit ourselves to loving those we want to write off so bad. To love those who also love Jesus.
I am sure the people in our small group are amazing people who are also struggling to learn about God, wrestle with faith, and do their best to live out their calling in life. Every time I have worked hard to get to know someone past the first impression, I am (well most of the time) left amazed by how great they are. How smart, deep, loving, kind, complicated, and interesting they are. There are only a few people in my life that I wont try and talk to anymore. It happens.
How can we claim to love others without loving those who also claim to love Jesus?
How can I claim to have radical love without getting over myself and entering into relationships with the average Christian?
Now… there are plenty of folks I have met who I really just want to punch in the face. I imagine that the majority of folks reading this blog have been hurt by Christians. Some so badly that only years of counseling and wrestling with their own faith, will they ever consider returning to a church of any kind.
In reality, true life change, true cultural change, happens when we connect with someone else on a deeper level. We see the world through their eyes and begin to change our ideology to match up with our experience. We pursue a deeper faith in order to experience a better reality.
This is how I became a Christian. This is how my beliefs and understanding about God changed from a typical conservo-cultural Christian to the messy self I am today. This is how I grew and changed my views on LGBTQ folks. I met people who loved Jesus, who were struggling with their faith, and who shared their life with me. For a few moments, for a few years, through books, blogs, documentaries, random stories… I saw the world through their eyes and ultimately saw the world more clearly from God’s perspective.
For some (or many) of you being in the same room with a group of average Christians may cause panic attacks, anxiety, and PTSD style emotions. Flashbacks to some real pain.
Yeah, go ahead and stay away for a bit.
For a lot of us, our role in this whole movement is to share life with others. To open up about how we are pursuing God, trying to work out our faith, and dealing with our hurts and pains. Some folks, well, they will stay hard and will fight tooth and nail against an open Christianity.
But a lot of folks, most people, will open up and learn to love. Learn that we are all humans, made by God, pursuing faith, and dealing with how to live in this world. Most people will realize their beliefs about others just don’t match up with God. The average Christian folks will turn to a deeper reality that we serve a loving God together. The God of extreme grace and love.