A new take on Ephesians 2

June is Pride month, for the LGBTQ/ queer community, and usually I don’t post much. Not to ignore it, but more because I can’t quite figure out what to say or how to say it. This year, I have been ruminating on a few things. Specifically….I have been reading Ephesians…. and yesterday morning I was stuck on chapter 2, specifically verses 14-18:

“For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.”

Let me just start by saying I realize not everyone is going to track with where I am going, and that is ok. I have to be faithful to the heart God has given me for the LGBTQ community. If you are open at all, I’d encourage you just to listen. Not judge, not condemn, but listen. That’s all I ask. I’ll trust that if it’s something the Lord wants to teach you about now, he’ll do that. I’m not here to argue or debate. Just share…and plead.

I know we all see this passage in Ephesians and read it literally, that yes, we who are not Jewish by heritage now have access to the savior promised to them. We are grafted in. Having been married to a Messianic Jew for 25 years, I get that so clearly. I used to joke that I am about as gentile as they get (haha!) But I am trying to put myself in Paul’s shoes, at how revolutionary it might have been for early believers, to include the Gentiles in all the promises of God. After all, for generations the Gentiles were people who they just knew were outside of God’s favor. God didn’t love them, they were just sure of it. Heck, the honesty of Psalms shows they prayed for God to smite them and bring judgement on them. Granted, they were worshipping another god, bowing to idols, I know. But still.

I can’t help but wonder if here, even in a country full of such richness of culture and heritage, we get stuck in reading this as Jew/Gentile and we forget it has such larger implications. Could we (shouldn’t we?) begin to read this that Jesus has brought peace to us, between those who are “same sex oriented” and those who are “opposite-sex oriented”?

Call me heretical, but what if we could, in grace and mercy, read Paul’s words to us like this instead:

“For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united queer and straight into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us….Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.”

Isn’t that what this passage really means? In Christ, people who were at opposite ends were brought together to reflect the goodness and richness of the glory of God. In times of election, I could say the same for Democrats and Republicans, frankly. At the cross, we are supposed to be equals. Yet somehow…. this seems a bigger bite to chew.

Back in Paul’s time, I’m sure some Jews thought “but those Gentiles are not holy! They do things/think things we aren’t supposed to as Jews”.

Hm. I thought Jesus made us holy and that settled the score. Holiness, sanctification, being made whole and complete into who we were created to be, to reflect God’s glory in all its fullness, to a world that thinks there is no hope – isn’t that the job of the Holy Spirit? Isn’t that what happens to all of us when we submit our lives to Jesus and walk out his principles? More than than that, sure it feels risky but we have Peter right there in Acts arguing for the inclusion of the Gentiles in the promises of God in our sacred text. What if this became us, arguing for the inclusion of those who are LGBTQ in our own churches?

Too often we shut the door at even considering and asking questions. We tout verses “The Bible says THIS”! I know what it says. I have done the research on original language, original usage, passage context, and read things on both sides of the argument. But do we ever enter into conversation to see their humanity, ask their story, see that they too bear the image of the one we claim? Or do we stay away because we don’t know how to start? All it takes is an invite to lunch and a humble heart willing to learn.

If they are seeking Jesus, they are part of the body of Christ – just a part too afraid to bring their whole selves to church because they fear how everyone will react. If you have reached a place of trust with someone so they actually TELL you this is part of their story – LOVE THEM. They have not “changed” who they are. You are just now seeing a part of them they don’t show too many people. Defend them. Include them. Have them to dinner. Help them grow in the gifts God has given them. Pray for them. Then help others get to a place of compassion and understanding too.

The larger LGBTQ community needs the life of God just like the larger straight community, people. We all need Jesus. We all have massive glaring inadequacies, we have all failed, we all want better for our kids, our communities, our families and the world. Can we make it more about that than their sexuality? They are SO MUCH DEEPER than that. We all are.

Not the only one

So often, we feel like we are the only person going through [insert experience here]. The thought of sharing what is really going on can be terrifying, intimidating, and vulnerable, no matter how big or how little it is. I remember when our kids hit the teen years and we started to deal with some… teen stuff. Let’s just say I did NOT want to share that with too many people, partly because I thought it reflected on how I was doing as a parent (it didn’t) and partly because I was afraid of what people would think – and let me just tell you, God is pretty faithful to not let you stay tied to that fear 🙂

We had some friends that we would share holidays with since our family wasn’t local, and these holiday gatherings (in addition to the occasional coffee or margarita / chips /salsa double date) always led to catching up on how we were really doing. I remember how risky it felt to share was what going on, how it was affecting us as parents, and in some ways not really knowing what to do but walking through it anyway. What always amazed me was how much THEY were going through the same thing – whether it was attitude, friend concerns, sneaking out, low self esteem in their kids – you name it. Our oldest two were nearly the same age as theirs, and so if they weren’t dealing with it now, guaranteed by the next holiday – they were as well.

It was so normalizing to know that someone else was struggling, just like us. Someone else was trying to raise their kids with respect and honestly, with a faith foundation and with hope towards the future. Someone else who was doing the best they could but things were not turning out like you’d expected. Someone else who “got” parenting being hard.

I’m guessing you know what I am talking about – whether its talking about having a newborn and walking through life half dazed from lack of sleep, or talking about the terrible two’s (or three’s) and how to manage four under the age of 5. It could be the weight of having aging parents, or having mental illness in the family. Being an alcoholic and finding others who get the struggle.

It helps you know you are not alone, and somehow, that brings strength. We need each other!!!

Well, with all that was going on in our family, I figured that I would never find anyone who was going through the same thing, so I had settled to just having a story that no one understood.

God obviously had a different plan (doesn’t He always??)

This past January I went to the Queer Christian Fellowship conference (formerly Gay Christian Network) in Denver. I’d wanted to go in the past, fueled by a desire to see if what I hoped was really true – and it was. I had written about this in a previous blog (search Part 2: Caught in the Middle on my home page) about how I felt stuck in the middle in a way – because I believed in the gifts of the spirit, the presence of God in worship and in fellowship, and yet I was gay affirming. I have never really seen the two exist together, outside of some very brave communities in other states. I cannot tell you how beautiful it was to see both old and young in the LGBTQ community there, worshipping Jesus, just like me.

For once I was the one that didn’t really fit in, but they didn’t care. There were singles, couples, friends and allies, pastors and parents that had been rejected by their churches because they came out in support of their own kids that were LGBTQ. They were a family of their own, a minority, because the larger “C”hurch didn’t know what to do with them or how to answer them.

I mention this because of one of the sessions I went to on Mixed Orientation Marriages, as they called it. I wanted to hear what they had to say, and if they had anything to offer – given that my marriage was now ending due to having been in one (although I never had heard that term before.)

Although the leaders didn’t really have much to say that spoke to my situation, they gave some good advice to the younger folks there, that they need to go in eyes wide open, because it will present some challenges. [to which I add a resounding YES IT DOES]

Someone in the session asked how faith made a difference, when a marriage was ending because one spouse is straight and the other is not. I couldn’t stay quiet, it was just too personal. What did I have to lose? I stood up, and with determination (and a few tears) spoke up:

My faith meant that my vow to honor my spouse was going to stand, even as we dissolved our marriage, no matter how painful it was

My faith meant that we were going to commit to remain friends and raise our kids together, not just walk away

My faith meant that I was committed to facing my bitterness, anger, grief, feelings of betrayal, and whatever else the process brought , and not stay in that place

My faith meant that even in this, I knew I had to honor the Lord.

It was in this strange place that I found, of all things, a few folks that made me feel not so alone – because they were going through the exact same thing. I cannot tell you what relief I felt, to know someone else GOT IT.

Because this is the stuff you can’t talk about in church circles……

Releasing your spouse and your vows as an act of love and sacrifice

Tearfully coming to the recognition that someone who is gay or lesbian marrying someone who is straight doesn’t always work… and the shock that comes when you realize the truth

Knowing you have a story that no one else is really going to get, and people might very well condemn you for making the choice you are making. And that you will forever live in the tension of having broken covenant in order to set one person free

What I found that weekend were people who got me and what I was going through – and others who would cry with me because they were the gay spouses who had also gone through this or they were couples just starting the process.

I know it sounds crazy, but there was something hard and holy about that weekend for me. I can’t say there’s any verse or lesson I learned, but what I walked away with was this invaluable truth:

We are never alone, no matter how strange or hard our story is. Sometimes you just have to look in more nooks and crannies to find the ones who get you.

The other thing I landed on, as I pondered the events of the weekend is this, which – again – if you cant go here with me, all I ask is that you consider the challenge I am raising:

The church needs to change its message so very badly. Please, please do not ever tell someone who is struggling to understand their sexuality to marry someone to “fix” it and “make” them straight. Jon and I have been there, done that. We have prayed, we have fasted, we have cried out to God and leaned on him for everything… and nothing changed. His orientation is the same as it was before we got married (even though I didn’t know til after we were married…. and that is a whole other story). Please love them as they are, not as people that need to be fixed.

I know clearly what the Bible text speaks of is husband and wife, and that is what I long for… but I am straight. I have no earthly idea what its like to be told you can only ever marry someone who you will never be attracted to…. but can we let our LGBTQ brothers and sisters make that decision on their own, and not demand it of them? Can we trust their discernment for their own lives?

I have hope though, hope that this next generation and the wave of grace that is being shown and cried out for in scattered places might just allow our LGBTQ brothers and sisters to stop being rejected, might stop judging families and parents and making them feel like outsiders because their kids aren’t straight.

Hope that one day, we will be able to read Paul’s words in Colossians 3 and know that we have brothers and sisters who identify as gay or lesbian, but they too are “taking off their old selves, being renewed in knowledge in image of their creator”…and that in Christ, gay and straight are no longer dividing factors. That in Christ, we are equal at the foot of the cross.

In closing, if you are looking for some books to read on this topic, I’d recommend the following:

Love is an Orientation, by Andrew Marin (great book about the heart cry of the LGBTQ community as well as building bridges in churches)

Torn, but Justin Lee (his story of growing up in a “perfect” Christian home, and how he realized he was gay at a young age, even loving Jesus and crying out to God for change, yet believing he has been given the freedom by God to seek a relationship instead of being celibate)

Washed and Waiting, by Wesley Hill (about those who are in the LGBTQ community and are holding to celibacy in the church)

Unclobber, by Andrew Marin (his story as a pastor, as well as digging into handling of the verses that address homosexuality in the bible)

Part 2: Caught in the Middle

In my last post I shared some of my journey of how I went from being afraid to being affirming. Although I am not sure how many will be in this series, I still have a few trailing things I’d like to share, so I’m not quite done yet.

In many ways, where I have landed theologically leaves me feeling caught. Caught between two vastly different ideologies, which for the past few years left me afraid to step out and say where I stood. Yet I know I must enter into the fray of discussion. Not with irate posts and calling people out and debating in the public realm, but rather with grace and gentleness. In case you are just joining, I am talking about the discussion currently going on in the church about whether or not to “allow” gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender people into their church. More than that – to not just say you love them and they are welcome, but to say that they are fully worthy of everything the church has to offer.

Why is that a problem, you ask? The world certainly doesn’t care, because they are all well beyond accepting to the point of celebrating and standing up for the LGBT community. I think the reason I feel caught is because I’m charismatic and evangelistic and I believe in prophecy and healing and speaking in tongues and visions and God speaking today just as loud and clear as He did in the Bible. I love to get lost in worship, sit in “soaking prayer”, and feel the very presence of the Holy Spirit. I know it is real. Yet it always seems that either you are progressive and social justice minded and for the LGBTQ community (and only sing hymns and have liturgy), or you are conservative/evangelical (and have contemporary songs and an electric guitar and drums in your church) and you are against it. If you are pentacostal, forget it. They’ll cast a demon out of you.

My problem is that I have the audacity to believe that the Holy Spirit and the worship that invites God’s physical presence to minister is not just for heterosexuals. God clearly said in the last days he would pour out his spirit on men and women alike. There were no qualifiers on that having anything to do with education, race, gender, walk of life, you name it.

I have the audacity to believe that God is for the LGBTQ Christian community, and that God speaks to people who are LBGTQ when they seek Him, just like He says He will. I believe He will reveal His grace and love and pour it out on them just he does on the heterosexual community. I believe they, as well as us, need healing for sexual brokenness – but not the “fix it to be straight” kind.

I am talking about healing for relationships we never wish we were in. Hearts that were broken by someone you loved and lost, or someone who gave up. Healing and deliverance from our struggles with lust and being infatuated with sex that is always blow your mind sex (like on TV) to the point that we are no longer satisfied with the partner God gave to us. Teens of all kind – straight or LGBTQ – need to know that they are not just their sexual identity. They are deep and made to love their creator as He created them, beautiful and wonderful. Adults – straight or LGBTQ – need to know they don’t have to be alone, that they are loved and accepted as they are, that they too can come out into the light no matter what secrets they hold.

Before you write me off (if you are still reading), hear me out. I started this journey being challenged first by my husband and second by the Holy Spirit. I have not come to this decision or place lightly… indeed no one does, when you start from the fundamental side of things. It has come with many tears, much prayer, much study, lots of reading, talking to people on both sides of the fence, and more prayer.

I have watched others in the public eye step out and make this same declaration, and my hope has fallen as I have read, with a sorrowful heart, the rejection they have faced. I have mourned that my own college fellowship, which helped me to find Jesus, essentially told anyone in leadership who was affirming that they no longer had a job.

Seems to me that loving the outcast – and loving people the way Jesus does – meant that you didn’t count anything against them. Anything. “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” — Paul, Romans 13:8.

Sure, it’s hard. I know perfectly well that many of our close friends may be surprised by this statement even as I make it. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t fearful of their reaction. No one knows me, I’m not in the public eye, so what do I have to lose? If I’m honest, I am fearful that people that have valued my insight and teaching thus far will throw me to the curb, disavowing the call of God on my life and questioning my study of the Word of God. I am fearful of their opinions and judgements on my life and my teaching.

Yet for the sake of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters, I know I can’t stop walking forward, for God did not give me a spirit of fear, but of love and sound mind. In Ephesians 4:1 Paul challenges us to “lead a life worthy of your calling”….. and more and more as my life is shaped, I cannot seem to let go that this is part of my calling. The next generation depends on it. How else will they learn to set their sights on God, to believe that He has called them too?

I guess I really don’t have much to lose when compared to those that are LGBTQ.

What about you? I have no idea who you are or what kind of church you are in, or if you are struggling to find acceptance as part of the LGBTQ community. But if you love Jesus and you know He is good, you MUST engage in this conversation, and not be willing to settle for what you have always heard just because it’s what everyone believes. It doesn’t mean you have to be ready to land on a different page at this very moment – but I want to challenge you to stop being afraid of the conversation. Your obedience to God, His love for you and calling on your life isn’t going to disappear because you begin to research and read and seek understanding.

You see, this isn’t an “issue” we are talking about. These are lives. These are teens you are raising, siblings who have lived in the closet or felt outcast for years. They are your worship leader, the person who prays for you and shares the love of God with you already. They may just be too fearful of rejection to say anything. Sadly, they too often walk away from even the idea of God because they cannot believe in a God who rejects their sexuality.

I don’t want to see that happen in this generation. The world brings too much condemnation already.

The few lesbian and gay couples that came to our little church in Illinois had always started with the same question: Will I be welcomed, or tolerated? Will you believe my faith is real, and will you help me and my partner grow in our faith in Christ? Or will you constantly doubt that we can move any further in God until we end our relationship?

Sisters and brothers – don’t shy away. Face your fears, tackle this tough discussion with people you can trust and who know your heart. This misunderstood part of the body is crying out for it.

________________________________________________________________________

Note: If you are looking for some good books to dive in, I’d recommend the following:

Andrew Marin’s “Love is an Orientation”, Justin Lee’s “Torn”, Colby Martin’s “Unclobber” and Wesley Hill’s “Washed and Waiting” .

Part 1: From Afraid to Affirming – my journey

Deconstruction is a word that, whether read in someone’s story or mentioned in a conversation over a meal, there is a mental sigh that I sit into, thinking “ah… you too, huh?”

Although it takes on different forms and may land people in different places, it most always involves some sort of re-evaluating of the faith of one’s childhood and deciding what to keep, what to toss out, and what needs to change and grow as you wrestle with the harder questions of life and God and faith.

For some, larger questions loom:

Is this God thing really true? Or was it all just a myth and story?

How can I follow a God that (seemingly) condemns people to hell?

If Jesus called his followers to love, why is the church known more for what she hates?

Why does it seems like Christians have just built another holiness code?

It all can feel so empty when you are in that place… and I know some people never come out of it.

I am living proof (along with many others) – that you can. You can question the faith of your childhood and still come out with the belief that God is just as strong, just as present. Even if you feel you’ve gone through hell and back to get there.

I was recounting what deconstruction looked like for me not too long ago over breakfast with a new friend. I shared the “safe” version – and I was being honest of course, explaining how in my early 30’s I needed to stop reading the bible for a good solid two years. I was disillusioned with the church and how quickly people believe stories they are told without asking any questions. I didn’t know how to even begin to read the bible any more without hearing old voices and getting frustrated. I knew I still believed in God, and in Jesus, but I didn’t much like his followers for a while. They had hurt me too much. I needed to re-learn from a fresh pallet, when I didn’t have a fresh one to start with. So for two years I sat and just tried to maintain some semblance of listening for God, and asking Him to help me figure all this out. I wanted new. I wanted to see things HE saw and understand it the way HE intended. I needed new voices, not voices that told me only one side of the story,

After that breakfast, I realize I had forgotten a very large part of my own deconstruction story. Namely, the part where I, with fear and trembling, divorced myself from a belief that if I landed on a different place theologically than I had been taught my first decade of following Him, that he would reject me and hide His face from me forever. I remember the anguish of that recognition and that fear.

You see, I had been taught in church that to not follow God’s written word (and hold to the understanding exactly how it was taught to me) was to walk out from under God’s blessing. I was taught that if you do something without God specifically telling you to, you were walking in presumption and pride (and we all know pride comes before a fall). This always seemed in direct contradiction with Jesus telling us the greatest command was to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind and strength. It seemed the mind part was always overlooked, except when it came to memorizing verses.

But there I was, one night at what I felt like a precipice of faith, a cliff, that I was about to jump off of, and I was scared. Because I could no longer accept some of the things I had been taught, as they seemed teachings that had put me in a cage of fear and doubt rather than given me the freedom I so desperately wanted as a child of God.

This wasn’t the first time either. One earlier cliff had been over whether or not we could move back to Virginia if God didn’t “tell” us to. I know, that might sound ridiculous to some of you, but again, I had been taught you needed to be LED in all things. But low and behold, when we decided not to move, we were not struck by lightning. (Although, I did have a dream I believe was from God where he poked a huge hole in that thinking of mine by showing me a map and saying “you could pick anywhere and I will still bless you”. Thank you, holy spirit)

For me, this next cliff was the one of condemning homosexuality. It was huge.

Before becoming a Christian, my only interaction with someone who was even possibly gay was a young man in my senior english class in high school. One day he whispered to me “Do you think it’s wrong to be gay?”. I had never even thought about it. “Well,” I said. “I am pretty sure its wrong for me but I guess you have to figure out if it’s right for you” I answered. After I became a Christian I was taught it was one of the worst sins possible, and that God hates homosexuality. For years I was caught between the concept of a God who loves deeply, a Savior who had dinner with people the religious wouldn’t be caught dead with, and the teaching of wrath for anyone who wasn’t straight. It just never sat right with me, but what was I to do?

Now let’s be honest here. Even as I explain this next part, I know some of you will write me off as having set aside the Word of God and counting it as nothing. Some of you will scoff and say “oh, she is just making scripture say what she wants it to say.” If you choose to read no further, I will understand. But I will tell you – that assumption could not be further from the truth. It is precisely because I love the scriptures that I take this so seriously.

I had been challenged by a friend, asking what if we were on the wrong side of this “issue”? Weren’t white Christians supportive of slavery because it was allowed in the bible? Weren’t white Christians supportive of segregation for some reason they believed was also scriptural (although for the life of me I cannot understand why). What if, when we are held accountable for all we have done and said, the Father asks why we kept the LGBTQ community at arms length and never welcomed them to the table?

What will our answer be then? Can we really say we have loved as Jesus did in that moment?

Those questions started me on a journey that took well over a year or two. I read everything I could get my hands on, whether stories, testimonies or historical documents, Greek studies, websites on both sides of the “issue”. You name it, I probably read it. It was exhausting, mentally and spiritually. After 7 months I had to set it all aside and take a break.

The weight of what I was finding was just too overwhelming.

After everything I had read, it seemed that it all boiled down to HOW you wanted to interpret the Greek in some passages, and WHAT you wanted to do with the historical explanations surrounding the passages and commands. On top of that, I had read stories of people who loved Jesus, grew up in good homes, were not abused, and yet knew they were attracted to the same sex from the time they were teens. What I thought could never live in tandem was right there in black and white.

In the light of the grace of Jesus, I realized I could no longer say I loved my brother and hold the LGBTQ community at a distance.

It scared the crap out of me to even be willing to admit that in my own head.

(For those of you who have read about the Enneagram…. I am a One. Which means I have a desperate desire to do things right before God. So you can imagine how huge this was, because for years I had been told there was only ONE way to view this.)

So there I was on my living room floor, having one of the most fearful conversations with the Lord I had ever had. After all I had read and studied, after months of prayer and consideration, I found myself landing in a place where I could no longer believe that God hated homosexuals. I was beginning to see it was very possible to be both gay (or LGBTQ) and Christian.

With great fear and trembling, I told the Lord that I was afraid of coming to this conclusion, but that it was the only way forward in love that I could see. I confessed that, because of earlier teaching, I was fearful that He would “release me from his cover of protection” and never speak to me again. It was devastating to me to even think about, but in the light of love I knew I had to change how I felt and acted, and my only choice was to ask for mercy.

The thought that I would never hear from God again was very real that night – and for someone for whom the voice of God is my very breath – it was a risk sown in tears. After years of being told what to think and believe, the thought of making this decision based on my own research left me full of fear, even though it landed in a place of love.

*****

Five years later, I am fully convinced that the ground I staked back then was holy ground. The leap of faith I took was in God’s character being ruled by love, and indeed He did not abandon me. He continued to speak and lead… even moreso than before.

I am still desperate as ever for the voice of God in my life, His leading, and studying the scriptures as diligently as before. Yet I cannot stay silent any longer on this, because I know that the lives of many hang in the balance. The burden of so many LGBTQ people leaving the church and walking away from God – never even once hearing that they too are created in God’s image, called to glory and also worthy of healing and restoration, weighs heavy on my heart.

I have much more to say, and so my next few posts will be on a similar subject. To my friends in the conservative camp, I know this path I am on may be too hard for you to hear right now, but please do not put your hands up and push me away. I am asking that you listen, for the sake of love. Do your own research, ask questions and listen to stories. When someone from the LGBTQ community becomes a friend, it’s no longer an “issue”, but a brother or sister with the same desperate need for a savior.

Til next time —

Tama