02 May Behind the Veil of Grace

We were in Switzerland and I was too wasted to find my way home. We had hitchhiked up the mountain to grab some beers, and it was all good fun until a guy named Josh turned to me and asked what I was running from back home. Since I didn’t want to tell him that I was a Baptist and a lesbian and a speaker for an ex-gay ministry, and that I didn’t think I could become straight but I wanted my community to like me, and that my questions about interpretation were spiraling into questions about God’s possible non-existence, I ordered more beers. We were too high in the mountains for me to have too many beers, and as I stumbled down the mountain, I had no one else to blame: I had done it to myself. But my friend Benjamin saw me. Benjamin grabbed me by the arm, walked me down the mountain, and tucked me into my bunk so I could sleep my way to sober.

I forgot about that night until we were at breakfast a few weeks later. Our friend Curtis hadn’t shown and I heard the house mom ask how Curtis was feeling. “He’s feeling the Jonny Walker and it’s gonna be a rough day,” Benjamin replied in his gentle way. Just when she started to thank Benjamin for caring for Curtis, I piped up: “Well he did it to himself.”

Everyone went silent and Benjamin looked down. He didn’t have to say anything for the embarrassment to spring up and sting: Curtis had done it to himself just like I had done it to myself. When I got myself in a fix, I wanted people to see that I was a complex person who was working through some stuff. When others did the same, they needed to suffer the consequences of their actions.

This is the gross human side of me that wants grace for myself and justice for other people. The part of me that was disappointed to remember God loves Ted Cruz as much as God loves me. It looks different now than it did then, but the bias remains: there is a special place in my heart for the failures of me and my tribe, and sometimes that space doesn’t include people who bother me. It’s a problem, my self-righteous and judgmental ways, and it’s why I’m the kind of person who needs a whole lot of grace. Time and again, the grace of God seeps into my selfishness and it softens me. It changes me. It makes me a little more like Jesus (slowly, with a lot of setbacks).

What’s weird is that many Christians want to extend grace to me in the one place I don’t feel the need for it: my gayness. In a recent attempt to be nicer to LGBT people, I often hear Christians say, “We need to have grace for gay people.” This is better than the “abomination” rhetoric of my childhood, but of all the ways I’m in need of grace, it feels strange to extend it because of the way I’m wired to love. It feels like someone offering grace to me because I’m an American, or grace because I’m a woman, or grace because I’m a millennial. Those are not moral issues––they’re situations I was born into and they are immutable facts about the nature of my existence.

This “love and grace” toward LGBT people seems like another way of saying we’re actively sinning because of the nature of our existence, but it’s wrapped in language that makes the speaker feel better about it. For instance, I recently heard a Christian leader say he tells parents of trans kids to “have grace for them in their sin.” I couldn’t help thinking to myself: “Who is this for?” Is it for the trans kid who was born feeling like his body doesn’t reflect his gender identity? Or is it for the parent who wants to feel better about the way in which he or she rejects their child? The kid hears: you are sinning. The parent hears: I am loving.

This push to be more “loving” toward the LGBT community doesn’t feel like love when there’s still a power dynamic that leaves the straight Christian feeling righteous and the LGBT Christian hearing they’re essentially in rebellion by nature of their existence. It still leaves the door firmly shut to my friends and I when it comes to serving in the youth group or leading in worship. It does not allow us to be seen as fellow Christians who have gifts to strengthen and nourish the community.

My friends and I look forward to the day when we’re welcomed as normal Christians. We need grace because, like every other human, we often fail to be humble, patient, and generous. Like every other Christian, we sometimes slander someone made in the image of God when we want––good GOSH we want––to assume the best about them. We need grace because sometimes we fail to respond to hatred with love. In short: we fail in the way every other Christian fails, and those failures are entirely unrelated to our sexual orientation or gender identity.

A friend of mine summed it up well when he discussed the difficulties he and his husband faced in their search for a church: “We need a community that’s going to help us grow in love for God and one another. We need the same support everyone else needs in their marriage because we want to somehow, as selfish people, learn to put our spouse first. But we can’t find that kind of support because these churches are so stuck on the fact that we’re in a same-sex marriage. They’re so focused on the fact that we’re both men that they won’t walk with us as we seek to lay our lives down for one another. We are married. We’ve moved past that. The question is whether or not they’ll move past it and support us in our commitment, or leave us to go it alone.”

12 Comments
  • David Ford
    Posted at 17:24h, 02 May Reply

    If homosexual orientation – sustained sexual attraction to the same sex – cannot be sanctified, then those attractions are sinful in and of themselves and should be repented of. To say otherwise is theologically untenable.

    So, just like grace is extended to the naturally envious person, or the naturally short-tempered person; so, too, do gay people require the grace of Christians.

    But this is why the traditionalist doctrine is so toxic. It insists that gay sex is not sanctifiable. It insists that the “state of being” of gay people is pathological.

    Traditionalists believe that the sanctity of gay partnership hinges on the moral permissibility of gay sex. When they look into the lives of gay couples, they find great difficulty in recognizing anything other than “sexual sin”..

    But they have it all backwards.

    The moral permissibility of gay sex is grounded in the sanctity of covenented partnership – a partnership that should be encouraged and nurtured by the community.

  • Jane
    Posted at 07:33h, 03 May Reply

    Thanks. Great post.

  • Colleen
    Posted at 12:44h, 03 May Reply

    What a great post! As a Catholic the anti gay stuff never made sense to me. How could a Just God make someone with a path so much harder than everyone else’s? God wouldn’t.

    • Jill Blackstock
      Posted at 12:38h, 05 June Reply

      There are many Christians who have a much harder path in life than just simply being gay. God absolutely does make some people who have more difficult lives than others. For instance, children born into poverty, born with disabilities, born into dysfunctional families or societies. The fact that some people have harder lives than others doesn’t really tell us about what is morally right or wrong in terms of acting on homosexual desire or not acting.

  • Jana Pasche
    Posted at 13:33h, 06 May Reply

    I too am guilty of “the gross human side of me that wants grace for myself and justice for other people.”

  • B
    Posted at 20:35h, 11 May Reply

    “This is the gross human side of me that wants grace for myself and justice for other people…”

    Beautifully said.

  • Benjamin DiCristina
    Posted at 22:01h, 12 May Reply

    I love you and miss you, dear friend. Please can we try to meet up the next time you’re in Portland?

  • Amanda
    Posted at 23:05h, 12 May Reply

    “We are not asking to be seen as perfect; we just want a world that knows our queerness isn’t why we are imperfect. We are calling for a church that knows we need grace—not because we are queer—but because we are human.” http://www.pcusa.org/blogs/today/2016/1/26/presbyhonest/

    Instantly thought of this other quote/blog post while reading yours. As someone who is early in the process of coming-out, I find myself tempted to make my “gayness” straight enough so that my heterosexual family and friends are not uncomfortable. Then I am abundantly thankful when they extend love or grace to my sexuality. But as your reminded us there is “still a power dynamic that leaves the straight Christian feeling righteous and the LGBT Christian hearing they’re essentially in rebellion by nature of their existence.” Thank you for this reminder which leads us out of shame and into places where we can live fully as “normal Christians”.

  • Dr. Marilee Ruebsamen
    Posted at 13:03h, 17 June Reply

    Julie, this post is (also!) so, so good. Reading Amanda’s post, it strikes me that early in the coming out process, a person certainly might feel burdened around what I notice you guys are referring to kindly as “traditionalists” to present as “un-gay” as possible . . . and soon begin to regret it Using the analogy, again, of being newly divorced and shunned by the church, I remember repeated brief attempts to return to similar churches many years later and experiencing tremendous angst — mine, not theirs. It wasn’t guilt – it was a recognition of how extremely culture bound churches can be – with their own dress, “language”, tiers of privilege, — once more, I realized that I had left much more than a marriage – while my faith was unquestionably sturdier, and I dearly missed community, the veneer of the “club” was something I had far outgrown. It had been replaced by soul searching and a spiritual journey that required energy and concentration, and new friends who primarily existed in books – C.S. Lewis, Henri Nouwen, etc. They were often lonely, as I was, but they were present for me in my painful but promising new-found freedom. So I imagine a number of these processes of evolving identities with their internal and external intertwining features have similarities – whether they involve coming out processes as gay or coming out as charismatic (I’ve seen family relationships fracture over this and small points of theology) or coming out as divorcing . . . part of the burden is that the individual has already gone through a challenging internal process . . . and the larger group is at dead-stop, not primed to be permeable or receiving – and their are far more of them than there are of you. A very very difficult, imposing dynamic to tackle. After three decades and several short-term attempts, I have expectations regarding community, transferred them to engaged buddhism and engaged, global humanitarian work., I piece together contemplative spirituality and hang on to the progressive church movement through interfaith discourse — my pastor son and child-minister daughter and their families.

  • Dr. Marilee Ruebsamen
    Posted at 13:22h, 17 June Reply

    Julie, this post is (also!) so, so good. Reading Amanda’s post, it strikes me that early in the coming out process, a person certainly might feel burdened around what I notice you guys are referring to kindly as “traditionalists” to present as “un-gay” as possible . . . and soon begin to regret it Using the analogy, again, of being newly divorced and shunned by the church, I remember repeated brief attempts to return to similar churches many years later and experiencing tremendous angst — mine, not theirs. It wasn’t guilt – it was a recognition of how extremely culture bound churches can be – with their own unspoken dress code, “language”, tiers of privilege, — once more, I realized that I had left much more than a marriage – while my faith was unquestionably sturdier, I dearly missed community. But the veneer, the club, was something I had far outgrown. It had been replaced by soul searching, deep reflection, and a spiritual journey that required energy and concentration, and new friends who primarily existed in books – C.S. Lewis, Henri Nouwen, etc. They were often lonely, as I was, but they were present for me in my painful but promising new-found freedom. So I imagine a number of these processes of emerging identities with their internal and external intertwining features have similarities – whether they involve coming out processes as gay or coming out as charismatic (I’ve seen family relationships fracture over this and points of theology) or coming out as divorcing) . . . part of the burden is that the individual has already gone through a challenging internal process . . . and the larger, receiving group is at dead-stop, not primed to be permeable – and there are far more of them than there are of the individual. A very very difficult, imposing dynamic to tackle. After three decades and several short-term attempts, My expectations regarding community have dissolved. I’ve transferred them to engaged buddhism and engaged, global humanitarian work. I piece together study and practice of contemplative spirituality and learn through the progressive church movement through interfaith discourse and practice — of my pastor son and children’s-minister daughter and their families . . . Wheaton & W.Palm Beach. Flexibility, openness to experience, kindness, and wide love matter. Be blessed.

  • Dr. Marilee Ruebsamen
    Posted at 13:26h, 17 June Reply

    Julie, thank you for such an excellent post. Reading Amanda’s, it strikes me that early in the coming out process, a person certainly might feel burdened around what I notice you guys are referring to kindly as “traditionalists” to present as “un-gay” as possible . . . and soon begin to regret it Using the analogy, again, of being newly divorced and shunned by the church, I remember repeated brief attempts to return to similar churches many years later and experiencing tremendous angst — mine, not theirs. It wasn’t guilt – it was a recognition of how extremely culture bound churches can be – with their own unspoken dress code, “language”, tiers of privilege, — once more, I realized that I had left much more than a marriage – while my faith was unquestionably sturdier, I dearly missed community. But the veneer, the club, was something I had far outgrown. It had been replaced by soul searching, deep reflection, and a spiritual journey that required energy and concentration, and new friends who primarily existed in books – C.S. Lewis, Henri Nouwen, etc. They were often lonely, as I was, but they were present for me in my painful but promising new-found freedom. So I imagine a number of these processes of emerging identities with their internal and external intertwining features have similarities – whether they involve coming out processes as gay or coming out as charismatic (I’ve seen family relationships fracture over this and points of theology) or coming out as divorcing) . . . part of the burden is that the individual has already gone through a challenging internal process . . . and the larger, receiving group is at dead-stop, not primed to be permeable – and there are far more of them than there are of the individual. A very very difficult, imposing dynamic to tackle. After three decades and several short-term attempts, My expectations regarding community have dissolved. I’ve transferred them to engaged buddhism and engaged, global humanitarian work. I piece together study and practice of contemplative spirituality and learn through the progressive church movement through interfaith discourse and practice — of my pastor son and children’s-minister daughter and their families . . . Wheaton & W.Palm Beach. Flexibility, openness to experience, kindness, and wide love matter. Be blessed.

  • Sydney Allison
    Posted at 13:07h, 03 July Reply

    This post is so good. Thank you for writing this. As a bisexual Christian who feels a vocational call to ministry and who also came out to my progressive and inclusive church after the Orlando shootings, I feel this so hard. “…There is a special place in my heart for the failures of me and my tribe, and sometimes that space doesn’t include people who bother me.” This is something I struggle with on a day-to-day basis in my faith. And I don’t have a great answer or solution to this problem. It’s hard to love those who have hurt you or call you “less than.” And while I’ve never felt less than for any of the adjectives that describe me (female, bisexual, Christian, Millennial), it’s still a tough pill to swallow when you hear it from someone else. I know I have a place in my church and I never want to leave it, but some days are certainly easier than others.

Post A Comment