From Waging War to Washing Feet: How do we move forward?

'And they shall beat their swords into plowshares' photo (c) 2007, Suzie Tremmel - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Wednesday’s post, “How to win a culture war and lose a generation,” shattered every record in my blogging history. In two days, the site received over 105,000 visits, and readers shared the post a whopping 35,000 times on Facebook. 

I say this not to brag—because it certainly wasn’t the writing that made that post go viral—but to let those of you who identified with the call to end the culture war against gays and lesbians know that you are definitely not alone! 

My inbox, voicemail, and twitter feed are jammed with messages. I’ve heard from gay Christians offering words of thanks and encouragement, from mega-church pastors and youth leaders saying “message received,” from college students and grandfathers and stay-at-home moms who are ready to “stop waging war and start washing feet.” 

The popularity of Wednesday’s post speaks to a growing desire, among both young and old*, for radical change in how we treat one another as Christians and as citizens. Ready or not, a movement is afoot—a movement toward reconciliation, healing, grace, and love.  People are ready to lay down their arms, and I am ready to join them. 

All of this comes at a strange time in my own journey. 

Transient

Recently, I was privileged to read an early review copy of Justin Lee’s new book, Torn. (The book releases in November, but you can pre-order it now, which I highly recommend doing.) Justin and I have been friends ever since he participated in our interview series with “Ask a gay Christian...,” and he is one of several gay Christians I’ve gotten to know over the past two years, both in person and online. Justin’s story, and the stories of my newfound LGBT friends, have dramatically changed how I view homosexuality.

I’d never before realized the degree to which my own perceptions of same-sex attraction were influenced by misinformation, stereotypes, assumptions, and misplaced good intentions. Something about Torn,  about the sincerity, patience, and grace with which Justin has shared his story, stirred inside of me a passion to become a more active and vocal supporter of organizations like the Gay Christian Network that support LGBT Christians seeing to reconcile their faith with their sexuality.  

One thing I love about the Gay Christian Network, of which Justin is the director, is that it welcomes healthy dialog between folks on “Side A,” who believe homosexual relationships have the same value as heterosexual relationships in the sight of God, and folks on “Side B,” who believe only male/female relationships in marriage represent God’s intent for sexuality. So there you will find a mix of LGBT Christians who are seeking monogamous, same-sex relationships and LGBT Christians who are committed to celibacy.  It’s a rare thing, but Justin (who, based on his interpretation of scripture, supports “Side A”) and his friend Ron (who, based on his interpretation of scripture, supports “Side B”), have somehow managed to create a thriving and peaceful community of committed Christians representing both sides.

Similarly, in response to Wednesday’s post, I heard from Christians on “Side A” as well as Christians on “Side B” who were united in their desire to move beyond a culture war mentality when it comes to homosexuality. 

...Which brings us to some important questions: 

What do we do next? 

How do we move from waging war to washing feet, on a practical level? 

What does a post-war culture look like when it comes to engaging homosexuality? 

As I was thinking and praying through these questions, one word kept returning to my mind: 

Stories. 

We need to listen to one another’s stories. 

Time and time again, I talk to Christians whose experiences, like mine, go something like this: “I used to think that homosexuality was a sinful, promiscuous lifestyle that people chose in rebellion to God, and that Christians need to rally against the ‘gay agenda’ through legislative action. Then, my best friend (or brother or sister or son or daughter or high school buddy or neighbor or mentor) came out, and everything changed. Their story didn’t fit the stereotype. It didn’t fit into my previous categories. Their story made me see that things aren’t that simple, and that the ‘war’ between Christianity and homosexuality represents a false dichotomy that is incredibly painful and destructive to Christians with same-sex attractions. After that, I could no longer support the sort of rhetoric and actions that only serve to make this world a more hostile and hopeless place to the ones I loved. I kept thinking about all the depression, all the suicides, all the secrets. I just can’t support a culture that, perhaps inadvertently, fosters that.” 

Everything changes when you are confronted with someone else’s story. 

In fact, in my experience, I’ve found that the folks most passionate about waging a culture war against homosexuality are often folks who don’t know a lot of gay people. This is of course a general statement with which there are plenty of exceptions, but a couple experiences reinforced my partiality to it recently.**

On Tuesday night, I had an interesting twitter exchange.  

In response to the passage of Amendment One, I tweeted: "Sending love and prayers to my LGBT friends tonight who feel hurt by this vote. Please know you are loved."

A young man tweeted back: "Why are they hurt? Nothing was banned. Nothing was made illegal."

I tweeted: "Maybe you should ask one of your LGBT friends."

Silence.

I suspect this meant this person didn’t actually have any LGBT friends to ask. 

Similarly, a few weeks ago, Dan and I were invited by a group of conservatives here in town to discuss with them our evolution away from fundamentalist Christianity.  Worried it  might be a trap, Dan and I were reluctant to go, but finally we agreed and the  evening transpired about as we expected. But one moment made me particularly uncomfortable.

Some members of the group were eager to challenge the idea that it was possible for someone to identify as both Christian and gay. I told them that I knew several committed Christians who were attracted to the same sex, and I had no reason not to believe their story. The guys in the group scoffed at this, and the conversation took an ugly turn. As sarcasm and disdain ensued, I suddenly felt overwhelmed and convicted by the irony of the situation: A bunch of straight Christians were sitting together in a living room, engaging in a lengthy and heated conversation about whether other people were sinning. 

What on earth would Jesus think of this?!

“I’m sorry,” I finally said. “I just can’t in good conscious continue this conversation without a gay or lesbian Christian present. It’s not fair that they are not here to defend themselves.  

Dan agreed, and we both refused to engage. 

I wish I could say this was the first time I’ve been in that situation. 

In my opinion, the first step toward a life beyond the culture wars is to stop talking about LGBT folks and start talking with LGBT folks. So that is where we will begin. 

Because stories change everything. 

Stories challenge stereotypes and shatter myths. 

Stories build bridges and tear down walls. 

Stories  forge unexpected paths to places of common ground. 

Stories free both the teller and the listener from the life-draining power of secrets. 

Stories help us identify one another as fellow human beings with whom we can laugh and weep and pray, rather than issues over which we must fight. 

And so, moving forward, I am committed to using whatever platform I have to help share people’s stories. I am working right now to forge partnerships with several people and organizations I trust in order to make the dialog as safe as possible, as productive as possible, and as redemptive as possible. Just as I want to make my home and my church welcoming places for my gay and lesbian friends, so I want to make this blog a welcoming place for LGBT Christians  to tell their stories. 

It might get me into some trouble, but I don’t care. Because I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve been getting the feeling that it’s not really about me anymore. It’s about something bigger, something beautiful and redemptive. 

For the first time in my life, I am daring to believe that God can heal even these wounds.

*People over 40! I heard you! This is not just a generational shift! Many of you want an end to the culture war too. 

**I realize it’s important to include those who supported Amendment One in this conversation as well, and not to assume that their motivations for doing so were out of bigotry or ignorance. As I mentioned yesterday, Justin wrote a lovely post encouraging those who opposed the measure to extend grace and understanding to those with whom they disagree. I certainly want to take his advice

  ***

What advice do you have for moving forward with this conversation? How has your thinking regarding homosexuality “evolved” through the years?

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