In this year of being the best that I am meant to be, not only will I focus on my physical and mental health, but my spiritual health as well. My strong sense of faith and my strong connection to God has buoyed me when the valley seemed to rise to greet me and drag me back down. That connection to Spirit recently brought me through the multiple health crises that rocked my family and caused me to stop working as the first Faith Advocacy Coordinator for GIFT (Gays In Faith Together).
I left that position,in the fall of 2012, in the capable hands of spiritual powerhouse Lauren Busman who will continue and expand the work. In the process I realized that when I am in the midst of crisis, it’s hard to see the “why” of it much less God’s hand on it. But in this year of discovery and examination, I have also realized that throughout my life, every encounter with darkness has polished me into a stronger being; as long as I remember, God’s got this.
As the new Faith Advocacy Coordinator, Ms. Busman is asking for coming out stories and stories on why the “Gay Christian? Yes!” campaign is important for allies and for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities. So last week I wrote an essay for the GayChristianYes.org website on why we proclaim the “Gay Christian? Yes!” message and why it still remains important. I would like to share it with you here:
I used to say with a certain smugness: “I’m the kind of Christian who follows Christ,” when confronted by someone who did not think as I did on matters of Christian living.
I usually gave this response when talking to those who called themselves Christian in one breath while feeling perfectly comfortable and completely justified in speaking words of contempt about God’s children in their next breath.
I still say I am the kind of Christian who follows Christ. Even though I have moved on as GIFT’s first Faith Advocacy Coordinator, I will advocate with every breath for all God’s children especially the LGBT community which continues to be targeted by some in the faith community.
When readers of the Bible use selected segments to incite violence, encourage separation and create harmful laws to diminish others, it is clear to me that this is not the full message of Christ.
This is why GIFT’s “Gay Christian? Yes!” campaign was and still remains an important part of this community.
Without a strong, steady voice from allies, gay Christians and area churches about a loving and welcoming Christ, the overwhelming sound of dismissal, or worse – silence – could turn others away from God.
This is why I cringe over recent events where attention seekers use specific Bible passages to condemn and dismiss and tell outright lies about those who do not love as they do. The Christ message is being diminished.
The Bible has been used to condone slavery, inhibit women, destroy difference and encourage war. But through prayerful Christ-filled eyes, the Bible can be used to uplift the downtrodden, embrace the poor, and show the love that God has for all that God created.
As an openly gay Christian, as an African-American lesbian, it pains me when those who are in the church, draw a line showing who is in and who is out of God’s embrace.
It is especially painful because I know that not everyone will challenge that view as I did when I came out to my pastor in my early 30s. I was in love with my best friend and was sharing the news with my pastor who was like a brother to me. When he told me my relationship with this woman was “not of God” I was initially crushed.
I realize now God was using that moment to help me to learn my calling as an advocate. I prayed to God and did not believe the pastor’s rejection was of God. I challenged and questioned and stayed in prayerful conversation with him for months. Before he left the church to his next assignment, I remember the pastor holding up the Bible and telling the congregation, “this is a book of love. Do not use this as a weapon.”
Flash forward to 2009. After retiring from my 28-year gig as a reporter with the Grand Rapids Press I learned of the position of GIFT’s first Faith Advocacy Coordinator. The Rev. Jim Lucas had a dream of the “Gay Christian? Yes!” campaign where the message would be bold and encouraging.
We knew that there were other members of the LGBT community who were hearing messages of rejection in their churches or schools or even their home.
We wanted to have places in every denomination where LGBT people of faith could come and be nourished by the Spirit of Christ. I envisioned expanding this model to all faiths that have used their beliefs to dismiss and reject the LGBT community.
We hoped that community conversations would spring forth, safe places would be created where all are welcome to learn, grow and see one another through God’s eyes.
With the creation of our first billboard in the spring of 2012 there was an excitement in the air as more voices came to the forefront through essays, videos and church programming.
But for me, by the summer of 2012, personal health issues and my mother’s cancer diagnosis took center stage and by October, I left GIFT.
Today my health issues are in check. But my mother’s diagnosis is terminal. So when not focused on her, I am studying to become a health coach and advocate.
We need the “Gay Christian? Yes!” message even more today. Just read the news and see continuous instances where people of faith make it clear that it is still not safe to be all God has made you to be.
During a recent trip to Texas, where my mother is now living with my sister for the winter in an in-hospice program, I engaged in conversation with the driver during the hour-long ride from the airport to my sister’s house.
She had an opinion on everything from “Obamacare” to gays where she repeated the outrageous lies that have been made against gays all being diseased pedophiles who will never get to heaven.
Now my first reaction was to knock some sense into her with a slap upside the back of the head. But I knew that was not right so I took a deep breath, said aloud “Jesus help me,” and engaged in conversation.
She told me she didn’t hate gays, she even knows one and prays for him everyday. “I pray that he become enlightened and turns away from his sinful path.”she said.
I asked when she decided to become attracted to men since she believed gay is a choice. Explained that criminal sexual acts against children has nothing to do with loving relationship between consenting adults. Finally I asked how she became so arrogant to think that God’s creations could be limited by her tiny vision.
From her rear view mirror I watched the smugness leave her face and the rest of the ride home was quiet.
As we pulled into my drive I touched her shoulder and told her, “I am going to pray for your enlightenment tonight.” She said she would do the same for me.
I never told her I was gay. I told her that I am a Christian who is weary of other Christians trying to narrow God’s message of love. It didn’t feel safe to share all of me. And that was the first time I’d ever felt unsafe as a lesbian.
As I flew back to Grand Rapids I thought of the youths and all LGBT Christians who sit trapped in their pews feeling unsafe because of a certain smugness that comes with the arrogance of those who think they are speaking for God when they oppress.
When I tell people I am the kind of Christian who follows the words of Christ, my own smugness is gone for I see what arrogance can bring. So now I pray for everyone’s enlightenment and I speak in humility. And I still say, “Gay Christian? Yes!”
Theresa D. McClellan was GIFT’s first Faith Advocacy Coordinator. She is studying with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to become a certified health coach advocate.