Dear Church, From A Recovering Homophobe
To my knowledge, I didn’t know any transgender people as I was growing up. In my youth group, one kid came out as gay. While I don’t remember saying anything to his face, I know I had negative thoughts and I’m sure I made jokes at his expense. I am deeply sorry for that. My family was rather conservative, especially when it came to issues of sexuality. I don’t fault my parents for my upbringing – they were trying to figure out life, just as I am now. As a dad, nothing has compelled me to re-examine my life, prejudices, faith, and politics more than trying to explain how the world works to my children.
I now consider myself quite less than conservative. In the past few years, my wife and I have been on a “slippery slope” to the left, and we think we’ve become better humans and better Christians because of it (even though more than one of my friends have told me I’m ‘barely even a Christian anymore’).
This past week was Pride Week in our mostly conservative county. The week began with the heartbreaking tragedy in Orlando and ended with a family-friendly celebration of love, community, and LGBTQ pride in the center of our city.
The more my family is involved in the LGBTQ community, the more I am convinced that this community is picking up the slack for the church. You don’t get more like (to the essence of) the alien, fatherless, or widow than a transgender woman who lost her family when she came out, or a teen who finds enough courage to come out to his parents only to be disowned.
Some orphans still have living parents.
Some widows still have living spouses.
Some people are aliens in their own home.
I am rather socially awkward. I like to hug people, but often, in churches, we’ve been told to be careful with touching as to not send wrong signals.
But with my LGBTQ friends, there is no confusion about hugs. They are a symbol of acceptance. The hugs are long and tight, and almost always bring a sense of community that seems elusive at church.
At the Pride event on Saturday, my wife, my three 10-year-old kids, and I, worked the PFLAG table. PFLAG (Parents, Friends, and Family of Lesbians and Gays) meets monthly for support, education, and advocacy. Our friend Liz joined us at the table for most of the day. Liz is an amazing 71-year-old from Uruguay. She has the best stories, tells it like it is, and has a most beautiful smile. She is also transgender.
My kids have been at a few gatherings with Liz over the past year, but this was probably the first time they actually spent a good amount of time around her. At one point in the day, when Liz went to grab some lunch, my ten-year-old asked, “Is Liz a boy or a girl?”
So we told them the truth: she’s a woman who was born in a man’s body. That sometimes, a person’s mind and soul doesn’t match their body. That, for 65 years, she lived as a man, and in the last few years, she has been brave enough to live as her true self.
And Caedmon, the most conservative of my kids, replied, “That’s cool… kinda.”
That may not seem like much, but as a dad who is doing everything I can to raise kids without the prejudices I was raised with, I was jumping up and down inside. I get a lot of things wrong as a parent, but if I can raise my children to see people, no matter how different, as a human first, I consider that a success.
Here’s some honesty: my upbringing lead me to see two men kissing as gross. (For some reason, two women kissing had the opposite effect.) And even though it grieves me to say it, that feeling is still there, to some degree. I am on the far heterosexual end of the spectrum, so I don’t get the ‘guys being attracted to guys’ thing. I’m pretty sure a lot of my heterosexual friends share that sentiment. I understand. It’s not hate, it’s not fear, it’s something else. And I am still in the process of undoing that – not to be culturally relevant, but because I have seen the fruit of this love in my friends. And just as my children think it’s gross every time they see me ‘smoochy-smoochy’ with my wife, there will come a time when they understand that love is far deeper than physical contact.
Here’s why I tell you about that: I don’t want my children to grow up with a gag reflex in response to expressions of love they don’t understand. I want my children to grow up celebrating love. I want them to see the beauty of two people, regardless of gender, fully committed to each other. I want them to celebrate that commitment.
To my conservative friends, it can feel like the LGBTQ community is asking a lot. I get that. But then again, so is Jesus. Jesus tells us to deny ourselves, to lay down our prejudices and gag reflexes and questions and uncertainties and privilege and desire to be right and certain. And in return for those things, we get to serve.
I think it’s about time for the Church to get over ourselves, drop the institutions, and freaking listen for a while.
Let’s stop with the disclaimers.
Let’s stop with the ambiguity.
Let’s stop trying to change people and look for ways the spirit can change us.
Let’s stop the false welcomes.
Let’s stop giving the response of a child (“but what about me?”).
Let’s stop worrying so much about what rights we feel like we’re losing and actually give them away willingly.
Let’s stop comparing a love we don’t understand with our own sins.
Maybe there’s another way to see the world.
And maybe, that’s what Jesus has been inviting us into all along.