Dad married Mom during her senior year of high school and I came along just late enough not to be called a “sooner” (as in “born sooner than I shoulda been.”). Mom told me she knelt at the church altar and gave me to God before I was born, which is probably the reason I always felt like I was one of God’s favorites. So, you can imagine the confusion I felt the first time I read I could not inherit the kingdom of God.
My first lessons on scriptural interpretation consisted solely of the phrase, “The Bible says it, I believe it.” To question the inerrancy of the Bible was the equivalent of renouncing God and your faith entirely. It’s not too surprising then that it took me, a gay man, so many years to reconcile my heart with God. But I couldn’t go through life fearing I had just dismissed inconvenient biblical verses that seemed to condemn who I was.
It wasn’t until after I came out and moved to Indianapolis that I discovered many devoted followers of Christ who approached scripture differently than my childhood teachers. I had never considered the cultural norms that existed when the Bible was written and how they would have influenced its writers. But doing so helped me understand some of the strange and baffling things found in the Bible. New Testament scriptures admonishing slaves to be obedient and telling women to remain silent in church are just a couple of these socially driven passages. In truth, the church of my childhood had always found ways to explain away odd or distasteful scriptures, but it could never get past the taboo society had attached long-ago to being homosexual. Acknowledging that the Bible was inspired by God, but also contained the thoughts and convictions of a people far culturally different from us didn’t lessen my beliefs in Christ or the importance of the Bible. Instead my faith grew as I sought to read scripture through the lens of Christ’s teachings and actions. I finally began to sense a little of the “abundant life” that Christ had promised. And I felt free to concentrate on what I believe was a priority of Jesus’ teaching: that to those of us who have been given much (whether good health, education, financial means, musical ability, leadership skills, etc.,) God expects much. We are called to give in whatever ways we can to help others have the life God wants them to have.
I am so grateful FBC Indianapolis is exploring ways to be more intentional in its ministry to the LGBTQ community. But I pray we will become more than just “gay friendly” someday. Many of us already have “friendly” family members who worship in churches that “love the sinner, but hate the sin.” Many of us already know how it feels to be tolerated. But everyone born hopes for more than being tolerated; everyone hopes to share life’s joys and sorrows with a loving community. Unfortunately, in the gay community many achievements, failures, weddings, and even deaths are never acknowledged by family members. What if we, the Church of Jesus, were to become that loving, affirming community?
The church that says I’m “living out of fellowship” with God once condoned slavery, using scripture to justify doing so. Once, the same church would not have allowed my daughter to marry an African American man, denying my family our wonderful son-in-law. Once, the same church would have used scripture to keep my daughter from leading music or from saying a beautiful prayer in its sanctuary. So today I find hope in believing the whole church will one day welcome, and celebrate, all those who were once shamed and turned away because of their sexual orientation.