She sat in my office, nervously sharing a story that was both unique and familiar. She recounted the name-calling, the judgmental looks, the shunning she had endured. But for this young woman, the bully was not a schoolmate or family member. The bully was her church.
From the pulpit, in Sunday School classes, in youth group gatherings the message was loud and clear: if she was gay, she was a sinner, an abomination, not welcome. “Why does God hate me?” she asked me through tears that day as we met.
There was so much I wanted to say. I wanted to talk about how that small handful of Bible passages had been grossly misinterpreted, how recent scholarship had offered new wisdom and insights on those passages. I wanted to convince her that her church family was wrong, that her pastor was wrong. But I knew she would not yet be able to take all that in. They would just be more words. Perhaps down the road we could have that conversation, perhaps she would read one of the excellent books that present the more accurate interpretations, but for now she was simply in pain, hurting and fearful that the bully might be right.
So instead I listened. I shared a little about how I experience God, how I know God is not a bully and would not, does not condone such behavior, especially when it comes from a group of people who claim to follow One who insisted that we love our neighbors. I mentioned some of the evidence from Scripture showing that God’s love is unconditional, how the overarching witness of the Bible is the love of God for all, and that God’s deepest desire is that we find and offer love on this earth. Love that has integrity, love that is marked by faithfulness and mutual honor and respect, love that is not limited to a man and a woman. I told her God loved her with an extravagant, unconditional love.
The process of rediscovering the love of God can be a long and difficult one. Those old messages maintain their grip on our brains and our hearts and our bodies. Reconnecting with a loving God usually means disconnecting with old images of a hateful, punitive god. It also means connecting with others who have made that journey, and people of faith who love, honor, and stand with LGBTQ+ folx. It is a journey well worth taking.
There are more and more companions for this journey – faith communities that practice radical hospitality, queer-focused Bible studies, small group opportunities. There are clergy both gay and straight ready and willing to walk with those who want to pursue a faith that embraces all and a God who calls each and every one of us a beloved child. Blessings on your journey!