I was 18 years old, and I was nervous and excited to be attending my first gay pride parade. I didn’t have the guts to go by myself, so I had a friend who had gone before accompanying me. I had recently come out and did not know what to expect in terms of acceptance within the LGBTQ+ community. I felt like a five-year-old preparing to go to kindergarten for the first time – “what will it be like?” “Will they like me?” “Will I know how to talk to them?” “Will they think I’m weird?”
There was no wild or scandalous desire in my heart as I walked up to the crowds of people celebrating what they considered to be a big part of their identity – an identity that I shared at the time. I remember walking up to the mass of people thinking, “these are my people! This is where I belong! I finally found it!” My confused, terrified, and disoriented heart was not trying to intentionally bring distress to God or His people – they weren’t even on my mind. I was desperately searching for a place to belong, for meaning, for something to help me make sense of what I was feeling. As I walked up to what I yearned to claim as “my people,” my heart swelled with excitement and a growing sense of kinship with this group. As I got closer to the crowds, I felt like running to embrace this expanding sense of freedom and acceptance that I felt emanating from them.
As someone who grew up in God’s Kingdom, this sense of warmth, belonging, and acceptance felt very reminiscent of the kind of camaraderie that I had always felt in church. Growing up in church I witnessed a group of people who went out into the world every day to be persecuted because the way that they chose to live went against cultural norms. These people called “aliens,” “foreigners,” and “outsiders” by God had nerves of steel to be able to endure that kind of hardship day after day in almost every setting they were a part. These weary, misunderstood souls found great solace on Sunday mornings when they were finally able to be among a group of like-minded people where they could take off their armor and just be. The feelings of celebration, relief, and security on Sunday mornings were palpable as God’s people all came together to be mutually encouraged by one another, to be reoriented to their core identities, and to learn from one another how to survive this often-difficult existence… This is the same hopeful anticipation I had as I excitedly walked up to my first pride parade – eager to shed the sense of being an outsider and embrace the sense of belonging I knew was waiting for me just beyond the entrance – finally!
Suddenly, my focused attention was yanked from its reverie as I started to hear anger, disapproval, even animosity in the air. This seemed out of place, so it took a moment for me to notice the people all around the entrance holding up signs, screaming into megaphones, and literally standing on soap boxes. Startled, I looked up at my friend the way a kindergartener would look up at their parent when they encountered an unexpected harsh reality walking into their first day of school. My friend just knowingly shook her head, cast her eyes down, and hunched her shoulders in shame and defeat as she led me through the throngs of Christian faces contorted with rage. As I acclimated to this unexpected twist, my brain finally allowed me to hear what they were saying. To my shock these people, these Christians, whom I had identified so closely with up until that time in my life were screaming words of hate. They were condemning the crowds, condemning my newfound community, condemning me.
I was heartbroken to say the least. I could not fathom why it was so important to those Christians to be there yelling at me – loathing me simply because I chose to pursue a path different than they. “What did we do to them?” I asked my friend as we entered the parade. I never got an answer to that...
The biggest knife to my heart was that the yelling Christians were holding the Bible as they screamed these words of hate and condemnation. I grew up in a Christian home with God and His Word as the bedrock, so the Bible had always been a steady source of solace for me. I could not believe they were using the same words that I had grown up with, not to teach me and show me the way of God, but to oppose the Word of God by condemning me in disgust and hate.
I could feel my heart harden in that moment as it suddenly seemed impossible to separate a perfect God from these imperfect people. As they held His Word to castigate me in my vulnerable state of desperately seeking a place to belong, the overall message from these ambassadors of Christ was not, “this is where you really belong, let us show you the way,” instead, their message was, “we don’t know where you belong, but you definitely don’t belong with God.” … I tear up even now, 15 years later, remembering the utter devastation I felt in that moment.
This reaction from those professing Christians at my first pride parade – though their theology was right (homosexuality is sinful), the way they went about expressing it was so wrong that no one could see the Truth in it. It’s as if some Christians have treated The Biblical Sexual Ethic as theology that is dichotomous from a charge much more foundational to God’s creation: to love. The condemnation from these professing Christians did not stem from love – it stemmed from fear, anger, and pride. We can have the right belief but express it without love and still be wrong. We must follow in Jesus’ footsteps with how we go about professing our theology – we must do it in love, just Like God commands (Ephesians 4:15).
The kind of love that God exemplifies for us and expects from us does not begin and end with controlling our tone or facial expressions to hide disapproval. Love is not simply behavioral modification; love is a matter of the heart. If God is love, then the first and most important thing we need to do to love others is to draw nearer to God.
Let us also remember that we are not called to force the world into submission to God’s ways. God gives each of us the freewill to choose how we would like to live. The same freewill that allows me to choose to now put God above my sexual orientation is the same freewill that God gives every human, even if they choose not to live for Him. God’s love and affection does not change for those that do not live for Him – and neither should ours. God does call us to judge, but only those within His Kingdom (1 Corinthians 5:10). We are not called to judge those outside of the church – that responsibility lies with God and God alone. Therefore, we can absolutely say that homosexuality is sinful; however, we can make no statements as to a person’s character, heart, intention, or eternal destination based on this belief.
Finally, let us remember that LGBTQ+ people are people. They are fellow humans. Along with you and me, they make up the apex of God’s creation! You better believe that God wants you to treat His beloved creation with the kindness, dignity, and respect that a son or daughter of The Most High King deserves, no matter how they have chosen to exercise their God-given freewill.