02 May Behind the Veil of Grace
We were in Switzerland and I was too wasted to find my way home. We had hitchhiked up the mountain to grab some beers, and it was all good fun until a guy named Josh turned to me and asked what I was running from back home. Since I didn’t want to tell him that I was a Baptist and a lesbian and a speaker for an ex-gay ministry, and that I didn’t think I could become straight but I wanted my community to like me, and that my questions about interpretation were spiraling into questions about God’s possible non-existence, I ordered more beers. We were too high in the mountains for me to have too many beers, and as I stumbled down the mountain, I had no one else to blame: I had done it to myself. But my friend Benjamin saw me. Benjamin grabbed me by the arm, walked me down the mountain, and tucked me into my bunk so I could sleep my way to sober.
I forgot about that night until we were at breakfast a few weeks later. Our friend Curtis hadn’t shown and I heard the house mom ask how Curtis was feeling. “He’s feeling the Jonny Walker and it’s gonna be a rough day,” Benjamin replied in his gentle way. Just when she started to thank Benjamin for caring for Curtis, I piped up: “Well he did it to himself.”
Everyone went silent and Benjamin looked down. He didn’t have to say anything for the embarrassment to spring up and sting: Curtis had done it to himself just like I had done it to myself. When I got myself in a fix, I wanted people to see that I was a complex person who was working through some stuff. When others did the same, they needed to suffer the consequences of their actions.
This is the gross human side of me that wants grace for myself and justice for other people. The part of me that was disappointed to remember God loves Ted Cruz as much as God loves me. It looks different now than it did then, but the bias remains: there is a special place in my heart for the failures of me and my tribe, and sometimes that space doesn’t include people who bother me. It’s a problem, my self-righteous and judgmental ways, and it’s why I’m the kind of person who needs a whole lot of grace. Time and again, the grace of God seeps into my selfishness and it softens me. It changes me. It makes me a little more like Jesus (slowly, with a lot of setbacks).
What’s weird is that many Christians want to extend grace to me in the one place I don’t feel the need for it: my gayness. In a recent attempt to be nicer to LGBT people, I often hear Christians say, “We need to have grace for gay people.” This is better than the “abomination” rhetoric of my childhood, but of all the ways I’m in need of grace, it feels strange to extend it because of the way I’m wired to love. It feels like someone offering grace to me because I’m an American, or grace because I’m a woman, or grace because I’m a millennial. Those are not moral issues––they’re situations I was born into and they are immutable facts about the nature of my existence.
This “love and grace” toward LGBT people seems like another way of saying we’re actively sinning because of the nature of our existence, but it’s wrapped in language that makes the speaker feel better about it. For instance, I recently heard a Christian leader say he tells parents of trans kids to “have grace for them in their sin.” I couldn’t help thinking to myself: “Who is this for?” Is it for the trans kid who was born feeling like his body doesn’t reflect his gender identity? Or is it for the parent who wants to feel better about the way in which he or she rejects their child? The kid hears: you are sinning. The parent hears: I am loving.
This push to be more “loving” toward the LGBT community doesn’t feel like love when there’s still a power dynamic that leaves the straight Christian feeling righteous and the LGBT Christian hearing they’re essentially in rebellion by nature of their existence. It still leaves the door firmly shut to my friends and I when it comes to serving in the youth group or leading in worship. It does not allow us to be seen as fellow Christians who have gifts to strengthen and nourish the community.
My friends and I look forward to the day when we’re welcomed as normal Christians. We need grace because, like every other human, we often fail to be humble, patient, and generous. Like every other Christian, we sometimes slander someone made in the image of God when we want––good GOSH we want––to assume the best about them. We need grace because sometimes we fail to respond to hatred with love. In short: we fail in the way every other Christian fails, and those failures are entirely unrelated to our sexual orientation or gender identity.
A friend of mine summed it up well when he discussed the difficulties he and his husband faced in their search for a church: “We need a community that’s going to help us grow in love for God and one another. We need the same support everyone else needs in their marriage because we want to somehow, as selfish people, learn to put our spouse first. But we can’t find that kind of support because these churches are so stuck on the fact that we’re in a same-sex marriage. They’re so focused on the fact that we’re both men that they won’t walk with us as we seek to lay our lives down for one another. We are married. We’ve moved past that. The question is whether or not they’ll move past it and support us in our commitment, or leave us to go it alone.”