Flashback. It is college.
I–a purity ring-wearing, worship service-attending, raise her hands to praise Christian girl–have my first ever barkada: a group of pious Catholic kids who go to confession every week and attend spiritual formation at a “Center.” Despite some niggling doctrinal differences, I truly believe I had found my tribe.
Three weeks later, I am dumped. Somehow, by being my borderline-manic, socially-awkward, embarrassingly earnest, consistently tactless self, I manage to offend/irritate every last one of them. In the words of the group’s de facto “leader,” I’d proven “…too much to handle.” As quickly as I thought I’d found a place to belong…I am alone again.
I’d spent ten years of my life alone. Having gone to a conservative Baptist-oriented school where I was one of the few kids from a broken family (anger issues included), I literally had zero friends from grade school and high school. While not really “bullied” in the conventional sense, I was definitely ostracized, seen for most of my time there as a “problem child” who either needed to shape up or get out. Starved for human kindness, I’d hoped college would be different: here, I could finally have a brand new start.
It appears I am wrong. This is high school all over again, five more lonely years of floating and feeling like I have to apologize for existing, that somehow my very presence offends. I spend three weeks dodging my ex-barkada–and my whole college block, who also have reasons to dislike me–and discovering every last corner where it is safe to cry.
In desperation, I turn to the Bible. I pray my way through Psalms–David is about as distraught in most of them as I am–beg God to not let me be so alone. I do this for probably a month, until one day, as I am moping on the couch in the lobby of our faculty building, a boy walks up to me with what is probably the best/worst icebreaker in human history: “You’re a Christian, right? So what do you think about Leviticus?”
(Yes, he means that part of Leviticus.)
After offending what feels like everyone else on campus, by some miracle, I do not offend him. This boy becomes one of my best friends in college, the person who picks me up and swings me around when I make it to the Dean’s List for the first time. Who listens to my first (horrible) attempts at writing songs. Who calls my mother on my eighteenth birthday to tell her he’s buying me my first drink (a tequila rose; I discover I do not like alcohol).
After ten years of being a label, this is the first person who sees me as a human being.
He is gay, and at the time he was an atheist.
Before I became a Christian, I understood judgment better than I understood grace. Raised, as I mentioned, in an uber-conservative school environment, I grasped very little of homosexuality beyond the fact that “it was bad:” the sort of shallow theology that, if allowed to grow, leads to justifications of cruelty and violence, to concentration camps and mass shootings. Back then, befriending a gay atheist would have been unthinkable. It is easy–so easy–after all, to demonize a label.
But then, that label saved my life.
Yesterday was, I am told, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOT). A few weeks ago, in celebration of it, I was tagged in a challenge to rock rainbow-colored lips as a symbol of protest against violence perpetrated against members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
I could not take that photo, because I am not an ally, because as a Christian my stand is that homosexuality is a sin, and I cannot celebrate it. But, as a Christian, this is what I know: we are all sinners here. Jesus died for us all. And in that death, he marks us all as being of equal value.
The dead in Orlando. The tortured in Chechnya. The shunned in Manila. All of them are worth the death of God himself. The blood of Christ is the price of every single one of these lives we dismiss as “abominations” in the name of “religiosity” or just plain prejudice. I can’t be called an ally, but I am a Christian, and that means I try to follow what Christ has to say. And did he not say this, that “…whatever you do to the least of my brothers, so you also do to me”?
This is my stand, then, that whatever is done to a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, it is also done to me. Their lives are just as precious as mine, and honestly—if I think about the things I’ve done–maybe even more so. I may not paint my lips rainbow, or fly a Pride flag, or march in the Parade, but you will not find me picketing on the sidelines, screaming hate and judgment. You will not find me cheering in approval as my brothers and sisters are thrown into camps or shot in nightclubs or beaten in the streets for sins none of us have any right to pass judgment on. Sins that all of us are guilty of.
Once upon a time, God answered my prayers: he sent me a friend, and that friend taught me grace. Despite differing beliefs, and–as we would later discover–wildly different yet equally intense personalities, he treated me with kindness. In the face of inevitable arguments, and myriad opportunities to cause each other offense, he treated me with dignity and respect.
When no one else did, he offered me outstretched arms, and for the first time I was not alone.
I have no idea why we’re still saying this in 2017, but gay people are people. And God loves people, even as he hates their sins. If I raise a fist, or a voice in judgment, I do not do it in the name of my God, because the God I serve did not come with fists. He did not come with violence. He came with an offering of himself, a baptism in blood that was for everyone, regardless of who they were.
He came with outstretched arms.
To be honest, my relationship with the gay community is a complicated one: many of my friends identify as LGBT, or else have loved ones who do. I understand how my Christianity–with the beliefs that entails–can often feel like an attack, like an angry mob with stones in their hands ready for throwing. “Hate the sin and love the sinner,” has been so often misused it’s been reduced to a meaningless cliché, so much so I still struggle to articulate exactly what I mean when I say it. I cannot offer easy explanations reconciling what seems to be an inherently bigoted worldview with a promise of love and respect.
What I can offer, though, is this: Compassion instead of condemnation. Kindness instead of discrimination.
Whatever happens, my hands will always be free of stones.
A/N: Because I know a bunch of people are going to ask: No, I do not support conversion “therapy.”