In the spring of 2007, as I was thumbing through the Bible my new girlfriend (now my partner) had recently given me, I decided to re-visit what the Bible says about “homosexual acts.” I did not at the time know the reference, but I knew that somewhere in Romans lay the verses most often used to justify the claim that LGBTQ people are outside of God’s grace. I had been out of the church and disconnected from any sort of spiritual community for the five years since graduating from college, where I had been reassured time and again that “unrepentant homosexuality” drew justified disdain from not only society, but from God. A “homosexual lifestyle,” I was told, negated any effects of grace, leaving one with only the silence of God.
Though these claims contradicted my own deep convictions that God’s grace and goodness still covered me, I was buried in a sense of self-loathing that came from years of living in a culture in which I felt torn between my own identity as a lesbian and my understanding that the Bible – that God – saw this identity as a perversion. I believed I could at some point reconcile my sexuality with my faith, but I did not believe it was possible to do so while also holding to an authentic reading of scripture: something would have to be fudged a bit in order to fit together.
It is a terrifying thing to go to scripture looking for evidence of one’s own condemnation, but that’s exactly what I was doing that day. As I flipped through the Bible I found, much to my surprise, that the book of Romans (and a bit of Acts, I recall) was missing completely. I chuckled as I searched back and forth in the New Testament, wondering if perhaps I had forgotten its location in the canon, then realizing that the misprinted book was a small sign of divine grace working in my life. I took the sign with a grateful heart, unaware of the journey I was beginning toward true understanding of the grace bestowed upon me as it is revealed in scripture.
When I began seminary a couple of years later, I carried some of that fear with me, combined with a sort of stubborn determination. Like Jacob wrestling the angel at Peniel, I was determined to wrestle with the Bible until it blessed me. As I began to study the scriptures, though, what I found instead was an abundance of blessing. Like the thousands of people in Mark 8, fed by seven loaves and a few small fish, I came to the Bible hungry; I ate, and was filled. Still to this day, whenever I dig into a text and begin to hear the voices of those speaking across time, and see their faces on the people with whom I interact every day, I am continually filled; and I am continually astounded by the abundance.
Coming to terms with my sexuality and my faith has brought a mixture of both tremendous pain and liberation. I have been told that my “lifestyle” would lead God to turn a deaf ear to me, that I would not be a suitable Sunday school teacher because of “obvious differences in interpretation of Scripture.” I have had former pastors tell me, unsolicited, that I am gay for a number of different reasons, from my experience as a middle child, to it being a call to live a life of singleness. These experiences have helped me to recognize the sting that comes from alienation from a faith community, and at times, the very shame of existence. However, I have also been cared for by people in the church who did not reduce me to an “issue,” but saw me as a child of God, and honored me as such. I have been nourished through the respect, challenge, and unconditional love embodied by those in my faith community. This tenacious love has revealed the grace of the gospels to me, and has empowered me to open my heart and mind in study, working through school so that I might in some way carry the message to those who are convinced they are not beloved by God.
Being part of a church community has taught me a lot about the power of sharing one’s story, and has helped me see the ways in which the things we’re feeling, but seldom allow ourselves to share, tie us together. Knowing that I am welcomed and truly loved has given me the space to acknowledge my fears, and to face them head-on. Had I not faced those fears, I don’t know that I ever would have experienced the blessings. I’ve been blessed to have people who assured me (and continue to assure me) that their love for me was not contingent on me being anyone other than me.
There is something profound in being given the space to acknowledge things like fear, or joy, or questions about the world and our place it in. It often seems that, despite the discomfort it may bring, it is only when we acknowledge our emptiness that we have the opportunity to experience fullness. In that vulnerable ( sometimes scary) space we are given strength for the journey, sustenance in the wilderness – abundance in a few loaves of bread and a couple of small fish.