My roommate met a woman. At first, I was ecstatic for him. He had been holding out for a while and she sounded like a great person. Their relationship quickly blossomed. Which was fine, until he decided to move down to Texas and marry her. That didn't really bother me. I just hated the fact my best friend was moving away and I was losing his half of the mortgage. Being recently divorced and having kept the house (and most of the debt), I relied on his rent to pay the bills. Having no potential roommates in mind, I turned to Craigslist and posted an ad with all the necessary information. Something along the lines of "Single Christian male, looking for a roommate. Must be clean!" Emphasis on "Must be clean!"
As you might assume, I got some interesting responses to the ad. One guy was willing to pay a hefty price for a place to meet his mistress. Quickly, I decided any amount of money was not worth getting in the middle of that situation. Then I got an email from a medical student that just moved here from California. I got in touch with him and set up a time to meet and show the house. During the tour he let me know that since moving here a month ago he had met a girl and the two of them just got engaged. A little fast for my taste, but that wasn't really any of my concern. At least, not until he dropped the bomb that she had a newborn and they would both be living with him in the spare room, along with their dog. Seeing as how a roommate had just turned into an entire family, I decided to keep looking. I received several more emails--a 65 year old truck driver, a self-admitted drug user, a lesbian couple, and an ex-con--none of which panned out.
Just as I was ready to give up, there in my inbox was a very promising response. The body of the email stated that he was a recent college graduate looking to move to Sioux Falls because of an internship he had just accepted. He was looking for a place to live for the next three or four months; possibly more if they offered him the job after the internship ended. We struck up a conversation via email. Eventually, he made the trip to Sioux Falls, with his father, to look at possible rentals.
After meeting him, I decided to take a chance and extend an offer. "Before I can accept" he said, "I need to let you know that I'm gay. If that changes things, I totally understand!"
As an Evangelical, how do you respond to that? Lay hands on him and cast out his "demon of homosexuality?" Push him out the door, informing him he's going to hell? Condemn him by quoting scripture, hoping it will convert him to heterosexuality? Tell him you'll "think about it," then politely revoke the invitation? Considering most of my beliefs on homosexuality were rooted in what the church taught me, any one of these could have been my initial response. And to be totally honest, the last response had crossed my mind. But for whatever reason my mouth said the exact opposite. The words that came across my lips were "That's not a problem at all." And just a few weeks later he moved in.
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit skeptical of the whole situation at first. I thought it was going to be awkward--which is actually an understatement. But I think most of that was due to the fact that, as an Evangelical, I was taught to have a great disdain for homosexuality. One (I now see) rooted less in the fact that Scripture addresses it and more in the reality it was something I knew very little (if anything) about. They were different, so I avoided them and used scripture as my scapegoat. Believing the lies that I needed to separate myself from the chaff. To be in the world, not of it. To shine my light in the darkness. In other words, my biases were ill-conceived and based on complete ignorance.
Which is why I had decided to simply write them off. Up until that point, I had never taken then time to get to know a single person that identified with the LGBT population. I mean, I knew people that were gay. Celebrities. That guy that works at the coffee shop. Facebook friends. But it's not like I really knew any of them. I never spent time with them. I never talked to them. They weren't really my friends. Maybe acquaintances at best. But now, I was living with one of "them." I had no choice but to get to know them--to get to know him.
Living in the same house meant I would actually have to interact with him on a regular basis. We watched television. We talked. We shared meals. Over time, I noticed my guard began to dissipate. Eventually our conversations became less superficial. We transitioned from talking about the weather and work to things more significant. More real. We talked about our struggles. Our hopes. Our dreams. He wanted to know about my divorce. I asked about his family. He inquired how my dates went. I was inquisitive about his job. We talked about my involvement with the church--he was legitimately interested in my career path and even encouraged me to apply for church jobs. And for the first time in my life, I realized they aren't so different from us. They are people. Flesh and blood. Marrow and muscle. Created in the image of God. Just like you and me.
Needless to say, all of this set me on a course that would drastically alter my worldview. For starters, this new found friendship meant I had to dismiss all the labels Evangelicalism had fed me about homosexuality. He wasn't a pedophile. He didn't have a disease. Neither was he promiscuous or perverse. Getting to know him also lead me to the realization that it's not a choice. At least, not any more than who a heterosexual is or isn't attracted--it's all much more complicated than that.
Although many of my perceptions changed, there was still one nagging question that remained. One belief so deeply ingrained, due to the teaching of the church--that homosexuality is an abomination like nothing else. I still had my doubts if it was possible to be LGBT and truly love God. Not too long after he moved in, I found the answer. Which requires another story.
I had volunteered to be a site leader for our church's annual Dollar Car Wash. Out of all the days we scheduled this service project, it had to be the one day in months where the forecast wasn't sunny with clear skies. Depending on which weatherman you listened to, they were predicting a light drizzle to a heavy rain. Obviously, this doesn't bode well for a car wash. But weathermen have been known to be wrong on occasion, so I headed over to the bank parking lot to get everything set up. About an hour before we were supposed to start washing cars, a church-wide email was sent postponing the car wash for another day. Being a good leader, I decided to stay put for the next hour on the off chance some of the volunteers showed up anyway.
Sure enough, a few people arrived and I let them know our service project had been postponed for another day. Just as I figured it was safe to leave, one last individual showed up. I got out of my car, walked half way across the parking lot, where he struck up a conversation in the light drizzle that had started. For whatever reason, his heart was burdened to share something with me. Not knowing how I would react, he spent the next twenty or thirty minutes recounting his past, sharing with me his deepest, darkest secret--that he was a celibate homosexual.
This is someone I had called friend for years. A friend with whom I have attended two different churches. A friend I sat next to during Bible Study. A friend I had served with in various ministry positions. Although we were friends, he felt a need to keep this from me. Not because he wanted to; but because he had to due to the nature of our Evangelical beliefs. All things considered, I understand why. This one thing had the potential to create a chasm between him and the faith community he had grown to love.
If you were to take the time to actually get to know this man you would see that he loves God with all his heart. He has established a website dedicated to reaching those the church has cast out. He bares his soul and shares his own story. His fears. His struggles. His insight. All in hopes that it would save even one person from taking their own life. He wants to instill the value that the church has tried to take away from them. And to relay the truth that this gracious God actually loves them. The love this man has for his neighbor--who happens to be the LGBT population--is undeniable.
And if you claim to follow Jesus, it just so happens they are your neighbor too. At least that's what he tells us in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Here Jesus imparts a message, it seems to me, we have missed entirely. Rather than accepting the harder truth of who our neighbor really is, we have made the point of this story about how to treat someone in need. In one teachable moment, Jesus declares to this teacher of religious law that his neighbor, is in fact, the Samaritan--the man he so despises that he can't even bare repeat his name. (Which is why he doesn't refer to him as the Samaritan, but "The one who had mercy on him.) Even today, Jesus' parable challenges our preconceived notions of who is deserving of grace. Of who is worthy of love. Of who we are called to participate with in life and faith. In this parable is the stark warning that to justify ourselves, to ignore our own prejudices, and to exclude those we find "religiously inferior," is to disassociate ourselves with what God is doing here on earth--making his kingdom come.
So, in this friend, I found the answer.Yes! You can identify as a LGBT individual and love God.