A Call for Conversation From a Gay Christian: To My LGBT Community

There is hesitancy in writing a letter calling for conversation among Christians and LGBT people. I feel vulnerability in coming out in a forum like this. I am a Christian. I am gay. I have feared if I were honest with those close to me, I would no longer be welcomed as a friend. If you do not identify as either a Christian or someone who is LGBT, perhaps my words will have little meaning. If you are a Christian and/or LGBT, then my words are meant for you. We have seen countless articles lately about values, equal rights, love, hate, free speech, violence and chicken sandwiches. The last thing I want to do is fuel all the rhetoric. However, sometimes being quiet is being a coward. Whatever side of the issue you are on, I am stuck in the middle.

This is why I decided to pen two open letters to the two communities where my identity lies. I'm calling for more conversation because both of these identities make me who I am. You can see my letter to my fellow Christians here.

Dear LGBT Friends,

There are many LGBT people of history who never would have dreamed about the acceptance and understanding that we now appreciate. I can take very little credit for lending much aide to the effort. For too many years I thought more of what other people thought of me then what I thought of myself. I also thought wrongly of how God's love works and what it meant for me as a gay man. It took years to appreciate the enormity of God's acceptance and compassion for me. I am a Christian because I know a very different God than who the gay community has often been shown.

I understand some of the pain many of you have felt from Christians. As a Christian, I apologize. While I was reared by a loving family and was always happy to go to church, I have had my share of hurtful comments from ''loving Christians.'' My faith has quivered at times. Seeing God as love does not resonate with our experience with some Christians. We all have equality in God's love and acceptance. But sadly, that is not what we have been shown by some Christians. Again, I am sorry.

We would do well, however, to understand that many people base their opinions on homosexuality and same gender relationships on what they have been taught for most of their lives. Their feelings go deep and have been nurtured by people who they have respected and loved: parents, pastors, grandparents, Sunday school teachers and counselors. We are now asking them to accept something that disagrees with those messages; that is not easy. I understand. I had my own struggles with it for years. This is threatening stuff to good people who are trying to be faithful -- not hateful.

Understandings can change. I have seen change. But they won't change if we do not govern how we share our message. Using shock tactics and rude behavior or meeting misunderstandings with misunderstandings rarely works. Respective engagement can.

We should appreciate some of the wonderful things some Christians are doing right now. I support Trinity Place, a shelter in New York City operated by Trinity Lutheran Church for LGBT kids who have been kicked out on the streets. They don't care that these abandoned children are LGBT. They do care that these kids need food, showers, a safe place to sleep off the streets and chance to get an education and find good work. I wish you could meet many of my (straight) pastor friends, David, Eric, Mark, Elise and Jason. They would welcome you like they welcomed me.

When you think of ''conservatism'' you may think of my home state, Iowa. Realize also that Iowa is a place where family now has a much larger definition. I know many "conservative" people there who embrace all people. If you still need to be convinced of Christians making a difference, meet Pastor Jason from Sacramento, Calif. Ask him how passing out water to some of us at a Pride Parade results now in his life being threatened by gay-haters. He now owns a bullet-proof vest. He is not afraid to call us friends. Many Christians take risks to ensure our equality. Let's make friends with these allies and ask them about their faith that goes deep.

If we encounter rejection from some Christians, know that it is not rejection from God. Do not offer rejection for rejection. Avoid serotypes. Start with communication. We have more to offer our country than demonstrations and colorful parades. We too have values. We know that. Let us never compromise anyone else's rights in pursuit of our own. Let's be authentic, and peacefully communicate our story. No matter what the risk. I just did.

Thank you for hearing me out.

Richmond L. Schmidt