It was the suicide rate that stopped my theology dead in its tracks. While only 4.6 percent of the total U.S. population attempts suicide, 30-40 percent of LGBTQ people attempt suicide. I wasn’t sure what I thought about homosexuality, but I knew that this statistic grieved God.
I heard these numbers on my way to school. My car mate, who had become my best friend, is the faculty advisor of the Gay-Straight Alliance and the only “out” faculty member at the high school we worked at. I was shocked and saddened, and I wondered what could change that statistic. I wanted to know what could be done.
As someone who had spent most of her life in a conservative Christian culture, there was a lot I didn’t know. There were a lot of things I “knew” that turned out to be wrong. I had heard, in church even, that homosexuality always arose out of a place of brokenness, from abuse or estrangement of a parent. I heard that homosexual partnerships were dysfunctional and almost never monogamous. I had heard that gay marriages didn’t count and certainly weren’t honored by God.
But then, through an awful commute and an honest friendship, I watched first hand a marriage I respected. These two women seemed happy, and healthy and whole. Where was the obvious dysfunction? Where was the lack of sacredness? I couldn’t find it. I sometimes envied their relationship. A friend from college -- my husband and I had been so sad at his coming out -- got married and was so obviously better off for it. We prayed long and hard about whether or not to even attend the reception, and I am so grateful that we went. Our friend’s new husband was everything we had hoped for in a partner for him -- supportive, kind, totally in love with our friend. It was kind of hard to care that our friend didn’t marry a woman.
In my church, where there were no gay people, I was being told that homosexual relationships were “not God’s best.” In my life, I was witnessing happy and fulfilled gay friends whose marriages were enviable. These relationships didn’t look second rate to mine. They looked awesome.
I decided I didn’t know what I thought. For at least a year, if someone would have asked me about my stance on homosexuality, I would have said, “I don’t know. It seems like it would be really hard to navigate, and I am not experiencing it, so I don’t know.”
Even moving that far off the base of belief about sexuality felt scary. When you are entrenched in an “us versus them” view and you think about switching sides, you wonder who you even are if you aren’t an “us” anymore.
I had always heard that the gay-affirming christians were just bending to cultural pressure. Ironically, I was desperately afraid of the church culture that told me that if I ‘switched sides’ that I would become a “them” -- a “that kind of christian.” Maybe that kind of christian still loved Jesus, but a gay-affirming christian was kind of a sell-out. I didn’t want to be a them. I didn’t want to be a sell-out. I didn’t want to lose my tribe.
And I worried about what the “thems” would think, too. Was it too late? How do you tell the person that has already become your best friend that you once did not affirm her relationship, but now you do? How do you explain to the best man at your wedding that even being invited to his wedding caused a bit of a crisis of faith? What if you are too late? What if you switch from an us to a them and they don’t want you? What if you aren’t an us or a them and you are left with no tribe?
Through all of the wrestling, the praying, the crying, the searching, the praying, the reading, reading, reading, I could not get the suicide statistic out of my head. I did find strong theological thinking for a gay affirming christian stance, but that is not what moved my heart. 40 percent, 40 percent of my LGBTQ friends and students would, or had, attempted suicide. I knew in my heart this desperately grieved God.
My LGBTQ friends were telling me that my theology was part of the problem. While I didn’t endorse the hate speech of the Westboro Baptist Church, I was essentially telling people (but only if they asked outright) that there was something “less-than” in the way they were built.
I could not tell you exactly where, or how, but I believe that my switch in theology, my belief that God affirms gay relationships, is mostly a work of the Holy Spirit. I kept that quiet for at least a year also. I wasn’t sure who would have me, and I am a girl who needs a tribe.
I was late to the party, but I was received in love. This is what I learned from my LGBTQ friends: God honors repentance. If God is asking you to change your mind, if the Holy Spirit is moving your heart, God will not abandon you.
Maybe you have come to a crossroads as well? Maybe the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando has left you shaken and reeling. Maybe you are listening to your LGBTQ friends and family who are saying that the theology you believed to be loving is actually killing them. Maybe you are feeling your own stirring, but like me, you are afraid. You are afraid it is too late, and you are afraid you will not be accepted in either camp.
I just want to let you know that God honors repentance. That the people who have been pushed out of the church, rejected because of who they are and what they think, are not interested in doing that to other people. The journey from one theology to another can be scary, and it often doesn’t follow our timing, or even a straight line. If you are feeling something stirring, I pray that you would honor that stir.
If you are feeling shook awake by the Orlando shooting, I want you to know, it is okay to change your mind.