“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
This is perhaps the most famous quote from the Bible. It is also probably the most quoted verse, the most mentioned in conversations about the Bible and Christianity, and the one that people are able to take the most comfort in – to come back to time and time again when needed. I certainly feel an affinity with this quote. Not because I’ll have eternal life, but because there is something so precious in that first part: God so loved the world.
Now, I happen to believe that there are two types of Christian in this world (of course I know that there are more, but bear with me): the Christian who believes in a vengeful God, and the Christian who believes in an all-loving God. I like to think of myself as the latter. This is, of course, an extreme polarisation and there are many grey areas and people in between. Ultimately, however, we do tend to classify God as either one or the other – as does the Bible.
I wouldn’t be a Christian, nor would I genuinely believe that God loves me, unless I had met the people I met when I started university. Not only did we have the most fantastic Chaplain (who, guess what, was gay), but I also for the first time found myself accepted by a group of people who loved me for who I was, knowing I was bisexual and oh, who all happened to be part of a Christian society. In fact, we used to joke that outside the LGBTQ* society, the university Chapel was the ‘gayest society of them all’ on campus.
My Christian circle of friends barely batted an eyelid when I came out to them. It wasn’t even on their radar. They too had been brought up in a Church society where people are accepted for who they are, regardless of their sexuality. They too had learned that Jesus loves everyone individually, regardless of faith, sex(uality), colour, creed. They knew that people were equal, and equally loved, in the eyes of God. My Chaplain would never have been ordained a priest was it not for liberal, like-minded others who believed in equality and love for each and every one of us. He would never have made it to the university Chapel as a priest and would never have shown us just how precious God’s love is to us if it wasn’t for people who were “okay with it”.
These people are lucky. They’re lucky that they’ve had the kind of upbringing where they’ve been taught that the gays are okay. They’re lucky that they’ve been taught to love each and every individual, just as Jesus does. Because I promise you, there are many who haven’t – and many who hate upon myself and others in the LGBTQ* sphere because of our sexuality. This hatred – this fear – from some Christians towards the LGBTQ* community is a genuine, deeply concerning issue. And it grows even more concerning as new generations are learning to hate and fear gays because they’re wrong and God wouldn’t like it.
I for one know that there are at least three churches here in Exeter that I wouldn’t be welcome in if they knew my sexuality. I would be subjected to fierce questioning and the usual Bible quote:
“For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.” (Romans 1:26-27)
Then I would probably be asked to leave. Or, failing that, I would probably be a nice target for conversion to their way to thinking. Luckily I’ve come to recognise the danger signs and I’m able to fairly quickly establish whether or not I’ll be chucked into the fiery pits of gay hell if I enter.
I’m sure you’ve all seen the stories of the Westboro Baptist Church and their anti-gay propaganda (God hates Fags? God hates stupid placards). I stress that this is a very extreme form of protest and I urge you not to judge the church by this. It is unfortunate that the most controversial and outrageous anti-gay Christians do get a lot of press and therefore I’m not surprised that people wonder why on earth I’d be a bisexual Christian.
Well, that was answered not long ago by an email I received from a friend of mine. I have known this person for three years, have spent two years going to Chapel with them and know that they lean towards the Anglo-Catholic end of the Anglican spectrum (for those of you not in the know, this is the so-called ‘High Church’: aka the more traditional Church). I had never once felt any homophobic vibes from him, so I was a little surprised when I got this email. But, as you’ll find out, it has a very positive ending. I have left a few bits out for personal reasons, but it reads as follows:
I had intended to say something along these lines to you at some point because I felt it was important (do not worry this is not going to be a critical message) however since I will not be seeing you for several months I thought I should say it via the medium of email.
When I came to Exeter I would quite probably fall into the category of what is dubbed homophobic in the literal sense I was frightened of homosexuality I am also ashamed to say that I also thought it a deeply sinful and depraved state of existence.
However having come to Exeter and meeting you in MethAng I have come to feel very differently, coming to know you better I have come to appreciate the genuine love, faith, devotion and kindness that you have shown I have come to realise that homosexuality does not make you a bad person, nor is it an absolutely sinful and shameful thing, I also have come to more fully appreciate just how genuine the love between gay people can be. Because of this I hope I have stopped stereotyping homosexuals and come to appreciate you all as holistic individuals for whom sexuality is not everything that you are but is also an important part of who you are.
I admit I still have a lot of things to consider theologically and I am not entirely certain as to where I will eventually stand on many questions (The curse of being an obsessively deep thinker). However I do know you have changed me enough that when I read articles about the Russian treatment of homosexuality and talk of banning the very discussion of it I feel sick to the core at such insensitivity and bigotry. Meeting you has made me a better, less bigoted person and I feel made me a far more genuine Christian than I was before, I also hope that in continuing to know you I will increasingly become a more compassionate and understanding individual and maybe one day if it is God’s will a good priest.
So really this is a simple thank you from a grateful friend who feels truly blessed to be able to call you a sister in Christ.”
I barely even feel the need to say it – but this – this email – is why I am a Christian, and a proud bisexual Christian at that. Because I have proved to myself that with the love of Jesus shining through me, I have been able to show someone that I am just the same as other people – not a bad bisexual person, but a loving, kind, generous and thoughtful person who considers her religion a major thing alongside her sexuality.
I am not ashamed to admit that I cried when I read this. I was so touched, so pleased and so surprised that I broke down and cried. I cried for all the non-heterosexual Christians who do not feel the love of Christ and their Church. I cried for all the persecuted Christians who live in secret because of their sexuality. As I cried, I prayed and I thanked God for the opportunity he had given me to turn someone’s views around. I prayed that He would let His love be known to all people, and for others to recognise and see past someone’s sexuality into their personalities and nature – to let them see the person – the Christian – within.
I can’t pretend that the Bible doesn’t say that homosexuality is a sin. It does – it is there in black and white. But what we have to remember – and what, particularly as a woman remember – is that the Bible was written in a time very different to the world we live in at the moment. Once again, it likely came down to a lack of understanding and a fear about something that was different, something out of the ordinary. The Bible was written by men – men who most likely had positions of power, particularly over women. It is a case of interpreting, rather than following. Of course, this does leave us open to all kinds of interpretation – good and bad. There will never be a decisive and definitive answer; there will never be a harmonious acceptance of the LGBTQ* sphere within Christianity. But we can try.
Here I have shown that there is hope for all gay Christians out there. There is hope, joy and love in the world that will eventually make people see us, and accept us, for who we are rather than judging us by our sexuality. There is a long way to go and undoubtedly the road will be fraught with questioning, fear, relief and confusion. So I carry on praying.
I keep praying for those who can’t be as open with their Church as I can be. I pray for the love of Christ to shine down upon us and to give people a nudge in the right direction. I pray for the universal, unending, all-encompassing love of Jesus Christ to light a light in our darkness, to show us the way and to give peace and hope to all LGBTQ* people within the Christian community across the world – for they are all our Brothers and Sisters in Christ.