O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith


Letters: Desperate to Belong

posted by Jason Boyett

My friend, Steve, sent this to me yesterday about his experience as a gay man growing up in the church. He lives in Berkeley, California.

Like Chad’s account on Monday, it’s worth reading:

—————-

When you’re desperate to fit in, you’ll do just about anything. You change your hairstyle, go
to the gym five days a week and collect music because you think others might like it. You laugh
at things that aren’t funny, you take up hobbies that are boring as hell and you hang out with
people you think are creeps. You embellish stories, tell lies and pretend interest when you have
none at all.

You memorize loads of Scripture, get up at 6:00 in the morning for two different “accountability
groups” and attend church any time the doors are open. You get baptized three times, go
forward to rededicate your life six and keep track of how many you’ve “saved.” You learn how
to pray out loud with just the right sprinkling of spiritual words like “amazing”, “great” and
especially “just.”

You swear you believe things you don’t, you try to sound sure when you’re not and you learn
how to BS so well that often you can’t keep your own stories…um…straight. Doubting
can’t be part of your repertoire — unless of course, that cute new guy is a doubter, too. “Lord,
please have him be doubting about the same things I am.”

You change how you walk, or how you move your wrists when you talk, or act like you want
to make it with every hot girl so that no one guesses you’re secretly a hell-bound f—-t. It’s
enough that you know it. God forbid that anyone else should find out the dark, dirty secret that
you’re attracted to boys more than girls.

Sometimes you slip and one of your friends catches you looking at him longingly, which always
requires damage control by acting a little more manly or making a joke about some kid in
school who acts really gay. You ache to tell someone the truth and be open about what you
feel. But you’ve learned the church is not the place for that kind of honesty.

Your prayers seem to fall on deaf ears. You decide that either God isn’t there, doesn’t care or
is ignoring your pleas. The proof is in how heartlessly exclusive and cold Christians are toward
others like you. You hear “love the sinner, hate the sin,” and “the Bible calls it an abomination”
– which quickly translates into “there’s no place for you here.” Stories in the news about young
people taking their lives are often met with stabbing comments like “maybe they’re better off”
or “their parents must not have been paying attention.”

So you leave and your gut wrenches because you want to believe in a Jesus who cares about
those like you who don’t belong and who don’t fit in. Following Jesus and loving like He loved
makes such sense. That kind of compassion saves a place for me at the table.

But why is it
that believers often behave so differently? If you’re listening, Church, answer me. Why are
Christianity and following Jesus often two very different things?

—————-

How do we answer struggling believers like Steve?



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Jason Boyett

posted October 13, 2010 at 11:07 am


My apologies to those of you who tried to comment earlier in response to Steve. Something wasn’t working, but it appears to have been repaired. Thanks for your patience.



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Ray Hollenbach

posted October 13, 2010 at 11:07 am


Hi Steve:
I wouldn’t pretend to have all the answers. The only thing I have to offer has nothing to do with your sexual identity and everything to do with how you live your life.
My sense of your letter is you are dealing with two separate questions.
The first is the burning desire within each of us to feel like we belong. Some people are driven by that desire all their life and never find rest. There is always another circle within the circle. There is always the thirst to be accepted. And you’re right–those who are desperate to fit in will do anything, because desperate people are desperate. The most centered people I know–gay, straight, or bi–have had to tame the Beast of Belonging. It’s a life lesson you face, regardless of your orientation.
Second, you have a right to be disappointed with this crowd, who talk one game but play another. But they are not the “Church” with a capital C. The Church is big place, filled with charlatans and saints; it’s a city with many neighborhoods. There is no shortage of people who profess noble ideas but inwardly are ravenous wolves. It’s true in religion, politics, business, and . . . well, it’s just true. And yet your life experiences are few. It’s a big world, and behind it is an even bigger Kingdom. I can assure you the real thing is out there because there are no counterfeits if there is no genuine.
Jesus will not define you exclusively by your sexuality. Instead, he will bring the Kingdom of God, a society that cuts across every man-made idea: yours and mine. He will love you and challenge you. He has the true vision of who you are, and he sees more clearly that you do (or I do).
Come have dinner with me if you make it to Kentucky. I’d love to hear your full story. You can be yourself.



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Danny Bixby

posted October 13, 2010 at 11:11 am


I’ve been struggling to think of an answer for the past hour since I read this post…
Here’s the best I have:
I’m sorry. People are dicks. I hope I wasn’t one of them. Jesus does care about you and those like you. Even if (or especially if!) his followers seem not to. Let’s go get lunch, I know a great mexican place.



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mouseytalons

posted October 13, 2010 at 12:01 pm


Hi Steve,
I am not christian, I am pagan. I was raised in the christian church. I left the christian church for much the same reasons you describe in your story. I am bisexual, and felt I had to lie, hide, and act what was “acceptable” in their eyes. For me, being bi, I believe may have been slightly easier than for you, as I was able to act as though women were “just friends.”
I am sorry we had to go through this. I feel especially bad for you. I can only offer this: Worry about who you truly are, don’t worry about what others think. G-D (who or whatever that is to you) does not care what name you call him/her, as long as you are true to your beliefs.
I don’t remember exact book, chapter, and verse, but here goes:
“I will be known by many names” The Bible.
I hope this helps.
Blessings.



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Ryan Medrano

posted October 13, 2010 at 1:26 pm


Being a Christian means being a follower of Christ. When I look at his life I never see him getting the disciples together and saying, “okay first thing we do is end all this homesexual stuff, then we are going to create a democracy, next we are going to put to death anyone who worships things like money or work, and in six months time, we are going to rid ourselves of the designated hitter. What I do see is a Jesus full of love and compassion and open arms to all (even fans of the American league). His miracles weren’t directed to a specific type of person, he healed based on faith, he changed the lives of those who believed. That is the Jesus I know and the Man I want to be. I want to get close to people of other religions, I want to listen and pray for sinners, I want to do the things Jesus did, because if we truly believed God’s promise and the great commission, how can we make disciples when we push people away? How does that make any sense at all. “God so loved the World” as far as I’m concerned “the World” is EVERYONE!



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Eric Reitan

posted October 13, 2010 at 2:43 pm


You ask why Christianity and followers of Jesus are often two very different things. Two answers come to mind.
First, human beings have a powerful tendency to fall into in-group/out-group thinking. Jesus resisted such thinking, preaching and living an ethic that reaches past traditional sectarian and ethnic divides. But it’s not surprising that a human community formed around Jesus would fall back into such thinking: WE are special, because WE belong to THIS group RATHER than THAT group. Such thinking requires an out-group that WE can feel superior to–and in conservative Christianity, sexual minorities are a favored out-group.
If you ever wonder why so many Christians pay more attention to homosexuality than to neglecting the poor (even though Jesus never said a word about the former but repeatedly denounced the latter), it’s for the simple reason that most Christians aren’t gay (because most people aren’t), and so not pursuing homosexual sex requires no effort. And so being “good” becomes effortless. All it requires is marginalizing others. Showing proper care for the poor, by contrast, may require that we do very hard things, like giving up our luxuries.
The second reason why I think so many Christians don’t seem to be followers of Jesus is because they have conflated following Jesus with strict allegiance to a doctrine of biblical inerrancy. The poisonous results of such misplaced allegiance is something I talk about in an article in today’s Religion Dispatches (“Gay Suicide and an Ethic of Love”), so I won’t repeat it here.
Insofar as the Christian Church in its essence is meant to be the community of Jesus-followers, both of these things constitute a distortion–either a case of failing to follow the path of audaciously inclusive love that Jesus forged; or a case of following a collection of writings, some of which testify to Jesus, rather than Jesus Himself. But there are those within the Church that struggle against both kinds of distortion and the real harms that they do. To be a follower of Jesus, I think, means being part of that struggle.



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Eric Reitan

posted October 13, 2010 at 2:47 pm


And I should add that sharing your experience, your sense of marginalization and your experience of how the church so often pushes gays and lesbians into lives of pretense and inautheniticity, is a crucial part of that struggle.



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Matrix

posted October 13, 2010 at 3:09 pm


Thought-provoking and so true…



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Melinda

posted October 13, 2010 at 9:28 pm


It’s a question I wonder frequently…
I’m in the middle of this great book I got the other day– Washed and Waiting. It’s by some kid in his twenties, and he just invites people into his story. One may or may not agree with how God has asked him to live as a gay Christian man, but hearing his story has been moving and convicting and beautiful.
Just saying… there are some of us that aren’t content in letting the church be so unlike her Christ…



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andrew franklin

posted October 14, 2010 at 10:22 am


Man, Steve, you really dislike all people don’t you? ; )
Lets throw a baseball around and talk about starting a small committed group of radical Christ followers, and pray we begin to look like this Galilean a bit more, and pray it starts to spread like wildfire in the Santa Barbara mountains after a long drought and on a hot, windy day.



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Dave C.

posted October 14, 2010 at 3:20 pm


We are this way because we are human, and often forget that we are not God. Steve’s story reminds makes me sad, but it gives me hope too. Growth is slow, but it’s there.



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~steveT

posted October 15, 2010 at 1:34 am


Ray~
interesting and thoughtful responses. starting at the top. thanks for your reasoned and caring thoughts. your words mean much. i’m not certain i agree with everything you shared, but isn’t that the beauty of this exchange? it’s actually NOT about us having to mirror each other’s beliefs, but making certain that as we reach out to each other, we are loving, supportive and full of grace….just like Someone else is toward us.
i can’t help but wonder if we are dealing, even with our hypocrisy, The Church with a capital “C”. we are a group of broken, often misguided people who, all too often, behave as if we are the only ones with an inside track on the answers. everyone else be damned.
my dilemma, however with this is…..didn’t Jesus pray to the Father something to the effect that we should become one, just as He and the Father were one? we aren’t. and unless i want to pretend, we aren’t getting closer to it after 2,000 years. therein lies part of my disappointment…the other is the growing amount of bad religion that seems to form up around Jesus which distracts and blocks others from finding out what He really taught and how He actually lived. so many seem to discard Him because of how we behave.
i ache for His kingdom the way you describe it. that’s a part of His “Lord’s prayer” that my gut twists over almost daily….”your kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Man! The Son of God prayed those words to His Father and still to this day, it seems unanswered at times. that may sound like sacrilege and i certainly don’t mean it that way. it just gets awfully confusing at times.
finally, i agree with you that people can feel like outsiders for a lot of different reasons, but i know being authentic and gay as a young person in the church was not an option. period. a lot of my feelings of being excluded directly ties to the fact that 1) i was different than most in being attracted to guys and 2) the very place my soul says i should feel safe and welcome — in the arms of those that call themselves followers of the Ultimate Includer — was the home of champions of not just excluding but condemning me. ouch! and sadly, shame on His Bride.
i love Her. though She’s often excluded me. i care deeply for Her. though sometimes She embarrasses me. i know that Jesus gave His all to save Her. though sometimes she really pi***s me off. but it’s time that those of us who choose to follow Him, speak up and tell her strongly and compassionately to start behaving like someone whom He plans to make Queen of His kingdom.
and it’s time that those who have been marginalized, be brought into the banquet, lest she look like that older brother in the prodigal story whose heart looks nothing like the Father’s.
thanks again….if i’m ever in kentucky, i’ll look you up. i promise.
~steveT



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Rob Hansen

posted October 18, 2010 at 2:24 am


I read some Luther last year; one short bit stuck with me and seems applicable here.
“The church is a whore, but she is still my mother”
I notice that I tend to focus on Christ’s personal, individual love for each of his fallen brothers, but how much more is the love of the groom for his bride? I am reminded of Hosea who’s very life mirrored God’s love for Israel and prophesied Christ’s love for the ever-wayward Church. There’s also a song by Pedro the Lion, “Of Minor Prophets and their Prostitute Wives” that causes my heart to resonate with Hosea’s story if anyone happens to know it.
The point is that people haven’t changed much since before Christ came. I thought about it today and realized that I, like the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, Chinese, Americans, everyone, enjoy religion. I also recognize that religion has very little to do with eternal life or the Kingdom. We all still need religion–I think it’s like a pointer to God that, for whatever reason, remains even after finding Him. Human kind, in its broken state, sees its need for God and goes beyond acquisition to creation, constructing elaborate schemes to lift themselves up or pull him down. The truth that is so hard to accept is that we can do neither, but must allow Him to bring us up. Thus, thousands of years after Christ, even more thousands after Abraham, we are still relying on our religion rather than God’s provision. Don’t misunderstand: God has given us our religion–he created us to desire it and there is good in it–but we are at all times capable of the basest perversion of any good thing.
Where was I going with this?
Ah, yes. The church has a strange sort of progress, that is: she can make advances in the Kingdom by bringing souls to God through Christ, she can spread joy, ease suffering, free slaves, stand up for the oppressed, and comfort the broken, but she cannot live up to her own ideas of a good bride. Christ’s love for her will still abound and He will be a persistent encourager and source of strength, but she will continue to damage herself and everyone she comes in contact with as her focus strays to anything but her bridegroom. She will not improve with time–only upon Christ’s return and Redemption of this world will all the pain she’s caused be wiped away. We, the church, of course should be working on embracing the marginalized, but we need to realize that it is not something we can do as a simple task. We need to allow Christ to change us, both individually and as a collective body of faithful. That’s all I’m getting at. That’s all I’m trying to say.



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~steveT

posted October 19, 2010 at 3:17 am


danny~
thanks for jumping in and sharing your heart. i believe you’re right. Jesus care about me. and i think you also may be onto something — maybe He does care “especially” about those that are often left on the side.
the most amazing joy we can experience, i think, is when we let the grace He gives us so freely, sink in and then extend through us, to those who often aren’t recognized by those “on the inside”. it’s almost like He makes Himself the most real to us when we allow Him to change our hearts so much that we start loving without even consciously doing so.
there are real risks in following Jesus. but the rewards He both promises and gives are pretty darn remarkable.
i sense you’re a guy that’s doing that. let me know when you’re available. great mexican food is one of my favs.
~steveT



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~steveT

posted October 19, 2010 at 3:37 am


mouseyt~
not to one up you, but, i think i’m a christian AND a pagan….and i’ve behaved in the extremes of both at different times in my life, both good and bad. my heart goes out to you as well, my friend. mostly because i can only guess how alone you must feel at times.
with all the difficulty i’ve had in reconciling with christians, Jesus has more recently taken on a deeper, more intimate role in my life as i focus on who He was/is and what He did/does. though i’ve often felt lonely, in truth, i’m more convinced now, than ever, that He’s stayed closer than I could ever imagine.
i believe, similarly to you, that one of the greatest gifts we can be given is being comfortable in our own skin. so few people truly seem to be — but when i bump into them, it’s like this breath of fresh air blows in and i’m drawn to them like a moth to a flame.
thanks for your encouragement. if you ever get the chance, check out brian mcknight’s song “Not Alone”. i think it speaks to guys like you and me really well.
~steveT



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~steveT

posted October 21, 2010 at 6:21 pm


ryan~
continuing on here…..i appreciate your comments. i think Jesus did love people (except for maybe those who support the designated hitter rule) and offer Himself virtually unconditionally and indiscriminately to everyone around Him. and like you suggest, i’m pretty certain He calls us to do the same.
i’m nearly convinced, however, that human nature draws us away from being that accepting. we tend to be drawn to those who see the world the world the way we see it while He asks us to not only think, but behave outside the box. that’s why it’s so important to dive deep into this living relationship with Him that He offers. it’s the only way our heart becomes more like His heart.
another thing you’ve got me mulling over….did He only do miracles such as healing based on faith? it feels to me that sometimes He gave much more than the apparent faith at hand. and He’s certainly done some healing in my life when I was in the pit of my unbelief. it’s just an interesting thing to think about.
thanks again for jumping in here…
~steveT



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~steveT

posted October 26, 2010 at 12:58 am


ahhh, eric~
your insightful and reasonable comments truly blow me away. you’ve given me some fresh and actually hopeful thoughts regarding how i might have greater compassion and be less quick to judge my brothers and sisters that resist “hearing” regarding this homosexual issue.
as you can imagine, i struggle with feeling the need to speak up and lend a hand to some bridge building and being angry and critical of those that claim the name of Jesus but behave so unlike Him. i’m fully aware that it does no good lash out, though Lord knows it’s what i feel like doing so often.
your perspectives on effortless righteousness are profound for me. i see how often i’m tempted to gravitate in that direction. it’s a way of bringing home the truth of story of the rich, young ruler. it also helps me to realize the importance of not shrinking away from being authentic and speaking the truth in love as opportunity presents itself.
i will move next to read your suggested “Gay Suicide…” piece. the point you make in this paragraph is one of the biggest wrestling matches i experience on nearly a daily basis. i’ve come to realize that it’s very likely the pharisees were actually some of the most devout, sincere and well-meaning people in the Jewish culture. but also see how frightened they were at the concept of having an authentic relationship with a living God. it was much easier for them (as it is for us now), to adhere to a book (and of course, their interpretation of it). it seems to be human nature doesn’t it?
your willingness to go here with me on this, i find remarkable.
most of all….thanks for speaking to the heart of my sharing. it means much that you responded to what my soul truly aches about in this regard. thank you.
~steveT



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~steveT

posted October 26, 2010 at 1:07 am


melinda~
thanks for the heads up regarding the book “washed and waiting”. i look forward to reading it. and thanks for the encouragement as well. i hear how deep in the heart from which it comes.
~steveT



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steveT

posted October 28, 2010 at 3:54 pm


andrew f~
glove and ball…ready and waiting…..i just stumbled across a new book that we might want to read together “The Barbarian Way” by Erwin McManus. this is how the wildfire you speak of might be spread.
i ache to pull together a few of these guys who speak my heart and set this world aflame. i truly do.
~steveT



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steveT

posted October 29, 2010 at 12:54 pm


rob hansen~
it really does appear that people haven’t changed much in 2,000 years. and i agree that The Church is made up of a lot of damaged broken people like you and me, but….am I wrong to wonder why She hasn’t shaped up just a little?
with all the struggle i have with Her, there’s no question that, here and there She has done some magnificent things through the centuries. it’s so easy to pile on a “whore” as you and Luther so delicately describe her. Lord knows how often i’m caught with stones in my hands ready to throw. i hate it when i catch myself doing so.
but I continue to stumble over wondering why a love affair with a Bridegroom who conquered death and began restoring order with His resurrection and began establishing His kingdom doesn’t seem to make more of an impact on her? it really troubles me.
or….am i looking in the wrong place? is this actually happening and i’m expecting it to look like something else or in a different type of format or organization? does my being born among the richest in the world make it nearly impossible for me to see clearly because my context is so jaded?
you seem to imply that we somehow “need religion”. but…do we? there seems to be so much more bad religion than good. can’t we have a relationship with Our Creator without tainting it with our belief systems? or…since it’s based on faith is that unlikely?
if Jesus is real and living in us here and now, why doesn’t this change impact us — and the world — in ways that really make a difference. throwing up our hands and saying “we won’t change until He comes back and redeems us” seems to make this life such a waste and minimize the impact He can have (and dare i say should?) on us here and now? He’s promised “abundant life”!
i so appreciate your thoughts and perspectives. they are reasonable and thoughtful. let’s go grab some coffee and read some more and talk….and then encourage at least each other to live and love and shine in spite of our doubts and concerns and brokenness.
~steveT



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