Andyouinvitedmein’s Weblog

Inside the House, Part 2

Posted on: April 6, 2008

And You Invited Me In--available at your local bookstore  My book: And You Invited Me In.

I’ve taken my last few thoughts from the last blog and started this new one. I want to clarify when I comment about “my church” I’m bringing together dozens of conservative churches I’ve attended/visited over the last three decades. My current pastor is a very merciful man who wants the members to extend grace to others to the fullest. While all other churches are nameless, Church of the Living Water is a real church in Nashville, and I have permission to be specific about my wonderful association with them.

Here goes:

Why should a 14-year-old girl (in 1968) with all the white privilege be concerned about people of color? Why should she compromise her safety to stand up for a cause that wasn’t hers? Why should a 46-year-old straight woman (in 2000) who has all the straight conservative community privilege stand up for gay people she is barely acquainted with and risk anything for them

My life-long investment had been in my conservative Christian friends and our mutual beliefs. In my local church I had support for my life in every area. I was well respected intellectually because I had gone to Vanderbilt University for my Masters—actually went there on a scholarship and make all A’s during a catastrophic time of life. When I got the scholarship, my husband had just been diagnosed with a chronic illness, I was 7 months pregnant and taught behavior disordered kids, and had no choice but to push forward and keep going.

On the spiritual side. God was a significant part of my life from an extremely young age. I got saved the Thursday evening before Palm Sunday in 1963. I chose to be conservative, and went through many many years of being radically conservative. For a period of time I was oppressive to others and to myself. I’ve been to camp meetings, tent meetings, large revivals and even stood in an Ernest Angely prayer line. But that visit to the gay conservative church in 2000—Church of the Living Water—did something profound to my heart.

What did it do? I have to let you know that when I went, I expected straight-bashing and a liberal, New Age church that had nothing to do with Jesus. But instead I saw men, women, and even a few kids who very obviously loved the Lord. So what things made my mouth drop open?

First, one person after another praised their partner…I can’t remember the last time I heard such praise about a significant other in my church. Actually at one church of my past the pastor is always joking about his wife burning his toast or her knowing every inch of the local consignment shop. (My thought as I sat there that first night at Church of the Living Water was: wow, if only my church would have people praise their spouse like this!).

One woman at Church of the Living Water had gotten saved and was fasting the two weeks before her baptism so she would get everything out of it that God had for her. (My thought was: wow, if only we straight Christians took our baptism so seriously.)

The pastor, Rev. Tony Sirten, actually spoke to me for at least ten minutes after the service with many guests in attendance. I can’t tell you the number of churches where the pastor is looking just over the top of my head to find the next person they want to talk with—and leave talking with me, and do not remember anything I’ve said. 

As well the members took time with my kids. They have never looked on them as children but as people who were valuable to their church. A few years ago on the spur of the moment the girls and I dropped by on a Wednesday night. They were discussing a chapter from The Purpose Driven Life, my eight-year-old’s comments and ideas were allowed during that class (with all the congregation present) just as if she was 28. Today, this same daughter has desired for over a year to participate on a worship team, however, in conservative churches the general rule is to be part of the team you have to be 18 and she is 11. Hum, I wonder where that is found in scripture? Sorry to be sarcastic, but consider this if you’re in a conservative church.

At Church of the Living Water the members wanted all of Jesus they could get. I was never taught that a group of gay people would want more of Jesus. It seemed like an oxymoron. After one visit, I had an unquenchable thirst to find out why would these gay people love Jesus so much—had I been taught wrong? That’s when my daughters and I went to a Bible study. And my trouble with conservative friends (not just locally, but at various places around the US who knew what I had experienced) began when I started attending the Bible studies. I was warned that I was listening to the devil and being deceived. No one ever asked why I was attending the Bible studies, they just assumed I was deceived.

Let me inject here: the Bible study was a wake-up call for me about what we straight Christians need to know about ourselves. First, there are people in the gay community who think they’re going to hell because that’s all they hear from us. It doesn’t matter if you don’t say it , OR it is only said by some radical conservative preacher from the Midwest, OR you don’t exactly mean it like that, but that’s what the gay community hears us saying.

Next, my dear straight, conservative Christian brothers and sisters, you may get offended by the way Christians are portrayed in movies like Now I Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. But they quote the words we say and the signs we carry. And the question we must always ask is: do they see Jesus in us and have a desire to follow Him because of the way we live our life? If the answer is “no” then we need to change.

I struggled with what I’d been taught in churchabout the GLBTQ community and Jesus vs. what I was experiencing at Church of the Living Water. I cried out to God 24/7 to help me sort through these confounding issues…but I kept coming back to two things: When Samuel was going to anoint the new king of Israel, God told him not to look on the outside, because He looked on the heart. I learned that it is God’s job to judge a person’s heart. We’re to look at our fruit. If people can’t see the fruit of our experience with Jesus, then we need to assess our lives and make changes ASAP. Answer this quick question: does your child, co-worker, or neighbor want more of Jesus because of your life?

Number two: When the day is over and we’re taking account of our day, the one thing that matters most to Jesus is that we forgive and extend grace. It is what he did for us. If that was how we truly lived our lives, then there would not be so many parodies of conservative Christians on movies. People can’t understand unconditional love, and they can’t get enough of it.

These people at Church of the Living Water were “inside the house”. I wanted to understand them and their infectious hunger for Jesus. Once inside the house, I knew it was where God had taken me. AND THEN I learned what it was like to live as a gay person in a straight, conservative Christian community. Not that I was gay, but because I was in their house. If someone came in with gun to “kill all the fags” I’d have been shot. In reality my credibility was already being shot down in my conservative community because I was in a gay “house” (aka church). Maybe this happened to Jesus when he went with Zacheus to lunch at his house.

We think of Zacheus and we think of the unconditional love of Jesus. It was in the summer of 2000 that I began to learn about true grace. Grace…..Our faith isn’t in the number of Cadillacs in our yard or in the number of people who have been healed by a huge ministry. The devil can mimic all of that. One thing old Satan can’t do—the one thing that only people saved by grace can do is love unconditionally. And that’s what being inside the house is all about for me—it’s not about my privilege, but about Jesus.

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