I’ve learnt that I’m naturally a very loving, compassionate, gentle person who cares deeply about other people and will do anything to avoid conflict. I love people and naturally rush to embrace them. I will spend hours, days, weeks agonising over any decision I have to make that I know will bring pain or hurt to another person.
Which is exactly why I struggle with stories like this one…
I grew up in church and attended a Christian school, and looking back, I feel that the gentle, caring, embracing side of my nature was, ironically, often discouraged – especially when it came to minority groups…or anyone who was different.
What I do remember is fear.
One of my earliest memories of this fear happened in the early 90’s when I was around seven or eight years old. I grew up in a small town and was the eldest child in my family so at that young age I had absolutely no idea who the Spice Girls were – but my friends were quick to inform me that they weren’t allowed to listen to their music because they were all lesbians.
I’d never heard of a lesbian before, but I instantly understood this was a bad thing and I should steer clear.
That’s my earliest memory of being exposed to the churches view of the LGBTQIA+ community, and sadly, over the next 30 years the message hasn’t really changed a lot.
I’ve always struggled with the ‘we love everyone…but’ view point that I grew up around, I think I felt so fearful when I was young, fearful of asking questions or going against God that I just quietened my instinct to embrace and allowed fear to govern me.
I grew up completely immersed in 90’s Christian culture.
I don’t have a single memory of anyone ever disputing or calling out the ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ stance I took as gospel. Maybe people did – I don’t remember it.
I do remember in my early 20’s becoming aware of how damaging and unkind that ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ phrase really was and the cruelty behind it – the idea that someone needs to be sliced up into acceptable pieces and the rest was to be discarded…or worse, prepared for judgement.
The more I thought about it the more alarmed I felt.
I remember that phrase been taught to me as a ‘loving response’ when in reality, to the LGBTQIA+ community, it’s anything but loving. It’s judgemental and cold – it’s void of empathy, kindness or true love.
I think that’s where things changed for me. I found myself feeling really uncomfortable within the frameworks I’d been given around how to approach the LGBTQIA+ community but I also didn’t know how to make room in my faith for anything but black and white theology.
It’s been a long wrestle, a long walk from Spice Girls in the playground through fear and faith.
No matter what the theological argument – I could never ignore the deep compassion that filled my heart, the deep longing to hug, embrace and love people.
I could never make sense of it – if Jesus died for everyone, if the cross was so powerful, if grace abounds…why isn’t there enough for everyone? Why isn’t everyone invited to the party?
It’s welled and welled up in me until finally, my fear and my faith hit a tipping point and I don’t know everything but at least I know where I stand now within my own faith.
I’m not one for theological arguments – endless debate over things I can’t even pretend to understand.
But I do know this…
After the past 14 or so years of trying to make room in my faith for the LGBTQIA+ community, and I suppose, in many ways, waiting for the church to give me permission to embrace people…I finally realised that the only way I can be on the ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ side of the argument is to root myself there with judgement, hate, pride and fear.
Because, if I’m honest, the fruits of the spirit outlined in Galatians 5, don’t allow me to maintain a ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ stance.
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
How can I show love, patience, kindness or gentleness in anyway other than to fully and completely embrace people in love, extend patience, show kindness and be gentle – empathetic, caring.
In order to perpetuate the idea that the LGBTQIA+ community are not worthy of love and belonging, that they are to be tolerated but not accepted I literally have to step out of love, patience, kindness and gentleness and back into judgement, hate, pride and fear.
I personally cannot fully embrace the fruit the Holy Spirit produces in my life and not in turn fully embrace the LGBTQIA+ community.
What does that mean for my theology? I don’t know – I honestly don’t.
All I know if that I can’t see how refusing to embrace people is loving them.
I can’t see how taking Jesus’s unconditional love and providing it to others with conditions is really the love of Jesus.
Maybe I’m wrong – but I know if I do one day have to stand before God and explain my actions here on earth, I’d much rather explain why I embraced people and loved them with a real, simple and uncomplicated love rather than have to explain why I refused to extend kindness, compassion, empathy, grace and love to my fellow humans because I was so driven by fear that I appointment myself the grand distributor of grace to those I felt did and didn’t deserve it.
Jesus is loving. There’s no discount love, no ‘I accept you…but’- his love is his love. It’s not watered down for some or held back from others – as soon as I believe Jesus is picking and choosing who to love then how can I be sure he loves me? His love is his love. Love is love – it’s all fruit that the Holy Spirit grows in me.
[Art by Tess Guinery]