A survey was done with members of the Metropolitan Community Church, a largely LGBT denomination. One of the questions posed was whether it was in the Metropolitan Community Church that the heard for the first time that they were beloved by God? The answer was overwhelming a no. Most members already had an intuition, a basic understanding in their bones, that they were loved by God. Then they sought a church that validated that intuition.
There is something encouraging in learning this fact. It means that for those who have ever been in a church that denied or rejected their existence, for those who suffer from family rejection, for those who has been told that the Bible says their “lifestyle is incompatible with Christian teaching”, the majority have already rejected that hatred and embraced their status as a child of God. The point then is to connect with people and communities that help us live into that fact.
That intuition takes a tremendous amount of inner strength and resiliency, what Reinhold Niebuhr calls “original security”. It’s hard to pinpoint the source of such security. It could be personal make up, it could be a will to life. It could come from unlikely sources. I’m thinking of my own life growing up in a rural Presbyterian church. In everything they said and did, they wanted to implant the idea of God’s love. It showed in curriculum, in worship, in sermons, in programming, and in how they related to the children of the church.
This particular church, though, has not moved to LGBT inclusion and as an adult when I raised the issue, I got stone cold silence for it. Somehow I heard the messages of love and applied it to myself as I was coming out. It’s not what the church had desired for me. It’s what I heard from the church, what I needed to hear from the church, to become the gay man I am today. Sometimes those who would wish us ill, bring gifts, even if they didn’t know they were doing so. And it’s just what we needed to become who we are today.
I have thought, for a long time, that John 3:16 is rendered wrongly. The object of saving faith is often presented as Jesus. I would propose the object of faith is found in the beginning of the passage “For God so loved the world” that if we believe this, trust in this, if we share the faith that Jesus had in God’s love for us, then we would be saved. Because the world is filled with enough hate, it’s a marvel and a credit to LGBT people, when we come to realize the fact that we are beloved by God, even without the normal supports others would take for granted.
My proposal is to take that love, that sense of one’s self as worthy and use that as a means to reclaim faith. Faith in one’s own terms, not on other’s terms. To read the Bible as if our story is to be found there. To interpret doctrine as if we too have authority. To sort through the tradition, assuming we can find bread and not stones. To claim for ourselves the right to name what Christian faith means for us and create spaces for other LGBT people to do likewise. And to find communities that welcome us and this work.
In doing this, we give permission for other people who do not feel loved to claim that saving faith in God’s love. And we just might save the church in the process.
Dwight Welch is the campus minister at United Campus Ministry at Montana State University Billings