A few years ago, I attended a dinner party with a group of LGBT Christians. As we delicately sliced our warm brioche and broiled sole, we began to share our coming-out stories. Each person told how, over Thanksgiving dinner or in a letter or in a YouTube video, they opened the door to others allowing them into a hidden part of their lives. I found these offerings remarkable and brave as are all such instances when we open ourselves. I also sensed these coming out experiences were, for most folks present, a declaration of membership in a new tribe—the LGBT community.
As I drove home later that evening, I reflected on what transpired during our meal and was struck by the similarity between these coming-out tales and the salvation stories I had been hearing in my church small group. How interesting that the experience of publicly accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior also serves to declare membership in a new family—the Christian church.
What is it about humans that we must belong to something bigger than us? Or maybe it’s smallness that attracts us—the exclusivity of a group of like-minded or like-hearted people? Perhaps it’s even simpler than that as C.S. Lewis suggests in his essay The Inner Ring—we humans merely want to be “inside an outside”.
How much is a person’s coming out of the closet or coming to Christ just about not wanting to be alone and outside of an inside?How much is a person’s coming out of the closet or coming to Christ just about not wanting to be alone and outside of an inside? Isn’t it a feature of human beings that we all long to be seen, loved, and accepted?
I find it curious that many straight Christians are uncomfortable when LGBT Christians come out—as if we are seeking membership in the wrong association. Perhaps it’s on this very point where many unspoken tensions arise. Such discomfort seems to suggest that people can only have one membership or that there is an order to membership. That is, LGBT individuals can only belong to the Christian community or the LGBT community. Or, perhaps, must first belong to the Christian community and only after that the LGBT community.
Of course, much likely depends on how we define “Christian community” and “LGBT community” when trying to make sense of these matters. If we recognize that both communities are comprised, first, of people created in God’s image, and, second, beings who desire to belong, perhaps we make good ground in seeing the similarities between the two. And, let’s not forget that since both communities are made up of people, they both contain sin.
Still, no matter how similar, we can’t escape the difference between the communities when it comes to the foundation of each. One has the cornerstone of Christ and the other sexual orientation. This is a key distinction to be sure, but if some Christians believe it is inappropriate (or less appropriate) to build a community on sexual orientation, then I might question why the American church speaks of Christ as its cornerstone, but behaves as if it’s really the nuclear family?
It is here, then, that we find the real difficulty for many celibate, LGBT Christians. In many ways, we don’t belong in the Christian community because membership is contingent on involvement in a nuclear family. Similarly, we are encouraged by well-meaning brothers and sisters to not get involved in the LGBT community since our real identity is in Christ and not our sexual orientation. How then do we experience welcome and peace in the Body and in our physical bodies? Where then do we belong?
In reading the Gospels, we find that Jesus likes a good dinner party. I try to imagine what he would have done during our meal as we consumed our fish and shared our stories like we passed the warm bread. I suspect he would have listened intently and, when the stories were over, opened his holy hands to hug each one of us with an embrace that felt a lot like belonging. I wonder when Christ’s Bride will have the same courage to open her arms, and her doors, to welcome the outcasts in.