journey to inclusion

by: Andrea Whisnant

Like probably the vast majority of Christians, I was raised in churches that believed (and taught me to believe) that homosexuality is an egregious sin, and anyone who practiced it had a fast pass to ride the bullet train to hell.  Marriage was only defined as “one man/one woman,” and anything else was naturally and spiritually abhorrent.

After I joined St. Luke’s UMC in 2008 and saw LGBTQ persons being welcomed and accepted, I started reluctantly accepting them a little bit too, yet still with the mindset of “love the sinner, hate the sin.”  I mean, it was okay to show gay people God’s love and grace, but secretly I was hoping and praying that “someday they’ll be healed of their sin and get right with Jesus.”  As I write these words now, I confess a profound guilty sadness.  I was, without a doubt, one of those Christian church-goers responsible for the incredible harm perpetrated on the LGBTQ community.

Then without warning, in 2017 my world was rocked when someone close to me announced that she was openly embracing her transgender identity.  The “she” I had known for years was now “he,” and the “truth” I had prized as far back as I can remember was radically called into question.  No longer could I shove my stance into a neat little politically correct box, piously secure in the knowledge that I wasn’t alone, that many (if not most) of the conservative Christian community I love and live in felt the same way.

As is my nature, I reacted to this sudden upheaval by researching and educating myself.  I devoured books, listened to Bible scholars, attended church meetings, talked with a gay Christian counselor, visited many websites and blogs for LGBTQ+ allies.  Slowly but surely, over a number of months, I came to understand that “my truth” did not align with The Truth, and that the scriptures fed to me as justification for condemning my gay brothers and sisters no longer held water.

I was, and still am, passionately committed to honoring and obeying God's laws and believing what God says is true.  I think most devoted disciples of Christ would say the same thing.  But remember that just a few hundred years ago, noted scientists – devout and respected by their communities – were rejected as heretics for advancing the truth of a heliocentric universe because it went against the Biblical "truth" as proclaimed by the church.  As individual Christians and as the Church at large, we had better be damn sure the "truth" we're using to discriminate and discern the righteous from the unrighteous is actually TRUE.

Far more important, though, than knowing the truth is what we actually do with it.  I find no place in the Bible where we are called to use it as a self-serving measuring stick to determine who is righteous and who is not.  Nor are we to brandish it as a weapon to punish those whom we have, in our poor and paltry human wisdom, declared to be the latter.  The Gospel tells us that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of truth and grace.  As His humble emissaries here on earth, we are to dwell among our fellow travelers in the same way.

Jesus the Messiah, as He supped with His closest friends for the last time on earth, challenged them:  “As I have loved you, so also shall you love one another.  By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have LOVE one to another.” (John 13:34-35)  Interestingly, the dictionary defines this word “another” as both “something different” and also “one exactly like the first.”  Christ’s words seamlessly join both of these divergent concepts into a single, coherent whole:  love all others, though they be different from you, for in the Savior’s eyes all are exactly the same.  They are the Beloved.  They are children of the King.

Matthew 25 tells us that "when the Son of Man comes in His glory … all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.  Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.'  Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.'" (Matt. 25:31-35, 41)

What, pray tell, is the basis upon which Jesus makes this eternal pronouncement?  Is it which of them were most accurate in their interpretation of scripture?  Is it which of them were most successful in converting sinners?  No, no, a thousand times no!  The Son of Man's sole basis for judgment is the manner in which – and the extent to which – they showed love to a hurting world.  "The King will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.'" (Matt. 25:40)

So this has been my journey, the one that’s only just begun.  It’s the story of how I came to not grudgingly look the other way at a young man courageously declaring “This Is Me.”  Not grit my teeth as I called him by his new name.  Not stifle revulsion as I tried to remember to use male pronouns.  It’s the story of how I came to respect him for exactly who he is, even though I didn’t always understand, and to unashamedly call him “my son” and wipe away a little tear every time he calls me “Mama.”

I cannot convince you to change your mind about “truth” you’ve believed for so long.  I’m not even going to try.  There are many scholars far more learned than I, to whom you can turn for information and enlightenment whenever you choose.  Instead I just invite you to bravely examine yourself, to take your own journey – if you dare.

To my LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters, apologies are a pitiful recompense for the shame and suffering you’ve endured at our hands, at my hands.  But I am truly and deeply sorry, and I will stand boldly as your ally and fight for your joyful, welcoming inclusion with all my might.  God bless you, O Beloved of the Christ.  You are worthy.  You are loved.  Come to the table, just as you are.