Love is Love

Photo by Alexander Grey on

I went to my first same sex wedding this month. With my kids and everything. This is not something I would have ever done 20 years ago. Maybe not even 10 years ago. Certainly I wouldn’t have brought my children 10 years ago, for fear they would be corrupted or confused in some way.

I don’t think that everyone who believes in traditional notions of gender and marriage are bigots (I’ll come back to this point). But I do know that I was. Among the things I genuinely believed as a young adult were that gay people were perverted or diseased, tended toward pedophilia, and wanted to convert others to their “lifestyle.” I believed being gay was worse than other sexual sins, which were worse than most other sins of any kind. I even had prejudicial views about people with HIV/AIDS. These are things I believed because everyone around me believed them, and I didn’t know any identifiable gay people or anyone else who was even sympathetic to them to show me otherwise. Not even a one. This is not an excuse, just an explanation. As I evolved out of this hardcore bigotry–mainly after I met my first real, live gay person–I still believed that homosexuality was a sin that I couldn’t be caught “endorsing” it by attending a wedding or anything overt like that.

I changed, and I want to apologize to all queer people for the heinous things I once espoused. It was a slow process, informed by my own experience as a divorcee and many other experiences and relationships. The last step came in 2018, when my family left our evangelical church and joined an unabashedly affirming one. By this point, I was more afraid my children would be influenced by evangelical views on LGBTQ issues. I wanted them to know that we loved and accepted everyone without hesitation. I wanted them to know that if they identified as queer, I would love and accept them without hesitation. I didn’t want them to ever question that.

And that brought me to the wedding this month, of two lovely young women, one of them (I’ll call her Jen) in my extended family. My pretty conservative Christian extended family.

Jen’s coming out several years ago was definitely news with which folks struggled. Mainly people were bewildered and confused. They didn’t understand. They didn’t approve, but at bottom, I think they didn’t understand. But they loved Jen. They wanted to support her. By the time Jen met Hayley, people had not necessarily changed their views of homosexuality, or of the validity of Jen’s sexuality–whether it was a choice or a reaction of some kind–but they had realized loving Jen and having her in their lives meant embracing Hayley. And Hayley clearly made Jen happy. Jen, who had struggled with the aftermath of an earlier trauma, came out from behind a dark cloud. It was hard to deny.

And I must say, as much love as there was at the wedding between the brides and as moving as that was–the backstory of the family’s faith probably affected me the most. My eyes filled with tears watching Jen’s parents walk her down the aisle. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

They love their daughter. That is all.

And watching Jen’s grandfather, a dear, sweet man who is not only religious but of a generation for whom this is really quite a stretch–watching him embrace her and Hayley just made me turn to mush inside.

He loves his granddaughter. That is all.

That’s what the family knows. That’s what they understand. They know what the Bible says. They know what their evangelical community says. They know all the arguments made in comfortable isolation, disembodied and easy to carry.

But their daughter is a human being. Whom they love. All the other stuff falls away. God can sort it out. They can’t help but love Jen.

My extremely conservative, very uncompromising parents made a similar journey with me, when I got divorced and remarried (unbiblically that is). They definitely did not approve of the divorce, which they told me in no uncertain terms. So it did not stand to reason that they would attend my second wedding.

But they did. And of all the things they have ever said and done over the course of my life to show their love for me, that one spoke the loudest. Honestly, I have had plenty of doubts about their unconditional love. When children go to boarding school at a young age, as I did, that is often the result. They can’t quite shake a sense of rejection and abandonment. They can’t quite believe their parents love them no matter what. I still doubt it on a deep level, I’m sad to say.

But I can remind myself that they came to my wedding. They put their beliefs aside. Beliefs which the entirety of our family life indicated were more important than anything else. More important than me. You don’t become a missionary if your beliefs aren’t everything to you. And I have seen them put belief over relationship many, many times.

But they came to my wedding.

If they had not, I am not sure what kind of relationship we would have today. Our relationship continues to be a struggle for us, but we’re both still trying.

But they came to my wedding. They really do love me. I am important to them. I return to this hard proof when doubt creeps into my heart.

Returning to Jen and Hayley, sadly, not everyone in the family made it to the wedding. One close family member just couldn’t get herself there. She’s a very devout, “sold-out” evangelical. Her faith would not let her come.

She’s not a bad person (I’ll call her Kim). And I know, and Jen knows, Kim loves her very much. They have a relationship that can apparently survive this breach, and I’m thankful for that. Kim isn’t a bigot, she doesn’t think Jen is a pedophile or groomer or anything like that. She thinks she could not attend because her faith is so strong. But having been in her belief system and having come to another place, I must say, I think her faith is actually quite weak.

What many secular people don’t understand about evangelical culture is how fraught it is to reassess LGBTQ issues or others on which “the Bible is clear.” Belief in an “inerrant” scripture that must be strictly interpreted as written, with little allowance for historical and cultural context, is foundational to the entire faith. Inerrancy allows for a bedrock certainty that everything you believe is correct, that it is possible to know and have correct beliefs on virtually every matter of God, existence, morality, everything. Then, you combine that with the idea that not having correct belief dooms a person to eternal damnation, and, yes, the fear factor is pretty intense. As an evangelical contemplating divorce, I had a sense that I wouldn’t just be getting a divorce, I would be throwing my entire faith into question. I was literally risking hell. TERRIFYING. High, high stakes.

So, although there are 100% hardcore bigots among evangelical Christians, most aren’t that in my experience. They are just hanging on for dear life to a theology of certainty, to a clear-cut view of scripture, and to a faith that is comfortably disembodied from actual complicated human beings. Those who make it through their lives never being forced onto the horns of moral dilemma or plunged into an existential crisis–situations that exhaust all knowledge and belief and require real, uncertain faith–those folks carry it securely in their pockets. It even brings them joy and peace, I don’t doubt it. I just think that’s a luxury not everyone has.

I’ve had evangelicals push back on the notion that their views on homosexuality are based on fear. In their minds, they are just trying to be “faithful to scripture.” And I think that’s true, there may not be a conscious fear at play, and I don’t doubt many of these folks’ earnestness. But I must contend that a theology of certainty that allows no nuance or moral conflict is implicitly fear-based. It’s a reaction to the fear we all have, the fear that we will die, and none of us, if we are honest, really know what that means or what comes next. A theology of certainty, if you can sustain it in the face of life’s many complications and contradictions, certainly is a comfort.

But here’s the rub. First of all, people with highly rigid theology, especially based on an attempted literalist interpretation of scripture, do not have a great batting average, historically speaking. I think we can agree they have been wrong about many, many issues that strike at the heart of an imago dei concept of humanity. Slavery, segregation, gender inequality, even child abuse have all been defended by literalists. Read some pro-slavery theology if you don’t believe me. Then there are literalists’ defense of positions contrary to provable notions of modern science. The earth-centric universe comes to mind.

That’s what happens when you try to force the entirety of God’s character and revelation into an ancient book. That’s what happens when you act like the revelation ended there. I mean, what in the world has God been doing for the last 2,000 years?

Well, I’ll tell you. He’s been at work in human community and relationship. He’s been hiding clues behind new stars and solar systems. He’s been lurking in the cures for disease. He’s been written into the lines of laws that end slavery and protect children and allow women to use their gifts. He’s been pushing forward human rights of all kinds. His kingdom has been coming. Sometimes Christians have been helping, sometimes they have fought him tooth and nail.

And lately he’s been walking with Christian parents down the aisle with their gay daughter.

She’s who he has put right in front of them. She is who they know. She is who they love. She is God’s revelation to them. She is God’s lesson on what love is.

God doesn’t expect us to perfectly crack the code of a book written in a very different time and place and language by multiple authors, most of whom we know almost nothing about, a book with some frankly bizarre stories in it and a fair number of contradictions. A book that people study for years in school in an effort to understand and which is the basis for countless, lengthy, involved arguments, with good points on many sides.

How could he expect us to get that right? Who ever could get it entirely right?

But you know what we can get right, what we must get right? Loving the people right in front of our noses. That’s the easy part.

And the hard part. Because doing so might mean we have to let go.

Of certainty.

Of simplicity.

Of having the answers.

Of control.

Any of us can be wrong. And who is to say what the future holds for Jen and Hayley? They seem very happy. I hope they will be happy for decades to come. But nobody knows. Not even Jen and Hayley know if the light will overcome the darkness. That’s the story of every marriage, gay or straight, Christian or not. Every human story.

I just know that Jen knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that her parents love her. That God loves her.

And Kim? Well, I don’t judge Kim. I’ve been Kim. I’m just sad for Kim. I remember the queasy feeling of wanting to embrace people I wasn’t allowed to. I remember the heavy yoke of having to fix everyone else. As if managing my own dysfunction wasn’t quite overwhelming enough. I remember the stunted, awkward interactions with people through the wall of my beliefs.

I really wish Kim would have come. Mainly because she has cheated herself. And she has accomplished exactly nothing. Jen is still gay. Kim’s relationship with her is less than what it was, or what it could be. And God loves them both, the same as if Kim had attended. Kim has earned nothing more from him, no greater salvation or bonus points in heaven.

Love is love. Love is greater than doctrine or belief. There is no fear in love. And love doesn’t exist in disembodied form.

It’s standing right in front of you.

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