Trying to live love well through the power of the Everlasting.
I can see, better, the heart behind someone’s questions these days.
I couldn’t always, and I’m still probably pretty bad at it. But compared to just a few years ago, I’m a worn-in veteran now.
Let me take you back a few days. I was at work, and things were fairly slow. A co-worker and I were steadily knocking down a job that left plenty of unoccupied mental capacity for conversation, and we got to talking about me. I think I’m something of an enigma to my co-workers. Everyone knows that I’m gay, a Christian, late twenties, college-educated but not in possession of a degree, and generally not the usual fit for my current circumstances in life. One can hardly blame them for having questions, so I set out to afford them more clarity in the future by answering those questions.
We chatted about my years away at college and all the various engagements that I found myself in during and following that time, and how they led me back here, to our tiny little 250-person town. After I got home that day, I found that I had opened a floodgate to the storage compartment for my memories, and it was impossible to ignore the overwhelming surge of flashbacks and correlating emotions that barreled me over. I crawled into bed, pulled the covers up over my head, and allowed myself to drift in the sea of nostalgia until I finally, mercifully, fell asleep.
The next day I was saddled with a few memories that had, for whatever reason, stuck with me. I began to reflect on them from my current perspective and I realized something: I’ve grown. Thank God!
The specific memories that I was running analysis on related to a theology class I took in college right after I publicly acknowledged my sexuality. We were contemplating the role of women in ministry, and in our discussion we had reached the inevitable place where the debate began to focus on drawing lines in the sand. Well, if women, what about the gays? We’ll have to let them in too! That kind of thinking, you know? We briefly reviewed the book Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals by William J. Webb and in doing so our classroom discussion sort of exploded out across my entire life. The topic overshadowed everything that I did for a few weeks. I was a man obsessed.
At this point in my life I had already come to terms with the fact that I was gay, and I was then at the point where God was going to have to be okay with that. I eagerly digested any sort of article that might even remotely deal with homosexuality and the Bible in my effort to silence those in my class and my life who railed against me. Because yeah, they could spout that “love the sinner, hate the sin” talk all they wanted, but the plain fact of it is that at the end of the day, it was still an attack against me personally. (Hey! I already said I’d grown, didn’t I? I had to have somewhere to grow from, didn’t I? Cut me some slack!)
Throughout these few weeks I engaged in countless heated debates with nearly everyone I knew. We went back and forth with scripture, interpretations, theologies, heresies, Greek words, Hebrew words, ancient cultures, and countless other things. We torn each other to shreds in a desperate attempt to prove our points. I’m convinced that each side walked away thoroughly convinced that we had vindicated ourselves and emerged with clean hands.
Well here I am, roughly four years later, looking back on those memories. Some things have changed, and some haven’t. No longer do I dare shake my fist at my Creator and tell him that I’m gay and he’d better just get on my side. I remain gay, obviously, and I remain convinced that this is authentically who I am before God, but my heart has changed. Submitted lovingly to the Everlasting, my sexuality is a beautiful and precious thing for the Living God to use or discard as best seen fit for the glory of the Heavenly Father. Four years later, and no longer do I dare treat the opponents so unlovingly as I did in those past debates.
Four years later, and no longer do I rise to the occassion of speaking with them about my sexuality.
Oh yes, that’s right. I did just say that. And I meant it. Mostly.
You see, it’s a heart issue. Time has taught me that. Here’s a few lines from the book of Matthew:
Jesus entered the temple courts and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”
Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism – where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”
They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’- we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”
So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
Jesus knew the heart of the men asking the questions. I firmly believe that. I think that Jesus knew, and knew that the best way to act according to the will of the Father was to not answer the question. Not to take the bait.
Now there are many, many examples where Jesus is asked questions by others, and he responds and interacts with them. I believe that Jesus knew the hearts behind those questions as well, and engaged with those hearts.
Somewhere in the last four years, I began to be able to recognize the heart behind the questions being asked me. I began to recognize situations in which answering would only lead to a heated, unloving conversation in which both sides would just tear at one another like wild dogs. I began to recognize tender hearts, timidly reaching out, and to engage in life with them. Sometimes I’m not able to accurately discern the heart behind a question, and so I just ask them their intentions.
“Why do you want to know?” I ask.
To civilly and lovingly share life together? Or to establish moral superiority and beat down brothers and sisters? I try to explain that I don’t mean to be rude or offend, but that I just can’t tell. Sometimes I find that just asking for clarity defuses a situation that I thought was headed towards conflict. Still, there are plenty of other encounters in which I can see that the heart behind the person is bent on division and destruction. They seek for me to open up to them only so they can attack me and “my” theology, shredding it until (in their minds) there is no credability to it any longer. And so, to those hearts, I refuse to engage. I refuse participation.
I think the Old Testament refers to this practice as not casting my pearls before swine.
Yikes, that kinda stings, doesn’t it?
Still, for the present season of my life, it’s the most loving way that I have been shown by the Holy Spirit. Of course, I’m just 27. Hopefully I have many long years of life left in this body, and so who knows how I’ll come to view this in the future? Where the Living God will take me, and what he’ll teach me? Perhaps there’s a much better way. A way that embodies the Father’s heart so much more fully. Who knows? But today, I’m here. And so here I’ll live.