Rehashing college life and the coming out process always leaves me feeling raw, and I can't seem to shake it this time. For the first time in months (years?), I find my thoughts constantly turning back to Harding and the Church of Christ. Honestly, it's a bit unsettling.
My friend's story is different from mine, but parallel. He came out to his family less than a year ago, and his parents no longer speak to him. His siblings have been hard on him. All in all, it's been a very unpleasant experience, and it seems as though some truly awful things have been said to him. He hasn't been to a Church of Christ in a very long time, and currently does not attend church at all (and who can blame him?).
This friend also caught me up on the story of another gay Harding graduate, who has been dating yet another gay Harding graduate for years. It seems we are everywhere. Both men in this relationship were raised in the Church of Christ--one by a somewhat famous preacher--and both were outed against their wishes and have been disowned or shunned.
It just keeps happening. Families are torn apart by unyielding doctrine and arrogant Biblical literalism. Parents think they can save their children by shunning them. Ministers and elders doubt their ability to lead congregations because they have raised gay sons. Fear of hell drives the conversation, not love of neighbor.
And so I say again: A church that casts its sons and daughters out of fellowship in order to preserve purity is a church that has abandoned the gospel of Christ. A church that teaches its members to act out of fear and not out of love is a church that does not grasp the generosity and radical hospitality of God.
This rejection sticks with us. As I heard my friend describe the events of the last year, I felt pain for him, but I also remembered my own rejections. I remembered the letters I received from family members, I remembered being excluded from fellowship, and I remembered that awful realization that I no longer had a church home. And though I have dealt with the resentment in my life, the pain can still sneak up on me.
But what is the response of the gay person to be? How are we to deal with fear-driven rejection? Should we roll over? Should we strike back? Should we turn our back on the church?
To do so would mean listening to the gospel of fear, not the gospel of love. God is love, and those who hear and understand the gospel respond to rejection with hospitality, and respond to division with peacemaking. A positive, loving, confident understanding of true Christian religion has nothing to fear from fundamentalism, and can therefore look beyond divisive doctrine to make peace. The realization that we are beloved children of God gives us the power to be forgiving and gracious.
We must still be firm: exclusion of gays and lesbians from the public ministry of the church is sin. Excluding a gay Christian from the fellowship is schism. Excluding one's child from one's family is bigotry. But I, as a Christian, do not have the luxury of acting out of fear, hate, or resentment. The love of God compels me to love my neighbor.
I hurt for my friend, I hurt for the gay folks currently at Harding, and I hurt for my own family and myself. But I am also confident that the love of God is sufficient and unfailing, so I have nothing to fear.