Who can be against us? Coming out as LGBT & Christian

Will you love the ‘you’ you hide…
Will you quell the fear inside…  

The Summons, by John Bell,
a Patron of the Open Table Network

THIS MONTH, as the Co-ordinator of the Open Table Network, I led the first of a new series of monthly online worship gatherings. We took the theme of ‘coming out’, as 11th October is marked around the world as ‘Coming Out Day’. 

Why do we ‘come out’, and why have a day to celebrate it? 

For too long, members of our communities have had to hide in fear for their well-being, their livelihood and their lives. A constant fear of being rejected by friends, loved ones, and community, has led to many of us remaining in the proverbial closet, hiding who we are from those who should be our nearest and dearest.  

Coming Out Day challenges this injustice and encourages those of us who live with gender and sexuality that is beyond the false binaries of our culture to be proud and reclaim who we are. 

Coming Out Day is based on the belief that prejudice against LGBTQIA+ people thrives in an atmosphere of silence and ignorance, and that once people know that they have loved ones who are LGBTQIA+, they are far less likely to maintain prejudiced or oppressive views. 

In the service, we heard this reading from St Paul’s letter to the early Christians in Rome, who were facing life-threatening persecution because of their faith:

Reading:  Romans 8:31-35, 37-39

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And here is my reflection:

Nothing, Paul tells us in his letter to the early Christian community in Rome, ‘can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus’.

‘Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus’.

Do you believe this?

Have you ever been told that your gender identity or sexual orientation, or anything else, comes between you and the love of God in Christ Jesus?

If so, did you believe it?

How does this reading speak to those of us who ‘come out’, who claim a new identity, not just, or not even, as a Christian, but as a person whose gender or sexual orientation may not fit into the binary of male and female, each attracted to and finding their deepest bond and companionship with what’s commonly called the ‘opposite sex’?

The present-day expression ‘coming out’ originated in an early 20th century analogy that likens a homosexual’s introduction into gay subculture to a debutante’s coming-out party, a celebration for a young upper-class woman who is making her début – her formal presentation to society – because she has reached adulthood and become eligible for marriage. Historian George Chauncey wrote that, before the First World War, gay people did not speak of coming out of what we now call ‘the closet’ but rather of coming out into what they called ‘homosexual society’ or ‘the gay world’, a world neither so small, nor so isolated, nor… so hidden as the more modern image of the closet implies. So, what are we coming out into?

Barbara Glasson, who was until recently the President of the Methodist Conference, the governing body of the Methodist Church in Britain, describes the coming out process in her outstanding book, The Exuberant Church: Listening to the Prophetic People of God. She reached this insight after listening to the stories of the groups which met in her Liverpool church, including two LGBT Christian communities, of which I was a member.

In writing about the process of ‘coming out’, Barbara describes how it takes ‘an unusual and specific sort of courage’. As an openly gay Christian man, I can vouch for this in my own journey from disquiet and inner struggle, through self-acceptance and living a secret life, to rites of passage into a community of solidarity, towards a place of integration.

And, as the Coordinator of the Open Table Network, having heard the stories of hundreds of LGBTQIA+ people of all ages, I think I can say with some authority that courage is indeed a defining characteristic of the process of questioning your identity, and claiming a new identity which defies the dominant norms of culture, society and faith. Barbara writes:

‘I believe it is both profoundly human and part of God’s intention that we live life in all its fullness. Ultimately, coming out is a transformative process that can lead to fullness of life.’

As our prayers today show, our Christian story contains many unexpected reversals or moments of ‘coming out’, from the exodus of God’s chosen people out of slavery, to God creating new life out of the suffering and death of Jesus.

In the reading we’ve just heard, Paul reflects on the liberating power of Jesus’ call to new life. For us, that call is about claiming our identity as beloved children of God, made in the image of God, chosen by God to live the full diversity of our identities, not to hide who we are for fear of condemnation.

Paul promises us that no-one can condemn us, as Jesus is at God’s right-hand interceding for us.

No-one can condemn us – not parents, or politicians, or pastors…

As beloved children of God, made in the image of God, God’s chosen people, we can be confident of the infinite, unconditional, intimate love of God in Christ Jesus, from which ‘nothing can separate us’.

Paul makes a list of things that cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. He includes: trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger and sword. He continues:

‘neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation’

  • What would be on your list of things that cannot separate you from the love of God?
  • What would be on your list of things that cannot separate you from the love of God?
  • What would be on your list of things that cannot separate you from the love of God?

We can become stuck in despair about our lives as LGBTQIA+ people in inhospitable and prejudiced churches and communities.

OR we can ‘come out’ of our despair and live a new life.

Paul promises:

‘in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us’.

Jesus’s love for us can overcome all obstacles, even homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.

Do you believe this? Dare you believe this?

US bishop John Shelby Spong writes:

‘Whether we are male or female, gay or straight, transgender or bisexual, white or black, yellow or brown, left=handed or right-handed, brilliant or not quite so brilliant.  No matter what the human difference is, you have something to offer in your own being. Nobody else can offer what you have to offer, and the only way you can worship God is by daring to be all that you can be, and not be bound by the fears of yesterday.’

John Shelby Spong, Jesus for the non-religious

So as we pray, let’s ask God to show us how we are

‘more than conquerors through him who loved us.’

You can watch the whole service here (28.5 minutes). The video includes British Sign Language interpretation and captions to make it more accessible, thanks to Tom Pearson.  Words and responses appear on-screen, or you can download an order of service here.

Permanent link to this article: https://abravefaith.com/2020/10/27/who-can-be-against-us-coming-out-as-lgbt-christian/

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