But now thus says the Lord
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you, Isaiah 43: 1-4
Fear is a powerful force. It has physiological and psychological effects on human beings that cause our respiration and heart rate to skyrocket while impeding our ability to make rational decisions. I guess that’s why some variation of the phrase “do not fear” appears in the Bible over one hundred times. God knows what fear does to people. It drove the wandering Hebrews to worship a golden calf when they were afraid Moses was dead on a mountain somewhere. The fear of Jezebel drove Elijah to flee into wilderness and wish for death under a broom tree near Mt. Horeb. Fear made Peter deny knowing Jesus three times. Through out the Bible we see that fear makes people do some pretty stupid stuff, and time after time we witness God reach out in love to comfort and redeem God’s people.
Sadly, humanity’s proclivity to fear has not changed much over the centuries. We still get scared and make bad decisions when we are emotionally compromised. Living in a constant state of fear has a tremendous negative impact on a person’s physical and mental health, and that is why I am writing this article.
Over the last decade and a half I lived in fear and shame. I was afraid God did not love me.
I was afraid that my family and friends would hate me. I was afraid my church would abandon me. This fear caused me to make a lot of bad decisions that not only hurt me, but also the ones I love. I was afraid because I am a Christian and I am gay. I was twenty-five years old and in my second year of seminary before I heard from the pulpit of a church that God loves me without qualification.
Before that all heard from the church or other Christians was that who I am is “incompatible with Christian teachings” or I was met with the deafening silence of ally pastors and laity who were afraid to speak up.
Fear and shame are a powerful and dangerous combination. For fifteen years my relationships with God, my family and friends were dictated by fear and shame. It was impossible to love the Lord my God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love my neighbor as myself when I hated myself. It was while I was mired in this fear and shame I seriously considered committing suicide while I was in seminary. Ironically, I was too afraid to follow through. This is one time I thank God for being afraid!
Fear was a near constant companion of mine when I first started coming out to people. The most important thing I have learned while coming out as a LGBTQ Christian is that God is always faithful. God is always faithful even when the church isn’t. Jesus shows us in the Gospels that God has a heart for those who are on the margins of society: children, women, Samaritans, lepers, and tax collectors. These were all people the respectable religious authority looked down upon and thought of as unworthy of full participation in religious life.
Jesus sought out and cared for the people who were seen as “incompatible” with the current teachings.
So during those long nights when I wept in fear that I was no longer a beloved child of God, God was there holding me close in love and grace. God’s faithfulness was incarnate in a group of my seminary classmates who prayed with me and for me when I was lost in fear. God’s faithfulness was tangible when I came out to my parents at Christmas and they responded, “Katie, we love you no matter what, and nothing you say or do will ever change that.”
Witnessing God’s enduring faithfulness is one of the great gifts I have received while coming out as a LGBTQ Christian.
I am a life long United Methodist, a seminarian and Certified Candidate for Ordained Ministry who has been discerning a calling to ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church since I was fourteen years old. So much of who I am and what I love is tied to being a member of the Body of Christ in The United Methodist Church. It is hard for me to imagine what my life would look like without The United Methodist Church being part of it.
Unfortunately, as we approach the 2016 General Conference I have to think about what my calling and my life will look like if my church does not decide to do away with its polity that excludes LGBTQ people like myself. It is increasingly difficult for me to maintain faithfulness to God when the church’s polity puts me in a position where I cannot live out my calling with integrity.
I can no longer live in this weird limbo of “we won’t ask if you don’t tell.”
I spent too many years lying to myself and to others, so enough is enough! Too many United Methodists are unaware of our church’s polity and how it is doing harm to the children, youth, and adults we baptize. The language of “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” is part of the hateful rhetoric that makes LGBTQ persons think that God hates them and that they would be better off dead. I cannot sit in silence hoping things will change while one more youth or child feels like the church is an unsafe place.
My beloved siblings in Christ, I beg you to come out!
Come out as clergy and lay people who are affirming of LGBTQ people.
Come out publically against our church’s stance on same-sex marriage and the ban on LGBTQ candidates for commissioning and ordination.
Faithful and meaningful change will not take place if you remain silent.
Coming out is a scary process, but it is a life-giving one. Coming out in solidarity with your LGBTQ members will be a life- changing experience for many in your congregations. Remember that perfect love casts out all fear and that God is always faithful. Be not, afraid for God is with you!