And then I had a major crisis of faith when my nephew, Brendon, died at the age of five from brain cancer. Words that were intended to console or support my family in our time of grief, shook my faith to it's core.
"Heaven must have needed an angel."
"We don't ever understand the will of God."
He was a child. A beautiful, smart, funny, kind, wonderful, perfect child. He fought aggressive brain cancer for a large portion of his precious little life. I decided if that was God's will, well then I just could not believe any longer.
In the years since Brendon passed, we have attended church on occasion. My daughter wants to attend sometimes and is active in a youth group. She needs to find her own spiritual path, so I would never discourage her from that. But it has been hard for me to sit in a pew and listen to a sermon.
Not always. There are times when I have sat there and enjoyed the message spoken, even gained some insight from the words. But, still. It is not something I seek out in my life.
Beyond the walls of the church, I find myself surrounded by Christians. In my personal and family relationships, or in discussions online. I do not dislike anyone for their religious views, and don't shy away from interactions. It's just not something I can accept for myself.
I also do not believe religion should be a part of our political climate. Yes, I believe in everyone's right to worship and believe how they would like. But I also believe in a person's right to be free of religion. Our country is diverse and made up of people from many different faiths. America can not serve all of her citizens if our laws are based on one religion.
In the last few years, this political idea has become more important to me as I have learned from my friends in the LGBT community. I haven't always been a supporter of gay marriage. I simply didn't understand why it was an issue and my previous religious beliefs were still ingrained into my thinking: "It's wrong. It's not natural. Marriage is between a man and a woman."
And then I met a woman who forever changed my outlook. Her name is Ashley. Now a military spouse, she has been committed to her wife for almost two decades, despite not being able to be legally married. This brave woman stood up against a system that told her family they were less than everyone else because of their sexual orientation. Told her that her support of her soldier wasn't as valuable as the support I gave my husband. Told her that her children were not really hers, even though she was their mother in every way that matters.
Listening to her story changed me in a profound way. Not just from a political perspective... she helped me realize that listening is a skill I needed to hone.
If you have followed me on Facebook for more than two minutes, you probably know I have been very vocal in my support of the gay community. My page is an open place for civilized, intense discussion frequently.
When I first started talking about this issue, I spent a lot of time also listening to folks who had strong convictions against gay marriage. The vast majority of the opposition to equality, in my experience, comes from Christians who base their opinion on the matter in scripture. Homosexuality, according to the bible, is a sin. That's what I hear pretty frequently.
Now, I won't get into a debate over scripture here. I am certain that will take place in the comments section, and I encourage that. What I will talk about is how so many Christians I see pushing back against equality have solidified my feelings about the church. I heard an awful lot of judgment, choosing to battle against one sin and not countless others, and it turned me off from ever considering a return to my faith.
And then, something happened. My gay friends and their straight allies started to talk about their faith.
At first, I was shocked. How did Christianity and support of gay rights even work? Wasn’t it going against the Christian faith to be accepting of gay marriage? Was that even possible?
Turns out, it is. Over the past few months I have had many conversations with people of faith that are opening my heart and mind to the possibility that I can revisit and regain my faith in Christ. I have witnessed acts of Christianity firsthand from believers that have, on occasion, brought me to my knees in a feeble attempt at prayer. I have heard gay friends talk openly about their faith. I have heard straight allies speak about how their FAITH requires them to support gay marriage.
No one is more shocked than I at this turn of events. I was certain that I would never return to my faith in any meaningful way.
A couple of weeks ago I attended a gala in Washington, DC for the American Military Partners Association. This is a group of LGBT families and their allies who have fought hard to make sure that all of our service men and women get the support they need, no matter their orientation. All of the speakers moved me. Seeing a group of military and their spouses and partners, who had previously only been able to gain support through private chat rooms and hushed meetings, be able to celebrate and fellowship with one another openly, was a beautiful thing to be a part of.
A featured speaker of the evening was Kristen Beck, a woman who was a decorated Navy Seal, and was once a man. Her words hit me like a ton of bricks. After telling a story of how she reached out to a person who may not have understood her life she said the following: “We have our fists closed too much. We’re not giving out smiles. Sometimes it’s us. I want this family to be bigger, I want to start bringing more people into it. We’re not gonna do it with lead, with guns, with anything else. We’re gonna do it with smiles, with handshakes. We’ll do it with friendship. We’ll do it bringing them in here and saying ‘This is us, this is who we are, we want you to be a part of our family.’ I love this family.”
I don’t know what Kristen’s religious beliefs are. But I do know that I have listened to those people in my life who support her, advocate for her rights, and love her… and many of them are also Christians. I have heard them discuss their faith. I have seen their actions. It has given me pause to consider that my faith may not be lost forever. To consider taking my own spiritual journey to find it once again.
It is a message I hope many Christians will hear, no matter what side of the political debate surrounding gay marriage you find yourself on. “Regular” Christians drove me away from the church many years ago, but it is “Gay” Christians and their straight allies who are bringing me back.
If you want a family to grow, do it with friendship, smiles, handshakes… do it with love.
Many Kind Regards,
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