I went to the same church for the first 18 years of my life, and there was one overriding theme that seemed to run through every sermon & every Bible study.
And it wasn't the Gospel.
It was all about the gays. The founding pastor of that church spat the word "homosexual" with such vitriol that in my young mind I was terrified to ever meet one in real life, for fear of the things "they" might do to me. He had so successfully dehumanized homosexuals, seemingly finding a way to work a dig at them into every sermon and blame them for every ill, that I felt not only justified but obligated to speak out against homosexuality with equal force.
It was apparently a special kind of sin. They had an agenda, you see.
Something had to be done.
Then, in an afternoon, my brain was turned inside out when my mother told me a story. I had a family member that had died a few years prior from Leukemia, I was told. Even though he died when I was still fairly young, I have vivid memories of him. His eyes were the first place I had ever really remember seeing Grace. His voice was always thick with Love, he acted justly, loved mercy and walked humbly. His life was one lived in the Kingdom if ever I have seen one.
But it was not Leukemia that had taken him after all, it was AIDS.
And he was gay.
What was I supposed to do with this?
The contrast could not have been more stark. On the one hand, there was this pastor. For years this man that was supposed to be a pastor, a servant leader, a conduit through which the glory of the Gospel of reconciliation and hope could flow had been spewing hatred and bigotry in its stead. What were supposed to be words of life were infected with the cancer of enmity, and that creeping rot had taken root in the deepest parts of me.
I had believed what he said.
But it couldn't be true.
You see on the other hand, there was this man, my relative. In the years before he died and the years following as I learned more about him, I saw a man so full of compassion, full of hope, full of life. I heard stories of selfless sacrifice and undying loyalty. I read the letters of a man so bursting with authentic Love that it spilled over into every area of his life and everyone he came into contact with. He knew the Truth of the Gospel, believed it with his heart, confessed it with his mouth, and lived it out every day. All the boxes were checked, and yes, he happened to be gay.
I was faced with a dilemma. Either accept the teachings of the pastor, and accept the fact that my relative had lived a life of sin that was worthless to a god that required perfection in order that we might escape his wrath, or don't and forget everything I had ever been taught.
I chose the latter.
And now, 15 years later, after having lived quite a bit of life, I'm still unlearning, learning, and relearning, and there is only one thing that I am certain of. For my relative, for my pastor, for me, and for everyone:
You can ascribe all of the connotations and subtext to that statement that you want, but you cannot deny its truth.
For those of you being hated for who you are, I will love you, and I will always stand with you.
For those of you doing the hating, I will love you, and I will always do so standing between you and those you hate.