The following is the second installment of the “Out of the Closet and Into the Pews” series. The series features members of The Reformation Project’s Inaugural Conference -a leadership conference for 50 straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Christians who are committed to reform.
Ministry, Convictions and Transparency
Bearing In Mind the Effect of Who We Are On What We Do.
By Isaac Adams (BEA guest writer)
As a child, I was very aloof to what took place in the church. At that age, my only concerns were to love God just as much as he loved me, and to acquire my daily quota of Fruit LoopsÓ every morning at breakfast. Soon enough however, my eyes began to open. Not only were there other brands of cereal, there were more politics involved within the body of Christ that I could have ever imagined.
My first experience to this was when a man and his wife left the church after having several disagreements with my pastor – one of them being a debate concerning the notion of coffee as an abusive drug. The couple later left the church after taking my pastor’s disagreements personally. Their absence didn’t leave a huge void, but one that was noticeable enough. The husband had helped with the church’s accounting and the wife assisted in the nursery, but none of these ministerial positions were very difficult replace.
As the years progressed, other moral debates flooded the church: long hair on men, kissing before marriage, social drinking, etc. What I didn’t understand was why these issues separated the church so profoundly. We all have diverse convictions – some taking stronger objections on certain positions than others – but what is it about them that leave us with such deep wounds on our hearts? Conflicting values… was that it?
If I left every church that didn’t cater to my every conviction, I’m afraid I would be confined to leading my own Bible studies (perhaps something we all need to do to some extent). Sadly, this often ends up being the case with – not only many gay Christians – but people pursing an honest and open-minded approach to forming their spiritual views. In doing this however, not only are we starving ourselves of fellowship, but isolating evidence of our faith from other believers. So if our spiritual lives can be an exclusive solo gig, what’s the point of the church?
It’s true: how we apply scripture to our lives will vary, but although our faith may not be progressive, it is not to say that our understanding of the world around us isn’t. This is certainly true for the gay community. A demographic that is condemned for their behaviors – if they so choose to engage in them – will certainly have similar worldviews, but could easily have different approaches to the scripture based on these perspectives. As an example, I realize that fragments of my previous sentence will be interpreted very differently depending on the individual’s understanding of the world.
In this example, a gay individual who is LGBT-affirming may find the word “behaviors” offensive to some degree because what they perceive as acts of love can easily be placed in the position of an abuse to sexual ethics. On the flip side, a gay individual who is not LGBT-affirming may find the word suiting, though perhaps misleading in the understanding that same-sex attraction is voluntary. Because of these differences, the way we approach a solution to our situation in life will yield different fruit. In addition to this, our changing understanding of the world is partly the reason why we change our convictions – something that we often label as a “change of heart.” But still, what does this all mean for the church?
I’m going to take a risk by saying that we are all called to be ambassadors – not just those who agree with our convictions, but the entire body of Christ. Therefore, unless you are under the conviction that non-heterosexual individuals are not part of the body of Christ (and that is very much a possibility), we ALL have the need to be a part of a ministry. This can be anything: offering friendship, leading a Sunday school class, cleaning the church bathrooms etc. The point is that no matter what ministry we choose to serve in, all of our actions are to be done “to the glory of God,” as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:31.
When I became older and my understanding of church ministry work grew, I began to see its importance – both as the vessel and as the congregation. Sometimes I needed that extra listening ear, the message of God’s guidance and even a clean bathroom to ease my sanitary conscious! Other times, I felt the need to use the gifts God gave me to minister to others. It was not an obligation – it was a desire. Without a ministry, what was my purpose? I was called to be an ambassador, not a pew warmer, and that was never going to change.
After several years in the music ministry, I had found my place in the body of Christ. I had the knack for knowing what people needed to hear and when. Music was something that had much more meaning than the words it provided. The context of these words played a large part in what the song meant to me – and the potential it had to mean something for others. I was completely aware of the differences between direct and indirect messages. I could listen to two very similar songs and make the distinction between God’s assuring love and gentle rebuke. This ministry was a craft and I worked at it everyday to provide people with what they needed each service.
The calling I was under was very clear: give others what they needed. But while my heart was set on servanthood, I also recognized that, in order to do what I did for others, I needed to be open and honest about everything the Lord laid on my heart. It’s easy to simply play music, but far too difficult to make musical statements without involving yourself completely as well. The music I played meant something to me, but as a gay Christian, I knew that my lack of transparency concerning my sexual orientation was a huge stumbling block in being fully effective in the music that I made. I also knew that my coming out might be an issue with the Church.
The time came when – as a young adult – I understood my need to break the silence about who I was. It was scarier than anything else I had ever done. God had always been the centre of my life, and I had always been able to share my pursuit of spirituality with the body of Christ. I didn’t want that to change, but surely it did. Upon coming out, I was asked to resign my church membership, instructed that I had no obligation to provide any reason why. Was this the silence they wanted? Did my non-heterosexual orientation hold so much of a stigma that it was never to be mentioned?
As an LGBT-affirming Christian, the term “transparency” is perhaps not the best word to use. Using the same word to express openness of one’s non-heterosexual orientation that is often used when, for example, a humanitarian organization is suspected of pocketing the philanthropic generosity of thousands, gives negative connotations to what it means to be an openly gay individual. However, I use it to capture the scenario of the whole matter to non-affirming readers. I believe by shining a negative light – even just momentarily – on gay Christians will help us see the consequences of forced resignation of a ministry without having to be on the affirming side of homosexuality.
One thing that I could never understand was why it was so wrong to see the world from different angles when we both shared the same calling and the same faith. It is certainly impossible to have all the same convictions as our brothers and sisters in Christ, yet for some strange reason we are asked to refrain our honesty as if our muted voices changed the scenario. It is our openness to new ways of thinking and living that makes faith such a vital part of our lives. Why put boundaries on that?
I will end by asking two final questions – ones that you must answer yourself: Does a non-heterosexuality orientation invalidate our calling as Christians? Secondly, do the acts of obedience that we have been doing all along change when we become honest about who we are?
Isaac Adams is a fourth-year Bachelor of Music student at Mount Allison University and majors in piano performance and composition. Isaac comes from an independent fundamental Baptist church where he still strives to be an active member within his faith community. As a non-denominational Christian at heart, he strives to learn more about the theology behind the topic of convictions and church doctrine. In his spare time, Isaac enjoys athletics, with involvement in both weight lifting and rugby.