The following is the tenth 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.
by Betsy Johnson (BEA guest writer)
When I was little I was always intrigued by Jesus and church. I’m not sure why, because we didn’t go to church and no one taught me about Jesus. The only real exposure I had to anything religious as a child was stop motion animated television series that aired on Sunday mornings (when we were always home) called Davey and Goliath. I loved this show. I loved the opening song, A Mighty Fortress is Our God. I loved the family dynamic. I loved that these kids experienced difficult things and then trusted God to help them. I was around twelve years old when my family did start going to church, where I learned about and took the opportunity to accept Jesus as my Saviour. This felt good. I finally felt like somehow my family was more like Davey’s.
Over the years I learned a lot about the Bible and Christianity. I was involved in my church youth group and participated in lots of activities. I was vocal about my faith at school and generally “took a stand” on things I thought were important. I attended a Christian University where I pursued a major in Bible Literature. I travelled abroad. I worked at Christian camps. I rode my bicycle across America a couple of times singing Christian songs. I thought thought it would be cool to be a single missionary in the jungle…until I spent a summer in the bush of Africa and decided it wasn’t for me. So, I married a pastor instead. Being a Christian was pretty much what I was all about.
There was something that always kinda bothered me, though. I couldn’t really put my finger on it, but it had to do with Jesus. Even though He was the reason any of us were doing this whole Christian thing, He didn’t tend to integrate the way I thought He should. We talked about Him, but He seemed more like a figure head than the lead guy. Many times when I would be reading my Bible, or listening to a sermon, or writing a paper, I would consider something Jesus said. I found His words often made me uncomfortable; He sounded out of touch or in the clouds. Basically, Jesus never struck me as a very good Christian.
The story of Mary and Martha, for example, always troubled me (Luke 10). The story goes that Jesus shows up unexpectedly at the house and Martha goes crazy throwing a meal together. Mary, on the other hand, sits and swoons. And then Martha gets in trouble for “fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing.”
“NOTHING? SERIOUSLY ? I didn’t hear anyone complaining while they all chowed down on the delicious “nothing” meal she just prepared for them!” (that’s me speaking up for Martha. I do that when I see an injustice. And besides, Martha needs a little support here — she’s busy cleaning up “nothing” and licking her wounds from Jesus’ insensitive remarks).
Then there is the account of John the Baptist sending his people to Jesus to make sure He (Jesus) was the one they had been expecting (Luke 7). This was a reasonable enough question considering everyone was quite anxious to know who the “Promised One” was and would be thrilled to be able to say He’d finally arrived. Also, then John would know whether or not he should keep on “making the way”, or if he could stop doing that now.
So John’s peeps say to Jesus, “Are you the One we’ve been expecting, or are we still waiting?”
It doesn’t appear that Jesus just jumps all over that question. I think I may have been inclined to say something along the lines of “Of course I AM, you morons. Have you not seen the miracles? The healings? Are you living in a cave?” (good thing I wasn’t Jesus, eh?)
Instead, the Scriptures record “Over the next two or three hours, Jesus healed many from diseases, distress and evil spirits. To many of the blind he gave the gift of sight.
Then he gave his answer: ‘Go back and tell John what you have just seen and heard:
The blind see
The lame walk
The deaf hear
The dead are raised
The wretched of the earth have God’s salvation hospitality extended to them”.
All He had to say was Yes or No. Instead, He says
“Is this what you were expecting? Then count yourselves fortunate!”
Have you ever wondered, given the enormity of the debate surrounding homosexuality and the Bible these days, why Jesus didn’t deem it necessary to include in that list: “The gay are made straight”?
I recently posted a question on FB :
“Do you believe that if someone asked Jesus, during His time on earth, to heal them of their same-sex attractions, that He would heal them in the manner that they expected?” i.e. make them straight?
Because, that is what we expect when we suggest that gay people are broken whereas, straight people are not. That is what we are expecting when we send gay people to counselors and reparative therapy and prayer ministries designed to help people deal with their broken sexuality. That is what we expect because what we believe is that God never wanted them to be gay in the first place.
The thing that perplexes me about this “expecting” passage is the importance Jesus puts on what they were expecting. Does it matter what we are expecting? I mean, my expectation of Him doesn’t change anything about Him. But in this scenario, Jesus suggests that their expectations will determine whether or not they can see Truth; whether or not they will be able to identify Him as Messiah. I expect a lot is riding here on expectations.
I’ve been getting to know a lot of gay people over the past year. And one thing I’ve learned is that there are TONS of LGBTQ people who love Jesus and are living vibrant, authentic lives as followers of Christ. How can this be? I’ve always been taught, basically, that this is not possible. I’ve been taught that anyone in a same-sex relationship is living a lifestyle that disqualifies them from said vibrant relationship with Christ. The gay have not been made straight…yet, they thrive.
Sadly, not all of them thrive. Particularly the ones who are still trying to be “made straight.” It saddens me to know that therapies designed to help heal people of their homosexuality don’t work very well. I have met people who have tried it…and it hasn’t “worked”. Many of these people live in, what I would call, relative despair. Some have written books describing their lives of continuous self-loathing and unbearable isolation. They devote their life’s energy to living with the burden of their brokenness, convinced that THAT is what God expects, even demands of them. And, I guess we are supposed to applaud them for their determination and hard work at not being who God created them to be.
Hmmm. Really? I’ve gotta say, I just feel really sorry for these people. Somehow I don’t see this as the healing touch of God on their lives.
So I wonder…is it possible that some people are expecting God to change something He simply isn’t interested in changing? Could it be that they’re expecting the wrong thing?
I think the modern Church believes that they are being “persecuted” for their stand against homosexuality, and that this “persecution” is a sign of the end times. Many would say that those who support LGBT people have essentially been given over to a depraved mind and may not even have a place in the kingdom of God. Traditionalists really do believe that they must oppose gay people and their agenda for equal status because the Bible so clearly condemns homosexuality. The Church accepts the criticism as a reflection of their obedience to the truth.
My question is, what if, in fact, the Church is suffering not because of it’s stand against LGBT people, but because it is not taking it’s stand for LGBT people? What if the current outpouring of hate towards Christians and Christianity coupled with the divisive in-fighting is really God’s reprimand against a Church that has become so arrogant and self-absorbed with its own expectations of what the Bible says that they have lost the ability to love “the other”.
When I see Jesus telling people to “count themselves fortunate” simply for expecting that this Jesus, who was doing cool stuff, was indeed the Messiah, I take pause. He didn’t seemed concerned about their theology degrees or hermeneutical prowess. He simply asked them what they expected. And then He told them
“Is this what you were expecting? Then count yourselves fortunate!”
I didn’t always get Jesus. But I think I get Him better now. And one thing I’ve come to accept about Him is that He doesn’t do things the way I would. He doesn’t always meet my expectations or say the things I want to hear. I wonder sometimes how I got so “lucky” as to finally understand how beloved gay people are to God, just the way they are. Why am I, an ally and advocate to LGBT people, such a rarity among “christian” people? I wonder if maybe God has shown me something about gay people because I was expecting it.
Betsy Burns Johnson is a straight mother of three grown heterosexual daughters. She lives in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada and works as a bartender and manager at a local theatre. Betsy earned a degree in French and Biblical Literature from Taylor University. She has attended conservative churches all her life and her husband is a pastor. Betsy’s passion for LGBT reform in the Church is founded in her unwavering commitment to a Jesus who loves all people unconditionally, and does not impose unnecessary burdens on His children (Matthew 11:30).