Seeking Shalom

The following is the twelfth 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.

*This installment is not a guest post. It is authored by BEA founder, AnaYelsi Sanchez*

“AnaYelsi – if you do not agree with the Christian religion may I kindly suggest you choose another one and stop taking the God of the Bible and trying to make Him be ok with homosexuality. Because He is not.” – Actual message from a “concerned” sister in Christ. 

I could. I could choose to walk (be forced) away from my faith for the sake of equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. I could also choose to abandon those people for the sake of my faith (more accurately, the non-affirming majority who claim to speak on behalf of my faith). Instead, I am choosing to live in this tense place – the uncomfortable intersection of Christianity and LGBT advocacy. By choosing this tense place I have been present when the time came for conversation. Conversation with a Christian girl coming out as a Lesbian to her friends and family. Conversation with a church leader who believes affirming LGBT people is akin to living in “deep deception”. Conversation with a Christian woman who has chosen to live in celibacy because she sees it as her only option. Conversation with a pastor who used derisive and gender-normative language from the pulpit (and apologized! WOW!). Conversation with Christians who had never before stopped to examine why they hold their non-affirming stance. Intense, awkward, beautiful conversations – all birthed out of a choice to be present.

love is love

2013 Marriage Equality Rally at Lake Eola in Orlando, Florida

As a cisgender heterosexual female I am choosing to confront my countless privileges. Purely due to the random lottery of my birth, I will never face many of the challenges that LGBT people face. I have the freedom to walk away from this “cause” when the road becomes too treacherous. My LGBT Christian brothers and sisters do not. Regardless of how difficult the road becomes they are forced to travel it – whether it be as a rejected openly gay man, a closeted lesbian dealing with the hopelessness of coerced celibacy or the many possibilities in between.  They can never fully abandon their sexual identity [nor should they have to] or the ramifications it holds with a religion [Not a God] that, more often than not, rejects them. For them and, more importantly, with them I am seeking SHALOM.

Thus says the LORD of hosts: seek the [shalom] of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its [shalom] you will find your [shalom].” -Jeremiah 29:7

Shalom is such a richer concept than the watered down “peace” we have translated it to be. It is more than the absence of discourse or violence. Shalom is the presence of justice. The reward of justice and space for all to live into the fullness of their identity is worth the difficulties we face in the church. We must not settle for peace without justice. I am no stranger to the “Don’t rock the boat/ peace above all else…” narrative. It often touted by those who see their comfort and their norm endangered. They are not seeking peace they are seeking silence – the elimination of a threat to their security even if it must be achieved by silencing the marginalized or oppressed. There is a degree of truth to this narrative. That’s what makes it so dangerous. Yes, we must work to preserve our relationships. Yes, we must battle against divisiveness. Yes, we must use wisdom and discernment when approaching one another. But the approach must be made.

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Jesus gave us two commandments – to love God with all our heart and to love our neighbor as ourselves. How can we claim to love God if we do not actively live out the command to love our neighbor? How do we claim to love God if we are not willing to live in solidarity?

Solidarity – being willing to enter into an equal relationship rooted in respect and to shoulder the burden/consequences of the people with whom we’ve allied ourselves.

282861_10151180265837862_1535049068_n (1)I am committed to living in solidarity with my LGBT friends. This is not a private act. It means refusing to be silent and boldly challenging those who share in my privilege. I must confront homophobia/transphobia as I would confront any form of oppression. It is a sad reality that voices of privilege are heard as louder than voices of the oppressed.  This can lead to a savior complex that disrespects the voices of LGBT people and makes a mockery of solidarity. I’m sharing their sacred place because they’ve allowed me to not because they can’t survive without me. It crucial to remember that my voice is not the most important voice in the room. I am the follower not the leader. I look to my LGBT friends to guide me and, when necessary, correct me. I will make mistakes. It is inevitable. But it is not an excuse for inaction.

Neither is fear. I cannot afford to be paralyzed by fear of lost privilege, friendships or security. As allies, we must be prepared for loss. How can we be in solidarity with those who have lost so much and not expect to experience loss ourselves? Yet, I have gained so much more than I could ever lose. I am blessed with dozens of friendships that I would have closed myself off to if I towed the party line. I know incredible gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people – Christian and otherwise.

Of the Christian LGBT, I stand in awe. I have been ridiculed, rebuked, lost a job I loved and lost friends but at no point was my personal dignity challenged or my identity rejected. I don’t have to fear that. If it weren’t for the sadness of it, I would be amused by those who question the validity of faith of Christian practicing homosexuals. Faith? Are you kidding me? I can’t imagine the degree of faith required- the single-minded love that allows them to focus on Christ despite the bombardment of rejection from Christ’s followers.

A couple of years ago, I had a friend over to my house. She is a white woman. We sat in my living room visiting and at some point the conversation turned to racial profiling [a big subject in the news]. I poured my heart out to her. I shared how hurtful and frightening it was to think I could be profiled and consequently subjected to frisks, groundless detainment or worse. I asked her to consider what an injustice it was to subject Latinos to this simply because we “looked” like we were undocumented. Her response,

“You have to admit, Ana, it’s usually people who look like you that are committing crimes and stuff anyway.”

What did I do? I, a person known for her boldness, silently walked out, went to my bedroom and cried. It broke my heart. It’s a wound on our friendship to this day.  She sat in my home and effectively told me that my dignity was worth less than her fear of the “other”.

That is what the Church is doing to our LGBT brothers and sisters. We are sitting in our shared home [the church] and telling them that preservation of their dignity is secondary to our blind commitment to untested tradition coupled with fear of the unknown. And yet the bravest of them keep returning – clinging to the truth. They’re my heroes.

Thus says the LORD of hosts: seek the [shalom] of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its [shalom] you will find your [shalom].” -Jeremiah 29:7

I am seeking the Shalom of LGBT people. In their Shalom I will find mine.

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9 thoughts on “Seeking Shalom

  1. Fantastic post AnaYelsi! You are a blessed child of God at work in this world to help bring respect and justice to all!

  2. Pingback: Out Of the Closet and Into the Pews | AnaYelsi Sanchez

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  4. Thanks so much for your post and your hosting of “Out of the Closet and into the Pews.” It has provided me much encouragement. Fight on! For justice and peace!

  5. I have some notes on the word “Shalom” from my Old Testament course and I was taught that it means:
    completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, to be complete, perfect and full.

    Justice, too, I think. It is somewhere in the mix.

  6. I can be somewhat of a person who overanalyzes things; but I had to read this again and I appreciate the time you put into explaining yourself about these issues,etc. because of this; I now have a better understanding of you as a person and were god wants you to be. I admit I was highly critical of opinions of these issues; but you have inspired me to listen and understand your true place in the world and as believers what is expected of us who live in a society if uncertainty and fear. thanks for writing your thoughts and experiences; much love.

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