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Opening the Religious Closet?

by Todd Woodfill, Executive Director of the TW Foundation

No, this is not a post proclaiming I am coming out.  Yes, that is me in the picture wearing the Nike BeTrue shoes, holding a rainbow flag and rainbow sign.  Don’t on.

The number one question I receive through the website from people and churches across the country is, “How can you speak at religious organizations and do sermons at churches yet still support the LGBT community?”  Up until now, I have answered this question when asked but have been hesitant to post much on it in a public setting so as not to offend anyone.  Well, I guess I have delayed long enough.

First and foremost, I have to point to scripture.  For those of you who are not Christ followers, bear with me, I know the Bible does not hold the value to you is does to me, but this is integral to my beliefs and stance.  In Matthew, Jesus answered the question as to which is the most important commandment and it wasn’t about being sexually pure, not using vulgar language, not using substances that are harmful to your body, or even about abortion.  The greatest commandment is love.  You are to love God and love your neighbor, or better said, everyone else around you.

Before Jesus crucifixion, there were 613 laws one needed to follow.  Jesus cut these down to basically two commandments.  If these are the greatest commandments and you are a proclaimed Christian, then I have some interesting news for you... you are supposed to love a person who is gay.  

This might seem like a bombshell depending on your church teachings, how you were raised, or your personal views.  To help us get on a level playing field, please allow me to clarify a few things.

As a Christ follower, I don’t necessarily support the LGBT community, but there is absolutely no question that I support and love each and every LGBT person.  Keep in mind, the TW Foundation is dedicated to providing hope and help for those struggling with depression, anxiety, addiction, PTSD, bi-polar disorder, self-injury, and suicide.  LGBT youth are 6 times more likely to seriously consider suicide and 62% more likely to attempt it!

Christians love to pick and choose scripture that they want to use so that it best serves their needs or desires and rarely will you hear someone proclaiming justice on themselves.  The husband sleeping around on his wife may be quick to tout Leviticus 20:13 which speaks against homosexuality but is not likely to be talking about Exodus 20:14 which speaks against adultery.  (An interesting side note, there are 6 versus in the Bible regarding homosexuality yet there are 49 that talk about adultery.)

I have searched the Bible and still have been unable to find the verse that says homosexuality is worse than other sins.  Yet, many Christians shout it out proudly as the greatest.  It seems to me that the issue truly lies buried inside a large 2x4.  By that I am referring again to Matthew where Jesus asks us why do we focus on the speck of dust in someone else’s eye while ignoring the big 2x4 sticking out of our own?  Is it human nature, pride, bigotry, or something else?  I’m not sure of the answer but I do know that none of it follows the commandment to love others.

I’m reminded of the story where the group of holier than thou, uppity, condescending, bigoted, and separatist men brought to Jesus a woman caught having an affair.  Their intent was to trap Jesus in legalities regarding putting the woman to death for her actions.  Jesus instead focused on the men and said, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her."  We would all be better served by applying this to our own lives and instead of making our next Facebook post about the evil democrats or republicans focus more on loving your neighbor while working on your own shortcomings.  

When having these conversations, it is very typical for me to hear some conservatives say that if same-sex marriage is wrong, then it is loving to declare that to LGBT persons for their own good. On the other hand, some liberals will say that if same-sex marriage is right, the loving thing means speaking up for the rights of LGBT persons. To this I say, love must never be defined as “agreement.”  Love must be greater than our society’s binary outcome which suggests love is only experienced when one socially, politically, and religiously agrees with another.

The research study behind the Us Versus Us reports 93% of LGBT people define love in a religious context in more expansive ways than just agreement on the theology of sin and same-sex marriage. This runs in direct opposition to the cultural narrative that demands the LGBT community and broader church can only love, and lovingly engage each other, when all parties agree on those two matters.

The final question I consistently receive during these conversations is, “You speak and write about LGBT issues and you speak about the Christian faith, yet you refuse to publicly state where you stand on same-sex marriage.  How can you be an advocate on an issue when you won’t be forthcoming about your position on the matter?”  The answer is simple, I am not an advocate. I’m a bridge builder who is working to love everyone as each and every person has been made in the image of God. And yes, there is a difference between being an advocate and a bridge builder.

There is a difference between apathy and coercion, and intentional neutrality.  I remain intentionally neutral to be able to facilitate these very heightened and passionate conversations.  My vocation as a bridge builder is predicated upon not taking sides.  History has taught us that when people take sides (and partisan activism, by the way, is also a vocation), they lose the credibility with the other side to be in sustainable dialogue with that other.  I am more concerned with working towards dialogue that actually promotes a shift in social engagement and relationships with Christ than standing on one side yelling at the other to change.  And if that means I am at times criticized on the internet or via email by fundamentalist progressives the same as fundamentalist conservatives, so be it.  There are a lot worse things that can happen in life than people who you have never met writing mean things about you behind a computer screen.

So to recap the original question, “How can you speak at religious organizations and do sermons at churches yet still support the LGBT community?”  I think that based on what scripture tells us, the question should rather be why aren’t you loving on those in the LGBT community?

The TW Foundation will continue to work with all people regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation. Our desire is to help anyone and everyone that is in need and we intend to follow Christ's commandment to love our neighbor!


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