Dear Non-affirming Christian: an open letter

Dear Non-affirming Christian: an open letter

October 12, 2017

Dear Non-affirming Christian,
Hi, I’m so glad you’re here. One of the very best things about doing this work is getting to have conversations like this. I know we are a little different—in theology, in worship style, in Biblical interpretation. That’s okay. We have one thing in common: we are all one in the Body of Christ. And I’m certain about another thing we have in common: our life purpose, with every breath, is to glorify God and point the world to Jesus. We are in this together; one big beautiful mess.
I know it may sound odd to you: a gay Christian. I get it. I grew up on a family farm in rural Ohio in a tiny town where everyone knows everyone and nearly all 4,000 people show up in a pew on Sunday mornings. I too come from conservative church and Biblical literalism. In fact, I would be willing to bet that a lot of our theology is fairly similar.
I thank God that He was gracious enough to give me that background, which has become the backdrop for my entire ministry and life work: to reconcile the Church with the LGBTQ+ community. It is hard and holy work: reconciliation. It requires forgiveness, compassion and grace beyond belief. It asks us to lay down our pride, our certainty, our need to be right.
To answer your question: no, I have never felt torn between choosing a life of chasing after God in the footsteps of Jesus and a life of being honest about how God created me.
However, I have felt a lot of tension surrounding my involvement in the Church and my sexual orientation. Several years ago, when I came out as a lesbian, my church asked me to step down from my leadership positions. It felt like such a severe rejection of my God-given talents and gifts, and it left me reeling for years. I had always been very involved in my church and I couldn’t understand how I was suddenly disqualified from serving in the areas which had previously been so enthusiastically affirmed by my pastor and other church leaders. I hadn’t changed at all. I had only opened up about a very raw and vulnerable and significant aspect of myself.
After that, I did what any scared and confused 18-year-old would do: I walked away. It was heartbreaking and so difficult for me to leave an institution I love and cherish and value beyond words, but it was suffocating to try to continue to be a part of something which refused me because of a core aspect of who I am.
But, listen closely Friend, because the next part of the story is so beautiful: God pursued me. He chased me with desperate urgency, undying love, and unending grace. He followed me straight into all the places I thought would lose Him and carefully, slowly, gently called me back into His light.
God, unwilling to let me go, breathed Hope and Life back into my battered and bruised heart. And it was here that I learned He wants to do this for all of His children.
And that’s where my ministry began: taking this message to the ends of the earth, to the people the Church has historically marginalized and oppressed and silenced and ignored.
It is important that I tell you this: there was a period of time where God and I parsed through my life. He showed me what needed to be carved out of my heart and life and graciously poured healing down onto those areas. He introduced new ideas and made room for them. He gently pried my little fingers, digit by digit, off old wine skins which could never withstand the new wine He wanted to give me. During this time, if God had wanted me to abandon this part of myself – the part that tells me my sexual orientation is pointed toward women instead of men – I believe with all my heart He would have made that clear to me.
Instead, this is what happened: God gave me a mandate. “This story is not just for you,” I heard Him say. I already knew I was a writer. God had already showed me I was created for ministry. I had just been waiting and praying for a whisper from God to point me in the right direction. As unexpected as it was, this is it.
I think we learn best through story, so I wanted to share a bit of my story and journey toward Jesus with you. In fact, I realized, as I tried to answer your question, that I could not possibly give an authentic answer without doing so.
I want to tell you one last thing: it’s okay if you aren’t sure yet. This conversation is for everyone who is willing to show up.
It’s for the LGBTQ individual whose heart has been shattered by the conservative Christian Church; the vulnerable soul searching for the acceptance, belonging, and community to which Jesus calls us.
It’s for the LGBTQ-affirming Christian who is trying to reconcile the passionate love of Christ for all people, not despite of, not because of, but fully inclusive of, the baked-into-their-identities aspects of who they are.
It’s for the LGBTQ Christians who are struggling with theology – loved ones’ and their own – trying to find a common ground with their brothers and sisters in Christ for the Gospel, rather than against each other.
It’s for the atheist, the agnostic, the one who chooses a beautifully unique interfaith, curious about the conservative Church and why it’s relationship with the LGBTQ community is so complicated.
It’s for the person who stands up, loud and proud, to proclaim the desperate need for LGTBQ-inclusive theology.
It’s for the one who slips in the back pew and opens their Bible, wondering where the Jesus of the Bible, the One who loves liberally, eats with “the least of these”, and gives all of himself for all of humanity is in this Body in front of them.
It’s for the conservative Christian who looks at the Bible and sees only condemnation for homosexuality and doesn’t know how to act toward the LGBTQ community.
It’s for the one who stands firm in their convictions about sexuality and is confused by the inherent, born-with-it sexual, physical, and emotional attraction to members of the same gender or of both genders or of neither gender.
In short, this conversation is with you and for you. We need you – your beliefs, your convictions, your theology, your heart.
Here, I’ll move over a little, there’s room for you to sit. The pew is big enough—there is more room, more room for us all.
This is not just my work; it is ours—you and I, and the whole wide world. Come with me, won’t you?
In Christ,
Bailey

God of the Secret Places

God of the Secret Places

October 2, 2017

It used to scare me: the idea that God saw everything I did, even in secret.

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When I was little, I thought of God sort of like Santa Claus. He knew when I was awake and sleeping; when I was good and bad. As an early teenager, my image of God morphed into more of a Big Brother Eye-in-the-Sky, waiting for me to do something wrong.

Either way, I was scared of God. I thought He was out to get me.

Somewhere in my early 20’s, my idea of who God is radically shifted. I began to long to spend time with Him in the Bible, learning through ancient stories the goodness of God. During that time, I realized what a blessing it is that He sees me, even in my secret places.

For three years, I lived alone as I worked full time and went to college full time. It was easy to get discouraged. No one saw my late nights and early mornings; the 13-hour workdays at the hospital and classes stacked back-to-back on my days off. No one saw my faithfulness in attempt to build a future.

No one but God—and where I once felt judgement, I suddenly found comfort. He knew my pain and frustration, my exhaustion and every tiny success. During this time, I came to realize that I did not need the world to see me; I just needed God to see me.

In Him, I am seen and known and loved—and that has made all the difference in my life.

Today, I made breakfasts and packed lunches for tiny humans who ran out the door and did not say thank you. This afternoon, I am folding laundry and washing dishes, and no one will ever notice how I spent my day. Later, I will make snacks and help with homework and play tag until dinnertime, and it is all just expected at this point. This evening, dinner will be on the table and reading logs will be signed, and no one will stop to say, “I know how hard you’ve worked today.”

And that is okay—because all day long, I am focusing on the One who does see me. In the midst of the mundane, God meets me. He whispers promises to me over endless loads of laundry and I speak praise back to Him, reciting Psalms from wrinkled pages with soapy hands.

There is a holiness in this space of being unseen, except by God, and I am finding myself resting into learning Whose eyes matter.

Daring to Hope: a book review

September 26, 2017

It came right when I needed it most: this story of God’s unending faithfulness.

Daring to Hope

Katie Davis Majors has been a woman I have looked up to for spiritual guidance and a writer I have read voraciously for inspiration in my own writing journey for years. She first wrote to us in her debut novel, Kisses from Katie, about what she was learning about the relentless and redemptive love of God as she gave up The American Dream and moved across the ocean to Uganda to care for the orphan and the widow, giving up everything to follow Jesus. Five years after releasing that New York Times bestseller, Katie is back in print again with her new book, Daring to Hope: Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful.

This story still rings with truth and drips with grace but, with less naive optimism and greater faith, allows readers to ask the hard questions Katie found herself asking after unexpected tragedy struck her family: Is God really good? Does God really see me? Does He really love me?

In this incredible book, Katie weave the ancient stories of the Bible into her own. She is Jacob, wrestling with God over the loss of her daughter. She is Abraham as she learns of God’s generous provision, naming the hard places Moriah, meaning the Lord Will Provide.  She discovers how God makes even our very little enough alongside Zarephath, and she identifies with Ezekiel, watching dry bones come to life both in her home and in her own heart.

Here is what God has taught me through Katie’s words: He is faithful to the end.

As I read story after story of miraculous physical healing from God, He healed something in me too. He healed something within me that had broken which I could not name. He healed me, pressing into the hurting places in my life as He whispered of His faithfulness.

Hebrews 10:23 became a salve to my broken heart: Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. I wrote it on a sticky note and taped it to my bathroom mirror as a reminder of who God is. I recite it throughout my day, a constant prayer of praise: You are faithful. You are always faithful.

This story spoke straight to my heart, and I know it will for you too. Words matter, stories matter; and if you are going to set aside time to learn from anyone, Katie should be at the top of your list. No matter who you are—a college student, a stay-at-home mom, a pastor—you will find a way to identify with Katie and her story.

I rejoice again in realizing that God provides the things that we didn’t know we needed in the first place. —Katie Davis Majors, Daring to Hope: Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful

For our hope, God is faithful

For our hope, God is faithful

September 15, 2017

The cool breeze rustles through the late-summer leaves and I look up from the book in my lap. A group of children are sprinting across the field behind the school, chasing a soccer ball. The golden light is fading as the sun dips below the tops of the houses and I glance at my watch. It’s getting close to dinnertime. I wave to the kids, signaling that we are leaving the park in five minutes.
Back in the pages of the book I’m reading, I decide to finish the chapter and I unexpectedly find the words my soul has been longing for: “He who promises is faithful.” My breath catches in my throat as tears spring into my eyes. Instantly, I know this is what God has been trying to teach me for months through my stubbornness.
For all of 2017, I have known that God has been trying to teach me something important, something life-changing. I have been begging Him to make it clear to me. “Be louder,” I have pleaded with God. “I’m not getting it.” As it turns out, I didn’t need God to be louder; I needed to be quieter.
As soon as I walk in the door, I grab my Bible. With a thirsty soul, I soak in the words of Hebrews 10: Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
Earlier this year, I sat on my couch, Bible open in my lap, and I screamed at God. I accused Him of not being faithful and of not seeing the hard faithfulness of His children. I didn’t believe that God would reward the faithfulness of someone I thought deserved her reward years ago.
That day, God had answered me in a quiet, firm voice. “Do you really think I am not faithful?” I had cowered and cried salty tears onto the thin pages I sought Him in, and I thought I had learned the lesson.
Now, God was prodding me once more on this topic of faith. “Let me show you something else.” He said. The first lesson on faith was that God is faithful. The next is that God is faithful so that we may have hope.
Hope does not come easily to me. I have been disappointed and hurt by those who I thought should have loved me better, and I have been heartbroken by the Church. I’m a little jaded, if we’re being honest.
But here He is, showing up for me again.
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body…
God made a way for us. He created us from dust and to dust we will return, but our souls will live on for eternity. Humanity railed against the Creator of the Universe and He responded in grace. I kick and scream against Him, but He pulls me closer until I can see His heart more clearly. God’s way is always better than ours, if only we can lay down our pride. Jesus breathed his last and then heavy darkness blanketed the earth and the veil was torn, and now we have full access to God forever.
…let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our heart sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
“Come closer,” I hear. If there is any single invitation God gives me most often, it is this one. Every single day, He whispers it to my heart, longing for more of me. And the funny thing is, the closer I get, the more of God I want. The more of Him I get, the stronger my desire for quiet, intimate communion with Him becomes.
I’m learning that God is full of paradoxes because He is not either/or, He is both/and. And so the stronger my doubt becomes, the more faithful God appears.
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
God is faithful for a reason, for a purpose. He continually displays His faithfulness so that we know our hope is safe in Him. I had all but lost my hope in Jesus, and I didn’t even know it.
For our hope, God is faithful.

How we have white-washed Jesus & destroyed the Gospel

How we have white-washed Jesus & destroyed the Gospel

August 30, 2017

I woke up this morning still exhausted. It feels like no matter how much sleep I get, I’m never fully rested. How could we be, with our world where it is now?
The world is so broken and the weight of our shared, strained humanity feels crushing. People are literally dying over fear, over romanticized history, over a majority who refuses to relinquish power. We send money and food and resources to Africa, but perpetuate the myth that those who need help here at home just don’t work hard enough.
We love who we choose instead of who Jesus chose. 
We forget that we are not any better than anyone else. We are not worthy of Jesus either—none of us are.
I spill my coffee all over the kitchen floor and all I can think about is Jesus’ heart and blood and love poured out for us. I could weep now, just thinking about it.
What love that must be—for Emmanuel, God With Us, to come down through the holiness of a woman in the lowliest of places. Even from the very beginning, with a birth in a cave-barn, Jesus began building this upside-down Kingdom he could never stop talking about. A Kingdom where the last will be the first and the peacemakers are called children of God. 
I sip my coffee and trace the words of my tattered Bible with my fingers: The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” What great faith – to be able to recognize Jesus in the mundane moments of life.
Would I have called him Lord?
I pray that God would give me eyes to see Him, and my heart breaks over all of the times we have missed Him at work among us because we expect a King dressed in purple on a throne instead of a rather ordinary carpenter with calloused hands. Sometimes I wonder where we went wrong, but then I remember that we have replaced the gentle, dark-skinned Jesus of Nazareth with a white, blue-eyed Jesus of America.
We have white-washed Jesus and destroyed the Gospel. 
I think maybe the only way to revive the Gospel now is to rediscover the Jesus we read about in the Bible. The Jesus who eats with tax collectors and sinners, who forgives adulterers and speaks to women he shouldn’t, and who stands in the gap between humanity and the Divine.
If I am going to give my life to anything, it will be that. I do not want to follow the rich, white Establishment; I want to serve, knees in the dirt, alongside my Palestinian Savior.
We can no longer afford to continue to seek Jesus in the places we wish he was instead in of the places he promised to be. Instead of in a safe suburban neighborhood behind a white picket fence and locked doors, we find him eating government processed cheese in the homeless shelter downtown. Instead of serving the saved and privileged in a megachurch, we find him outside of the Church with the rest of the cast-outs; the ones who do not look right, act right, vote right, love right. Instead of with power in office, we find him at the rallies in the streets.
The very places the first-century Establishment criticized Jesus for being are the same places we go to find him today, and our own Establishment mirrors the old, favoring legalism and power over Jesus and love. The things being said about those of us standing in the gap between the powerful and the oppressed are the same charges brought against Jesus, and I cannot help but wonder what Bible the Establishment is reading.
Back in the thin pages, I find a mandate: When the two disciples heard him [John] say this, they followed Jesus. One sentence and they are ready. One proclamation of the Lamb of God and they are sold on following this weird Rabbi wherever he may lead them. Oh, to have faith so great – and I hear the Voice stirring within my heart: “Come. Follow Me.”
And so we pick up our signs of Love and walk into the crowds of the protest to protect our family who needs DACA to stay in effect. We grab our tools and head down to Texas to help entire cities rebuild in the midst of intense grief. We finish decorating our classrooms and get ready for a brand new group of students who need, not only education, but grace and compassion. We write tweets and pen books because we know that words and ideas have the power to change the world.
They scoff at us and ask who gives us the authority to speak and we just smile: “Jesus,” we reply and they are not convinced, but we do not need them to be.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  —Matthew 22:36-40

Sorting Time: Is the Bible the Inerrant Word of God?

August 2, 2017

For me, the Bible has always been more than words of guidance or a historical document. It has been a way which God has spoken to me; a place to run when I have been sad or worried or just plain weary from life.

The Church taught me that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. I learned from an early age that the Bible is always right, that it always has the answers to our questions – tied up with a neat little bow on top.

It was the final-say, the last-word, the end-all. What the Bible says goes, regardless of the interpretation being presented: women are to be submissive to men, homosexuality is just the devil trying to keep me from Heaven, children are to honor their parents regardless of the reason or methods being used to prove authority.

I couldn’t question the Bible because it was the truest display of who God is – and who can question God?

So, here I am, a lifetime of being force-fed what the Bible is and who God is, finally cautiously stepping out of the shadows to put my questions into words.

Despite being taught that the role of the Bible is to teach the rules of God, it has not been the place where God and I have done our most serious work. During the times in my life where I have been the most stubborn, the most unwilling to learn and to change was in a very real, very intimate and personal way. During the times the only way God was going to get me where I needed to be was by gently pushing me down the path, all the while me kicking and screaming, He did not ask me to read confusing passages. He did not ask me to sit in silence and know He is God while awaiting an answer. He did not make it ambiguous.

He showed up as a Friend in holy conversation.


 

You know that dream you’ve been cultivating since you were 8? It’s time to talk about that: Write a book.

“I don’t want to. I’m unqualified. I don’t have the time. People won’t read it anyway.”

Okay, then get ready for all of the pieces to start falling into place so much so that you cannot ignore Me. 


“I’m so exhausted, God. Why am I so tired all of the time?”

Because I never called you to all of this. You kept saying yes to so much more. 

“But I have to do all of this right now. I can rest later.”

No, you need this now and I’m plucking you up out of this situation. Here, rest. 


“I feel so isolated and alone. God, why do I feel this way, even with all of these people in my life?”

You have been unanchored for so long. You have forgotten how to invest in people, how to cultivate relationships. You are always searching for the next thing – to move forward, to grow – and you never stay put long enough to put down roots. It’s time to learn the hard and holy work of staying put. 

“Well, that’s because I don’t know where I want to settle down and stay for a long period of time.”

Well, you need to learn this, so here’s a family who loves you, a church who needs you, and a job who values you. Stay put. 


I have heard God in these very real conversations reveal things to me not necessarily recorded in the Bible. He has shown me a better way forward than the ways the flawed human beings in the stories and who transcribed the stories that are preached to us. He has affirmed things in my heart and mind still up for debate (or off the table for debate altogether) in communities of people who always read the Bible literally.

I’m not ready to completely abandon literalism, and maybe I’ll never be.

But maybe it isn’t necessary either. Maybe the Bible isn’t the Word of God; maybe Jesus really is the Word that was there in the beginning with God. Maybe the last-say, the end-all is Jesus instead of a collection of Spirit-inspired (but not quite inerrant) ancient stories. Maybe the Bible is a lens through which we see God, but not the only way to find Him. Maybe we put God in a box when we limit Him to a Book.

And maybe tomorrow I’ll have a different answer – and that’s okay.

 

Sorting Time: This summer, I will be sorting through my own faith – keeping what I love, discarding what no longer serves me – as I journey from Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism into progressive Christianity. 

Give Me Jesus

Give Me Jesus

July 26, 2017

God has been stretching me lately – pulling on loose threads of faulty theology and coaxing me into the ancient world of the sacraments. That one loose thread unraveled my entire theological viewpoint and I grabbed for the trees during the free-fall – anything to steady me. I have been learning how to light candles and pray the hours; returning to hymns of old to which I cannot remember the words. I have tried to be faithful in the new-to-me, ancient-to-the-world and it has been good. 

But this morning I got up early after a restless, anxious night and I had no capacity for challenges. Some days, we just need to sit in the glory and grace of the Good News of Jesus.

I made my coffee a little stronger than usual and opened my Bible to the Gospels. I needed Jesus, God-in-flesh, down in the dirt with me this morning. 

Something magical happens when we tell stories. Since the beginning of time, humanity has been doing this: telling the stories of our people to remember who we are. We learn about our history and our culture, about massive losses and huge victories. When we talk about how we have seen God move, we give hope to the others still waiting, hoping, praying for Jesus to show up. 

That’s what happened for me this morning. 

I read about Jesus calming the storm on the lake in Capernaum and the storm in my own mind subsided a little. I read about how the woman with the issue of blood was healed and my faith that my own heart-illness can be healed as well. I can hear the powerful words written in red being spoken over me: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” 

These words invite me to sink into Jesus. 

It’s true: some days require challenging and stretching because we are called to be ever-growing, ever-evolving in response to an ever-steady Christ. But other days are created for rest and Jesus—The End. 

Take the world, but give me Jesus.  — Fanny Crosby, 1879