Several years ago, a young woman in the Bible study group I led with my then husband posted a Facebook update professing her love for her girlfriend.
When I heard about this from another member of the group, I called our minister and asked for his advice about how to respond, then I wrote her a message saying she was always welcome in our group and at church, and that I would pray for her.
It’s not downright terrible, but neither is it a model reaction. Who was I to presume she needed an invitation to continue in a community of which she’d been a part for years? Who was I to offer to talk to God about her love life instead of asking considerate, kind questions following such a brave act of self-disclosure?
At the time, I didn’t know gay people — and certainly not gay Christians. In fact, I think I practically obscured the existence of ‘gay Christians’ with my belief that faith prohibited gayness. In any case, I was deep inside a circle that kept the stories of gay people out, except if they were stories about overcoming the temptation of homosexual sin or renouncing a gay identity in Jesus’ name. Christians who associated with members of the LGBTQIA+ community were regarded with suspicion, as though we on the inside intuited how proximity to gay folks and their stories could lead to sympathy and raise all sorts of uncomfortable questions. Best to avoid, stick instead to the Bible, and to our own kind.
The woman from my Bible study group didn’t return to church after she came out and she didn’t respond to my message. From where I stand today, looking back, I don’t blame her. In fact, I applaud the instinct for self-preservation that kept her away from us, people whose beliefs implicitly cast doubt over the inherent truth and goodness of who she is, because of who she loves.
Until very recently, I was the person doing and believing the things I now implore Christians to re-examine and abandon. And all the while, the knowledge of my own sexuality was tightly packed down under layers of theology and other ideals. My response to the dissonance of my experience and beliefs was classic and tragic. Exonerated by the disclaimer that we ought to ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’, I studiously promoted an anti-LGBTQIA+ stance.
There I was, hiding in plain sight behind well-articulated versions of the argument that the God who made us all approves only of the sexual acts between married, monogamous heterosexuals. (Like me, at the time!!)
To the young woman from our Bible study group: I’m sorry. I’m sorry for not loving you. I seek your forgiveness, just as I have had to do the hard work of forgiving myself. I get it now. I know what it’s like.
In August, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald reported about my dismissal from a teaching position at a Christian school due to my (beliefs about) sexuality. Follow-up media included this segment on Channel 10’s The Project, this chat with Fran Kelly on Radio National Breakfast, a call with Triple J’s Hack, and my op-ed in The Age/SMH, among other coverage.