“We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.”—Talmud
In the spring of 1995 I attended Youth Legislature through the Tennessee YMCA. We had moved to Franklin, TN the fall before, and I was a sophomore in a new school. As part of the conference, we attended lectures on “hot topics” in Tennessee politics. With some of my classmates, I attended one on gay and lesbian rights. The presenter, a lawyer who identified as lesbian, talked about some of the current legal issues around sexual orientation. At the end of 45 minutes, she began to take questions. I’ll never forget one of those questions because I asked it: “What do you do with the fact that God hates homosexuality?” The presenter responded, “I don’t think God does, but if you’d like to talk more, I invite you to come speak with me at the end of the hour.”
I took her up on her offer. I don’t know what I was expecting—horns, books about devil worship, 666 tattooed on her wrist, etc.—but what I got was ten minutes of grace from a kind woman who had recently been informed (I’m sure not for the first time) from the ignorant asshole standing in front of her that people with her sexual orientation are shunned by God. She gave me her business card, and told me to call her if I ever wanted to talk more. I did…eight years later.
But that’s another story. This one ends with me going up to watch some proceedings in the senate balcony, sitting by one of the junior students at my school, and telling her about the lecture. She said, “I know! Isn’t that just gross?” I’m not sure how I responded. I was shocked. Were people around me anti-gay because they were prejudiced? I assumed we were all on the same page. We weren’t personally offended. We were just proclaiming God’s Truth to the world. But the “Truth” we identified wasn’t handed down from the heavens, leather-bound and inked in black and red. It was fought over by men whose vision and understanding were limited by their cultures, their prejudices, and their agendas.
Sometimes I still wonder why I felt the need to stand up and ask that question. Outwardly, of course, I was “defending the faith.” But now I think about what my life was like at that point. I was obsessed with thoughts of heaven and hell, who was going and who wasn’t, including me. I thought I was evil, and I’ll write about that in another post. But I think the central question of my life was a very basic one: am I okay? To the extent that I could proselytize and criticize others, I could work to keep my own demons at bay, but at my core, I doubted very seriously that I was lovable or acceptable to God or anyone else.
The church of my childhood employed the Bible to create very distinct lines between us and them. Of course, growing up I’d been part of the former group, but I could feel myself changing and doubting the beliefs of my childhood. I was miserable. And no one knew because I knew that doubt, confusion, anger, depression, etc. are not “of God.” So, I suffered in silence while projecting my anxiety onto everyone else. I wasn’t asking how the speaker dealt with God’s rejection of her; I was asking how I could deal with God’s rejection of me. I don’t know what she knew about me in that moment. But what she offered me was something maybe no one else could have. I needed to know that God was bigger than my prejudice because at that time I was incapable of believing that God could love me.