I’ve contemplated the idea of sharing my thoughts about this topic for some time now – not sure whether I should or even could piece words together well enough to produce anything worth reading. This is mostly because I am still learning. I am discovering that it is possible to walk away from a careful study of Scripture and come away with a host of differing interpretations, and that I am not exempt from error. Not only that, but people who think differently from me can also be right.
I also must admit that I have some concerns (that border on fear) in sharing my thoughts. First, I worry that I will be misunderstood and even rejected by people I consider friends. Second, that I will become the victim of assumptions regarding my sexual status. I am a single heterosexual woman who desires to remain single indefinitely (I know that’s rare). I believe that God’s call for me is celibacy and I embrace that and celebrate being a happy and fulfilled single woman. As a woman for whom this is true, I risk being attacked by unwarranted assumptions and conclusions that many may draw regarding my sexual orientation. This is not because I frown upon those who are gay/lesbian, rather because of my utter dislike for assumption and misrepresentation. A third concern is that I will hurt those who read or that my thoughts may be misconstrued – my apologies in advance. And finally, I can’t help but consider that I will be misunderstood or have some distance placed between me and my fellow African American sisters/brothers because of what I say or refrain from saying in this brief space.
Nevertheless, I refuse to succumb to playing it safe, being held hostage in the prison of the personal opinions or objections of others. Jesus modeled risk-taking exceptionally well!
I have been following Jesus since my teenage years. Despite my calm, gentle demeanor, I have been slightly radical from the start. My commitment was deep as a teenager, and into my twenties and thirties. This commitment and sense of call led to many opportunities. I have been in ministry for more years than I can count and began preaching very early as local congregations affirmed my call and commitment. I was always grateful for those opportunities to proclaim God’s message, however there were also some blunders along the way.
Regretfully, during my early days of preaching I think I may have been way too harsh on those who were a part of the LGBT community – though not directly, certainly indirectly as I proclaimed some hardcore messages on holiness. I loved all people (and still do), and interestingly many people considered me a safe person to “come out” to and were met with acceptance and a listening ear. However my preaching may or may not have come across in that way – it was pretty black and white, with no consideration or awareness of the gray areas. I assumed that there was a “gay agenda” and that it was the Church’s role and God’s will for us to fight against it.
As I have grown, interacted with gay friends, attended events where honest dialogue was taking place, and have had discussions with colleagues who minister to the LGBT community, I have been able to make progress in the area of what I think and how I feel about the subject of homosexuality and the Church.
I’ve listened with a broken heart and weeping to individuals recount their experiences of rejection within local churches. I’ve mourned as I have listened to pastors and preachers disguise gay bashing under the guise of humor. As I have listened to the pulpit “jokes” I used to sit in awe as congregants deemed it acceptable to join in with a response of laughter. I was perplexed and grieved.
I remember when I first discovered that a dear friend of mine was gay – according to him, since he was a child. I wondered how it could be that he did not share his reality with me. Was I not a person he felt he could trust? Was it just something that never came up? Was he afraid that I would reject him and walk away from the friendship? Did he anticipate that I would dismiss all of the great work he had done in ministry and discount it as irrelevant because he acknowledged his sexual orientation? And then I came to my senses and realized that I had expectations of him that I don’t have of my heterosexual friends – I don’t expect people to disclose to me that they are heterosexual, I don’t expect them to make sure that I know their sexual orientation as if it is somehow the most essential aspect of their being and I have a right to know. I was also 100% sure that it was not my job to change him – he could no more stop being homosexual than I could cease being heterosexual. He didn’t need a sermon from me, he simply needed me to be a good friend. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain he carried as he kept silent regarding this aspect of his identity and the fear that comes with the possibility of having those close to him abandon him, and even losing the opportunity to serve in ministry.
As a pastor, I have not only been taught by Scripture, I have also been taught by the LGBT community. From Scripture I learn from the ministry of Jesus that His time on earth was one of meeting people where they were, elevating the social status of those who were marginalized, associating with people from all walks of life and loving them immensely. From the LGBT community I have learned about pain, identity, suffering, transparency, the importance of valuing all people as the creation of God, and most importantly one of the most essential needs of all humanity – to be loved and have a place of belonging and acceptance.
I have learned and even been hurt by the reality that many Christians that I know and consider friends are not willing to have candid conversations about this subject – either with me or with the LGBT community – and it perplexes me. I am learning that not all gay/lesbian people are promiscuous, just as not all straight folks are – in my earlier years I can’t say I believed this. I also have come to discover that there really are people who have same sex attraction that authentically love Jesus as much as those who are attracted to the opposite sex. As I have interacted with gay/lesbian individuals I have also settled on the belief that homosexuality and the church is not something that can be simplified – there are a vast amount of complexities that I can’t meet with oversimplified or pat responses. As a pastor that is difficult to admit. Finally, one of the most important things that I have discovered as a servant of God is that God does not need me to be His defense attorney – that’s simply not my call.
I started out by giving you a sneak peak into my earlier days in ministry, but as I write these words I am also reminded that during those early days I was also an Early Childhood Educator in a fairly large and reputable company. As I worked with the company, which was not faith – based, I had certain principles that guided my actions as a follower of Jesus and my supervisor was not only aware, but respectful of that. I was able to hold certain convictions and opt out of whatever my convictions guided me to opt out of. I remember objecting to certain in-house trainings that addressed the issue of providing alliances with gays/lesbians, I refused to read books such as “Heather Has Two Mommies,” and so forth. For the most part I believed I was right for doing so. And then I met Terrell and Jaron (names changed) whose parents enrolled them into our location. You guessed it: they had “two mommies.” This was the first and only lesbian couple with children that I had ever met and interacted with face to face, day to day. I had a decision to make. How would I treat them? Would I do my best to “convert” them? Would I treat their children differently because of this union? Or would I simply treat them with the respect and dignity with which I treated all parents and children? I decided to go with that last option – taking time to get to know them, respecting them, and accepting who they were. Eventually they discovered that I was a Christian and seemed surprised that I treated them the way I did (based on other encounters they had with the Church). It was a significant turning point for me in terms of how I view people, for which I am grateful.
All of the above has shaped me into the person I am today – a person who is certain that no one deserves to be dehumanized and believes that a group of people who are undeserving of love is nonexistent.
I don’t claim to have all of the theological answers and there are some conclusions that I am still unable to draw, but what I do understand so far is that one does not have to abandon their beliefs regarding the subject of homosexuality in order to simply love folks. All of us should have convictions and be able to stand on them AND none of us (regardless of where we stand) are justified in deciding not to love and accept people as people. This is where I am, and the journey continues….
Darlene is currently pursuing a Master of Divinity from North Park Theological Seminary while working part time as a pastoral intern with North Park University Ministries. Prior to this, she served on multiple local church staff teams as a full time Pastor of Children/Family Ministries. Additionally she holds a Certificate in Urban Ministries, and a Masters in Educational Ministries from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston, MA.