In February of 2014, I stood with my parents in the Capitol of my home state of Illinois to rally against a measure to legally recognize same-sex marriage in the state.
Months later we experienced crushing defeat when the same-sex marriage bill passed through the Illinois legislature, a local defeat soon felt by traditional marriage supporters nationwide as the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of the legal recognition of same-sex marriage.
Two days ago, nearly one year after this monumental decision, I found myself at a Gay Pride parade in the sprawling metropolitan city of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Well, what has not changed is my view on sexual ethics and God’s desire for human beings thereof.
I believe, as the Bible teaches, it was the intent and purpose of God in creation to bring together the two halves of the sexual spectrum, male and female, in a life-long, life-giving, and loving union, or else keep them chaste as they follow Him in celibacy (Matthew 19; 1 Corinthians 7).
Anything else is verboten.
However, some things have changed, and the same year I participated in that pro-marriage rally, I experienced a radical religious conversion and bid farewell to political involvement in its entirety.
With that came much soul-searching about how much of my views on homosexuality and culture were rooted in the Bible and how much in socially conservative politics.
--back to the Pride parade.
Recently, in talking with a young LGBT man and professing Christian about our differing views on sexuality and Scripture, he suggested I visit a Pride event to get a more rounded understanding of our country’s gay subculture with a view of relating better to LGBT people.
While I had a (negative) idea of what such an event would look like and was apprehensive to enter a potential lion’s den, I was providentially afforded the opportunity to attend Cincinnati’s Pride Parade not too long after this conversation and decided I could not pass it up.
What I saw left me overcome with emotion.
Firstly, I was struck by how successful the gay rights movement has been in achieving its stated goals.
Capitalizing on the egalitarian impulses and the social constructionist gender theories of the Sexual Revolution of the 60s and Second Wave feminism, what was once considered by virtually all people of power and influence as socially taboo behavior, is quite broadly accepted and only growing in acceptance.
Furthermore, the movement has effectively appropriated the black struggle for civil rights by appealing to widespread sympathies hereof and the desires of a generation to, this time, be on the “right side of history.”
Secondly, I was weighed down by what was simply a very open and proud (if I can do some word appropriating of my own) celebration of sin.
I know this will strike some as harsh and that is not my intention.
But whether or not you believe, as I do, that the Scriptures are divinely authoritative, you cannot deny we are seeing a monumental departure from anything resembling scriptural teachings, including the teachings of Jesus on marriage, and, as a follower of Jesus, this fills me with grief.
That said, those were not the most impactful my experiences.
I felt out-of-place, like people could see right through me and knew why I was there, and that I was unwelcome.
This was most certainly a projection of my own feelings onto the other parade-goers who surely did not even notice me (not to mention, I received only positive feedback when I did interact with anyone).
However, I was floored by the realization that the way I felt this one time at this one parade is probably the way a great many of the LGBT people in attendance feel almost all the time in public.
As I moved among the crowd, my discomfort fading as I faded in the throng, I looked at the people’s faces--the gay high school aged boy with his friends, the trans man, the lesbian couple, the older attendees with their partners.
My heart began to ache as I realized an event like this might be the only place where they feel safe and secure—where they can feel they can be themselves.
Even now, I wonder how many have been rejected by family or friends, how many left their churches, how many live a secret life, how many long to feel at home with themselves without fear of reprisal.
The consideration was overwhelming.
I mentioned earlier changes I had processed within myself after setting aside politics.
One of those was a shift from treating gay people like enemies and instead as neighbors who need the saving grace of Jesus Christ and the Good News of his coming Kingdom just as much as I or anyone else.
Does it really bother us that LGBT folks are taking refuge in the world and running from the Church?
Does it break our hearts that the heart of Jesus, once a safe haven for those on the margins of his society, is missing in so many of our churches?
Does it matter to us that we so often cannot see past debates about bathrooms and moral campaigns to “reclaim” our country to care we are driving LGBT people from the Kingdom of God in exchange for the political power Jesus rejected?
If I learned anything from this experience it is that I am 100% more committed to “being all things” to my LGBT neighbors, so they can feel at home in the Church of Christ and know the freedom, not that the world offers, but that only comes when we surrender ourselves to Jesus.
I fully understand most will reject this message (Matt. 7:13-14).
Assuredly, many will find it patronizing, untrue, restrictive, offensive, and unappealing.
Notwithstanding, I believe the wonderful truth of who Jesus Christ is—his promised coming, impeccable life, impeachable teachings, sacrificial death, miraculous resurrection, and glorious return—has the power to change even the most hardened of hearts (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18).
We need to remember God is not calling gay people to become straight; He is calling stressed-out, burned-out, busy Americans with our smartphones, IPads, frappes, schedulers, one-night stands, depression, anxiety, materialism, shame, fear, and longing for something more out of life to His Kingdom, to His heart (2 Corinthians 5:20).
The question is will you and I—LGBT, same-sex attracted, or straight—answer His call for ourselves and then help others do the same?
God helping us, we will.