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Love will Never Vote You Out

Love Wins
“It’s funny, isn’t it? That you can preach a judgmental and vengeful and angry God and nobody will mind. But you start preaching a God that is too accepting, too loving, too forgiving, too merciful, too kind…and you are in trouble.” -Bishop Gene Robinson (Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire)
Love Will Never Vote You Out (Even if the Methodist Church Does)

When You Believe You are Bad

Ryan wasn’t out when we were in Bible college together. I’m sure people had their suspicions, but he never told anyone he was gay until years after he was expelled. While they officially dismissed him for smoking, I’ve always wondered if it had more to do with their suspicions about his sexuality. So did Ryan.

That experience turned Ryan’s world upside-down. If our little Bible college didn’t want him, how could God possibly love him? My friend’s dream of working for a church was crushed. Over time, he internalized the rejection, until he believed he was intrinsically bad. I watched his life spiral out of control as he desperately tried to numb himself.

We have remained friends through the years, and I’ve been privileged to hear more of his story. Once, I asked Ryan why his life got so rough after Bible college. He said something I won’t ever forget: “When you believe you are bad, you don’t act good.”

Ryan was desperate to accept himself as a gay man, to believe that God could love him for who he is. He wanted to know there was room for him at God’s table, too, but toxic theology and leaders who voted him out told him otherwise.

Why Love Will Never Vote You Out

Of course, Ryan’s not the only one. I’ve had similar, heartbreaking conversations with several dear friends. Through their tears, each confessed that trying to “act straight” was like living in a prison of secrecy and fear. To this day, many are scared to death of being disowned by their families and shunned by their churches.

The fears aren’t unfounded. We’ve all heard horror stories about someone coming out and experiencing rejection, being shunned, and sometimes enduring outright violence, simply for being real about who they are.

Today’s news drives that point home. When the largest mainline Protestant denomination in the United States puts the worthiness of an entire group of people up for a vote, is it any wonder people struggle to believe they bear the image of the Divine?

If people believe the lie that their lives don’t matter, it damages the soul and sometimes kills the body. People don’t want to live in a world (read: a family or a church) where they aren’t known, accepted, and loved. Perpetuating hate and fear through destructive theology or political ideology is damaging the collective soul of this worldwide community of humans.

Please hear me: whoever you are, whatever you’ve done: you are not bad.If you’ve received that message, know it’s a nasty, hideous lie. Your dreams, your experiences — your joys and pains and sorrows and traumas and successes — are as unique as the stars in the sky, as varied as the number of hairs on your head. God and healthy communities have great big hearts and wide open arms. There’s plenty of room for everyone to fit.

Anyone that makes you feel devalued or ashamed because of your lived experience is not coming from a place of love. When you finally recognize that you are of intrinsic value just because you are a human being, you won’t allow anyone to diminish your worth any longer.

Love is Universal

This “be like us or you’re not welcome here” tribalism is why I left the Evangelical church. In the circles where I used to spend so much time, people were conditioned by years to believe that they are intrinsically evil. At the core of their being, people think they were born damaged, and horrible things like, “God loves me, but must not like me.”

But that’s not what real love says. My favorite thing about Jesus is that he promised that the underdog would have a front-row seat in His radical new kingdom, that the last would be first. The message of Jesus was a big “hell no” to the way things had always been and the lies we’ve always believed.

When religious people stop expecting people to fit their mold, agree with their politics, or live up to their social expectations, they extend freedom and joy to all of God’s people. And isn’t belonging what we all want? Isn’t that what Christ offers us?

At the end of the day, isn’t it more important to love my neighbors than to expect them to pass a litmus test on morality or religious fervor?

If you’ve felt ostracized due to your race, religion, sexuality, gender, disease, or disability, hear me again: you are not bad. If you are a part of any setting (religious or otherwise), that is more obsessed with perfection, cleanliness, and cultural norms than making everyone feel welcome, it is toxic. If real people don’t feel safe enough to enter a sanitized sanctuary, place of business, or home, it’s missing the point.

All any of us wants is love. Rest. Friendship. Compassion. Most of all: acceptance. We aren’t necessarily looking for answers. Just a place to take off our shoes, bow our heads, and rest, as we breathe in peace that no one can take away. The most rebellious thing a follower of Jesus can offer another human being is Love.

Countless people are hiding in church pews and at dinner tables with their own families, fearful of being ousted, just like my friend Ryan. Church leaders only reinforce those fears with their statements and votes.

It’s time to loosen the death grip on our precious moral stances and open our hands and hearts to everyone around us longing for love and acceptance. We can’t depend on the church or the government to care for people exactly as they are. Grace is beckoning each of us to step out, speak up, and make room for everyone.

Love Wins

While conservative Christians use the Bible to justify their discrimination and bigotry, I see a command to love everyone. In today’s context, I think Matthew 25:35–36 would read something like this:

I was LGBTQ+, and you invited me to the Table.
I was homeless, and you gave me a room.
I was an immigrant, and you welcomed me.
I had HIV, and you visited me.
I was a divorcee, and you didn’t exclude me from fellowship.
I was a woman, and you told me my voice mattered.
I was black, and you listened to me.
I was depressed, and you held me close.

I wish we could find grace to be unique, to embrace the story of all of us. My prayer these days is Lord, bind us together. We need the weirdness, the history, the art, the passion, the music, the queerness, and the glitter.

Please don’t back down in your resistance to the lies. You can love and be loved in return, exactly as you are. You might have to try a few places and communities, but there is a place for you. Come. Let’s celebrate the ways we are alike, and glory in our differences. Let’s listen to the sounds of friendship, harmony, and grace. Grace has made space at the table for all of us. Love will never vote you out (even if the Methodist church does).

*This article includes excerpts from Catching Your Breathand has been edited for relevance.

Additional Reading:

  1. How Can I be Gay and Call Myself a Christian? (guest post by Trey Pearson)
  2. How American Christians Use the Bible to Keep Discrimination Alive
  3. I Found God in a Gay Bar

Recommended Books:

  1. Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know About Life and Love and How It Can Revitalize Christianity (by Liz Edman)
  2. Unclobber: Rethinking Our Misuse of the Bible on Homosexuality (by Colby Martin)
  3. 8 Habits of Love: Overcome Fear and Transform Your Life (by Ed Bacon)
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The Truth about My Ever-Evolving Faith

When I woke up in an ICU room and decided I would keep living, one of the most significant changes was getting rid of the thoughts, theologies, and unrealistic expectations that were killing me. Moving forward meant letting go and choosing to accept myself, just as I am. Accepting myself allowed Perfect Love to do its work of casting out the fear that was entrenched in my heart, mind, and soul.

After receiving a scathing email this weekend, praising me for my suicide prevention work, and condemning me for my political views, I thought it was time to get perfectly clear about who I am and what I believe.

I am many things. I am not only a Christian or a mental health ally. I am a whole person, full of diverse views on everything from life to faith to politics. I need something more profound and more genuine than Sunday-morning Christianity. This is the new leg of my spiritual journey.

I don’t have it all figured out. And it’s okay that you don’t, either. If you disagree and you’re still clinging to the black and white thinking of dualism, that’s okay. I hope you feel safe here, too. This is a place where people are free to disagree, because we see the dignity in each person. As long as you are kind and respectful, always choosing to value the person over the issue, I won’t try to convert you, and I hope to God you won’t try to change me.

This is, in essence, a statement of my ever-evolving faith:

I am desperate for honesty.

I’m hungry for conversation and a celebration of diversity.

I’m stripping away fear and perfectionism to connect with my true self. This means I can show up with my success, failure, vulnerability, questions, and the core tenets of my ever-evolving faith.

I stand with underdogs (whether they are children, women, refugees, LGBTQ, black, hispanic, elderly, immigrant, refugee, differently-abled, or otherwise) and support equality for everyone.

I promise to listen to victims of abuse.

I will use my white privilege to make space at the table for everyone, to seek truth and redemptive justice for all who need it.

I refuse to dehumanize anyone, even those with whom I vehemently disagree.

I believe all people were created in the image of a God who loves us without condition.

Divine Love is at the core of our being, and this kind of love is a free gift, not a loan to be repaid with good behavior. I have been freed from the bonds of toxic religion, and I will do my part to help everyone understand that we have been wounded, but we are not broken.

I believe in nonviolence.

I am committed to following the loving example of Jesus and to respecting those on a different spiritual journey than me.

I refuse to follow the status quo of politics, culture, or religion when it means trampling those without a voice or a vote. I will not compromise my convictions to make someone else comfortable.

I believe Love wins.

I believe Fear is the enemy.

I believe all people deserve love and justice. If people think their lives don’t matter, it damages the soul and sometimes kills the body. People don’t want to live in a world (read: a family or a church) where they aren’t known, accepted, and loved. Perpetuating hate and fear through destructive theology or political ideology is damaging the collective soul of this worldwide community of humans.

No matter how we were raised or if we cling to a faith of any sort, genuine love doesn’t have prerequisites. Grace doesn’t have qualifying criteria. Compassion has no strings attached. At the end of the day, it is more important to love my neighbors than to expect them to pass a litmus test on morality or religious fervor.

I believe the only way to move forward is together.

I believe we must share our stories boldly. This is the way we overcome injustice, shame, and stigma. Talking about our traumas, fears, and disappointment takes back the power from our deepest wounds. Freedom comes when we begin to own our stories. Period.

It would be pretty hard to box me in because I’ve spent the past six years of my life saying no to labels and crushing every box I find. But if you’re wondering who I am, here are the high points: I am a Jesus-centric, liberal-leaning, mental-health-advocating, LGBTQ-loving, bourbon-drinking, cigar-smoking, cussing-like-a-sailor lover of God. I cling to Divine Mystery in myself and others, believing the very best of everyone I meet, regardless of our differences.  

No matter who is in office, where I live, what church (if any) I attend, what job I hold, or how many books I sell…these are the things I hold most dear.

If you don’t agree with my views, it’s okay. Really, it is.

If you’re willing to disagree with kindness and respect, we can sit down over a cup of coffee (or a glass of whiskey) and talk about it. Because your humanity will always matter more to me than your faith, politics, accolades, or failures.

So can we please play nice? The truth is, NONE of us have any of this figured out. You don’t have all the answers. And neither do I.

We’re all just doing our best. So, let’s put down our guns and hatred and fear of “the other,” and learn to look one another in the eye when we talk. (Hint: there is no “other.” We are all made in the image of the Divine.) Let’s talk about issues rather than people. Let’s be decent, respectful human beings.

It’s time to loosen the death grip on our precious moral stances and open our hands and hearts to those around us who are longing for love and acceptance. Now, more than ever, we should love the person in front of us. We can’t always depend on the church or the government to do what they should. Grace is beckoning each of us to step out, speak up, and make room for everyone, regardless of what the institutions are doing.

I wish we could find grace to be unique, to embrace the story of us all, the great big circle that binds us together. We need the weirdness, the history, the art, the passion, the music, the queerness, and the glitter. We need the richness, darkness like the soil, the dancing, the rhythm, the soul, and the persistence.

Dr. Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

We need you. Don’t back down in your resistance to the lies. You can love and be loved in return, exactly as you are. We need you at the table. There is plenty of room for you.

I believe Love wins.

So I choose kindness.

Are you with me?

Grace and gratitude,

Steve


Resources:

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Steve Austin was a pastor when he nearly died by suicide. A second chance, a grueling recovery, and years of honest conversation allowed Steve to find healing and purpose. It’s evident in his writing, speaking, podcasting, and coaching: he helps overwhelmed people get their lives back.

Steve is also the author of two Amazon bestsellers: From Pastor to a Psych Ward and Catching your Breath. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with his wife, Lindsey, and their two children.

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This is Why It’s Our Fault When a Child Dies by Suicide

“Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.”

-Fred Rogers, The World According to Mr. Rogers

As a father of two young children, one thing I know is this: they tell it like it is. If my four-year-old doesn’t approve of my wife’s outfit, she voices her opinion boldly. Likewise, if my son needs to poop, he announces it to the whole world. No matter how rude it may seem at the time, my children feel comfortable saying exactly what’s on their mind.

Part of our role as parents is a cultural mediator of sorts. We teach and model cultural and social norms for our children. We want them to know that it is not acceptable to wipe their nose (or anything else) with their palm before shaking someone’s hand. We are expected to teach our kids that it is neither appropriate nor kind to point out the fact that the librarian has a big fat tummy.

But as hard as we practice and model appropriate public behavior, and how to treat their friends, the thing that endears me to my children is also the thing that makes me cringe: they always tell the truth.

In many ways, that makes me thankful. I want my children to speak up about injustice. I want them to be brave enough to offer an unpopular opinion. I want my children to feel free enough to cause ripples when they feel passionate about something. I want them to be comfortable in their skin, to own their story, and to boldly speak the truth. I don’t want my kids to always go with the flow, just because “this is the way it’s always been.”

It’s also the reason we all (hopefully) teach our kids, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

When I saw the news of Jamel Myles, the 9-year-old boy who recently died by suicide after being relentlessly bullied at school, my heart did something more than break. The story pulverized my guts and pounded me into dust. No, I don’t have a nine-year-old, but my son will be there before you know it. And my daughter isn’t far from it.

I’ve seen several people ask, “How could this happen? How could a child even know about suicide? Children are supposed to be carefree! Reckless! How could a child feel such despair that they choose to die?!”

The answer is in the mirror.

Recently, my wife and I were watching a superhero movie with our son. During one particularly tense part of the film, Ben whispered under his breath, “Oh shit!” As shocked as I was, and as hard as I tried to conceal my laughter, the truth is that my son is only repeating what he has heard his daddy say.

Our children reflect the very best and the very worst in us. This is the uncomfortable truth. Our children notice our superficial relationships. They hear the angry ways we deal with people who seem unlike us. They feel the judgment and hatred we project on those with whom we interact.

Children are truth-tellers. The little parrots copy what they see and hear. When they learn that we won’t take communion from the gay couple at our church, they make a mental note, “gay is not okay.” When they hear our toxic theology about those with mental illness, they learn, “Don’t show weakness.” As we demonize those with whom we disagree, our children understand that they should never disagree with us, either.

Children learn from our example, and they strive to make us happy.

“My daddy says that God doesn’t like when people are gay,” suddenly becomes, “I know gay people and I hate them, too.” The real problem is that when our little ones mimic what we do, it is without our slick and hypocritical filters or self-control. While we criticize what we don’t understand, children say things like, “You should just go ahead and kill yourself.”

Our own closed-mindedness is what killed nine-year-old, Jamel Myles last week. Unless we speak up and invite future generations to see a world full of compassion and understanding, we are culpable in their hatred. Our mere closed-mindedness becomes their hate crime.

When a child hears you say that suicide is selfish, they follow your lead. When a little one hears a pastor refer to suicide as “self-murder,” they remember.

If children are nasty to each other, it is only because we have shown them the way. When we don’t remind those around us of their loveliness, when we refuse to make room for diversity, when we unwilling to change our perspective, it is our children who pay the price.

While I don’t want to sentimentalize the tragic death of Jamel Myles, because this is someone’s child, I do believe it is indicative of a much broader social and cultural problem.

I’ve heard horror stories about someone coming out and experiencing rejection, being shunned, and sometimes enduring outright violence, simply for being real about who they are. Is it any wonder people struggle to believe there is good in them, that they bear the image of the Divine?

And I can’t help but wonder why we do this to each other.

If people believe the lie that their lives don’t matter, it damages the soul and sometimes kills the body. People don’t want to live in a world (read: a family or a church) where they aren’t known, accepted, and loved. All people deserve love and justice. Perpetuating hate and fear through destructive theology or political ideology is damaging the collective soul of this worldwide community of humans.

When religious people stop expecting people to fit their mold, agree with their politics, or live up to their social expectations, they extend freedom and joy to all of God’s people. And isn’t belonging what we all want? Isn’t that what Christ offers us?

No matter how we were raised or if we cling to faith of any sort, genuine love doesn’t have prerequisites. Grace doesn’t have qualifying criteria. Compassion has no strings attached. It is more important to love my neighbors than to expect them to pass a litmus test on morality or religious fervor.

In the past, I’ve been a coward. I was more concerned with my own acceptance and belonging than standing up to help others receive them. I was wrong to hold back, and I am sorry. These days, I am learning to do better. I’m saying in no uncertain terms that it is wrong for any group of people to be demonized by any institution. I will not stay quiet any longer.

Please hear me: whoever you are, whatever you’ve done: you are not bad. If you’ve received that message, know it’s a nasty, hideous lie. Your dreams, your experiences – your joys and pains and sorrows and traumas and successes – are as unique as the stars in the sky, as varied as the number of hairs on your head. The vastness of that same beauty is contained in your soul, no matter where you’ve been or what you’ve been told.

When a nine-year-old dies by suicide, the truth is: I don’t give a damn what you think about homosexuality. It is time to put our differences aside and care for one another with open hearts. It is time we come down off of our moral high horses, set our agendas aside, and begin to treat the world around us with love and empathy. It’s time to quit making someone’s humanity a religious or political issue, and instead, invite everyone we know to sit at the table of brotherhood. We must let those around us know that we are safe people. We must create a world where compassion and understanding are the cornerstones of our culture. And wouldn’t that be an example worth following?

Looking for more help?

I was a pastor when I nearly died by suicide. For a limited time, you can download my Amazon bestselling book, From Pastor to a Psych Ward, absolutely FREE. Just click here.

Resources:

  1. 8 Quick Tips for Helping Your Depressed Teen
  2. What to do When Your Child Attempts Suicide
  3. This is Why It’s Our Fault When a Child Dies by Suicide
  4. How to Keep Your Friends from Dying
  5. When Priests Condemn Suicide

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Online Chat (or call 1-800-273-8255)

Steve Austin was a pastor when he nearly died by suicide. A second chance, a grueling recovery, and years of honest conversation allowed Steve to find healing and purpose. It’s evident in his writing, speaking, podcasting, and coaching: he helps overwhelmed people get their lives back.

Steve is also the author of two Amazon bestsellers: From Pastor to a Psych Ward and Catching Your Breath. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with his wife, Lindsey, and their two children.

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God is Love. No, really.

I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are

From “This is Me” (soundtrack for The Greatest Showman)

Have you learned to be ashamed of your scars? What about your secrets? Does stigma keep you silent? Do you fear being caught in your addiction? Or shunned if they find out who you love? What if your church friends found out that you have more doubt than faith these days? How would your tribe respond if you told them you don’t vote like they do?

How many brilliant children stay quiet because of the color of their skin, believing no one would care about their dreams? How many people hide in the back pew at our churches, attacked by the black dog of depression, scared to death for anyone to know? How many hurting people feel cut down by words of hate, disapproval, and disappointment?

I bet you probably have at least one minor indiscretion from your past you’d rather not discuss. The childhood abuse you’ve never confessed to anyone. The affair. The eating disorder. The child that isn’t his. The abortion. The suicide attempt. The addiction. The breakdown. The debt. The internet history. The criminal history.

“But how could I possibly tell this one piece of my story?” I hear you.

For the first ten years of my marriage, shame and stigmas had me bound. I clung to a secret that nearly killed me. If, like me, you’re holding on to that one big secret, it is likely the source of your most significant fear: how could you be thoroughly loved if you were also fully known?

I was a victim of childhood sexual abuse, and I was living with anxiety and depression. I had addictions and secrets and curiosities and night terrors that I couldn’t possibly tell anyone. I thought the only way to be accepted was to hide everything. My greatest fear in the world was to disappoint one more person, so I learned the expectations, and lived up to them very well…for a while.  I knew the words to say, I could quote Scriptures like all my friends, but my inner-castle was built on the shifting sand of other people’s opinions and approval.

My secret became the most profound contributor to my shame. It started when I was just a boy and continued to build right up until the night I nearly died by suicide.  I heard the call of Jesus to “come and rest” all my life, but I was almost thirty-years-old, lying in an ICU hospital room before I realized he was serious. I had permission to be human. To admit I was weak. To ask for help. To allow the power of confession to wash over my soul.

It took nearly eleven years for me to peel back the layers of shame and secret keeping and let my wife in on my truth. Because she was willing to meet my vulnerability with grace, the power of confession has changed my life and transformed our marriage.

Being fully known. It’s not easy. I know that fear tells you that you could never be known and also loved. Guilt says they are mutually exclusive for someone like you. A woman with a past. A guy with dirt under his fingernails and cracks in his armor. Shame says there is no way you could ever be known and loved. The truth is, being known happens little by little, in ordinary conversations with people who love and respect you exactly as you are.

In Brian McLaren’s excellent book, The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian, he shares a recurring message from the marquee in front of a local church he passes regularly:

“God loves everyone. No exceptions.

This is the message.

This is the Good News.

This is the Gospel.

This is it.

As I read those words, I smiled and choked back tears. In Ephesians, Paul prays that they may “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge…” (3:18-19)

Read: dogma, doctrine, theology – the love of God surpasses it all.

So maybe your doubts do outweigh your faith today – no biggie. Maybe you don’t have it all figured out – it’s okay! Good news: you don’t have to have it all figured out.

What if love was our entire theology? What if the goal of our lives was to live and love as much like Jesus as humanly possible? To listen to those who aren’t exactly like us? And to listen with the goal of learning – not converting or debating or convincing – listening to learn, so that we can love better? What if love was the goal?

Love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God…for God is love.

— 1 John 4:7-8

Love. God is love.

This is Me,” goes on to say:

Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum

I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me

In the past six years, since reaching my very lowest point, I have met the real Jesus: the one who accepts me exactly as I am. And just as important, I’ve started finding my tribe. I’ve realized that my wife actually loves me for who I am, not the persona I displayed for so many years. I am finding true friends and building a support system (in real life and online) of people who celebrate me, and don’t ask for me to conform to a certain belief system or political ideology. They don’t expect me to “go with the flow” or subscribe to the status quo.

They love me for me.

No matter your history, pedigree, life choices, or the way you were born, you were created with infinite value. There room at the table for you, exactly as you are. Jesus continues to call us all to “come as you are”. You are not a mistake or an anomaly, and your life is not a matter of “moral indifference”. You are a gift from God.

You don’t have to conform to the ways of closed-minded, cold-hearted people who know nothing about your story or struggle. God has the final word, and the final word is Love.

When people say, “Confession is good for the soul,” I hear, “You better tell everybody everything you’ve ever done if you really want God and those you care about to tolerate you.” But that’s not vulnerability or intimacy; it’s the toxic voice of shame. And let’s be honest – confession is good for the soul, no matter your faith or religion. As my friend Ed Bacon said, confession is like pressing the human “reset” button – it allows us to offload whatever feels too heavy and seek solace and clarity in the safety of a trusted relationship. To be loved is to be known – one doesn’t happen without the other.

God loves everyone. No exceptions.

(Download the free printable and share it on social media this week with the hashtag #underdogswelcome)

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Following Jesus Out of the Evangelical Church

In Episode 41 of the #AskSteveAustin Podcast, Steve Austin talks with David P. Gushee, author of the brand-new book, Still Christian: Following Jesus Out of American Evangelicalism. Tony Campolo says, “Still Christian takes us on the journey of a Christian leader who endeavors to maintain his integrity while navigating his way from a rigid fundamentalism with its right-wing political agenda into a progressive worldview.” Listen now at AskSteveAustin.com or on your favorite podcasting app!

A piece of my journal from March of 2016 says this:

I’m too liberal for the Republicans and too conservative for the Democrats. I’m a 30-something Southerner, born and raised in the buckle of the Bible Belt. I was dunked by the Baptists, spoke in tongues in the Assemblies of God, went to a Church of God college, returned to my Baptist roots as a youth pastor, became a Methodist, and now agree with about 80 percent of the Catholic Church’s teachings. I attended George W. Bush’s first inauguration as a senior in high school but have voted Democrat in the last election. I study the King James Bible with a concordance but I read The Message on my iPhone for enjoyment, while having a glass of wine and smoking a cigar.

I’m a walking contradiction.

Maybe there was once room for people like me. Maybe everyone is like me, if we’re all honest with each other. But our culture no longer allows contradictions. I run from discussions with other Christians because it almost always ends poorly. A loss of friendship, a loss of faith, a loss of fervor. I’m tired of being burned.

When many people of faith force it to be an either/or battle of choosing sides, how do you find your voice without losing your soul? This is what today’s episode with David Gushee, author of Still Christian, is all about.

Some questions from today’s conversation:

  • What’s it like to become a born-again Christian in 1978, during the Presidency of Jimmy Carter and the formation of the Religious Right?
  • How has stepping away from American Evangelicalism impacted the way you pastor and parent?
  • What is life like for you, as a pastor or Christian leader, when church life in America seems to be on the decline?
  • Do you have any advice for folks like me, who are in the midst of a personal deconstruction of faith…on how to hold onto their faith, while not abandoning their intellect or ignoring the questions?
  • Is the Bible literally true?
  • How similar were the religious wars of the 1980’s to whatever we’re experiencing today with the marriage of President Trump and the Religious Right?
  • If we look at life through the lens of American Christianity, politics, and culture in 2017 – when do we compromise, and when we do we stand our ground?
  • Do you have any advice for Evangelical Christian pastors who feel stuck, Sunday after Sunday, with the obligation to support their family pressing right up against their secret affirmation of the LGBT community, or their support of women, or their disdain of the President?
  • You have been described as “every liberal’s favorite evangelical” and you have also been described as “every liberal’s least-favorite evangelical”. Which one would you rather be, and why?
  • You are an anti-torture, pro-environment, LGBTQ-affirming, academic…and yet you seem to still consider yourself a Baptist? If so, how and why?
  • After all that you’ve been through, how is this not just a book about a disillusioned ex-Christian?

Favorite quote? “I’m disillusioned. But I’m not an ex-Christian.”

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“Hey Jesus” by Trey Pearson

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How Can I Be Gay, and Call Myself a Christian?

#FaithfullyLGBT

A friend of mine started this hashtag, that many people use in solidarity, as we proclaim our faith, and also proclaim our sexuality.

That same friend also is the President of an organization called Faith In America, whose ultimate goal is “to end decades and centuries of using religious teachings to justify marginalizing and discriminating against others.”

We want Christians to stop calling homosexuality a sin. We want people to understand what kind of damage has been in done in millions and millions of people’s lives. People have not understood how harmful this is, and we want to see the world change.

So how can I be gay, and call myself a Christian?

I cannot tell you how many people have asked me, and are continuing to ask the question, of how to reconcile their faith with who they are as an LGBT person, or in wanting to support people in their lives, that are LGBT.

This is a huge hurdle in our time and culture, and it is one that we must continue to address to see change, although it is not the first hurdle we have had as a people of faith.

So where do I start? I start with what I think is the biggest problem in Western Evangelical Christian culture, today: Worshipping the Bible. I believe one of the biggest mistakes Christians have made throughout history, which has led to most of our troubles, has been worshipping the Bible as much, if not more, than we worship Jesus.

The Bible is beautiful… but the Bible is messy.

A beautiful way to see this big, collection of books, is to understand that it is something put together by different writers, over thousands of years, in different times and places, as they have understood God to move throughout history. There is so much to learn from that. A beautiful way to see the Gospel stories is to see the stories of Jesus, and how people witnessed The Divine move. That is what we have chosen to follow, and put our faith in.

Putting our faith in thinking that something put together hundreds, to thousands of years after each letter was written, or put together, was somehow done by God, inerrant, or infallible, is a terrible way to look at the Bible. In fact, it’s a whole different leap of faith, and different thing to put your faith into, which has nothing to do with what it means to be a Christian. A follower of Jesus.

You have to jump through a lot of hoops to try to pretend that there aren’t contradictions all through the Bible.

You have to jump through a lot of hoops, and take a huge leap of faith, to believe that God wrote every word in the Bible, and put it together the way it was.

But that is how most of us were raised in the church, and it has probably done more to push people away from the church, than anything I can think of. It has been the cause of what has torn apart families, and destroyed so many lives.

I think about what kind of effect it has had on me, and how hard it has been to be able to accept myself.

We probably all know stories, whether it came down to homosexuality, or something else, of how this Bible worship has torn apart friends and family.

I don’t believe that makes it any less beautiful. I actually believe this makes it feel a lot more real. They could have done a lot better job at swaying us against slavery, for or against predestination, etc., if the point was having the Bible be written by God, or without error.

But we have to start there before we are ever going to be able to fully understand why we have had so much trouble accepting LGBT persons in the church, condemning slavery, or believing that women were equal to men. I could go on…

For the sake of this in particular, from here, we will use homosexuality. Having Google as a tool now, anyone who is interested, can find out rather quickly that homosexual wasn’t a word until the late 1800’s.

So why is it that the Bible we were given, that was written thousands of years before that, is telling us that God calls it an abomination.

Starts to get confusing, doesn’t it?

The quick answer is that what those writers were talking about then, is not what we are talking about now, when we talk about committed, loving relationships between 2 people of the same sex.

Jesus never talks about it.

But if you were to ask Paul in his time and culture, I don’t know if he would have been for that. I don’t know if he would have understood enough to have had an insightful answer. But I also don’t believe, from his writings, that he understood why slavery was an abomination, or that women were equal to men. I still love Paul. I believe Paul was a huge advocate for the message of Jesus, and I believe we can gain a lot of wisdom from his letters, that we now deem Scripture.

If I would have understood this when I was growing up, I could have understood more about myself, been able to accept myself, and I would have been able to keep from making such a mess of relationships in my life. I truly believe we are hurting people by the toxic theology of condemning same-sex relationships, and I believe we have a chance to change this.

With all of that said, I’m still in love with Jesus. I love the stories of Jesus, and I love putting my faith into believing they are true. There is, of course, no proof. But I hope. I believe. I believe in his message. I believe that loving God and loving your neighbor are the 2 most important commands we have been given. I believe, as Paul said, that in loving your neighbor, you are fulfilling the commandment to love God with everything you have. That is my belief as a gay man, and as a Christian.

Grace & Peace, Trey

Originally posted at TreyPearson.com – Republished with permission.

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Why I Believe Love is Love

I finished my radio show and was moved by the interview. The in-studio guests for the night were a former “Meth Momma” and her two teenage sons. Her youngest boy recalled the day his Mom was arrested, and remembered the cops finding two meth labs in the trunk of the car. He was nine at the time. She had now had been clean for more than a year. During that time, she found hope, grace, and a second chance. Her sons did, too.

gay guy gas pump

As I drove away from the studio, I remember feeling uplifted. I’d just shared an example of putting radical grace in action. At the time, I was actively involved in a campaign by People of the Second Chance. In that show, we had tangibly overthrown judgment in the life of this family. I was feeling good. Good about helping others, and good about myself as a Christian.

I pulled into the gas station across the street. I got out, slid my debit card, and was filling up the tank when a black two-door car pulled up beside me. Their punk rock music was blaring and after a couple of minutes, I overheard the girlfriend say to her fella, “Are you serious? Declined again? We’ve got to get home!” I immediately felt bad for the couple. I eavesdropped a bit and could tell they weren’t people who hang out around the pumps, begging for enough cash to get their next “fix”.

The guy walked around to my side of the gas pump and asked if I could give them enough money to get home. Cigarette smoke mixed with the smell of gasoline.

Wait.

I was wrong.

The man in front of me was obviously gay.

And it wasn’t his girlfriend. Well, it was. But she was a he, complete with long blonde hair and an Adam’s apple. This was several years before Caitlyn Jenner. Also, we were in Birmingham, Alabama, a place where even the most “out” couples are excessively discreet. The couple would have blended into Los Angeles or Las Vegas. They couldn’t possibly be from the buckle of the Bible Belt.

Well, this sure changes the story!

Or does it?

Why should it?

[clickToTweet tweet=”Does grace only extended to straight people? #loveislove #graceismessy #ConfessYourChurchMessy” quote=”Does grace only extended to straight people? ” theme=”style3″]

Why should I be any less Christian or give any less grace or help to this gay guy and his partner? Does grace only extended to straight people? Does Christian charity and unconditional love actually have caveats? Should it? Are there places where Jesus says, “Tell you what, that whole thing about a cup of cold water in My name? It doesn’t apply here.”

Does love have strings attached?

My thoughts swirled as I considered what to do. I am convinced love is always right and hate is always wrong. So, am I going to be the same radio guy who hosts meth addicts and preaches radical grace when I’m at the gas pump and no one is looking?

I already knew there is only one right answer. My straight white evangelical upbringing was screaming at me from one shoulder, and the messy grace of Jesus was on the other. Being raised as a straight, white, evangelical, I always heard that “God is love,” but in the next sentence, He would somehow “spew” homosexuals “out of His mouth”.

In my situation, Love won. I pumped a few gallons for the couple. They thanked me profusely. As I shook the guy’s hand, I was nearly knocked over by the stench of alcohol. We chatted for a minute. I followed my gut and told him the point of life is that God loves all of us. He grinned and said, “Hey, what’s John 4:24 say?” What a random question. I had no idea.

I looked it up as soon as I got back in the car:

“It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship.” (John 4:23-24)

It’s who you are that counts. Your worship to God is the way you live. A few years ago, my own church mess would have lead me to ignore and shun this couple. I would have been disgusted by the scene that unfolded that night at the gas pump. The journey toward authentic faith became real for me in that moment.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Love is the answer. Always. #graceismessy #loveislove #confessyourchurchmess” quote=”Love is the answer. Always.” theme=”style3″]

The most effective way to destroy prejudice is by sharing tangible love, one opportunity or person at a time. If my Sunday morning song service doesn’t match my response to a gay guy at the gas pump, I’m missing the point.

Love doesn’t have caveats. Grace is for everyone, no strings attached. I thank God I can’t get away with saying, “I’m a Christian … unless you’re gay and overdrawn”.

As we departed, the guy gave a big smile and said, “Hey! Cool t-shirt!”

I had forgotten all about what I was wearing. REAL MEN WORSHIP GOD was plastered across my chest.

[clickToTweet tweet=”God is more concerned with love than the amount of knowledge you obtain. #graceismessy #confessyourchurchmess” quote=”God is more concerned with the love you give than the amount of knowledge you obtain.” theme=”style3″]

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