no more lepers

kathyescobar dreams, fundamentalism, healing, spiritual formation, the refuge 19 Comments

if you judge people you have no time to love them” – mother teresa

“let he who is without sin cast the first stone” – Jesus

one of my favorite passages of scripture is in john 8, where Jesus protects a woman from the justice-seeking crowd by radically turning the tables on them, calling them to look at their own lives before they past judgment on hers.  and he sure doesn’t mince words.   the motto at our wednesday night house of refuge is “no stones thrown here.”  i am so tired of stone-throwing, of certain people thinking that it’s their responsibility to make sure that “God’s truth” gets told that they’re willing to lob big ol’ stones all the time without any care or concern for the person getting pummelled.  (i am openly confessing here, too, that i can be a big stone-thrower myself when it comes to legalism.  please know i’m working on it. it’s hard to speak my opinions honestly & not be judgmental and rude at the same time, so know that i am not unaware of how i can sometimes cross the line and am in constant need of God’s grace.)  however, i am deeply committed to advocating for the voiceless, the underdog, the powerless, and so this means that sometimes i speak directly about my current opinions on certain issues (note, they are just my opinions, i am not saying 100% i am right and also that i use the word “current”). 

i do believe wholeheartedly that there are two big issues that conservative christians have decided to zone in on–abortion & homosexuality.  i know all about “the slippery slope” and that christians and nonchristians alike are all over the map on these issues.  but what happens so often is in all of the conversation about morality & who’s right and who’s wrong, we lose sight of the most important thing–the person.  the people who know what it feels like to be the woman caught in adultery with mean people perched with stones in-hand.  people, real people, deserving of dignity, love, care, mercy, and safe community, just like everyone else in this world.    i love what jim henderson from off the map has said:  “once we’re in relationship with people who are different from us it changes everything.”  you see, it’s easy to judge an idea, a concept, a doctrine when it doesn’t hit close to home. but what about when stones are getting lobbed at your friend, your daughter, your son, your sister, your brother, your co-worker, your neighbor?  what if you got to know up close and personal someone radically different than you and discovered that pretty much you’re just the same–strugglers on the journey trying to figure out how to love, be loved? what if you quit defining & elevating sin and spent that energy on loving? 

jonathan brink recently wrote a post called the new lepers that is worth reading (and is much shorter than this, ha!).  homosexuals are the new lepers in the church.   it makes me so sad, thinking about how much dignity has been stripped through the actions of well-meaning christians.   i am tired of truth always trumping grace.  anyway, i play a good deal of clean-up-after-the-mean-people and i feel privileged to do it. i spend a lot of time apologizing for others’ behavior in the name of “christian truth.”  it disturbs me that Jesus–lover of all people, especially the outcasts, untouchables–has become associated with being the one who won’t touch certain people unless they clean up their act.   anyway, i have no desire to argue theology or scripture verses or any of the other things that get thrown into this argument.  what i care about is being people willing to love all people, period.   there should be no lepers in the church of Jesus Christ.  period.  it is time for us to be less afraid of our differences and notice just how deep our prejudices and fears really go. 

one way to do this is to hear a former leper-in-the-church’s heart.   so i asked my dear friend, who is courageous, beautiful, smart, and gay, to share a little bit of her past & recent journey.  i thought it was important to not hear hear my heart on her behalf, but to hear directly from hers.  she is making herself vulnerable & trust me, i am like a mama bear when it comes to my friends.  but we talked together about taking this risk because we think it’s so important to hear a bit of what it feels like to be a leper, an outcast, a “less than” not just in school, families, but most of all the church. and maybe, just maybe, it will help us remember how careful we must be to not throw stones and rob our brothers, our sisters, our friends on the journey of dignity, hope, love…how necessary safe loving communities really are.   

listen to what she has to say….

how did your family respond when they found out you were gay?

good question. i wish i knew what their initial reaction was, but since I wasn’t the one that told them, i don’t know. i came out at age 15, and for the next year and a half my dad and step-mom never said anything about it to me. they knew, and i knew that they knew, but we did not discuss it.  we avoided each other mostly, we did not talk and we did not appear in public together. no one really knew who my family was because they never went out in public with me. then after about the 2nd year I wrote them a note telling them how sick i was of pretending that everything was all hunky dory and that I wanted to know what they thought. so, that night they sat me down and told me that they thought that i was disgusting and a disappointment and that i was going to hell. they said that they were embarrassed of me and that if my grandfather, step-mom’s dad, were alive he would be totally disappointed in me. i was demolished, the people who were supposed to love and support me no matter what had joined in my ridicule. my brother totally disowned me and still does to this day. my mom had a halfway positive reaction. her best friend from high-school had dated girls for 3-4 years. after the first year or so though, she started doing the bible thumping too, so i stopped talking to her as well. my step-dad made fun of me from day one, but we never had a healthy relationship, so his opinion did not amount to much with me. my aunt (dad’s sister), her husband, my uncle (dad’s brother), and grandfather (dad’s dad), never turned away from me. i think it was their support that got me through high school. they came to my soccer games and marching band shows when my parents would not.

what did you long for them to do or say?

my whole life i have wanted my parents, all of them, any of them, to tell me that they were proud of me and what I have accomplished. i want to have them claim me in public as their daughter and to tell me that they love me. my dad has only told me that he loved me one time my entire life, and that’s when he thought that i might go to Iraq. my mom and i talk now and i have spent time with her in the last few years. we get along much better now and she tells me that she loves me every time i talk to her. neither of them has ever said that they were proud of me, and i’ve never asked because i would be horrified if they said no.

what kind of rejection have you experienced in school? in your family? in the church? what has that looked like?

the rejection was the hardest part. in high school i was very well known as “the gay girl.” everyone knew who i was, but few really knew me. i could probably count on one hand how many friends i had. real friends anyways. it was hard. i had to grow really thick skin. people were always calling me names and making fun of me. even some of the teachers supported the things that were said and done to me. my 11th and 12th grade english teacher was the worst. her husband was a pastor, and she discriminated against me horribly. she refused to post up a few of my writing assignments because I had referenced being gay in them, and she didn’t think they were appropriate. by the time I graduated my senior year one other girl had come out and we were the only two people in the school to receive poor grades on our senior projects. our english teacher had graded them. i was kicked out of class once for defending myself as one of the boys in my class made fun of me. high school mostly sucked for me. i had a few friends, mostly from band and soccer, and a few others, but not many. as far as my family, like i said, i didn’t really have much of one in school. now, it’s somewhat better, but my dad and step-mom still don’t talk about it, and we don’t talk very often. my uncles and aunt and grandfather still get along great. the church; that was a bad experience all the way around. i went from going to church every sunday and teaching vacation bible school every summer to not going at all in about a month. it was really hard for me because one of my best friends since like 6th grade went to church with me and it was like overnight she didn’t know who i was. she would not even acknowledge me at school. my brother’s best friend was our pastor’s son, which is how my parents found out that i was gay in the first place.  we all went to the same school, he had told his mom, and she told my step-mom. when i went to church it was an awful experience.  people would stare at me and whisper. they would point and laugh. it was humiliating. i didn’t even sit with my own family. i felt very unwelcome. i eventually just stopped going. i  was easier for me because I could be alone in my house for a few hours without being holed up in my room by myself.

what’s the ugliest thing someone who called themselves a christian has said to you?

well, i’ve obviously heard the whole going straight to hell line a million times. i have been told that there are camps and places for people like me to go get the gay cast out of me. i‘ve been told that if i were a stronger Christian that i could restrain the homosexual urges. lots of really thoughtless, hypocritical things like that. once a guy came up to me at a gas station and started trying to touch me and started praying to mary to cast the demons out of my body…that was weird.

what has your experience been with religion, church?

i struggled with religion a lot. for a long time i didn’t know how much or how little i believed in God. i was mad and angry at God for letting this happen to me. i was hurt so deeply by my family and so called friends. i had so much pain inside me that i  didn’t know what to do with. i  thought that if God really loved me that he wouldn’t have let this happen to me.  eventually i realized that it was my family that i was so hurt by and that God hadn’t turned away from me, i had turned away from him. i also realized that I hadn’t lost faith in God, but that i had lost faith in unconditional love and trusting others. it hurt so much that i didn’t want to trust God, but i did. he was the only one i had for a long time; i just didn’t realize it for a while. as far as the church was concerned, it’s horrible to say, but it scared the hell out of me. after my dad’s church, i thought that every church would treat me the way that they had. i was resentful towards them and i hadn’t been to a church until last year when I was finally coerced into coming to the refuge. i was scared at first, and I’m still growing, but i know that no one here would treat me the way that i was treated before.

why has the “church” felt unsafe to you? what are you afraid of?

the church has felt unsafe because of my past; the judgment, the ridicule, the hypocrisy.  i put up a lot of walls to protect myself in the past. that thick skin that I grew is hard to peel away at.  i am gaining more trust in the small circle that i am in now.  i feel like no matter what i say, they won’t laugh at me unless it’s supposed to be funny and that feels good.  i still get a little weird when new people come into the group and i don’t know them very well. it takes me a little while to trust people, but i am growing and learning, not just about others, but also about myself. it’s a work in progress, but progress no less.

what do you long for others to understand about you?

i want others to know that i am human too. i have feelings and hopes and dreams just like everyone else. want others to realize that being gay or bisexual or whatever is not a disease.  we aren’t horrible people. we are normal people just like you, we love just like you do.  i want others to realize that being gay is not who i am. being gay is a part of me, it does not make me who I am. i am a child of God first, human second, and i happen to be gay. my blood runs red too.

what scared you about starting to hang around “christians” again?

i was scared when i first came to the refuge because i didn’t know anything at all about it.  i was horrified at the idea of going through all of that pain again. i held back a lot at first and only talked if i had to and when i did it was only part truths. i felt like no one would like me if they knew that i was gay. i felt like it was written on my forehead like a scarlet letter. it was hard to take that first step, but after i did and i got to know a few people it got easier and easier. i still think that i do better in small groups though.

what is shifting in you through being with a safe community?

i have felt myself grow over the past year. i have grown closer with the people in the group that i am in some more than others. it’s nice to have that consistency in my life. to know that no matter what on wednesday night i can go there and vent and laugh and feel safe and have a good time. i feel like I’m at a point now where i want them to know my story so i recently really shared it. i want them to know the real, exposed, not perfect, raw and in person side of me.  i am reading “changes that heal” right now and it has shown me a lot in the past few weeks. i have grown so much in such a short amount of time. i feel like i know myself better and that my “family” should also have that chance.

what has been the most helpful and healing thing on your spiritual journey so far?

i think the one thing that has helped me is how diverse our group is. we have people from all walks of life who have been through and experienced so many things. if one person hasn’t felt something or done something there is almost always someone who has. i feel safer knowing that they are all as messed up in their lives as i am and that they are not going to judge me for the things that i have been through and done. it’s a great feeling to know that you are not alone in your struggle, no matter what the demon is.

if you could tell christians a thing or two to consider about their response to homosexuals, what would you say?

you know what, Jesus didn’t throw any stones, so why should you? you don’t truly know a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes, and hypocrisy is a sin too. if you take the time to get to know me you will find that i am much more than a homosexual. i am a hard worker, i am a good friend, i am smart and funny and strong. i am. not the great I AM, but i am.

thanks, my friend.

i will never know what it feels like to be gay.  but what i do know is that we have to reckon with our biases, the verses & thoughts programmed into our heads and our hearts about “those people” (whoever “those people-not-like-us” happen to be) and learn to understand that in the kingdom of God the playing field is leveled.  and in the here and now, we really need to learn to all be together–men, women, gay, straight, young, old, black, white, brown, rich, poor, christian, non-christian, sick, healthy, you name it. we don’t have to all agree, but we have to learn to be together.  to learn from each other. to love each other well, to bump up against our man-made (& religion-made) barriers & let God work in our hearts in ways that might need working.  i heard they found a medical cure for leprosy.  i think there’s a spiritual cure, too, and it’s available to all of us, we’re just afraid to apply it. it’s called unconditional love.