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not wrong, just different

October 31, 2014

Twenty-five years ago, when I was learning what it meant to be a Christian, I read two books: Know What You Believe and Know Why You Believe (by Paul E. Little). Both were foundational and grounding reads, and both set me on a path of understanding… intellectual understanding.

Doctrine became important, and Bible study was essential. Knowing “what the Bible says” was key to my spiritual development, I was told. I needed to know what to believe, the right way to believe. I needed to be certain about my beliefs.

I went to a conference in those early years and watched the main speaker quote Bible verses left and right without any notes. I was impressed. I admired his vast mental filing cabinet of verses. He had a solid relationship with the Bible. His belief was centered in his mind.

Five years later at another conference, I went to a seminar on discipleship. The guy up front modeled his talk on the book: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (by Stephen R. Covey). This guy had come up with seven habits for highly effective discipleship. It was a checklist, a performance checklist. He had reduced Christianity to a system of tasks and results. He was teaching others how to disciple like a businessman.

A couple years after that I went to China on a missions trip. For six weeks we repeated this mantra to each other:

It’s not wrong, just different.

Chinese culture is different from American culture, REALLY different. Chinese don’t stand in lines. They crowd. Chinese drivers beep their horns constantly and create their own lanes in traffic. Chinese children don’t wear diapers. They have crotchless pants. Chinese culture is very different from American culture, and it’s easy to judge that difference as wrong. But the mantra made us realize that being different does not mean being wrong.

I found it curious at the time that we were conditioned to see Chinese culture as different not wrong, but we were there to evangelize because we thought their different beliefs were absolutely wrong.

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There’s this verse that people in my community liked to memorize and quote, Jeremiah 17:9:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?

I was taught not to trust my heart, not to trust my feelings, to see that side of me as deceitful and corrupt. My mind would lead me to God, I was told. My heart would lead me astray.

I am a deeply relational person, a feeler, a heart over head kinda girl. But my spiritual community was teaching me to eschew my tenderness, to distrust my soft and intuitive nature, to suppress those core parts that make me who I am. From the beginning I was taught to intellectualize my faith, to elevate my head knowledge over my heart experience. As I matured I was taught to systemize it, to engage my soul with spiritualized business practices and metrics. Finally, after about a decade, I realized I couldn’t and I wouldn’t. I knew there was more to this life of faith than abstract intellectual terms and business concepts disguised in spiritual costume.

But this more is hard to grasp and express. More doesn’t come in a nice package. More cannot be found on a checklist of spiritual disciplines.

There is no certainty in more, no getting fixed by more, no being right with more.

More feels like a crap shoot. More is messy, snot and diarrhea messy. More makes people uncomfortable. More makes me uncomfortable because it requires a different kind of belief. The more kind of belief isn’t found in intellectual assent to a statement of faith. More belief is mostly trust, mostly vulnerable and uncertain, mostly cloudy and unmeasurable.

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This week I found myself and my fellow LGBTQ Christians reduced to an issue, again, by the Southern Baptists. They gathered together for their national conference and talked about us. We were a topic on their schedule, not people to engage in real life. We were caricatured as a “sinful lifestyle” and cast with a threatening agenda. Our lives were extruded through their intellectual theology. Our desires were seen as corrupt. Our feelings and experiences were dismissed as deceptive and wrong.

It’s true, LGBTQ Christians do not fit into the evangelical worldview. Our very existence blows holes in their theology. We’re different, I get it. But there’s a problem when spiritual communities automatically judge our differentness as wrong. There’s a problem when people who do not reflect the established worldview are thrown out and excluded, even labeled as “no such thing.”

Worldviews are designed to tell us how the world is. They are intellectual frameworks that try to explain life as we know it, life as we experience it. But it’s not uncommon for people to encounter something in the real world that doesn’t fit into their nice worldview package. We tend to refer to this experience as mind-blowing, and it is.

Exceptions are everywhere, actually. So when a person comes to that place where his worldview does not match how the world actually is, when others don’t fit into his established and pre-set certainties, there is a choice to be made.

He can try to force his worldview on the people who don’t fit, making them wear masks and pretend to be who they are not; or he can expand his worldview to include the real people he encounters in the real world.

Jesus made a ministry of blowing people’s minds. Everywhere he went, he was expanding the cultural and theological worldview of Israel to be more inclusive of people on the fringes: the Samaritan woman at the well, the unclean lepers, the morally corrupt prostitutes and tax collectors, the adulteress, the centurion, the blind man. These were all people who had been deemed different and wrong, people not fit for the kingdom of God, people to be thrown out and excluded. But Jesus kept bringing them around.

The Pharisees wouldn’t let their minds be blown. They couldn’t tolerate an expanded, more inclusive kingdom of God. They made their living on judgment and exclusion. That’s where Paul started until Jesus blew his mind in Acts 9, and Paul, the hardcore Pharisee, expanded his theological worldview to include the Gentiles. It should not be overlooked that Paul’s entire ministry was to the people he had previously considered too unclean to even be in the same room with.

Peter didn’t get a pass either. Jesus blew his mind in Acts 10. He experienced the same expansion as Paul. Here it is in Peter’s own words:

You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit any one of another nation; but God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean (Acts 10:28).

From the beginning God has been blowing minds and expanding theological worldviews. God has repeatedly used the outcast and oppressed to blow the minds of the righteous and religious. Every time it’s the righteous and religious leaders who resist and refuse. God is constantly expanding theological worldviews to further reflect how it is in the kingdom of heaven. And constantly, the religious leaders stand their ground against such an expansion, against including people whose existence blows holes in their theological worldview.

This history of the church repeats itself again and again, so it shouldn’t be surprising that we’ve returned to this stage in the cycle. God is using another outcast people to expand the church’s theological worldview. LGBTQs have a very sacred role to play. And although it can be infuriating and frustrating, even demeaning, demoralizing, and dehumanizing at times, I consider it a privilege to be part of this outcast group God is using to blow minds and to expand the church’s understanding of the inclusiveness and equality in the kingdom of heaven.

Just like Tim Cook said yesterday, “I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.”

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