Friendships Change Everything
BY Peter Walker
Something surprising just happened…
I’ve been blogging & writing for several years now about my commitment to not taking sides. I’ve fancied myself a Conscientious Objector in the Culture Wars: “I have friends on both sides, & the war is more damaging than the supposed causes.” So I threw away my picket signs, tried to love everyone, & avoided making any polarizing stands.
When conservative & liberal Christians applied that all-important litmus test of orthodoxy to me: “What are your views on homosexuality?” I could safely & honestly answer: “I have friends on both sides. I have some friends who are gay Christians, & another close friend who is ex-gay – believing it to be a sin. I don’t think it’s my job to make a judgment call on any of them, I just try to love each of them & honor their journey.”
And all of that is still true. I don’t think it’s my job to play judge. I do think it’s my job to love & support. But in both ideology & execution, I think I’ve been wrong. For that, I want to apologize to many dear friends like Adele here at Queermergent, whose work & heart I respect & appreciate so dearly.
My best friend from childhood just “came out.”
I realize that’s not very earth shattering in this venue, but it’s profound for me. We grew up together. We shared the same brainwaves. Andy & I don’t live near each other anymore, & only connect once or twice a year now, but he’s never stopped being my best friend – he’s a permanent fixture in my heart. After parting for college twelve years ago, Andy became increasingly distant & aloof. I could tell he was protecting himself, though I wasn’t sure from what. I did wonder if he might be gay (he had little interest in girls when we were younger) but I didn’t want to push him into disclosing before he was ready. I also didn’t want to assume anything, especially if I was wrong…
Last week he was finally ready, & I must say I was surprised by my own response: complete elation!
It could have been the catharsis of feeling like the wall between us had finally fallen. Maybe it was learning that Andy’s been in a happy, committed relationship for the last seven years (& that I’ll actually get to meet the guy)! But I think what made me the happiest was knowing that my best friend, the son of very conservative Christian parents like my own, wasn’t going to live his life in secret. No constant turmoil. No permanent closet. No denial, self-loathing or aggressive psychotherapy. He came out to his family (who are taking it surprisingly well) & to his friends, & now I have the privilege of sharing his joy.
We talked about his theological journey: “did you need to answer any biblical questions before determining how to act?” No, he didn’t. He knew what was right for him, & he chose to let his faith follow.
Funny, that’s just how I’ve finally begun to approach my own faith journey…
Let me start by saying that I don’t like the practice of “proof-texting” – grabbing carefully picked Bible verses that conveniently support one’s agenda – because the Bible has been used to justify all sorts of wrongs like slavery & misogyny. However, I do think that there are genuinely consistent messages that flow in streams throughout Scripture, that cannot & should not be ignored.
Psalm 51:6 reads, “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” God has always been intent on teaching us truth, & I have a hard time believe God would allow the voice of truth to be easily undermined without our own willful, intentional subversion.
In Zechariah 8:19, “truth & peace” go hand-in-hand, which necessarily conflicts with many contemporary concepts of “Christian truth” that sow heartache, resentment, conflict & oppression in the name of cultural or religious warfare.__
In John, Jesus tells of the coming Holy Spirit: “And I will ask the Father, & he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you & will be in you.” (John 14:16-17) “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, & he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine & making it known to you.” (John 16:12-14)
The Spirit of God purposes to teach us what is true. But without a doubt, there are voices in the world – & in our lives – that threaten to confuse & deceive us; to twist what is good & true into a lie that undermines itself. However, Jesus tells us we’re not alone in the struggle to perceive what is right. Jesus seems quite clear about what we should look for in ascertaining the truth: “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, & a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” (Matthew 7:16-18)
Jesus re-emphasizes this idea later in Matthew 12:33-34, “Make a tree good & its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad & its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”
Even Paul (not one of my personal favorites) wisely supports Jesus’ conception of goodness in his description of fruits of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness & self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
The law is not in opposition to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control. And yet the Christianity of my own upbringing was in suspicious opposition to “peace” in the world, because it gloried in rumors of End Times Apocalypse. In fact, I was taught to assume “peace” to be a deception of the Antichrist & a precursor to the Beast’s one-world government. The direct result of that being distrust & suspicion over things identified by Jesus himself as good & true.
Personally, I cannot keep trying to reconcile a Gospel that undermines love, grace & goodness for the sake of legal “accuracy.” Yes, I still have a dear friend who rejects the homosexual lifestyle as sin. And I will not attempt to undermine what he perceives to be spiritual conviction. I will keep loving & supporting him as he seeks a way that is right & healthy for him. I can’t purport to know what is best for his life any more than I would have tried to convert my gay friends to straight, in the past. Forced conversion seems a destructive path from whatever pole you start at.
But the emancipation of Jesus resonates through my whole being: “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” (Matthew 12:7)
Andy’s life is a tree that bears good fruit. So is Adele’s.
It is in this spirit, as a Christian, that I hope to perceive the Holy Spirit’s voice in my life & in the world around me. It is in this spirit that I embrace my queer sisters & brothers. I choose to reject endless attempts at reconciling one or two troublesome verses with the broader arch of God’s goodness.
I guess that makes me “liberal.” Or maybe it just makes me “Christian.”
Peter Walker is an M.Div student at George Fox Seminary & a freelance writer (his day job is finance). He is a contributing writer in several books: Out of the OOZE through NavPress, & Church of the Perfect Storm through Abingdon Press. He lives in the Portland area with his wife Jen a theological student at GFS.