- Rebecca Potter
Go with Love
There is much we don’t understand about the world. As individuals and a civilization, we are learning and progressing daily. A few decades ago, I would have been put in a mental institution or drugged to the point of delirium or worse because of my OCD and fibromyalgia. Today, the medical world understands these conditions better, so treatment is better. Fear is assuaged.
A few decades ago, people who were homosexual were thought to be mentally ill. Now we know better because the medical world has progressed. We understand more, we are less fearful, we are more accepting. But it is not enough, not yet.
I saw a post on Facebook this week that communicated concern that more emphasis was put on Pride Month than Mental Health Awareness Month. The writer seemed deeply concerned with what this says about us. As someone with clinical OCD and a mother of a gay son, I say that we have our priorities exactly right.
Of course, mental health awareness is important. We need better care, better availability, better access. We must continue our efforts in providing better mental health services for all of our citizens.
But I must say I have never been bullied because of my OCD. I have never been physically or sexually threatened because of OCD. I haven’t had to go to the school resource officer and file a report because of others’ threatening behavior towards me.
I have never been ostracized by the church because of OCD. I have never been told I was going to hell, that Jesus would not love me, that I was a sinner because of OCD.
I have never had to worry about what countries (or states within the US) I could travel to. I have never had to ask my mom if I should lie and keep my OCD a secret so it wouldn’t put a burden on everyone else.
I have never had to worry about not being able to adopt children if I wanted to, or my other rights being taken away. I have never been concerned that I would not be able to marry the person I loved.
I have never gone through years of personal turmoil, begging God to change me, keeping my pain a secret, because of fear of social rejection and humiliation from my friends and my family.
I have never had to cut family members off because of their public disapproval of my OCD. No family member has ever said to me that they cannot support my decision to embrace OCD (as if I had a choice) because it goes against their religion.
But all of this is true for my son who is gay. All of it, and more. He faces extra challenges, not because he is gay, but because of the social response to his sexuality.
He has been threatened, bullied, ostracized, ridiculed, and called out by people who are supposed to love him. So often he asks, “Do they know I’m gay?” before we encounter new people or new situations–his fear being the social rejection and awkwardness he has had to deal with too often. During Trump’s presidency, his potential for having children was threatened. There are more churches than not that would not welcome him. Sure, they would allow him to sit on a pew, but he would not be able to publicly be himself. He would have to pretend. This is not a hypothetical conjecture. We were members of this kind of church.
This is why we need to celebrate Pride Month. For my son. And for others like him. An important part of reducing discrimination is raising awareness, cultivating relationships, and eradicating fear. Pride Month is an important piece to all of that. Pride Month does not take away from the seriousness and urgency with which we must approach mental health. They are not mutually exclusive.
We need Pride Month because the LGBTQ community is certainly still facing discrimination and hatred, risks of rights being restricted or withheld, and major hurdles in health care. So much of these problems stem from fear. This fear comes from lack of genuine understanding–on a scientific, spiritual, and relational level.
The science is pretty clear. In my son’s case, he did not get the normal (please note the terminology–I did not say “correct”) amount of hormones while I was pregnant. This is not to say something is wrong with my son. He is just different. The same way my other two sons are different because of their red hair or personality quirks. The same way that we each are different in hundreds of different ways.
What is critical to understand is that this is not a choice. He is who he is.
While we may not understand all the science behind sexuality and gender, we cannot just dismiss others' reality or validity because of our own ignorance. Instead, we must seek to learn and understand. This is just being a responsible, sensible human being. We seem to, so often in human history, cast away people and ideas we don’t understand, again because of fear. We must fight against that propensity to fear and instead embrace the unknown. Otherwise, we will never learn to love.
How do we then reconcile science with what we’ve been taught about Scripture? First, we must recognize that there is more to learn. We must stop relying on biased interpretations of the Bible. These same kinds of interpretations have told us that slavery was sanctioned by God, that women were inferior to me, that the earth was flat and the center of the universe. I am not suggesting that we dismiss the Bible; rather, we need to more fully and authentically embrace the Bible as a tool for knowing God and loving others. We need to stop putting limits on God.
When Jack came out, accepting him was not a problem. But the importance of understanding was great. My husband and I read and researched and prayed and discussed for about a year. If you know Sam, you know how important theology is to him. He spends hours a day poring over theology. He approached this issue with no less fervor. We were not trying to decide what to do about our son; that was easy–love him. We were trying to reconcile our religious views to the reality we were in.
We did not abandon our faith because of our gay son. Quite the contrary. Having a gay son forced us to deal directly with our views on the matter. We were brought closer to Christ, made more loving, and made better people. Choosing to admit that maybe we were misunderstanding something, missing something, or ignoring something allowed us the beautiful opportunity to learn, to become more like Christ, to love better and more.
I understand that many Christians will disagree with me. We are free in Christ to disagree. What I take extreme issue with is when Christians are so arrogant, so tightly bound to tradition, so closed-minded, so prejudiced, that they will not accept my son’s right to faith or to be who God made him to be. It baffles me that so many Christians are enraged and disgusted by my son’s deep desire to fall in love with a man and live a life of committed love and sacrifice.
Sometimes it is hard to not be angry at the church, especially when the anger is warranted. It is easy to want to fight back when hurt has been hurled at you, or your child. My son now has a bitter resentment to the version of Christianity he was exposed to. He was rejected and ridiculed; who can blame him? I wonder how many more precious souls have been tossed out of the church’s fellowship because of their sexuality, or more accurately, because of the church’s misunderstanding and misapplication of the Bible. Oh, it is hard not to be angry.
But I choose to have hope. I have to.
There are more and more churches that are getting it right. By that I mean they are erring on the side of love. No one can, with any integrity, claim to have God or the Bible figured out on this issue, or any other. What we can do is err on the side of love. As we seek to understand God and God’s creation more, it is better to love than to hate, better to accept than to reject. Better to entertain the possibility that we might be wrong than to condemn others.
I am grateful that we have moved next door to a church that accepts and embraces all people, that celebrates all people, that loves all people. It is a rare blessing to know that when we go to church on Sunday, my son is free to be himself. He does not have to pretend or lie. He does not need to feel ashamed. He is accepted, just as he is. And there is no expectation that he change into something he is not.
My hope is that one day this will not be a rare blessing, but the norm. My hope is that more and more congregations will choose to err on the side of love.
Like it is with other forms of hatred, so much of it can be shed by knowing people different from ourselves. When we seek to understand someone who is gay, without an agenda to condemn them, we understand and love better.
This has been my experience. First, in the classroom. Over the course of the last twenty years, more and more of my students have been out once they reached my eleventh grade English class. These students softened my heart. At first, I accepted them despite their sexuality. Then, as I grew in understanding, I loved them with their sexuality. It’s just a part of who they are. I am grateful to these students for being vulnerable enough to be their authentic selves. I learned to be better because of them.
This has been true of many of my friendships as an adult. Sam and I do not cultivate friendships despite our friends’ sexualities. We do not do that because of it, either. We are friends because we care about these people, we like them, we enjoy their company. We work with them, we go to grad school with them, we do life with them. We are grateful for their friendship. Our lives are better because of them, not because of or despite their sexuality. Them, as they are, completely. Heck, they accept us for who we are and how we are. We are humbled and blessed!
During this Pride Month, I encourage my Christian brothers and sisters to intentionally seek out ways to engage with the LGBTQ community in an effort to understand and love.
I challenge you, dear Christian, to meet LGBTQ people and just get to know them for who they are, without any other agenda. Go to a Pride event and just enjoy God's beautiful, diverse, wonderful creation. I implore you to seek to be changed, not to change others; to proceed with humility and grace, not moral superiority; to go with love.