Well, it wasn’t truly the beginning. We had been friends for years. But now, it felt like the beginning – like holding my breath before plunging into waters that would take me… where?
I loved Ada’s fierce and fiery commitment to seeing justice roll on like a river. I loved her soft listening ear. I loved her beauty, her voice, her laugh. We prayed together, sometimes in the middle of the night, sometimes just a whisper. She knew me as well as I knew myself.
And now we had fallen in love.
But we’d also been steeped in evangelicalism – a presently-conservative, passionate brand of Christianity that brought us up to believe that marriage – and therefore dating – was limited to one woman and one man.
The relationship we envisioned didn’t seem to fit the faith we cherished. Still, there was undeniable goodness in what we had built together with God. Wouldn’t a binding commitment maintain this good flavor, knitting us closer together and knitting the kingdom closer to Earth?
Thus, we started down a path of intentional discernment guided by five tools:
And at the end of the path, we hoped, would be the answer to one big question:
Does God affirm same-sex relationships?
The following reads like a roadmap, so to speak, of the places along the way that fed us and led us.
Because the Bible served as the foundation of our faith, we naturally sought answers there. We crafted a plan of study together, and we prayed for God to speak and for our hearts to hear. We wanted to read the New Testament with fresh eyes and with our guiding question.
We each used a journaling Bible. (You can view it here. The ESV is no longer our translation of choice, but it was then.) Our old Bibles were filled with annotations from past preachers and seasons. The task at hand warranted clean pages and room to write without inhibitions – bold discernments, pointed questions, cries for mercy. We were committed to hearing from God through the text.
Once a week, we called to pray, set reading goals, and share questions and discoveries. These conversations were times of both joy and pain as we sifted through beliefs, confirming some and dismantling others.
In all our studying and searching, these words from Jesus rang loudest:
Matthew 7:15-20 (ESV)
“A Tree and Its Fruit”
“Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
Our relationship thus far had produced good fruit: a shared commitment to knowing God and to building God’s kingdom, along with a deep and selfless love for each other. And other romantic relationships between people of the same gender produced similarly good fruit.
If anything, non-affirming Christianity bore bad fruit through the heart-wrenching exclusion and suffering of God’s LGBTQ children. (This is a topic we plan to discuss further in later posts.)
Like anyone seeking truth, we craved information. As we studied the New Testament together, we also sought knowledge and wisdom from other trusted sources. The Gay Christian Network and Rachel Held Evans’ blog are two that we remember fondly.
We also read perspectives from “both sides of the aisle.” After all, our evangelical upbringing had warned us about purported follies of the heart (usually with cherry-picked verses like Jeremiah 17:9, Matthew 15:19, and Proverbs 4:23).
We worked hard to be unbiased. As a hearty reader, I made a point of engaging with multiple texts and perspectives. And so I read:
- Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee
- Does Jesus Really Love Me? by Jeff Chu
- Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness & Homosexuality by Wesley Hill
- The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith by Rosaria Butterfield
- Slaves, Women, & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis by William J. Webb
(Note that none but Secret Thoughts are by female authors. That said, I would not force Rosaria Butterfield’s book on any enemy of mine. Also, Wesley Hill’s approach is more narrow-minded than that of Justin Lee and Jeff Chu. This was a few years before God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines would be released.)
These commentaries on the intersections of sexuality and Christianity supplemented our Bible study.
To help me on my way, I asked the leaders of my conservative, evangelical church to connect me to a discipling mentor.
Valerie and I met weekly. Our conversations stemmed from a shared reading of Humility and Absolute Surrender by Andrew Murray. She knew of my feelings for Ada and agreed that our process and study formed a wise approach. However, when I later revealed to Valerie the decision God had placed on my heart, Valerie changed her tune. She quickly disapproved of not only our decision, but the process too.
Fortunately, Valerie wasn’t my only spiritual advisor at the time. The wife of a professor had taken me under her wing as well. Anna is a queer-affirming UCC pastor who also happens to be bisexual. Anna and I didn’t meet as regularly as I did with Valerie, but that didn’t make our relationship any less meaningful.
My spiritual mentors kept me rooted so that I could maintain a clear head and heart. I needed them – for myself and for Ada.
The discernment process was sacred. Thus, Ada and I chose to share it selectively. While this may not be everyone’s choice, it was right for us.
We found comfort and encouragement in friends with whom we entrusted our search. They challenged us, empathized with us, and recommended new resources. Above all, they listened, and they listened without passing judgment. Later, those friends would grow into the stalwart, vocal allies that all queer Christians need.
Lastly, we fasted. We fasted at the beginning, middle, and end of our search for answers. We fasted from eating, from talking to each other, and sometimes from both.
Fasting gave us opportunities to tune in to God through vulnerability and intentional listening. It reminded us to put God before the desires of the heart. It gave us the space to meditate on God’s truths and our role in fulfilling them.
It was early November when we concluded our study of the New Testament. We held our breath, so to speak, and waited to surface. We fasted from food and from talking one last time.
Up Next… “In the Beginning: Part 2”