When I was nineteen years old, I started dating my best friend with every intention of marrying him. Two years later, the ground broke beneath us and every plan we had disappeared into the cavern.
Previous to that point, I did everything right in the eyes of the conservative Baptist community I grew up in. So did he. Neither of us dated around in middle school, high school, freshman year of college. Clearly, lest we give away irredeemable pieces of our hearts. We started dating after years of friendship, so we knew each other very well. We didn’t kiss for almost two months after we started dating, and that kiss (which I will still tell you to this day is one of the most treasured memories of my life) was the first for both of us. We were committed to physical purity, and we kept that commitment. We loved each other very much, and it was basically a foregone conclusion to those who knew us best that we would spend the rest of our lives together and God would bless that.
Fast forward. About a week before my 21st birthday, sitting in Matt’s Jeep Grand Cherokee on the parking lot of his dorm at our Baptist college, I blurted out the words that had been nagging at me for a couple of months: I feel like I’m losing you. There was this distance, a distance so subtle that I could easily justify the hope that it was a figment of my imagination. And yet there it was. This unexplainable something. I feel like I’m losing you.
The rest of that conversation is fuzzy for me at this point, blurred memories of a pounding heart and breath that just couldn’t be caught. Matt told me in no uncertain terms that he loved me desperately, and that he intended to spend his life with me, but that he had to figure a few things out and it would probably be easier to do that if we took a step back.
So step back we did. We remained very close friends, spending intentional time together while respecting the boundaries of the break, which we made clear was not a break-up.
A semester passed, and one evening at the end of May, Matt asked me if we could go for a walk. I still vividly remember the way my heart leapt into my throat, and I thought that night would be it; the night we’d get back on track and start moving again toward our future together. So we walked to the trail where he and I had frequently walked together, holding hands and laughing about my constant tendency to veer toward him and push him off the pathway as we walked.
That walk flipped my world upside down.
During the process of a conversation that lasted for what felt like hours, Matt explained to me that he’d been struggling with homosexuality for a long time, long before we started dating. I honestly remember very little of that conversation. I remember the strangest feeling that I couldn’t feel anything. I couldn’t feel pain, I couldn’t feel surprise, I couldn’t feel anger, I could not feel a damn thing. There is only one coherent thought that I remember from that night, and the following weeks.
This is your best friend. He was your best friend long before he was your boyfriend, and he’ll be your best friend long after. Right now, he needs you to act like a best friend and not a jaded girlfriend.
And so we talked, words that blurred together in swirls of colors and aches and explanations and confessions. Before the night was over, we agreed that this wasn’t the end for us. That we would come out swinging and fight through it together, that we would get our happily ever after.
That night, I went to sleep in my bed. I woke up hours later on the floor of my bathroom in a puddle of my own vomit, and I have literally no recollection of getting from point A to point B. That moment was the lowest of my life. But in that moment, for the first time in over two decades, my heart was broken enough that compassion could find its way to most anyone through all the cracks and crevices.
To make a long story short, a few months after that conversation, Matt and I ended things. Kind of miraculously, we did manage to fight through the loss of our relationship and keep our friendship. Despite the fact that we live separate lives in separate parts of the country, me with my husband in Texas and he with his boyfriend in Missouri, to this day, there’s not a thing I wouldn’t do for him, and I’m confident he would say the same of me. He was there, hugging me and wishing me the best on my wedding day, and I will joyfully do the same for him when that day comes.
So yeah. You’re right when you hear my thoughts and my words and read an emotional tidal wave into everything I say when it comes to this topic and all the topics surrounding it. This is a close issue to my heart, and I would love to sit down and have coffee and a long conversation with anyone who tells me that I’m wrong for wrestling with it instead of stripping the issue of its humanity and accepting it at face value. I don’t have the luxury of looking at it callously and distantly. Yes, I get emotional about it. Absolutely, I am instinctively skeptical when people talk about “hating the sin and loving the sinner.” Not because I don’t think it’s possible to do so; you can most certainly hate the things that enslave the person you love while still loving the person with every fiber of your being.
Here is my point, my plea:
Regardless of your beliefs on homosexuality, be cautious with that word, “love.” We as a culture have stripped it of so much meaning; the church has, to a great degree, gotten on board with that naked, impotent definition. We have made love simply a word that is based on emotion and rhetoric and not at all on action, and I am deeply, wholeheartedly broken by a church culture that talks of love for the gay community when there are no actions to back that love up, when we’ve summed up the “us versus them” mentality with pithy phrases and Facebook memes. When we refuse to be touched by it, or hurt for them, or feel empathy over the fact that they are daily faced with the assertion that everything they are is wrong.
Believe me, I do not say any of this as a proud person. I haven’t by any means arrived anywhere in regard to being consistently able to give grace to people I don’t understand. When I hear people speak ill of my gay friends, every fiber of my being wants to walk up to them, point out their sins, and tell them, “I love you, but I hate that you’ve made an idol out of food and you’re fat because of it. God hates that too, you know. It says so in the Bible.” Or, “I love you, but I hate that you got divorced. Divorce is a sin, and God hates sin. It says so in the Bible.”
Brutal. Absolutely brutal. And I am not proud in any way of the parts of me that want to respond in such a way. I say that with a deeper level of shame than I can express to you. I don’t really want to say it at all, to be honest, because that attitude is abhorrent. But for the love of all that’s holy, it is time for us to get real, y’all. We, myself included, spend so much time going through Scripture and picking out reasons to feel superior to the people around us, and it is not okay. And we try to make it okay by making these clauses that make us look understanding and generous without actually requiring our compassion; of course, people can experience homosexual feelings without sin, as long as they don’t act on it. And yet, it feels like they’re one of very few people groups that we hold to that standard. So many other things the Bible lists as sinful seem to get a free pass on that. Pride, coveting, envy, lust, deceit, gossip, boastfulness, foolishness, gluttony, idolatry, hatred, fits of rage…there’s a good long list of sins in the Bible, and few of them get attacked with the same relentless brutality as this one, the same determination to detach ourselves from those people and the fact that they are humans with struggles and hurts and histories and stories. And when we, the people who call ourselves by the name of Christ Himself, regard them with such a sense of callous and uncaring righteousness, they can only assume Jesus does as well.
We claim love. Jesus Himself said that our love is what we’ll be known by. We’re also called to love without hypocrisy.
Love without hypocrisy is something I need to work on, y’all. Love without hypocrisy is my prayer for myself and the Church that I that I so desperately want to love without hypocrisy.