When I saw the room list I had to smile at God’s sense of humour.
It was a music rehearsal weekend. I didn’t know many of the people very well, but I had prayed that I would be sharing a room with the right person, and I discovered that I had been paired with Anna.*
I didn’t know her well, but I knew that she was a lesbian, because that was the first thing anyone got to know about her. I had also heard that she didn’t like Christians because her perception was that they didn’t like lesbians.
I was pretty sure that this pairing was no coincidence, but that God was up to something!
It turned out to be a great weekend. She was smart and funny, we had our love of music in common and we got on well. I knew she was a lesbian and she knew I was a Christian, and it really didn’t matter. I even got to pray with her at one point… but that’s a story for another day.
Anna and I kept in touch for a while and saw each other from time to time. It wasn’t a long-lasting friendship but it had an impact on me and really challenged me to think about the way Christians respond to people over issues of sexuality. I hated that she had got the impression that Christians were against her because of something she saw as the core part of her identity, and I just hope, if nothing else, our friendship did something to alter that perception.
When I heard about a new book on this topic: The Way Of Hope: A Fresh Perspective on Sexual Identity, Same-Sex Marriage and the Church, I was keen to read more. Here is an excerpt from the author’s website:
“Am I welcome here?”
It’s the most challenging question churches are facing today as people with varying gender and sexual identities long for a safe church to explore faith in Jesus. With a history of condemning people for their sexual temptations, desires, or orientations, many churches and Christians either live paralyzed in fear not knowing what to do or simply adopt the world’s view around them and condone.
But what if there was a different way the Church could show up?”
The book was not what I expected. I had thought it would contain advice on how the church should respond and examples of this in practice, but instead it is largely made up of the author, Melissa Fisher’s own story of wrestling with issues of faith and sexuality and how the church was a help and a hindrance on that journey.
It is a gripping story and a beautiful testimony of God’s grace and power. It recounts her coming to faith as a child but struggling with perfectionism and the feeling that she could never measure up. It tells of years of battling feelings of same-sex attraction, eventually giving in to those desires and pursuing same-sex relationships, then a dramatic encounter with God at a point of devastation, and the long journey of rediscovering God and finding her identity in him.
While same-sex attraction is not my struggle, I found the story very relatable. Battling with perfectionism, holding onto painful secrets, looking to find fulfilment in achievement, being hurt by church, and eventually finding acceptance and identity in Christ- all of this mirrors my own experience.
This book doesn’t provide all the answers, because it is a complex issue, but I think, in many ways, the best thing we can do is listen to one another’s stories. If we sought to understand and to love, rather than to judge or label, I think we’d get a lot further. We’d also realise that we aren’t so different.
Each of us is made in God’s image but broken by sin, and each of us is loved by a God who desperately wants to restore us and bring us back into relationship with him. Each of us is longing for a place where we can be known, loved and accepted as we are.
“If Jesus invites all to come, shouldn’t we?…Come, all you who are crawling. Crawl on in. What if church was the one place where the messy and messed up could come crawling in to find rest? Isn’t that what it is supposed to be?”
The balance between grace and truth is not always easy to find, but Fisher proposes that somewhere between the extremes of condemning and condoning lies a third response: compassion.
And that is the way of hope.
I’m grateful to Baker Books and Netgalley for access to an advance digital copy of this book. I only share books here that I believe will genuinely be beneficial to my readers.
*the name has been changed for privacy
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