An Open Letter to my Family
Facebook is good for a lot of things; keeping in contact with friends, sharing photos, organizing events, and in my case, getting into epic public fights with your family over things like politics and religion. Since those fights were public, and since they were with multiple family members and I really don’t feel like writing out three different responses, I’m going to post one broad one to my blog. I know that sounds immature and cold, but since my family members were fine engaging in public debate over these topics, I feel like it’s OK to post my response publicly as well.
Ever since I was a kid, I knew I was different. I never felt quite like I belonged, even though I was well liked and had good friends. Some of this was normal adolescent feelings, and some of it was knowing that normal 10 years old don’t beg their parents to let them stay up until midnight to watch election results, or spend most of their free time reading books about forensic pathology (thankfully I grew out of that.) When I got a little older, I began to embrace my eccentricity, and started to like the fact that I didn’t quite fit into the “normal” mold (and not just because I was a chunkster.) Growing up, those of you who were there (since some family members involved in this are new to the family) always supported and loved me, even if I was a little bit different. Sure, there were aunts on my dad’s side of the family who forbid me to see my cousin’s after I told them all (with Barbie visual aids) where babies ACTUALLY came from, but you, you guys were different. You loved me, and I always knew that.
About three years ago, when I started to get the pulling on my heart strings that let me know God was guiding me towards a ministry to the LGBT community, I was scared. You see, I might talk a big game, and act like I love controversy (and OK, usually I do) but it still hurts when people I love reject what I feel God is guiding me to do. It especially hurts when they reject me without wanting to know why, or how I plan to do what I feel the Lord is leading me to do. Since you didn’t really ask, I’ll go ahead and let you know anyway.
I don’t believe in coincidence, or in a God that would make me a weirdo for no reason. I believe that God has been preparing me, my whole life, for a ministry to people who don’t fit “traditional” Christian parameters. It’s not just chance that growing up I always was vocal about my faith, yet had plenty of friends who weren’t Christians. It’s not just chance that I’ve always felt more comfortable in a room full of “unbelievers” than in a room full of “traditional” religious people. It’s not chance, because it’s the way God made me. I think a lot of the pain, confusion, and frustration I experienced growing up feeling like I “wasn’t normal”, was God preparing me for a ministry to people that are different, and experienced these same feelings. Unlike when I attempted to get involved in youth, children’s, or overseas ministries, what I am doing with the LGBT community feels right, and doors keep opening. As a follower of Christ, I want to do good, and love people, and follow his teachings. All the other ways I’ve tried to do that in the past never felt right, and never filled me with a passion for the people I tried to show love to. This ministry does.
Now for the hard stuff.
For as long as I can remember, my parents have been telling me about God, their relationship with God, and how much God loves me. Naturally, I hated it, and just wanted them to shut up and let me watch TV. I did the youth group thing, but rarely had my heart in it. When I left for college, I did what most kids who grew up in strict Christian homes do – “rebel” (aka, drink lots of crappy beer and trade Sunday morning church for sleeping in.) Only, my rebelling only lasted about 4 weeks (beer wasn’t as fulfilling spiritually as I had hoped) and I realized all that stuff my parents told me wasn’t just what they wanted me to believe, it was true. I made my faith my own, found a (non-denominational – take that Presbyterians!) church I loved, and got involved with a campus ministry group that took up all my free time. Yes, it was my faith, but it was easy for me to come to it because of the way my parents had been so open about their beliefs and wishes for me.
However, try as hard as I might, I cannot remember any of you talking about God, or your faith, to me before this ministry started. I knew you, (my Grandfather, aunts, and uncles) loved me, and I knew you were Christians in the way that you just assume a white American without the last name “Stein” is, but that was about the extent of it. I don’t remember you talking about Bible verses you read and wanted to share with me, I don’t remember you telling me about ministries you were involved in, and I certainly don’t remember you trying to share your faith with me in any personal, direct way, like you have been lately. That’s not to say that you have to go to church or be involved in ministry to be a Christian, but growing up, my memories of you are happy, and fun, but don’t include much, if any, spirituality.
Which is why it’s so hard for me to want to listen to what you have to say to me now. It’s not that I am pigheaded, or unwilling to listen to other people’s concerns and opinions, on the contrary; I’ve had meetings with multiple pastors and friends and I’ve listened and taken their words to heart, it’s just that, I have no foundation on which to build this conversation with you. Truthfully, I’ve asked myself, why I should listen to your “concerns about my faith” now, when you’ve never been “concerned about my faith” in the past? And some of you who are new to the family, these “concerns” you’ve raised, have been in possibly the third of fourth conversation we’ve had, ever. It’s hard to believe you can be concerned about me, when you’ve never made an effort to get to know me.
And that brings me back to my ministry. You see, I know how hard it is to have people throw verses at you, condemn you, and tell you what you re doing is wrong, without really knowing you. As you can see, it’s not very effective. Which is why your concerns about me “being in bad company” and “being yoked to unbelievers” I will respectfully ignore. I know, firsthand, that it’s only when someone feels loved, cared about, and (here’s the big kicker) respected, that they will be open to hearing your thoughts on their spiritually.
So that’s what it all comes down to. I respect gay,lesbian, and transgender people, because I see that they are people, not sexualities, and they deserve as much respect and love as you or I. I am not so sure you feel the same. Personally, (as far as the discussions we’ve had on Facebook, and email are concerned) I have not felt respected, and therefore have not shown respect in return. It might be cliche, but it’s true that respect is given where respect is earned, and not all of you have earned my respect on this matter. It’s not something I give out because of age, or life experience (those do not in themselves guarantee wisdom) it’s something I give when I feel loved and listened to.
That’s where I am now. I am listening- not preaching-to the LGBT community, and trying to build a foundation on which to stand with them. A foundation built out of love, respect, and of course, Christ.
Because even though the relationship between the church and the LGBT community has been rocky at best, and downright vicious at worst, it’s never too late to make amends, or start healing wounds. It’s never too late to say, “I’m sorry”, and forgive. So I will say I am sorry for any hurtful things I might have said, and truly hope that someday, you will understand and embrace what I am doing. You’re always welcome to help.