Grace From the Shadows

Shortly after coming to Shanghai in 2014 I was missing the community I left behind in the US. The church of believers I regularly fellowshipped and worshiped with had been wonderful, but after I left, I only heard from maybe 2 or 3 people; and hardly on any kind of regular basis.

I was lonely.

I began feeling the need for a community. I began longing after a group of people with whom I could open up to, trust and who would encourage me to continue to seek after God.

About 2 years ago, I wrote this in my journal:

I’ve spent the better part of the evening looking up Churches in Shanghai. The longer I search, the more I keep asking myself if I’m crazy. My experience with [churches] hasn’t always been the best. I don’t function well in “community”.
But that’s not a quality. It’s a weakness.
Living in community requires humility and other-centered living; two of the many things that I lack. I know that churches nor the people who frequent them are perfect. Which is why I so often go in with my guard up.
Walls high.
No one gets in.
I don’t get hurt.
But staying isolated doesn’t protect me. It (only) keeps my pride and independence intact. With my defenses in place, I don’t have to care for anyone else. I don’t have to be vulnerable; don’t have to place others at the center of my life… instead of myself.
Can I change my thinking when encountering a new church?
Can I walk in, walls down and arms open?
Can I go to encounter God, seek nourishment and find a way to help others?
I. Need. To. Try!
(October 19th, 2014)

It would be several more months before I could get the courage to pick a church and go.

In early 2015 I began attending Shanghai Community Fellowship.

It was amazing!

I got connected with a fellowship group that met every week. I felt like I had friends and a kind of “family” in a place where I had been feeling so alone. And the best thing for me was the opportunity to be challenged and grow spiritually.

 

Over the summer of 2015, I did some traveling and took a CELTA course in Prague. While I was there, the city was also hosting its annual gay pride parade. And, having only been to 2 and both of them only in the US, I decided to go and see what it was like. While I was at the parade, I posted a picture (top of this post) and a status about it on WeChat (a popular social media app in China). One of the girls in the church community group who I had become really good friends with “liked” my picture and, while I thought it was interesting, I didn’t give it that much thought. I had never “come out”or said anything about my sexuality to the Church. I wasn’t “hiding”, but I didn’t see any reason to say anything as the topic had never come up.

When I got back to Shanghai, I met up and had lunch with one of the guys from the Church fellowship group, the husband of the girl who liked my photo who had also become a really close friend over the past year. During our lunch he asked if he could share his “story” with me.

He told me that he identifies as gay. But believes that same sex relationships are not in God’s plan for humanity. His wife identifies as a lesbian. They decided to get married and do ministry in China. Which is absolutely fine. I completely respect other people’s beliefs and their desire to pursue the life they want to live in good conscience before God.

He asked me about my story, so I told him. If you’d like to read the condensed version of my story, you can find it here. He seemed quite troubled when I told him that I believe that God who designed humans, our sexual natures and our desire for love cares most deeply about our love and care for others over the anatomical way in which we express that love and with whom we share it. I explained that I believe it is possible for two people of the same sex who are followers of Christ, to worship together in Spirit and Truth and be vessels of love and compassion ministering to those in need and the community while lovingly committing themselves to each other as mutual helpmates and partners with a desire to edify, encourage and support one another for the rest of their lives. Now, the actual discussion lasted for several hours over two separate days and was more complex than what I could put in this blog post. I’m aware that not everyone agrees with me, in fact, in most Christian circles I am probably on the fringes. I am humble enough to admit that I may be wrong. I am small and finite and God is great and beyond my comprehension, so I can only live as His Spirit guides me. For now, at this time in my life, this is how I reconcile my faith and my life.

He did not agree.

Through eyes filled with crocodile tears he told me that he could not allow me to continue coming to the fellowship group. He explained that he saw me as a false prophet, a divisive, unrepentant backslider who would be a moral and spiritual danger to the group. He emphasized over and over how much he loved me like a brother and that he was so broken hearted about having to do this. And I think on some level he believed that. But in that moment it was hard to feel the “kiss on the cheek” when there was a “knife in my side”. We parted. I respected his wishes (command) and never went back to the Church. No one from the group has spoken to me since.

That was over a year ago.

And while the hurt, anger, betrayal and heartbreak I felt has subsided, I feel scared because now I feel the Spirit leading me back to find a community to worship with. There are only so many times I can sit and read alone, or watch/listen to a sermon podcast alone. I feel like a limb that’s been severed and is slowly draining of life.

A part of me wants to walk away and never open myself up to a painful experience like that again. But I know I can’t. If my faith is real, if what I believe has any affect on my life at all, it needs to flourish within a community who also seeks after the same things.

In the journal entry I quoted earlier, I had also written a response to a quote by Frank Schaeffer I had read at the time:

“(Jesus) criticized everything religious around him yet still participated in the traditional, liturgical, formal worship of his day even though it was led by hypocrites he denounced”   -Frank Schaeffer
In scripture I’ve read a million times about Jesus being in the synagogue on the Sabbath. But never did I picture him being led in liturgy and worship by the very religious leaders whom HE KNEW would crucify him!
(October 19th 2014)

As I said before, of course, no religious institution is perfect. I would never expect it to be. And I know that many of you reading this post have felt the exact same sting of hurt and rejection from people who profess Christ and yet seem more keen to do the crucifying. InterVarsity has been in the news recently as they are causing a similar kind of rejection, pain and heartache to people on a massive, nationwide scale. And sadly, they aren’t the only ones. But the purpose of my post is not an angry rant against the Church, Christians or the use of personal beliefs to reject, exclude and condemn others.

As I look around, read, and talk to other LGBTQ people, I hear their pain, their heartache to belong, to be in community, to worship God with their partners in the fellowship of other believers. I hear the anger and the sadness of people who have been beaten down and rejected by those who are supposed to be their brothers and sisters in the faith and who many times are their own family! People are DYING! Both spiritually and literally because of the actions of people who claim to follow Christ.

But my faith is not in the religious people. My faith is in the One the religious people crucified.

I have to believe that the same Spirit that is calling me to worship and fellowship in Church & community is calling the community & Church to reach out and embrace the stranger at their gates. And while it’s difficult, and while the road may be painful on both sides, it’s what I’m called to do. My only choice is to open my heart and continue to love as much as He loves me. To move towards acceptance and reconciliation. To show Grace from under the shadows of the Church doors.

It’s all I can do.

 

pro-image-cropped-1    Thank you for reading!

If you are part of the LGBTQ Community and have had a similar experience as what I have shared, I would appreciate you leaving a comment and sharing YOUR story. Or perhaps you have questions and would like to know how to be a help to those in the LGBT community who have been hurt by the Church, please leave a comment and share. I would appreciate you keeping your words respectful and I will try to reply to any comments or questions I receive.

 

One Party, One Candidate, One Hope

So this is a post I have been putting off writing because, to be honest, I don’t want to write it. It would be easier to ignore what I’m seeing, ignore what’s been bothering me and just say: well, it’s someone else’s problem, someone else can speak out about it. And that would be easy, since I am in China and didn’t register to vote as an absentee ballot. But for better or worse, I’m going to say it.

My issue is with so many people in the US who are extremely vocal politically because of their faith.

Now, lets be clear at the very beginning. I am not saying that voting is right or wrong. I’m not arguing for or against democracy.

I am saying that Christians cannot and should not vote based on their religious beliefs.

Now, chances are, most people have checked out and stopped reading after that previous sentence. Because in the US most American Christians have interwoven their faith and their national identity into one solid, inseparable core belief. So a critic on one is viewed as an attack on everything held sacred.

The problem is, this is essentially an AMERICAN PHENOMENON! I have lived in quite a few countries and in NONE of them does there exist this idea that a person’s religious beliefs should determine the political condition of the nation; that’s including the UK which has a Church of England that was created by Henry the VIII and which Queen Elizabeth is still head of. Even in that case, the majority of British people I know would not vote for a political candidate based one whether or not he or she is a Christian, or which church the candidate goes to, or if their rights as a christian will change if this candidate or the other wins an election. My point is, in most countries, the population votes based on economic and political reasons. Whereas in America there always seems to be a surge of religious rhetoric that becomes intermingled into political language.

Honestly, not only do I see this as wrong, but I see it as damaging to the role of the Church in society.

A great article posted on got answers.org says:

The church’s unique, God-given purpose does not lie in political activism. Nowhere in Scripture do we have the directive to spend our energy, our time, or our money in governmental affairs. Our mission lies not in changing the nation through political reform, but in changing hearts through the Word of God. When believers think the growth and influence of Christ can somehow be allied with government policy, they corrupt the mission of the church. Our Christian mandate is to spread the gospel of Christ and to preach against the sins of our time. Only as the hearts of individuals in a culture are changed by Christ will the culture begin to reflect that change.

First, from a Biblical standpoint, lets start by saying that the Bible speaks absolutely nothing about the democratic process or a bipartisan voting system. And while it can be made to say many, many things that we want it to say, we find over and over in scripture that God has the final say in who becomes the leader of a nation. The prophet Daniel says that God “changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings”. And Jesus himself told Pilate that he would not have the authority to rule had God not given it to him. And in Romans we are told that we should be “subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God“.

It’s a hard thing for many Christians to accept that God has chosen and placed each President in the White House. Especially if it isn’t the person they voted for. Have Christians really come to a place where they believe that THEY have the power of God? The power to set up kings and take down kings? Just because the United States has democratic political structure can we say that God is no longer in charge of who is elected? Have Christians decided that they have usurped that power from God?

Second, from a social standpoint, the US is a unique country because of the beliefs of the men who founded and have governed the country over the years. Now, I can’t (and won’t) speak to their personal beliefs as to whether or not they were all followers of Christ but the language used in political documents over the history of the US have intentionally created a national identity wrapped in a Christian belief system… or perhaps, a christian belief system wrapped in a national identity.

But my point is that Christ teaches that Christians have ONE identity. ONE Savior. ONE hope. ONE kingdom! ONE King!

My heart has been breaking as I’ve been seeing that the most vicious attacks and horrible things being said about both candidates and the supporters of one candidate or the other have been coming from people who call themselves Christian.

There are so many people who are skeptical of the Church and who have trouble coming to understand a Christ who is represented by Christians so filled with hate, prejudice, pride and mean spirits.

Are Christians helping the World to see Christ by posting political slams against the candidate they hate?

Christians argue that their “rights” are at stake. That if one candidate or the other becomes president that Christian liberties will be taken away and the moral fibre of the country will be eroded away to nothing. Christian’s are “fighting back”. Fighting for their rights. Fighting for their freedoms…

But dear christians, many horrible, tragic things are happening to Christians around the world, including the country I’m living in. Christians are being beaten, tortured and killed  yet still through it all they pray, not for the persecution to stop, but that others would come to see Christ through their suffering. In an article about the persecution of the Church here in China, Emily Fuentes said:

“Christianity is growing fastest where the persecution is the most severe. The persecutors are intrigued by why people would continue to support this belief. There is kind of the appeal of something that is taboo.”

And of course, there’s fear. We fear change, fear getting taxed too much, fear inflation, fear war, terrorism, poverty… the list goes on and on…

But of all people, Christians should be the ones who have the least to fear. Scripture tells us over and over not to be afraid and not to fear. We are told that our lives are in Christ and in Him do all things live and move and have their being. Now, I understand, fear is natural. An uncertain future is a scary thing. I have no idea where I’ll be living or even what country I’ll be in a year from now. I don’t even know if I’ll be alive. When it comes to the future we have NO guarantees! None! Voting for one candidate over another will not guarantee you anything! Tomorrow is not promised to any of us. So why should we put our faith in a human candidate to give us a future we may never see? And can can anyone who calls themselves a follower of Christ, in good conscious destroy relationships, use angry words to humiliate and tear others down out of fear?

So Christian, if you have economic reasons for voting for a candidate, then vote based on your economic sensibilities, if you disagree with a candidate’s statement about his treatment of women or his attitude against racial minorities then vote for the other one. If you disagree with the policies and reforms of one candidate, then vote for the other.

But please, don’t bring the name of Christ into this political battle. Don’t step into that booth claiming that you are voting for the candidate that Jesus would vote for. Don’t attack a supporter of a different candidate using your beliefs as a weapon. Don’t claim that your faith in Christ compels you to put your faith in a political candidate.

In his book, Jesus For President (which I highly recommend), Shane Claiborne said:

When the church takes affairs of the state more seriously than they do Jesus, Pax Romana becomes its gospel and the president becomes the Son of God.

 

 

 

 

“Damsel, Arise” An article by Jeff Chu

I just read this article about Megan Phelps-Roper, written by Jeff Chu. Megan was a member of the Westboro Baptist Church until late last year when she finally left.

What struck me most about the article was what she and her sister who left with her are going through right now. About leaving the Church and rethinking everything she has been taught, Megan said, “Think of how hard it would be to have a fortress of faith built around you, and to have to dismantle it yourself, brick by brick, examining each one and deciding whether there’s something worth keeping or whether it’s not as solid as you thought it was.” While not to the same extent, I can relate to what she’s going through.

In 2006 at the end of my fall semester at Clearwater Christian College I was expelled for drinking which was against the colleges policy on alcohol and their own interpretation of scripture in relation to christian life. When I was expelled I didn’t just stop matriculating at a University. I lost my job and in a very real sense I was shunned. The college even when so far as to forbid their students to come to my apartment under penalty of demerits or expulsion. I lost my friends and my social network. For the past year or more I had been asking questions about christianity and trying to decide what I really believed. In the summer of 2006 I finally decided to abandon God and not believe in anything anymore. In a way, I was an atheist attending a Christian college.

To this day I tell people that my expulsion was the best thing that ever happened to me. For the first time I had to decide things for myself. I had to make up my own mind and learn what I was really, truly going to believe; not because someone told me what to believe but deep down, in my core, what was I holding on to.

I could continue and make this a much longer post. But that’s a post for another time. For now, my thoughts are with Megan and here sister as they go through this time of soul searching and rediscovery. It’s not discovery, it’s always been there, it’s just taking the time to stop, be still and find it.

It’s a great article I would definitely recommend giving it a read!

Damsel, Arise: A Westboro Scion Leaves Her Church