I love you but…

This morning, I came across a heartbreaking post on a Facebook friend’s profile:

Received tonight from a great-grandmother (one of the most poignant responses I have received yet)…

“Thirty four years ago this week, our family created an unnecessarily empty chair at our Thanksgiving table. Earlier that Autumn of 1983, our second of four sons had revealed to my husband and me that he was homosexual. While the story is too long and intricate to share in detail in this forum, suffice it to say, we absolutely drove him away. Though we didn’t mean to, that is exactly what we did. We told him that we loved him BUT…and then he was gone. GONE. DISAPPEARED.

Oh, for sure, we felt righteously justified, year after year, by the emptiness of the chair — heartbroken but righteous, with the righteousness obviously more important to us than the heartbreak. After all, the Apostle Paul had taught in First Corinthians 5, ‘With such a one, do not even eat.’ So we didn’t. We were good Christians but terrible parents.

While a book could be, and deserves to be, written here, I just wanted you to know that our son died nine years later of AIDS. And while the people in our church ‘knew’ this was ‘the wages of sin,’ I knew then, and know now, it had nothing to do with his sin and everything to do with ours.

So please keep doing what you are doing and saying what you are saying. It matters.

P.S. This Thanksgiving, one of our granddaughters, who happens to be homosexual, sat in the chair of an uncle she doesn’t remember. And she said the Thanksgiving prayer. It was beautiful.

And I was heartbroken and grateful.

I look forward to the day when I can sit again at the table with her uncle and my boy. Heaven must give me the chance to tell him I am sorry.”

This was the first thing I read this morning. It hit me so hard that I started weeping. My familial estrangement isn’t related to my sexuality, yet so much of this story resonated with me. Placing the conjunction “but” on love in a vulnerable moment alienates LGBT people from the Church, rather than running to Her as Mother.

As a gay man, I never stop coming out. Every person I meet initiates a complex process of emotional calculation: When do I mention it to this person? Do I wait for it to come up naturally? What if they ask me a question about marriage or dating? Am I lying by omission if I answer a question vaguely? Is this person safe?

Coming out is a vulnerable ordeal, especially within the context of faith communities. A consistent response I receive from Christians when I come out is, “I love you, but I can’t support same-sex marriage” or “I love you, but I can’t support sin.” Setting aside the constant assumption of what my sexual ethic looks like or what does/does not happen in my bedroom, that response just doesn’t sit right with me.

To be clear, I’m not saying you need to adopt a liberal sexual ethic to love LGBT people. I’m not saying you can’t find specific sexual behaviors immoral while simultaneously loving sexual and gender minorities. I think LGBT people like myself find the “I love you, but…” response so frustrating because it’s uniquely applied to us and not to straight people.

Imagine if your friend broke down one day and shared the present difficulties within her marriage. I certainly hope your response wouldn’t be, “I love you, but I can’t support divorce.” Your response would assume a lot about her decisions, context, and culpability in the situation. It would also miss an opportunity to meet your friend’s need for love that she isn’t currently receiving from her husband.

Back to the original post:

What I love about the reflection from the woman in this story, is that she didn’t specificy what her current theological stance is on same-sex marriage and gay sex. She didn’t need to. She recognized sin as a communal disorder where her actions had the direct spiritual impact on her son. She repented. She is doing her best to love her granddaughter. And she earnestly looks to the day of Resurrection when “He will wipe every tear from [our] eyes” (Rev 21:4) and experience eternal communion with her son. This email could have been written by a woman who has a traditional sexual ethic or a liberal sexual ethic, and I’m genuinely grateful for her courage.

When I put in the emotional labor to tell you I’m gay, switch up the conjunction. Try: “I love you and nothing you just told me will ever change that.”

A Table for One Cannot Exist

Thanksgiving induces stress for many people. For some, it’s a stress of logistical nature. Our desire to invite people into our homes evolves into a desire to be a perfect cook, a perfect host, and a perfect planner. For others, the stress of familial feuds can be too much, especially in our polarized political climate.

Thanksgiving, or rather the weeks leading up to the entire holiday season, personally create stress of a much different sort. As someone estranged to his biological family, I find myself worrying, “Is there a family I can enjoy fellowship with this year? Or will I spend this season alone?” Many singles, particularly LGBT Christians, find themselves asking this question for the rest of their lives. It induces feelings of isolation, despair, trauma, and loss.

The problem is, it isn’t supposed to be this way. “It is not good that man should be alone.” (Gen 2: 18). A desire for family – for communion – is inherently human. Our isolation is a result of a fallen world; a world of sin. Every sin results in death.

I created this blog with the hope that the broader church can listen and make space at the Table for LGBT Christians. To truly be one in Christ, means you see the entire person. You can’t ignore my familial history. You can’t ignore my sexuality. You certainly can’t ignore the immense challenge celibacy brings me in regard to intimacy and communion with other human beings. Making space at the table means being aware of the baggage I bring, while simultaneously“bearing [my] burdens”. (Gal 6:2)

This year, I was graciously invited into the home of a loving family that I’m becoming more acquainted with over time. To see families desire a breaking of bread with a single person reaffirms the notion that God’s grace is embodied and communal. I cherish  Christians who embrace me as a single person, rather than treating me as an object of sympathy. I pray that God continues to grow these types of relationships in my life.

If one understands the transcendent reality of the eucharistic (giving thanks) table each Sunday, they will understand the transcendent reality of their Thanksgiving table.

“Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.” (1 Cor 10:17)

Because in the Kingdom of God, a table for one cannot exist.