This post and another to follow come from some questions on my last post about attending a gay men’s Christian retreat. Among other things, a reader asked:
“But for you who have found peace or at least commitment to this [Side B] life…why? And how do you do it?”
“Side B” refers to those following a traditional belief on sexuality, as opposed to “Side A,” which refers to those affirming of same-sex relationships.
This is a question we often get asked, a variation of “why live a Side B life?” I wrote previously on why we follow this particular ethic, noting it needs to be more than just an ethic.
We get asked the “why” question so much because this life is hard. Being a Christian is hard; being LGBTQ+ is hard. Being both can be exhausting. And it may continue to be exhausting if we don’t do the work to understand why it’s hard and figure out how to keep going.
Whether Side B or Side A, many sexual minorities share a common story of pain and trauma in and from the church. Andrew Marin’s book, Us versus Us: The Untold Story of Religion and the LGBT Community spells this out well. Additionally, Bridget Eileen Rivera’s recent book, Heavy Burdens: Seven Ways LGBTQ Christians Experience Harm in the Church also addresses some of our experiences and hardships.
Our hurt is real.
Some have observed that sexual minorities are more “sensitive” emotionally, and many grow up in invalidating environments. Although other complex factors exist, these are the two greatest common factors in those who develop borderline personality disorder (BPD). Consider the following description of BPD symptoms:
“Borderline personality disorder is a mental health disorder that impacts the way you think and feel about yourself and others, causing problems functioning in everyday life. It includes self-image issues, difficulty managing emotions and behavior, and a pattern of unstable relationships.”
I am by no means suggesting that all sexual minorities have BPD, merely noting some similarities in terms of origin and life difficulties. Sexual minorities have higher rates for mental health problems than the cishet (cisgender heterosexual) population. There is a reason.
The experiences we go through lead many people to seek counseling. The trauma is real. The gaslighting is real. And there is no shame in needing help. We were not made to walk through life alone (Genesis 2:18).
I’ve been to counseling. Many people in our community have pursued and/or currently attend counseling. Seeking help to navigate our experiences is a good thing.
Thriving, though, is about more than just processing our experiences in counseling. We must also embrace the understanding that there will always be some measure of hardship and pain in this life while figuring out how to have a life still worth living.
How can we be Side B and live a life worth living?
I return to the earlier question: “How do you do it?”
Or, rephrased: “How can you be Side B and live a life worth living?” How do we keep going?
I won’t give the Sunday school answer and just say “Jesus.” But my answer starts with Jesus.
Jesus’ words are a comfort to me in my pain. In the Sermon on the Mount and the Last Supper, Jesus told his followers that they would experience trouble for following him, tribulation in this world:
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33 (ESV)
In Jesus we are able to have peace. Peace (shalom in Jewish thought) is not the absence of pain, but abiding presence and strength with God amidst any circumstance.
We do not have to “clean up” before we come to the table of God. When we were in our sin and darkness, God pursued us with his radical love in Jesus (Romans 5:8).
The first premise I ask you to accept is this:
You are accepted just as you are.
When we look at the pages of the New Testament, we see Jesus inviting those whom other people (especially the religious) often ignore. There will be many people in heaven that the religious elite of Jesus’ day (and ours) wrote off as unworthy, unholy, not good enough, and outside the love and grace of God (see Matthew 22:1-14 and Luke 1:23).
In Jesus, and through Jesus, we are accepted.
However, in addition to Jesus’ accepting us as we are, he also calls us to follow him, to be his disciples, to lay down our lives, and follow him (see Luke 9:21-27). The letters of the New Testament talk about what life as Jesus’ disciples ought to look like and call us to a new life in the Holy Spirit, lives marked by love, faith, and holiness.
The process of discipleship means we look more and more like our Savior over time. Do we look like Jesus?
We are accepted as we are, but Jesus does not just save us and accept us and leave us be. He calls us to a new life.
The second premise I ask you to accept is this:
You need to do better.
If you are anything like me and many other traumatized believers, you might read that statement and recoil. My whole life I was told I wasn’t good enough, that I would not measure up, that God would not accept me unless I did more, tried harder, and hated my sin — and myself — enough.
But that is not what I am asking you to accept here.
You are already accepted in Jesus. You need do nothing to earn that love and acceptance. Jesus already paid for it. You cannot earn salvation or the love of God. In Christ you are accepted.
And as a result of that acceptance, you can do better. You can have a life marked by life in the Holy Spirit, a life marked by love, faith, and holiness. This flows out of and is empowered by the work that God has already done.
In my next post, we’ll further unpack this “you need to do better” idea.
But don’t approach it cringing; approach it with hope. In Jesus we have hope not only to survive, but also to thrive in and through him.
What disconfirming experiences (being told you shouldn’t be the way you are, think the way you do, etc.) have influenced, or perhaps distorted your understanding of God’s love and acceptance? When did you first realize God truly did see you, love you, and accept you just as you are?