BY: WESLEIGH ANDERSON
I recently had the opportunity to view the film Blue Like Jazz, based on the book by Donald Miller. Admittedly, I’m far behind the curve; as one review stated, I’m firmly in the target audience of those “who have somehow managed to be left out of the ‘Emergent Church’ conversation of the last ten years.”Nevertheless, one early scene stuck out as continuing to be particularly relevant today. In it, the Christian main character Don sits with Lauryn, a new friend, under a bulletin board labeled “Coming Out,” where she asks him if he can find her picture. Against this backdrop, she advises him well-meaningly, “Do you have any idea of what your hateful, bullying tribe has been up to? Because around here, you represent a whole new category of despicable. So if you plan on ever making friends, or sharing a bowl, or seeing human vagina without a credit card, get in the closet, Baptist Boy, and stay there.”
It’s an elegant little reversal of roles, in which the intolerance and violence that the church has so often perpetrated in the past is thrown back into our collective faces. Its impact is made greater by the understanding that this directive—be silent to be accepted—is precisely what the evangelical community has been saying to its own LGBT members in the debate over same-sex relationships. The most recent example of this is the furor that erupted at the Christian charitable organization World Vision, one of the largest non-profits in the United States, following their decision to not exclude Christians in same-sex marriages that have been blessed by their local churches. The backlash forced World Vision to quickly and completely retract that statement, and instead declare that a rejection of same-sex marriage was “core to our Trinitarian faith.”
I understand, without condoning, the impulse on the part of many evangelical Christians, who believe that same-sex relationships are displeasing in the eyes of God, to disassociate themselves from people who identify as, or support those who identify as, LGBT. I grew up in that particular church culture, where same-sex relationships were the one unspeakable, unpardonable sin.
But I believe it is unbiblical to break fellowship with other believers on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
By “breaking fellowship,” I mean the fellowship of communities, not that of institutional churches, though churches are made up of communities. Institutional churches may determine the standards of doctrine that they believe, however much one personally disagrees with those doctrines. But as individual Christians, we also stand in relationship to each other in the Body of Christ, as members of the communities both inside our churches and outside. This may take forms such as friendships, non-church or para-church Christian organizations such as World Vision, and even interactions such as my speaking to you through this journal. In all of these interactions, we have a calling to embrace each other fully as brothers and sisters, no matter our individual opinions on the subject of same sex-relationships.
However, in much of the evangelical community, a person’s opinions on LGBT issues has become a litmus test to determine whether or not that person is saved. “There is no such thing as a ‘gay Christian,’” I have heard over and over again, as if believing in Jesus Christ, and his death and resurrection, were no longer enough. As if these men and women were no longer brothers- and sisters-in-Christ, and as if anyone who dared to accept them was teetering dangerously on the brink of total apostasy. This is not a fringe view; it is the view that successfully pressured World Vision into backtracking completely on their policy change within 48 hours of the initial announcement, after years of prayer and consideration. It is what caused evangelicals to say, by way of withdrawing financial support to the tune of 10,000 sponsored children, “I supported World Vision because it was a Christian organization; but I cannot support them any longer.”
I witness the evangelical church—the community in which I was raised, and which I continue to love, painful as it may be—making their doctrine about LGBT people into something that is of unparalleled importance to their faith. It has reserved for this issue a level of passion and argumentation that completely eclipses the energy it expends defending in a secular culture something as fundamental as, for example, the divinity of Christ. In effect, it has separated itself from the greater Body of Christ by drawing a line and excluding anyone who falls on the other side of it. “We welcome anyone and everyone,” the evangelical church has said, “from lepers to adulterers to tax-collectors. Except same-sex couples. They’re unacceptable.”
I doubt that most evangelicals would say so in as many words; in fact, I trust that in their hearts, they do truly love their brothers and sisters, and are grieved because they believe that same-sex relationships go against the Word of God. But I cannot see any love in their actions. I do not believe that this has helped to further the message of the gospel.
In Blue Like Jazz, Lauryn warns Don that his acceptance into the community at Reed College is contingent upon his hiding or abandoning his Christian faith. Likewise, within evangelical culture, friendship, fellowship, and relationships have been made contingent upon a person’s sharing of a particular set of beliefs. The line, though often cloaked behind statements such as “hate the sin, love the sinner,” or “it’s not being gay that’s a sin, but participating in the ‘gay lifestyle,’” is perfectly clear, and anyone who steps outside of the boundary is immediately rejected, ostracized and marginalized.
The most heartbreaking result of all this is that gay and lesbian Christians inside the evangelical community who hide their identity and lie about who they are, are embraced and accepted and loved, while those who are open and honest are cast out into the darkness.
I am left tremendously saddened and disappointed by the actions of the evangelical church. And I ask: if I believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died and was resurrected for my sin; if I believe in the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit; if I believe in the Bible as God’s word to us; if I struggle with my sins, just as you struggle with yours, and I rejoice in God’s victories, as you also do; if I eagerly anticipate the second coming of Christ; if I strive to follow God faithfully while I sojourn on this earth, and I desire to do his kingdom work; if I believe and do all this and I also believe that there is nothing inherently sinful about gay relationships in the eyes of the Lord, would you still break bread with me? Would you still fellowship with me? Would you still call me your brother?
 Jones, Jennifer E. “Movie Review: ‘Blue Like Jazz'” Beliefnet. Beliefnet, Inc. 26 Mar. 2014. <http://www.beliefnet.com/Entertainment/Movies/Articles/Movie-Review-Blue-Like-Jazz.aspx/>.
 Blue Like Jazz. Dir. Steve Taylor. Ruckus Films, 2012.
 Gracey, Celeste and Weber, Tony. “World Vision: Why We’re Hiring Gay Christians in Same-Sex Marriages” Christianity Today. Christianity Today. 27 Mar. 2014. <http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/march-web-only/world-vision-why-hiring-gay-christians-same-sex-marriage.html/>
 Gracey, Celeste and Weber, Tony. “World Vision Reverses Decision To Hire Christians in Same-Sex Marriages” Christianity Today. Christianity Today. 27 Mar. 2014. <http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/march-web-only/world-vision-reverses-decision-gay-same-sex-marriage.html/>.
 Jones, Tony. “Let’s Talk about What Happened Yesterday at World Vision” Theoblogy. Patheos. 27 Mar. 2014. < http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2014/03/27/lets-talk-about-what-happened-yesterday-at-world-vision/>.
 Weiseth, Nish, <http://nishweiseth.com/blog/2014/4/ten-thousand-kids/>; Turner, Matthew Paul, <matthewpaulturner.com/2014/04/03/ten-thousand-kids-in-2-days/>; Esther, Elizabeth, <http://www.elizabethesther.com/2014/04/christians-dont-abandon-10000-children-unless-were-standing-up-for-our-beliefs.html>.