no more lepers

if you judge people you have no time to love them” – mother teresa

“let he who is without sin cast the first stone” – Jesus

one of my favorite passages of scripture is in john 8, where Jesus protects a woman from the justice-seeking crowd by radically turning the tables on them, calling them to look at their own lives before they past judgment on hers.  and he sure doesn’t mince words.   the motto at our wednesday night house of refuge is “no stones thrown here.”  i am so tired of stone-throwing, of certain people thinking that it’s their responsibility to make sure that “God’s truth” gets told that they’re willing to lob big ol’ stones all the time without any care or concern for the person getting pummelled.  (i am openly confessing here, too, that i can be a big stone-thrower myself when it comes to legalism.  please know i’m working on it. it’s hard to speak my opinions honestly & not be judgmental and rude at the same time, so know that i am not unaware of how i can sometimes cross the line and am in constant need of God’s grace.)  however, i am deeply committed to advocating for the voiceless, the underdog, the powerless, and so this means that sometimes i speak directly about my current opinions on certain issues (note, they are just my opinions, i am not saying 100% i am right and also that i use the word “current”). 

i do believe wholeheartedly that there are two big issues that conservative christians have decided to zone in on–abortion & homosexuality.  i know all about “the slippery slope” and that christians and nonchristians alike are all over the map on these issues.  but what happens so often is in all of the conversation about morality & who’s right and who’s wrong, we lose sight of the most important thing–the person.  the people who know what it feels like to be the woman caught in adultery with mean people perched with stones in-hand.  people, real people, deserving of dignity, love, care, mercy, and safe community, just like everyone else in this world.    i love what jim henderson from off the map has said:  “once we’re in relationship with people who are different from us it changes everything.”  you see, it’s easy to judge an idea, a concept, a doctrine when it doesn’t hit close to home. but what about when stones are getting lobbed at your friend, your daughter, your son, your sister, your brother, your co-worker, your neighbor?  what if you got to know up close and personal someone radically different than you and discovered that pretty much you’re just the same–strugglers on the journey trying to figure out how to love, be loved? what if you quit defining & elevating sin and spent that energy on loving? 

jonathan brink recently wrote a post called the new lepers that is worth reading (and is much shorter than this, ha!).  homosexuals are the new lepers in the church.   it makes me so sad, thinking about how much dignity has been stripped through the actions of well-meaning christians.   i am tired of truth always trumping grace.  anyway, i play a good deal of clean-up-after-the-mean-people and i feel privileged to do it. i spend a lot of time apologizing for others’ behavior in the name of “christian truth.”  it disturbs me that Jesus–lover of all people, especially the outcasts, untouchables–has become associated with being the one who won’t touch certain people unless they clean up their act.   anyway, i have no desire to argue theology or scripture verses or any of the other things that get thrown into this argument.  what i care about is being people willing to love all people, period.   there should be no lepers in the church of Jesus Christ.  period.  it is time for us to be less afraid of our differences and notice just how deep our prejudices and fears really go. 

one way to do this is to hear a former leper-in-the-church’s heart.   so i asked my dear friend, who is courageous, beautiful, smart, and gay, to share a little bit of her past & recent journey.  i thought it was important to not hear hear my heart on her behalf, but to hear directly from hers.  she is making herself vulnerable & trust me, i am like a mama bear when it comes to my friends.  but we talked together about taking this risk because we think it’s so important to hear a bit of what it feels like to be a leper, an outcast, a “less than” not just in school, families, but most of all the church. and maybe, just maybe, it will help us remember how careful we must be to not throw stones and rob our brothers, our sisters, our friends on the journey of dignity, hope, love…how necessary safe loving communities really are.   

listen to what she has to say….

how did your family respond when they found out you were gay?

good question. i wish i knew what their initial reaction was, but since I wasn’t the one that told them, i don’t know. i came out at age 15, and for the next year and a half my dad and step-mom never said anything about it to me. they knew, and i knew that they knew, but we did not discuss it.  we avoided each other mostly, we did not talk and we did not appear in public together. no one really knew who my family was because they never went out in public with me. then after about the 2nd year I wrote them a note telling them how sick i was of pretending that everything was all hunky dory and that I wanted to know what they thought. so, that night they sat me down and told me that they thought that i was disgusting and a disappointment and that i was going to hell. they said that they were embarrassed of me and that if my grandfather, step-mom’s dad, were alive he would be totally disappointed in me. i was demolished, the people who were supposed to love and support me no matter what had joined in my ridicule. my brother totally disowned me and still does to this day. my mom had a halfway positive reaction. her best friend from high-school had dated girls for 3-4 years. after the first year or so though, she started doing the bible thumping too, so i stopped talking to her as well. my step-dad made fun of me from day one, but we never had a healthy relationship, so his opinion did not amount to much with me. my aunt (dad’s sister), her husband, my uncle (dad’s brother), and grandfather (dad’s dad), never turned away from me. i think it was their support that got me through high school. they came to my soccer games and marching band shows when my parents would not.

what did you long for them to do or say?

my whole life i have wanted my parents, all of them, any of them, to tell me that they were proud of me and what I have accomplished. i want to have them claim me in public as their daughter and to tell me that they love me. my dad has only told me that he loved me one time my entire life, and that’s when he thought that i might go to Iraq. my mom and i talk now and i have spent time with her in the last few years. we get along much better now and she tells me that she loves me every time i talk to her. neither of them has ever said that they were proud of me, and i’ve never asked because i would be horrified if they said no.

what kind of rejection have you experienced in school? in your family? in the church? what has that looked like?

the rejection was the hardest part. in high school i was very well known as “the gay girl.” everyone knew who i was, but few really knew me. i could probably count on one hand how many friends i had. real friends anyways. it was hard. i had to grow really thick skin. people were always calling me names and making fun of me. even some of the teachers supported the things that were said and done to me. my 11th and 12th grade english teacher was the worst. her husband was a pastor, and she discriminated against me horribly. she refused to post up a few of my writing assignments because I had referenced being gay in them, and she didn’t think they were appropriate. by the time I graduated my senior year one other girl had come out and we were the only two people in the school to receive poor grades on our senior projects. our english teacher had graded them. i was kicked out of class once for defending myself as one of the boys in my class made fun of me. high school mostly sucked for me. i had a few friends, mostly from band and soccer, and a few others, but not many. as far as my family, like i said, i didn’t really have much of one in school. now, it’s somewhat better, but my dad and step-mom still don’t talk about it, and we don’t talk very often. my uncles and aunt and grandfather still get along great. the church; that was a bad experience all the way around. i went from going to church every sunday and teaching vacation bible school every summer to not going at all in about a month. it was really hard for me because one of my best friends since like 6th grade went to church with me and it was like overnight she didn’t know who i was. she would not even acknowledge me at school. my brother’s best friend was our pastor’s son, which is how my parents found out that i was gay in the first place.  we all went to the same school, he had told his mom, and she told my step-mom. when i went to church it was an awful experience.  people would stare at me and whisper. they would point and laugh. it was humiliating. i didn’t even sit with my own family. i felt very unwelcome. i eventually just stopped going. i  was easier for me because I could be alone in my house for a few hours without being holed up in my room by myself.

what’s the ugliest thing someone who called themselves a christian has said to you?

well, i’ve obviously heard the whole going straight to hell line a million times. i have been told that there are camps and places for people like me to go get the gay cast out of me. i‘ve been told that if i were a stronger Christian that i could restrain the homosexual urges. lots of really thoughtless, hypocritical things like that. once a guy came up to me at a gas station and started trying to touch me and started praying to mary to cast the demons out of my body…that was weird.

what has your experience been with religion, church?

i struggled with religion a lot. for a long time i didn’t know how much or how little i believed in God. i was mad and angry at God for letting this happen to me. i was hurt so deeply by my family and so called friends. i had so much pain inside me that i  didn’t know what to do with. i  thought that if God really loved me that he wouldn’t have let this happen to me.  eventually i realized that it was my family that i was so hurt by and that God hadn’t turned away from me, i had turned away from him. i also realized that I hadn’t lost faith in God, but that i had lost faith in unconditional love and trusting others. it hurt so much that i didn’t want to trust God, but i did. he was the only one i had for a long time; i just didn’t realize it for a while. as far as the church was concerned, it’s horrible to say, but it scared the hell out of me. after my dad’s church, i thought that every church would treat me the way that they had. i was resentful towards them and i hadn’t been to a church until last year when I was finally coerced into coming to the refuge. i was scared at first, and I’m still growing, but i know that no one here would treat me the way that i was treated before.

why has the “church” felt unsafe to you? what are you afraid of?

the church has felt unsafe because of my past; the judgment, the ridicule, the hypocrisy.  i put up a lot of walls to protect myself in the past. that thick skin that I grew is hard to peel away at.  i am gaining more trust in the small circle that i am in now.  i feel like no matter what i say, they won’t laugh at me unless it’s supposed to be funny and that feels good.  i still get a little weird when new people come into the group and i don’t know them very well. it takes me a little while to trust people, but i am growing and learning, not just about others, but also about myself. it’s a work in progress, but progress no less.

what do you long for others to understand about you?

i want others to know that i am human too. i have feelings and hopes and dreams just like everyone else. want others to realize that being gay or bisexual or whatever is not a disease.  we aren’t horrible people. we are normal people just like you, we love just like you do.  i want others to realize that being gay is not who i am. being gay is a part of me, it does not make me who I am. i am a child of God first, human second, and i happen to be gay. my blood runs red too.

what scared you about starting to hang around “christians” again?

i was scared when i first came to the refuge because i didn’t know anything at all about it.  i was horrified at the idea of going through all of that pain again. i held back a lot at first and only talked if i had to and when i did it was only part truths. i felt like no one would like me if they knew that i was gay. i felt like it was written on my forehead like a scarlet letter. it was hard to take that first step, but after i did and i got to know a few people it got easier and easier. i still think that i do better in small groups though.

what is shifting in you through being with a safe community?

i have felt myself grow over the past year. i have grown closer with the people in the group that i am in some more than others. it’s nice to have that consistency in my life. to know that no matter what on wednesday night i can go there and vent and laugh and feel safe and have a good time. i feel like I’m at a point now where i want them to know my story so i recently really shared it. i want them to know the real, exposed, not perfect, raw and in person side of me.  i am reading “changes that heal” right now and it has shown me a lot in the past few weeks. i have grown so much in such a short amount of time. i feel like i know myself better and that my “family” should also have that chance.

what has been the most helpful and healing thing on your spiritual journey so far?

i think the one thing that has helped me is how diverse our group is. we have people from all walks of life who have been through and experienced so many things. if one person hasn’t felt something or done something there is almost always someone who has. i feel safer knowing that they are all as messed up in their lives as i am and that they are not going to judge me for the things that i have been through and done. it’s a great feeling to know that you are not alone in your struggle, no matter what the demon is.

if you could tell christians a thing or two to consider about their response to homosexuals, what would you say?

you know what, Jesus didn’t throw any stones, so why should you? you don’t truly know a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes, and hypocrisy is a sin too. if you take the time to get to know me you will find that i am much more than a homosexual. i am a hard worker, i am a good friend, i am smart and funny and strong. i am. not the great I AM, but i am.

thanks, my friend.

i will never know what it feels like to be gay.  but what i do know is that we have to reckon with our biases, the verses & thoughts programmed into our heads and our hearts about “those people” (whoever “those people-not-like-us” happen to be) and learn to understand that in the kingdom of God the playing field is leveled.  and in the here and now, we really need to learn to all be together–men, women, gay, straight, young, old, black, white, brown, rich, poor, christian, non-christian, sick, healthy, you name it. we don’t have to all agree, but we have to learn to be together.  to learn from each other. to love each other well, to bump up against our man-made (& religion-made) barriers & let God work in our hearts in ways that might need working.  i heard they found a medical cure for leprosy.  i think there’s a spiritual cure, too, and it’s available to all of us, we’re just afraid to apply it. it’s called unconditional love. 

 

 

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

19 Comments

  • Kathy, it would really help us humans if you could, just once, give us a post that really sucked. Instead, you keep hitting them right out of the park, and so we begin to think you are not truly human. 😉 All kidding aside, this was gorgeous. Thank you to your friend for being willing to share so openly with us.

    I will never forget the first time my hubby and I had a gay couple over to our home for dinner. They were new to town and had just bought a home together. Some “Christians” we know said, “How COULD you?” I was utterly dumbfounded at that response. They went on to say they would never do that, blah, blah, blah.

    That dinner with two men who don’t know the Lord was more precious to me than you can imagine. They shared their pain, their rejection, their struggles in a way I’ve rarely heard fellow Christians do with even half that degree of honesty and rawness. I was blessed and felt like I learned much from them and need to sit at their feet for awhile.

    Those who have suffered and been so rejected have much to teach those of us who mistakenly think we “fit in.” I’m still learning….

    Reply
  • Amazing, Kathy. It takes moxie to let it all hang out like this, and I applaud you for your steadfastness in sorting through the thorns in search of what is beautiful and real.

    Brian

    Reply
  • You never hear this sermon, do you? and in some of our “favorite” churches you never will….and that my friend will be their undoing. Shout it from the roof tops Kathy, Jesus doesn’t condem us, God doesn’t condem us, He simply accepts us. Please know I stand with you and your friend side by side…so when the rocks start flying maybe we’ll deflect a few.

    Reply
  • Great post and so time appropriate for me! I just got done speaking with a friend who is a homosexual and she shared some of the hurts and indignities that she had to confront growing up. She is very practical about it and realizes that those terrible situations have made her who she is today, but the real question is why do we feel like we have to punish and ostracize those who don’t think or act like us? It is so sad, especially when we’re talking about people we know and love.

    I loved the last line where she said “I am.” She is a wonderful person. She is real. She is smart. She is good. She is brave. She is a beautiful child of God.

    I think it’s easy to underestimate what she’s gone through in her life and how hard it is to put yourself out there by allowing your letters to be printed. She is very courageous, and I am proud of her and her willingness to share an intimate piece of her life. Thanks for shedding some light Kathy. Keep ‘em coming.

    Reply
  • I agree wholeheartedly – that in our assessments we lose the person. I have searched myself as a parent and how would I feel if my child were to tell me they were gay – and I would not feel any differently about them.

    The huge contradiction I always found was people with heterosexual deviances were always the most outspokenly judgmental – we gloss over men with porn problems, women who behave emotionally inappropriately with men in their church, etc. etc. It’s the whole getting the log out of your own eye thing.

    I used to be the first to grab a stone – and not so much anymore. Like you I am constantly reforming from that person to a new me that I am still getting to know.

    Reply
  • Awesome Kathy! Thanks for not being afraid to “go there”. One of my VERY best friends in high school was/is gay…she never came out to us (our circle of friends) until after we graduated, but we all knew for years before that…but we didn’t even really think about it or talk about it, like it was just a natural part of who she was. Like some people have brown eyes and some have blue.

    Reply
  • Dear Kathy,
    Watching you and Karl at the refuge deal with this issue has really inspired me. There are certain lines that can’t be mushed, and this has become one for me. The spirit of Jesus is alive in love. Period. Rock on.

    Reply
  • tracy – you are so funny. just ask my husband, kids, and refuge friends and they will vouch for my humanness, trust me! i loved your story, isn’t that so wild, that people would go ‘how could you do that?’ when thinking about asking some people over to dinner? just bizarre. thanks for your continued encouragement & understanding & support, tracy. it goes farther than you know.

    brian – i so appreciate your perspectives here (ps: that book jesus land just arrived today, yeah, look forward to reading)

    john – yeah, knowing you’ve got my back is a big deal, honestly. you are the person i want jumping in on my behalf, that’s for sure! i love your heart & passion for change and am so proud to be your and marty’s friend. of course, there’s no way for a post like this to not make me feel a little on the vulnerable side. i think our conversation on friday sort of motivated me because of our crazy belief that maybe things can change…at least it’s clear we’re not crazy alone.

    urh – yeah, i agree, it took a lot of courage for her to share with us. pretty cool. i liked what you said “why do we think it’s our responsibility to punish & ostracize those that don’t think or act like us?”

    jeff – i am glad it is making you think. that makes me so happy and worth the risk, really. we are all re-thinking so many things in so many good (but scary, too, because they are so foreign) ways.

    jewls – we are all learning a lot, changing a lot. i used to be a stone-thrower, too, no question. so glad that God has stirred us to change…

    erin – oh i always am thankful for your encouragement & “getting it”…that is a cool story about your friend.

    phyllis – “the spirit of Jesus is alive in love. period.” beautiful. your presence, your wisdom, your being you has given me strength in this past year to be me. thanks my friend.

    Reply
  • Can I be you when I grow up? Um, was that weird? Really, though, thank you for being such an amazing example of a Christian woman to actually respect. 🙂

    Reply
  • These words feel so familiar: “i also realized that I hadn’t lost faith in God, but that i had lost faith in unconditional love and trusting others.”

    It is hard enough to believe that God’s grace can be real. It’s even harder for my heart to believe grace can be real on this side of eternity, especially among people – especially those who say they are into God, even those into a God of grace. and not just because I have experienced the ridiculously painful end of “truth trumping grace” (and grace being perverted into “levels of grace” and “earned grace”) but also because I have joined in as I have picked up those stones that I have been pelted with, and thrown them back.

    Thank you for taking the risk to say this, and saying it without throwing the stones back…

    (why is there such risk in saying what you have? how did the church get so off track from Christ?!)

    Real grace – I can’t even remember it, and yet I can’t seem to let go of it. Grace is the true thing – and the very thing, the only thing, that Christ offers that no other faith/religion/worldview/whatever does. If it wasn’t for that, I’d given up long ago. What you have written here helps me hang on to grace a little tighter. thank you.

    Reply
  • (p.s. don’t mean to imply that homosexuals are in need of grace just b/c they are homosexual or not – the bigger picture of having any lepers in the church, and seeing people for people, “truth vs. grace” – that just really struck a cord with me)

    Reply
  • stacy – um, not so sure that’s a good idea, ha! there’s a big big downside to it, trust me…

    eb – thanks for stopping by and your comment. i am so with you with grace and how hard it is to believe in grace, receive it, and pass it on too. i love this line you wrote “real grace–i can’t even remember it, and yet i can’t seem to let go of it.” so beautiful.

    Reply
  • Hi,
    I was so blessed to be there when our friend shared the raw part of coming out to her family and the pain of rejection she felt through them and her community. I feel so privileged to be in a community where she can feel safe and loved as we get to know what a wonderful, smart, funny, precious human being she is. Thank you, Kathy, for saying emphatically there are no lepers in Jesus Christ’s church. We are in this world together and all God asks is that we love each other and believe that He has covered the rest through Jesus.

    Reply
  • thanks dawn, it is such a joy to be in community with you! thanks for all of the love and hope you bring to us all…

    Reply
  • Kathy, I want to thank you for taking the time and interviewing such a brave and wonderful person. She has and will grow stronger from this experience. Being a Pastor and working with people with so many opinions, has not looked at themselves. I have heard from so many who want to pass judgement on others, when their own lives are filled with things people can throw stones at. It hurts my heart and creates bearer with people I have had long friendships with. It is my opinion and only my opinion that when someone judges others, it is to protect themselves from revealing something they don’t want others to know about themselves. I love her last statement of I am not the great I AM, but I am. Now that was strong and to the point. I would love to meet your friend and share the love of Christ as a person to person, with no labels, no pretenses, just love for each other. Yes there still is Grace and Mercy, and most of all Unconditional Love! Love you guys and your work and both Michelle and I are in full support of the Refuge. Thank You!

    Reply
  • Kathy, please thank your friend for bravely sharing her story, her words have touched my heart with grace.

    Reply
  • joe – thanks for stopping by and for your heart, that is so evident. i am with you on the judgement thing and i know that first hand. the judgement i passed on so readily was usually about fear and insecurity and shame inside of me. it’s when i started really receiving grace, in deep deep places in my heart, that i could begin to pass it on. boy is it all a crazy process! hope to see you soon.

    michelle – thanks too for stopping by and for who you are. your heart is so beautiful and i am grateful to have you as a companion on this journey.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *