faith, Healing, Personal Growth

My Religion Is Love

Preach Jesus, and if necessary, use words.

St. francis of assisi

A couple weeks ago, my wife and I had our first together experience of the Cedar Rapids farmers market. It was a lovely morning, the first day of pride month, and I could feel the energy of love coming from those who were there. I felt at home with many people sporting their rainbow tees and Raygun favorites. There was laughter, the aroma of fresh coffee and sweet treats, children playing, and dogs enjoying the sunny day with their humans. It was truly a sight to see, and one of those days that made me grateful to be an Iowan.

We had been on the search for a local artist Lindsey follows on Facebook (EichenPaint–check out her work, it’s awesome!), when we came across two men holding large signs and yelling about how we must repent or we will go to hell. You’ve likely seen them, but let me give you a visual:

No one was giving them an ounce of attention, but I was internally fuming. Lindsey told me to just ignore them. I couldn’t. I was so mad that someone who worships the same Jesus as I do would spread such a hateful message to people. I wanted to march up to one of them and ask what church they belong to, so I could avoid it at all costs, but I resisted the urge. Eventually my anger subsided, and I felt just sad.

You see, my faith in Jesus has always been central to who I am. His love has pulled me from the depths of the worst experiences in my life. I clung to hope that one day, life would be better, and Jesus was that hope for me. Without my faith in Him, I don’t think I would have been strong enough to make it through those difficult times in my childhood. I don’t usually tell people this because I believe living out Jesus’ love is so much more important than proclaiming it. If someone asks about my spirituality, I am down to have a conversation, but I don’t shout it from the rooftops that Jesus is Lord. I want people to SEE it.

I have a unique perspective in the church that I am going to share in this post. As someone who was involved in church activities, retreats, and church camp, I never felt excluded…that was until I started loving a woman. My relationship had been accepted and embraced. I could openly share about that part of my life when I was working retreats and at camp without shame and fear of judgement. I could sit in the church pews and not be told I was a sinner because of who I loved. It was safe for me to be there, and people in the church supported my relationship.

Fast forward to today, where I am not actively involved in a faith community. I haven’t been asked to serve on retreats as I once was twice a year for 5 years. I have been told by people I have cared about that they cannot support my relationship with Lindsey because the Holy Spirit tells them not to. **I worship the same Jesus they do, and I know that Jesus loves me.**

I have read position statements of a church that include invalidating the experiences of the LGBT community. For instance, here is the position statement of homosexuality of a church I was recently invited to attend: https://www.wesleyan.org/a-wesleyan-view-of-homosexuality-235. Feel free to read it; I felt the need to throw up when I read it. Unfortunately, it’s a sentiment that is not unique to the Wesleyan Church. This can be found on the websites of many different churches. I spoke with the pastor of this church, and he invited to me to attend a service. I politely declined after reading this position statement because although some people may embrace me and my wife, the institution believes it’s wrong. Now, there are churches out there that affirm individuals in the LGBT community (ie: United Church of Christ, Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Unitarian Universalists). I think my challenge in finding a faith community is my own internalized shame. This is what the church is good at…shaming people, and it’s difficult to let go of. For instance, how many of us who grew up in the church were told that sex is bad? “Don’t have sex “(or you will die…kidding, thank you Mean Girls). “Sex is meant for marriage”, but how do you expect someone who’s been told that sex is bad their whole childhood to just have sex when they are married and not feel shame? It doesn’t happen like that. The same is true for being gay. So, for now, what separates me from joining a faith community is the internalized shame I feel that God didn’t make me this way and the rejection I have felt by those who believe in the same Jesus I do.

We can sit here and tell people that they are bad and invalid. Or we could actually share the love of Jesus. It’s crazy for me to think that those men holding the signs are reading the same Bible I am reading. Because when I read stories from the Bible, I feel Jesus was all about love. I read about how God provides for all, not just a few. I believe that Jesus’ life was about hanging out with those in the margins of society, loving and validating them. Those men, churches, and so many Christians further cast people into the margins. It seems everyone else is there but them, and it pushes people away. There are so many people my age who don’t want to be associated with a church because of this. Until the Christian churches start affirming and validating people, people will continue to be pushed way. Until then, I will continue to celebrate and extend love to others.

My religion is love.

I leave you with the lyrics of a hymn we sang at camp that often sits on my heart as I am wrestling with the contradictions of organized religion. I always come back to love.

“We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord

And we pray that our unity will one day be restored

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love

Yeah they’ll know we are Christians by our love

We will work with each other, we will work side by side

We will work with each other, we will work side by side

And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love

Yeah, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

Fr. Peter Scholtes

✌️ Kiley

7 thoughts on “My Religion Is Love”

  1. I’m sorry for the hurt done to you by institutional policies and practices. I think of you often as I remain in the UMC and fight against the hurtful policies and work towards full inclusion. Your life is a wonderful witness to the love and grace of God. I pray that some day you and Lindsey will find a faith family you feel you can be a part of. There are many open and affirming congregations who will embrace you as a part of their family of faith. You are as precious to me today as you ever were and I have a ton of respect and admiration how you are living your life. You are perfect and beloved just the way you are!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your love and support! It’s people like you who give me so much hope! I love you and I always loved serving alongside you. You are doing great work, and it means a lot to my wife and I ❤️

      Like

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