This is a wristband I wear. They’re all the rage these days. I see people walk around with half-a-dozen of them on their arms sometimes, and I wonder what all their stories are.
This is mine.
In March of 2014, I was only just beginning to officially call myself a gay Christian. Coming out doesn’t happen all at once, mostly because you can’t come out to the everyone in the world at the same time, Facebook aside. I was slowly testing the waters to see how people responded, and if the phrase really described me, my life, and my walk with God.
Several big stories had hit the LGBT world already in just the few months leading up to this day. Exodus International, the leading ex-gay ministry, had shut down with an apology from its founder that they had done more harm than good. Fred Phelps, head of the Westboro Baptist Church, had died. Christian churches in the US had helped support the passing of legislation in Uganda making homosexuality punishable by death.
And on March 24, 2014, WorldVision charities released a statement declaring that professing Christians in same-sex marriages that were blessed by their respective churches would be allowed to work at their organization.
On March 26, 2014, WorldVision charities released a statement reversing their decision.
In the two days in between, Christians withdrew their support from over 10,000 children in poverty whose needs were being met by WorldVision’s work.
That’s when I started coming out in earnest. Because as afraid as I was of changing my mind on things for the wrong reasons, I was more afraid of what would happen if children who had nothing to do with my sexual orientation were used as pawns in a political debate.
As I shared this particular part of my story with the people in my life I was coming out to—in general, conservative, evangelical Christians—many hung their heads, not at me, but at the conduct of those Christians who had committed such an ugly act of spiritual extortion.
They were also shocked because I was the first person to tell them about this. Not their pastor. Not their Christian news source. Not a brother or sister in the pew beside them leaning over to discuss the issue. But from me, the one gay Christian guy they knew.
Our own people abandoned 10,000 children, and we didn’t pay attention.
Working out how to live by the gospel in the world is never a simple effort. It’s often as counter-intuitive as it is counter-cultural. Sometimes we have to change, and sometimes we have to stand fast. I don’t envy the debate WorldVision had within itself in the days leading up to the announcement, and I sympathize with those who struggled to reconcile the new policy with an organization whose good works they wished to support.
Dangling the lives of kids over the altar of our value system cannot, in any sense of the phrase, in any kind of reality, be the fruit of the gospel.
One Christian leader, a friend of my pastor at the time, called the initial WorldVision announcement proof of the bad fruit produced by their leaders. But in the arcane tongue of Christianese, “fruit” isn’t a doctrinal statement, it’s the result of our behavior in following that doctrine. When Jesus told his followers that the world would know them by the fruit they bore, he said that fruit was love.
And while I get a juvenile chuckle out of using the word “fruit” in a discussion about gay theology, the point is valid. When one group’s doctrine produced compassion, and the other’s produced rage, I had to pick the one that produced compassion. I had to pick the gospel.
So I hopped onto one of those websites that makes T-shirts and keychains for sports teams and charity events, and quickly made my own wristband. It’s lavender, a color with some meaning in LGBT history. It’s printed with the words “#10000children” on one side, and “Matt. 19:14” on the other.
“Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for such is the kingdom of Heaven.”
As I continued to come out, I would look at it to remind me that I wasn’t doing this for myself, or for the satisfaction of some craven impulse, but for those needy innocents who despite having nothing to do with the argument, were the ones forced to suffer the consequences of toxic theology.
My coming out has been slower than I’d like, and it’s still not really done in some respects. I find myself caught between the urgency to speak up, and the compulsion to know the answer to every question first. Meanwhile, people I once held in regard as spiritual authorities continue to make terrible, dangerous, un-Christian decisions and statements with fiery conviction.
Today is National Coming Out Day. This is one chapter of my coming out story, and a very important one. This is my wristband. This is for 10,000 children.
(FOLLOW-UP FACTS: I provided the link to the R.L. Stollar blog to clarify some of the logistical realities of WorldVision and other charities, and to acknowledge that while my hashtag is certainly a kind of rhetorical device, the alternative, “#10000bigots,” doesn’t open up the same doors to conversation. Also, I sponsored a kid through Compassion International, a similar charity, about 11 years ago, but quit when I was between college and an internship, trying to pay bills. Full disclosure of my cheap decision.)