Sunday, August 17, 2008

Family Business

God sets the lonely in families.

                        Psalm 68.6

Our First Family

For me, the finest moment in each year’s Pride Parade arrives as PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) comes into view. My heart swells and my eyes cloud up. That these extraordinary people care so much profoundly moves me. But I also confess tinges of jealousy. I can’t rule out the possibility my family will join the PFLAG march one day; “nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1.37) If and until that happens, though, I try to be content embracing their unwillingness to embrace my sexuality as God’s will for me.

No gay relative is more loved than I. Yet, ironically, love is why my family doesn’t support my orientation. They fear for my soul; actually, they desire my eternal happiness. Their indifference, therefore, masks heartfelt charity. This has been a hard lesson for me. I accept it, but I’m often unsure why I need it.

Our Second Family

Knowing we’re loved and feeling loved aren’t always related. Risking broad generalization, this disconnection tears at the GLBT community especially. We look first to each other for unconditional acceptance. We find second families in addition to, or in place of, our first ones. Mostly, we surround ourselves with people we rely on for emotional validation. Others of us forge serial relationships—some lasting less than an hour—settling for illusory love at the expense of actually experiencing it.

The instinct to “family up” is one of our enduring strengths and why we continually withstand forces aligned to destroy us. At the same time, it often weakens us from within by encouraging conformity to self-destructive ideas and behaviors. We seek new families so we can be ourselves. Yet too often we sacrifice our individuality and beliefs to the group. This is problematic for the community at large. It’s particularly dangerous for GLBT Christians.

Our Third Family

Let’s be frank. While GLBT believers uphold many of the same visions and values held high by the overall community, we’ll inevitably part company on others. When decisions narrow down to following Christ or conforming to culture, faith takes top priority. It’s never easy and seldom comes cheap, costing friends, popularity, reputation, and other things we treasure. Quite often, we feel isolated and lonely.

So God puts us in new families. Our third families are founded on obedience to Jesus’s commandments: love God and love your neighbor. We find them just like our second families, for the same reasons: acceptance, strength, stability, etc. We concentrate our search in their community of faith—congregations and Christian fellowships. It might require some doing, but we know our third family when we see it.

Our third family doesn’t require abandoning the other ones. In fact, its main purpose is building faith and confidence we can share with others. Its primary appeal is sparing us from unhealthy loneliness and fear of rejection. If you’ve not yet discovered who your third family is, I pray you will. God wants us to go the distance. He provides families so we won’t go it alone.


Personal Postscript: Extended Family

In the two months or so since launching “Straight-Friendly,” I’ve been blessed to hear from extended family I never knew before.  A number of kind ministers have written to give me much-appreciated inspiration and strength. All their notes undoubtedly came from their hearts, earning my full respect for them as worthy “family” leaders. I’m delighted to list their churches here and in the links section. If you’re searching for your third family and you're near one of them, I highly recommend starting there.

Body of Christ Church of God, Largo, FL

First Presbyterian Church of Austin, Austin, TX

Hope United Church of Christ, Naperville, IL

Immanuel United Church of Christ, Streamwood, IL

Mayfield Congregational Church, Sycamore, IL

New Hope Metropolitan Community Church, Santa Rosa, CA

Resurrection and Hope Ministries, Oak Forest, IL

United Christian Church, Austin, TX

United Church of the Valley, Murrieta, CA

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