“I love you, but…” I heard that phrase over and over again when I first came out. From family members, from people who I once counted as my chosen family, from folks from the missionary community I worked in. It was very strange to me because I was taught about a Jesus who loved without conditions, who simply called people into abundant life.
I braced myself for the assholes of the internet coming at me. It still is not uncommon to get an email or facebook message or comment telling me to turn away from my sin. That if I repented and turned to Jesus my life would be saved. Those don’t bother me because I don’t know those anonymous talking heads of the online world. Their opinions don’t matter to me. That’s how I’ve been able to stay grounded. That, and my incredible community.
But it still stings knowing people who hold a special place in my life, who were once my entire life, want to love me well and have no idea how. We’ll get into it, I’ll try to share my life with them, and then I hear
“I love you, but…”
…but, I disagree with you.
…but, I think you’re believing a lie.
…but, you’re living in sin.
…but, you’re on a slippery slope.
Here is the deal with the sentiment, “I love you, but…” This tells me love has conditions. This tells me that we don’t have much of a relationship anymore because it fully depended upon me falling in line with a single way of living, of thinking.
“I love you, but…” This tells me you haven’t engaged with my story. This tells me you aren’t really interested in hearing what Jesus is doing my life and more interested in pointing out the sin in my life and trying to save me from myself.
I do believe in relationships. More than anything, I believe they are the greatest gateway to bridge building and making progress for LGBTQ justice. And it is so hard because I know the way of Jesus tells me to love people. But Jesus also tells me that if someone won’t receive me, my gifts, and what I have to bring to the table, that I should shake the dust from my feet.
What a paradox…
The kind of Love Jesus embodied did not say, “I love you, but I need you to get in line” or “I love you, but you need to change.” It simply was just “I love you. Here, have some bread and wine…”
And, sure, I’m not perfect. I’m far from it, and I won’t pretend to have it all figured out. But I know the love of Christ doesn’t have a “but” in it. For queer people, and for all marginalized people fighting for justice and equality, the statement should be, “I love you and…”
…and I want to explore this more with you.
…and I believe in who God created you to be.
…and nothing can stop my love for you.
…and I’ve got questions.
And I think this goes for progressives, too, who want to scream and burn it all down (yes, I’m talking about myself). The thing we fail to remember often is behind the statement of “I love you, but…” there is a person whom God loves. Behind the passively problematic statements and sentiments about my sexuality, about gender, about race, there is someone who genuinely may want to connect. And so, if they are willing, maybe I can be willing too.
I’m not saying being passive about injustice or letting problematic ideas and sentiments slide. But there is a level of grace we should be willing to show people who are saying stupid stuff in ignorance and not malice. And most of the time, it’s simply because no one has taken the time to bring a little knowledge to their life.
That’s where friendship grows. It’s a journey of love, understanding, and letting people explore who God created them to be on their terms. And if you can’t handle it, don’t try to. Don’t try to control someone else’s faith journey. Don’t try to steer them back onto a path that God isn’t leading them.
Stop trying to convert people to your own brand of thinking.
(Again, this goes for me, too.)
It is not my job to manage people’s reactions to my truth. My only job is to stand in my truth and let the Holy Spirit be the one to move hearts and minds.
And this is not someone everyone can or should do. If you can’t handle living in the tension of differences with others, if it is too emotionally taxing to do this kind of work, then protect yourself. It is more important that you find the people who are going to love you for who you are, not in spite of who you are.
Knowing your limits and drawing boundaries for yourself can be the most important practice.
And it sucks that relationships have to change. It sucks that I cannot engage my family in the same way. It sucks to discover your friends only wanted to be in your life if you lined up with what they thought was good or true, that their love was and may stay conditional for a long time.
But if that’s the price of being myself before God and man, so be it. Because, a year and a half later, I’m much happier now, living my truth, than I ever was trying to be someone I was not.
My friend, Melissa Hawks, wrote this status on FB a long time ago, and I still look to it sometimes:
Stop living your life afraid everyone is going to leave and start being okay if they do. That’s how you find your ride or dies.
Those are the kind of people we must search for and cling to. Love cannot come with conditions or fit within your safe parameters. Jesus dared to love the most rejected people. I think you can dare to do the same.