Loving People In Their Wholeness

Yesterday was National Coming Out Day – it was also National Clergy Appreciation Day. I love the overlap, because clergy who help us deepen our love for all people most certainly help us support and love people without filtering that love through our own judgment or lack of understanding of who they are and who they love.

What’s amazing to me about the piece below is that Father Clay wrote this in 1992. I was 14 and carried with me misunderstandings about homosexuality and a complete lack of awareness that there were LGBTQ people in my community. I certainly had no sense of what it meant to be an ally. And I don’t think my experience was that different from a lot of people who grew up in the 80s and 90s, with no Internet to broaden our perceptions, no Will and Grace to reclaim the slurs and tropes, and no widespread celebrations of Pride – certainly no broad discussions of gay marriage.

And yet there he was, in 1992, telling his parish that sexuality goes down to the very core of our being. That if we see homosexuality as a disorder we need to do more work on ourselves, not look for other people to change. I appreciate that about him, and I appreciate that I know what it is to be an ally and to love people in their wholeness.

Acceptance & Love

There is fear just like the fear in the people of Jesus’ time, that drove them into this terrible act of excluding the lepers.

Our fear can do the same thing. Not because we are evil or bad. Fear allows us to do terribly destructive things. We can exclude people because of the color of our skin and their skin. We need to ask ourselves, Do I do that? In what ways do I do that? Do I really accept? Am I willing to have contact with or do I exclude people who are different races from my own? We do it for religion (we are getting better, I think, somewhat). I can’t go into that church because that’s a Lutheran church. Stop and think how we do these things and don’t realize we are doing them.

I think sexual orientation is a very common basis for exclusion, too. How do we feel toward those who are gay or lesbian? Should they belong? These are hard things to look at. Unfortunately, in our church we have done some terrible things in that regard. What comes to mind is the Vatican saying that those who are gay and lesbian are disordered. Stop and think about that. Our sexuality goes down to the very core of our being. That is called being disordered? You are being disordered from the core of your being. See the message? There is something fundamentally wrong with you. See how much ostracism there is?

It gets worse. Later it was said that some people may be discriminated against because they are gay or lesbian. I think how blind we are. Why do we do it? In our churches we have these kinds of things that if people don’t believe right or people don’t behave right, we excommunicate them. What are we doing? We are saying, You don’t belong. Get out. I understand this because there is a kind of thinking we can get into. These people are bad and dangerous, so we’ve got to cut them out. On the other hand, when we realize that the wrong, the evil that we do is really mostly brokenness, we see that the brokenness needs to be healed. 

Suppose we think somebody is destructive in the way they act, or the way they think, or the way they believe. Would we not be following Jesus more by loving them into wholeness rather than pushing them out? The strange thing is, if we try to love them into wholeness, what we’ll often find is that we are more destructive than they are.

I think what we don’t understand is how much damage we do to our own selves when we put people outside, when we exclude people. I can hurt others terribly, but it’s not nearly the damage that I do to my own self. You see, we are made in the image of God. God is the ultimate lover. That is God’s name. God is love. That image is in us. We can imagine that. It may be kind of small to start with, but as we love and as we respect and as we live with compassion, that image of God, that power inside of us grows and grows and grows and grows.

The opposite can happen. As we are not living with compassion, as we are not living with love, as we put people out, we get smaller, smaller and smaller. This can get to the point where we are a very tiny, cold self. It is no accident that Satan was put in hell in a block of ice. For you see, the passion and the compassion burns and warms. The contraction freezes. I end up in this little bitty knot inside myself—unhappy, bitter, righteous, miserable. That is what I do to me when I exclude you. Where is the greater damage done?

So let’s just reflect about this. We need to recognize that we are loved and accepted by God just as we are. We don’t need to go into the games of ostracizing people or condemning others, because we are loved and accepted by God with all our faults, with all our sins, with all the strange things about us. Gradually, when I see that I am loved and accepted by God, I begin to accept my own self. When I love my own self as I am, then I can accept you as you are.

God bless you.

Excerpted from “Acceptance & Love” by Father John Clay, first delivered in 1992 and printed in Dear People Whom God Loves in 1999

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