By Buddy Gharring, Pastor at Twin UMC
In about 2012, at a moment when I felt especially lost in the world, I was lucky to find a friend. John Swanson was a Young Adult Minister who made me feel seen, welcomed, and understood- something deeply important for many people in their early 20’s. John was an excellent preacher/storyteller. Maybe the best I’ve heard to this day. He was also gay, and in that community that wasn’t an OK thing to be. Soon enough John was fired, something that had a huge impact on his life. And vicariously on mine.
I loved John, and John had demonstrated Jesus’ love in my life more vividly than many others. He was able to understand and explain the Bible like nobody I had ever met. But being gay was a sin, right? I struggled as I watched John’s life unravel. My life felt split- spending hours with John and his friends, and hours working at the church that had fired him. Lots of tension, questions, and searching.
During this time, I went back to finish my undergrad degree at a ministry school, and as professors would teach on subjects like “the role of women” I found myself pushing back, thinking, “That’s not the point of what they were writing.” So I went exploring and was introduced by a friend and professor to a whole new world of biblical scholarship- people who deeply loved Jesus and the Bible, but who arrived at different understandings than the people I had grown up with. People who came to the Bible open-handedly, and asked, “What does this book claim to be? How did its authors and first readers understand it?” And in that earnest pursuit they, and I, found something very different than what I had grown up believing.
While this pursuit led me towards egalitarianism (basically, the belief that people are all equally human, regardless of gender-identity), I also stumbled upon a whole body of biblical scholarship that poked huge holes in this idea that the Bible condemned homosexuality. I found that many people love Jesus, deeply revere the Bible and try to understand it as well as possible, and come to the conclusion that it has no clear qualms with homosexuality (see Daniel A. Helminiak, David P. Gushee, or Peter Aelred’s work, to name a few).
At about this point I was meeting with a high schooler who was slowly coming out as gay and had been facing a lot of shame because of it. I was on a journey of coming to terms with my own understanding of human sexuality and spirituality, so I decided to just sit with him and listen well. I wanted to be a safe adult with whom he could share openly and honestly, and those coffee meetings changed my life.
I wish I had learned earlier that there was a different way to honestly understand the Bible – a different way to walk with Jesus. I wish that I had been in a different place when I met John, where my support for him could have been more clear and vocal. But for many of us, this is a winding and gradual journey. We thank the Johns in our life for the way they opened our eyes as we advocate for future generations.
I share my story to say this: walking with Jesus, loving the Bible, belonging to a faith community that fills your soul, and loving your LGBTQ+ friends and family (or loving yourself) are not mutually exclusive activities. You can deeply love both. You can do so without having to say, “Well, I’m just going to ignore that part.” Trust me, because it was my studying the Bible that led me to loving my LGBTQ+ friends and accepting them fully.
Buddy Gharring Pastor at Twin UMC 360 Shoshone St Downtown Twin Falls Worship Service: 9:30 am on Facebook Live | 11:00 am YouTube Upload Twin.church/connect/visit