Bridge Builder on Strike



Sometimes, I am chastised for being uncharitable to conservatives, online and offline (and sometimes, I certainly can be.)

People will ask me out for coffee to debate sexual ethics. People will email me so we can officially have it out. Sometimes they even express a willingness to learn, a need for information that they do not have, some backstory to my theology and the theology of many affirming Christians, because all they’ve heard is all they know…. Leading me to engage eagerly. It fills me up with hope. Until suddenly I start getting syrupy notes, patronizing paragraphs about how it’s just so darn hard to put up with those God rules isn’t it? But the “offensiveness of the gospel” should serve as a warning to my “lifestyle.” I close my laptop instantly. I feel foolish.

Sometimes my scoffing, my silence, it’s seen as a kind of intransigence on my part. A stubborn refusal to dialog. Like I have an unwillingness to leave my echo chamber and enter into the uncomfortable places, the spaces where we grow through loving disagreement. And while I get that, I also know that when it comes to this voice, my voice, they simply cannot hear it. I might as well be mouthing random words.

Because I’m gay, they can’t hear me. Because I believe God loves me as I am, they can’t hear me.

Instead of listening to me as an equal, immediately I am judged as being “biased” by my allegedly “objective” Christian challengers, so no matter my depth of study, no matter my hours spent in prayer, no matter the wisdom I’ve gleaned from my deep-painful-soul-searching-journey, my witness is dismissed out of hand. And I’m left standing here hit. Insulted. Dehumanized.

I wrote a new article for Sojourners on the day of the Supreme Court marriage decision- a very gentle article, I might add, holding in my metaphorical hands both my own celebration along with the concerns of conservative Christians. I offered a possible way forward for all of us: bridging the gap of our disagreement with radical love in action. In kind, some commenters called me “smug” and “sinful”, one going so far as to issue an altar call for my repentance. I turned to facebook where my posts was shared and while there were many kind words to be read, my mind has a tendency to Xerox all the words of extreme dislike.

And unlike past cultural events that exploded on social media, but were largely absent in my real life, this decision spilled into all spheres. There were some unexpected betrayals within intimate circles. A cold afterwards I’m still working through. But calls were issued for my repentance from those that know my faith. Vocalized concern (all of a sudden!) was made known for my “lifestyle”. And it is all too much sometimes. It’s dark out here. And they can’t hear me.

Recently, my friend Julie Rodgers, a public Christian figure, published a blog post explaining her evolving views on same-sex relationships. Unsurprisingly, she was set fire on the internet’s stake. If you know Julie, you know how infuriating this is. Julie is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. Even though she disagreed with my theology, you should’ve seen how she embraced me when we met in Chicago, how she wanted to be a safe person, how she wanted to simply get to know me, Ben. A devout Christian, Julie has been (and continues to be) faithful to God’s call in her life to celibacy, but she no longer believes that this is mandatory for all LGB people. She supports them now. She believes they are good.

And when she announced that, she was torn to shreds by the conservative Christian gatekeepers. Particularly by Denny Burk who wasted no time in penning a blog post calling her faith invalid, a false teacher, calling her a “blemish on our love feast.” He later stated in the comments section that her, along with Matthew Vines, were “willfully suppressing the Truth of scriptures,” assuming a motive that I don’t quite understand (they’re secretly anti-Christian?), except that it serves Denny’s purpose to vilify LGB people and our allies.

So I’m done, temporarily, with the bridge building. It’s not intransigence. It’s not simply snark. It is protection. It is practicing safety for my emotional, spiritual, and in some cases, physical, wellbeing.

I don’t particularly care for those hours following brief, infuriating conversations; the way the anger grabs hold of my heart and will not let go. I don’t like wasting time on people who don’t (and won’t) see me as anything but a deviant gone astray. It’s become a boundary issue for me. Unless I perceive that the person is willing to meet me as an equal, respect me as one just as faithful and honest as they are. That’s different. And it’s also rare.

There is little use, I’m realizing, in talking with these folks. They can’t hear us. They can’t see beyond their own bigotry. It’s going to have to be an internal realization for them, or a forever separation from us, I don’t know. All I do know is that I’m washing my hands clean of this bridge building. The burden is not on me. I never should’ve thought it was. My humanity is not an argument I should have to fight.

Rant over.

  • I completely understand the desire to step back from the conversation and to put the bridge building on hiatus, but I do hope you can return to it at some point. Those of us hoping to unite the body of Christ need all the help we can get.

  • Greg Cracker Carrick

    Thanks for your words. We don’t know each other personally but we shall as we are both bound for an eternal future in Him. I see patience honesty and grace in your words which are all attributes of God’s love that we are to nurture in ourselves. I hope that you keep meeting oases of love and acceptance in your life.

  • Ruth

    Hi Ben, I don’t know you but I’ve been reading your work for a while and you helped turn me into an ally for LGBT people. I just wanted you to know that there are people listening to you and being changed. I hope your protective break is restorative and redemptive for you.

  • I’m with you. I’m just done. So, so done. And I only get a smidgen of what you get thrown at you! My bruised heart aches for you and I am holding you in prayer. Remember what your man Brennan said: “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”

  • fuck yes

  • Micah Seppanen

    Hi Ben. We only briefly met at the GCN conference this year, but I’ve been an avid reader of your blog. Praying the break will be a fruitful and restorative one. I’ve found the last few weeks to be a minefield of spiritual aggression. I’m never sure where the next painful Facebook post, dubiously written email, or belittling conversation will occur. In general I’ve retreated into my own little world (by significantly withdrawing from social media, avoiding certain friends/groups, etc.).

    Thanks for all that you do/say/write and enjoy a break from this sometimes very exhausting practice of building bridges.

    One last thing, thought I’d share Psalm 13 as it’s a balm for me in these seasons.

    1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
    2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

    3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
    4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

    5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
    6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

    • Loretta Davila

      God bless you Micah!! I can hear YOUR heart hear also and it is good!!

  • Kelly Beane

    I know how bad this all hurts. Trust me, I know. But please don’t lose heart. In Jesus day, the new ideas he brought meant death… not just for him, but for any who dared bring the religious authority into question. We are not facing death. We have come a long way. “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad”… you are blessed to help usher in change.

  • SurvivorGirl

    Ben, I wanted to let you know that your blog was a most profound gift of light for me in those dark, early days after my son came out. It still is, even now that I’m much more equipped for this journey than I was then. The invitation via your writing to come into your space to listen and learn was not only a balm but also a catalyst for this mom (who was doing way too much hand-wringing) to move forward. YOU helped me open my hands to all that lay ahead.

    You are loved.


  • SurvivorGirl

    Wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, Semp?

    • Linda

      The trolls are up early.

  • Chsra

    Ben I hear you. As a mom of wonderful, God loving gay sons, the anger builds up in me too. The conservative Christian gatekeepers have ears to hear, but they do not hear. I totally agree with you that your humanity is not something you should have to fight. You have a wonderful bunch of momma bears in your corner.

  • Jen Hamilton

    Wow, I totally feel you as I read this Ben. Even though I am not LGBT myself, I consider myself an ally and many times I wonder how gay folks can still even WANT to call themselves Christians when I read the patronizing at best and hateful at worst comments that “Christians” make towards gay Christians. I will read an article and think “Hey, maybe we’re getting somewhere”, and then I stupidly read the comments and think “Nope. Some people are never going to change.” I think for me, hearing stories like yours and Justin Lee and Jeff Chu and Julie from Wheaton are so compelling–you’re PEOPLE for god’s sake, and you are revealing your hearts to the world and there are still people that can’t see past the “gay” label, to see the soul within. You express this so well here. And honestly this is a huge part of why I just can’t be in church anymore, this refusal to admit that perhaps there is another way, another interpretation, that God is bigger than we can even dream of. I commend you for still trying to build bridges, to still even call yourself a Christian for goodness’ sake. You are brave. You are also brave for going “on strike”…I just hope you don’t take too long of a break because people need to hear your message. And on a totally different note…my daughters and I were at the Taylor Swift concert the other night and it was AMAZING and I kept thinking of you. 🙂 Peace.

  • I’d like to say your blog helped me change into an LGBTQ+ ally. And you don’t have to prove your humanity to anyone. And you don’t need to bridge-build if its unsafe, and I’m glad you’ve realized that. <3

  • acousticmom

    Ben, I feel your weariness and heartache. You and Julie and many of the gay Christians I’ve met through GCN have shown me what faith in Christ can look like in our world when I was ready to disengage completely with organized Christianity. So when I hear those patronizing, self-righteous responses to you or to Julie, it makes me feel physically ill–for the toll it takes on you, and even more for the blessing they are missing by not hearing you or knowing you. So many Christians see LGBT people as a problem to be solved–how to stuff them back in the closet so we can go on as usual. But you, by allowing us to know you, offer straight Christians an opportunity to experience and give grace in a way that will transform all of us. I wish it wasn’t so costly for you to do so.

    Do whatever you need to take care of yourself. And know that you are loved.

  • Linda

    Love this. The last line — powerful.

  • Doug Tennant

    My grandmother told me when I was a child, “Most people believe what they believe because they believe it.” I get so excited when someone is willing to examine their beliefs, to test them, to prove them or be free of them. But that happens so rarely. Most people are too frightened of being wrong. And like you, I’m tired of trying to appeal to their intelligence, their desire to learn, to move from milk to meat. I have my own journey to walk, I’ll leave a trail, but am done trying to build bridges. But I am grateful to those who have that call.

    • Loretta Davila

      Amen!! I agree with you Doug!! They just want to be spoon fed and are too scared of upsetting the “feeder” to make any decisions outside of that environment… It’s hard!! But we MUST!!! I would love to know your grandmother! ❤️

  • Deleise Brewer

    Ben, you were one of the first people I read after my son came out to me. You remind me of him. Thank you for what you have done to help so many Moms and Dads see their children for who they are and to examine the holes in their own theology. It has been a very difficult journey for so many of us, but one that has been worth it. You, Rachel Held Evans, Justin Lee and others have led the way in taking the Gospel of Jesus back – back to its roots, back to the simple message of love. Young people like you are making a difference. Thank you for being far more generous to our generation than we deserved.

  • Loretta Davila

    I am so very sorry Ben for all the hurt you have gone through and continue to go through!! As the mother of two gay daughters and a former uber conservative Christian, I assure you we can change. It just sometimes comes in the form of discovering you have two precious gay daughters!! Their Dad and I went through many years (maybe 10+) of struggle before we realized that disagreeing with and disbelieving in the church didn’t mean disbelieving in God. That was a huge paradigm shift for us! Justin Lee’s book “Torn” could have been written by either daughter with the exception that both have walked away rom the faith to differing degrees. Don’t let the “Christians” hurt you to that degree!! Step away, take that deep breath, that break before that happens my friend!! He is faithful and loves you passionately! “They” will either come around or not, but His love never fails!! Times ARE changing! It can’t come soon enough!!!

  • nojam75

    I admit that I’m a bit irked by those who claim to be bridge builders, so I appreciate your honest sharing of your frustration. I disagree with the premise that gays need bridge-building ambassadors to reach out to religious conservatives. With greater social acceptance and development of our own inclusive communities, LGBT Christians no longer need or seek religious conservatives’ recognition or acceptance. The burden falls on religious conservatives to reach out to LGBT Christians and demonstrate the value of dialogue.

    • Michael Airhart

      Through my time (long ago) as a Sojourners employee, to my work as a bridge-builder to ex-gays in the 1990s, to my blogging for Ex-Gay Watch, I’ve learned that few conservative Christians truly want to build bridges and even fewer are theologically capable of true Christian community, which requires negotiation and compromise.

      The Christian Right belief system is built upon self-righteous self-deification, a mindset that declares one’s own sins to be virtues, demonizes people and facts that don’t fit either the ideology or one’s own comfort zone, idolizes harsh authority, measures truth according to magnitudes of elitism rather than accuracy. Self-correction and compromise are viewed as concessions to evil because Christian Rightists view their own fallenness as absolute holiness.

      Under such circumstances, I think the burden falls upon religious conservatives — not to seek “dialogue,” but rather to seek penance, forgiveness, and fundamental changes to their spirituality of self-pride and blasphemy.

      • Michael Airhart

        I will add here that I think too much “dialogue” is focused on minutiae of Christian belief, when the religion itself — for centuries if not millennia — has been disconnected from its founders and source traditions. Christians are fighting over rival views, but nobody’s “side” of the fight conforms to the religion’s traditions, and those traditions are built upon false beliefs about rival cultures and faiths, about human biology, and about our planet.

        It’s not possible to build bridges when all sides are built upon quicksand, and when the bridges represent shortcuts across gaps of fact and belief that should be acknowledged, not skipped over.

  • Marlene Lund

    I am also a Christian mom of a daughter who identifies as queer. God had been working in my heart on this issue for over a decade before my daughter came out, but when she did, it became personal. I started a long, careful study of the Bible, talking with respected pastors and wise friends, on both sides of the issue, reading countless books from both sides of the issue, and praying for wisdom and discernment. God showed me that my daughter is beautifully made, just the way she is, and gave me a ministry to help other parents whose kids have come out. I agree with you that there are so many in the church who just refuse to even consider a different perspective on this, and I have concluded that they can’t handle the threat to their entire belief system. If they admit they are wrong in one area, will their faith survive? Protect yourself, shake the dust from your shoes, and leave them behind. God will deal with them when they are ready to learn.

  • Kathryn Zentner

    I understand why you want to take a break from the “bridge building”…why you are resentful there even needs to be a bridge… We are all just people with our own combination of different traits that make us the individuals that we are…just the fact that each individual is a person should put us on one continent without any need for a bridge to some other land mass. I’m sure you feel like you are on a tiny island with people chipping away at your bridge to keep you separate, not like them. But please know that you are not fighting this fight alone. There are those of us like me who are fighting for there not to be any need for bridges…who are trying to fill in the gap with rich soil so your island is part of the big land mass and no one sees you as separate or less worthy than any other person. Many, many people love you just the way you are, and are appalled anyone tries to put you on an island. So rest easy…others are doing the work while you rejuvenate.

  • Ben, I get it! I had to give up bridge building a while back. I will connect with people who aren’t affirming as long as they are generous and kind. I’ll tell my story to people who are sincerely interested in hearing and not just looking for an opportunity to defend their position. I don’t play nice with mean spirited attitudes, fear based theology, or injustice. I respect that people are on a journey and may be in a different place but that is no excuse for mistreating people. As the mom of a gay son I take all that stuff very personally.

  • Cheri

    Wow! That was a very intelligent reply!

  • Jennifer

    Ben, you put words to what has been bothering me for the last few weeks. I too am weary of having to defend my beliefs and my gay child. I lost my job because of my active support of my child, and have lost friends as well. And while I know I am better off without all of them, it still leaves a sore spot. I have had it with people telling me my kid is psychologically disordered, or choosing to sin, or any of a number of more heinous things. Worse yet, I am sick of people telling me that neither she nor I are Christians. That’s not something anyone gets to decide, it’s between me and God. Thank you for this piece, I feel like I needed permission somehow to give up the fight and just protect myself for a while. I know I will fight again, because that’s who I am (been a long-time tilter at windmills), but for now I will choose to surround myself with love and affirmation and leave the rest behind. Maybe that bridge needs to stay unbuilt, until those on the far side decide it’s time to close the gap.

    • Christian Paolino

      “Worse yet, I am sick of people telling me that neither she nor I are Christians. That’s not something anyone gets to decide, it’s between me and God. ”

      YES! Thank you.

  • Marda

    It breaks my heart that you are hurting. And I do want you to know that your blog is such a gift to me as I’m learning to be a better ally. Thank you for your writing, your social media presence, and your gift to all of us of your honest self.

  • Julie Greene

    Rest, friend. You are loved and appreciated by many.

  • Christian Paolino

    I am right there with you on the picket lines, but my departure was less about “the other side” and more about what the collateral damage we had all sustained from them was causing us to do to one another. I wrote this piece, “Hurt People Hurt People” last summer when I was in the thick of it, trying to find a way towards healing, and hope you find some part of it helpful. I was glad to hear I was not alone. Thank you!

  • I wonder if this will help Have you been building bridges with No.7’s

  • I’m with you and for you, my friend. Take care of yourself.

  • Thinking of you with tenderness and good will, as a fellow bridge-builder in other areas whose voice is also often ignored and maligned. It’s hard, but taking care of yourself is so important.

  • Mark Schnitzer

    I went to Denny Burk’s article and the words that most infuriated me was that “sexuality and gender” are the dividing line today between the sheep and the goats. Apparently the “goats” are all those who are LGBT Christians, and their supporters. What a horrible thing to say. Perhaps a better way to say it would be that pompous arrogance and humility are the dividing line today between sheep and goats.
    I am very sorry for your pain, for every vile, hurtful, abusive word that you have heard in the Christian community. I am a fellow sufferer in this journey (although being in the public eye as you are magnifies such suffering). Know that my prayers and thoughts are with you. and seriously, if you ever would like to talk more I would be more than happy to lend an ear.
    Peace to you my dear brother,

  • It’s so infuriating, how those of us who support LGB people have explained why and backed it up with the bible over and over and over, and still the anti-LGB side pretends we don’t exist. They keep saying “the bible is clear” and all that crap. (My favorite is when I say “the bible is not clear” and then someone answers with “well in my opinion, the bible is very clear.” Seriously? You can only have a debate on whether or not something is “clear” when you both agree that it’s true but disagree on the extent to which it’s blatantly obvious that it’s true. If some members of the discussion started out with the bible and came to a completely different conclusion, then THAT MEANS IT’S NOT CLEAR.)

    In the World Vision debacle of 2014, I kind of decided I was done with all that. As I said on my blog: “Because it turns out I was trying to reason with people who would abandon their sponsor children rather than consider the possibility that maybe it’s okay for different Christians to have different views on gay marriage.”

    Anyway, Ben, I really appreciate this post, and there are a lot of people who support you. Haters gonna hate, and it sucks when those haters are our brothers/sisters in Christ. But never forget that God loves you. <3

  • Hi Ben

    BIG HUGS!!

    For it is written :

    ” Hashem is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made” [Psalm 145]

    and also :

    “The L-rd your G-d is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing” [ Zephaniah 3:17]

    I’ve given up arguing with some people as it feels I’ve been sipping lattes at a gunfight . I think the bit for me was when someone said I was demon posessed for being gay and how I’m told my mum and dad are in this hell, in agony in perpetuity for not being Christian . My bro pointed out- in a deadpan way- that in our tradition demons are heterosexual, whatever their alleged sex -are demons male or female? Are angels (said bro – I’ve got 3 -likes the lynx ad, so thinks angels are definitely male or female?). Okay I had a well cool argument about that during Shabbat recently . But and ways why SHOULD you have to go for coffees to beholden to a self appointed inquisitors about your love life /sexuality or correct belief.

    However, one is on a digression.

    I remember from my history lessons that the reformation was based on (in part) the “priesthood of the belief”, to contrast with the establishment way , people could read the bible in their languages and interpret it. Ironically the evangelists seem to have forgotten that and want chaps to be dogmatic!

    Also Julie seems like a nice lady. I understand this as I was once trying to live a celibate /single life, whist affirming that others could have a relationship. But like Julie, I perhaps found out even a single or celibate gay is just feeding the meal to the hungry crocodile.

    So take some time and out and chillax. I find writing with a fountain pen helps. As do long walks and swimming. Also taking up sword fighting , both western and eastern (longsword and katana).

    Remember :

    “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” [ Isaiah 46:4 ].

  • Cody Mitts

    Hi Ben,
    When I first began blogging about my struggles of being a Christian and being gay, a friend turned me to your blog. I just wanted to let you know that you are making a valuable impact. I’ve really enjoyed reading through your posts, and benefitted from what you have learned. Take the time you need to rest, and know that what you’re doing has been valuable to more people than you may know.

  • Roo James Wilson

    Ben, I haven’t visited your blog in a while but I’m glad I did today. You are exactly the sort of person who I believe can do wondrous things when it comes to bridging the gap but there are always going to be those who never listen, won’t listen or ever change. However, some of us who fall into the heterosexual, Christian group aren’t giving up when it comes to engaging in this conversation. It is something I am passionate about and you’re exactly the sort of person I’d want to have these discussions with. I support you. I value you. Don’t let the small mindedness infiltrate your calling.