In Acts chapter 10 Peter was up on the rooftop praying. He was a follower of the risen Christ, and he was a good Jewish boy — at that time the two pretty much went hand in hand. Jesus was Jewish, his disciples had all been Jewish except for the occasional woman at the well. Peter followed the commandments in the Torah, and this included the laws that prohibited eating certain animals.
So when he had a vision of a sheet of prohibited animals being lowered, and a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat,” he knew the answer: “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” He probably wondered why God was testing him, but he felt secure in his answer. He had spent his whole life studying God’s word, and his time with Jesus had only strengthened that commitment. After all, hadn’t Jesus said, in his hearing, “I have not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them”? Maybe Peter thought his mind was playing tricks on him, since he was hungry and tired. Or perhaps he thought it was Satan tempting him away from the right path. But when the voice from heaven replied, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean,” he may have thought to himself, huh, that does sound like something Jesus would say. But, still, no. He wasn’t going to abandon what he believed that easily.
Then it happened again. The sheet was lowered, the instruction repeated: “Kill and eat.” Peter again protested, and again the voice from heaven said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” It happened a third time, and then the sheet was lifted back up to heaven. As he was wondering what this meant, some messengers came for him from Cornelius the centurion — a Gentile (Gentile means not Jewish). And Peter began to understand. It wasn’t about the food. It was about the people. God was opening wide the kingdom to those who had not been welcome into it before.
And then he went and listened to Cornelius’ story, and learned that God had spoken to Cornelius, too. And then, and then — a second Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came upon Cornelius and the other Gentiles gathered there, just as the Spirit had come upon Jesus’ disciples in Acts 2. “The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.” In the next chapter, Peter related this story to the other Jewish disciples and said to them, “So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”
I was reading Acts 10 and 11 the other day, and I suddenly realized: This is how it happened for me. This is the same process I went through in my understanding of homosexuality from a Christian perspective. And I think this is how it happened, and is happening, to other Christians, too. We were up on the roof praying. Or we were watching TV, or reading a newspaper, or just going about our lives. And we heard a voice from heaven. Some heard a loud voice, and some heard it softly, in their hearts, the way they were accustomed to hearing God’s voice. Some of us didn’t recognize the voice right away — we thought it was just a thought passing through our mind, a question, a wondering. For some it took the form of, “If God created gay people, who am I to call them unclean?” For others we just felt a sense of our comfort being challenged. We were good Evangelicals, or Catholics, or other Bible-believing Christians. We knew what the Bible said, and how we were taught to interpret it, how our church, our school, our seminary interpreted it. So we dismissed the thought. “Never, Lord,” we said, each in our own way.
Some of us are there right now. The question has yet to be posed for a second time. We are still on the roof, praying.
Others of us have heard the voice a second time, and rejected it a second time. We are still on the roof, praying.
Others have heard the voice a third time, and pushed back against it a third time. We have come down from the roof and are wondering what it means.
For me, when I came down from the roof, the question burning in my heart and mind, I did what Peter did. I took the idea, the theory, into its context. Just as Peter went to Cornelius’ house, I went to the homes of gay couples, cared for their children (I am a nanny, in my day job), listened to their stories, and payed attention to what the Spirit was doing there. I started reading the stories of gay Christians who had struggled with their sexuality. I stopped talking about what I thought, and I started listening. And what I saw were people who were seeking God and wanting to serve God with their lives, just like I was. I didn’t see people in rebellion, rejecting God and choosing their sinful desires over God’s will. I saw people who had been called by God and who had received his Spirit, just as I had. I saw people like these, who attend Nadia-Bolz Weber’s church, A House For Saints and Sinners. And I saw young people like these, who fought for a long time to change who they were before they finally listened to God’s voice, and heard, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” I saw people who thought they had to change to be a part of the body of Christ, but who were discovering that God created them that way for a reason, for his glory. I saw people who were using their same-sex relationships to love and serve God and feed his sheep, just as heterosexual couples were.
(I heard other stories, as well. Some gay people believed that God was calling them to celibacy, and I want to make space for them in my thinking and my writing, too. As I’ve said probably seventy times by now, that’s one of the reasons I love the Gay Christian Network, because they create that space.)
Many of us Christians have come down from the roof, and are still praying, still wondering.
Some of us have started listening to the stories of gay Christians, but we are not yet sure.
Some of us have seen the Spirit descend on LGBT Christians, and we are starting to wonder, “If God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who am I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”
Me, I’m pretty sure of it. It took a while, and it took many times of me saying, “Never, Lord.” But there are only so many times you can cling to your beliefs in the presence of the Living God. There are only so many times you can repeat the words of scripture to the God that wrote them and expect to win the argument. Job and his friends learned that lesson, as they tried for chapter after long chapter to lecture each other about what God was doing, only to be silenced when God himself showed up. Paul learned that lesson when he took what his faith taught him about Jesus to the nth degree, only to be thrown to the ground and blinded when he met the Man himself. And Peter, dear Peter, who betrayed Jesus, who said the silliest things sometimes (oh, I do relate to Peter), and who was chosen, nevertheless, to lead and feed Jesus’ sheep — Peter learned that lesson when he saw the Holy Spirit poured out on those whom he thought were other, separate, not part of God’s plan.
“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
I believe God is speaking this into the hearts of many Christians. I believe that God is moving among his people in a similar way to which he moved in Acts. Walls are being broken down. The Kingdom is expanding. Gentiles are invited in, along with Jews; gay, lesbian, and bisexual people are invited in, along with straight people; transgender along with cis. Those who are not there yet, who are still on the rooftop praying, are invited in, too. There is room for all of us here. There is room.
Update: I am embedding the two videos I mentioned earlier, because I really want you to watch them. The first is five minutes long, and the second about 45 minutes.
For more testimonies of LGBT people of faith, visit Faithfully LGBT.
A note on comment moderation: I value everyone who takes the time to read and to comment, even if you disagree with me. But I do not post all the comments. I know that’s hard. But my goal is to create a space here at Ten Thousand Places where people’s stories can be heard above the din, and where those whose lives we are discussing have a chance to speak for themselves. I do post comments by those who disagree with me, but I might not post all of them. I do my best to read all of them, though. Thank you so much for being here.