We discussed sin at my house last week.
Our church was meeting in smaller groups in members' homes that day, and most of those who came to my home were fellow LGBTQ+ folks like myself.
We opened by spending some time drawing pictures of the metaphors we were given for sin and salvation as children and teenagers. There were dragons and dirty clothes, long ladders to heaven and heavy burdens at the foot of crosses. Some drew bacteria and parasites, some scribbled arrows that had missed their bulls-eyes, and almost everyone had sketched some version of two cliffs with a sin-chasm between them, bridged by a cross.
As a queer pastor, sometimes I find myself instinctively avoiding this conversation with my fellow LGBTQ+ Christians, fearing that if we broach it, we risk having a collective allergic reaction.
So many of us have been told that very our existence as people with non-heterosexual, non-cisgender identities is sinful. For others, the message was (as our executive director Wendy VanderWal Gritter recently brilliantly summed up): "the way you want to love may not be sinful - but if you actually do love, then it is sinful."
We've spent years, sometimes decades rooting out the toxic shame that's been choking out the beauty of our lives and our loves. We've spent years, sometimes decades learning that we're beloved, and we belong, and we are created good... and that over time, these things can filter down from our minds to settle in peace in our hearts.
But this Ash Wednesday, I'm coming to see that we owe it to each other to keep talking about sin... and it's not because our loves and lives are hopelessly infected with sexual sin.
LGBTQ+ Christians need to talk about sin because it's very difficult for us to endure spiritual harm (and in some cases, trauma) without developing coping mechanisms that sometimes end up causing further harm to ourselves and others.
LGBTQ+ Christians need to talk about sin because once we've begun rooting out the shame over what won't and shouldn't change, we make room for the gentle searchlight of the Spirit to reveal what God really wants to work on in us. For me, it was my pride, my self-pity, and my perfectionism. Ironically it was my coming out that dealt the biggest blow to these persistent areas of sin in my life, speeding along my own process of sanctification.
LGBTQ+ Christians need to hear the words "from dust we have come and to dust we will return," because some of us secretly believe that we need to be perfect super-humans to represent our community well and earn the church's love.
LGBTQ+ Christians need to both receive and administer ashes today. We've already learned how to stop running and to approach ourselves with brutal honesty, and that means we have something to teach and model for our wider community.
At the end of our church discussion, we chatted about how coming out and growing up had shifted our view of sin. That conversation is harder to sum up in easily-drawn images, but most of us had gravitated toward more relational and structural understandings of sin. We discussed measurable harm, breaches of shalom, and the kind of sin that attaches itself to concentrations of power and creeps into institutions and systems. We talked about how we need our guiding images of sin to be practical, to actually move us toward Christlikeness instead of paralyzing us with shame or causing us to judge one another.
I think there's a lot I could learn from my fellow LGBTQ+ Christians about sin and salvation this Lent, so this is my pledge to stop avoiding the conversation. Let's talk.