Test of faith: Shift in beliefs led to affirmative yes vote for marriage amendment

This conversation was a triumph for both of us: We talked, listened and respected a perspective very different from our own.

A long pause held at the other end of the cell phone.

Thoughts raced through my mind as I anxiously awaited my best friend’s response to my opposition to same-sex marriage.

Will she yell? Will she end our 11-year friendship? What if she starts acting differently around me?

“Well … I believe marriage is between love and love,” she said. “Besides, it wouldn’t have happened if God didn’t want it to.”

Should I quote one of the many Bible verses stating that marriage was between a man and a woman? Or should I find a way to change the subject? The second option sounded way more appealing.

I decided not to cop out. I responded not in the words of Saint Paul, but my own: “I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. It took me awhile to accept the truth, but I am sticking to it.”

This conversation marked the beginning of a new test of my Christian faith. For years I agreed with my friends. Together we went to PRIDE festivities each spring and were fans of the popular Gay 90’s nightclub in downtown Minneapolis.

I had no tolerance for people who held an opposing view, especially fellow Christians. We called them homophobes, bigots and “judgmental b***hes.”

Now I risked being labeled the same way. These names would hurt even more because they’d be coming from my friends.

As a college student surrounded by peers with liberal attitudes toward marriage and homosexuality, I knew what they would say. “Love is love.” “This is the 21st century.” “God created all things and made them beautiful.”

SEARCH FOR MEANING

My conversion from a LGBTQ advocate to an opponent of gay marriage did not occur by some Road to Damascus moment. It was inspired by my personal search for a deeper relationship with God. I was no theologian or biblical scholar. I was a young, questioning Christian seeking purpose, meaning and truth in my life.

Growing up, I attended church irregularly. In the little time I spent there, I learned that there was always music, most people were friendly and they always had cookies and juice afterwards. What was not to like?

Church visits became even more sporadic as I got older. Then, in my junior year of high school, my mother and I decided to attend a church right around the corner from our home in South Minneapolis. The church was friendly, the services inspiring. So inspiring that my mother and I became baptized believers.

Things were going well. My family and I were seeing change in our lives—I even got into the University of St. Thomas on a full scholarship. We knew this could not happen without divine intervention.

But something still seemed to be missing, so I tried to fill it with church. Church only on Sundays? Not for this girl. Prayer group on Tuesday, volunteering on Wednesday, Sunday school and regular service on Sunday morning. And did someone say something about a new committee?

The church carried the same beliefs that I held. Feed the hungry and clothe the poor? Check. Create a multicultural community? Check. No specific views of homosexuality? Check.

After two years as a baptized and declaring Christian, church had become a major part of my schedule. But behind the smile and façade of Christian perfection were depression, loneliness and confusion, along with what felt like an identity crisis as I pressed my way through college.

NEW CHURCH, NEW MESSAGE

Then one day, a friend walked by looking like she just saw Jesus himself. She told me how Jesus had transformed her life and how she’d never been happier. I was frustrated: I had been going to church longer than she had, yet I was miserable. She suggested that I come visit her church—Shiloh Temple in North Minneapolis.

This church had more foot stomping and hand clapping, along with many random outbursts of “Hallelujah!” and “Thank you, Jesus!” I clapped and stomped as if I had been attending Shiloh my whole life. To top it off, the sermons touched me in a way that light began to peek through my dark feelings of depression. This was a place where I could really get to know God.

Then on May 9, 2012, President Obama publicly declared his support for same-sex marriage. Score for the LGBTQ community!

Score for the Christian church?

I thought so. Until one Wednesday evening.

The church was full of joyful singing as the praise team led the congregation in worship. Pastor H. took the podium to lead Bible study. He talked to us as a father would to his children, warmly and affectionately. Then he began to discuss things that were going on in the nation, including Obama’s announcement, and his voice became more serious.

“Jesus loves all sinners!” he shouted.

“Amen!” the congregation exclaimed.

“He loves an adulterer just as much as He loves a liar.”

Louder shouts of agreement erupted.

“He loves a liar just as much as He loves a prostitute.”

More shouts and claps.

“And He loves the prostitute just as much as He loves the homosexual!”

Amid the shouts of praise, I was quietly dumbfounded. What did he mean?

Homosexuality is not a sin, is it?

What about my friend Micah, who was gay and loved Jesus just as much as I did? What about all believers who were part of the LGBTQ community?

Over the next few months, I had discussions with fellow Christians, homosexual and heterosexual. I joined dialogue groups online and offline. Lastly, I tried to digest God’s word in order to discover the truth for myself.

Some of my fellow Christians believed that same-sex relationships were sinful while others believed they were no different than heterosexual relationships. Some were just as confused as I was.

I looked at articles online. I went to campus dialogues. There were many interesting perspectives, and not all were black and white.

NO ROOM FOR GRAY

However, any gray area disappeared as Election Day 2012 approached. We were asked to vote on the Minnesota marriage amendment, which would define marriage in the state constitution as one man-one woman. It was important for me to vote.

I began to ask my Christian friends who were attracted to the same sex. Some thought that there was nothing wrong with it. Others were confused about their feelings and torn about how they related to their faith.

I realized that the matter of homosexuality was more than a hot topic and a political vote. It was about human beings who have been judged, hurt and discriminated against.

I decided to look at the book that first led me on this Christian walk, the Bible. I prayed for understanding. What I found was not what I wanted to hear or believe.

The Bible made clear that romantic relationships are, indeed, between a man and a woman. Same-sex relationships are wrong.

With all my strength, I tried to make sense of it. Then I remembered that I took this book in faith when I first came to Christ and was offered salvation. Did it make sense then? No, it barely makes sense now. But I took it in faith and found it to be true.

I decided to take it on faith again—not just for myself, but also for my family and friends. Faith is not just about an individual. It’s about the people who surround a person.

So what does that mean for my gay friend Micah?

As the gospel reveals and as Pastor H. confirmed, God loves all. Jesus died for all. For the liar, the prostitute, the prideful, the prejudiced, the drug addict, the homosexual and the list goes on.

How do I put this faith in action through God’s love and not through social prejudice?

The first act of faith was on November 6, 2012 when I voted yes for the Minnesota Marriage Amendment.

Fast forward to May 13, 2013, when the Minnesota Senate approved same-sex marriage, and sent the bill to Gov. Dayton to sign. I sat on the phone with my best friend, a passionate LGBTQ advocate. Arguing? No, rather agreeing to disagree.

This conversation was a triumph for both of us: We talked, listened and respected a perspective very different from our own.

As a result, we are still best friends. Micah and I are friends and stay connected as much as possible. As for the rest of the LGBTQ community, my support will always be there, not for same-sex relationships but always for the individuals, because in the end that is what faith and life are all about.

As for Christians who oppose same-sex relationships, we must make it our responsibility—with the hand of God—to educate and remind people of the evils of prejudice and discrimination in hopes of promoting valuable conversations amongst people of all kinds. And lastly, we must bring the love of Christ to all.

Tyanna Dickerson, a ThreeSixty alum and South High School graduate, is a junior at the University of St. Thomas.

TEENS AND PARENTS REFLECT

It didn’t matter that some couldn’t even vote yet. Young voices helped shape this year’s historic political battle to pass same sex marriage legislation in Minnesota. Read Elena Renken’s story here.

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