When I got my very first guitar as a teenager I loved covering the hard-shell case in labels and stickers that represented different parts of my personality. Soon, my friends also began contributing labels that they thought represented me. Eventually, the case disappeared under the eclectic collection of decals. I sometimes wondered what people assumed about me after looking at the case, but soon discovered that people were far less focused on the totality of the stickers, but rather honed in on the one or two labels that they themselves related to or liked. Normally, that simple discovery of a shared commonality would end up leading to some pretty cool conversations.
I have always thought of that case as a metaphor for life. We all wear lots of different labels, some we assign to ourselves, some are given to us by employers, while others are given to us by those we just encounter in life. We make friendships with people based on a few shared interests, but seldom expect that a person is like every single label we wear. Most of us grant very few people in our lifetime access to see beyond the labels and look at what actually lies within. To me, this is a beautiful thing…unless someone starts messing with your stickers.
When it recently came to light that I am in a same-sex relationship, it felt like somebody came along and ripped away every label I ever had and replaced it with one word- GAY. No matter how hard I tried to get people to still see me for the exact same person I was, the word “GAY” covered everything else up. I tried to keep my Christian label, but others took knives to it and tried to cut it off replacing it with “Gay”. I tried to keep my Chaplain title, but “Gay” changed how my peers saw me. I don’t think I really realized just how dangerous or painful labels were until I conducted my very last counseling session while still serving on active duty.
A beautiful, young, soldier entered my office, visibly nervous, and asked if I had time to speak with her. I welcomed her in, motioned for her to take a seat and asked her what had brought her in. She began to tell me how she had just spent the last four weeks on the psychiatric ward at a local hospital for attempting, and almost completing, suicide. She fidgeted uneasily in her chair looking up at me only briefly before quickly returning her gaze to the comfort of the floor. When I asked her what her reasons were for wanting to die, she admitted that she only had one reason.
She then said, “I am a Christian”. I nodded, and probably much like a confused dog, tilted my head as if to say, I don’t understand. She then took a deep breath, paused, and with a quivering voice said, “I already know what you think of me since you are a Chaplain, but I am at the end of my rope and just need someone to talk to today. You see, in addition to being a Christian…I am also gay.” The tears streamed down her cheeks as she then went on to say how she had been told that she simply couldn’t be both. She had to pick one label or the other. She loved Jesus, but didn’t know how to stop being gay, and that’s why she wanted to die. She had subjected herself to all types of “treatment” in attempts to cure her same-sex attraction, like trying to pray it away, an exorcism experience in her grandmother’s basement, and even reparative therapy with her pastor who kicked her out of the church and told her not to come back until she got “fixed”. The Soldier then explained how four weeks earlier, alone in her barracks room, she prayed for God to forgive her for being gay, before immediately attempting to end her life. She said she knew that dying in that moment would be the only way God would love and accept her.
My heart literally broke listening to her words because they simply were NOT true. Her religious community, family, and friends had told her that she was not good enough for God because she was trying to wear two seemingly opposing labels at once.
Now, I realize that we all come from very diverse religious backgrounds, but since it is Holy Week, I want to encourage those in the Christian faith to not lose hope in the loud sea of dissenting religious voices which say you can’t be both gay and a Christian. The loudest voices aren’t always right. In fact, many voices from within the gay Christian community have begun rising up and taking a stand against those who try to claim that there is only one “right” interpretation of Scripture. Please don’t throw out all of your faith because someone used a few misinterpreted Scriptures as weapons against you. Those people don’t speak for Jesus. In fact, if they really grasped the meaning of this week, they would understand that the compassion and sacrifice behind Christ’s death leveled the playing field, making us all equally in need of His grace. No one can earn it; it’s simply a free gift for anyone who chooses to accept it. Period.
So, if you are trying to reconcile some labels in your life, especially the religious ones, perhaps this would be a good week to reengage your faith. There are numerous welcoming and affirming churches that accept you just the way you are. And, the good news in all of this is that God isn’t concerned with the labels on the outside anyway; He is concerned with the matters of the heart and what’s on the inside.
Megan is a former active duty Army Chaplain who recently transitioned into the Army Reserves. She is married to her wife, CW2 Desiree Browning and they are currently stationed at Fort Campbell, KY. Megan continues to be passionate about ensuring LGBT Soldiers and families are afforded the spiritual support they both deserve and desire.