It is OK to be scared

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparedst a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Psalm 23

In the course of my life, I have lived in four different cities and three different countries: Belfast and Cambridge (both in the UK), Gibraltar (a city-state that is a British Overseas Territory), and Dublin (in Ireland). Moving to a completely new city is always scary — you don’t know your way around, you don’t know when the rubbish is picked up, you don’t know how to find a dentist. Moving to a new country is even more frightening — you don’t know how tax is paid, you don’t know how the healthcare system works, and sometimes you forget which side of the road traffic drives on. I remember when we first moved to Dublin, I went out to find a branch of Tesco. At the first major junction I came to, I turned left, and I had to walk for 45 minutes to find one. Had I kept going straight ahead I would have found a Tesco thirty seconds later.

The first time you have a friend, family member, or member of your ecclesia who is gay or bisexual, it can be a bit like moving to a new country. For you, it is a new and unprecedented experience. It is perfectly normal, and perfectly OK, to be scared when you encounter a new situation. You can be scared for yourself, and you can be scared for the person you love.

We have all had the experience of doing something new, something that makes us afraid. I was scared when I left Belfast to go to university, but at university I met my best friend. I was scared when we moved from Belfast to Gibraltar, but living in Gibraltar was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. Just because something scares us doesn’t meant that it is wrong.

Being straight, being gay, and being bisexual all have one very important thing in common. Fundamentally, they are all about having the capacity to love, and that is a beautiful thing. Having the capcity to love also opens us up to being hurt in the most terrible ways imaginable, but that doesn’t mean that we should be afraid of our capacity to love. The world would be a terribly lonely place if nobody ever fell in love.

Being straight, being gay, and being bisexual all have another very important thing in common. They are all about maturing. When you know someone as a child, to some extent you always see them as a child. If someone that you knew as a child tells you that they are gay or bisexual, then you are reminded that they are either an adult or are becoming an adult. That is always difficult, whether they are fifteen, or twenty-five, or fifty. Yes, it is scary to realise that the child you love is actually an adult, but remember that with this knowledge comes the knowledge of their capacity to love.

Sometimes, when you love someone who is gay or bisexual, you worry that they will face hostile reactions because they are gay or bisexual. Sadly, even though in the West gay and bisexual people are generally treated with the same respect as straight people, it is still sometimes true that gay and bisexual people encounter hostility and prejudice. Christadelphians are a religious minority, and because of that Christadelphians will sometimes face hostility and prejudice. That is not a reason to hid your being a Christadelphian, and by the same token, that is not a reason to hide being gay or bisexual. If your gay or bisexual loved one encounters hostitlity and prejudice, the thing to do is support them in whatever way you can, not to encourage them to hide.

There is a particularly dangerous chain of thought that can be summarised by this sentence:

I am OK with you being gay, but your aunt (or grandfather, or whoever) won’t be. You better keep it quiet so they don’t find out.

That is dangerous for two reasons. First of all, you genuinely do not know how someone will react to finding out a loved one is gay or bisexual. Someone who is anti-gay to the point of being homophobic may react very positively to finding that a relative is gay or bisexual, and someone who has many gay and bisexual friends may be disgusted to have a gay or bisexual family member; you can never speak for another individual. The second danger in this position is you are implicitly saying that being gay or bisexual is something to be ashamed of, something to be hidden. That is the same as saying that your capacity to love is something to be ashamed of.

Nobody chooses to be straight. Nobody chooses to be gay. Nobody chooses to be bisexual. I am gay and I have brown hair. I could no more choose to be straight than I could choose to be a natural blond. My parents didn’t make some dreadful mistake when raising me that led to me having brown hair, and they didn’t make some dreadful mistake that led to me being gay. Having a gay or bisexual family member is not a negative reflection on you or your family in any way.

Nobody is born knowing everything. We all go through our life learning. If there is something that you don’t understand, it is OK to ask questions. A few years ago, I mentioned to a colleague that I’d managed to make some savings in household expenses. “That’s great,” he said, “Was your wife pleased? Er, I mean your husband. I mean your wife. What do you call him?” My colleague had never known a man who was in a same-sex marriage. He genuinely didn’t know how to refer to my spouse. Although I could have been offended by his question, I wasn’t: despite the clumsy phrasing, his motivation was right. It is OK to ask questions, but you must ask the questions in a respectful, loving, Christ-like way.

One final thought for this section. If it is OK to be scared, it is essential to be honest. If a loved one tells you that they are gay or bisexual and you have difficulty coping with that, then you must tell them. There can be no greater betrayal than telling someone you accept that they are gay or bisexual, and then rejecting them when they ask you to meet their partner. This honesty does not give you an excuse to remain intolerant, and you still have to put effort into moving towards acceptance. Refusing to accept that someone is gay or bisexual may well mean that you push them out of your life.

Exercises

  • Think about a positive change in your life that you wanted, but also scared you. How did you feel at the time? How do you feel now? Are you glad you did it?
  • Think about a positive change in a loved one’s life that scared you at the time. Maybe they were getting married, or moving to a new ecclesia, or starting a new job. How did you feel at the time? How do you feel now? Are you glad they did it?

Next page: What should a Christadelphian believe?
Previous page: Same-sex relationships are just like opposite-sex relationships

Andrew McFarland Campbell

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