The Spirit Sets Us Free to Accept Ourselves
Imagine what it would be like to have heard your whole life that God doesn’t love you for who you are. Now, imagine sitting in church on Pentecost Sunday, reading the section on the Holy Spirit from The Brief Statement of Faith (1983) and hearing the entire church repeat these words: “The Spirit sets us free to accept ourselves and to love God and neighbor.”
I was blessed to share this experience at the Royster Presbyterian Church in Norfolk, Virginia as we celebrated Pentecost last Sunday.
My hosts, Alice and her life partner, Carol, were wonderful, introducing me to their friends and to their church. Over lunch we talked about the crucial encouragement and support that GLBT church members find in this claim because acceptance of one’s self is such a huge challenge for GLBT people. Absorbing the negative stereotypes of being gay that we hear in both the culture and the church, GLBT people must travel a long, difficult spiritual path to self-acceptance.
In the course of our conversation, I commented that some in the church would not necessarily object to GLBT self-acceptance. However, they would require an impossible choice between the church and being alone. After a reflective pause, Alice responded, “But loving Carol is part of who I am.” We knew she was telling the truth. We saw clearly the contradiction between the self-acceptance freely given by God and the imposition of one way of being that some in the church would rigidly enforce.
As I held all this in my heart on the long drive home, the crucial need for the church to come into harmony with the freedom of self-acceptance God gives to GLBT people became strikingly clear. The Brief Statement of Faith ties self-acceptance together with loving God and our neighbor. In other words, we can only love others to the extent that we are able to love and accept ourselves. As we learn to accept ourselves, we must acknowledge, too, that this freedom to be ourselves is also given by God, the Spirit, to everyone else.
I am grateful for all the GLBT Presbyterians like Alice and Carol who rejoice in this power of the Holy Spirit to free us to accept ourselves and for all the gifts they bring to the PCUSA through their love of God and neighbor. May the Holy Spirit inspire the church with God’s gift of acceptance as it has inspired them.