|Peggy Campolo's story
I spend much time with people who suffer and sometimes I feel guilty because I have not personally suffered because I stand with my gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender sisters and brothers. Being an advocate for some of God’s most oppressed and misunderstood children has given me great joy and brought many wonderful people into my life. Truly, the sunshine of the Holy Spirit came into my life because of them.
The Holy Spirit first became a presence in my life as I sought to bring God’s grace and peace to a friend who was dying, and ever since I have felt God’s presence most in the context of ministry and fellowship with the people God has given me to stand with and to love. Jesus is there, in them.
Because of them, I found the courage to be honest – to first stand up and say that the lies being told about homosexual people were lies. I found the courage to tell some very loving, but terribly misguided parents and pastors that they were wrong. And I found the courage to tell some people I love very much that I did not see homosexuality or what the bible had to say about it in the same way that they did. Here’s what I learned about courage.
I found out that you need courage most when you first stand up for what you believe. The next time, it isn’t so hard. And each time after that it gets easier, until you feel better speaking the truth that you used to feel being silent back when you were afraid.
I found out that when you find the courage to stick up for other people, it is impossible not to stand for yourself too. Being able to tell people what I believe, what I want, and what I need is not something I could always do. I would never have spoken out for myself if God had not asked me to speak for some other people first.
And I found out how wonderful it is to help somebody else find the courage to do what they wish they could do. I will never forget Joyce, the Mennonite lady who told me with tears in her eyes that she knew she could never stand up for her nephew or the other homosexual people she knew and loved because, in her words, “I’m just not a brave person.”
I told her that I would pray for her, that she should pray too, and that I felt sure that God would honor her desire to do the right thing. Well, Joyce called me almost two weeks later with her story.
We had dinner guests – people from our church – and one of the men started talking about gay people in a terrible way, saying things that I knew weren’t true. I wanted to tell him he was wrong, but I couldn’t get any words out. Finally, I just got up from the table and went and sat in the living room. I prayed for God to give me courage to speak, but when I finally went back into the dining room, no words would come. I cleared the table, served dessert and we talked about other things until everyone went home.
“That night, I cried myself to sleep. I thought about my wonderful Christian nephew and how I had let that man tell lies about people like him right in my own house.
The next evening, I was sitting by myself in the living room, waiting for my husband to come home from work when the man who had upset me came by on his way home from work.
Forgive me, Joyce, he said. ‘I know why you left the table last night and I am so sorry I upset you. I should never have said those things about gay people, and I wanted to tell you that I’m not going to talk like that any more.’ ”
Joyce’s voice grew stronger as she went on to tell me how she had been able to share with her friend some reasons why what he had said was so wrong. “I know I changed the way he thinks, at least a little bit,” she finished joyfully.
Knowing that Joyce and many others I know are no longer afraid is part of my joy. God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender children have taught me that people have to feel God’s unconditional love before they can love themselves or their neighbors. I learned from them that letting God love me was the only way I could become a vessel through which God love could flow to other people.
God does love me. Now, I not only know that; I feel it. Yet, I am still sometimes surprised when I find myself really loving a person who, I know Peggy Campolo would have trouble liking, let along loving.
Sam was one of those people. He was funny looking, more than a little strange, and very difficult to understand because of a speech impediment. It was hard to tell if Sam was male or female. He had come to a meeting where I was speaking, and after the meeting Sam kept following me around, saying he needed to talk to me. I thought he has something he wanted to ask me, but soon it became apparent that Sam just wanted – desperately needed – attention.
God got my attention that night, and God let me know that what Sam needed was to believe that somebody loved him. I did my best to love Sam, but thankfully God was there to make my best a whole lot better than anything I could have done on my own. I listened and listened and listened, and I started to really hear Sam. And Sam looked absolutely thrilled and more than just a little surprised by that. It seemed like his speech became easier to understand, but more likely it was my listening that got better.
And I heard Sam’s story. Sam said he felt like a girl, but that his body was a male body. “I thought about trying to have an operation,” he said sadly, “but the doctors all said my head was too messed up. So I don’t really know what I am, but I’m a person, right?”
I’m sure that, in my life, I have met other people like Sam. But, back in the old days, I did not hear them, or even see them. God is using my gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters to open my eyes and ears in a new way. I find that I am free from having to put the people I meet into “boxes.”
Yes, Sam, you are a person, and so are all God’s children.
Part of loving is finding the grace to forgive, and I have learned much about forgiveness from my GLBT friends. In my ministry, I meet many people who have more to forgive than I think is humanly possible. Thank God, none of us have to depend on what is humanly possible.
Some people I know have had to forgive their parents for not loving them, for demanding that they be straight when they are not. Some men and women have had to forgive a church for turning them out. It is a miracle to me that so many of God’s most misunderstood children find the grace to understand those who will not even try to understand them. Jesus words from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” have new meaning for me now.
It is in the Christian gay community that I find the most Christ-like Christian I know – people who love Jesus so much that they struggle to belong where they are not wanted, and are even willing to stand against the majority of their own community to declare that they are part of the church of Jesus Christ. For so many years, I took the church and my place in it for granted. It is a part of my joy now, to fellowship with people who love Jesus so much that they are willing to challenge those who would deny them their place at God’s table.
I have watched, sometimes with tears in my eyes, as gay and lesbian Christians reach out to embrace the transgender persons in their midst. Knowing full well that their own battle for acceptance will be more difficult if they choose to walk with this minority without their own minority, brothers and sisters who are even more misunderstood than they are. To be a part of a wounded people who are willing to risk being hurt even more, in order to stand with and protect sisters and brothers who suffer, is to experience the love of God in a new way.
Ministry to parents is a special joy to me. Speaking to a group of parents and answering their questions is one of my favorite things to do. And often parents call or write to me with more questions or just wanting to talk. Sometimes, when I meet with them, I find people whose hearts are hard and there is not much I can do, but some of my happiest times are when I meet parents who seems to instinctively know that there isn’t anything wrong with their son or daughter. They are bothered by the things they have heard – too often from the pulpits in their churches and the preachers on “Christian” radio and television.
How blessed I feel to be the one who gets to tell loving parents that it is OK to love their son or daughter. And even in those sad cases where parents don’t understand enough to reach out in love, so often there is somebody else who does step forward to be there for a wounded child. I like to remember those good stories – the happy endings.
I remember Michael, a handsome, life-of-the-party, kind of guy – until his Father found out he was gay and decreed that Michael could no longer come home. Michael was part of a large, warm, extended Italian family, and he didn’t know how he would be able to bear being separated from his family as Thanksgiving drew near. He told me his Mother had cried a lot and told him she was sorry, but she wasn’t about to stand up to his Dad, so Michael was not invited to Thanksgiving dinner.
I cried with Michael on the phone, and we prayed that somehow God would show him, not only how to have a meaningful Thanksgiving Day, but to forgive his Father for breaking his heart. Then, a week later, Michael called again.
“Guess what?” he said, his voice so full of joy that I didn’t have to guess. “I’m going home for Thanksgiving!”
And Michael told me about another one of those wonderful people who bring so much sunshine into my life these days – his grandmother!
“My grand mom found out that I wasn’t invited home, and she told me if I wasn’t invited, she wasn’t going. She told me to come to her house for turkey. Well, my Dad couldn’t take that, so he said he guessed we’d both better come be with the family.”
I used to think that older people would be the most difficult ones to get to think in a new way about GLBT people, but the truth is that often it is older people, like Michael’s grandmother, who see the truth first. Perhaps, when you are old enough to be a grandparent and have already lost form this world some of your dear ones, you have the good sense to know not to throw away any of the people you love.
Finding my own way to know God, to love God’s people, and to understand what the grace of Jesus Christ means to me is not something I am doing because I possess great intellectual curiosity. Rather, I have had to do it because I could not accept much of what other people said about who my GLBT sisters and brothers were, what the Bible said about them or their place, or lack of place, in the church of Jesus Christ.
When I began my ministry, I didn’t know where I belonged. The people who agreed with me about those with whom I stood thought it strange that I valued the Bible or wanted to be part of the Church of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, many of those who believed what I did about Jesus and the Bible wanted to keep God’s GLBT children out of the church and far away from them.
My personal faith journey began when I felt God’s call to be an advocate for the reconciliation of my GLBT brothers and sisters and the church. Early in that journey, God led me to Evangelicals Concerned, a national organization dedicate to helping lesbians and gay men and churches understand homosexuality and the good news of God’s grace and peace. EC took the Bible seriously, as did the wonderful group of enlightened Mennonite parents of GLBT children, with whom I spent a blessed Spirit filled weekend, and I began to study the Bible to see just what it did say about God’s GLBT children.
Becoming part of Soulforce, an informal network of people of faith committed to applying the principles of nonviolence (as taught by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.) to the liberation of sexual minorities, was another step on my journey Doing justice, demonstrating and praying with people of other faiths strengthened in me the desire to work out my own salvation, to know God and to understand and be able to articulate what I believed.
I am still on my journey of faith, but I have learned some things. I now understand that some people who take the Bible literally don’t take the Bible seriously.
I have concluded that, while the term “Family Values” has been used to “bash” my GLBT sisters and brothers, I do believe in most of what is meant by “Family Values.” The difference between the “bashers” and me is that I believe in good family values for all of God’s children. I call my GLBT brothers and sisters to the same standard of behavior as I do my straight brothers and sisters, and I demand for them the same right to a loving, monogamous, lifetime partnership.
Many things I am still working out, but I am more grateful than I can say to the GLBT community that has, by its very existence, forced me to thinking more than I thought I ever wanted to think, to depend on the Holy Spirit more than I ever thought I could, and to trust God when I don’t have answers to all the questions. The verse about us all seeing through a glass darkly (I Corinthians 13:12) is dear to my heart. I love it that God put it near the end of the “Love Chapter.” For me, it is as though God is saying, “I’m letting you know that you won’t “get it,” because I don’t want you to spend a lot of time worrying about what you don’t understand or when you don’t all see things the same way. Those verses about loving people are the important part.
My rainbows story is really a heart felt “thank you,” to those brothers and sisters who, by letting me walk with them, have helped me find the courage of my convictions. By allowing me to worship with them, they have allowed me to share in God’s special blessing for those who are oppressed. And it has been the sometimes desperate search of many of them for the unconditional love of God that has encouraged me to know God for myself, to embrace the saving grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, and to hold the hand of the Holy Spirit on the journey that is my own life.
Peggy is an evangelical Christian who challenges evangelical churches to re-think their stand against gay and lesbian people. She is on the advisory board of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, and speaks frequently to church and campus groups. Peggy is also a highly-visible advocate for the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gender people within the church. She is a member of PFLAG and Evangelicals Concerned, and is a member of Central Baptist Church in Wayne, Pennsylvania. A graduate of Eastern College, Peggy is a writer and editor. She contributed to a book edited by Walker Wink entitled, Homosexuality and Christian Faith: Questions on Conscience for the Churches.