Singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile could have started the writing of her autobiography, Broken Horses, by touting her musical success as a six-time Grammy winner. Or jotting down what it’s like to be befriended by Dolly Parton, who joined her virtual book tour last Thursday evening.
Or she could have first expressed the thrill a self-described “mean, scrappy little trailer girl” gets when an encouraging phone call comes from her long-idolized friend, Elton John.
Instead, she started penning her life story by detailing what should have been her baptism – following her profession of faith in Jesus at a church youth camp. The expected holy moment quickly became hellish, however, deserving no “Amens.”
Brandi had gone through all the pre-baptism rituals, invited her family and friends to witness the moment and brought the proper clothing to church for this special occasion that publicly marks the beginning of a new life in Christ.
But instead of accepting her affirmation that “Jesus is Lord,” as done through Christian history, her Baptist minister refused to dip the 15-year-old in the ritual waters of resurrection because she is gay.
The very person and place designated for extending God’s grace failed. Miserably.
Yet, many years later, the one from whom such grace was withheld became the extender of grace.
After this tragic and unnecessary affront to God and one of God’s children, the minister called Brandi repeatedly, asking for her forgiveness. Understandably, that would take a while since her youthful self-worth and newfound faith had been so damaged.
Yet, grace in reverse truly happened many years later when Brandi wrote a heartfelt, but painful letter, letting the pastor know she had forgiven him for the trauma delivered in that moment.
In a 2018 studio interview with radio station KEXP in Seattle, Brandi was discussing her song, “Every Time I Hear That Song,” with the repeated line, “By the way, I forgive you.”
She described forgiveness as “inherently radical,” but added that the word has been “diluted,” often serving as an “evangelical buzzword.” Forgiveness, she added, is very hard to do.
“I’m not saying I can do it,” she confessed. “I’m just saying I can sing about it.”
Yet, she did show “radical forgiveness” in writing the letter of grace to the pastor who refused to baptize her.
She told him that her faith in God and people remained, which is not the case for many young people battered by faith leaders and communities who heap undeserved condemnation on those who are simply being the persons God created them to be.
Ignorance is no excuse for this continuing abuse from churches and their leaders.
What Jerry Falwell told us when launching the Moral Majority (a misnomer) is simply untrue. Homosexuality is not a chosen, overtly promiscuous “lifestyle” that seeks to undermine families.
No amount of religiosity – or bad psychology masquerading as “biblical counseling” – can reprogram one’s sexual orientation or identity. Rather, such endeavors, along with the constant labeling of LGBTQ persons as abominations to God, damage and even destroy lives.
There is no “gay agenda” other than wanting to be afforded the same freedoms and respect as all others. And the degree to which someone is a devout Christian has nothing to do with his or her sexual orientation.
As Jim Dant states and shows well in his book, This I Know: A Simple Biblical Defense for LGBTQ Christians (Nurturing Faith, 2018), “There is no valid, Christian, biblical argument against same-sex relationships between consenting adults.”
Jim explains how the few, highly selective biblical texts – that, in reality, deal mostly with ancient religious purity codes – are “lifted from their historical and theological contexts and used to blunder the listener.”
Also, we now know that the word “homosexual” did not enter English translations of the Bible until it was wrongly inserted in the Revised Standard Version in 1946. Even the head of that translation team admitted it was an incorrect rendering of the Greek text.
Yet, even with all of this available awareness, if one insists on holding to the unfounded and unloving idea that LGBTQ persons are somehow more sinful than the rest of us, there remains a vital choice:
Would it not be better to accept and affirm an LGBTQ person than contribute to their alienation, condemnation and even potential suicide?
To put the question another way: Would it be better to be guilty of overextending grace – as if that’s possible – or guilty of withholding grace in a highly selective way that causes great harm to a beloved child of God?
The hard truth is that much of Americanized Christianity cannot be trusted to be faithful dispensers of the love and grace that Jesus calls his followers to share.
Time and again, such church leaders choose to be arbiters of forgiveness based on their own legalistic misunderstandings, theological ignorance, authoritarian tendencies and ingrained bigotry.
Tragically, the most dangerous experience for an LGBTQ youth is to grow up in a conservative Christian family, church and school, where the chance of leaders hearing a fresh word from the Lord is less likely than a potluck dinner without chicken.
Speaking of her rejected baptism, Brandi said, “I didn’t realize how much that experience hurt me until I was wrestling with the concept of radical forgiveness – forgiveness that is not accusatory.”
That’s when she became the dispenser of the divine grace she had not received. She said she genuinely does forgive and love that pastor, adding,
“[Forgiveness] might be the very reason why we’re even here on earth. … It’s not a word to be taken lightly.”
In her just-released memoir, this confessing Christian woman admits the pain of being on the receiving end of religious-fueled abuse, even titling a chapter, “Baptists are mean.” But she doesn’t let such negative experiences and misrepresentations define Jesus for her.
Even when feeling pushed away, she affirms that “something mystical brings me back, time and time again, to the revolutionary gospel of forgiveness.”
Now that is the gospel truth that deserves a resounding “Amen!”
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.