I can’t breathe.
I’m lying on the floor of my single in Leverett. In the dark, I face the ceiling, and I wonder if God is actually beyond it. I feel so alone.
I need to tell my friend about my same-sex attractions, but I can’t find my strength. Beads of sweat slick my hand. I wipe my hands on my jeans so I can pick up my phone. I mouth a quick, desperate prayer. I dial.
The student I called that day became one of my closest friends as we grew as Christians within the community known as Harvard College Faith and Action. Throughout college, we had many more conversations about sexuality and scripture and the like, but I can’t forget that first conversation.
I didn’t think he would yell at me or curse me, though the Church has historically failed to love our BGLTQ brothers and sisters in ways much, much worse than these. I thought there might be a more subtle rejection, the kind that is revealed in a softening of the voice or an uncomfortable shifting and the soft “Oh.” I was hurting, I was terrified, and, knowing the history of the Church towards BGLTQ people, I expected the worst.
What I didn’t expect was the response that pierced through the silence: “I love you, and I want to walk beside you.”
His response unlocked for me the profound beauty of God’s love. This love is, to us, miraculous. That a holy God enters the world to dwell with unholy people is utterly unexpected, a divine subversion of dire circumstance.
I didn’t expect my friend to want to walk alongside me, and I could never have imagined the seemingly boundless humility with which he and others in HCFA sought to help me along in my struggle to reconcile my sexuality with my traditional faith over the next couple of years. To have same-sex attractions in a traditional, evangelical Christian context can be profoundly isolating, but one of the great surprises of my experience with HCFA was that so many of my friends were willing to lay down their busy Harvard lives to help me fight my loneliness. They called frequently to check in. They invited me to dinner every week. They asked me hang out on nights when I most likely would’ve spent unproductive hours in despair struggling to reconcile the requirements of my conscience with the realities of my desires.
Though I ultimately chose for theological reasons to become celibate, explorations of faith and sexuality in the fellowship have always been characterized, for me, by rigorous intellectual engagement, radical hospitality, and, above all, love that shatters expectations.
We all have different definitions of love. Our ideas of it are shaped by the media, our experiences, and most of all, by our relationships. Many people, including myself, have believed in foolish pride that we can distinguish love from hate with a single, swift glance from the outside. This is the error of every prejudice. The Editorial Board of The Crimson recently asserted, from the outside of HCFA, that a recent decision to remove a student from leadership based on what HCFA leaders termed a theological disagreement constitutes a “morally egregious” act of hatred, but as an op-ed by an alumna points out, ethical conversations within Christian faith communities are not always so simple.
On the contrary, a more in-depth profile of HCFA by the Fifteen Minutes magazine of The Crimson a year and a half ago led a reporter to the conclusion that “HCFA provides just the sort of emotional and personal guidance that many bemoan is not present enough at Harvard.” I only cite these examples to illustrate this: The truest knowledge of our neighbors comes from making the effort to share in their experiences of life. To love is to enter into a world beyond your own in order to understand the people therein and walk with them.
This love is the love I have known within HCFA, and it is the love embodied by the God who enters into our world to know us and to love us. We may fail to extend this love to our BGLTQ neighbors from time to time. For that, we humbly ask forgiveness. We are doubly convicted as followers of the God who we believe perfectly embodies love grounded in empathy.
Even so, the failure of the Church to attain the perfect love of God should not destroy our faith in its goodness. The love that enters into a world unlike its own and empathizes, reconciles, and heals is sorely needed right now. Our prejudices are shattered when we step past principles to discover people in need of our love and our presence. Can we be brave enough to reach out to our queer friends and vice versa? Will we open up the difficult conversations and the long days of walking with one another that will lead to understanding? If so, perhaps we can find a love that is beyond our expectations.
I have hope that in this challenging work, we all might find the unexpected miracle of a gentle “I love you” in the silence, a breath of life giving us power to dive deeper into relationship with each other, and ultimately, with our God.
Tyler S. Parker ’17 is an alumnus of Harvard College Faith and Action and is now a Christian Union-employed ministry intern working with HCFA. Christian Union is a national umbrella organization that helps fund and support HCFA.