Facilitator Highlight: Reverend Brian Gruhn
Facilitator Highlight: Rev. Brian Gruhn Highlighting the best facilitators and volunteers
I grew up in southeastern Arizona. Coming of age in a very rural, conservative environment taught me at an early age the importance of working for justice, peace and acceptance for all people of all backgrounds. The love and friendships I have found through my LGBTQA+ community have been essential for my own well being as I have learned more about who I am and how to live into my true self. In my all-too-limited experience with Outright, I have loved hearing the stories of young people who are on this same journey of self discovery, and I have thrilled at seeing them lead and work at Pride and in their weekly gatherings. These young people are powerful and fantastic, and it's a pleasure to get to know them.
Brian is the Reverend of the First Congregational Church of Kittery (UCC) and has been advocating for LGBTQ+ youth in religious communities for many years. This sermon was written to reassure a concerned parent, who was upset after her daughter came out as bisexual. Read the full sermon below.
For nearly 20 years, I have been a full-time Christian theologian. In the last few years, I have become convinced that there’s an easy way of summing up what the tradition of Abraham, Moses and Jesus is all about: Love beyond.
It’s both a command, and a promise.
The heart of the Torah, the purpose of Christ's human life, the mission of Christ’s church is this:
It’s a command: Love beyond this.
And it is also a promise: There will be love beyond this.
The Bible is filled with stories and teachings that find human beings stuck in particular contexts and situations and God constantly commands them to love beyond their circumstances, with the promise that they will discover deeper, wilder, life-altering love beyond those circumstances. This is what it means to live a life of faith: choosing to give and receive love, even when the world tries to argue you don’t deserve it.
And throughout human history, people in power have used this magnificent collection of love stories to try and “prove” why they should be accepted as they are, and others should be shamed, banished, condemned. This is what it means to live a life of idolatry: using anything you can to try and argue you are deserving of power and privilege, and anyone who is different from you is a problem.
Anyone who claims to follow Jesus or obey the Bible have an important choice to make: Will we live a life of faith, or a life of idolatry? Idolatry is how we get a type of faith in which people refuse to wear masks during a global pandemic. They assume God will protect them, and they don’t care what happens to their
neighbor. Idolatry is how we get a kind of Christianity that proclaims the right to overthrow democratic processes. They don’t like how the majority vote went, so they try to cancel the whole system. Idolatry is how we get a type of Christianity that condemns people for being born into bodies that are not heterosexual, cisgendered, with white skin and blonde hair. They don’t know how to experience love for themselves, so they blame people who are not like them.
Let me share with you a little bit about my lived experience in a world of idolatry: When I was five years old, I learned I was not enough of a boy. I liked the color purple. My friend Gilbert reprimanded me, “Boys do not like purple.”
I was 8 years old when a trusted adult taught me that romantic love was confined between boys and girls. Love between boys and boys was, supposedly, not natural... not allowed.
At 13 I learned that kindness and basic respect is reserved for people without mental illness, as I had to witness my classmate Neal receive constant, daily torment from students and teachers alike.
At 16, I saw how white supremacy tries to preserve white spaces. I entered a restaurant with my friend Angela, who happened to be black, and an employee came on the loudspeaker and announced, “There’s a black in the restaurant.” This was 1998.
At 17, I went with my youth group to the Japanese American National Museum in L.A., and I learned about America’s legacy of hate for people of Asian descent. Standing alongside my friend Heather, who is Japanese American, we learned about centuries of bigoted policies, racist slogans, and internment camps in our home state of Arizona. Hundreds of years of prejudice and violence... because of where your family comes from.
Throughout my adult life, I have lost beloved gay, lesbian and transgender siblings to suicide... because some people have made an idol out of the Bible and misconstrued tiny clauses from random parts of it to convince themselves and others that God did not want them to be the beautiful, amazing, fabulous people they are.
I choose to be a person of faith because I insist that I am deserving of giving and receiving love. Even though I like the color purple. Even though I am a boy who has loved a boy. Even though people show me every day how hateful and small and narrow they want to be...how little they expect for themselves, and how much less they care for me... I choose to love beyond.
It’s both a command and a promise.
If you can love beyond this...then you will find love beyond this.
Love beyond difference. Love beyond “normal.” Love beyond hate. Love beyond narrow thinking. Love beyond gender. Love beyond sexuality. Love beyond understanding.
You are deserving of life to the fullest and love beyond all things.
I hope you will choose to receive and give love beyond your personal circumstances. Because each and every one of us can teach this world how to love better and love beyond.