taking the words of Jesus seriously

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. – John 13:34-35

I am a white, straight, southern, Christian male. I attend and serve within a moderate mainline congregation. I have absolutely nothing to gain from standing with the LGBTQ community.

I am an introvert that doesn’t like negative attention. I hate being typecast and misunderstood. I like to be liked. I am a professional and a small business owner in the Bible Belt. I have lots to lose by standing with the LGBTQ community.

It would be easy, and in my best interest, to remain quiet. But my faith compels me to stand and to speak.

I don’t claim to have all the answers. I don’t want my conservative friends to feel as if our differences mean that our friendships must change. But I have already lost friends and will probably lose some more. That is not my choice, but I can accept it. But this isn’t about me.

It’s about the oppression, denigration, and maltreatment of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. As a therapist, I have borne witness to the aftermath many, many times. It is nothing short of heartbreaking, devastating, traumatizing. Dehumanizing. And it does not honor God.

Luckily, for me, the LGBTQ community have never been “the other.” My mother raised me better than that. My greatest debt to her is being taught to honor, respect, and love all people. Not in theory — but fully, relationally. As I get older, I appreciate her more and more for this. It is a great inheritance that she has gifted me with.

She loved me before I loved her. That’s why I love her.

My very first memory is of my uncle, who is gay, pulling me to a store in a wagon and buying me a stuffed animal. I also remember him riding me on the back of his bicycle to the store to buy candy. And I remember him building me houses out of cardboard boxes in the backyard.

He loved me before I loved him. That’s why I love him.

My cousin and his partner have been together since I was a child. They have been together for something like 30 years now. They have always been very giving, loving, affirming, and nurturing. In graduate school, they had me over for dinner several times a week and I’ve never eaten so well. They have always been that way.

They loved me before I loved them. That’s why I love them.

I love LGBTQ people, because I love people.
I love people, because I love God.
I love, because I was first loved.

God loved me before I loved God. That’s why I love God.

“Oh how I love Jesus, Because He first loved me.”

That same God, that very Jesus, not only commands me to love my LGBTQ siblings, but He compels me to do so. God invites me into a relationship with God and neighbor, not merely informed by grace but infused with it. And in this place there is no need and no desire for dualistic concepts of self and other. I am self to myself. And I am other to someone else. But none of these human delusions matter, because God is God — and God is here.

That is “reconciliation before offering” Jesus. That is “beam and log” Jesus. That is “writing in the sand” Jesus. It’s not a morality play or brownie points for the superior reaching down to the inferior. It is embodiment. It is a sacred duty and an honor. But, mostly, it is a blessing to my soul. It is a sacred balance. It is peace. It is life that really is life. It is a foretaste of the Kingdom of God.

So I will walk toward my LGBTQ siblings singing: “Though none go with me, still I will follow” because I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back, no turning back.

As someone who is madly in love with Jesus, I must also grieve and reject much of what the tribes that carry the name “Christian” propagate in this broken world that leads to further brokenness for those seen as “other.” But, most of all, I am simply compelled by love to love as I have been loved. And that means taking a stand. After all, the word love in scripture is an action word containing much nuance in its meanings, including concepts like fidelity, loyalty, not tripping up, or causing undue trouble, strife, or hardship. It means standing with, by, and for another. The Church has failed in this regard. And in its search for favoritism and religious privilege within Empire, it has literally stolen the birthright of our LGBTQ citizens.

But I hear the refrains of the old song: “Let there be peace on Earth, And let it begin with me.”

So as a white, straight, southern, Christian male, I stand with, by, and for the LGBTQ community. Because that’s exactly where Jesus wants me to be.

Simply softening into proper relationship. Simply dropping heavy, burdensome stones of finite culture wars and participating in the ethics of brotherhood and sisterhood. Simply healing from internal blockages that serve no one but starve my soul and sicken my thoughts, deeds, and actions. Simply returning the love that has been so freely given to me. Obeying my Father who tells me to love my siblings the way He loves me. Simply returning as a child to the arms of the one large enough to hold all the brokenness we feel and all of the harm we cause one another. Simply returning to love. The love that I will return to when I leave this world.


About The Author


Tony Caldwell is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist in private practice and Professor of Social Work at the University of Mississippi. He is a member of the Memphis-Atlanta Jungian Seminar and the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts. As a public speaker, human rights activist, project facilitator, town hall moderator, and workshop leader; Tony has partnered with The Human Rights Campaign, the W.W. Kellogg Foundation, The William Winter Institute For Racial Reconciliation, The Mississippi Racial Equity Community of Practice, the Sara Isom Center For Women and Gender Studies, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Radical South Conference, The Levi Strauss Co., and the Toyota Corporation. Tony and his colleague, Dr. Jandel Crutchfield, have enjoyed success in their grassroots Together Projects promoting interracial and interfaith dialogue around issues of intersectionality, privilege, police violence, and systemic racism across the state of Mississippi. Tony has presented at Wild Goose Festival, the Haden Institute, and at various other conferences, congregations, and universities. He is currently leading The Underground Church, a reconciling faith community, in Oxford, Ms. As well as conducting research linking health outcomes in the Mississippi Delta, which are 50th in the nation, to transgenerational trauma related to slavery, segregation, poverty, and marginalization, and developing interventions to address these issues. Tony loves writing about the intersection of theology, depth psychology, and social justice.

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