My partner and I sat across the table from my father at our favorite restaurant. We had just finished breakfast. My father counted down from 3 and told us to smile. He snapped a photo with his new camera. It was the first photo that my father took of us. More than that, it was the first time my father made a gesture that acknowledged I was in a relationship with another man.
My father and mother have been pastors most of my life. They have lived their lives steeped in the tenants of the Assemblies of God, preaching to the largely Hispanic/Latinx congregations they’ve started over the years. It was in this context that my coming out led us into awful and often angry debates surrounding the cause of homosexuality and the “choices” I did or did not have in the matter.
Our arduous and painful debates affirmed my early understanding of my parents’ sexual ethics, particularly around homosexuality. I knew where they stood theologically. According to my resentment-based assessment, they had written off my sinful soul some time ago.
Angrily, I had made my assumption because it was customary to hear my parents preach anti-LGBTQ sermons promoting the perception that anyone in the LGBTQ+ community was a deviant and unwelcome in their place of worship. Their position of the early 2000s felt static. And after all those years, even after coming out, I assumed it was still the same.
It was not until a recent phone call with my parents—inspired by Q Christian’s side-by-side dialogue—that I got to talk about my fear during those sermons and the months before and after my coming out. As I told them about how I planned on them kicking me out of the church, family, and our home, my mother gasped in disbelief. In response to those memories, both my mother and father repeated more times than I could count, “You are inherently valuable and I love you because you are my son.”
My assumptions of my worth and their theological positions had been off-kilter, after all. Our story mimics one we read about in Acts 10.
God had taken two men with differing religious backgrounds, Peter and an Italian named Cornelius, on a similar journey.
Cornelius prayed to God and gave gifts to the Jewish people in his community. After being heard by God, God orders Cornelius to send for a man named Peter—a man who was a devout Jew. About the same time Cornelius is getting his instructions from God, Peter has a vision where he is instructed to eat animals that were considered to be unclean according to Jewish law. Like any God-fearing Jew, Peter, in his vision, refuses to eat the animals. God speaks to him once more: “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy” (Acts 10:15). Peter has no clue what this vision is designed to teach him.
The next day Peter meets Cornelius’ men and they travel back to the Italian community of Caesarea, where Cornelius and others assembled to hear from Peter. Upon arrival and out of confusion, Peter inquires as to why he’s been summoned by God. Cornelius tells him how he had been praying and giving gifts, and that he had received the instruction from God. Cornelius was vulnerable in sharing his story in front of Peter. Because of Cornelius’ honesty, Peter realized the true meaning of his vision.
We read in Acts 10:34, “Opening his mouth, Peter said: ‘I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.’” Both Cornelius and Peter’s vulnerabilities and actions were necessary for the two of them to see one another differently.
Both of them had learned the message my parents reaffirmed on our phone call: We belong in God’s family because we are all inherently valuable.
What I find more interesting is that God used two members of different faith backgrounds, in the ancient text and in the present day, to convince one another, through a series of circumstances, visions, and acts of faith, that all are inherently valuable: I feel loved because my parents looked past my identity and beliefs and cherished my inherent value. I love them, not for what they believe, but because they play an irreplaceable role in my life.
It wasn’t our commonalities that compelled us to believe in God’s expansive love; it was our differences. Let us not call anything unclean that God has made holy, not even one another.
Questions for this week's devotional:
Have you embraced your inherent value?
How might God be calling you to see something as clean even when it seems unholy, either about yourself or your neighbor?
How might you need to embrace the inherent value of another, even if they are your theological, political, or social opposite?