I love saying that I am a “follower of Jesus.”
I’ve found that when I say that I’m a Christian, often eyes narrow and people wonder exactly what that means—what am I trying to say? Something political, something ideological? People wonder if I’m friendly to them, or if I might be someone they should be afraid of if I say I’m Christian.
Yet when I say that I’m a follower of Jesus, I see eyes light up, I see faces soften. Some will eagerly agree that they, too, follow Jesus. Others repeat the famous quote attributed to Gandhi: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” I chuckle along with them, knowing that talking about religion can be hard. But talking about Jesus—that’s a different story! I’m among the many persuaded that the life and mission of Jesus have more meaning today than ever.
I am blessed to see the life Jesus lived every day through the people I know and love, changing the world in ways large and small. Like you, I am surrounded by friends and family striving to help others, to follow Jesus as best they can. The truth always leads us to God and never away from God.
The truth always leads us to God and never away from God.
I see the life of Jesus when I think about my friend Laura Warburton. Laura and I are dear friends who disagree on almost everything, but we agree in our love of Jesus and our desire to look to His example. Because we agree about this core love and desire, we have worked together for years. When I was first trying to find someone, anyone, to help me get legal shelter for LGBT+ homeless youth, it was Laura who quietly stepped up, with steely reserve, and worked to help change the law in Utah so that youth didn’t need to sleep out in the cold. When there was a need for a new suicide prevention hotline, Laura made sure that LGBT+ youth would be helped, too. And when Laura’s beloved daughter Hannah died, Laura did what heroes do—she used her grief to find even more people to help. People ask me how Laura is able to do what she does. You know the answer as well as I do: it is because Laura follows Jesus. Thanks to this foundation, Laura has a seemingly boundless love and courage that shines like the sun from her heart and her smile—even, perhaps especially—through her tears. (Read more about Laura here).
My friend Bill Evans is also a follower of Jesus. I meet someone all the time who has benefited from Bill’s help, care, and counsel—Jen Spencer and Turtle Shelter are one example, Madison House Autism Foundation with Greg and JaLynn Prince is another. From huge projects to small ones, Bill leads with his loving heart and with a life inspired by Jesus’ mission to share the Good News that God is love. And when my youngest child, Geri, graduated from DaVinci High in Ogden, Bill was there. Geri is transgender, and not everyone in Geri’s family feels free to love Geri as openly as they used to—perhaps they don’t know what to feel. But Bill knows Jesus, and Bill was there in his Sunday best, clapping and cheering as Geri walked across the stage. (Read more about Bill here).
My friend Luisa Derouen, a Dominican Sister of Peace, is also a follower of Jesus. She is about to retire from Catholic ministry, a nun who has spent the last two decades providing spiritual companionship and counsel to transgender people. “For all these years my mantra to them has been, ‘The truth always leads us to God and never away from God. Keep your heart and your life close to God and God will show you the truth of who you are and how to live from that place of truth.” One day Luisa told me the story of meeting her first transgender person. Since there was no way she could understand what it was like to be transgender, Luisa said, “Loving needed to come first.” She added, “Maybe I would understand later, but for now—now was the time for love.” (Read more about Luisa here).
I also see Jesus in my friend Beth from Kenya, another follower of Jesus. Beth was raised by her single mother, who died when Beth was young, leaving her with her aunt. When Beth admitted to her aunt that she was a lesbian, her aunt arranged for her to be sexually assaulted—what is sometimes called “corrective rape.” Beth became homeless and then found herself pregnant by the rapist. She delivered a baby boy that she struggles to care for since her son has many health problems. Yet Beth found other LGBT+ followers of Jesus and leads the music each Sunday at their small prayer and worship services. Her friends call her a strong woman of faith, and she is determined to follow Jesus all of her life.
If you look closely, maybe you too will see Jesus in the people around you—in people near and beloved, and those from afar you have yet to meet. Sometimes this happens with those you expect to show people Jesus, and other times Jesus appears in places we never expect. Why would people whose religion or theology doesn’t affirm my desires and plans still care about me?
Why would people whose religion or theology doesn’t affirm my desires and plans still care about me?
This ever-expanding and diverse group of people are partnering with me and other LGBT+ people to work together for equality and religious freedom for all Americans (hearkening to legislation like the famous SB296 legislation known as the Utah Compromise—and current efforts to work together for the best federal legislation possible). I now have friends that are different from me in every way imaginable, yet who care deeply about my human dignity and about my children, especially my two children that are transgender. It is impossible to believe: why would people whose religion or theology doesn’t affirm my desires and plans still care about me? Yet it is impossible to disprove: I see them every day and I know their hearts, hearts that care deeply about every LGBT+ person.
One day I asked a leader in this movement—a very conservative and well-known faith and political leader—why he would not only care about me and my family but care enough to work so hard for our safety and wellbeing. He paused and looked me in my eyes and smiled a slow, shy smile. “Well, Marian, it’s because of my faith, you, see.” He clasped my hand. “My faith teaches me to love, and that’s what I intend to do.” I smiled back. And his face, the face of Jesus to me, showed me yet again that the love of God is all around.