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Conservative Christian athlete found love from LGBTQ community she never expected

Stephanie McMahon had feared finding Common Ground with the LGBTQ community. Instead, she found a new commitment to God.

Stephanie McMahon plays basketball for NCAA Division III Houghton College, a Christian college in New York.
Houghton College

Editor’s note: Common Ground is an initiative to build bridges through conversation between the LGBTQ community and people of faith in college athletics. It is spearheaded by the NCAA and various advocates and administrators across sports. Common Ground 4 is taking place this week at Brigham Young Univ. You can find more information at NCAA.org.

This is part of a series from Common Ground participants.

When I was asked to be a part of Common Ground 3, I said yes without truly knowing what Common Ground was. As the date for the Common Ground gathering approached, I became more and more apprehensive.

As a conservative Christian who had been raised in the church, attended a private Christian high school, and then went straight to a Christian College in rural Western New York, The LGBTQ community was more of an ideology that I had been taught to fight against than anything else. The LGBTQ community had consistently been posed as a threat to my faith, and I was nervous that I was ill-equipped to defend that faith to people with whom I had never had any experience with.

Then I met the incredible people who make up the Common Ground initiative. The people who I was completely convinced would know nothing about the values that had been instilled in me since childhood actually taught me more about love, acceptance, and listening than any other person of faith in my life ever had.

They loved and accepted me far better than I was initially willing to love and accept them. Each person I interacted with came to the table open for conversation and willing to listen to my thoughts and concerns. I was continually inspired by their stories, and ashamed that some of their worst experiences had been brought on by the Church that I so deeply loved.

Christians and LGBTQ people treating one another better

I was infuriated that people who professed to follow Jesus would treat other humans that were made in the image of God with such disrespect and contempt. Jesus continually engaged the people who the religious leaders of His day looked on with contempt and cast aside.

The first day of Common Ground 3, Mahatma Ghandi’s famous quote swirled through my head, “Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” As Common Ground continued, a passion stirred in me to be an ally to the people in the LGBTQ community who had been so oppressed and under-served, especially by the Church.

My fear of this community had completely evaporated, replaced with only respect and admiration.

However, a new fear came creeping in. Although the people that I met at Common Ground were my new heroes and source of inspiration, I still disagreed with them on many major points. How in the world was I supposed to love these people unconditionally when I disagreed with them?

I tore apart Scripture, desperately seeking some flaw in the teachings had lead me to my convictions. I struggled and wrestled and talked to my mentors in the faith. Over the course of this struggle, I realized that it was not my job as a Christian person of faith to judge others. Never in the Bible does God call one of His followers to be judge, jury or executioner.

The greatest commandment of Jesus in the Bible

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment in all of Scripture was, He replied that the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, and strength, and that the second was similar, to love people as yourself.

That is what I am commanded to do as a person of faith: love each and every person as I love myself. I realized that the people that I met at Common Ground did this better than I did!

I think that many Christians allow the fear of making a mistake and displeasing God to dictate their lives. It is definitely a fear that I can empathize with. If I don’t do anything at all, I definitely won’t make a mistake right? This is a flawed logic that leads many Christians, including myself, to go inside our Bible study bubbles and not fully engage in tough conversations or do difficult things.

I truly believe that God is so much more interested in the heart behind my actions than my actions themselves. If I do everything out of love for His creation and the people that He created, I will make mistakes along the way, but the journey will be so much more exciting and rewarding than if I stayed stuck in my own bubble.

I am forever indebted to the people that I have been able to meet and have relationships with through Common Ground: for teaching me what love really is; for correcting faults in me that I was too proud to see before with love and grace; and for always being willing to find the common ground on an issue that is so divisive to so many others.

Stephanie McMahon plays basketball for Houghton College. You can find Houghton athletics on Twitter @HCHighlanders.