The False Narrative of Gay vs. Christian

The False Narrative of Gay vs. Christian

I am still reeling from the fact that there are so-called Christians here in my new homeland who are preaching the false gospel that if you are Christian, you cannot be gay and if you are gay, you are not a Christian.

In fact, I was sick to my stomach, outraged on so many levels when I read this statement, from one of the signers (with the help of Google Translate)

“It all started with the woman’s self-determination, he says. The revolution goes through the acceptance of homosexuality and transgender people, into a world where masculinity and femininity are denied as such.”

Oh, but wait, there’s more, so much more…I’ll hold your hair while you puke.

“Nunn prefers to call homosexuality broken than sin. And you should not link that brokenness to your ‘core identity’, says Nunn. It lies in what God says about you in the Bible. He compares homosexual Christians with Christians who have a heart defect or suffer from dementia. ‘Does that make you a demented Christian? No, you are a beloved child of God struggling with the brokenness of dementia.”

I mean, I am used to hearing this from the power hunger, fear peddling theocrats of American evangelicalism, but have been utterly astonished by my own ignorance in believing it did not exist here.

I honestly thought I had landed on the golden shores of progressive reason and quiet faith. But seeing the pervasiveness of conservative theology, it is no wonder that so many people here have rejected religion all together.

What is even more surprising to me recently is the flickering of a little pride in my own theological heritage where the existence of diverse theological frameworks give us space to explore the many ways God is still speaking, even though the diversity is often painfully divisive.

Yes, millions of Americans believe that “protection of religious freedom” gives them the right to discriminate against LGBT citizens based on one interpretation of one subset of one religion’s understanding of a few words of scripture. Some folks actually believe deep in their hearts that God will punish them if they do anything at all that cold appear to approve of what they sincerely believe is punishable by an eternity of hell-fire suffering.

I feel really sad for all these people because they are genuinely afraid of God and that is contrary to everything I understand the Gospel of Jesus be about.

Jesus resoundly confronted the religious authorities of his day, shutting down any religious law that separated people from God’s love.

And the good news today is, there are millions of Christians who fully affirm the beautifully diverse lives and loves of queer folks like me.

Also, real and true is the fact that there are queer folks like me who ARE madly in love with Jesus, and even though the label is loaded, call ourselves Christian.

Yesterday, today and tomorrow, we work and pray for the light of God to illuminate a path forward in faith where we claim the truth that nothing, nothing, nothing can separate us from the love of God. (Romans 8:31-39)

Side note: please remember that the media often wants to keep citizens misinformed and stridently afraid of one another. They do so by spotlighting the negative actions of a handful of people and ignoring the loving, affirming faith of many more Christians. Whether in America or The Netherlands, the media profits off of people by writing about people who hide their ignorance behind scripture. It is not nearly as profitable to write headlines like “Check out these Christians who love everyone, just like Jesus.”

What I want you to know and trust is that there are good people, loving people, cultural Christians or out-right Jesus freaks like me, who are living examples of God’s radical hospitality.

We come from neighbourhoods, towns, cities and regions all over The Netherlands and yes, even the deeply fractured America. In fact, it is the vociferously fractured religious landscape of America that may it a fertile land for flourishing faith that welcomes all.

We come in all shapes and sizes – individuals, prayer partners, Sunday School classes, campus ministries, congregations and whole denominations that affirm that each individual is a child of God, recognizing “that we are called to be like one body with many members, seeking with others of every race, ethnicity, creed, class, age, gender, marital status, physical or mental ability, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to journey together toward the promised realm of God.” – (from the Open and Affirming statement of Old South Church, United Church of Christ, Boston, MA)

What I invite you to do is to look around for Christians in your life (or be the Christian in someone else’s life), who lift up voices of faithful affirmation of our LGBT sisters and brothers. Let US ALL be the hands and feet of Christ in a world weary under the weight of fear and loathing. Let US be the people’s microphone and magnify the Love of God that might not sell advertising, but just might save a life.

I also want to share a treasure trove of Christian resources that fully affirm, and work for the full inclusion of, LGBT people. Everyone is welcome to share your own LGBT affirming faith resources in the comments below.

Here are a few resources to get us started. Everyone is welcome to share your own LGBT affirming faith resources in the comments below.

 

Wijdekerk.nl “Wijdekerk Foundation is an initiative of a group of Christians, themselves LGBT + people (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) or closely involved with LGBT + people. We believe that everyone should be able to be themselves in his or her church. We have combined our experiences and strengths and share them on this site.
We want to do this from the love of Jesus Christ. Together are Wijdekerk.”

Association of Welcoming and Affirming BaptistsMembers of the Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists (AWAB) are churches, organizations, and individuals who are willing to go on record as welcoming and affirming all persons without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity, and who have joined together to advocate for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons within Baptist communities of faith.”

Believe Out Loud –  is about helping churches live out this Christian principle by becoming fully inclusive of all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Brethren/Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests– The mission of BMC is to cultivate an inclusive church and society and to care for the Mennonite and Brethren lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and allied community.

Catholic – DignityUSA works for respect and justice for all gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons in the Catholic Church and the world through education, advocacy and support.

Disciples of Christ – The Gay, Lesbian and Affirming Disciples Alliance is a presence working for the full dignity and integrity of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and affirming people within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Episcopalian – Integrity USA “Since 1974, Integrity has been a faithful witness of God’s inclusive love to the Episcopal Church and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. We are working for the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments.”

Lutherans Concerned/North Americaworks for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Lutherans in all aspects of the life of their Church and congregations. They provide a place of comfort and safety. They reach out and teach that Christ’s message, the Gospel, is for everyone equally. They call for the blessing of committed and covenanted same-gender relationships, and for the ordination of those called to minister.”

PC(USA) More Light Presbyterians – is a network of people seeking the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of faith in the life, ministry and witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA)

United Church of Christ  Open & Affirming (ONA) Program – ONA is “shorthand” for Open and Affirming, the designation for congregations, campus ministries, and other bodies in the United Church of Christ which make public statements of welcome into their full life and ministry to persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

United Methodist Reconciling Ministries Network mobilizes United Methodists of all sexual orientations and gender identities to transform our Church and world into the full expression of Christ’s inclusive love.

That All May Freely Serve advocates  for an inclusive church for all who are disenfranchised: A church that honors diversity and welcomes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons as full members. Full membership includes eligibility for ordination to the offices of elder, deacon, and Minister of Word and Sacrament.

The Institute for Welcoming Resources at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is a networking hub for movement leaders and a source of downloadable toolkits and curriculum for your church.

 

 

 

[featured image by ActiveSteve – Creative Commons license. Use does not indicate artist endorsement]

Nashville Comes to The Netherlands

Nashville Comes to The Netherlands

My mama, who could fry some of the best damn chicken you ever put in your mouth, never taught me to cook. She taught me a lot of things, but she just couldn’t tolerate a constantly questioning kiddo scrambling around her kitchen as she tended to her cast iron skillets and perfectly sweetened pitchers of iced tea.

She did teach me how to assemble pretty outfits, carefully mixing and matching shirts and skirts so that no one would know I was wearing the same things over and over again. She taught me how to apply makeup, with lashes long and dark so that my eyes didn’t look naked and my lips were lined and colored beyond their nearly invisible pink. She taught me how to curl my hair, choosing just the right strands to pull straight away and then slowly wind the curling iron as close to my scalp as I could stand. She tried her best to teach me “the right way” to be a girl, a woman. When I went to University she wanted me to only study secretarial work. When I chose world religions as my academic path, she said college ruined me. And later, way later, when I came out as a lesbian, all of her own self-rejection and fear based faith attempted to persuade me that I was unworthy of God’s love – an abomination better dead that gay.

This morning, standing in my Dutch bathroom, my eyes brimmed as I watched my hands carefully choose just the right strands of hair and gently line my lips with the perfect blend of rose, the old wounds and longing for my mother in ways that she would never love me, came flooding back.

As a queer Christian who happily left the U.S. with her wife for reasons such as the politically motivated anti-LGBT religious landscape (among other reasons), it is with a wounded but encouraged heart that I am watching as a handful of Dutch protestant clergy regurgitate the toxic language of the Nashville Statement here in Holland.

In a nutshell, the Statement, both here and in the States is a theologically negligent and dangerous statement ushered by a handful of religious leaders. The statement makes erroneous claims that reject the sacred worth and civil rights of LGBT children of God. I honestly, in my honeymoon phase with Holland, had thought we’d left behind this ignorance and hatefulness for good.

This flare up of homophobia masquerading as Christianity in this largely secular nation has been deeply disappointing. But the good news is how much more encouraging it is to see municipalities across the country, businesses in every town and individuals near and far call out the statement for what it is – backwards bigotry plain and simple. I am particularly and deeply grateful for language such as “radicalized” being applied to “Christian” groups. It is rarely if ever applied to Christianity in the States and is typically reserved for fear mongering against our Muslim brothers and sisters.

I love my life in Leiden and since moving here have felt more at home than I ever did in my nearly 50 years in America. Here I have felt consistently happier, safer and more secure than the false promises of the American Dream. So too have my wife and I been radically freer to be fully and openly ourselves, without fear or apology. We have made a true and lasting home here.

As it turns out, I have the honor of pastoring a small, English-speaking congregation that is diverse and beautiful and growing in our understanding of who we are as a community. Sojourners’ Fellowship is a small community of people from many spiritual paths who come together to pause and explore life’s great questions through diverse contemplative practices and thoughtful dialogue.

Here is a statement of our guiding framework as inspired by the 8 Points of Progressive Christianity.

As a community we:

1. Believe in the Sacred Oneness and Unity of all life;

2. Affirm that the teachings of many religious and secular traditions, including but not limited to the teachings of Jesus, provide ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey;

3. Seek community that is inclusive of ALL people, including but not limited to:

Believers, agnostic and questioning skeptics,
Those of all sexual orientations and gender identities,
Those of all races, nationalities and religious backgrounds,
Those of all classes and abilities;

4. Know that the way we behave towards one another is the fullest expression of what we believe;

5. Find grace in the search for understanding and believe there is more value in questioning than in absolutes;

6. Hope for peace and justice among all people;

7. Hope to protect and restore the integrity of our Earth;

8. Commit to a path of life-long learning, compassion, and selfless love.

ALL who come in peace are welcome, including but not limited to: believers, agnostics and questioning skeptics; those of all sexual orientations and gender identities; those of all races, nationalities, classes and abilities.

 

In this light, and inspired by the Denver Statement by Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, I’ve crafted my own article-by-article response to the Nashville Statement to share with my Dutch neighbors. If you have the time and inclination, read on and please, please, please share your thoughts in the comments below after you’ve had time to ruminate a bit.

It’s not a short read, so maybe go make yourself a glass of sweet tea, grab a buttery biscuit and settling in for the long haul.

 

A Sojourners’ Statement

Preface

Jesus-loving people, Christians and people from many of the worlds traditions who are inspired by the words and actions of Jesus of Nazareth, understand that we live in a beautiful, challenging, paradigm-shifting era. Humanity is in the midst of an arduous and exciting journey to more fully understand what it means to be human. People around the world are doing the hard and faithful work of shedding misconceptions and limitations imposed by religiosity that is meant to control rather than love. More and more people, regardless of tradition, find delight in the wild diversity of God’s good creation.

Unfortunately, there are still many people who deny the divine spark in every corner of creation and use their religion to draw lines of demarcation around race, nationality, ability, gender identity or sexuality. It is now commonplace among theologically uninformed Christians to use the Bible as a weapon, especially when it comes to their unfortunate idolatry of one collection of texts written by humans thousands of yeas ago. In their limited understanding, they are wronging convinced that they alone, clearly and for all time, hold the single truth of God’s design and desire.

This spirit of misinterpreting and enforcing scripture has always brought with it great challenges for Christians. From historical sanctions of slavery, subjugation of women, segregation, nationalism and xenophobia, the church has frequently lost site of the radical message of love and grace made known in the Incarnation of Christ who was eventually executed by the state at the urgings of the religious elite.

If the church is to genuinely live into the message and example of Jesus’ life, it must make a bold and prophetic proclamation of the love of God from which nothing, nothing, nothing on earth can separate humans.

Article 1

We affirm that humanity is created out of and for the purpose of love.
We deny that the gift of love and marriage is limited only to people who identify as heterosexual, cis-gendered, and seeking to conceive.

Article 2

We affirm that humans are created as sexual beings in kaleidoscope variety.
We deny that the only sexual expression that is sacred is between legally, church-married, cis-gendered, heterosexual couples.

Article 3

We affirm that all humans are created Imago Dei – in the image of God – and that God is all genders and no gender.
We deny that human bodies, hearts and minds are limited by any one religion’s faltering attempt to understand the holy mystery of the Divine.

Article 4

We affirm the diversity of gender and sexual expression is a reflection of the divinely creative diversity of all of creation.
We deny that such diversity is in any way a result of one religion’s interpretation of a falling away from God.

Article 5

We affirm that humans continuing to evolve in their understanding of what it means to be embodied is good and holy.
We deny that gender is unalterably linked with biology.

Article 6

We affirm that all humans, regardless of their biological birth and development are image-bearers of the divine.
We deny that variations of embodiment limits anyone from thriving in faith, love and society.

Article 7

We affirm that compassion, love and liberation are at the heart of God’s holy purposes in creation as revealed in Christian scripture AND the shared texts of the world’s religious traditions.
We deny that any one tradition has figured out once and for all what it means for humans to live into loving relationships.

Article 8

We affirm that people who experience same-sex attraction may live an abundant life that honors God and is evidence of faith in Jesus.
We deny that same-sex attraction in any way alienates a person from the love of God or the hope of the Gospel.

Article 9

We affirm that sin is a trifold separation from self, others and God that distorts the beauty of creation.
We deny that sin is avoided by adhering to any specific doctrine or litany of purity laws.

Article 10

We affirm that the church lives in sin when LGBT people are told to deny how God created them, are cast out of families, excommunicated by congregations and denied basic civil and human rights.
We deny that it is sinful to be loving allies to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender children of God.

Article 11

We affirm that it is our human duty to stand on the side of justice in the name of love in all times and for all people.
We deny the false dichotomy of being either gay or Christian.

Article 12

We affirm that the unconditional love of the Divine has the power to transform self-loathing (as taught by many in the church and society) into true and lasting self-acceptance and wholeness.
We deny that same-sex attraction is a sin or illness for which to be forgiven or healed.

Article 13

We affirm that Grace invites uninformed, prejudiced or bigoted people to evolve and recognize that human understanding as limited and we will only ever see through the glass darkly.
We deny assertions of any one person, church, denomination or religion that they hold pure and absolute knowledge of the Divine.

Article 14

We affirm that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice and that we are called to partner with the Divine in that bending.
We deny any anthropomorphization of God.

 

If you would like to add your name to this statement, please indicate so and enter your information in the comments below.  And if you are in the neighborhood and so inclined, please join us next Thursday, January 17th at Galerie Café Leidse Lente in Leiden from 5:30-7 p.m. for Pub Theology where we can talk about all these things and more.

Our wedding was not a great gay wedding…

Our wedding was not a great gay wedding…

On March 11, 2017, I married the love of my life in sight of God, family and friends, but it was not a great gay wedding.

Let me tell you what happened…

The day before the wedding, as our friends and family began arriving in sunny Florida, we headed over to a local nail salon with our brides’ maids to treat our gals to pedicures and manicures before the big day. When we arrived, we were shocked to encounter not only a sign on the door, but an environment inside that will not soon be forgotten. Apparently, knowing that two brides were on their way, someone had taped to the door a banner proudly sporting, of all things, pink hearts and our names surrounded by the flourish of a hand-drawn, hot-pink heart. As it turns out, Betsy’s sister had arrived before us to surprise us with a full take-over of the salon, complete with decorations, a sumptuous table of wine and tapas and silly party tunes. From that moment forward, our family, friends and even complete strangers were a constant source of joy!

My daughter arrived Friday morning, fresh off an early flight (after a late night doing whatever it is college kids do into the wee small hours) and she jumped into maid of honor with effusive commitment and care. She was by my side every moment leading up to the ceremony, taking good care of her mama with so much love and even a bit of much needed sternness. She encouraged me in the ways of clean eating and hydration, occasionally taking the Prosecco out of my hand and replacing it with water or fresh food. She was my roommate the night before the nuptials and early on the morning of the wedding led me in a meditation that made me weep and gentle yoga that relaxed my anxious mind and body. Applying my makeup, running interference when I was stressed and when the time came, standing by my side in the sunset on that Venice beach, my daughter was a constant vision of elegance and grace. She beamed as Betsy and I stepped into the light of our love and offered an authentic and tender toast at the reception and made sure I sat down to eat amidst the swirl of dancing and laughter into the night.

Betsy’s best man was both wise and wily, attending to his best friend by offering advice from his own married with child life AND goading Bets into doing bachelorette shots of Becherovka and Jaegermeister (shudder) in the late hours of her bachelorette evening. On the day of the wedding, he sweated his arse off assembling our chuppa-inspired wedding arch and made sure my beloved scarfed down some greasy hot dogs in the fleeting hours of her single life! And from the moment I stepped into the sand of our aisle, I saw him beaming with love and pride for his best friend’s new life. And to top it all off, he made me laugh and cry with his perfect toast as we stepped over the threshold into life as a married couple.

Betsy’s mom, well, she has been amazing for months! From the day she insisted that B propose with her great grandmother’s ring, to cooking and baking and sewing into the wee small hours before the wedding, she was the rock on which much of our wedding was built. She served our wedding party home-made meatballs and hand crafted pierogies to sustain us through our wonky little, pool-side rehearsal and celebrated every loving moment of the days before and after our wedding.

Betsy’s father held her hand, squeezing with love and excitement, as they walked down the aisle, sandals filling with warm sand, and left his daughter at the altar after a fatherly kiss, eyes brimming with pride and love.

My cousin, standing in for my departed father, and well, pretty much my whole family, drove 10 hours from Raleigh, NC (making the return trip the next morning) so he could escort me to the spot where I would take my beloved’s hand. My gratefulness for his presence, full of love and faithfulness, is beyond my capacity to express in mere words.

My pastor Susannah, coming in from Atlanta after barely settling in from her trip to Israel, deftly wrangled our motley crew the night before and the day of our wedding. From pre-marital counseling to her scripture choice and perfectly poised homily, she was a constant source of strength, faith and hopefulness as we stepped into the sacred space of our marriage.

Betsy’s dear friend Rob, a person she reveres as a good and holy man, was perhaps the most gentle spirit holding us all in the light from the moment he arrived in Florida. Opening and closing our sacred ceremony with the sounding of the singing bowl, his words of affirmation, reminding us how to be married AND honor our individuality were gifts second only to the delicate silk Buddhist khatas he placed around our necks before we took our first walking on air steps as newlyweds.

And our family and friends! Wow Deeply meaningful readings lifted our collective consciousness while those gathered around us vowed to support us in the hard work of a lifetime of living into our vows. Children threw rose petals and crafted art in the sand celebrating our love. And strangers strolling by along the shore waved and smiled, swept away for just a moment by our celebration of love.

At the reception, catered with out-of-this-world food by Betsy’s brother, our meal was blessed by a dear old friend, a catholic priest who loves to mercilessly taunt my Bets during football season. Then we ate, drank, danced until we were dizzy and hugged what felt like a hundred happy necks.

And as the sunset turned into twinkling stars on that breezy beach, and as the dining and dancing rushed by, and in the days following the celebration, not once have we heard, “what a great gay wedding that was!”

Instead, what we HAVE heard over and over again is…

“What a great wedding!”
“The readings and vows were so beautiful!”
“I cried nearly the whole time!”
“The sermon was just perfect.”
“You have such wonderful family and friends!”
“Holy cow, that food was amazing!”

and…even from a handful of our otherwise conservative family and friends…”that was quite possibly the best wedding I have ever been to!”

So you see, it was not a great gay wedding. It was an amazing wedding joining two people who have chosen to live as one in this life, ’til death do us part. It was a shining moment in time where Betsy and Kimberly came together to pledge love and commitment to one another asking only from our friends and family that they hold on tight and remind us of our love, vows and spirit of hopefulness they helped co-create on that day.

Love wins, y’all. Love wins.

A lesbian walks into a garage, oil and minds are changed

A lesbian walks into a garage, oil and minds are changed

Friends, I would like to introduce you to my partner Betsy. She has a great story to share with us today and I am immensely grateful that she agreed to be a guest blogger on my crazy little blog.


 

On my way home from school this afternoon I stopped to collect the tic-tac, our nickname for Kim’s little, white car. The secretary, a soft, smiling woman I see every 3,000 miles but whose name I’ve yet to learn, handed me the bill. “Your car’s ready.” I smile, “thanks, it’s actually my…”

hesitating seeing the “Make America Great Again” sticker on the wall behind her…it was the type of pause, a movie pause where everything slows down “make America HATE again” is the joke in our home…

“partner’s, my fiancé’s car,” finishing the statement.

Done. Smile.

She asked if I’d sold our other car. “No” I said, “the VW almost sold, but it fell through.”She looked confused, then asked if my partner was a flight attendant. “Nope, she works in Sarasota.” Now I looked confused.

“You look familiar” she said. She explained, there was another customer whose partner is a flight attendant. I joked “lesbians – we all look alike.”

She smiled.

It turned out that I looked familiar, not from the dozens of oil changes, but rather her daughter was in my photography class a few years back. She remembered me from parents’ evening.

“I pulled her out of school” she explained, “she fell in with the wrong crowd; she fell in with the rednecks.”

A second slow motion moment…a Trump gal critical of rednecks? I stand corrected. Before she could continue, I offered “Bo Potter? Henry Black?”

Her smile broadened; I teach at a very small collegiate high school where rednecks are a rarity.

I explained, these guys were harmless. They just smoked too much dope.She told me they used to “go mudding’, shoot rabbits and eat ‘em!”

“Yeah” I replied, “harmless. Henry used his wild rabbit reciepe for a photo project. His classmates loved it!”
It was time to get home and with my hand on the door handle, she asked me when I was getting married.

My hand slipped from the handle.

“In March, in Venice,” I said.

“Florida?” she asked. “You can get married down here?”

I explained that gay marriage was made legal nationwide over a year ago.

“Oh,” she smiled.

“Welp, I gotta go,” hand back on handle. Smile…

Then, the all too familiar – “How did you know… you were gay? I’m sorry, is that okay to ask?”

Hand OFF handle. Thinking at this point we’ve covered rednecks, gay flight attendants and basic car maintenance – sure it’s okay. I explained that I didn’t come out until I was 30. I explained that I dated guys, really nice guys, funny, talented, kind men. And we had fun. We played pool, drank beer, cooked dinners, watched movies, and it was really…nice.

They were all very nice.

My friends would talk about their boyfriends with voices spilling over with longing and love and I’d think, they must have nice boyfriends too. I told her that it wasn’t until I was a million miles away teaching in Asia, away from the familiar, the family and the faith, that I fell in love, unexpectedly, with a woman. And just like that, I knew what was missing from all those nice guys…love. I knew in an instant and my whole life sharpened.

My individual universe made sense to me. Life’s curtain was lifted.

Duh. Honestly, duh. How had I not noticed before.

I explained to her, all I had seen were models of straight love on TV, in life, at school and at church; I had no words or images to understand who or what I might be when I was growing up.

She was fascinated.

Me, standing in a car garage office, FOX news muted on the wall. She, sitting behind a grimy desk, Trump sticker peeking over her shoulder, and she still had questions. “Why did your partner move down here, why didn’t you move?”

“Well” I explained, “ couldn’t sell my house in time, and my folks live in Venice.” I explained that Kim’s parents had both passed. She looked sad. I shared that when Kim came out to them, they rejected her. She looked even sadder. I explained the best I could; she wanted to know more.

She began to share “my aunt is gay; she was married for 20 years, two kids, and then she just left him…for a woman.”

I wondered if her pause was longer to her than it was to me. She wanted to understand and was asking questions OF me but FOR herself. And for that moment, we were simply two people trying to understand.

As teachers, we are trained to recognize “teachable moments,” so I will resist turning this into the cliche that “we both left that day with a little more faith in humanity…”

But, it was a moment where the politics and politeness and appointments fell aside for a few moments to let two curious strangers, who have known each other for years, trust one another a little more.

The next oil change, I’ll be sure to get her name.

 


 

Betsy has been teaching English and photography for 23 years in the States and abroad. In her “spare time”, she rescues beer and liquor bottles, giving them a second chance at life so people can adopt them at local farmer’s markets. She’s comfortable changing her mind as often as her oil.

Gay Christians, You Have WAY Better Options: A Review of “Us vs. Us” by Andrew Marin

Gay Christians, You Have WAY Better Options: A Review of “Us vs. Us” by Andrew Marin

Deborah Arca, my friend and Patheos editor, invited me to the Andrew Marin book club this month to review his new book, Us vs. Us. Rumor has it, I was one of the Patheos bloggers selected by Marin himself, or at least one of his people to take up this task.

Now, I’m not trained in the delicate art of book reviews, so the best I can hope to do here today, is share with you my experience of reading this piece of work. (see what I did there?)

Here’s the high level of how it went.

Um, how many times can one fellah make an “I” statement in an introduction? (I counted no less than 125 instances.)

Dude, like who is your audience and what is your motive?

Hellloooo, like where are all the progressive Christians?

Interestingly enough, when Deborah asked me to chime in, I really had no idea who Andrew is or what he does. As a queer Christian (supposedly someone about who the book is written), maybe that is significant. Maybe not. I committed to starting the book before doing the Google boogaloo, but about half-way through the intro I did indeed feel called to consult the oracle. We can talk about what I found out later, but for now suffice it to say, my reading would confirm my snooping.

How the book describes itself: “Drawing on the findings of the largest-ever scientific survey of LGBT religious backgrounds, beliefs and practices, Andrew Marin offers clear direction for both sides of a long cultural battle, sacrificing neither conviction nor integrity, and helping us find common ground and hope rooted in Christ alone.”

A few notes about the Marin Foundation’s scientific survey: From the 1,712 usable LGBT participant surveys,  60% were gay males and 77% were white. Catholics and “non-denominational evangelicals” make up 43.3%. The UCC is only represented by 1.4% of respondents and there are no reported responses from LGBT Christians belonging the the MCC.  There is no information in the book describing geographical or socio-economic diversity of respondents.  Few if any quotes are cited (well, anonymity of course).  The one Jewish story shared in the book is from “Aaron”, a gentleman who  “felt he need to leave his synagogue to explore Jesus.” I’ll just leave all that right here…

So, what was my take-away? Well, lots and lots of notes in the margins. A conviction that his audience is conservative church-goers, a creeped out feeling about his motive and a rising fury at the blatant exclusion of progressive church as an option for LGBT people.

IMG_7484About audience:

From the first chapter, entitled “There is No They”, it is clear to this reader that Marin is primarily addressing conservative church folks. Why? Well, that chapter is solely focused on his survey’s finding that 86% of LGBT people were raised in a faith community. Here he is convincing his reader that queer folks have been people of faith. Other chapters go on to explain LGBT exodus from church (from the perspective of a straight, white male) and how we are the new prodigals. I think it is more than significant that he names us as prodigals because in a word, that describes the queer lived reality as greedy and sinful (check out Luke 15:11-16) who when they come to their senses (um) return home to beg forgiveness.

He has the audacity to equate the discomfort of having conservative ideas challenged with the trauma of having one’s selfhood damned.

Page 57 – “…trauma has touched both sides of the culture war. Church members who feel marginalized by their community for their conviction [that word matters here] and LGBT persons who have left their faith community [oh no, not kicked out] with hurt feelings…”

For me this smacks of privileged delusion. The conservative is traumatized and the queer Christian left with hurt feelings? Really? I tell you that your thinking maybe be a little off, you tell me that my humanity is off. Yeah, no.

So the straight, white Christian homophobe has their homophobia called out and challenged and they are traumatized, but I am called an abomination, cut off from my mother and religion and threatened by “Christians” regularly and I just have hurt feelings. Sorry I hurt your foot while you were kicking in my teeth.

About motive:

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Andrew Marin, to my knowledge, has never verbalized an affirmation of homosexuality, same-same sex marriage or LGBT ordination in the church. So it is understandable to have a healthy sense of skepticism as I read this book. The more I read, the more convinced I became that his motive is far from neutral (though that is not better since neutrality in the case of oppression simply supports the status quo). No, the more I read, the darker his motive feels.

Marin’s book seems to advocate for a reconciliation between LGBT people of faith and church-going Christians. Whether he realizes it or not (I think he does), this still perpetuates a false dichotomy of gay vs Christian.

So my main question for Marin is a two-fold why.

Why should a queer person of faith seek reconciliation with people who do not and will not affirm their sacred worth?

Why should conservative Christians who will not affirm the sacred worth of queer people seek to include them in their community?

This is not about agreeing to disagree about a set of ideas. This ain’t about theological quibbling over what happens in the breaking of bread or taking of wine. Nor is it sprinklers and dunkers agreeing to disagree about the timing and quantity of water at baptism.

This is about one side of the equation agreeing to be in relationship with people who see lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as sick or broken, in need of being fixed before they damn themselves to eternal suffering in hell’s fire.

“Our greatest challenge hindering a new reality [to learn from and understand our other] is the pointless cycle of trying to convince our other to believe the same as we do.” (p.152)

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NO – I don’t need you to believe that I am gay. I just am gay. Nor am I willing to be in relationship with someone who is operating under the theological imperative to save me from being gay. That is not convincing me to believe something I don’t, that is trying to conceive me to be something that I am not.

Marin himself confirms my suspicion when a paragraph later he talks about Jesus’ radical openness to the unclean. Hmmmm, who exactly is the unclean in this scenario and who is Jesus? How very magnanimous it is of the conservative Christian to be open to the unclean homosexual.

Then on page 153, my pray the gay away meter went berserk! “If a theologically conservative person has thoughts of reaching out to someone in the LGBT community, the initial thought is not possibility but anxiety; This is probably going to be very intense. Or awkward. It’s not going to work anyway, so I don’t; think it’s worth it…

It is probably going to be intense? As intense as being told you are going to burn in hell or as awkward as being told “get the hell out of my house, pervert!” Or as intense as hating yourself and living a lie, rejecting God in the process because you reject the way you are created?  And what exactly is not going to work? What do you imagine is the goal of this conservative person hoping to reach out to a gay Christian? From my vantage point, this just oozes of conversations that subtly turn from, let’s get to know one another to, you need to repent of your sins and leave your partner to only have sex with a man, who you will have to marry to prove you have been cured. Or, as we’ve often been told, you can still be gay and go to heaven, you just have to be celibate.

One concept that seems to utterly escape Marin is the distinction between challenging ideas and challenging being. So either Andrew is a dull boy, or Andrew has a couple of nefarious cards up his sleeve. I think it’s the latter.

About church:

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Straight Christians have the privilege of considering what they think and how they feel about homosexuality. I on the other hand, just am homosexual. It is not an idea or even a theological proposition for me. It is an integral part of my humanity.

“Loving in difference is possible” (p.56) – yep, and relocating in love is also possible.

A Christ-centered life can and does include fully embodied and lived LGBT lives, including sex. And guess what, y’all? Marin wholesale ignores the fact that there are over 1,300 open and affirming churches in the United Church of Christ, a whole denomination founded by queer Christians called the MCC and wholly affirming congregations in the UMC, the PC(USA) and the Episcopal church – check out this handy, dandy map compiled by Believe Out Loud.

We come in all shapes and sizes – individuals, prayer partners, Sunday School classes, campus ministries, congregations and whole denominations that affirm that each individual is a child of God, recognizes “that we are called to be like one body with many members, seeking with others of every race, ethnicity, creed, class, age, gender, marital status, physical or mental ability, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to journey together toward the promised realm of God.” – (from the Open and Affirming statement of Old South Church, United Church of Christ, Boston, MA)

We come from neighborhoods, towns, cities and states all over the country – yes, even Georgia.

And there are Christians who are leaning into this new day with grace and compassion even if they are uncomfortable yet faithfully open to discerning how the Spirit is moving us all closer to the beloved community.

What I invite you to do is to look around for the Christians in your life, in your news feed and in the media, who are a lifting up voices of faithful affirmation of their LGBT siblings. Then I hope you will share that in what ever way you feel called. If people don’t know we exist, then that is our fault too. Let US be the voice of the people that the media willfully ignores.  Let US be the people’s microphone and magnify Love that does not ask LGBT people to live a lie.

And I ardently implore the authors, bloggers and everyone in the media to work a little harder to fairly represent the full spectrum Christian voices in this ever-evolving conversation.

Here are a few resources to get us started…

Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists Members of the Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists (AWAB) are churches, organizations, and individuals who are willing to go on record as welcoming and affirming all persons without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity, and who have joined together to advocate for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons within Baptist communities of faith.

Believe Out Loud –  is about helping churches live out this Christian principle by becoming fully inclusive of all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Brethren/Mennonite Councit for LGBT Interests– The mission of BMC is to cultivate an inclusive church and society and to care for the Mennonite and Brethren lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and allied community.

Catholic – DignityUSA works for respect and justice for all gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons in the Catholic Church and the world through education, advocacy and support.

Disciples of Christ – The Gay, Lesbian and Affirming Disciples Alliance is a presence working for the full dignity and integrity of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and affirming people within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Episcopalian – Integrity USA Since 1974, Integrity has been a faithful witness of God’s inclusive love to the Episcopal Church and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. We are working for the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments.

Lutherans Concerned/North America works for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Lutherans in all aspects of the life of their Church and congregations. They provide a place of comfort and safety. They reach out and teach that Christ’s message, the Gospel, is for everyone equally. They call for the blessing of committed and covenanted same-gender relationships, and for the ordination of those called to minister.

PC(USA) More Light Presbyterians – a network of people seeking the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of faith in the life, ministry and witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA)

United Church of Christ  Open & Affirming (ONA) Program – ONA is “shorthand” for Open and Affirming, the designation for congregations, campus ministries, and other bodies in the United Church of Christ which make public statements of welcome into their full life and ministry to persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

United Methodist Reconciling Ministries Network mobilizes United Methodists of all sexual orientations and gender identities to transform our Church and world into the full expression of Christ’s inclusive love.

That All May Freely Serve advocates  for an inclusive church for all who are disenfranchised: A church that honors diversity and welcomes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons as full members. Full membership includes eligibility for ordination to the offices of elder, deacon, and Minister of Word and Sacrament.

The Gay Christian Network (GCN) is a nonprofit ministry supporting Christians worldwide who happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT).

The Institute for Welcoming Resources at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is a networking hub for movement leaders and a source of downloadable toolkits and curriculum for your church.

In the Valley of The Shadow

In the Valley of The Shadow

We buried my father one week ago today.  There’s so much I want to tell you about the death of my dad but in order to do so I need to tell you just a little about his life.

As I look back over my journey of last couple of weeks, and really my whole life with my father, one bible passage comes to mind as a particularly perfect pericope for telling our story. There’s so much more than I can possibly share in one blog post but I invite you settle in with a favorite beverage to look over these snapshots from the life and death of Mathel Grant Knight

23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

Daddy provided everything an iron worker could for his wife and two daughters – even beyond our true station in life. I grew up in a split-level house that rumbled and groaned with the constant roar of low-flying planes leaving or approaching the Atlanta airport. Dad worked his fingers to the bone as a welder of iron and throughout the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s helped build the Atlanta skyline into the thumping metropolis she has become. We had the finest in southern food surrounded by heaping helpings picked a backyard farm bursting with corn, tomatoes and beans – just enough stuff to believe we ate like royalty.

Mathel was born in 1939 to Ruby Lee Knight, a strong Christian woman who raised her nine living children without the help of the man who fathered the lot.  Mathel’s father, a cruel man, left Ruby and his children for flimsy women and strong drink. Life for Ruby and her children was one of hard labor and hard living but thoroughly undergirded by an amazing love that kept the family thriving amidst the bleakest of conditions. While her children may have wanted for the finer things in life there was never a lack of fierce love of family and God.

 

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

Grant Knight met Beverly Raptis purely by accident. No really, his brother David had a little fender bender (rumor has it that the bump was not all together accidental) with my mom and one of her best friends, Donna. Uncle David called dad, who was working in another state at the time, and told him to get back down to Georgia, he had someone he wanted him to meet. Uncle David married Donna and Grant married Beverly.

I was born a couple of years later in 1969. My sister Jessica was born almost seven years later.

As the years flew by and I because a teenager searching for meaning in Conley, Georgia (barely aware of who I was and who I was to become) I was drawn to what my mom and dad called “the wrong crowd.”  As my love for books turned to a distorted search for belonging, mom and dad moved us away from the darker influences and to what they believed would be a better life. Indeed, moving a little further south to the rolling green pastures of Tyrone proved to be the adjustment that would provide a far better education and social circumstances than if we had lingered in the slowly dilapidating neighborhood of Conley. Mathel would move heaven and earth, and bear deep wounds, so we might have a better life than he had lived and he feared we might.

 

 

 

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

One evening, infused with the hubris of higher education, I sat on the back porch with dad as the comforting smell of freshly laundered clothes wafted down from the laundry room, and dad kicked off his steel-toe work boots. We chatted about my first year at UGA and the family’s life back in Tyrone. While we sipped the last of the evening’s sweet tea (we never kept a pitcher of tea over night, it was either consumed or poured out) I was feeling particularly puffed up and began what I thought was a magnanimous speech of gratefulness.

I thanked dad for all the sacrifices he made to give us, give me, a life far better than he’d known himself. I expressed (what now I know was condescending) thanks for providing for me an education far better than he had enjoyed. I spoke of being humbled by all he had given up to give us everything he never had.

He listened patiently and then when my self-congratulatory balloon settled back on the patio chair he educated me for real with very few words.

“Kim, I didn’t sacrifice anything. I have lived exactly the life I’ve chosen and loved the work I’ve done. I love your mom and you girls and would not trade my life with anyone.”

 

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

My mother and father understood their marriage as complementarian, but would have never used that word. They talked about my father being in charge, the only leader in the family. While our lives may have appeared to conform to what we now label as “traditional family values” they truly moved through their marriage as full partners. Through the years, they took turns leading our family, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, as best as they could and trusting the other to lead when it was their turn.

And when the time came for my mother to be cared for in her dying years my father was her everything – nurse, cook, advocate and ally. Regardless of they many hapless wounds they inflicted on their children, they are for me a fine example of Christians living as truly complementary partners. And by the grace of God I am learning daily to live that out with my own partner who in the end, my mother and father both blessed.

Mom died nearly three years ago and the man that I grew up with evaporated into a ravaging grief that turned him into a caged tiger.  He said every day that the only place he really wanted to be was with mom.  Though he continued to work in his garden and bake cakes enjoyed by nearly everyone in Tyrone, he was a lost man without my mother. When his diagnosis came he said he was ready.  None of us knew exactly how ready he was.

As a child, my dad picked strawberries in pesticide soaked fields that would send fruit to the grocery stores of the south. Daddy smoked from a very young age  – an iron worker – who for as long as I knew him, was exposed to the worst of conditions to build this country we take for granted, gave me everything such a man could give his daughters. Iron and steel slivers in his fingers and eyes, asbestos filled his lungs and nicotine-laced tar clogged every organ it could reach.

One week after the diagnosis, his lungs erupted in a bloody coughing fit that would land him in the ICU of his local hospital. My younger sister Jessica was by his side for the entire journey.

For the next week we would stand in the valley of the shadow of death, a dark and dreary valley indeed, as we watched our father go on ahead of us.

Images that will haunt me or bless me the rest of my days:

    • The sheer terror in his erstwhile strong and laughing eyes as he struggled against the restraints of his ER bed and the tube down his throat.
    • The love and pain on my sister’s face as we witnessed his rapid descent toward no turning back.
    • The devoted presence of my mother’s sister Nancy as she sat in rooms, whispered sweet words of hope and cried tears of deep loss.
    • The look of regret as the team of doctors and nurses met with us to tell us the truth.
    • The kind eyes and gentle hands of the nurses in the 5th floor hospice unit at Emory University Hospital.
    • The sideways glances of his family who stiffly greeted me as they arrived from Florida.
    • The feeling that my soul was dilating to birth a pain like no other.
    • A father’s brow furrowed in pain.
    • The sounds of the morphine pump seeping his relief.
    • The lonely people in other rooms with no one pacing, praying or weeping over their fading light.
    • A closed-off 15 year-old who was witnessing, for the second time in less than three years, the death of a beloved grandparent.
    • Her tears when she confessed the loneliness of her disbelief.
    • The tears soaking his hand as his pastor prayed.
    • The feeling of his life ebbing away in flutters beneath my palm.  Flutters that echoed the first stirrings of life as my daughter became known to me in my womb.
    • The moment of all emotions and none, of all words and none, when he was pronounced dead at 1 p.m. Oct. 17, 2013

 

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

And if the crushing grief was not enough, layers upon layers of inexcusable pain were heaped upon my head by those who should have been my greatest comfort – family.

I walked the halls of the hospital and the corridors of the funeral home without the presence of a partner for even the faintest hint of comfort. Why?  Because to do so would have whipped up unnecessary drama and pain for dad’s family as well as my partner.

On top of the soul-wrenching grief, I was shuffling through feelings of shock at family members who would neither look at or speak to me as we gathered around his open casket – all because of their silly notions about my “lifestyle.”

Also was the staggering disappointment in most of my mother’s family (except Nancy, Candace, Nathan and Paw Paw.) who were nearly as cold and distant.

At funeral I had to withstand the cold waves of anger and disapproval as sat weeping in the front row of the chapel.

What else did I experience in the presence of mine enemies?

Revulsion at a mother who would not speak to or acknowledge her own son because he drove hours to support me and serve as a pall bearer for his beloved uncle.

Disbelief that a family so proud of their family bond had no idea how much their brother loved and accepted  his daughter.

Utter astonishment that dad’s siblings refused to help their brother’s daughters pay for the Christian funeral he wanted.

Sadness as I watched his family dishonor their mother’s compassion and grace while they stood firm on some bastardized, self-righteous religiosity laced with a deadly blend of ignorance and arrogance.

Pity for a people who are so self absorbed, so limited in reason that the death of their brother seemed a fitting place to stand on a false gospel of prejudice and exclusion, disgracing the name of Christ as they seethed about the presence of their brother’s gay daughter.

Bitter awareness as I looked hypocrisy in the face as she wept for the man we all claimed beloved.

Boiling anger as “family” hurt my sister through juvenile behavior on social media all because she loves me unconditionally. (As my father, their brother, said of them numerous times “If they delete you, they delete me”).

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Through it all I have such goodness and mercy for which to be thankful.

Foremost on my gratitude list is a spring peace that bubbled under the slippery moss of grief, a peace that assures me that my dad’s suffering is done.  I can only move forward with the blessed assurance that his tortured mind and disease ridden body is at rest exactly here he said he wants to be.

Second on my list is an appreciation for a sister who has a strength so different than mine.  She was his constant companion, room-mate, caregiver for the last couple of years and she was by his side, broken and beautiful, to the very end. I trusted her every step of the way and there are not enough days left on the planet for me to tell her enough how much I love her.

Thank you, cousin Michael, for driving hours upon hours all to Georgia and for carrying dad to his resting place. Thank you so much for your incredible love and support. I am grateful for your kindness that surpasses my comprehension. You are the finest example of what it means to be family and a thoughtful, compassionate and wise Christian man in this world. I am sorry for the residual pain this is causing you. Grace and peace cousin, grace and peace.

Nancy and Trey and the Masonic Benevolent Fund – thank you for stepping up in ways that no one else in our family was willing.

I am humbled and honored by the brief respite just hours after dad’s death as colleagues of an amazing caliber and dear friends such as Susannah joined me for an impromptu wake at McGowan’s Pub in Oakhurst. Thank you for the fellowship and for raising a glass or two for the old man. I cannot competently express my gratitude for your friendship. Thank you too for the radical hospitality of the staff at McGowan’s – y’all treated me like I was one of your own.

I have so many people to thank and so few words to do so adequately. Some of you have been constant companions out here on the interwebs, praying and thinking and keeping watch with us. Some of you have shown up for toasts at a pub and gracefully fielded late-night, tearful phone calls and text messages. Some of you have driven hours and hours to be present all the way down in Tyrone and all the way up in Kennesaw. Some of you have brought us piles of food and some have dropped off sweet cards of tender condolences.My heart, soul and belly were filled with unmerited kindness in the form of comforting casseroles, cakes and crocks.  Thank you for every morsel. Some of you put up with misdirected grief that came out as all sorts of shenanigans and some have known when to tell me to put on my big girl panties. I want to name you all but I would be up all night long typing names and still miss a few so just know how much I love you, how much I appreciate you and how healing your every effort has been to me. You are light. You are love. I am humbled by your friendship.

I want you to know, those of you who take even a moment to like my post about my dad, I know there is a little prayer, a tiny candle, a tender heart sharing warm light behind the click that says what you’ve no words to express. Thank you too.

So too I am thankful for presence of my father’s pastor, Danny of First Baptist Church, Tyrone. Danny offered a gifted pastoral presence that held any differences of theology or sociology in their proper, silent place as he cared for a family in despair. His presence was a balm and his message at dad’s funeral was real, gentle and healing.

Susannah – thank you for offering such a lovely prayer that held us all close and lifted our pain into God’s tender care.

We were all blessed by the tender words of love and respect spoken by my 89 year-old maternal grandfather, paw-paw we called him, as he stood and spoke at dad’s funeral.

I flush with embarrassed gratitude for friends and colleagues who drove their asses all the way to Kennesaw (I’m sure they packed their passports) to support me and pay respects to the man I love.

I felt the whispering of pride and joy seeing members of dad’s Masonic lodge take time to lead the grave-side service with all the tradition and flourish due a Mason.

I also felt a tiny twinge of glee knowing their odd ceremony caused the willfully ignorant a little discomfort and confusion.

And finally, I lift my adoring eyes to our eternal God who weeps with us and walks in that valley as a constant companion.  Even as a feminist, even as one who eschews anthropomorphizing our Creator, I have always been comfortable calling you Father because of the earthly father I was blessed to know.  Thank you God for the life I’ve been given – may I live it as honorably and passionately, come what may, as Mathel Grant Knight.