Several weeks ago, a good friend messaged me.
“Your writing puzzles me,” she said. “Because Stephen the Writer seems to feel far more secure and certain of God’s love than Stephen the friend. Stephen the friend struggles daily with knowing that Jesus loves him. Stephen the Writer speaks confidently about the security of God’s love. I know it is terrifying to be more honest, but I think you should be.”
She’s right, of course. I told her that when I talk about God’s eternal, unchanging, unconditional love, I am preaching to myself as much as to others. I want to believe that God loves me no matter what and, sometimes, I do believe it. But it’s much harder to be honest about the reality than it is to talk about the ideal. It’s much harder to speak about me, in the middle of the journey, than it is to speak about where I am going.
When I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that there is no greater struggle in my life than accepting God’s grace for me. More than any addiction or despair, I have struggled with knowing that Jesus loves me with an impossible love, right now, right here, no caveats, no exceptions.
I have patterns engraved in my psyche – patterns so deep that they have carved me out like the Grand Canyon. They are the patterns of shame, hiding, and fear. I’m a yoga teacher, and the Sanskrit term for these patterns is samskara – scars left on the human psyche, body, and spirit through years of repitition. A samskara can be positive or negative, but above all it is formed by habit. A drug addiction is a samskara. Practicing piano every day creates samskara. Keeping secrets from those you love most creates samskara. Samskara takes practice to form, and I practiced my self-loathing, my shame, and my hiding for years. From a very young age I loathed and feared myself for my same sex attractions, but the more I hid and the more I ran the more deeply I hated myself; the more I feared that I was absolutely unacceptable to God. I recently read through some old writing of mine and stumbled across a phrase that vividly describes how I felt for years through much of highschool and college: “I feel like a survived abortion.”
Now that I am out of the closet and trying to live my life with honesty and integrity, I feel like I am in physical therapy for my psyche. Every day, I take on the monumental task of choosing to believe that God loves me. Some days I believe more fully than others. Sometimes I crash, and I’m convinced that he can’t, he won’t. Sometimes I even still lie in bed and wonder if I am going to hell because I have walked away from the traditional ethic, because I self-identify as gay, because I have momentary slipups as I am trying to learn what it means to be a healthy sexual being for the first time at the age of 25.
I recently finished watching the show American Horror Story: Coven with my friend Nathan. There was one scene in the show that got to me: one of the most redemptive, lovely characters gets trapped in hell and caught in an infinite loop of her most nightmarish experience. That scene haunted me, and I would lie in bed as it played over and over in my head. It was nothing more than a cinematic display of the samskara I had created for years: the fear of God rejecting me, the fear that, despite my best efforts, I was still going to hell because of my sexuality.
It’s difficult. It hurts. Sometimes I call up my friends, desperate for some kind of affirmation. Sometimes I am able to believe, sometimes not. But I have chosen always to walk towards the cross. I have decided, with gritted teeth and cold determination, to believe that when Christ died on the cross, he died for me, too.
I don’t just struggle with God’s love in the context of a lifetime of learned patterns. I also struggle with his love in the context of recent wounds, bruises, and doubts. I struggle with the shame of walking away from the traditional ethic on homosexuality, even as that choice probably saved my life. The struggle to live the traditional ethic consumed five years of my life – five years of endlessly fighting for a “life affirming sexual ethic”, five years of nurturing spiritual disciplines, five years of fighting to live in community as a celibate being. Five years is not a long time, and yet I would rather receive a lethal injection than go back. The pain was too much, despite all the things I tried to do right. And let me be clear – it wasn’t the universal call to chastity that broke me, and it wasn’t the possibility of never having sex. It was the requirement of lifelong celibacy that crushed me – the fact that, for me, monogamy, or marriage, or committed, faithful love with the person I love would only ever be sin. Friendship and spiritual disciplines were not enough to save me from being crushed. The mandate of required celibacy crushed me, even while I believed – and still believe – that the vocation of celibacy is beautiful and vital for the life of the church.
There is talk in the non-affirming gay community of all the ways to make gay celibacy sustainable, but no, I’m done. After five years of trying, and trying, and trying, I have discovered that it is too dangerous for me.
That was the truly horrid part of it all: if fulfillment could be found in the life of gay celibacy then it should be pursued, but if it could not be found then there was simply nothing to be done. If you are one of the unlucky ones for whom mandatory lifelong celibacy is a white-hot brand on your soul, you simply have to endure it, forever. It was a definite bonus if you found relief and joy, but if you didn’t, you simply had to keep walking. Pain, in those circumstances, did not matter – at least not enough to walk away and find help. That’s what “carrying your cross” means: It means pain, and it means pain that will very likely kill you. Carrying a cross isn’t about being whole or happy, it’s about suffering to the very end. Someone’s pain doesn’t matter enough to put that cross down – even if it is pain so ferocious that it results in a putting a bullet through their skull. The sacrifice is all that matters.
This raises a disturbing question: at what point does the concept of “carrying a cross” become a safegaurd against an individual ever making necessary healthy life choices? At what point does It become a shield against someone ever seeing their own self abuse that hides under the guise of religious obedience?
In the traditional ethic, even my screams felt invalidated, because this was my cross, and I was to take it to my grave. When I went limping and whimpering to others in the church like a wounded animal, the response was always the same:”we are sorry you are hurting. You can rest with us for a time. But just keep going. This pain is part of it.” And even when I wept and said, “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.” The answer was still the same: “This is what it means to carry your cross. Just keep going.” When my body became a crisscross tapestry of scars, the answer remained the same. When I would lie in bed awake for hours, replaying the fantasy of killing myself over and over and over again in my head, the answer remained the same. When I started failing all my classes, the answer remained the same. It was the most terrible game of chicken ever imaginable: hold yourself over the flame for as long as you can. If you withdraw, you do so at the cost of your soul. If fulfillment and happiness finds you, that’s nice and a definite bonus. But if not, you just have to keep burning. This is your cross.
After finally cracking and walking away, self-hatred and shame are inevitable. There is shame for putting down that old rugged cross that they all said was supposed to kill me, and choosing to find a better life. There is self hatred for having the audacity to believe that, perhaps, God would rather have a living son who loves him than a dead son who died a martyr on the hill of his sexual orientation. The voices still keep me awake sometimes, and sometimes the voices sound an awful lot like God, speaking His disapproval that I walked away instead of choosing the long, slow, roasting.
Does Jesus really love me? At the end of the day, I come to this: His love is all I have. And no matter how horrible the journey sometimes becomes, I find that I love Him, too. I see a Jesus who was perplexing, demanding, and tender, and I love Him. I see a Jesus whose heart burst for the brokenhearted, the poor, the rejected, and I love Him. I see a Jesus who mends the broken hearted, who releases the captives, who heals the blind, and I love Him. I see a Jesus who invites us to carry a terrible cross with Him, but who also says “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light”, and I love Him. I see a Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life, and I love Him.
If I believe God is good, if I believe He is love, then I also have to believe that He is merciful when we suffer, when we are wrong theologically, when we try our very best. I have to believe that His love is bigger than all our suffering, our valiant attempts at right living, or our capacity to be right or wrong. And I hope that, some day, I will be able to believe that more fully.
By Rev. Oliver White
On Independence Day 2006, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ presented a resolution to hundreds of delegates to affirm same-sex marriages.
It was a very hot, sunny Atlanta, Georgia afternoon with temperatures reaching beyond 100 degrees.
However, it felt good inside the large auditorium, as cool air from powerful fans and air conditioners created a comfortable setting for the civil debate that unfolded for several hours among delegates. Though the historic resolution regarding same-gender marriage was favored, it was not, however, by an overwhelming majority. Not all the delegates were on the same page, but at least hundreds of Congregational Churches across America have collectively unlocked their doors and opened their minds and hearts to all who are 'unlike' the ones gathered inside.
My vote was not an animate-in-your-face pronouncement against those who held opposite beliefs and were outraged because they believe homosexual behavior is unnatural and fundamentally against God's intentions for humankind. I voted in favor of the resolution simply because I think, rather, I believe very deep in my heart that it is not only the right thing to do, but it was also being a part of an authoritative voice that reaches out to people who are socially marginalized and religiously oppressed simply because of their sexual orientation.
I am not gay, but as a black man who was around when "Colored Only" public drinking fountains were on wide display, I am well acquainted with injustice and what it feels like to be on the outside.
Eight years ago, however, I had no reason to believe my vote would lead me to where I am today.
I have had many afflictions in life, such as being 'politely' exiled from ministerial groups and gatherings—an exodus that decreased my congregation by 70 percent and led to a 'desert-like experience' of losing of our building for 14-months until we found a new church home (Hallelujah!). Yet still, through all of that I have been blessed, and I say that with much gratitude.
My biggest surprise in having come this far in the fight for 'justice for all' is why so many people who themselves were victims of gross injustices and inequality, vehemently disagreed with me—and still do. My biggest upset is that most of these people were church-going people, many whom I've known and worked and prayed with for years.
You can be certain that I am not a crusader. I have no networks or friends in high office. Before I was brought before the national media because of my stand, nothing had taken place in my life that I consider out of the ordinary. Rosa Parks and I probably have kindred spirits, given what was taking place in her life before she refused to give up her bus seat. She was an ordinary seamstress with a sincere heart. She was active in her church and she served her community as a volunteer secretary for the Montgomery, AL chapter of the NAACP.
God used this candidly unassuming woman to spark the Civil Rights Movement.
Often, I have teasingly referred to myself as a "country school teacher." None of my sermons have ever been published, I am not a highly acclaimed or "sought-after-preacher" a church would run after to lead a big revival, I do not mimic popular religious practitioners who develop 20,000-member-plus churches. I was blessed, however, with an opportunity to cast one simple vote to affirm humanity.
Not knowing what would happen at the time, that vote was the beginning of an epiphany which has led me to a place--Clark Memorial United Church of Christ of South St. Paul, MN—where I am surrounded by a positive, affirming, supportive, loving spiritual family. It's a place where I can give back doing the work I love.
While speaking to a colleague in Detroit last fall about where my journey has taken me and my congregation, he said:
What? I don't believe you! First you voted for a resolution that destroyed your congregation, and now you're telling me you have partnered with a white congregation? And most of their members are passed 70? Oliver, have you lost your mind?!
This was an actual comment that referred to something I never thought I would do. While a student in the seminary, I even preached a sermon entitled "Why I Can’t Join a White Church." I reasoned that if I can't bring all of who I am into a church body, I can't be a part of it. We’re all acquainted with the saying that the church hour is the most discriminating hour in America.
Well, it’s a very true statement.
Our cultures generally determine how and where we worship, but my epiphany has led me to believe that it’s time to share our cultures and learn from each other as well as bless one another.
What my friend in Detroit said is true—most of their members, about 50 in all, are past 70-years-old, and all of them are white. My congregation is ninety-nine percent black and much younger. One would think, given our widely different cultures, that worshipping and working together is not practical or possible. I beg to differ. Our differences have not equated into deficiencies, and every Sunday we worship, and every hour we share in mission projects, we discover the many ways that we are alike.
We learn from each other, and the more we assimilate, the more capable we become to accommodate.
For the church to have no words except words of condemnation for gays and lesbians is a church that fails to acknowledge Jesus’ command that we love one another as we love ourselves. I praise God for the epiphany that has helped me to grow.
- See more at: http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/how-one-epiphany-helped-me-grow-christian#sthash.PFCutGS5.dpuf
Before I made the leap from Side B (the belief that gay sex is sinful) to Side A (the belief that God blesses same sex relationships) I believed that to shift my beliefs on the matter would radically alter my life, my faith, and my very religion. To me, the chasm between Side A and side B was as wide as the gap between Christianity and Hinduism, and to allow myself to get a boyfriend would be the equivalent of praying to Shiva. A world where I was free to pursue my dream to have a partner was a fundamentally different world, and a God who approved of same sex relationships was a different God. The dream of partnership felt as inaccessible as all my childhood dreams: no, Hogwarts is not real and I will not be receiving a letter informing me that I am a wizard. No, Narnia does not exist and I will not be finding the wardrobe at a thrift store any time soon. No, Doctor Who is only fiction and there is no Time Lord blazing across the night sky in his TARDIS, rescuing humanity from the horrors of the cosmos. No, there is no such thing as a gay relationship that God blesses, and there is no such thing as a God who would condone such a thing as moral. Such a life, such a God, is only fiction.
And then something astounding happened: it wasn't a fiction to me anymore. By a long, tumultuous and at times dangerous process, I came to believe that I had been wrong. I now believe that gay people can experience long lasting, monogamous bonds that can be blessed by God. I had believed that such a shift would be a fundamental transformation that would devestate every aspect of my life. But it didn't.
I believed I would worship a different God if I believed I could marry a man, but I don't. He is still Three in One, the great I AM, the maker and sustainer of worlds. He is the same God who hung on that cross and died for my sins. He is still the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I am still a great sinner, and he is still a great savior. Christ is still the Son of God in my life, with as much glory, mystery, and compassion as before.
I believed that my Bible would be less meaningful and authoritative if believed gay people could marry, but it isn't. I still read my Bible every morning, and it is still the God breathed and inspired scripture it was before. It is still the final authority in my life, and engaging with it is still one of the most important journeys I could ever make.
I believed that the shape of my faith itself would be radically altered if I accepted gay marriage, but it isn't. The creeds that define the central aspects of my faith have not changed, and I can still speak them, affirming every word.
I thought that I would compromise the integrity of my intellect if I affirmed gay relationships, but I haven't. I find that my intellect is as robust as ever, and that I have not had to stoop to compromised forms of theology to believe that God blesses gay relationships, nor have I had to compromise other deeper values of hermeneutics that act as guides in my life. Instead, I have found that the integrity of my mind and the integrity of my heart are now finally dance partners instead of rivals.
The glorious and beautiful truth is this: nothing truly significant has changed. I believe the same things, worship the same God, and have the same faith. Even in practice, my faith has not changed. What has changed is that I feel that I have grown in my faith, and have more deeply surrendered my sexuality to God. When put into perspective, all that has changed is a shift in how I view one aspect of human nature and how God responds to it: something that, despite all the "doctrinal statements" the church throws about these days on homosexuality, has not enjoyed any central and authoritative doctrine or creeds. I stand in disagreement with the majority of the Church, but not in such a way that excludes me from her company.
I know this now, but for years I didn't. For years, I had emotionally confused secondary Christian questions with the central Christian questions. I believed that the question of gay marriage was as central to my salvation and as pressing as the question of whether Christ really did die on the cross and atone for my sins. This is not to say that these secondary questions are not important, or that our ideas don't have real consequences. They are extremely important and must be confronted with grace and wisdom, but it is to say that I - and much of the church - have confused the secondary for the primary, and there is only one word for such confusion: idolatry.
Yes, we will have our disagreements, and we will have our convictions, and we will all struggle to the best of our ability to try to fathom the will and words of a perfect creator with our sin-stained and limited minds. But at the end of the end of the day, to follow Christ and to believe in his grace is the best any of us can do, regardless of whether we are gay or straight, married or unmarried, affirming or non affirming. If he is God, he is big enough and good enough to pick up all the pieces our best attempts at following him leave in our wake.
By Rachel Held Evans
For those who believe in the dignity and value of gay and lesbian people and who support LGBT equality both in the U.S. and abroad, it’s been a rough couple of weeks.
Coverage of the Olympic Winter Games brought Russia’s anti-gay laws back into the conversation and exposed some of that country’s cultural prejudice against LGBT people.
And in Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a bill that makes homosexuality punishable by life in prison. The following day, the front page headline of a popular Ugandan newspaper read, “EXPOSED: Uganda’s 200 Top Homos Named” with several photographs next to the headline. (When similar articles were released in 2011, a gay rights activist was found beaten to death in his home.) It has been said that the Ugandan government was influenced by evangelical Christians from the U.S., and indeed Museveni’s argument that gay and lesbian people are “disgusting” has been echoed by Thabiti Anyabwile of the Gospel Coalition, who has spoken positively about similar legislation in Liberia and Russia.
Here in the U.S., several states—most recently Kansas and Arizona— have been considering bills that would ensure the protection of businesses that refuse service to gay and lesbian people.
While these bills may have originally been proposed in response to a few isolated incidents in other states (in which, for example, a baker refused to bake a cake for a wedding between two men), the language is broad enough and vague enough to empower individuals or businesses to refuse to serve anyone whose presence violates “deeply-held religious beliefs.” It would allow a restaurant owner to hang a “NO GAYS ALLOWED” sign in his window, or a hotel manager to turn away a gay couple, or a doctor to insist on only treating straight people.
This is a serious overreaction to the wedding cake scenario, and at least in Arizona, totally unnecessary, as the state already allows discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
It has been disheartening to see evangelical Christians remain silent on the injustices in Russia and Uganda and then rally in support of these discrimination bills in the name of religious freedom.
Religious freedom is the banner under which this decade’s culture wars are being waged, and so, while there are many angles to this story we could discus, I’d like to focus on this one.
Evangelical Christians in America enjoy incredible religious freedom, perhaps more than any other group in this country. Christians remain the religious majority in the U.S. Every American president has identified himself as a Christian, and Christians make up the overwhelming majority in both the House of Representatives and Senate. If you are a white evangelical Christian in the U.S. you are unlikely to be “randomly” screened by the T.S.A. every time you try to board an airplane. It is unlikely that you will face protests and governmental obstruction when you attempt build a new place of worship, which is a reality faced by many of our Muslim citizens.
And yet despite enjoying majority status, significant privilege, and unchallenged religious freedom in this country, we evangelical Christians have become known as a group of people who cry “persecution!” upon being wished “Happy Holidays" by a store clerk.
We have become known as a group of people who sees themselves perpetually under attack, perpetually victimized, and perpetually entitled, a group who, ironically, often responds to these imagined disadvantages by advancing legislation that restricts the civil liberties of other people.
But living in a pluralistic society that also grants freedom and civil rights protection to those with whom one disagrees is not the same as religious persecution. And crying persecution every time one doesn’t get one’s way is an insult to the very real religious persecution happening in the world today. It's no way to be a good citizen and certainly no way to advance the gospel in the world.
Now, one could argue all day, from a strictly civic perspective, about whether a person should be allowed to deny services to another person on account of religious differences. Maybe they should; maybe they shouldn’t. I don’t know. It's a complex issue and I can see both sides. (Most gay folks I know wouldn't sue a vendor for refusing to provide wedding services, but would choose someone else. Suing, I think, is a bad idea for everyone.)
But what I want to address here is whether followers of Jesus should devote their time and efforts to rallying in support of legislation that would empower business owners to deny services to gay and lesbian people (many of whom are fellow Christians, by the way) or whether, as Andy Stanely puts it, “serving people we don’t see eye to eye with is the essence of Christianity. Jesus died for a world with which he didn’t see eye to eye. If a bakery doesn’t want to sell its products to a gay couple, it’s their business. Literally. But leave Jesus out of it.”
I'm with Andy on this, because I can’t help but think of the words of Jesus:
“If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you… Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
You know who was actually persecuted for their religious beliefs?
Jews under Roman occupation in the first century.
And you know what Jesus told those Jews to do?
Pay your taxes. Obey the law. Give to those who ask. Do not turn people away. Love your neighbors. Love even your enemies.
When Jesus spoke of “walking the second mile,” he was referring to an oppressive Roman law that allowed a traveling Roman solider to demand that a stranger carry his pack for up to one mile. No doubt some of Jesus’ first listeners had been forced to do just that, to drop their farming equipment, fishing nets, or carpentry tools and carry a heavy pack, losing hours of work in the process.
The law allowed the soldier to demand from them a mile, no more. Jesus told his followers to walk two.
As Christians, our most “deeply held religious belief” is that Jesus Christ died on the cross for sinful people, and that in imitation of that, we are called to love God, to love our neighbors, and to love even our enemies to the point of death.
So I think we can handle making pastries for gay people.
And I think that refusing to serve gay and lesbian people, and advancing legislation that denies others their civil liberties in response to perceived threats to our own, does irreparable damage to our witness as Christians and leaves a whole group of people feeling like second-class citizens, not only in our country, but also in the Kingdom. There may be second-class citizens in the U.S. and in Uganda and in Russia, but there should be no second-class citizens in the Kingdom.
As I’ve made it clear in the past, I support marriage equality and affirm my gay and lesbian friends who want to commit themselves to another person for life. But even if I didn’t, even if I believed same-sex marriage was a sin, I could never, in good conscience, throw my support behind a law that would put my gay and lesbian neighbors behind bars for being gay or allow businesses free range to discriminate against them because of their orientation.
Because over and beyond my beliefs regarding homosexuality is my most deeply-held conviction that I am called to love my neighbor as myself…even if it costs me something, even if it means walking a second mile.
I've been watching people with golden crosses around their necks and on their lapels shout at the TV about how serving gay and lesbian people is a violation of their “sincerely-held religious beliefs.”
And I can't help but laugh at the sad irony of it.
Two-thousand years ago, Jesus hung from that cross, looked out on the people who put him there and said, "Father, forgive them." Jesus served sinners all the way to the cross.
The truth is, evangelical Christians have already "lost" the culture wars.And it's not because the "other side" won or because evangelicals have failed to protect our own religious liberties. Evangelicals lost the culture wars the moment they committed to fighting them, the moment they decided to stop washing feet and start waging war.
And I fear that we've lost not only the culture wars, but also our Christian identity, when the "right to refuse" service has become a more sincerely-held and widely-known Christian belief than the impulse to give it.
An Open Pastoral Letter to the Lesbian, Bi-sexual, Transgendered, Gay and Questioning Communities of Michigan
Rev. Deborah Dean-Ware,
Pastor, The Church of the Good Shepherd, United Church of Christ
Washtenaw County, Michigan
I am a local church pastor and this is my letter of apology to the people of the LBTGQQ communities in Michigan. I apologize for the harm that has been and continues to be done in the name of Christ. I apologize for your deep pain inflicted upon you by the weaponizing of the Bible. I apologize for the political and theological rhetoric that gives subtle (and not-so subtle) permission for violence. I apologize for the years, the decades, of warfare that Christianity has waged against you. Most importantly, I apologize for choosing silence much too often while you and the people you love have been demonized and marginalized.
I don’t blame you if you are hesitant to trust my apology. I don’t blame you if you can’t help but anticipate the inevitable “love the sinner, hate the sin.” No one pastor can make up for the oppression you have endured—the pain runs too deep, the wounds are too numerous. One Christian voice cannot silence this mean-spirited rhetoric completely. But I hope that this letter might offer, even if only to one person, the tiniest bit of healing.
It is time for another Christian perspective.
I am an ordained pastor in a “traditional” marriage. I am a follower of Jesus. I hold the Bible as sacred and foundational. I cherish Christian community. And I deeply, fully, passionately believe:
By Rev. Dr. Janet Edwards
"…in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them." (Genesis 1:27)
I was recently with a friend who also identifies as bisexual, and we began talking about the widely-held presumption that bisexuals "become" straight or gay depending on the gender of our partner.
For instance, since I am faithful in marriage with a man, it is assumed that I am living what is "straight" in me.
It is as if being bisexual means that there are distinct facets to my identity—gay or straight—and my partner determines which "side" I'm living out. For my friend, who is married to a woman, this means that many people assume she is living out the "gay" side of her bisexuality and forsaking her "straight" side.
My friend confessed that, when she was young and identified as lesbian, she deeply resented bisexual people who were in a relationship with the other gender. She took offense at what she saw as hiding behind a "straight life," which led her to strongly object to bisexuals participating in LGBT political activity.
At one meeting, she became especially vocal about this topic. After the meeting, someone pulled my friend aside and told her how offensive her words were. This person shared with my friend that she identified as bisexual, and she did not become gay when she was with her female partner.
She explained she was bisexual whether she was with a man or a woman.
There were no bifurcated sides of her sexual orientation, and she did not switch between aspects of herself in her loving relationships. If she were with a man, she would not be living a “straight” life. She was herself: bisexual in sexual identification, everywhere and all the time.
This assumption that a bisexual person morphs into being straight or gay depending on the sex of the partner is unfortunately common in both LGBT and straight communities. I have also encountered it among Christians I have talked with about my experience.
One commented that what I do in my marriage is exercise my "heterosexual tendencies." I confess, I had not thought about this very much until the conversation with my friend.
Am I bisexual everywhere, and all the time? As far as I know myself, I am.
What I have come to see is that the heart of the matter resides in the "and" of the verse from Genesis.
For me, the beauty of bisexuality is in the both/and experience. Identifying as bi allows me to further explore the reality that the Divine and the human are comprised of male AND female. Being sensitive to both/and allows me to encounter the immensely complex nature of God and of humans, who are made in God's image.
Inside every human is a mix of male and female dimensions. For my friend, and myself, intimacy means choosing one person, bringing our love of more than one gender into the relationship as a way of loving the male and female richness inside each of us.
God knit me together as bisexual in my mother’s womb.
It took me a long time to grasp this complexity, and I am still discovering what it means for me. I am grateful for those who help me know I dwell in a place of both/and, not either/or, where I can appreciate the wholeness of God and every human being.
I am bisexual everywhere and all the time. I so hope you can see that.
- See more at: http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/beyond-eitheror-how-i-am-bisexual-everywhere-all-time#sthash.is24fdNS.dpuf
By Alison Amyx
This Valentine’s Day, I pledge to love my queer identity.
I pledge to honor the truth I hid for ten years—the door that remained unopened, the secret I was too afraid to face.
Today, I pledge to love the part of myself I was told to hate.
I pledge to remember the relationships I never had, the teenage romance and heartbeats lost in in the darkness of the closet—the love I didn’t know I was missing.
I pledge to tell my teenaged self that it is ok to share her secret—that we can find love, and be loved, even in the midst of our own devastation.
And today, I pledge to make those lost years count. To never forget what once was hidden, celebrating my coming out as a vital step on my journey toward wholeness, in myself, in my relationships, and in my community.
This Valentine’s Day, I pledge to share the light of my truth so others may shine.
I pledge to find beauty in difference, living with eyes open to see love the world refuses to embrace.
I pledge to honor the gift of my perspective, my queerness, in a world too quick to extinguish our flames.
Today, I pledge to find beauty and strength in the broken and healing places, and to share the love of God for all creation.
This Valentine’s Day, I pledge to love beyond expectation.
I pledge to share this love with others, spreading the good news to all God’s children that each of us, blessed and beloved, is worthy of love unending.
- See more at: http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/loving-my-queer-identity#sthash.wHhO0xVT.dpuf
Posted on January 30, 2014 by sacredtensionstephen
This post and many more excellent post can be found at http://sacredtension.com/
As a gay man, one question more than any other has kept me up at night – the question that draws all other questions into its gravitational pull: what if I’m wrong?
If I believe God blesses gay marriage, and I condone gay marriages among my friends, and I eventually get married to a man myself, what if I’m wrong?
Does that mean I am in grave error, condoning a sin that has very serious consequences on souls, hearts, communities and families? Does that mean I will be held accountable before God as a teacher of sin? Does that mean I am leading people into sin, death, and decay instead of redemption, goodness, and love?
If I’m traditional regarding homosexuality and marriage, what if I’m wrong?
If I’m wrong, I am guilty of condemning an entire people group to never experiencing something central to human life and stability: marriage. I am guilty of standing in defiance to 2000 years of Christian tradition that affirms that marriage is good and that celibacy must never, ever be forced upon anyone, because celibacy is a gift.
I might be guilty of encouraging the culture of promiscuity within the gay community by not believing marriage is a viable route for them. I might be bringing greater instability to the gay community because of my conviction. I am guilty of saying that self-sacrificing, long-suffering, mutually giving, monogamous love is wrong, while serving a God of love, thereby damaging the witness of my faith.
If I am traditional and wrong, I am guilty of perpetuating a ferocious and evil injustice against a vulnerable people group that deserve equality and love.
If I am wrong (or right), if I am misguided (or totally on track), if my convictions fail me, (or if they prove to be true) there is one – and only one – thing I have left, and that is the Gospel.
There is only one thing that will not fail, one thing that stands no matter what else may fall, one thing that never changes, no matter how subject to change we are, and that is Christ himself.
In the face of such terrible consequences of being wrong, and in the face of my own intellectual shortcomings that are so prone to error, the only thing I have is Christ’s grace: his Cross and His resurrection, the conviction that He is the way, the truth, and the life. All I have is the assurance that He is good, and that His grace is sufficient, even when our own minds fail. All I have, when all words are written and all questions answered, is the cross.
My mind – frail and human and prone to delusion – cannot carry me to salvation, or even total rightness. It will shift and grow with time, and will never be fully correct at any given moment, no matter how close I may get. As I’ve prayed and meditated, I’ve realized the depth of the truth that only something beyond myself and my own mind could ever truly save me.
And this is why, over time, I am becoming less concerned with “sides” and more concerned with the Gospel. Because, regardless of which Side of the gay debate is right, and regardless of how grave the other side’s wrongness might be, its rightness or wrongness cannot save us or condemn us. Only Christ can.
By Ryan Struyk
Calvin College Chimes Editor 2013-14
I’ve spent most of the last 18 months here at Chimes trying to get the full story: asking the tough questions, sending writers back for another interview and doing whatever it takes to get the “full story.”
And regrettably, I don’t think I’ve succeeded once.
There is so much behind every story that it’s impossible to capture the full behind-the-scenes angle that personifies and allows us to completely understand.
Because behind every decision, every action and every change, there’s a person making that decision, performing the action and leading through the change.
Chaplain Mary Hulst spent the first half of Saturday’s rivalry basketball game comforting the wife of a man who collapsed during the national anthem and later died, only to enthusiastically run the Calvin flag around the court less than an hour later.
Student body president David Kuenzi explained to me the hardship of sacrificing many hours of his finals week to represent the student body on the committee that was making difficult, last-minute decisions about budget cuts last semester.
Provost Claudia Beversluis teared up when she told faculty senate that she has read every word of letter after letter from alumni, pleading with her not to cut certain departments — but she still needs to make tough decisions.
And just like in journalism, life is full of conversations and situations where we don’t know the full story.
While I was struggling to come out to close friends last fall, a wise friend told me: “Everyone’s got their stuff.” (He didn’t actually say stuff, but I’m not going to print an expletive, even if it is my last editorial.)
Many of us are wrestling with depression, especially now during the winter. Some of us regularly get crippling migraine headaches. Some of us struggle with eating disorders. Others of us come from broken families. And as this paper pointed out this fall, some of us are enveloped in fear over our sexual identity.
And you can’t tell any of this when you shake someone’s hand.
So I offer the same simple thought that one of my role models, former U.S. senator Olympia Snowe, told us at lunch after the January Series last Thursday: “Be kinder.”
Theologian Ian Maclaren expanded that thought a bit more: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
My own experience being closeted on Calvin’s campus has taught me this: you never know what’s going on in a person’s life behind-the-scenes.
So give hugs a little more often, smile a little more and give the benefit of the doubt more than you probably should.
Why? It’s this kind of grace – lavished on other people without condition or reservation – that God gives us.
But while we don’t know the “stuff” in the lives of other people, we know that God sees all the “stuff” in us — the brokenness, the pain, the shame and the insecurities.
And we don’t have to worry about the judgment or betrayal or gossip we might expect from other people, because the Father sees Christ in our place.
Pastor Mary said it beautifully in LOFT on Sunday night: in the world, our very acceptance depends on covering our blemishes. But as Christians, our acceptance depends on us having blemishes — and bringing them to the cross.
So be kinder. Love freely. And remember that accepting God’s grace and sharing it with others is what God’s “full story” for us is all about.
Posted online in Chimes, January 16, 2014
We have a saying in Christianity that “you will know them by their fruit.” Drawn from Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 7, the expression means that the true test of faithfulness to Christ is not in simply believing or saying the right things, but in displaying the fruit of the spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.
“A good tree cannot bear bad fruit,” said Jesus, “and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.”
I spent this past weekend with Christians bearing very good fruit.
I went to the Gay Christian Network’s “Live It Out” conference in Chicago a little unsure of what to expect, a little perplexed that someone like me would be invited, and a little freaked out about what to say as a straight woman to a group of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Christians—many of whom have been severely wounded by the Church.
But within a few hours of arriving, it became apparent to me that I had little to teach these brothers and sisters and everything to learn from them.
I speak at dozens of Christian conferences in a given year, and I can say without hesitation that I’ve never attended a Christian conference so energized by the Spirit, so devoid of empty showmanship or preoccupation with image, so grounded in love and abounding in grace.
As one attendee put it, “This is an unapologetically Christian conference.”
Indeed. There was communion, confession, powerful worship, and fellowship. There was deep concern for the Word. (The breakout sessions about the Bible and same sex relationships were by far the most popular, with Matthew Vines’ session so packed there wasn’t even standing room!) There was lots of hugging and praying and tears…and argyle.
I spoke with attendees from a multitude of denominational backgrounds—Catholic, Southern Baptist, Nazarene, Churches of Christ, Pentecostal, Mennonite, you name it. I met gay Christians who felt compelled by Scripture and tradition to commit their lives to celibacy (Side B) and gay Christians who felt fee in Christ to pursue same-sex relationships (Side A). And I heard story after story of getting kicked out of church, of being disowned by parents, of losing friends, of moving from despair to hope.
“I think we connect with your work because you write so much about Jesus,” a man who came all the way from Australia said. “For a lot of us, everything about religion has been taken away. All we have left is Jesus. So we love to talk about Jesus.”
The event wasn’t perfect, of course. As with any conference, there were tensions and disagreements, a few awkward moments and misunderstandings. But these were handled with such profound patience and grace I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. Many of these folks have every right to walk around with permanent chips on their shoulders, but over and over again I encountered nothing but grace….big, wide, unstoppable, unexplainable grace.
I suppose this is what happens when a bunch of Christians get together an actually tell one another the truth.
About our pain.
About our sin.
About our fear.
About our questions.
About our sexuality.
Telling the truth has a liberating effect on everyone else in the room, and this was evident in the final night of the conference when we listened to one another’s stories:
From the young woman who had been called vicious names since grade school and who told us that this was the first time in her life she felt safe among other Christians.
From the brave mom who, choking down tears, told us that before this weekend she had been ashamed of her son, afraid to tell her Christian friends and family that he was gay. Now she had the courage to tell the truth and love him better.
From the man who, after twenty years of trying desperately to force himself to speak differently, dress differently, move his hands differently, and love differently decided to finally tell himself the truth.
From the conservative pastor who used to be an apologist against homosexuality, but whose friendship with a lesbian woman slowly, over many years, changed his mind. “Her life was her greatest apologetic,” he said, before openly weeping. “I was wrong. And when I hear about the pain many of you have experienced, I know that I was the cause of some of that pain. I am so sorry. I am so, so sorry. Please forgive me.”
From the man in the wheelchair who, with words he struggled to form, declared, “I’m black. I’m disabled. I’m gay. And I live in Mississippi. What was God thinking?!”
From the lesbian couple whose conservative church chose to break with its denomination rather than deny them membership.
From the young man who said that when he finally worked up the courage to come out to his parents “it didn’t go as well as I hoped,” and in the painful silence that followed, far too many understood.
From the denominational leader whose peers wanted him to “see what these people are so angry about" and who choked up as he said, “I’m going to go back and tell them you’re not angry. You weren’t anything like I expected you to be. I’m going to go back and tell them you’ve been hurt and it’s our denomination that needs to change, not you.”
From the parents who said they learned, too late, to love their gay son “just because he breathes.”
It was church if I’ve ever experienced it. And as I wiped tears from my eyes, I became as convinced as ever that if the Church continues to marginalize and stigmatize LGBT Christians, then the Church as a whole will suffer. It will miss out on all this energy, all this wisdom, all this truth, all this fruit. It will miss out on these beautiful people, these beautiful families, these beautiful relationships.
I was in a conversation with someone the other day who said he wondered if perhaps LGBT Christians have a special role to play in teaching the Church how to engage thoughtfully around issues about sexuality.
I think he’s wrong. After this conference, I’m convinced LGBT Christians have a special role to play in teaching the Church what it means to be Christian.
After all, movements of the spirit have never started with the “right” people. The gospel has never made as much sense among the powerful and religious as it makes among the marginalized. As I said in my keynote, what makes the gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out but who it lets in.
…And who it calls to lead.
I realize that standing with and affirming LGBT Christians—both those who identify as Side A and those who identify as Side B (though, for reasons I can explain later, I'm personally inclined toward A)— puts some of my work in jeopardy. I realize that this post will be used to discredit me and that I may lose readers and opportunities as a result. But here I stand—not to lead, but to follow; not as a mere “ally,” but as a sister; not because I have it all figured out or have all my questions answered, but because I know in my heart it’s the right thing to do.
I’m so grateful to GCN for welcoming me into your family last weekend. You told the truth. You extended grace. You let me ask dumb questions. You loved me well.
And as long as you are part of the Church, I think her future is bright.
From time to time a member of All One Body will post to this blog. We will also have guest commentary. Stay tuned!