Monthly Archives: October 2011

Time for a Gay Reformation?

Happy Halloween!

Tonight, after dressing up as zombies, vampires, fairy princesses, and Justin Biebers, tons of children will knock on tons of doors and consume tons of candy.  The night air will be scented with glitter, grease paint, and slow-roasting pumpkins.

But did you know that today marks the anniversary of a world-changing event?  494 years ago today, before the idea of sending children out as well-disguised beggers came into fashion, a man named Martin Luther (who came WAY before a similarly named man with a dream) celebrated Halloween by nailing a piece of paper to church door in Germany… and changing the church forever.

The year was 1517.

For years, German Christians – as well as other believers around the globe – sat in church pews lazily listening to priests explain the Bible.  The problem?  Few people had ever read the Bible.  Most Bibles were written in Latin, a language that died long before Martin Luther was born.  Of course, since most people were illiterate, it didn’t matter what language the Bible was written in.  They couldn’t have read it anyway.

That’s why, when church leaders told the people what the Bible said, the people blindly accepted it.  For example, when priests told their congregations they had to pay money to have their sins forgiven, frightened women and guilt-ridden men paid their life savings to keep themselves out of hell.

Martin Luther was furious. He had actually read the Bible and knew that salvation is a free gift of God’s grace… not something that can be bought and sold.

Instead of writing a blog in protest (obviously… blogging wasn’t very popular in 1517), Luther wrote 95 statements (called the 95 Theses) that outlined in everyday language what the people needed to know about forgiveness, scripture, and the church… and nailed it to the front door of the biggest cathedral in town.

This small action – this protest – changed Christianity forever.  In fact, if you attend a Protestant Church (basically any church that isn’t Catholic or Orthodox), your church grew from Luther’s protest.

Many of us in the LGBT community believe the church needs yet another reformation… a redefining of their relationship with the gay community.  Our pastors preach the Bible and our people read the Bible, but few of them have seriously studied scriptures that deal with homosexuality.  As a result, many Christians are either confused or misinformed about what it means to be both Gay and Christian.

We need someone to follow Martin Luther’s example and nail a few challenging truths to the church door.

Patrick Cheng, an openly-gay theologian, minister, and seminary professor recently followed Martin Luther’s example and wrote “9.5 Theses for a New Reformation.”  This incredibly insightful article outlines 9.5 (actually, it’s 10, but Cheng’s trying to be clever) ideas both gays and Christians need to consider so we can bridge the divide between us.

In my opinion, Cheng’s entire article should be read by every Christian (both gay and straight) in America.  Click here to check it out.  The full article goes into more depth about these 9.5 ideas…

  1. LGBT relationships are grounded in love, which is a the very heart of our understanding of God and the Christian faith.
  2. Christian evangelicals often lack compassion toward LGBT people, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, for LGBT people to hear the good news of the gospel.
  3. Christian evangelicals establish a new words righteousness when they require that LGBT people abstain from same-sex acts in order to be saved.
  4. Even the Reformers did not treat all biblical verses as having the same interpretive weight.
  5. True proponents of “family values” would not preach and teach values that drive families apart.
  6. If the uncircumcised and unclean Gentiles could be accepted just as they were through the work of the Holy Spirit, then so can LGBT people.
  7. True repentance only occurs as a result of understanding how deeply we are loved, yet Christian evangelicals often fail to show that kind of love to LGBT people.
  8. Focusing on the “sinfulness” of same-sex acts obscures the true meaning of original sin.
  9. “Hating the sin” is essentially hating the sinner.
  10. Christian evangelicals and LGBT people actually have more in common than either side would care to admit.
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Gay Christians: We’re Not Just In the Pews…

…some of us are in the pulpit, too.

The Huffington Post just published a pretty nifty list of “15 Inspiring LGBT Religious Leaders.

Reflecting and shaping the culture in which it is embedded, religion has historically been hostile to LGBT-identified people and communities. However, over the last three decades more denominations, congregations and individuals have come out in support of honoring the full humanity of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered people. Today, hundreds, if not thousands, of religious communities are truly places of celebration, healing and hope for all people.

This initial list of 15 ground breaking individuals is just a sampling of the many LGBT religious leaders who have reclaimed religious traditions and communities.

The list includes Christians, Muslims, Jews, and spiritualists from across the globe.

Of course, not all of us can be great faith leaders… but being a dedicated follower is as important as being a passionate leader.  I pray that the doubts, fears, and injustice often experienced by our community don’t keep us from being committed people of faith.

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“I listened”: A Straight Pastor Talks About Loving the Gay Community

Like thousands of other southern gay guys, shortly after I “came out” I moved to New York City.  But even though I ran away from home, I didn’t run away from my faith.

In Brooklyn I found Christ’s Church for Brooklyn, a small community that opened every worship service by saying:

Welcome to all who have no church home, need strength, want to follow Christ, have doubts, or do not believe. Welcome to new visitors and to old friends. Welcome to grandparents, to mothers, fathers, to couples and to single people. Welcome to people of all colors, cultures, economies, abilities, and sexual orientations, to old and young, to believers and questioners – and welcome to questioning believers.

I had found a new home.

Joe, the pastor of our island of misfit toys, became a source of spiritual sanity for me.  He patiently walked with me though several difficult transitions: from being in the closet to being out of the closet… from having a career as a minister to floundering through under-employment… from enjoying a secure southern home to navigating the pressures of life in New York City.

Although our congregation at Christ’s Church for Brooklyn was friendly to boys with boyfriends, our denomination was not — a dynamic that must have been quite difficult for Joe.

Below are a few of Joe’s reflections about how he came to understand and believe that God is for gay people, too.

I listened.

– Joe H.

When my more conservative friends ask me how I got to where I am with homosexuality; when they grill me on How in the world can you support the rights and lifestyles of homosexuals? Why is it that you help them realize that God loves them the way they are? Why do you tell them that to be fully human they must, THEY HAVE TO, embrace their created selves so that they can fully glorify God? I simply reply with, “I listened.”

I started listening while at seminary preparing to be a minister. A dear friend of mine who I knew while we both studied ministry at a conservative Christian college enrolled at the seminary where I was doing graduate work. One day at lunch, my friend sat me down and said, “Joe, I’m gay.” This was news to me but I tried to act cool and collected. So I responded with, “tell me your story.” He graciously did so. I listened and as I did, I’m sure my friend waited for a response but I gave none. I just listened.

His story was intense. I felt for him, for the secret life he lived since he was a boy coming of age but I was confused. I was confused and conflicted. So I didn’t deal with it. I stored his story in the back of my mind not thinking that I would ever need to call upon it again. After all, I was trying to make my way as a minister in the conservative denomination in which I grew up. I figured I wasn’t going to be meeting very many gay men or gay women at the churches that I would serve.

A few years passed and my family moved to New York City. We planted a church and it became evident rather quickly that my friend from college/seminary had a story that many shared. Bill, a guy in our church plant, came to me with his struggle with homosexuality. My response was the same with Bill as it was with my friend from seminary, “tell me your story.” As Bill shared his story, he cried. His pain, the hurt he experienced was excruciating. Once again, I just listened.

This time I couldn’t ignore the story. I wanted to deal with my confusion. I went home and started reading. I read just about everything I could get my hands on. I started with the Bible and found the six verses that explicitly mention homosexuality. It didn’t take long to realize that the verses were often misused and misunderstood. I read pieces of literature from people against homosexuality and from people for homosexuality. I read and read and read. And I prayed. A lot.

I met up with Bill again and listened some more. As he sat in front of me, he told me how hard it was for him to live as a heterosexual. He just ended yet another relationship with a girl. But Bill was convinced that he had to do this; that he had to live as a straight man. As he sat there falling quickly into a state of depression, it hit me: to fully glorify God, to give yourself fully to God, to serve God fully, you need to embrace your orientation and move on with life.

He was stuck and he didn’t have to be. I said these words to him and as I did, as they came out of my mouth, I felt free. I felt liberated. And if I felt free and liberated, I’m guessing my friend felt even more of it. I ended up saying these words to many others and witnessed time and again as people started living life to the fullest.

As I said those words to my friend, I felt a new call in my life. The church in Brooklyn became a safe place for all people to share their stories. It became a place where gay and straight people could worship without fear of retribution or scorn. It became a place where all could fully glorify God, where all could fully serve God.

Of course, I was doing this while still serving in a denomination that condemns homosexuality so you can imagine how the rest of the story goes for me. I’m no longer serving as pastor but I still look for people who might be willing to hear the words: you must embrace your created self so that you can fully glorify God.

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Christians and Gay Teen Suicides

Experience satirical wonderfulness below….

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First Gay Breakup: Are We Still For Each Other?

My friend Aaron, a faithful Christian and devoutly gay man, recently broke up with his first boyfriend.  I asked if he would like to share his story on this blog.  He said yes, and then promptly wrote the following sarcastic, witty, and beautifully sad essay.

If you read what follows as carefully as you should, you’ll find a myriad of lovely and provocative ideas.

When reading this story, however, I think I was most struck by the realization that a gay man talking about a difficult break-up sounds just like a straight man talking a difficult break up.

Hmmmm…

Too often, when people talk about “gays” and “Christians,” the assumption is that they’re taking about two separate groups of people.  The conversation too easily becomes one that’s about “them” and “us,” as if the Christian community and the LGBT community are egg throwing, cross-town rivals.

Stories like Aaron’s remind me that in the midst of us and them, so much of our common experience still binds us all together as we

“Eating crow… a full-on murder of them.”

-Aaron

To borrow from one of my favorite bands, “Humility is so proud.” Nothing is Innocent by Over the Rhine.

What does it mean to be for something? Are you a fan? A fanatic waving your foam finger? Are you an admirer? A devotee? A follower? A supporter? A lover?

What are you for?

About 3 weeks ago my then boyfriend came to the conclusion that we weren’t a right fit for each other. While I felt differently I can’t be in a relationship by myself (at least not a healthy one) so I have had to attempt to close that chapter, as well. He was my first boyfriend. And it was my first breakup. A process that, at 31, has made me feel much more like I am 13 from time to time.

We didn’t even make it past our first fight.

It turns out I’m really good at fighting. I’m articulate and logical. And very even sided – finding every possible ugly side of the situation and using them all evenly in my attack until the other is silenced with an inability to respond. Think Bush era “Shock and Awe”. It’s very effective (as noted by the conclusion of “us”).

And of course I could see all of these ugly sides because I am so humble. I spend hours thinking about “how best to love my neighbor” and “how to give dignity to those around me”, so it’s clear that I am justified in my use of “Shock and Awe” to help others see that they are failing at those two ideals. I mean, clearly.

Ok so 1) I really hope my sarcasm is coming through in this post…

and 2) I don’t recommend the use of “Shock and Awe”. I really, really don’t.

Really.

Really.

The ugly context: A lot of BIG issues came up very early on in our young relationship that seemed to bring out things that neither of us wanted to admit. I felt like he was (situationally) asking me to be deceitful to his friends by corroborating something that was untrue. Spending as much time as I do thinking about what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself” and how to “give dignity to those around me”, alongside my belief that we can’t even begin to approach things until we know what’s true about them, this situational request made me very uncomfortable.

This is where the story gets a little unfortunate. And unfortunately ironic. After our guests left I proceeded to tell him of my discomfort with the situation. He came up with some plan to “fix the problem” that I didn’t really think would fix anything and, on his asking how to fix it, I simply replied with “STOP LYING TO YOUR FRIENDS!!! IS THIS WHAT OUR RELATIONSHIP IS GOING TO BE BASED ON?!?!”

Conversation done. There was nothing left to say. He had no legs to stand on in the dialog.

I win.

(Dramatic pause to absorb the sarcasm of those last 2 words).

Though my concerns were valid and needed to be discussed, my failure to continue to Love my ex in this context (capital “L”) seems to be as big of a failure as his.

“How?”, you ask? “Where you not justified?”

Maybe.

But it’s the existence behind the scenes that truly dictates that, I think. Knowing the heart of the matter. It’s a if-a-man-lusts-he-might-as-well-just-sleep-with-him type of thing.

Why?

While I believe that my desire for these things (loving, dignifying and knowing) is good, my intense obsession with achieving these things is actually the very reason that I failed to do them. Deceit and moral arrogance were only the symptoms of deeper issues of self image and insecurity but, with my gaze so firmly fixed on the “how to achieve”, I lost sight of the “who to Love” that was standing right in front of me at the time. And in that blindness I used the true object of my desire (achieving) to humiliate and shame the one that I should have been loving and dignifying and knowing. The pride of my humility caused me to humiliate the one I cared about and ended something that I was excited about.

Ironic, no?

And really, really unfortunate.

So back to my original question…are we still for each other? It’s tough to know how. We screw up, make mistakes, ask people to enter into things that they aren’t comfortable with, ridicule, deride, and humiliate. Situations are complex and it’s hard to know how to navigate them well. We have our goals and aspirations, our code of ethics, our experiences that shape our understanding of the world. So how can we be for someone else at the same time when it often competes with all that?

Well…I don’t know the answer. It’s clearly difficult. I’ve seen that it doesn’t take winning. In this case I may have won the argument but I lost the one that I was hoping for. I think it goes back to that whole losing-your-life-to-gain-it thing. Perhaps If I had carried the genuinely humble capacity to approach this man with a gentle and loving spirit, rather than a brutal focus on achieving my own “humility” at any cost, we could have both grown in our humility and healed from our engrained insecurities and fears that rooted the situation so deeply. We may have even had a bit more life left in “us”.

Perhaps if we all could do that a little more we would soon find ourselves in a world where we were genuinely for everybody. And everybody was for us.

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