Category Archives: Conversation

Don’t Say Gay?

Today I had the privilege of both speaking briefly at a prayer breakfast and meeting with fellow clergy and Tennessee state  legislators to discuss the far-reaching implications of Tennessee’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.  As you may know, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill would force teachers and school administrators to literally “out” any student who approaches them to discuss anything related to homosexuality.  This bill is not only a HUGE step backward in our work to create equality, but also a CLEAR message to LGBT youth that they sit in their closets alone. I honestly can’t decide if this legislation makes me more want to cry or shout… or possibly both.

No matter our political or theological leanings, we should be able to agree that children and teens should not be killing themselves because they have been placed in a situation so hostile and isolating that they feel there is no other alternative.

I don’t often write my sermons/reflections out in a word-for-word document… but I did this time.  Thought I’d my reflection with you here…

Don’t Say Gay?

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When I confirmed my participation in this breakfast, one of the organizers asked about scriptures that would be appropriate to share this morning.  I immediately thought of this small story from Joshua 20:

Then the Lord said to Joshua: “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood. When they flee to one of these cities, they are to stand in the entrance of the city gate and state their case before the elders of that city. Then the elders are to admit the fugitive into their city and provide a place to live among them. If the avenger of blood comes in pursuit, the elders must not surrender the fugitive, because the fugitive killed their neighbor unintentionally and without malice aforethought.

It’s an interesting little story, isn’t it?  It’s the Lord telling Joshua to provide refuge for people being pursued by their enemies.  In this case the cities of refuge are specifically for people who have accidentally killed someone, but let’s think about the spirit behind the idea…

Provide safety, refuge, and protection for those who need to be protected.  It’s an important enough idea that the commandment to provide cities of refuge can be found in 4 of our OT books.

“Provide a place where they can flee and find protection.”

Let me be clear – I AM NOT implying that a non-hetero sexual orientation is in any way deviant or that LGBTQ youth – or any youth – should feel the need to hide because of who they love.

BUT… I do like the standard set in this passage that God provided a place of safety for those whom society considered morally outcast.  Should our schools and churches not also be these places for our youth?  Shouldn’t our teachers have the freedom to act in compassion and be a “city of refuge” for students who are sometimes literally “pursued by their enemies?”  Given that our kids spend 25% of their day under a school roof, shouldn’t we do everything we can to make it a safe place… a city of refuge… rather than a place that makes them feel isolated and alone?

Given that research shows the isolation LGBT youth feel may be one of the greatest contributors to the fact that these kids are:

  • more than 8 times more likely to attempt suicide
  • almost 6 times more likely to experience serious depression
  • over 3 times more likely to have regular unprotected sex than other youth.

Given that… shouldn’t we do everything we can to hold them close rather than push them further outside the city walls?

From the gospel of Matthew:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

“And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’”

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12 Steps to Supporting the LGBT Community in 2013

Ok – I know its been way, Way, WAY too long since I’ve posted, but my life has been bursting with change (and therefore the incredible amount of work and energy required to make change happen… right, Mr. Obama?).

Since I last posted, I…

  1. Finished a Master’s Degree
  2. Resigned my position at the non-profit where I worked with LGBT kids
  3. Was hired by a wonderful church in Nashville, TN that proudly serves and is served by the LGBT community
  4. Moved from New York City to Nashville, TN
  5. Bought a car (goodbye convenient public transportation!)
  6. Started aforementioned job and have been INCREDIBLY blessed by the people I work with (and around) in my new church.

So… cut me a break, eh?

As a welcome back present, I offer you the folowing… Patheos’ recent article “12 Steps to Becoming an LGBT Ally in 2013.”  It includes the following encouragement that’s sage advice both for straight folks who support the LGBT community AND those of us who identify as LGBT…

Read A LOT about being LGBT.
Read books, blogs that are written by gay folks.
Read books and blogs by allies.
Read authentic voices sharing true stories.

And read your holy texts.  Read for all the ways God is calling us into compassion and justice. If you are a Christian and are reading the Bible, go ahead and count the number of scriptural references to justice and compassion as compared to the number of times homosexuality (as understood in a particular, historical culture) is mentioned.  And Christians who are called to follow in the footsteps of that rabbi who fed the multitudes without asking for a dime, healed the sick (on the sabbath) without asking for insurance and died a criminal’s death – please carefully read for what Jesus had to say about homosexuality.

Click here to read the entire article

Whew… it’s good to be back.

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What if the Bible isn’t our biggest problem?

In research circles, a presupposition is an idea that a researcher believes is true and which colors her every interview, finding, and report.

In this quest to 1)  help LGBT folks understand that they can have a vibrant, liberating relationship with a God who doesn’t condemn them and to 2) help the church understand that gay folks should not only be welcomed, but fully affirmed, appreciated, and used in their churches – I admit I have some presuppostions.

My chief presupposition is that if people would open their minds to what the Bible actually says – and doesn’t say – about homosexuality, this whole struggle would be over.

If gay folks could see that scripture (and therefore, God) neither condemns nor judges their sexuality, then they would stop feeling condemned and judged.  Likewise, if the church and its leaders would seriously study the “gay scriptures” and find what they actually said to the people they were written to a few thousand years ago, wouldn’t they reailize that there’s no reason not to open their doors to our community?

It all seems so clear to me.

Or rather, it all seemed so clear to me until a few minutes ago.  I’m currently reading “In the Eye of the Storm: Pushed to the Center by God” by Bishop Gene Robinson – the first gay man to be ordained Bishop in the Episcopal church.  A few minutes ago, sitting on a bench in Prospect Park, Gene opened my eyes to a whole new reason many Christians, church leaders, and churches prickle at the idea of LGBT people worshiping in their pews, proud and unrepentant of their sexual orientation.   Perhaps the problem goes deeper than simply a misunderstanding about scripture…

When you dig down a little more, you’ll find that what we’re seeing is the beginning of the end of patriarchy.  For a very long time, men – mostly white, educated Western, heterosexual men from the Global North – have been making all the decisions for the world.  People of color have demanded a place at that decision making table, and so have women.  Now that we lgbt people are claiming a place too, the system of patriarchy, out of which [Christianity, Judaism, and Islam] developed, seems to be starting to unravel…  It’s not because gay and lesbian people are any different than others who have demanded equality, but because for religious bodies and for the culture, the full equality of gays and lesbians strikes at the very heart of the patriarchy and misogyny that’s been the way of the world for so long. (p. 98-99)

Thanks, Gene.  I’m gonna chew on that for a while…

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“Jesus never said a thing about gay people…”

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Abomination (n). Do you know what it means?

If you answered great big sin, something that makes God really mad, actions that send you to hell, or anything else in that ballpark, I’m (not) sorry to tell you that…. you’re wrong.

Back in the old, old days when the Old Testament was written, “abomination” didn’t mean “something that is wrong for everyone.”  Nope.  Instead, the folks who wrote the law we find in the Old Testament book of Leviticus (aka – Jewish folks) knew that an abomination was “something a very specific group of people has chosen not to do.”

It wasn’t “an action that is wrong.”  It was “an action that is wrong… for us.”

In other words…

Changes the way you think about the gay experience, doesn’t it?

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Andy Stanley, where do you stand?

Busy day.  Not much time to comment… but check out this story about “an illustration by North Point Senior Pastor Andy Stanley in his April 15 sermon that has been raising questions on where the megachurch pastor stands on homosexuality…

Here’s a taste of the article from the Christianity Today article titled “Andy Stanley Sermon Illustration on Homosexuality Prompts Backlash.”

Stanley’s message was from the book of John, and he spoke about how messy and seemingly inconsistent Jesus’ love was. “At times [Jesus] seems to be forgiving, and at other times he seems to be holding everybody accountable,” Stanley said in the sermon. “At times he points out sin and at times it’s like he ignores sin altogether.”

Click here to read the full story.

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Don’t Give Up On Christian Gays

An article titled “Do Not Give Up On Christian Gays” appeared in the Advocate – a national LGBT news magazine – last week.  The title says it all, right?

The young author makes an interesting case for the responsibility LGBT folks have for changing the church from the inside out.  (perhaps this is our calling?)  He says…

 The message [of the church I grew up in] was largely unspoken, yet crystal clear: If you don’t fit into a heterosexual identity, you aren’t welcome.

None of this was because church is unwelcoming in general. Everyone was welcomed on the same terms — being willing to repent from sin. Those who wouldn’t repent but wanted acceptance anyway were asking for special treatment. And being gay was a sin — a choice, a rebellion against God’s design.

Sadly, for LGBT kids in these communities, things are not getting better. And no matter how many moving videos are made or how many young people take their lives in despair, change will not come so long as the only voices of dissent are coming from the outside — from progressive Christians and the nonreligious. Change can be achieved within conservative Christianity, but it must come from within.

The trouble is, the best candidates for reforming these churches — the LGBT Christians who are in them — remain isolated and voiceless. When we do come out and try to gain acceptance, we’re shut down with antigay readings of Scripture. And if we aren’t prepared to articulate and defend our own theological understanding with all the fluency and gravitas of a biblical scholar, we’re shown the door.

Read the full article here.

So… what’r we to do?

I’ll never forget the summer night I stood on my back porch with fists raised to the sky and tearfully asked God, “what the hell am I supposed to do now?”  After more than a decade in ministry, I was stuck.  I could either continue living as a straight person (and deny who God had created me to be), or “come out” and be forced to walk away from my calling (because of who God had created me to be).

I was terrified.  It seemed like an impossible decision.  What was my responsibility to the church?  To my God?  To myself?

I eventually came to realize that I’m not built like a magnet, with two sides (the spiritual and the sexual) that automatically repel each other.  I am a Christian gay man.  These two identities are not in opposition to each other.  Like bacon and chocolate, they come together in an unexpectedly beautiful union.  This means that as a minister, I have the ability to work for the kingdom in a way that few others can.

Perhaps you do, too.

Friends, we gay Christians fill an important niche in both the gay and Christian communities.  We are bilingual – able to speak both LGBT and Christian.  We can either work from within the Church and tell the Christian community “there might be a better, more Godly way,” or we can work from within the gay community to spread the message that, “despite what you may have heard, God does not hate you.”

Either way, nobody can work for change like we can.  Nobody has a foot in two doors like we do.  Nobody has the potential to unify two feuding families like we do.

So… raise your fists to the sky if you must, but don’t give up on God.  God hasn’t given up on you.

update:  for an excellent, although slightly different, perspective on “working from the inside” (especially when you’re angry and/or confused by your experience with the church), check out this really nicely written post by John Shore titled “From Gay-Hating Fundie to Righteously Angry Lesbian.  Now What?”

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You’re welcomed to your personal beliefs, but…

I just walked into the office after a great program with a group of LGBT and allied kids at a local high school.

I took a guest with me, one of my org’s more dedicated volunteers.  After the program, G. (the volunteer) and I walked across the street to get a cup of coffee and debrief our disbelief.  Our program today was about LGBT history.  G. and I were shocked at how little the kids knew about LGBT history.  How is it that a group of gay kids in NYC – where it’s relatively safe to be a gay kid – had never heard of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and seemed only somewhat aware that LGBT folks in New York State were given the right to marry less than a year ago?  *sigh*  How does that happen?

Regardless…

My conversation with G. quickly evolved into one about a different kind of history.  At G.’s prompting, we started talking about religion.  G., who was raised an orthodox Jew, waxed eloquently and intelligently about how religion (both Jewish and Christian) has shaped gay life in the 21st century.

He said, “I think most people need to be reminded that religion is completely personal.  People need to be given the power to figure out the Bible, or Qur’an, or whatever, for themselves and say f’you to any church, synagogue,  mosque, or religious zealot that tries to invade their personal belief system.  Religion is personal and it’s private.”

G.’s a smart man.  There’s a lot to unpack in his thought.

I agree that people need to be given the power to figure out their holy books, their faith, and their theology so that they can stand confidently when religious people say unholy and hurtful things to them.  But…

It’s pretty important that we remember Christianity is not completely personal.  Christianity (and its grandfather, Judaism) isn’t an idea that people enjoy in isolation.   Nope… Christianity isn’t personal.  It’s communal, all wrapped up in relationships.  It always has been.

Jesus drew disciples together into a community that followed him up mountainsides to pray together, across seas to minister together, and into upper rooms to eat together.  The Holy Spirit draws believers together into the Church, a community of believers.  Paul tells us that this church is the body of Christ – a strange Frankenstein creature with many parts that all (ideally) work together to show God’s illogical love to the world.

You and I may each have deeply personal relationships with our faith, but these relationships are meant to draw us together into what Christ called the Kingdom of God… a community.

And that may explain why churches have such tremendous power to hurt gay people.  If our faith were only personal – ideas we enjoy in the privacy of our own soul – we might be able to cope with church-thrown nastiness by saying “I guess they don’t understand how my idea fits into their idea.  Oh, well.”

But since Christianity is communal, the game changes.  The church’s nastiness forces us to say, “They don’t want me to be a part of their community.  They don’t think I fit into the Kingdom of God.  They don’t want me to be part of our family anymore.”

And that hurts.

So, dear LGBT friends, let me remind you that “they” are wrong.  You do fit in the Kingdom.  You are a part of the family.  Consider what the Apostle John said about Jesus (who, like many of us, was also rejected by his religious community for believing that outcasts should be loved rather than judged)…

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…

He gave us all the right to be part of the family.  Anybody who tells you differently is wrong.

Also, please keep in mind a valuable lesson we all should have learned in high school:  just because one group of mean kids won’t let you eat lunch with them doesn’t mean the band kids, drama kids, chess kids, golf kids, or whatever kids won’t let you sit at their table.

If a church has been hateful to you because you’re LGBTQ, click here to find another one who really wants someone just like you to love God alongside them.

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Dear Facebook… I’m Gay.

I know I often sound like a broken record, saying things I’ve said dozens of times before.  (fyi – I also know the “broken record” simile is totally 1972 and doesn’t work anymore, but I can’t think of an mp3 equivalent.  I would welcome suggestions…)

Regardless – I believe it’s important for us to share our stories.  They show us that our ideas aren’t weird and that we’re not the only ones who have felt/thought/believed something.

A good friend of mine – the talented artist who designed the “Stillforus” header you see above – recently came out to her dad.  It was a pretty gutsy move and she’s currently navigating the aftermath.

Three days after she told her dad, my friend posted the following status update on Facebook.  It’s brilliant.  When you read her “things I have believed in chronological order” list, I think you’ll find yourself nodding your head and sympathetically  mumbling “mmmmhhmmmm” a lot.  Enjoy.

(If you’d like to send my friend an encouraging thought to help her through a pretty sh!tt% time, feel free to post it in the comments.  I’ll be sure she gets your note…)

Dear Facebook, 

I finally told my dad, so now I can tell you what some of you know and what most of you don’t care, and that is that I’m gay. Things I have believed in chronological order:

  1. Gay people go to hell.
  2. Gay people don’t really exist–they’re just behaving gay.
  3. Gay can be fixed and changed through prayer and hard work.
  4. You can adopt traits of your own sex and learn to be more of a girl.
  5. This will bring forth a man.
  6. Homosexuality is the same as being predisposed to alcoholism.
  7. God loves all of us.
  8. God made us exactly as he wanted us to be.
  9. The Bible shouldn’t be read literally.
  10. The idea of God becomes bigger when you don’t read the Bible literally.
  11. I don’t believe in God.
  12. I don’t believe in the Bible.
  13. I’m too old for this crap.
  14. I’m tired of hearing about kids dying or getting picked on for being gay.
  15. I’m tired of hearing people called fags or dykes.
  16. I’m tired of feeling at home in Brooklyn because it seems to be the only place that feels safe.
  17. God doesn’t exist.
  18. Love the sinner, hate the sin isn’t actually love at all.
  19. I am gay
  20. It’s the only thing that has ever made sense to me.
  21. I lost my ability to pray.
  22. I’m studying the Bible.
  23. I’ve placed membership at a church that has a little bit of everybody.
  24. Sometimes I can see God.
  25. God is patient and hangs out anyway, even if you can’t always believe in him.
  26. I only want people in my life who are good and who will make me a better person.
  27. I’m gay.
  28. It wasn’t an accident.
  29. It’s not a sin.

I’ve lived in many places and met all of you somewhere along the way. A lot of you I know from home and from college. Those, I imagine, are the people who will have the hardest time with this news.

I come out for the kids who haven’t or can’t or don’t yet know why they’re so different. To them I say that you are loved and you are perfect.

If you find yourself so repulsed by this news, please unfriend me. If you feel God has put it on your heart to talk to me about my sin, he has not, and you should also probably unfriend me.

I am the same person today, as I was yesterday–only with a longer status update.

If you are shocked or surprised by this news, please do come forward as I have a trophy to give to the only person who didn’t know.

-S.

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God doesn’t need a facelift.

Anne Lamott – an author I really enjoy – once said, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

Can I get an amen?

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