Category Archives: Ministers

Homosexuality and the Gentiles

I’m a pretty lucky guy.  I have lots of people in my corner who love and support me.  In fact, sometimes my corner gets a little crowded.  I don’t say that to brag or to make anyone feel bad about their situation… I’m just saying that I recognize I’m pretty fortunate.

Among the folks who have loved me through my journey are lots of really solid straight people.  Love ’em.  I mean… when you come out, you know the gay world will rally around you, and that’s great.  But when straight folks stand behind and beside you, it takes support to a whole new level.

Joe Hays has been one of these people for me. He’s a pastor who really lives the grace of God – a man whose support meant a lot to me during a tough time.  Joe has guest written here before, and hopefully will again.

Until then, I’d like to share a post from Joe’s blog titled “Homosexuality and the Gentiles.”  It’s a really provocative thought about why homosexuals should be both welcomed and affirmed in the church and by the Christian community at large.  Basically, Joe says that if the first Christians (who still considered themselves a Jewish sect) didn’t require circumcision from the Gentiles to be welcomed and affirmed by the church, then why should the modern church require heterosexuality as a ticket in?

Ok… he says it better than that, so click here and read the post for yourself….

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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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Why Christians Should Hug Men In Their Underwear

Who needs original content when you can share stories as wonderful as this one?!  It’s titled, “I hugged a man in his underwear.  I think Jesus would have, too.

It tells the story behind the picture you see here —————>

I don’t want to give too much away, but…

Watching people recognize our apology brought me to tears many times. It was reconciliation personified. 

My favorite though was a gentleman who was dancing on a float. He was dressed solely in white underwear and had a pack of abs like no one else. As he was dancing on the float, he noticed us and jokingly yelled, “What are you sorry for? It’s pride!” I pointed to our signs and watched him read them. 

Then it clicked. 

Then he got it. 

He stopped dancing. He looked at all of us standing there. A look of utter seriousness came across his face. And as the float passed us he jumped off of it and ran towards us. In all his sweaty beautiful abs of steal, he hugged me and whispered, “thank you.” 

Read the entire story here.

If the word “reconcile” isn’t already bouncing around in your brain… let me put it there for you.

Reconcile:  1) To cause a person to accept or be resigned to something not desired.  2) To win over to friendliness; cause to become amicable.  3) To compose or settle a quarrel, dispute, etc. 4) To bring into agreement or harmony.

Right?!

Obviously, many of our LGBTQ friends need to find a way to reconcile their sexual orientation and their faith.  Many of us also need to be reconciled with the church.  But let’s not forget that while it’s important for us to be reconciled (brought happily back together with) both our sexuality and the church, it’s even more important that we be won over by, brought into harmony with, and reconciled to God.

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him… For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Colossians  1: 15 – 20

Don’t miss that the writer of Colossians tells us that God was PLEASED to reconcile all things to himself.  God was happy to do it.  The word the writer used for “pleased” literally means “found to be good by means of a test.”

The point?  God sat down and decided whether he thought being in a relationship with us – all of us – was a good idea… and decided that it was.  The idea of a relationship with us made God happy.  So God did what was necessary to make peace with us.

He didn’t make conflict, demands, or guilt.  He made peace.  With us.  All of us.  Just as we were.  Just as we are.  And so, perhaps we should follow the example of the underwear clad man above (and another son in another great story), and allow ourselves to be reconciled…

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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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What If America Were a Truly Christian Nation?

Tom Ehrich – a man I hadn’t heard of until 15 minutes ago – just took me to church.

In an article on SJ-R.com he asks, “What if America truly were a Christian nation? Not a Southern Baptist nation, or an Episcopal nation, or a Roman Catholic nation. Not grounded in the doctrinal and ecclesiastical isms that have grown up over the centuries. But a Christian nation, doing what Jesus did…

We wouldn’t be taking votes on who gets medical care, or who gets to live, or who gets to learn, or whose rights matter more, or whose race or religion can’t be allowed to breathe freely. For Jesus gave healing to all who asked, defended the lives of sinners, taught all who were eager to learn, welcomed all to his circle — even outcasts, lepers and children. He had no regard for his own tradition’s finely tuned boundaries…

We would stand with the poor when predators circled around them. We would stand with sinners when the self-righteous picked up stones. We would join hands with nonconformists and strangers.

We would become God’s beacon to the nations. And when the tired and poor followed that light to our borders, we would greet them with open arms and make room for them in our communities.

That’s what Jesus did, and that is what it would mean to be a Christian nation…”

Wow.

You should definitely check out the entire article (Tom Ehrich Asks If We Really Live Like Christians) to read all the wonderfullness the fits between all the …’s I’ve inserted in the quote above.

It’s worth your time.  Trust me.

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Gay and Straight Christians: Finding Our Common Ground for Thanksgiving

A parable: Once upon a time, Courtney wore a vintage Aerosmith t-shirt to work.  James, the man whose desk faced hers, was offended beyond words.  He hated Aerosmith.  He always had.  He always would.  Steven Tyler’s lips freaked him out.  James berated Courtney for her horrible taste in music and insulted her choice of clothes.  Courtney called James an idiot and screamed that she had the right to wear whatever shirt she wanted.  James threw a stapler.  Courtney threatned legal action.  Courtney and James fought for hours about a silly t-shirt… without ever realizing they were both wearing the same shoes.

The point?  LGBT Christians and “straight” Christians may be so busy fighting over whether it’s ok to be gay that we’ve forgotten everything we have in common.

Thanksgiving, that glorious day when we indulge in both cranberries and conflict around the family table, is only a few days away.  If you think your holiday might involve a tense conversations with Christian family and friends, maybe the following will help…

Richard Beck, Professor or Psychology at Abilene Christian University, has some very interesting concerns about how Gay folks and Christian folks talk with each other.  He claims we’re creating arguments where one side wins, one side loses, and both sides forget we’re all on the same team.  He says:

[My] first frustration is that it’s tacitly assumed that the only issue at stake in these conversations is the biblical status of same-sex relations. From a biblical perspective, are same-sex relations permissible? No doubt that is the central question, but it’s often assumed that this is the only question. That is, once this question is settled, one way or the other, the two groups have nothing much else to say to each other. Usually because they can’t agree on this question.

Which leads to my second frustration: the zero-sum nature of the conversation. Since it’s often assumed that the biblical status of same-sex relations is the only issue at stake, a “winner takes all” atmosphere is created. Either the traditional Christian side will win (in prohibiting same-sex relations) or the gay side will win (in affirming same-sex relations). This creates a zero-sum “I win. You lose.” dynamic that isn’t very kind or healthy.

Interesting, right?  What if, instead of focusing only on whether God thinks it’s ok to be gay (which sets up a win/lose dynamic), we start thinking about all things both straight and gay Christians already agree about?

Click here to read what Beck feels are the main areas of  “mutual concern” LGBT and “straight” Christian communities share.

It’s a great post. Seriously.  Read it before you carve your turkey (and family) on Thursday.

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Guilty By Association: Why Christians Stay in the Gay Closet?

According to the Bible, “they” will know we are Christians by our love.

According to research conducted by The Barna Group, however, most “outsiders” under 30 know we are Christians not by our love, but by our politics, judgmental language, and anti-homosexuality.

*sigh*

I spend a lot of time thinking about how to help LGBT folks understand that their sexuality doesn’t separate them from God.  I get frustrated when I hear stories about Christians who somehow think that using hateful, judgmental, hell-centered language effectively communicates the grace of God.

Unfortunately, too many trusted pastors, authors, speakers, and politicians preach that in order to be for Christ you must be against [fill in the blank].  You obviously know that this blank is often filled not only with issues (abortion, homosexuality, etc.), but also with the people these issues represent… homosexuals, pro-choicers, democrats, liberals, etc.  I think it’s safe to say that many of the folks reading this blog have experienced the hurt that comes from being shoved into the “against” column.

I could rant endlessly about how un-Biblical it is to imply that Christianity requires its followers to be against people.  The New Testament paints Jesus as decidedly PRO-people.  The only groups he ever came close to being against were judgmental religious insiders.  Regardless…

What if there’s another side to this story? 

I’m currently reading “unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity… And Why It Matters.”  In it, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons explain what they learned from interviews with 867 people about their perceptions of Christianity. In the chapter dealing with non-Christian folks’ perception that Christianity is anti-homosexual, they say:

… a young Christian friend we interviewed said she has to be discreet about her attempts to minister to some gay people she has met at work.  ‘If my church friends hear me talk sympathetically about gays, they get bent out of shape about it…’

I’ve been chewing on this idea for several weeks.  I hadn’t really considered the frustration, confusion, and grief of conservative Christians who are led to believe that in order to fully love Jesus, they must disapprove of their gay friends, coworkers, children, uncles, and sisters.  I know how hard it is for a Christian homosexual to come out as gay… but in my self-pity/absorption, I hadn’t really considered how difficult it must be for a conservative “straight” Christian to “come out” as one of our allies.  By showing their loyalty, understanding, and support for a gay friend/family member, many straight Christians apparently have their faith questioned… just as we do when we “come out.”

I’m surprised that I’m surprised. When my friend (and former pastor) Joe contributed this blog entry a few weeks ago, he emailed me to say:

So I posted this link on my facebook page. I’m guessing that more than 90% of my fb friends are conservative and will really react to this. Most don’t know that I stand where I stand, so it should be interesting. It’s time I say what I believe and stand by it…

His Facebook post said, “many of you will un-friend me. many of you will chastise me. many of you will mock me. however, it’s time i come out of the closet.”

I don’t know whether Joe lost friends because of the blog post… but his awareness of the potential fallout speaks volumes.  I guess “coming out” has consequences for everyone.

What do you think?  Does a fear of becoming “guilty by association” discourage our Christian parents, friends, and fellow believers from doing the homework necessary to understand how God and gay can fit together?

PS.  If you’d like to read reflections by a few of our straight allies about why they support our community, check out The Allies Project – a new initiative that tells the stories of the straight folks who have made our journey a little easier!

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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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Church Bullies?

A few days ago, a friend of mine on Facebook posted the following update:

“Today, I’ll try not to track down a bully, take a 2 by 4, sharpen it, & pound it up his rear with a croquet hammer. For I’m a man of peace. I will, however, rattle a few cages of some elected representatives who create anti bullying websites with NO ADEQUATE LAWS to back it up.”

My friend obviously isn’t Gandhi… but can you blame him?  Wouldn’t you also be tempted to find a few creative uses for a croquet hammer if a kid at school was making your kid feel like his life wasn’t worth living?

It’s been almost a year since the suicide of Tyler Clementi – a Rutgers student who jumped off of the George Washington Bridge after his roommate posted a live internet video of him having a sexual encounter with another man – brought increased national attention the “problem” of bullying among LGBT youth.

Those of us who work with (or are) LGBT youth didn’t need the death of Tyler Clementi – or any of the dozens of other youth who commit suicide due to bullying every year – to remind us that words can be even more dangerous than sticks and stones.  Dozens of studies – including this report from the Journal of Youth and Adolescence – report the effect of discrimination and harassment on LGBT youth:

40% of youth who reported a minority sexual orientation indicated feeling sad or hopeless in the past 2 weeks, compared to 26% of heterosexual youth… [the data] also showed that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were more than twice as likely as heterosexual youth to have considered attempting suicide in the past year (31% vs. 14%).

Adolescence should be a time of hopefullness, not hopelessness.  The church – one of the primary vehicles God has given us to communicate His hope to the hopeless – should stand as a sanctuary of peace and safety for LGBT youth.

Does yours?

Our friends at Lutherans Concerned/North America have developed a super anti-bullying curriculum that’s designed for churches who want to make both their congregations and communities safe(r) places for LGBT folks.  According to the promo literature, Where All Can Safely Live “was developed with the help of the staff at the Pacific Violence Prevention Institute, from the pioneering research on bullying by Dan Olweus, and materials created by the United States government.”

Interested?  Download a free copy of the anti-bullying curriculum (“Where All Can Safely Live”) here.

Reference:

Almeida, J., Johnson, R., Corliss, H., Molnar, B., & Azrael, D. (2009). Emotional distress among LGBT youth: The influence of perceived discrimination based on sexual orientation. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38, 1001 – 1014.

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