Tag Archives: GLBT Youth

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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Jesus, I think I’m gay.

From our friends at Believe Out Loud.

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“Jesus never said a thing about gay people…”

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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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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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Love is love and there can never be too much…

“By this they will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Back in 2000 – as the world refused to shut down for Y2K – a singer named Fiona Apple topped the pop charts.

One day, after a concert, a fan named Bill Magee approached Fiona and handed her a letter.  The letter was about his school’s gay-straight alliance and asked Fiona if she would mind replying with a sentence or two of encouragement or support of the group.

Keep in mind that this was before Lady Gaga – and other name-brand celebrities – made it trendy to support the LGBT community.

The next week, Fiona sent Bill an amazingly beautiful letter.

Hello Bill,

I got your letter a few days ago, but this is the first chance I’ve had to sit down and write (it’s my day off)

Of course, I’d love to help — sign me up. As far as a few sentences go, here’s what I’ve got — I hope it’s OK:

It’s hard to conjure up some new profound way of commenting on this issue — I’m so tired of it being an issue at all, and I suppose I’m lucky, because I see the truth so clearly. All I know is I want my friends to be good people, and when my friends fall in love, I want them to fall in love with other good people. How can you go wrong with two people in love? If a Good boy loves a good girl, good. If a good boy loves another good boy, good. And if a good girl loves the goodness in good boys and good girls, then all you have is more goodness, and goodness has nothing to do with sexual orientation. A person who loves is a righteous person, and if someone has the ability and desire to show love to another — to someone willing to receive it, then for goodness’ sake, let them do it. Hate has no place in the equation; there is no function for it to perform. Love is love, and there will never be too much.

Fiona Apple

P.S. Right on for doing this, Bill

click here for a peek at the original letter

What a graceful definition of love.

If you have a tendency to skim over extended quotes – as I do – let me re-emphasize part of Fiona’s letter.   She said, “…goodness has nothing to do with sexual orientation. A person who loves is a righteous person, and if someone has the ability and desire to show love to another — to someone willing to receive it, then for goodness’ sake, let them do it.”

That’ll preach.  In fact, it once did…

Jesus taught us that “by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

Dear friends, let us therefore love one another in the full freedom that comes from knowing our homosexuality can also be holy sexuality.

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Right / Wrong < Love

I know, I know.  I haven’t posted anything if forever.  I’m sorry.  I was being so faithful.  Then I fell off the face of the earth.  Ah, life! Why must you take so much time?

During this season of political sound bites, I offer you this gem from Mother Theresa.  It reminds me that “right” and “wrong” are seldom the most important issues…

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” (-Mother Theresa)

Pass it on.

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Apparently, it’s not as obvious as I thought…

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Bullying, Depression, and The Extra Credit Kid.

Bullying.  There, I said it.

I just read a pretty decent article titled “Are Depressed Kids Bully Magnets?”  The article is (obviously) about the possible link between depression and bullying.  It doesn’t deal specifically with LGBT kids, but… c’mon.  The author questions whether kids become depressed because they’re bullied or whether they’re bullied because they’re depressed.  After all, the author reasons, a sad, downer kid crying in the corner is a pretty easy target.

If you have any connection to LGBT youth, you’ve probably already made mental connections between bullying and depression… and being gay and depression… and being gay and bullying… and have already realized how all these ingredients can mix together into a pretty nasty cake.

After reading the article, I was reminded of a short story I wrote a few years ago about an “extra credit kid.”  (Hopefully) it raises some questions not only about  the need each of us has for someone to look beyond our ordinary and see something special, but also about our ability to bounce back when they don’t.

And so, because I think it somehow relates to our larger conversation of the LGBT experience, I present…

The Extra Credit Kid

When the boy was ten, his 5th grade teacher used the hour after lunch to teach her class the beautiful language of the deaf.  Even though everyone in the class could hear – even though they all listened to their radios at home and turned their TVs louder than their mothers would have liked – this particular over-achieving educator wanted her class to know sign language. She wanted to teach their still innocent hands how to do something constructive.  She wanted them to learn gestures that would communicate without offending the elderly.

The children loved their sign language lessons.   Once, during a silent game of Ring Around the Rosie, they even got so rowdy that the teacher had to remind them to use their inside hands.

After the first week of learning to speak with silent words, the boy told his teacher that his mother was deaf.  He said that everyone in his family knew how to use sign language.  He had been doing it for years.  Sometimes, before bed, he even used his hands to read out loud to his mother.

“But not the Bible,” he said.  “All the whosoevers and wherefores make my knuckles crack.”

The teacher was amazed. Like an exotic exchange student from a quiet and faraway land, the boy was a native who already knew the language. He was a natural tutor.  In a moment of instructive genius, the teacher offered bonus points to any child who spent time with the boy whose hands could talk.

He was the extra credit kid.

Within hours of the teacher’s edict, the extra credit kid became the most popular kid in class.  His lunch table was always full.  His seat was always saved.  He never spent recess jumping rope by himself.  He was extra credit.

Every afternoon The Extra Credit Kid leapt off a bus full of new friends, eager to tell his mother how popular he was at school.  With exhausted fingers, he bragged about how everyone wanted to spend time with him because he was good at something.  Because he knew something.  Because he could do something no one else could.

Because he was extra credit.

The teacher asked The Extra Credit Kid to keep a journal of the time he spent with friends from their class.  She wanted to be fair when she assigned extra points.  The Extra Credit Kid soon noticed that he was invited to lots of birthday parties and sleepovers, but only on nights before the teacher tallied progress reports or just after difficult math tests.  He played lots of video games with the lazy kids, but was never spoken to by the smart ones who had stars next to their names on the bulletin board.

In March, everyone celebrated The Extra Credit Kid’s birthday by singing Happy Birthday with their hands.

In April, his class took a special trip to a school where the children couldn’t hear.  The Extra Credit Kid ate lunch at a table full of deaf kids and told a joke so well that a boy almost choked on his peas.  Everyone from The Extra Credit Kid’s class turned around to look.  The rest of the cafeteria hadn’t heard a thing.

In May, everyone waved goodbye to each other and promised they’d play together at the swimming pool.

In June, when school was over, the Extra Credit Kid’s new friends stopped returning his calls. His hands, once limber from telling jokes and stories, grew lazy and fat.  Summer vacation wasn’t nearly as much fun as the school year had been.

The sixth grade was even more disappointing than the summer. His new teacher, Mrs. Espinoza, had severe arthritis and wasn’t interested in sign language.  She wanted to teach the children Spanish.  The Extra Credit Kid had never been to Spain.  For a month he spent the hour after lunch memorizing conjugations with his hands folded politely in his lap.

It was hard crossing from extra back to ordinary. It always is.

During the seventh grade The Extra Credit Kid learned to play the trombone.

In high school his hands were often busy, but with a new sign language that involved him talking mostly to himself.

The Extra Credit Kid eventually went to college and found a job and became a man.

After a while, the man almost forgot that he had ever been extra credit.

But then, when his mom visited, they would sit together and tell stories with their hands.  And laugh.  And he would remember.

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“Coming Out” at a Christian College

Todd Clayton “came out” at a Christian college.  Geesh.  The nerve of some guys.

He says…

The shrewdest, loudest, most violent lie that LGBT people at Christian colleges and universities carry is this: that no one else like them exists. More important, and more enduring than the stares and questions and assaulting prayers, are the stories of the 70 current students, and 130 alumni who contacted me to say they had the same kind of dreams I did…

As a graduate of a Christian college, I admire Todd’s moxy.  There’s really no reason for me to comment further.  I mean, the story of how I didn’t come out at a Christian college is pretty boring.   And why would I waste valuable space on the internet commenting on Todd’s story when you can read it for yourself…

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