A Language Lost

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Last year at the University of Minnesota, PBS hosted a conversation between David Blankenhorn and Jonathan Rauch.

Rauch and Blankenhorn are friends and nobody is sure why.

Rauch has long been a major player in the fight for marriage equality and Blankenhorn has been the thorn in his side, advocating for the traditional family and the mother-father parental model.

For years, these two have traversed the country while tearing into one another over their opposing beliefs. Rauch has called Blankenhorn a bigot.  Blankenhorn has called Rauch a radical.  The two were camped in polarizing places, maintaining a gridlock that would make congress blush.

 

But then something happened.

 

They grabbed coffee.

 

Through the honest hours of humanity that they spent together, a friendship was born.  Shortly after, Rauch wrote the preface for Blankenhorn’s book- a book against gay marriage. Rauch called it the best argument he’s heard yet.

The bond that blossomed between these two didn’t derive out of a change in belief (although, Blankenhorn eventually did). It came from changing the language. At the height of their mutual hostility, they experienced a crinkle of the conscience, one that begged them to be better. This epiphany awoke a newfound desire to disagree with dignity again. They had grown tired of demonizing one another, so they started an organization and co-wrote literature and connected over the ordinary in their lives.

Looking through the lens of how the real world works, this relationship is rare, if not impossible. But have we ever truly tried? Have we ever wondered whether we were simply situating ourselves in the tribes society told us to?

Let’s imagine for a second that there’s this Church function.

In attendance is George and Evelyn, an elderly couple from the rural parts of Pennsylvania. With a little grit and grace, they raised eight children on a paycheck-to-paycheck budget. They also happen to be Franklin Graham diehards and down ballot Republicans.

Across at their table sits a newlywed lesbian couple, just on the cusp of parenthood.

Through a little nudge and a proper introduction, a lay out of lives begins. The two catch a glimpse of anxiety and fret filling the young ladies faces- looks they know all too well.. And like the proud parents they are, they lean in and offer a few tricks up their sleeve. But then things get a little of hand. An hour passes and coffee is spat out of mouths during another hilarious trip down memory lane. Exhausting the stories the couples somberly reflect on how life is never what we expect it to be.

Is it possible that inside those intimate exchanges, nostalgia and naive dreams could collide and cross over… into closeness?

Call me an idealist or a dreamer, but I don’t think this is farfetched for us. Rauch and Blankenhorn did it because they reclaimed that redemptive lost language. The one that speaks to the soul, not the soldier.

The lost language beneath the wreckage of wrong worldview and cultural caricature is found in our shared humanity. Too often, instead of excavating what bonds us, what truly matters, our sharp tongues reflexively strike, injecting toxic turns that wither away whatever was growing.

But our stories disarm. In our familiarities we find ourselves unfilled and wanting more. Our differences don’t dissolve, but they become quieter and petty, unwanted interruptions of something valuable we have stumbled upon. Empathy is found in people we do not expect to find it from. Through stories of different characters, but similar sentiments a brave bond can be formed.  This is the language of lives lived.

Somewhere between Stonewall and Proposition Eight we lost sight of the stories beneath the banners. It was all about winning for us. We stroked our pride by pledging allegiance to the propaganda of our cause. Crimes were committed, to be sure, but the brush we painted the other with was too broad, too simple and completely dehumanizing. And as a consequence, we buried the language that bonds us.

If we could resurrect those refrains of common courage and struggle and hope and faith, maybe we could unearth what has been lost. Maybe we would hang on tighter to the words of Mother Teresa who said

“if we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Could what divides be overcome with what bonds us?

The Kingdom tells us yes.

RR

Flaunting Sexuality

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I remember the date I attended that service, because it was 3 months before I came out. The message was a continuation of a series on sex and gender roles and what each means for the committed Christian. It actually wasn’t that conservative of a conversation. Open minds were presented and the words submission and purity weren’t drawn on like arrows to a bow.

But during the Q & A, a certain question came up; one that everyone was thinking because this was CHURCH and we were talking about SEX.

What about homosexuality?

“Well… um. hmmmmmm… ha.

The Christian Sex Expert conceded the floor to our pastor who had a not-so-thorough but nonetheless, gracious and nuanced response.

“Exactly” chimed in the Expert, “exactly and, like, I don’t walk up to strangers saying, ‘Hey, my name is Jane and I’m a heterosexual.’ That’s just not how we introduce ourselves!” She stepped back, folded her arms and beamed around as if she had just steered us somewhere satisfactory. And all I thought was, wait… where exactly?

It’s an age old tradition for the Church crowd to level complaints against others that are…. ill-fitting.

Like when they’d say, Women are just so shrill and simple and emotional”

Or, Black folk are always out take what is mine”

More recently, “Them illegal’s are trying to take away English from our country”

Right now, “Those gays are so in-your-face about their sexuality”

Its safe to say this Expert was operating under the old assumption that gay people put way too much of an emphasis on their sexual orientation. That somehow our sexual identity supersedes the spiritual one. And in a perfectly uncomplicated world, I could sympathize with her. That being said, her answer reflects a common misunderstanding about who LGBT people are… something I would hope a Sex Expert would have some knowledge of.

First and foremost, women, racial minorities and religious identities are never asked to silence their stories of struggle or to cover up the marks that make them different. We tried being colorblind, but that almost erased the progress we made towards healing old crimes. We tried to not see gender, but then things got complicated because women wanted equality not worship. We tried to not see religion but with that came a compromise of conscience for those of us that hold our relationships with a higher power to be the most significant aspect of our lives.

At some point down the road we realized that it would be wrong to become blind to the beautiful blemishes that make us rare to the regular. To do so would be a betrayal to the “come as you are” culture we have sought to emulate.

We should also consider who the typical talkers are when it comes to this. Not necessarily at the pulpit, but in faith culture and the public for sure.

After all, it is typically conservative Christians who insert LGBT issues into constitutional ballots and it is usually conservative Christians who show up to protest the Pride parade. When Christians go to vote, abortion and gay marriage tend to be the two issues that their decision hangs upon. Now that I think of it… Christians may chat about this more than we do. And it’s okay.

But when my gay brethren bring up their love life it’s suddenly in your face?

Spare me.

Maybe the reason this kind of thinking exists is because perception from a distance makes misconceptions feel like observations. Basically, you havent sat in our stories.

And if you did that, with ears and hearts wide open, you might get a morsel of understanding. When you grow up in a hetero-normative culture that calls you a contradiction and an abomination, this important piece of who you are becomes magnified over endless years of closet living. It’s all we thought about and hated about and finally accepted and appreciated about ourselves.

And then when you’re out… (snap) just like that, everybody talks about it, and soon, you become someone’s “gay” friend to pull out at parties (like an accessory).

But when we, the experts of our own unique experiences, talk openly about them, we are crassly throwing it in your face.

We are making too much of ourselves.

Just because we’re not cut from the same Wonder Bread doesn’t mean we are without sustenance.

So give us our dues and let us share our stories. We aren’t pushing an “agenda” any more than the Sisters giving sermons are propagating feminism. We aren’t crashing a party any more than the black folks in the pews are disrupting white homogeneity. We are not obsessed with our sexuality, but we get that we’re different. A significant and inseparable part of a body built on diversity.

RR

I asked and you answered… Now let’s keep this thing going.

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So tonight, we had our first LITT (Living in the Tension) gathering and, I think, we are off to a wonderful start. There were perhaps 12 of us there, and within this number, there were vastly different views represented. It was beautifully tense you might say. Passions flared for but a moment, which is good because that means people care A LOT about this group, and then we huddled ourselves back around the fire of love and community and Christ.

We got this, I know we do.

Earlier in the day I solicited advice from my friends on twitter about different questions/topics/approaches/etc to make this group be something spiritually redemptive. A success for both the church and LGBT community. A place where we can feel brave enough to wonder out loud and safe enough to share the most vulnerable parts of our story.

I have absolutely incredible people in my corner on twitter. Seriously. The responses I received meant the world to me.

But. I don’t want it to stop there. We have to keep talking about this.

46thpsalm, the blogger behind Radical Grace:

“I think the best approach is to make church members recognize commonalities. People like to suppose #LGBT are different.”

“Emphasize that God’s love is for all, and that respectful disagreement is even OK, so long as it’s done with dignity.”

“I would stress that our job as the body of Christ is to show God’s love, not presuppose his judgment.”

“can’t make everyone agree with us or condone something they don’t approve of. But you can demonstrate our inherent worth.”

“I might also use examples of Jesus associating with people the “average person” doesn’t accept, such as tax collectors, etc”

Charlotte Norton, the blogger behind Middle Ground:

 

“how to make ministry/worship welcoming to LGBT people. How to translate theory/belief into practice that honours personhood”

“lots of thoughts…1. language used . People need to know appropriate terms for describing/speaking to LGBT people “

“2. dialogue. people need to know it is possible to co-exist with someone who has a different opinion “

“3. outreach. the LGBT community needs to know you are there for them”

“4. needs. the LGBT community has specific needs and “issues” – how to deal with someone who has previously been hurt? “

“5. relationships. LGBT people need to be supported and befriended as they are.”

“6. Related to 5. LGBT people come in couples and many need support like straight couples. How will church deal with this? “

“the main thing is that the church needs to decide what the vision is before figuring out how to implement it (to avoid giving the “wrong message” about itself to LGBT people and its own members)”

Julie ( 🙂 ), the blogger behind Incite Faith:

 

“Let everyone speak from experience. Everyone will have different denominations and beliefs. Creates productive dialogue.”

“Let them speak in the 1st person– and from personal experience. “I feel,” “I believe” are good prompts.”

“Have others share their stories and empathize the space is safe to share their thoughts and opinions on their sexuality.”

“Facilitator should focus on healing given the emotional pain inflicted by the Church w/o making them feel like a victim”

Rohan Salmond, blogger behind Hey! Crunch King!:

 

“My major thing is making sure Side B folk don’t let properly homophobic rhetoric slide when it’s in the news etc…”

“I’d like to challenge the notion that LGBT folk aren’t able to lead small groups etc too.”

“Is barring us from broader theological conversations in that way actually healthy for the life of the Church?”

“Questioning the narrow definition of masculinity churches hold would be good. “Men’s retreats” are always about sport etc.”

“Asking how to encourage a safe environment to be questioning would be a good broad question to ask too!“

The dynamic duo, Tony and Jordan, bloggers behind gaysubtlety:

 

“Sorry, late to the party (was playing soccer). Story based to start (allows people to feel heard and known, prevents eventual disagreement from being mired in ignorance. Practical, local initiatives you could partner with.”

“And I agree with Charlotte Norton that the church should come up with a vision statement that the whole church has access to.”

“Important that this not just be a side-group to discuss LGBTQ things, but a think tank for the church body and its future.”

Amy Mitchell, the blogger behind Unchained Faith, offered some much needed encouragement:

“I will continue to pray for grace and love in the conversation.”

In the air tonight, as we reached the end of our time, was a palpable understanding that we were headed for minefield. We agreed that we can only cross it if we do this together. But only if we choose to love and learn from one another. Something noticeably absent in the broader church and cultural dialogue.

I am both hopeful and nervous.

And your responses have made a HUGE difference. I am showing these to my Pastor leading this thing.

There is a clear consensus for ensuring a safe space where love is emphasized and stories are valued. That is what will lead us forward. That will be what fuels us.

But, now, I must call on your services again… We are looking for topics to cover in our gatherings. Things like bullying, gender identity, progressive revelation are a few on my mind.

But do you have any others? What are some topics that we can start with that will set us on a firm footing? Ones that aren’t emotionally explosive? We’re new at this and the last thing we need is a nasty fight.

Any good Bible Stories that can relate to gay folks or reconciliation?

Any excellent books that we could read?

Any movies or documentaries?

Any tough but critical questions?

 

What about those who are curious about the LGBT community?

What questions do you have?

What is the best way for you to learn more about us?

What do you want to know?

How can we help you?

Again, I don’t care if you are LGBT, a woman or a man, old or young, black or white, conservative or liberal, Christian or not, I want your input because you matter to this conversation. And you most certainly matter to me.

Fill me in!

RR

Words I Had Waited For

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The second reflection of last Sunday

~

The earnestness in his voice was too strong to ignore. Nothing about it felt rehearsed or forced or phony. His realness brought on a tension that rolled through the pews. Everyone knew the stakes of this moment. We waited on held breath and seat’s edge to see how he would set the tone for this series.

Pitch, posture and adjectives all became the difference between a weeping and a rolling eye. Before him sat a crowd that was hardly homogenous. It was filled with diverse thoughts on theology and decades of life histories. Playing on the safe side would be tricky to do, but possible. He could make it across this bridge without pissing off both gays and conservatives.

It was possible.

But it was far from relevant.

Through eyes brimmed with tears, I watched as he went the whole mile. I think he knew it was a moment for grace not groans. And as he went on, it became clear to me that he got what grace was. Or better yet, what grace does.

That night there was a change in routine. Typically, communion was held at the close of every service where every attendee would line up to receive the elements and then return to their row for personal prayer and reflection.

This night, he wanted us stay where we were. There was something that he needed to say and something we needed to do and it was way too important to ignore.

Staring across the divide between altar and audience

he made a call to repentance.

Not some generic repentance of how “we are all sinners and fall short”;

No, this was direct and it was specific.

He called for forgiveness for how we as the Church and as individuals had inflicted pain upon the LGBT community.

He uttered one of the most beautiful prayers I have ever heard. His words outshining every one of my Sunday mornings.

I didn’t hear a party platform.

There was no disclaimer of “We the Church believe” statements

I didn’t hear excuses and I didn’t hear explanations.

All I heard, over and over, was an apology.

And what he’s heard of heartache and marginalization.

And an acknowledgement of his own ineptitude in understanding.

And his commitment to walk humbly and ask questions and listen to stories.

It was a meaningful surrender.

So much so, that I surrendered too.

A choice that had lay dormant in those dark parts of my soul started to stir. Dripping words and the breathing of believers around me became deafening.  They were all saying sorry to me. They were all saying they loved me.

I don’t recall reconciliation having a more beautiful birth. This just couldn’t be ignored.

Soon forgiveness was fighting its way out and I had no choice but to give in.

And over and over, under my breath, I rocked and hummed to the harmony of,

“thank you, thank you, thank you”

and

“it’s forgiven, it’s forgiven, it’s forgiven”

The gorgeousness of this bridge bended most of my barriers to the ground. As I saw more clearly where he had just gone, a gratitude arose that was inexpressible. His prayer was a blend of an apology and a plea. An honest call to both the divine and the shoved out. It was deep crying out to deep.

It felt like communion made perfect. And it could not be ignored.

~~~

If grace has taught us anything, it’s that it is far from safe. It is a hurricane. It is a force to be reckoned with.

Grace is more significant than a thousand of your theological disputes.

Even in the whisper of a child, grace silences the chorus of millions.

It is an imperative.

It is piercing.

And It refuses to be ignored.

And at the end of the day, it was grace that brought me back to the Church. It was grace that bound my wounds and redeemed what I thought to be a ruined religion.

It was grace.

it’s sweet sound.

That threads apologies and love and redemption

into the loveliest of tunes.

RR

The Education of a Church: Little Eyes and Ears

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The earliest indication I received of what my church felt about gay people came when I was probably in 4th grade. It’s funny, because I remember nothing else about the service that Sunday. I don’t remember what I was wearing, whether our whole family was there, or what the main point of the message was. It’s a memory that in my mind looks like a macro photograph. Everything in the background is blurred, but one point was razor sharp. Still stings today.

 

The pastor pointed up to the high overhead screens, they were flashing one of the toughest “clobber passages” about gay people. I remember he had bolded the words evil and sinful out of the selected scripture. I remember looking up at him, a man I had grown to respect (and still do) just waiting to hear what his next words would be. With a gentle gesture he pointed again at the screen then looked at the rest of us. He almost looked disgusted as he thundered:

 

“This is SIN people! It’s right there in word. People say its not, but it is! Just look.”

 

Although I am not sure whether I knew I was gay at the time, those words troubled me deeply. My heart sped. My world started shrinking in on me. An alarming realization rose.  I was the sin. I was the evil. Father Jesus hated me because I was evil and I was sin.

 

The disgust became overwhelming. I couldn’t shake it. I couldn’t escape it. With a few words I went from beloved Church boy to the boy behind enemy lines.

 

Before we left, I took a mental note of what passage he referred to. Upon reaching my bedroom I pulled out my Bible, hopelessly wishing it wasn’t really there. Was I actually an evil person?

 

Then there it was. It was right there. As my pastor had said, “just look”.

 

So I was evil and I was sin and that was that.

 

For the rest of my life a wall slowly started to build between this God that hated gays, and me, the sinful evil gay. I didn’t create this wall, in fact, I spent over a decade of my life scratching at its surface. Knocking. Pounding. Yelling from the depths of my soul. Picking up pick axes of good deeds, long nights of prayer and high hands in praise and worship. I sent my piggy bank money to charity and wrote psalms in my journal.

 

Yet I still knew I was evil, because I was still gay.

 

This is what happens when words are thrown recklessly.

 

~~~

 

It is true that there remain a few on the extreme side of things that hold that orientation is inherently sinful. That gay people cannot be Christians because they refuse to give up their attractions… Mmkay, I won’t give them much more space here than this because the notion is at best, delusional, and at worst, spiritual abuse.

 

I have said it before and I will say it again, folks that believe that same-sex relationships are wrong are not hateful, they are not bigots nor are they necessarily wrong. You might be wrong, they might be wrong, I might be wrong. We just don’t know on this side of heaven.

 

Collectively though, I think we have arrived at a place where we can all agree that someone’s unchosen sexual orientation is not sinful. Most pastors and Christians I have spoken to fully agree on this tenet. And while they agree… they never really make that point clear. It kind of gets lost in translation. This is a big problem.

 

For example, they may address homosexuality as saying:

 

I don’t think it is God’s best.

 

And leave it at that.

 

Even as this is a more gentle way of putting one’s convictions, explanations should never be so vague. Little eyes are watching and little ears are hearing, and when those words fall upon them, it can feel like a ton of bricks. It can instill an identity of being an outcast. It can make them feel like Judas.

 

Clearly that pastor meant same-sex relationships aren’t God’s best, but… it sounds like having same-sex attractions are sinful. Which I think we can all agree aren’t.

 

Pastors too often fear the backlash from backdoor meetings with clergy more than the effect upon the psych of a child. I’m guessing this is more about being unaware of the implications of their words on youngins than a conscious choice. Angry elders are much more visible than quiet children.

 

If this is to change, I think we can save a lot of souls from spending their lives sitting inside the closet. While it sounds so simple on a blog post, it is much more difficult to put into speech. Everything from tone to language to posture has to be taken under consideration, because to a child, perception is everything.

 

No arguments are needed here, just explain that sexual attractions are not chosen. That gay people whether actually born this way or through the result of other factors, are discoverers of their sexuality not choosers. If you hold that same-sex relationships are sinful, that is fine, but,make sure you explain the difference of the two. Explain the difference between orientation and behavior. The difference between status and sin.

 

Also, avoid saying things like, “I think thieves are sinners too” or “I don’t believe in polygamy either”. All this does is establish a bridge where one is not appropriate. It’s misrepresenting the facts.

 

Engaging in the conversation with LGBT folks requires this admission. Many of these people like me paid dearly because of reckless words. This is common ground that everyone can feel comfortable on. It is critical to our commitment of upholding truth about a community that already feels slandered by the Church. It is paramount. It is the right thing to do. Any bridge to be built between us has to have this change to ensure that it stands on steady ground.

 

Until this happens, don’t expect much progress.

 

RR

The Education of a Church: Rein in the Youth Pastors

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I was in Junior High. I remember being fully aware of my attractions, but uncertain of where to turn. While I didn’t know where to go, I definitely knew where not to go- my church youth group. Those around me didn’t realize it, but I understood I didn’t belong. They were the Christians and I was the sin. I was the poison to their pool.

Reinforcing this reality were the words of none other than my own leaders. Maybe it was when we watched a short Christian documentary about how people contract AIDS, with a lengthy portion on the promiscuity of gay men.

Or perhaps it was when,

“that’s so gay!”

was said more often than

“God bless you”

It could’ve been when my youth leaders smirked as students spoke in slurs, only then to offer a few cracks of their own. I remember practicing my fake laugh, while my stomach went sick, as the head of my small group did his best impression of a “homo”.

~

Later on, as I grew older, I was part of another youth group. It was more mature, but just as disturbing. There was one time in particular. While in the midst of a Bible Study, one of the leaders lamented the fact that the local Christian college granted admission to gay students. He saw it as a slippery slope to Hell, or worse, liberalism.

Strangely, his exhortation took a turn as he noted a statistic he had read recently. He told us that one out of every nineteen people is gay. There were twenty in our group.

What could have been the start of a redemptive conversation regarding the words we use ended with a break and a return to our talk about the evils of Kabballah.

When he threw out those stats, it felt like a warning upon us all. It had the echoes of Jesus saying that one of his own would betray him. I felt the burning crimson begin to cover my face and I excused myself to the restroom… I was barely breathing.

~

Years later, on the first night in my dorm, in that college on that slippery slope, there was a night I would never forget. We were all gathered in the common area as our RD spent over an hour handing down the house rules. Everything from curfew to cigarettes to shoes in the door was covered. As she brought the night to a close, she said something that totally caught me off guard.

“Hey, just so ya’ll know, gay is not synonymous with stupid, ugly, unchristian or what have you. I won’t be tolerating any of that here. “

I felt safe. For the first time in a setting of faith, I felt safe.

I should have always felt this way in Church.

~ ~ ~

Youth pastors and leaders have such big hearts. Typically, they are the ones that never shed their childhood innocence. The ones still amazed by simple wonders and never lose their silliness. Sometimes they are volunteer college students, other times, they are people with children of their own. These people need not be lectured on the meaning of love because they are living examples of it.

Having said this, there’s something they may need to hear.

I have heard too many stories like my own to know that my experience isn’t the exception, it’s more the rule. Homophobia gets a hall pass in a lot of Churches today. Should it be a surprise that so many gay kids end up leaving the church? The very leaders that they look up to express such utter disgust and contempt for people like them. They make jokes about their pain. They ridicule their insecurities. They teach their friends that gay kids are uncool, creepy and should be kept at a distance. A church youth group is supposed to be a place of spiritual support, not a breeding ground for bullies.

Think, just for a moment, how Christ has been conveyed here. I can only speak for myself but when I was that age… Christ was a guy that couldn’t have cared less about me. He was a knuckle dragger jock who called me creepy and gross. Clearly, he liked my leaders- they spoke about their friendship with him all the time. They talked about how God had told them to come into ministry. How God set them in the position they were in at that moment. He was the one that put them in my life.

My bullies were sent from God.

~

This is something that is so solvable. So simple that I really don’t need to articulate a long list of recommendations or ground rules, because, really, it’s that simple. If you are in a position of authority in the church, call the youth ministry into your office to discuss homophobia. It may not be a problem for your church, but why not make sure? Especially in light of all the young LGBT suicides taking place over the past few years, why not sit them down anyway?

You don’t have to change your convictions in order to make your youth groups safer.

Tell the leaders that it is unacceptable, in any way, shape or form, to disparage those that are gay. Make them realize how hostile of an environment they create with their crude comments. Remind them of the Christ that chose to chill with the closeted. Read off the names and stories of kids that took their lives in the past year as a result of bullying. Encourage them to get on board with the It Gets Better Campaign. Give them copies of the books by Justin Lee and Andrew Marin. Assign them homework, tell them to go out and learn more from their brothers and sisters in Christ. Let them know that racism, sexism and homophobia are all forms of prejudice and the wounds they inflict can have long lasting implications.

Furthermore, show them what an incredible opportunity they have to be Kingdom Builders! Tell them that being a leader is not about becoming part of the mob, but about guiding them. Reconciling them. Loving them, bullies and losers alike. Make it a priority.

It is so sad, tragic even, that this is a problem in a community based on unconditional love and universal unworthiness,

But yet, here we are…

Folks, it’s time to chase this sin out of the Church.

Because bullying has no place in youth ministry.

RR

The Education of a Church: Eliminating Analogies

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A quick word before you read this next post. Things are moving in a great direction at my brother’s church. The head pastor recently said in a large staff meeting that what they were doing was not a “ministry to the gay community” but rather, “a ministry to the church”. The leadership of this Church has felt a call to learn more about their brothers and sisters in Christ that have been pushed to the margins and muted from the conversation. Their mission is about love and relationships and removing homophobia from the Christian community. Making community mean something. As I hear more and more about what this church is doing, I am becoming weaker at the knees. I love this church.

 

So, I am not real worried about this church struggling with the problem I am about to lay out to you. This is a recommendation to churches all over about how to start reconciliation with gay community in the midst of a continuing culture war.

 

 

There was a serious crisis. A crisis so threatening that those in the Church felt compelled to respond. It was the infamous “Day of Silence” observed by students in my high school. It was a day when individuals took sharpies to shirts in protest of bullying against LGBT students. It was part statement of tolerance and part memorial for students that had taken their lives as a result of bullying.

 

In the wake of this radical event, my family received a letter from a concerned Christian parent who told her story of having an alcoholic father and how she inherited tendencies toward alcoholism as a result. So ya, she knew what it was like to be gay.

 

During my freshmen year of college, a friend of mine opened up about his rough childhood and how he was predisposed to violence. Everyday he chose to use his words instead of his fists, even though it killed him not to throw a punch. So, he said, he knew what it was like to be gay.

 

Others have compared being gay to…

 

Eating disorders

Drug addiction

Pedophilia

Kleptomania

Anger issues

Terrorism (I actually heard this one)

And so on.

 

These are the types of analogies that are spoken off the cuff by both leaders of the faith and common followers.

 

But here’s the deal.

 

If you’re trying to understand something that you have relatively little or no experience with, don’t draw bridges where they don’t belong.

 

There is a gulf of understanding that has to be accepted. I cannot see from a straight person’s perspective. You cannot see from mine. I cannot see from a woman’s perspective and nor can she see from mine. I cannot see from the perspective of ethnicities other than my own. And even within my own, we all have our own crow’s nest.

 

Analogies are utilized to make the complex understandable. It simplifies things. But it can also be used to justify a perspective one has already prepared. To best distribute that perspective, its packaged in bite size sound bytes so the masses can spread it accordingly. It’s simple, it makes sense, and all of a sudden,

 

Children of alcoholics are the same as gay people.

 

I cringe in responding about the difference between alcoholism and homosexuality, so I am happy that the Women in Theology blog wrote a thoughtful piece on it:

 

“while genetic and environmental factors certainly predispose certain individuals to become alcoholics, no one, not even the most genetically and environmentally at-risk person, can become an alcoholic if they never take a drink of alcohol.  This of course is not true for homosexuals.  One does not become a homosexual only upon having homosexual sex.  People typically experience themselves to be gay prior to and independently of engaging in homosexual sex.  In fact, there are people who have never engaged in homosexual sex, either by choice (some priests and nuns, for example) or by circumstance, who still know themselves to be gay.  But why would anyone who has never taken a sip of alcohol consider herself to be an alcoholic?  If someone did do this, we would tell her that she was mistaken; quite simply, what she would say about herself would make no sense to us.”

 

If churches want to be part of the conversation, which I firmly believe they do, they need to stop killing it off with offensive analogies. Growing up gay, especially within Christian community, comes with a mixed bag of blessings and burdens. Our stories are not equitable. All comparisons do is strip away the dignity our testimonies’ deserve.

 

And when I look back- when I reread that parent’s letter, when I remember the time that analogies became staples to every sermon on the subject; that is the time I began putting padlocks on the closet door. After you hear enough people cast you off as an addict, a defected person, or in some cases, a pervert, like a pedophile, there is no reason to go public. You’d have to be stupid to. Instead, you just sit alone and hate yourself for the monster they said you are.

 

To bring the conversation back to the church, the analogies have to be dropped.

 

While I believe many gave analogies in order to establish a certain level of compassion for the gay and lesbian community, they have done just the opposite.

 

Because analogies to painful illnesses and evil behavior are inaccurate, unnecessary and truly offensive.

 

Having said this, any church wishing to chart a new course with us should also not give in to the temptation of creating new positive analogies. That still reduces us to our sexual orientation. Our identity is in Christ not in our attractions.

 

Take in our tales. Listen to the lies we heard for years. Let the shame we felt sink in. Our stories can do far more than analogies ever could.

 

It may seem like mere words, but to us, they carry a lot of weight. Analogies arm every churchgoer we know with the talking points on how to address us. They minimize us. Patronize us. They make us strain to see Christ through all of the mud being thrown.

 

And most importantly, they rob the church of needed yet neglected disciples that are valuable to the body of believers. It kills every good opportunity for dialogue and reconciliation to occur. It is a wrench in the machine.

 

With that, I leave you with perhaps the most important passage pertaining to how we should relate to one another. It’s found in the book of Romans.

 

“Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.”(Romans 14:13-14 MSG, emphasis mine)

 

 

Comparative analogy and authentic testimony cannot share the same bed.

The church has to choose which one is more important.

 

RR