Is Social Networking a Viable Platform for Advocacy?

Hello, all! I hope you’re doing splendid. I’ve got a short post today…just something I’ve been pondering a lot lately. And really, it all comes down to one question: How do you use social networking? We’ve covered this topic briefly in a recent podcast episode. Quite honestly, I’ve been struggling with it on a personal level for quite some time.

Facebook is intended to be a pleasant experience. We know that’s not always true. People still manage to grate on our nerves from time to time, whether it’s face-to-face, or via the screens we now use on a daily basis. Most of the time, decent human beings can find a way to coexist peacefully, both on and offline. But when it comes to LGBT advocacy, it can be a touchy subject. If you’re like me, you post about things because you’re passionate about it. You’re happy to discuss it, and you may even hope someone approaches you about your point of view. But you never post something with the purpose of ruffling someone else’s feathers. But sometimes, people interpret your good intentions into bad ones. (You may be able to tell by now, this has happened to me in the past.)

I have many faults. One of them is—and has always been—caring way too much about what people think of me. Once someone becomes truly offended by something I’ve said, my mind goes into analytical mode. I spend the next several days (and sometimes weeks), wondering what I could have done differently. Then, I begin to imagine the worst: that they have grown to dislike me on a fundamental level. What if they’re telling everyone they know that I’m a terrible person? What if they’re shaking their heads, wondering what’s happened to me?

Before you say it, I know: If people really are going to be that way, I don’t need them in my life. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, and if they can’t listen to mine, then I’m better off without them. But I just don’t work that way. I want to have peaceful, loving relationships with everyone I know. I don’t want drama; I just want to speak out about the things that matter to me.

But I’m beginning to wonder: Should I leave the advocacy to the straight allies? Are LGBT rights simply too close to home for me? Do I take things personally when I otherwise wouldn’t? I’m torn: part of me thinks I should press on… use Facebook as a means for expression on the issues that are dear to my heart. The other part of me thinks I would save myself a lot of unnecessary stress if I could limit my Facebook activity to check-ins and photos of my cute little fur babies.

How do you handle social networking? Is Facebook a place for advocacy? Leave your thoughts in the comment section.

The Myth of a Persecuted Christian America

“Persecuted” is a term I hear thrown around a lot these days. Ironically enough, it’s rarely ever used to describe 1st century Christians, who were literally made to hide their faith in order to evade death. Most of the time, it’s a word used by some of our modern Christian brothers and sisters to describe… (wait for it)… themselves. How is it that first class, privileged, Christian Americans feel persecuted in a country that boasts freedom on an individual and religious basis? Furthermore, how could someone feel victimized in a land where they are (quite literally) the majority? Your guess is as good as mine.

We’re all privy to the discrimination laws that have been all over the media in recent weeks, like this one in Arizona:

In short, SB1062 would amend the existing Religious Freedom Restoration Act, allowing business owners to deny service to gay and lesbian customers so long as proprietors were acting solely on their religious beliefs. (Eliott C. McLaughlin, cnn.com)

And let’s not pretend homophobia is the only form of discrimination in this country. Racism, classism, and sexism (just to name a few) are still rampant. Just the other day, I saw an extremely troubling post on Facebook which said,

“Why do I have to press 1 for English? Did America move?”

It’s this kind of idiocy and ignorance that makes me wonder if we’ve really come all that far in our fight for equality.

Here are three things I feel are too often forgotten:

1. American History 101: Separation of Church and state. May we be reminded this was (and is) a policy to protect religious institutions. It’s basically saying, “Hey… we know people won’t agree on everything. But we came to America to escape religious oppression, and we believe everybody ought to have the opportunity for their own quest for truth.” It’s a wonderful idea, actually; I wish more people saw the beauty in it. Think about the hundreds and hundreds of sects of Christianity alone: From Catholics to Mennonites, from Presbyterians to Appalachian snake handlers… we are all so very different. Therefore, you can imagine the innumerable advantages of keeping government and religion separate. What if we were all made to conform to the ideologies of a single sect of Christianity—one that didn’t necessarily agree with our convictions? Furthermore, what if the majority of religious Americans were Muslim? Well, I think many fellow Christians would feel quite differently about the separation of Church and state, then.

2. America is not a Christian nation. This statement always seems to raise some eyebrows, but the facts are there. All you have to do is delve in and study the faiths of the Founding Fathers. Many of them were Deists, who believed there probably is a Creator, but that he does not meddle in the concerns of people or intervene in the world’s affairs. Consider Thomas Jefferson. Many Christians today claim him as one of their own, when in fact, he mocked those who believed in the supernatural claims of Jesus. He even published his own version of the New Testament, in which he removed all supernatural events, including the virgin birth and the resurrection! In his day, he was called an atheist by some. How is it that he is now often called a founder of a Christian nation?

1071936_898866613. Freedom begets freedom. Or at least it should. Our Christian ancestors fought so hard to escape religious oppression. But are we honoring that legacy? Now that we have our freedom, are we paying it forward to other minorities, or do we use our power to discriminate against those who are different? I see the latter more often than the former, and I find it quite troubling. But what’s most troubling of all? Quite commonly, the people doing the discriminating are the same ones playing the persecution card, essentially saying: “My religious freedom gives me the entitlement to discriminate against other people. By exercising my right, I’m allowed to take your rights away.” I think we can all see the absurdity in that mentality.

Besides, what was it about that Jesus guy? Did he heal only his fellow Jews? Did he fellowship only with like-minded people? Did he instruct his disciples to be gatekeepers at his sermons, only allowing certain people through? I think any Christian can identify The Greatest Command: Love. It really doesn’t get more simple than that.

So why do we make it so complicated?

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UPDATE on “One Liberation Under God”: I’ve had an overwhelming response to the documentary project. Within 24 hours of posting about it, over a dozen people in five different states have expressed interest in being interviewed.  A project like this will take some time, but I’m very excited about getting things underway! Check my Twitter feed and Facebook page for updates about the film.

“One Liberation Under God: LGBT Life in the Bible Belt South”

Hello, everyone! I’d like to take a few minutes to tell you about a project I’m extremely excited about… a project I’d love for you to be a part of. As you know, everyone has a story. When you’re gay and Christian, you have a lot of insight to offer others who may be going through the same things. Many of your stories have been shared on this blog, and a lot of people have been encouraged by hearing them.  So, I’m taking things a step further, and making a documentary.

I will be contacting some of you personally within the next several days. But I’d like to get as many people involved as possible. Below, you will find the form letter I’m currently sending out to potential participants. Please contact me if you think you may be interested. For those of you who live long distances from me, don’t let that stop you. I plan to launch a fundraiser (via Kickstarter) in a few weeks to cover travel expenses. If the goal is reached, then I’ll have the means to travel anywhere within the continental US.

Read on and contact me if interested. And thank you in advance!

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Hello! I hope this finds you doing well. I’m contacting you because I believe you and I share a passion for building bridges between the Church and the LGBT community. I also believe you have a lot to offer in the way of conversation, theology, and unique perspective. That’s why I would like to personally invite you to be a part of my new project: “One Liberation Under God: LGBT Life in the Bible Belt South”. This project will be in the form of a documentary film. My vision is to open the lines of communication on both sides of the “Great Gay Debate”, and explore the things that inspire certain beliefs in people.

Specifically, I hope for the film to do the following:

•Outline the arguments held by both LGBT advocates and religious conservatives, and interview individuals on every point of the spectrum.

•Give a greater understanding of exactly what it means to be gay.

•Showcase testimonies from LGBT Christians, and from conservative Christians.

•Be a catalyst for conversation… because no matter what you believe about LGBT issues, we should all learn that it’s okay to talk about it.

•Give an overview of statistics for a number of things, including:

•Christians who are for or against LGBT rights

•LGBT youth suicide

•History of acceptance vs. disapproval of LGBT individuals in the South

•LGBT youth and homelessness

I understand and anticipate that you—as a potential participant in this project—may not have the same views I hold. However, I fully intend on showcasing all individuals, opinions, and thoughts in a positive manner. The goal of this film is to unite and build bridges. Therefore, I do not believe it to be fruitful or beneficial to negatively represent views that differ from my own. If you should choose to participate in this project, you may choose to disclose your full identity, or you may choose to remain completely anonymous.

If you’re up for the challenge, please respond via my email (wilson.mandy@gmail.com) by Monday, March 17th, 2014. This is to ensure that I have time to make travel plans and schedule interviews. This isn’t a large scale production; in fact, I’m planning to film with my iPhone, and edit with Final Cut Pro—things I already have available to me. However, I will launch a Kickstarter profile once things are geared up, in order to cover my travel expenses. And of course, if you participate, you will receive a digital copy of the project, absolutely free.

I’m really interested in telling our stories: gay, straight, liberal, and conservative. I want to do this project because I believe it’s important to have these conversations. By telling our stories and listening to the stories of others, we will gain a greater understanding of what it means to “love your neighbor”. We can achieve the impossible by rebuilding bridges that have previously been destroyed. Ultimately, I think we’ll find we don’t have to agree on everything in order to love one another. In my own life, I’ve experienced such immense joy in these conversations, and I’d like to take the world on a journey. Won’t you join me?

Warmest regards,

Mandy

My Christian life with AIS – An Intersex condition

We’ve discussed the issues faced by intersexed individuals before on this blog. A reader—and fellow blogger—shared her story in the comment section of a post entitled “The Intersexion of Christianity and Genitalia”. It was too touching to simply leave in the comment section, so I’m re-blogging it here, with her permission. -Mandy

What Paul Said

“Does it really matter what Paul said?”

The words hung in the air. “Is she saying what I think she’s saying?” I thought.

I was in a small bible study group—a group particularly designed to cultivate conversation about the LGBT community and the Church. Over the past several years, I had made my peace about what it meant for me personally to be gay and Christian. I had memorized the six clobber passages that are so often used against the LGBT community. (Haven’t we all?) I could name the books, chapters, and verses where they could be found. I had studied about the culture surrounding Paul’s letters, and the churches to which they were written. I had researched the histology of the word ἀρσενοκοίτης (arsenokoitēs). God and I were good. And even as a non-confrontational person, I still had that knowledge polished and tucked away, in case of emergency. We have to be prepared to share why we believe what we believe… especially when it hits so close to home.

My journey from “conservative” to “progressive” was gradual. I spent years with one foot in fundamentalism. But with these words—in this particular moment—I could virtually feel those remaining chains of fundamentalism crumble. Does it really matter what Paul said? Her words somehow gave me permission to face the questions I’d been quietly asking for years. I had always felt a certain degree of guilt when I found myself asking questions about God or faith. (It’s a lovely little trait that many of us pick up through the vast and varied means of indoctrination.) But when I began to evaluate my reasons for not asking questions, it came down to one worry: I was afraid of what I would find. This is simply not a good enough reason. There is virtually no other situation in life where one is encouraged to stop searching, stop studying, stop inquiring. And really, isn’t it that much more important to ask questions about something as deeply important as faith?

Saint Paul Writing His Epistles by Valentin de Boulogne

“Saint Paul Writing His Epistles” by Valentin de Boulogne

In regards to Paul’s letters, we must try to do more than place ourselves in his culture. We must also strive to understand his background. And most importantly, we must learn all we can about the manuscripts that compose what we now know as the New Testament (all of which are copies of copies of copies, etc.) The dates of Paul’s letters are approximated to be in the 50’s A.D., yet the earliest discovered manuscript dates to somewhere between 175-225 A.D. When you start to read the Pauline letters from a historical perspective, things change. You notice things you didn’t notice before. You consider things you hadn’t previously considered. We could debate indefinitely about the theology of Paul’s writings: What he may have meant, what he could have thought, what his writing style was. But let’s just assume for a moment that every word of Paul’s letters made it to our modern day translations without a scratch. Let’s imagine that nothing has been added, omitted, or changed in any way. What then? What would that mean for LGBT Christians? Well, we would have to accept that Paul was speaking out against same-sex relationships. We would have to acknowledge that he viewed LGBT relationships as sinful.

Does it matter?

We’ve addressed the historicity of Paul in a little more detail in a post entitled: Paving the Road to Damascus. In a nutshell, we discussed the fact that while Paul was a gifted and anointed trailblazer, he was still human. (Personally, I think that adds an element of redemption in Paul’s story that wouldn’t be there otherwise.) We must also remember that Paul was Jewish—a bona fide descendant of the tribe of Benjamin. The Holiness Code—which he no doubt lived by—prohibited same-sex relations with the purpose of preserving the Israeli lineage. It is my personal opinion that Paul could not have understood monogamous, same-sex relationships as we know them today. Paul’s opinions were a result of his time and culture.

This doesn’t mean I don’t respect Paul or his letters. Quite the opposite, actually; he has always been my favorite Biblical author. But I hold to the notion it’s best to read Scripture with a good dose of reason. Isn’t that, in fact, what Paul himself did when he paved the way for Christianity? He went against his family, against his previous beliefs, and against his very religion when he pronounced Jesus to be the King. Paul had previously rejected Jesus… even to the point of murdering those who believed him to be the Savior. But even after his conversion, he didn’t always see eye to eye with the disciples of Jesus. Even on his second visit to Jerusalem (Galatians 2), he condemned Peter for dining only with the Jews and not the Gentiles. And we certainly know that Paul and James took opposite views on the “works vs. grace” debate. Today, we accept the fact that Paul questioned the Church in his day. He challenged popular notions that were held. He went against the grain. Why are Christians often looked down upon for doing the very same things today? If the Word is living, then wouldn’t it make sense to re-evaluate what it means in our current time and culture?

What do you think? When it comes down to it, does it matter what Paul said?

LGBTQ Advocacy In the Bible Belt

It’s so good to be back in community with all of you; I’ve missed you. During my time away, I worked on a few projects: one of which was posted here on the Believe Out Loud blog this past Friday. It was a joy to write about one of my dearest friends and allies. Join the conversation: Is Christian LGBTQ advocacy awakening in your city?

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Irks and Perks of 2013

Hello, friends! I’m b-a-a-a-c-k… and I’m so ready to catch up with all of you. I’ve spent the better part of 2013 on a sabbatical from blogging—partially because I had a couple other projects to work on, and partially because it was a tough year for me, personally. I’ve taken some time off to reflect, heal, and re-center. And now, I feel the fire of advocacy burning once again. I’d like to thank each of you who reached out to me during the past several months—to pray for me, spend time with me, or simply check in with me. You know who you are, and words cannot express how deeply I appreciate it.

I have a handful of projects lined up that I’d like to try for the new year… one of which is a podcast. It will not be replacing this blog, but simply supplementing it. (After all, I’ve got a swell new mic that I’m dying to try out.) If all goes well, a podcast would have great potential to help build relationships between those of us in the religious LGBTQI community. Time will tell, but I’m excited about the prospect! Podcasts will be announced on the Facebook page, Twitter feed, and on this blog.

It’s been awhile since I’ve set foot in the blogosphere, I’ve got a (not-so) straight and to-the-point post for you today. I apologize if I come across as being a bit cantankerous, but I’ve got eight months’ worth of opinions to give. I’ve devised all of them into two lists: “irks” and “perks”. Shall we begin with the top three “irks”?

3) The Duck Dynasty Fiasco: That’s right. I shudder as I type it, but it has to be addressed. Why? Because a particular bearded ninny is apparently what every social network on the planet deemed most important this holiday season. My take? Of course Phil Robertson is homophobic and (more surprisingly, in my opinion) racist; Is this really news? Are we shocked that a conservative, fundamentalist Christian from the bayou has nothing but derogatory idiocies to spout regarding sexual and racial minorities? Yes, Phil Robertson irks me. But what irks me even more is the way that people discuss these issues on social networks. Don’t get me wrong; These unfortunate incidents provide ways for us—as queer folks and as Christians—to address the misfortune of ignorance and discrimination in our society. However, whenever these things inevitably arise, the worst seems to come out in everyone. Otherwise rational and intelligent people (on both sides of the debate) suddenly sprout horns and start foaming at the mouth.

2) Fundamentalist Christians With Double Standards: I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen this. Church leaders and congregants—who are vocally opposed to LGBT equality—don’t seem to mind if gay or lesbian brothers and sisters lead worship, preach, or give of their time and talents in ministries. That is—of course—as long as they simply shut up and stay quiet about who they really are. The gay musician can provide hours and hours of hard work and service—and the congregation raises hands and worships with them all the same. That is, until that same gay musician comes out; All bets are off, then. That God-given gift they have? It’s rubbish now. What about the lesbian who has quietly led the homeless ministry for a decade? Her brothers and sisters pat her on the back, give her thankful accolades… until she brings her partner to church. When the churchgoers find out they’re more than “just friends”, they are both dismissed from the congregation. Apparently her contributions no longer count for the Kingdom.

3) Gay Christians With Double Standards: I’m talking about those who are “homophobic homosexuals”. We’ve addressed this species of queer-dom a few times previously on this blog. Let me set the record straight. (No pun intended.) If someone is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, it is their choice—and their choice alone—when, and if, they ever come out publicly. We’ve all been there at one time or another, and some of us are still there. However, if you are “different”, “struggle” with SSA (same-sex attraction), could never consider being in love or marrying someone of the opposite sex—however you choose to see it through your own eyes—please do not slander your LGBTQI brothers and sisters who have chosen to be out in their community. Being in the closet is one thing; Slandering your own is quite another. Why not simply be silent… Or at least don’t pretend that you’ve never dealt with these issues. When Facebook or Twitter is “a flitter” with LGBT controversy, why do you feel the need to add homophobic rants to the comment section? *It was this side of a decade ago that you had your tongue down my throat. You may have convinced a few people, but you will never convince me. (*This is, of course, a hypothetical statement. I mean, I don’t know anyone who would actually do that… [cough, cough, wink, wink].)

Alright, that sums it up for the “irks”. But let’s end on a positive note, shall we? How about the “perks”?

3) 2013 was an incredible year for marriage equality. As of today, eighteen states in America have now legalized same-sex marriage. While fundamentalists may see that as a “sign of end times”, most of us can understand Americans are finally realizing that, no matter what you believe or who you love, all of us deserve the same rights. A decade ago, I never would have imagined that we would see full marriage equality in my lifetime. Now, we are well on our way. And that is great news!

2) LGBT issues are being talked about more openly in religious institutions. Finally! As we all know, education is the cure for ignorance. When a topic is ignored, it is seen as taboo. More and more churches across the nation are taking the first step: communication and discussion. When conservative Christians begin to realize that LGBT issues hit closer to home than they thought—when they discover they have a lesbian niece, a gay uncle, or a transgender neighbor—there’s a heart-change. People are finally starting to realize that we don’t all have to agree on this topic to love one another. We simply have to respect one another, and understand that there are multiple valid ways to interpret scripture.

1) Sometimes people surprise you (in a good way). We’ve all experienced it: You come out to someone who you think will be completely accepting, and to your surprise, they aren’t. However, I’ve also been fortunate enough to experience the exact opposite over the past year. As we know, coming out is a process. I’ve encountered conversations with loved ones that turned out even better than I could have ever hoped. For example, my dad told me that he loves me more now than he ever has—that he can’t imagine me any other way. One of my favorite school teachers—just about the most amazing (and conservative) woman I’ve ever met—told me that she believes people are born gay. She may have different opinions about what my life should look like as a lesbian, but she loves me just the same. More importantly, she listens to me, and truly hears me. Thank goodness for people like that—who love us because of who we are, regardless of differences.

May the new year bring about hope, love, and healing for us all.

What are some of your “irks and perks” of 2013?