So You’re Gay. Why Can’t You Just Shut Up About It?

713307_82954404This was said to me by a former colleague of mine, albeit slightly more politically correct. I think she said something like: “Why do we have to talk about this? Why can’t you just be quiet?” This came at a crucial time in my life; I was at a crossroads. I could either stay in a ministry which did not accept any aspect of my orientation, or I could resign. I could lie, or I could be true to myself. Put that way, the choice seems easy. I should be a hero, right? Live honestly. Sacrifice comfort for truth. But I enjoyed what I did. I loved the ministry. I loved serving in that capacity. So, I learned to compromise. I told half-truths. I lived a double-life. For a time, I shut up about it.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you the decision to do so was not in my best interest. It could only last so long: Censoring my personal life; editing pronouns; serving people who I knew would not approve of me (or perhaps not even like me at all) if they knew the truth. For those of us in the LGBT community, these stories are all too familiar. But what saddens me most about situations such as these is not the fact that folks may disagree on LGBT issues, but the fact there is an overall unwillingness for such discussions.

Growing up in a religiously conservative environment, I can recall the fear that surrounded topics such as LGBT issues. It can be an uncomfortable conversation for some folks… and it’s easy to forget that fact once we’ve spent our fair share of time in more progressive circles. But there are a few things I would like to get out into the open. For those folks who wonder why we can’t just shut up about it? Our answer may be a little different than you think.

Most of the LGBT folks I know aren’t interested in running through the streets wearing nothing but a rainbow flag. They don’t want to shout their orientation from the rooftops. They don’t set out to “flaunt” affection in order to make you uncomfortable. They don’t desire to make waves, start arguments, or become poster children for controversy.

Personally, what I want is pretty simple. I want to live in community and fellowship with my brothers and sisters. I want LGBT Christians to be valued for their talents and gifts. I want to serve—to live a life of love and compassion. Most of us long for the day when sexual orientation and gender identity are no longer factors for determining human worth in our religious institutions.

One thing we’ve learned from history: issues don’t disappear when we stop talking about them. And one thing we’ve learned from statistics? Someone you know is LGBT. Yes, even someone in your congregation; and in many cases, it is someone in a leadership role. Instead of pretending people are someone they aren’t, why not seek safe spaces for conversation? Why not tear down those invisible barriers that keep us from true fellowship? It won’t always be easy. It won’t always be pretty. But it is the right thing, plain and simple. Because right now, the message that millions of LGBT Christians are hearing is: “You can continue to serve and use your talents as long as you hide who you are.”

Surely, there has to be a better answer. And that is why I, for one, can no longer shut up about it.

The Mission

Mandy:

Here’s a little more elaboration on the upcoming documentary project!

Originally posted on One Liberation Under God:

Hey everyone! I just wanted to take a second and elaborate on the vision for this project. Here are a few key points:

1. This project is about communication, not debate! This is the single most important point to make. The idea is to gain understanding, and consider points of view with which we don’t agree.

2. The goal is to give equal voice to all points of view. If you’ve seen the promo video, you may be wondering where the straight people are! I included photos of the participants who sent them to me. There are a few other folks who fall on the more conservative side of the scale, and they will be included in the film; they just weren’t included in the video. That being said, I would like to schedule more interviews with more conservatively-minded people, as right now only 15% of our interviewees fit that criteria.

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Promo Video Launched!

Mandy:

FYI: Here’s a link to the official website and promo video for the documentary project.

Originally posted on One Liberation Under God:

After several long weeks, I’ve finally been able to finish the promo video. Now, the real work begins! While I’m itching to get started, I realize the fundraising process can be a delicate thing, and I want to do it right! Stay tuned for the fundraising launch, which should be happening in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, send prayers, love, and good vibes this way. Here’s hoping to a successful project that will hopefully help us all to find some common ground.

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Documentary Promo Video Launched!

After several long weeks, I’ve finally been able to finish the promo video. Now, the real work begins! While I’m itching to get started, I realize the fund-raising process can be a delicate thing, and I want to do it right! Stay tuned for the fund-raising launch, which should be happening in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, send prayers, love, and good vibes this way. Here’s hoping to a successful project that will hopefully help us all to find some common ground.

Check out the project’s website, which will be finished within the week.

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