“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?

Why We Suffer in Silence: Guest Post Series

Hello, lovelies.  It’s been quite a while since you’ve heard from me. I’ve been working on a couple of other projects (which I am eager to share with you soon). I’ve also been going through quite a rough time during the past few months. Perhaps I will be able to share more details in the near future. But I am so thankful for those of you who have sent messages to check on me. I deeply miss writing for you, and plan on returning for good in the coming weeks.

I continue to be thankful for people like Josha, who continue fiercely on their spiritual journey despite the conflicts that arise around them. Those of us in the LGBT community sometimes suffer in silence… especially those of us who desperately seek relationship with the Creator. Why? Because we must hide who we truly are. Many of us are told that we do not—and cannot—possibly love God if we are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.  Josha has been on quite the journey over the past few years, and I’m so thankful she’s open to sharing it with us.

-Mandy

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by Josha:

458794_72242887“Are you in pain?” Is the question a beautiful, tall, professionally dressed, concerned woman asked me, as if I were at the doctor’s office?

I was sitting in the waiting room, all alone at the car dealership, getting an oil change.

I looked up at this woman who had appeared in the light so suddenly with an unexpected question and my thoughts were, “Is she really talking to me? Where did she come from? Why is she asking me this? What just happened?”

I responded with, “No.”

She looked at me for a few seconds with a concerned face and then asked again. “Are you sure? Someone came to my office and said I should check on you because you looked like you were in pain.”

I tried to recall what was happening before this woman appeared. I was just sitting in the waiting area all alone, contemplating my life’s situation… and then I realized what might have happened. I looked up at her and lied, “Nope, I’m just fine.” I smiled a big, fake smile…her facial expression and pause indicated that she was not convinced with my answer as she said, “Okay” and walked away.

Who was this lady?
And what was my appearance like?
Did my internal angst come out in my physical posture and demeanor?

It was such a bizarre wake up call that I really was hurting. It was as if God was checking in on me and I flat out lied. Suppose this woman was God in the flesh with concern for my pain, this is what I would have shared:

YES! Yes, I’m in pain! I’m 36 years old and I’ve never even experienced a kiss. And I have deep desires to experience that kind of relationship. The problem is that I can only experience this with a woman which is not acceptable among most the people I know. I’m fully aware of my sexuality and feel trapped into keeping it hidden. It is painful. It makes friendships complicated. For the first time in my life I experienced mutual attraction and given an opportunity to kiss and I turned the opportunity down. As I began to get to know this person I was drawn to her more and more as we have so much in common and many of the same values. We find each other intriguing, we motivate each other, challenge each other, and we seem to always enjoy each other’s company.  I was definitely interested in exploring a dating relationship but with prayerful caution. I was holding back so much in the start of this interesting relationship. Extreme caution came from the reality that if I cross that line then I’m not to be in leadership role at church…the reality that some friends and family might be very disappointed in me…the reality that I could get very attached and then this end in brake up. I was being so careful and cautious as things were happening so fast and just when I was about ready to accept the challenges that pursuing a relationship might bring, she decided that a relationship with me is not what is best for her. This is fair, but this stings. And while I’m grateful she wants to remain friends, it is hard as I try to battle my desires and feelings while attempting to be a good friend.  Am I in pain? Yes.

I had good intentions in refusing a physical relationship but now there are moments in which I feel regret not taking the opportunity at that moment to share in a kiss, which is an element of humanity that is so normal and natural.

What kept me from indulging in this kiss? I turned it down multiple times because I was afraid of hurting her, I was afraid of getting hurt, I was afraid of hurting my church family, I was afraid of going down a path that would cause strain in my own family…. but not once was I afraid of hurting God for experiencing something that comes from God. My intensions were pure but I’m left feeling the pain of denying another and myself the experience of touch, of kissing.

Though painful at times, I am okay with how things have turned out. It seems as though we both taught each other something. While I might have taught this person something about boundaries, she has taught me something about the human touch and letting some boundaries go.

It feels like darkness to hinder the LGBTQ population from the joys of the same experiences that people who are heterosexual experience. Most Christians don’t frown upon opposite sex couples when they “make out” before marriage. On the positive side of the pain I’m currently undergoing I’m grateful to see a little bit more of the reality of how hurtful it is for the LGBTQ person to be placed in positions of less than equal standards.

I go to church and see heterosexual couples that have freedom to express their sexuality, sit together, hold hands, and share the experience of worshiping The Creator of love itself. And while people are naturally seeking to match up those who are heterosexual and single, I’m left with instructions to “be single,” “be celibate,” “don’t trust your feelings,” “don’t allow yourself intimate love,” “deny yourself the enjoyment of marriage.” This. Is. Painful.

So how do I cope? How do I continue to worship with this church family?

I’m not at church to be comforted. I don’t attend with the expectation to feel good. I am at this church because I love the people, I believe in the love of God, and I believe that God sent a powerful message of love through Jesus who’s spirit is alive and at work though all our relationships. I hold on to that belief, not depending on my feelings of pain or on my feelings of joy.

I find encouragement from the following thoughts; this is a summary of the book of Zephaniah by Eugene Peterson’s The Message:

“We humans keep looking for a religion that will give us access to God without having to bother with people. We want to go to God for comfort and inspiration when we are fed up with the men and women and children around us. We want God to give us an edge in the dog-eat dog competition of daily life.  This determination to get ourselves a religion that gives us an inside track with God, but leaves us free to deal with people however we like, is age-old. It is the sort of religion that has been promoted and marketed with both zeal and skill throughout human history. Business is always booming.It is also the sort of religion that the biblical prophets are determined to root out. They are dead set against it.Because the root of a solid spiritual life is embedded in a relationship between people and God, it is easy to develop the misunderstanding that my spiritual life is something personal between God and me – a private thing to be nurtured by prayers and singing, spiritual readings that comfort and inspire, and worship with like-minded friends. If we think this way for very long, we will assume that the way we treat the people we don’t like or who don’t like us has nothing to do with God.That’s when the prophet’s step in and interrupt us, insisting, ‘Everything you think, or feel, or do has to do with God. Every person you meet has to do with God.’ We live in a vast world of interconnectedness, and the connections have consequences, either in things or in people – and all the consequences come together in God.”

I show up in my friendship with this new “special friend,” though at times painful, because I love and believe in God. I show up at church where my sexuality is shamed, because I love and believe in God. I find peace in the midst of my hurtful and joyful emotions in relationship with people by knowing that God is present in our “interconnectedness.”

Vulnerability Is Not a Dirty Word

Hello, everyone! I hope this finds you doing well. I’m back after a four-month hiatus. I haven’t been kidnapped, nor have I fallen off the planet. I’ve just been taking some time off to reflect. A lot of life changes have taken place unexpectedly, and I haven’t been able to write as much as I would like. Today’s topic is particularly relevant to me on several levels, and I think it’s extremely relevant for those of us who are LGBTQI.
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broken heartWhat does it truly mean to be vulnerable? For lots of people, the very word drudges up negative emotions… things like fear, judgment, rejection, and loneliness (to name a few). Societal norms tell us that success is preceded by strength and power, not vulnerability and weakness. Throughout the course of my lifetime, I’ve adopted vast and varied philosophies about the pros and cons of vulnerability. When I was young—before I became jaded—I saw it solely as a positive thing. You open yourself up, give it all you’ve got, and let the chips fall where they may. If people don’t reciprocate or appreciate it, then it’s their loss. At least that’s what I told myself. It seemed pretty cut and dry.

Once you live a little, you learn the hard way that people aren’t always what you hope they are. Intentionally or otherwise, eventually someone will let you down. You realize that there are certain people who have the ability to cut you deeply, and leave wounds that never fully heal. You even discover that you, yourself, are capable of inflicting this kind of pain on someone else, however unintentional it may be. Suddenly, vulnerability seems like a terrible idea. Why put yourself out there at all when there’s a good chance you’ll end up heartbroken and forsaken? Over the past couple of years, this is how I felt. Because inevitably, you will have your heart broken. You will be betrayed. You will—at some point—feel as though you’re too weak to take the chance on someone again. So you make a decision… one by one, you build indestructible walls of protection around your heart. But what does that do to a person in the long run? I think C.S. Lewis said it best:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

So what are we to do? Vulnerability has the possibility of cultivating both extreme joy and extreme pain. It’s the ultimate catch-22: If you build those walls of protection, you’ll never know the full extent of the love you could experience. If you let your guard down, hurt may not be imminent, but it is certainly inevitable at some point. It’s lose-lose, right? What if I told you I may have discovered the secret to living in and surviving the risk of vulnerability? You see, I’ve come to believe that successful vulnerability is directly related to a person’s sense of self-worth. If your self-worth is solely defined by what others think of you, you’re going to have a rough go of things. This mindset can occur slowly. You may not even realize you’ve gradually allowed your dignity, self-regard, and value be determined by other people’s opinions of you. It doesn’t take long to figure out why vulnerability would be a bad idea in this situation. If you open yourself up to someone who defines your self-worth, and they hurt you in some way… that pain and rejection is difficult to overcome.

So how do we appropriately define our self-worth? Simply put, we need to love ourselves. It’s imperative that we take time for self-discovery… to figure out exactly who we are, and learn how to embrace it. We have to love ourselves before we can experience—and depend on—the love of others.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in solitude. Subsequently, I’ve learned there’s a big difference between loneliness and being alone. I used to be afraid of solitude; But now I’m learning to utilize that time to nurture my spirit, to seek out the sacred, to appreciate the frailty of life, to simply exist. This solitude serves as a catalyst for self-discovery—to determine what I like about myself, and also what I despise. Sequestering myself helps me to better understand my own thoughts, feelings, and belief systems. It prepares me for my time out in the world, among my friends and family. Is this simply the mark of an introvert? Perhaps. But it is a practice that I am learning to embrace.

So what’s the verdict on vulnerability? Is it healthy? Personally, it scares the heck out of me. Yet, as true as that is, I crave it. I desire to share those deepest parts of myself with those who mean the most to me. Human nature instills in us an eagerness to live in community and fellowship with one another. By all means, I say go for it. Take chances. Open yourself up. Live in the risk of vulnerability.

Just be sure to love yourself first.