Tag Archives: lgbt christians

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 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

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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Update on Oregon Bakery: Guest Blog Series

In our last post, guest blogger Josha wrote about the bakery in her hometown that refused to sell a wedding cake to a lesbian couple. As a gay Christian, she is dealing closely with this issue… both personally and within her community. She wrote this directly after her experience at church on Sunday morning. Here she shares new developments concerning the situation, and makes a plea to her LGBT brothers and sisters. Feel free to discuss in the comment section! -Mandy

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2/17/13
I found myself disheartened again, but not by any “anti-gay” comment from the pulpit.

I was disheartened when I read in the bulletin today at church that the bakery owners, who denied the lesbian couple a wedding cake, are being sued. Last week, the prayer request was presented with more of a focus on helping the bakery make a stand against “gay marriage.” And from a Christian standpoint, I found it hard to support the act of denying service as mentioned in last weeks post. However, as a Christian, I DO NOT support the act of suing this bakery.

It frustrates me when people who are “gay” retaliate with cruelty and threats towards those who appear as barriers. This behavior further paints a picture of people who are “gay” as being ill spirited individuals that rebel against God.

Just as many Christians don’t want to be viewed as “haters” in regards to their view on homosexuality, there are people who are homosexual who don’t want to be seen as an abomination or perverted with a rebellious heart.

I’d like to ask for those viewing this website to pray for protection on this family and their bakery. Their actions have brought opportunity for discussion and enlightenment. There is no need for “war.” Fighting back with harmful “weaponry” only puts up more barriers. We who are homosexual should show the very love that we want to be shown. Let’s be peacemakers and play a role in which prepares a path for conversation, healing, and understanding.

-Josha

Straight Conservative Christian Goes “Undercover Gay” for One Year

It’s 3:something AM, and I was awoken by a thunderstorm. Generally speaking, I can sleep through anything, but on the rare occasions I don’t, I browse online news sites and read articles to lull myself back to sleep. This morning, I happened upon a story that I couldn’t wait to share with you guys. What if we could literally put ourselves in someone else’s shoes for awhile… in a very real way? Timothy Kurek is a straight Christian who went undercover as a gay man for an entire year! I have so many things to say about this awesome guy. But first, read the story. (I’m sure you don’t want to hear the ramblings of my sleep-deprived mind at the moment.) 

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Timothy Kurek Writes ‘Cross in the Closet’ About Coming Out by Susan Donaldson James (source: ABC News)

In his Nashville Christian church, Timothy Kurek was taught the lesson of God’s wrath in the Biblical story of “Sodom and Gomorrah,” and he believed that homosexuality was a sin.

“You learned to be very afraid of God,” said Kurek. According to the preachings of his church, “The loving thing to do is to tell my friend who is gay, ‘Hey, listen, you are an abomination and you need to repent to go to heaven.’ I absolutely believed in that lock, stock and barrel.”

So devout was Kurek as a teen that friends’ parents would often call him to set their kids straight if they misbehaved or broke what they believed to be God’s law.

“I would be the one on the phone until four in the morning, asking them to repent for their sins,” he said.

But about four years ago, when a lesbian he knew from karaoke night confided to him that her parents had disowned her when she came out, Kurek felt that he failed her.

“I feel God really kicked me in the gut,” he said. “She was crying in my arms and instead of being there for her, I was thinking about all the arguments to convert her.”

Kurek’s reaction ate away at him, and he wondered what it felt like to be gay and so alone. So even though Kurek identifies as straight, he embarked on what one religious writer called “spiritual espionage.” He would live like a gay man for a year.

“It finally clicked,” he said. “I needed to empathize and understand.”

Now 26 and no longer homophobic, Kurek writes about his journey — one that included hanging out in gay bars and facing the disappointment of his family and rejection of his friends — in his memoir, “The Cross in the Closet.”

He chose today, National Coming Out Day and LGBT National History Month, to launch book sales and has pledged to give some of the proceeds to a charity that helps LGBT youth who are homeless.

He says he hopes to change minds, not just in the Christian community but in the LGBT one as well, and to bridge the divide in the debate over gay rights.

Some experts say his attitude reflects those of other young Christians.

Dr. Jack Drescher, a New York City psychiatrist who has an expertise in LGBT issues, says the younger generation is less anti-gay than some of their elders.

“The question of ‘love the sinner and hate the sin,’ is an idea they are being forced to question,” he said. “Some of the sound bites [on homosexuality] are not working so well for the younger generation. Condemnation has a human cost.”

Kurek had been homeschooled by parents who never taught him to shun or hate gay people and who admitted they had wrestled with the church’s teaching on homosexuality.

He said he had always wanted to write a book, but never finished his studies at the Christian Liberty College in Lynchburg, Va. But Kurek had kept a daily journal for months, and it was “beginning to read like a book.” By 2009, the idea to go undercover, as a way of documenting and learning about homophobia, was born. For six months he plotted and planned. “I had to make sure the timing was right,” he said.

But one day, sitting in a café in a part of Nashville where the gay bars and Christian hang-outs intersect, Kurek had his first confrontation. While reading a gay-themed book, he became aware of the “snickers and sneers.”

“A guy came up to me when he saw the cover and said, ‘You know that is fundamentally false — you can’t be gay and Christian,'” said Kurek, who responded, “I am gay and I love God.”

The project to become gay had begun for real.

Only three people knew the truth, and he needed them to carry out his audacious project: his closest friend, an aunt and Shawn, a gay friend whom Kurek also met at karaoke night.

“My aunt is my mom’s best friend and is more liberal in her faith,” Kurek said. “She was also able to listen to what my family was saying behind my back … If my mom went off the deep end, I needed to know.”

After a week, he realized he also needed help warding off the advances of gay men.

Kind-hearted Shawn, whom Kurek described as “a big black burly teddy bear,” became his “pretend boyfriend.”

“I needed protection to keep me balanced and teach me the nuances of gay culture and how they flirt, and to give me an excuse when guys hit on me,” said Kurek.

For credibility, Kurek learned to hold hands and embrace.

But most of all, Shawn was the “first gay person that I let into my heart,” said Kurek. “He was totally there for me through emotional turmoil … I trusted him.

“He knew I was straight and he didn’t take it too far — and he taught me not to be afraid.”

Eventually the initial “revulsion” disappeared, according to Kurek. “Early on if a guy pinched my ass, I would have punched someone in the face.”

The hardest part was facing his parents, who were divorced.

“There was always an elephant in the room,” he said. “I snooped in my mother’s journal one day after I had come out and she’d written, ‘I’d rather have found out from a doctor that I had terminal cancer than have a gay son.'”

With his friends, “the thing that struck me most was the isolation,” he said. “Before I came out as gay, I had a very busy social life. After I came out, I didn’t hear from 95 percent of my friends.”

In his book, Kurek stays away from theology. “I want this seen as a people issue,” he said. “When we are shunning people, we are shunning Fred and John and Liz and Mary. These are human people.”

“In the end it was a book about prejudice, not a book about being gay.”

The response to his experience has been positive, according to Kurek. His mother is now supportive of LGBT rights.

Rev. Connie Waters, a protestant minister and LGBT ally from Memphis who met Kurek online when he was questioning his church’s view of homosexuality, said she was “proud” of him.

She never encourages her parishioners to lie, but in the case of Kurek’s undercover project, it served a “greater purpose.”

“For him to appreciate what others went through was essential for him to experience a small part of what those who are LGBT have had to live through to be safe for many years,” said Waters.

“The transformation in him was life-changing,” she said. “It’s what you hope for — the goal of the Christian walk of faith. It’s enough for me that he transformed, but if others learn from him, what an extra blessing that is.”