Monday, January 21, 2008

114. The Bible Study

So, as I mentioned last time, I was a ‘guest speaker’ at a Bible Study on the subject of homosexuality. After two frantic days of preparing, I think it went very well, I’m kind of proud of myself. I’m pretty sure I over-prepared though. I had handouts that included a copy of Justin Cannon’s paper on the Bible and homosexuality from, the post I’d written on the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, Eugene’s posts on Defending ‘Truth’ by Telling Lies, and a section of a page from on the Greek word ‘pais’. So, yeah, probably over prepared. It was a pretty low key event, sitting around in my friend’s living room. I took every book that I had on homosexuality, and even borrowed 2 from a friend of mine here in the city. I also had burned copies of both of Tony Campolo’s talks (couldn’t find one of them when I got there, but luckily I’d given one to my friend about 2 years ago and she still had it).

So, what happened was that the people in the Bible Study emailed my friend whatever questions they had and she forwarded them on to me. And what I did, because I process my thoughts so much better when I write them down was just sit down at my computer and type out my answers. One of the questions was “What are some ways of interpreting seemingly anti-homosexual portions of scripture that we may not have heard before?” I dealt with that one last, being sure to say that I didn’t agree with every argument I was presenting. For that I relied heavily on Justin Cannon’s study, but I brought in other ideas as well, and then I went into the theories about gay people possibly showing up in Scripture… David and Jonathan, the idea that the word eunuch as used in Scripture often meant homosexual, and of course, my favourite one, the story of the Roman Centurion (that’s why I had the stuff about the Greek word ‘pais’ in there).

But I began answering the other questions first, so to give you a glimpse of what the study was like, I’m just going to copy what I originally typed out (after a bit of editing by a good friend of mine). I didn’t end up saying all of this (I was speaking, and I didn’t just read off the paper, it was just there for me to use as a guide), and there’s some stuff that came up that I didn’t anticipate so it’s not here, but this is what I prepared. Beware, this is a LONG post!

Do you think that homosexuality is a sin?

In a word, no. I think that something that the church needs to be careful of is its language. A sin, according to my definition, involves a wilfully wrong action or the contemplation of such an action. In other words, there has to be a decision involved. Even a decision not to do something can be a sin. But there must be a decision. Homosexuality is not a choice… perhaps I should have started with that. No one in their right mind would choose to be gay. Therefore homosexuality cannot be a sin. The reason I find this such an essential distinction is because I grew up in a world that used this language – “homosexuality is a sin” and because of that I grew up believing that I was a sin… just by being. And it scared me. Because try as I might I couldn’t stop being a homosexual. It didn’t go away no matter how much I cried and begged and pleaded with God, no matter how many other people I asked for prayer it stayed the same. I thought that I was doomed… quite literally.

What you are actually asking is if I believe homosexual behaviour – to be blunt, gay sex – is okay, and to be honest with you I don’t know. I go back and forth on that issue so many times I really don’t know what to do about it anymore.

What is your opinion on gay marriage?
Would you consider yourself to have generally more liberal opinions than the average Christian? i.e.: sex before marriage - ok? not ok?, abortion - ok? not ok?
Do you feel that Christian homosexuals must remain celibate?

I put these questions together because they all kind of ask the same thing in my head. Firstly, do I consider myself more liberal… sex before marriage – I’m a wait until marriage girl all the way. One thing I’ve always tried to be clear about is that my question has never been whether or not it would be okay for me to have sex with a woman, my question is whether or not it would be okay for me to marry a woman. (The sex would, one assumes, be included in that). Abortion: I’m pro-life. Gay marriage… this is another issue. Because I have an opinion about it as a Canadian and an opinion about it as a Christian. I suppose that sounds weird, but here’s what I believe. I believe that gay marriage should be legal. Common law relationships (which are not Biblical by your average evangelical standards) are legal and protected under the law. People who have been divorced and remarried (something quite specifically prohibited by Scripture) have the same rights, responsibilities and protections under the law as those entering into their first marriage. I think that it’s ridiculous that a couple who has lived together for several years but has no intention of ‘legitimizing’ their relationship, or maybe Elizabeth Taylor on her 9th go of it gets to be married but a gay couple does not. I think the law is there to protect us from things that harm us as individuals and things that harm society, and so far I have not come across any arguments that can show me how gay marriage harms society. I think that the right to marry whom you chose is kind of a basic human right. Even prisoners are given that right.

Now what I think should be legal and what I think is okay for Christians are two different things. Though I am quite certain that it should be legal for people to worship any god they choose, I believe that Christians only worship the One True God. I can separate what I think should be legal from what I think is right for Christians. So the question of whether or not I think gay Christians should be celibate is still up for debate. I really do go back and forth on that all the time.

Do you think that homosexuals should be pastors / ordained / in authoritative positions in the church?

Yes. Now again, I feel the need to distinguish here between ‘homosexuals’ and ‘people engaging in homosexual behaviour – i.e.: in gay relationships’. Even assuming that gay behaviour is a sin (which I’m not sure about), simply being gay (in my opinion) should not exclude you from any kind of ministry. Being gay merely means being romantically drawn to people of the same gender: it does not mean anything else. It does not imply a more or less sinful nature than anyone else. Again, even assuming that all gay behaviour is sinful, admitting to being gay simply means admitting to an area of temptation, and if having temptations disqualifies you from ministry then no one can be in ministry.

Now if by ‘homosexuals’ you mean people engaging in homosexual behaviour, then I think that this varies by denomination. Some denominations believe that women shouldn’t teach in the church, so if you are a member of that denomination and you are a woman you shouldn’t try to teach. Some denominations think that gay relationships are perfectly okay and so in those denominations then people in gay relationships should be just as welcome to minister in any capacity as anyone else. In denominations that believe that gay relationships are sinful then no, they should not be ministering. It’s kind of like the situation in the Wesleyan church with alcohol. I personally think that there’s nothing wrong with drinking alcohol in moderation, but Wesleyan church doctrine thinks that there is, and so in order to be ordained in the Wesleyan church (or even to become a member) you have to promise not to drink. I think that that rule is ridiculous and should be changed, but as long as it is in effect I kind of expect those who have made that promise to keep it.

This, of course, takes me right back to whether or not I believe gay relationships are sinful and again, I have to say that I don’t know.

Do you believe you were born this way and it is a natural thought process?

I have no idea what causes homosexuality – whether or not it is biological or psychological I have no idea. I do know that I now kind of ignore the general psychological explanations that conservative Christians like James Dobson give because while I personally conform to the theories (domineering mother, absent father, childhood trauma, etc…) most of the gay people I know do not… and a lot of straight people I know do. So, I kind of tend to think that they are guessing. And oddly enough, these theories are mostly based on Freudian thinking, something that Christians in other areas completely dismiss, but in this one area it is the only explanation that they can find that works. I can tell you that there is very clear evidence of homosexuality in nature (i.e.: animals). And there have been studies done on gay people (frustratingly they all seem to be done on men, almost no one studies lesbians) that look at pheromone reaction and the make up of the brain. The only thing I’ve ever read in these studies that pertains to women, however is the finger thing, and it’s only a correlation, not really a guess as to a cause.

Do you believe that when the early signs started to arise within you, that they could have been "just tendencies" and could or should have been suppressed in any way or should they have been liberated earlier?

Well, that’s exactly what happened. I first told my mother when I was 10 (My first memory of knowing I was gay is when I was 9) and I was immediately sent for prayer and counselling with a couple at my church which turned out be creepy and weird and I immediately dove back into the closet and tried to suppress my feelings. I managed to have some crushes on boys while at the same time knowing that I liked girls still, but thinking that it would go away eventually, if I worked hard enough at the boy thing.

Have you met anyone who has been healed of homosexuality?

I’ve met people who have claimed to be healed. I can tell you about the first guy. He came to my church when I was 16. We were doing a kind of summer outreach in Toronto and he was part of a team that came in to help us with that. He gave a testimony at church about how he had ‘come out of the homosexual lifestyle’ and ‘been healed of his sinful homosexuality’. And I latched onto him. I remember quite distinctly thinking that I was going to learn everything about what he did to be ‘cured’. I was going to learn where he went, what organization he went to, how much it cost, what they taught, what he had to do… everything. I knew it would cost me money and time, and so my thought was that I would learn how he did it, wait until I had my own money and then go do what he did and no one would ever have to know.

So I attached myself to his side, volunteered to be his guide in Toronto, and peppered him with questions. And within three days it was quite clear to me that he was still gay. He would point out certain guys on the street and say things like “man, if I was still gay he would be just my type” or “when I was gay, I would have been all over that guy”, or “oooh, check it out, I’m being cruised” (incidentally, my first lesson in ‘gay lingo’).

I immediately realized what he had meant when he gave his testimony: that he had gone from having gay sex to not having gay sex. Which is not what I wanted or needed, because, well, I wasn’t (and still am not) having sex at all. I’m actually really glad I met this guy because it meant that I questioned any similar testimonies I heard or read, and what I found was that in all of them – without fail – the people who say that they have been healed really mean that they’ve either gone from having gay sex to having straight sex, or gone from having gay sex to not having sex at all. (In one particular case it was merely a case changing labels, went from calling themselves gay to calling themselves straight.) And when you question them, they admit that they still ‘struggle’… i.e.: they still find themselves attracted to people of the same gender sometimes – they still feel homosexual temptations. And as Tony Campolo noted in a talk he gave on “Struggling with the Gay Issue”, if you have really gone from being homosexual to being heterosexual, then the way you will be tempted is with heterosexual temptations.

The biggest ‘ex-gay’ organization out there, and the one that is the umbrella for most of the ex-gay programs you have probably heard of (if you’ve heard of any) is Exodus, and the best that they claim is 30% success rate (and believe me, you have to push and hunt to find that statistic, they hide it very well under their ‘change is possible’ banners). More recently, they have taken to admitting that what they are able to offer are tools to help control behaviour – i.e.: tools to help people become celibate – a lot of what I’ve heard recently their publicity is that they are now admitting that most people who successfully complete their program (that 30% they claim) will always still struggle.

This is not to say that I don’t believe God can ‘heal’ homosexuality, I think He can. I don’t know why He doesn’t most of the time.

I can also tell you that a lot of people who went through those programs came out more messed up than they went in. Many people who go into these programs as Christians come out no longer believing because they feel disillusioned by a faith that promised them change but couldn’t deliver.

I’ve also heard and read about many people who went through those programs and talk about how harmful they were not just to them, but to their families – those programs generally teach that it is the parents’ fault, and so people go into those programs and are told that they have an overbearing mother and a distant father and whether or not it is true they are forced to take that on as truth. On the homepage of one ex-gay I actually read the phrase “I didn’t realize it at the time, but my father was distant and unloving towards me growing up.” And all I could think was – “okay, if you didn’t realize it until you were told, then it probably wasn’t true… other people convinced you that you had a bad relationship with your father and that’s just sad.”

To sum up, I personally think those programs do more harm than good. I think that they are well intentioned, buy well, you know what they say about good intentions…

Even though God loves you so much, do you think that He wants you to remain what you are or does He wish you to be heterosexual?

I don’t know the answer to that. At this point I pretty much believe He doesn’t because I asked Him so many times and tried so hard and nothing changed. I had such peace when I finally went “Okay, this is who I am I guess… so I guess I have to figure out how to be a Christian while still being gay…”

What kinds of attitudes towards homosexuality have you encountered among people in the church?

I have encountered a wide variety of attitudes and beliefs. Here are some more extreme examples. I once heard a guy comment, after hearing of a “gay bashing” incident on campus, that he wished he’d been there so he could have joined in. I’ve also heard this statement more than once “We should send all the faggots to San Francisco, build a big wall around it and let them infect each other with AIDS and die… that would solve the problem.”

Those are the more extreme things… mostly it’s an ‘us and them’ mentality. As if gay people are the enemy. This talk about the ‘gay agenda’ really ticks me off – for many reasons. First off, gay people cannot be lumped together in one group that all want the same thing. I get annoyed when people point out something some crazy Christian says and assume I think the same thing. We are all guilty of stereotyping others and assuming people in our social/religious/work circles are on our side. The important thing is to recognize that the church is always doing that to gay people. I honestly don’t think gay rights activists are asking for anything really drastic: the right not to be discriminated against and the right to marry whom they chose. Pretty basic to my understanding.

Why do you think this issue has aroused so much bitterness - I mean is it that so many Christians REALLY believe that the Bible says it is wrong or has it been more a "social" problem, perhaps reflecting more basic prejudices etc.?

I think that a huge part of the problem is that the church has sort of set itself up as the enemy of gay people. The “us versus them” thing is huge. I think a lot of gay people are angry at the church because they were hurt by the church… growing up in the church and hearing sermons preached against them as people – sermons that called them evil, or perverts. They may also have heard people in the church interchange the terms “homosexual” and pedophile as if they were the same thing (they are so not, by the way… I’ve had to correct people on this before… statistically speaking, children are less likely to be sexually abused by a gay person than a straight one).

Another issue is the fact that there are a lot of lies said about gay people in the church… One particular researcher (Paul Cameron)’s statistics and results are still used even though he was let go from the American Psychological Association for ethics violations and misrepresenting his research. His theories and conclusions have been so thoroughly debunked, and yet his research is still used quite often in Christian publications when talking about homosexuality. (His studies concluded things like gay teachers can influence their students to be gay, gay people don’t live as long as straight people, and most disturbingly, that gay people are much more likely to be pedophiles – all of which have been thoroughly proven to be untrue).

The problem, of course, is that hearing and believing such false, ill-founded statistics causes Christians to treat gay people as sex crazed perverts. It’s offensive.

The church also seems to have arbitrarily drawn a line in the sand about the biblical issues with which to take issue. There are all kinds of things in the Bible that we don’t really pay attention to anymore. Men can have long hair, women can cut their hair and braid it if they so choose. We all go to churches where women preach. My mom attends a church where the senior pastor and his wife both divorced their first spouses before marrying each other. It seems sometimes that the church has drawn this line just for the sake of drawing a line, and it can be pretty awful if you are on the 'wrong' side of that line.

I think one of the things that people need to remember is that if there are100 people in your church, there are probably 2 or 3 gay people kicking around. And lest you think that this statistic doesn’t apply to churches because it is not a random sample of the population, according to researchers (Tony Campolo – a Baptist minister who is also a sociologist – among them) have shown that the statistics are usually higher in churches… and they get even higher the more charasmatic the churches get. And we sit there in churches and hear sermons that use gay people as the examples of depravity in society, or youth pastors who adopt an effette accent while mocking gay people thinking that that is perfectly okay, because there will be no gay people there. But there are gay people in churches, and it’s no wonder that if and/or when they leave the church they are angry.

If you were homosexual but not Christian, how could a Christian friend represent their views on homosexuality (or what could they say) that would let you know it would be okay to become a Christian?

Okay, well, to be perfectly honest, I don’t know why anyone would feel the need to represent their views on homosexuality at all if they were wanting to talk about becoming a Christian. I just don’t think it’s relevant. Even assuming that all homosexual behaviour is sinful, and assuming that the gay person you are speaking to is engaging in gay behaviours, how is it any different from any other sort of sin that we all engage in? Just think for a moment that instead of being gay, the person you are speaking to is in a common law relationship, they’ve been living with someone out of wedlock for years. Would you feel the need to tell them that you thought they were living a sinful lifestyle? Maybe you would… I know people who would. But to be perfectly honest, for the most part it isn’t necessary. I have a good friend who right now has been living with her boyfriend for 4 years. I believe in waiting until marriage, so therefore I think that this is not right. I have never once had to tell her this, she knows me, she knows what I believe without my ever having to say anything. I know this because she’s brought it up.

I think that part of the question here is how to be friends with gay people (who are in relationships) without ‘condoning their lifestyle’, and I think the way to go is to forget for a second that they are gay. For some reason Christians seem to put that in a different class of sin as if it is somehow dirtier than other sins. Imagine that this person is a straight person engaged in something you know is sinful, such as a common law relationship, and imagine how you would interact with them. Would you feel the need to make sure they knew you believed they were sinning? Would you not invite them and their common law spouse over for dinner because you didn’t want to condone their relationship? And as a Christian who wants to share Christ with people, would you expect them to change before coming to Christ?

I think it’s important to remember that this is not a central issue. If you are specifically thinking about sharing Christ with gay people, then I would say to remember how peripheral this issue is: Scripture barely mentions it at all (I’ll get into this more later) and it has basically nothing to do with the essentials of salvation. If you are talking with a person who wants to become a Christian but believes that they can’t because they are gay then get them to stop talking about being gay. It’s just not relevant. Being gay is not a sin, but you know what? Even if it was, since when does sin disqualify you from being a Christian? We’ve all sinned, and we are all on a journey to become more like Christ.

If their issue is that they don’t want to become a Christian because they don’t want to give up engaging in gay behaviour then the issue is that their priorities are not quite right. You can get into some pro-gay theology if you like (I'll outline some in a minute), but again, it just isn’t a central issue. Jesus is central. Our relationship with God is central. Being gay, gay behaviour… these are secondary issues that can and should be worked out later.

So that's it, that's a sort of outline of the Bible study. Hope you enjoyed it.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

113. Again?

So, I haven’t written since my mom’s visit. Her visits, as most of you know by now, are kind of overwhelming for me, and I usually need some time to recover after she goes, but that didn’t really happen for me this time. You remember the friend who picked me up from the airport when I came back from the conference? She had asked me ages ago if I would be willing to speak at her Bible Study on the subject of homosexuality. I’d said yes, but I guess it fell by the wayside. But that night she remembered and asked if I would be able to speak at her Bible Study the week after my mom left. I agreed, but it turned out that some people couldn’t make it that week, so I ended up doing it last night – 2 days after my mom left. Which meant that those 2 days were spent preparing and being nervous. Today has been my recovery day. It’s 2:30 and I’m literally just getting my day started. I don’t sleep very much when my mom’s here (tense, I guess, plus she wakes me up early every day), and then I couldn’t sleep because I was nervous, and then last night when I got home from the study I was so wired I couldn’t sleep either.

But I’ll tell you about that study later. First I thought I’d tell you about my mom’s visit. I’m pretty sure that part of the reason she insisted on coming so soon after I just spent such a significant amount of time with her in Toronto was because she didn’t have the opportunity to sit me down and lecture me over Christmas. Her house was just so full of family and friends for the entire week I was there. There was our aunt from Philadelphia, and 3 friends from Bermuda there – I joked that we were having a “Black Christmas – no white’s allowed!”. Heh, the first time I made that joke, I was talking on the phone with my mom from the house of some lovely white people and they stared at me in shock. I then went on to tell my mom to be careful, that with all those black people in her house, the property values might go down for the week. You should have seen the look on the face of my white host, she looked like she was going to choke on her tongue! Even after I told her I was, of course, joking, she sputtered a bit in shock. White guilt can fun sometimes.

Anyway, the day I left Toronto, my mom walked me down to my car, and I could see the panic growing on her face. As we got closer and closer to my car she got more and more tense, and then she grabbed my face and forced me to look at her and delivered a power lecture on my weight and diet and exercise that lasted about 10 minutes, with her holding my face still the entire time, and while I wouldn’t say she was yelling, she was quite loud. It was pretty intense.

So yeah, she probably didn’t feel she got enough lecturing time in, so she scheduled a visit to remedy that. And believe me, she did. But there was more that happened than that. She arrived on Thursday and I was working on Friday, so she was home alone. I got her bus tickets so she could get around the city by herself, but she spent the entire day in my apartment, cleaning and rearranging my furniture (I’m not entirely sure what to do with my newly designed living room, not sure whether or not to leave it as my mom left it or try and put it back). Do you remember my dining room table? The one that’s impossible to move by yourself? She tried and broke it. I came home from work and was greeted by her at the door, “Don’t freak out, I broke your table.” She offered to replace it, took me to Ikea that night and I picked out a table she didn’t particularly like, so instead she spent time fixing my dining room table, which is good, because I like the one I’ve got. Anyway, we got home from Ikea, and I sat down, exhausted. I’d been up since 6 am, remember. And this is when this my mom tells me that, as I could see, she had been cleaning my apartment (something she does every time she comes, whether I ask her not to or not, whether its clean or not), and she found ‘some books’. I stared at her, trying to figure out what she meant by that, because I’m petty sure I sanitized the place before she came, I always do… hide the Harry Potter, hide the stuff on homosexuality, hide anything that could possibly cause her to be upset… I really couldn’t figure out what she meant. She continued, “I found some books on homosexuality and the church.” Of course, I was shocked. I still have no idea where she found them, and she insists they were just lying around, which I doubt… I mean, it’s a habit with me to sanitize my home before she arrives just to avoid such confrontations. Anyway, we had a long (read: 2 hour) conversation and afterwards I went to my computer and wrote the following down (I’ve edited it a bit, mostly for readability).

We began with her question, “"What do you believe about homosexuality? What does the Bible say?"

So I went through the so-called 'clobber passages', explaining what I think about them, or what I'm not sure I think about them... trying to be sure and give both sides (because that's where I'm at.) She listened, and actually kind of agreed with me on most of them (i.e.: Sodom is irrelevant and Leviticus is sort of moot, etc).

I'm trying to remember points here, so I'm being kind of scattered. She asked me about the sexual abuse that happened to me and if I thought that was relevant (I don't).

She expressed extreme concern about my telling people, she really wants me to keep this under my hat. She thinks it's 'extremely personal and private' and kept asking me 'Why would you tell anyone that? Why do you feel like you should do that?'

We talked about the 'revelation' I had when I suddenly realized I could be both gay and Christian, how I had been convinced for so long that I was doomed to hell because I was taught that the two things were antonymous. She asked me if I'd been "set free from that wrong belief" and I told her about when I stopped listening to the voices of the church that said that, it suddenly became clear to me that there was no way that simply being gay could stop me from being a Christian.

Oh, and I asked her (through tears) what would happen if I did enter into a relationship with a woman and she first of all said that she believed 'there would be a separation of a sort but not a loss of love'. I asked her for clarification and she went back and said that she had had a feeling many times that I was in a relationship (she actually kept asking me if I had ever had a relationship, I'm still not sure if she believes me that I haven't), and then went on to say that she would still want to come over and 'enjoy helping you out with your house and encouraging you about your weight (!!?! I can't believe she managed to work that in!)', and would always be 'for' me, but she wouldn't condone what I was doing.

She also told me that I should do a study on marriage and see what God says about that. Oh, and this may not seem like much, but it's a HUGE step for her, she said 'maybe God has called you to celibacy, the Bible says some people are so... maybe"

Of course, she followed that up with how much she wanted me to experience romance at least once, and then prayed to that effect.

And now she's out in my living room watching “The Day the Earth Stood Still”.

And I'm still exhausted.

(written 12:26 AM January 12)

So that’s what happened the first night. I gave her one of the books by Tony Campolo, mostly just to let her know that I’m thinking about both sides of this, and she read it. She asked me afterwards if I was considering a “homosexual union” – the celibate partnerships that Tony talks about in his writings, and I said no, there’s no one in my life at the moment to consider that with. I’m just trying to figure things out. She asked me if I really no longer wanted to be married – referencing things I’d said when I was 5 (“I want 3 babies”) and 12 years old (“I think I’ll get married some day”) as proof that this can’t always have been true for me. She completely back-pedalled on the celibacy issue, saying that she didn’t think I was called to celibacy at all. She asked me if I was sure I didn’t want to marry a man and I said yes, that I wouldn’t want to get married to a guy just because that was what I thought I was supposed to do, I would want to be married because I loved the person I was marrying. She understood that. Then she suggested that the problem was that I hadn’t found the ‘right guy’ (oy, how cliché!), and that perhaps I need to just date some guys for a while and see what happens. Maybe I would feel those sexual feelings blossoming then. It was frustrating, but not devastating. We’ll see how long this one lasts… maybe she won’t forget this time.

The lesson I learned here, of course, is that I should never “tell” my mom I’m gay… the two times I did that, it went horribly, lots of yelling, lots of crying, accusations, etc… the two times she found out on her own (by snooping through my stuff, of course) she reacted fairly calmly. I don’t know if that’s a good lesson, but it’s the one I learned.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

112. Straight to Heaven

So once again I'm writing to let you all know that I am going to be out of the loop for a little while. My mom is coming to visit tomorrow. And if you are thinking "Really? Didn't you just spend 3 weeks with her in Toronto while you were recuperating from your surgery, and then only a week later spend another week with her over Christmas?" you are thinking much the same thoughts as me. But unfortunately, our thoughts are not the thoughts that matter. My mother has decreed that she is coming, and so she is. At least she's flying in this time, which means that she has to leave when she says she is (which is Monday night), so that is good.

In the interim, if you have time and bandwidth to spare, I highly suggest you download a copy of Straight to Heaven, a musical parody written by Justin Lee (yes, the same one who heads up GCN). It's absolutely brilliant, I laughed to the point of tears the first time I watched it. And aside from being thigh slappingly funny, it also happens to be a very spot on representation of the conflict that gay Christians go through - the pull from both the church and the gay community who say that living as both a gay person and a Christian is impossible.

Anyway, enjoy! Until we meet again.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

111. Visiting Cornelius

One of my roommates at the conference was a gay, married (to a woman) Lutheran minister who has only recently begun his journey of trying to reconcile his faith and his sexuality. When he was telling me a bit of his story he made this comment, “I guess I’m at this conference to visit Cornelius.” I couldn’t help but laugh when he said that, simply because I don’t think he could have given a more concise explanation if he’d been trying.

Do you remember that story in Acts where Peter goes to visit Cornelius? Even before he goes to see Cornelius, God shakes up his world view by telling him to “not call anything impure that God has made clean”. And then he gets there, sees the evidence of the Spirit in the lives of these Gentiles and has to acknowledge that God has called them too, that they are as worthy of being called Christians as anyone else.

Now I have to admit that I didn’t go with any such agenda in mind. I didn’t have an agenda really, at least nothing solid. I knew I wanted to be there, but if you had asked me to articulate why I would have probably been quite vague. But I did visit with Cornelius (although if I use this metaphor, I suppose I have to say that I am Cornelius too… or at least one of his Gentile guests.) And I know that I felt the presence of God. Part of me is cringing at using this charismatic terminology, but I can’t think of another way to say it. God was there, the evidence of the Spirit in the lives of all of these gay Christians was undisputable. It was really powerful. There were moments during the worship where I would suddenly remember where I was, and I would suddenly feel so full – I didn’t know what to do. Except cry, I guess, cause I did that a fair bit. I am just so glad I went.

I honestly don’t really know what all to say about it, there is just so much, and it’s all kind of melded together into one sort of euphoric moment in my head, so it’s even kind of hard to give details. Perhaps I should have kept a sort of log like Eric did. I can hardly tell one day from another in my head.

But you probably want some details. One thing I can tell you is that I’m so glad I got there early… like really early. The conference started officially at 5 PM (although that turned out to be just the registration time) and my flight got into D.C. at 8:30 in the morning – with travel time from the airport I got to the hotel around 10. At first it was kind of horrible. I was alone in the hotel, I couldn’t check in because I didn’t know what room I was in (I only knew my roommates first name and last initial), so I just had to hang around the lobby. I could see people were already there for the conference, and I screwed up my courage to introduce myself to them, but then the introvert in me would assert itself and I would go off and sit alone in a chair somewhere. But that ended up paying off. They were holding a banquet for local churches and gay organizations – and it was invitation only, but because I was there early and sitting all by myself, and some people were unable to make it, they asked me if I wanted to join, so I did – hey, a free lunch and a chance to meet people. And I also got to hear Justin (the leader of the Gay Christian Network) speak, and to see clips of a movie he’s been working on… that was pretty powerful.

And then when the banquet let out, I went over to the registration table and asked if they needed help… so I met some people there, just helping out… and then registration began and the awesome started. Because I was behind the registration table, I literally met everybody! Even if only for a moment. And the genius of it was that everyone felt like they’d met me, so that people kind of felt like they knew me already when things began… which is good because I’m kind of shy. (Not that anyone who was there may have noticed this). People often approached me, which was rather perfect. I immediately felt part of things. Of course, there were a few awkward moments, because people sort of assumed that I knew details of what was going on. Oh, and being on that team meant that during the first session I ended up handing some stuff out, and being the complete dork that I am, I tripped and stumbled half way down the length of the auditorium and nearly landed in RJ Helton’s lap. It would have been pretty embarrassing no matter whose lap I almost landed in, but well… RJ was the celebrity guest, and I remember watching him on the first season of American Idol. Not my proudest moment, that.

One of the things that struck me over the weekend was how necessary GCN and other like-minded ministries are. There just aren’t a lot of places for evangelical gay Christians to go. I watched as one wonderful young man shook uncontrollably as he registered, afraid to wear his nametag, even if it only had his first name on it. And I watched the joy grow on his face as the weekend wore on and he realized that this was a safe place for him (unlike the conservative evangelical university he attends). And I listened to person after person tell their stories about how they have been kicked out of their church fellowships for coming out, or how they hide in the closet in their daily lives, no one in the church knowing the truth. It’s so sad and so wrong.

The other thing that I couldn’t help but notice over the weekend was the disproportionate number of men there who had once been youth leaders or worship leaders at their church. And while I can’t really speak to their youth leading abilities, only because I there’s not really a chance for that sort of skill to be in evidence on a weekend like this, I can say from worshipping under their leadership that the church has lost a lot of gifted people by excluding them. These guys (they were all guys) have (in my opinion) been gifted by God to lead people into His presence, and then told by the church that they are disqualified from doing just that. RJ Helton actually spoke (and wept) about this the last night, how he had been convinced that God could no longer use him. It’s sad, and it’s wrong.

Another thought that kept occurring to me was that I really wished some of my friends from home were there to see it – my straight Christian friends. I want them to see these people, to recognize their (our) existence, to feel the presence of God in the worship, to hear the stories. I cried almost every time anyone straight made themselves known, just to know that they heard us, and that they cared enough to be there.

When I got home, my friend picked me up from the airport, and as I was telling her about the weekend she asked “So, what can we do? We non-gay Christians… how can we make it better?” I didn’t have an answer, really, other than realize that we exist. The church pretends that we don’t, and when we stand up and say we are here, they insist that we are not really a part of them. And so many people believe them. I remember that conversation I had with that girl in Korea where she said that since she was gay and couldn't change that fact, she couldn’t be a Christian, and no matter what I said to her, she believed that. She had been convinced. So sad, and so wrong.

Anyway, there are my day after reflections. I’m sure I’ll have more as the days go by.

Monday, January 07, 2008

110. Back

"Back from what?" you ask. Well, I went to the GCN conference in Washington D.C. It was kind of a last minute decision (and because of that, it kind of was a punch in the gut financially), but I'm so glad I went. It was so refreshing... no, more than refreshing. Strength giving. But I don't have the strength to blog about it completely right now as I am utterly exhausted. A few late nights followed by (relatively) early mornings is too much for these old bones.

But, as I met many people who read this blog at the conference, I thought I'd say 'Hi!', and it truly was wonderful to meet you! Honestly, I was kind of floored by the reaction people had when they found out who I was. And so grateful. To think that something I threw out on the internet had a positive impact on anyone else is pretty powerful.

I also wanted to say that it was a delight to meet other bloggers I've been sort of 'blog buddies' with for years -- Eric, Eugene and Christine. We even got to go to dinner together one night and just gab. That was great. I also got to play Settlers of Catan: Knights and... um... ships? pirates? Damn it. I kept forgetting the name of the game that night and it still won't stick in my head. Anyway, I played that with Eric and Eugene. It was fun playing until 2 in the morning... I didn't win. Was rather soundly trounced by Eugene (or was it Matt? I'm pretty sure it was Eugene.) And to have a late night gab session with Christine. Seriously, it was an incredible weekend. One I won't soon forget. I'll blog about it more when I'm rested and coherent, but for now I thought I'd leave you with a little life lesson I picked up while I was there. It's not all that deep, but it is important. And the lesson is this -- learned after a ridiculously fun late night conversation with Grant from Armored City among others -- It is dangerous to talk until five in the morning with gay men, because things get said that might not be said under other circumstances.

Seriously, it's an important lesson.