Artist and Author David Hayward on Waterfalls, Leaving Religion and the Art of Coming Out

It was a dream about a waterfall that finally gave David Hayward the peace of mind he needed after leaving his career as a pastor in 2010 after almost thirty years of service.

Religion had been Hayward’s life from the beginning. Originally baptized Anglican, he grew up in the Baptist church but turned to Pentecostalism in his teens. He attended seminary and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister and went on to pastor Vineyard and independent churches before his questions about traditional Christianity led him to give up his career and leave the church.

The beginning of the end came in 2005 when he began his Naked Pastor blog. A moniker, Hayward told Whosoever Magazine during a recent interview, that means, “I’m going to bare my soul. I wanted to reveal what pastors really think about what we go through and be honest about it.”

In 2006, he added daily cartoons to his blog, calling himself “A graffiti artist on the walls of religion.”

The topics for the cartoons vary widely, but all tend to deal with current events within the church, religion and politics — skewering everyone from disgraced Mars Hill Church pastor Mark Driscoll to prosperity gospel preachers.

“I try to address what’s going on in religion and challenge the abusive, erroneous, silly and toxic aspects of religion,” Hayward said. “I challenge it not because I hate it but because I love it and I think people have the right to be spiritual, religious and to gather together but for God’s sake, let’s do it in healthy ways.”

The members of his congregation had little motivation to keep up with his blog when it began. Then, Hayward’s increasingly unorthodox views on Christianity began to get noticed by outsiders.

“Ever since I can remember I’ve always struggled with the exclusivity of religion,” he said. “Christianity in particular which teaches the only way to God the Father is through Jesus Christ the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. Although it sounds wonderful, it is exclusive. I met nice Jewish people and Buddhist and Roman Catholic people and atheists who are better people than I am and I wondered, ‘How would they deserve eternal punishment and I wouldn’t?’ It was a mental anguish of the kind that was unbearable.”

When word of what Hayward was blogging about — those tough questions he was posing about traditional Christian spiritual beliefs — got back to his congregation and church leadership, they began to question his commitment to the faith.

He and his congregation parted amicably enough, but Hayward found life difficult after the pulpit.

“When your whole life and identity is wrapped up in something like that and you leave it, cold turkey, it’s a tough go,” Hayward remembered. “I nearly self-destructed. I nearly lost my wife, my family and myself. You lose friendships, networks, income, career, religion. We had to file for personal bankruptcy. It was just the perfect storm.”

It was during that perfect storm that he dreamed about a waterfall. In the dream, Hayward is standing at the bottom of the waterfall. He realizes this is a symbol of reality. Looking up, he knows that, above the rim, is God in whatever form — or no form — we may imagine that higher power to be.

The water coming down was the manifestation of that universal source and the water hitting the ground was the Holy Spirit “engulfing and integrating everything,” Hayward said.

“It had a Trinitarian structure to it, but I knew we are all experiencing the same thing but we are all understanding it and articulating it through our own paradigms and language. That’s the only difference,” he said. “I knew this immediately that there is nothing worry about. The atheist, the Buddhist, the Hindu, the Jew, the Muslim were all experiencing the same thing but we have our particular paradigm and language that seems to separate what we’re experiencing into exclusive ideologies or religions, but it’s only an illusion.”

In that moment, he felt what he called “a theological peace,” and then realized that he was probably not the only one who felt this way — trying to come to terms with a spiritual life after leaving organized religion. Many people who choose to leave the church, he said, feel like gypsies or refugees without a safe and supportive place to deconstruct their beliefs and build new ones.

It was that thought, and his own craving for safe community, that led him to found The Lasting Supper, an online community for people who have left religion but still want to retain their spiritual orientation.

“A lot of people who leave religion realize the risks and they quickly jump into something else that provides community such as yoga or other wellness movements. None of that is bad, but sometimes I wonder what would happen if people kept pressing to find their own spiritual identity. I’m trying to provide a safe place for people to process in a healthy way,” Hayward said.

Among those who flocked to his new community were lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who had found themselves on the receiving end of so much abuse at the hands of the church. They have been welcomed into the diverse community which includes people who are married, divorced, atheists, agnostics and people who have left the church and don’t want to return.

Many of the cartoons that Hayward has produced over the years have been aimed at revealing some of that abuse LGBT people have suffered in traditional churches. He’s taken 100 of those cartoons and put them in a new book called The Art of Coming Out: Cartoons for the LGBTQ Community.

The book is divided into three chapters: The Discrimination, The Struggle and The Affirmation that traces both the fear and love that LGBT people have experienced in their spiritual journeys.

Hayward hopes that his images of Jesus fully accepting LGBT people as they were created will help others achieve the same theological peace he found when he dreamed of that image of the waterfall of God’s all-inclusive love spilling over into the world.

“There is something magical about an image,” said Hayward. “You can say to somebody, ‘Jesus loves you as you are.’ But, when you show them a picture of it, people can understand that it’s true! It’s another way of truth telling.”

Use this link to purchase The Art of Coming Out and David’s other books.

To learn more about The Lasting Supper, go here.

Listen to a podcast with David Hayward.

Here Comes More of the Persecution Complex

“The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church,” wrote second century Christian theologian Tertullian. And during his June 30th mass this year, Pope Francis agreed: “The Church grows thanks to the blood of the martyrs. This is the beauty of martyrdom.”

There’s a sense, then, in which Christianities have historically wavered between a persecution complex and the desire to dominate over and control the world’s morality. Christian denominations have had as their goal, after all, the conversion of everyone to their own position as if the old saying is: “The more the truer.”

And they’re not alone. Modern defenders notwithstanding, Buddhist religions have flourished most when they were embraced by governments as have multiple Islams. Confucian ethics became culturally Chinese when the Han dynasty enforced it as a political philosophy, and Shinto has always been tied to the status of the Japanese emperor.

Even Hindu sects became strongest when the kings of India endowed their temples and deities. While in the modern period most traditions have justified nationalisms that combine religious identities and politics.

The sense of being persecuted has been a rallying cry provoking the faithful to protect their brand and even take up arms. Pacifists in these traditions may claim that they have the truer view of each faith, but history shows that often a sense of one’s religion being persecuted has led to violent defensive measures by the fearful.

That defense spawns efforts to get governments on the side of the faith for both self-protection and to enforce a sense that right is confirmed by might. We have certainly seen this in the rise of the Christian right-wing in late twentieth-century US politics.

The need to believe that the U.S. is a Christian nation and also to make it so in the last fifty years has been a major thrust of right-wing religion. Yet the ever-increasing evidence that in spite of their financial and emotional investments, culture is moving further and further away from their sectarian vision of a Christian society, especially among younger generations, makes people who say “God is in charge” but down deep fear that’s not true, slide back into that persecution complex.

The pushers/dealers of addictive religion know that the fear of literal or figurative martyrdom can energize their devotees to action. Hence, the message of the day is: “We are the truly persecuted; we must therefore take the position of martyrs and fight our way out.

No more is this true than in the response to the issue of marriage equality. State by state, the barriers to it have fallen and the end of every state bans looks inevitable.

They now accuse both conservative and liberal judges of being activists who are discriminating against the sectarian right-wing. “Activist judges” as a label, after all, refers to those who decide against the right-wing.

Politicians must, therefore, figure out how to play to this right-wing religious base in the midst of the inevitable movement of history. They must show that they are willing to stand by the gate as the liberal hoards burst through to prove to the right-wing that as politicians they are moral, Christian people — though they know that this tactic will only be useful symbolically for a few more election cycles.

The strategy of right-wing tacticians has changed in turn. It’s now to use the courts and state legislatures to defend themselves from w what they call anti-religious discrimination.

We’ve already seen this in state legal attempts to “protect” businesses from having to serve LGBT people based on sectarian religious beliefs. Think of martyr Melissa Klein, the Oregon baker who shut down her bakery rather than serve gay and lesbian couples and incur a fine for discrimination, framing her martyrdom as the government destroying her career and forcing her to close her business because she stood up for her faith.

The famous Hobby Lobby case has set a precedent for more of the same in spite of any Supreme Court attempts to portray it otherwise. State legislatures will be seeking more exemptions to allow some groups, companies, and people with religious objections to refuse benefits or service for gay spouses, hoping to find themselves before judges with ideologies like those behind the Hobby Lobby decision.

The pattern to be followed, Michelangelo Signorile reported from this fall’s Values Voter Summit, will be similar to right-wing attacks on Roe v. Wade. They’ll have to seek “incremental” wins, Frank Schubert, the mastermind behind the Proposition 8 campaign in California and other marriage ban campaigns across the country, told Signorile, just as they’re doing to chip away slowly at abortion rights, which of course has been very successful. They’ll have to the find the gay “version” of “partial birth abortion,” Schubert said.

All of this, then, has the potential of fueling lucrative new fundraising for religious right-wing leaders. No longer will they be able to raise money with the treat of the legality of everyone getting married to whomever they love.

And the avalanche of victories for marriage equality will be proof to those desperate for such religious and political leadership that they are losing in the battle of the last decades to try to take over the nation. The fight will be more desperate, for the message is that the left is coming to take their very souls.

The fight will now continue on this front and will include lies told by the right-wing in the name of righteousness. Expect many fabricated stories of discrimination like those we’ve seen before. Expect those who get needed attention as martyrs to exaggerate, embellish, and create a constant supply of horrors.

This is when we’ll have to be clear about how what they’ll be doing is a re-definition of the separation of church and state, a re-definition of persecution, and a re-definition of freedom. We’ll have to call “sectarian” what they’re doing, not “Christian.” And we’ll have to be prepared in turn for some very nasty attacks in the name of religion.

Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction; Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It’s So Hard to Be Human, and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.FairnessProject.org

Can Evangelical Americans Sleep Through This One, Too? —David P. Gushee’s Evangelical Winds-a-Blowing

Photo by Rev. Steven Parelli

A personal first-hand story: David P. Gushee’s address “Ending the Teaching of Contempt against the Church’s Sexual Minorities” delivered at The Reformation Project Conference in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 8, 2014

The hurricane I never heard, I never saw
Twice in my life now I have slept through what would have been two exceptional once-in-a-life-time experiences. I regret it on both accounts. The first occurrence was at age 17 when I slept the whole night long in a small room in a missionary’s home in the steep hills outside of the town of Robert, Martinique, while hurricane winds blew against the island so hard that it took two months of rehabilitating the necessary facilities before public schools could reopen.

When I asked everyone — from the missionaries to my traveling companions from Central New York — why they let me sleep through it all, they told me, with horror, that I was the lucky one.

The evangelical winds of change — gathering now?
Two nights ago, knowing in advance the ‘storm-winds of evangelical change’ gathering about, ready to descend from the lofty pulpit of the Washington, DC, National City Christian Church at The Reformation Project, I was psyched and ready to witness with my own eyes and ears the historical address that David P. Gushee, the featured speaker of the conference, would give in his defense for personally affirming and welcoming on all levels within the church the queer Christian community.

I totally missed it — well, almost all of it!
But I slept . . . through most of it, although I was in and out of sleep at times! I was exhausted from my days of conferencing for a week at ILGA in Mexico City and now three days here in DC. My husband’s jabs to my side did little to avert the sleep.

“Unchristlike!” — Say it again and again, 14 times!
But I did catch the force of his address, like when David Gushee said he wanted his listeners to note that he carefully chose the word “unchristlike” and that he would use it 14 times throughout his address.

Those by-gone Jewish-hate-verses of the Bible
From the very first words of his address, before sleep engulfed me, he pulled me in. The parallel between the church’s centuries of hatred for the Jewish people and their now like-hatred for the LGBT community was stunning. David said the pre-WWII Christian community, by-and-large, believed their anti-Semitism was scriptural, as the church now does in its animosity toward LGBT Christians. And then, I dozed off again.

Love — the central message of the Bible that brings change
I was momentarily awake when he said Gentile Christians who helped the Jews during the holocaust of World Word II did not do so because they could correctly exegete the often-cited Jewish-hate-verses of the Bible, but because they could feel, know and live out the Golden-Rule verses of the Bible.

An inter-generational movement
At one point, Gushee corrected his written manuscript: He had written that this was a youth movement. No, he said, as he assessed the actual age continuum in the audience before him, that this was an inter-generational movement. All he had to do was look out over his audience, his said, to see that! I believe we all clapped. I think I did. And then, this tired, 61-year-old LGBT Christian, from the other side of the millennium-divide, fighting back the sleep, dozed off again.

Telling my dis-believing daughter her local evangelical pastors will one day change their views
On Monday morning, talking to my daughter on the phone who loves “both her dads” but is not welcoming and affirming asked me why the event, if it was so historically significant, wasn’t, for example, on CNN news.

I told her Gushee is big in the evangelical academic world, and that while I can’t predict what will be the impact of his words (and his newly published book), it is a force that has to be reckoned with both in the world of scholarship and, at some point, even in the common pew.

So, how will the Rick Warrens and the Tim Kellers respond?
But then again, will the Rick Warrens and the Tim Kellers, pastors of the church-going evangelicals, undaunted and unimpressed, sleep through this one, too — like I did, when I slept through the night-long hurricane winds of Martinique? I hope not.

It’s time to awaken and say (as horrifying as the storm may be – and more accurately because it is already horrific for all presently engulfed by it) that evangelicals do not want to be (any longer) on the wrong side of history, not to mention on the wrong side of the gospel.

To read Gushee’s address to the conference, go here.

When I Doubt

It is said that one who has never doubted has never had their faith tested, this is never a comfort when you’re experiencing doubt, but it’s still important to remember. We need our faith to be challenged now and then, if only to determine what we really believe or how strongly we believe it. Sometimes we find that we have believed wrongly about something in these moments of doubt, other times we hold on to what we believe already and trust God to fortify our belief.

I recently had such an experience with a friend of mine who is also a Christian. This friend has not had the best experiences with the lgbt community and judges all who are part of the community by those few bad apples he’s met and observed. He also uses his knowledge of scripture to condemn lgbt people, unless they allow God to change who they are, that is. Needless to say, this friend and I do not see eye to eye on a lot of things. He is especially offended by transsexuals; he begins from a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be transgender as well as a complete misconception of what gender reassignment surgery is. It doesn’t get better from there, I have tried to help him understand these things as they really are but he will not hear it.

So, recently he introduced me to an old doubt that has come up again and again in my life. “Is it wrong to be transgender?” I sometimes ask myself. “Does God really prefer that we stay within the binary genders the doctors assign us at birth?” I ask myself these questions in moments of doubt and I’m just not certain of the answers. It tests my faith and taxes my belief, so far I have always maintained what I believe and ridden out the storm until it passed. It can be emotionally exhausting and the amount of negative reinforcement I get from other Christians and the culture at large threatens to swallow me up at times.

But just as it’s true that doubt is needed to test our faith, sometimes bringing necessary correction, it is also true that God rewards the faithful. I read a news story earlier this year about a transwoman who heard the call of God to devote her life to Him by becoming a nun. When she chose to accept this call a way was provided for her in the form of a Carmelite order that welcomed her as one of their own. God asked this woman to become a nun, He didn’t ask her to reverse her surgery so she could be a monk, he didn’t chastise her for “mutilating her body”, as my friend would have put it, He told her to be a nun, to devote herself to Him just as she was. Not only that, but He made it possible for her to do so, He opened that door for her Himself.

I think about this story and I just can’t buy that God’s love for the trans community is conditional. My friend would have me believe that God requires us all to identify with the genders we were assigned at birth and that if we “mutilate our bodies” with surgery in order to change them we are violating God’s law. What’s more, he believes that God actually wants him to treat transfolk like the freakshows he sees us as. There is no sense that he should be unconditional with the love he shows or the respect he gives.

I am not a transsexual myself and have therefore no desire to receive sex reassignment surgery, but I fully support any of my trans brothers and sisters who feel they must have it. Their walk with God is as different from mine as their walk with life, I have to believe that those brothers and sisters of mine who have faith are just as beloved to God before and after their transitions. The body is just a shell, it is our hearts and souls that matter most to God.

I still hold out hope that God will change the heart of my friend toward the lgbt community and transfolk in particular. I think in time He will, though doubt currently discourages me on this point. Until such time I simply need to whether the storm and remember what I believe. God will take care of the rest.

Former Christian Singer Jennifer Knapp Reclaims Her Voice

Jennifer Knapp was fly fishing along the banks of a river somewhere in middle Tennessee when the world learned that she was a lesbian.

Rumors about the sexuality of the contemporary Christian music singer had been swirling around for years, especially facing-the-musicafter she quit her career during the height of her success and retreated into self-imposed obscurity.

Had she quit the business because she was a lesbian? After all, Knapp herself, in her new autobiography Facing the Music: My Story, acknowledged that contemporary Christian music artists are often held to a higher moral standard, seen as role models who represent Jesus.

“[E]very Christian artist’s career rests in the hands of those who measure the integrity of their spiritual journey against their own idea of what a Christian is, or should, be,” she writes in the book. “Fail to represent that standard to the right people and your CD could sit on the shelf collecting dust, career over.”

For Knapp, however, ending her career was a matter of physical survival and not one of concerns over being judged on some moral failure. A grinding schedule of touring and recording had worn down her physical, mental and spiritual health.

It just so happened that Knapp’s need to rest from the relentless demands of stardom coincided with a budding relationship between herself and a woman named Karen, a music show manager Knapp had med through the industry. The two were fast friends and their relationship grew into much more when Karen became Knapp’s manager to take her through her final year in the contemporary Christian music scene.

It was that year, 2010, that her coming out story was orchestrated. Three interviews — one each with The Advocate, Christianity Today and Reuters — would be released on the same day during Knapp’s final tour before leaving the contemporary Christian music scene. Knapp received a text message from her management almost a month after the initial interviews saying simply: “It’s official. You’re out.”

She received the requisite hate mail along with messages of support and admiration, but took them in stride, even handling Southern California Evangelical pastor Bob Botsford with grace and patience during a follow-up interview ten days later on CNN’s Larry King Live.

“Bob, I didn’t lose my faith when I realized I was gay,” Knapp told him live on television that night, “but it took a lot of faith to tell the truth.”

It was that truth-telling that led Knapp to the Christian faith in her college years. The child of divorced parents, she had struggled to win approval and support from her father and step-mother for her budding music career. In high school, Knapp played the trumpet, and played it so well, she was awarded a scholarship to Pittsburg State University in Kansas.

When things finally came to a head with her father, however, she was left without means to pay for housing and other living expenses that went along with that scholarship. With the help of her grandparents, she finally went, but was mentally a mess.

She turned to drinking and promiscuous sex to ease the pain. At her lowest point, it was her Christian roommate Ami who finally turned Knapp on to Jesus and led her in prayer. She felt a sense of euphoria afterward, writing, “All of a sudden, I understood what it must have been like for Paul when the scales fell from his eyes (Acts 9). After that day, in the new language taught to me by my fellow friends of the faith, I was reborn.”

After that, Knapp began to again pursue her love of writing. She learned the guitar and joined a praise band meeting a man named Byron who would lead her through her early career to her first record deal.

Knapp’s story is at once deeply personal and incredibly moving, taking the reader along for the lowest lows and the highest highs in both her personal and professional life. Her sexual orientation plays a role, but is not the lead character in this book. Instead, it is Knapp’s own sense of integrity and faith in her drive to succeed on her own terms — often with the help of friends, mentors, and, yes, even God — that gives this book it’s driving edge.

It’s a reminder that LGBT people are far more than their sexual orientation or gender identity. It would have been easy for Knapp to write a trite, tell-all book recounting just the days she had to deal with the crap-storm that came after her coming out, and perhaps there’s a voyeuristic audience that will be disappointed that this book doesn’t do that.

Instead, what Knapp does is open up her soul to tell a deeper story — that sexual orientation is important — but it is not what defines our lives as LGBT people, despite the best efforts of the church and society to make us sexual caricatures. Knapp, as she has always done throughout her life, refuses to play the game everyone expects her to play, and instead has written a book that shows the depth of a truly human life, full of challenges, disappointments and failures, but in the end, reflects the deep joy of a life lived with integrity and grace.


Listen now to a short podcast preview of Whosoever’s interview with Jennifer Knapp. To hear the exclusive full podcast join us at the Whosoever Community.

Order a copy of Jennifer Knapp’s new book Facing the Music: My Story, and look for her new album, Set Me Free, that hits the stores on Oct. 14.

War Is the Force that Gives Masculinity Meaning

In 2002, when Pulitzer Prize winner, Chris Hedges published War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, he wrote in depth about the warrior culture that is the USA. “The communal march against an enemy generates a warm, unfamiliar bond with our neighbors, our community, our nation, wiping out unsettling undercurrents of alienation and dislocation,” he wrote. “It gives us purpose, meaning, a reason for living.”

In 2014 the American military-industrial-media complex is still salivating for war to further line its pockets. And a president elected to get us out of two wars in which we were mired, displays caution but finds himself pressured on many sides to do something warrior-like.

The drumbeat includes the usual: ramping up of fear against an enemy, claims of a threat to what’s now called the “homeland,” and images of cruelty that invoke the sense that “we can’t let them get away with that, especially when they do it to Americans.” Few are interviewed in mainstream media who argue against the whole mindset.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders appeared briefly on “Meet the Press” in September for the first time in his career. But no Chris Hedges or Noam Chomsky is likely to appear as the debate centers on the best tactics of fighting the bad guys rather than how to change US policies that spawn terrorist groups.

In our culture, war is still the manly response; it gives conditioned manhood its meaning. With women in the military and LGBT people tolerated, a warrior reaction to any problem still won’t cause mainstream pundits to question any man’s masculinity, though it might cause them to question a woman’s femininity.

Even though there’s been a history of dissenters – Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr, to name two well-known examples – and a long history of anti-war movements, America still falls back on a war model to attack problems from literacy, to AIDS, to poverty, to drugs, to crime. The tools of war get more sophisticated, while we sell them to the world to use, even profiting off of selling them to those who become enemies.

For war to continue to give us such meaning as well as war-industry jobs, we need more than just the selling of each new war through exaggeration, lies, and fears. Those tactics must touch something already within so the public relations of warmongering will resonate inside us.

Mainstream conditioning of our children through our major institutions must still make warriors and warrior-support personnel out of them through molding their minds, if the propaganda of each new war is to be effective. And, sadly, the old gender role conditioning that enables this hasn’t changed as much as we’d like to believe.

In fact, the dominant Northern European/American views of gender and its limitations have heavily affected alternatives that would have been found traditionally among Native Americans, Hispanic peoples, Africans, and Asians. Even in a culture where children are being told that they can be anything they want to be, dominant institutions that supposedly provide “role-models” such as the NFL or Congress, have failed to move outside genderized boxes, and, as if it surprises us, failed miserably to challenge the status quo, as we’ve painfully been reminded recently.

It takes the equivalent of mental child abuse to take the little boy who was born with his complete humanity intact, and to convince him that he will be considered an American masculine hero if he is willing someday to go off to another country and kill other men or be killed by them. Notice how the title “hero” is now applied to anyone who does just that.

It also takes the equivalent of mental child abuse to take the little girl who was born with her complete humanity and all its possibilities intact, and convince her that the solution to her fears, second-place status, meaninglessness, and hopelessness is to find fulfillment in supporting one of these male warriors. She might even stay with an abuser if she’s convinced that he is her savior from all that she’s supposedly lacks in life.

But our mainstream culture still does it. It still defines male bonding and teamwork as a group of men getting together to beat, defeat, or kill another group of men. Every male sporting event on television celebrates it with the most popular often the sports that reward men for harder hits or knocking the other unconscious.

Our culture still awards its warriors for killing another man. A man can get a medal for killing another man, but still be killed for loving one.

Much of its religion is still in a fight against the cultural change that threatens to fully accept lesbians, gay men, and bisexual and transgender people who challenge gender roles. Mainstream media gives such religion disproportionate attention, enabling them to feel like noble, righteous warriors in the “culture wars.”

And our culture remains stuck in the old gender roles, with otherwise liberal people still talking about their masculine and feminine “sides” as if those categories mean something definite. Or using supposedly positive comments such as: “You’re too pretty to be a lesbian.” “But you’re too macho to be a gay man.” “She’s trans, but you can’t tell. She’s so pretty.”

Finally, it’s still quite useful to install the fear of getting close ones own gender that’s the heart of homophobia. Without that, it’s much harder for men to make other men their enemies. It’s easier to fear them as threatening competitors.

While walking with my then 2 ½ year old grandson down the street, we passed a gaping open sewer. He grabbed my hand and pulled me away, saying “Grampa, be careful. That’s dangerous.”

To that little boy, holding hands wasn’t something that men don’t do. It was how they protect each other in their common humanity.

But you can’t shoot someone when you’re holding each other’s hand to protect one another. You’re instead more likely to feel the common humanity that would make looking for alternatives to war obvious.

New Breed of Evangelicals Supports Marriage Equality

[Listen to a podcast with Evangelicals for Marriage Equality spokesman Brandan Robertson.]

Imagine it: The Evangelical Christian church in America is a place of extravagant welcome for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians.

Not the kind of welcome that we have right now. You know, the one where we’re welcome to sit in the pew, sing songs and put our money in the plate as it passes by, but we are not allowed to lead Sunday School, youth groups, or, heaven forbid, be church leaders such as deacons or preachers.

No, really. Take a moment to imagine the Evangelical church welcoming LGBT Christians with no conditions — with the unconditional love of Christ — just as they are. And while you’re lost in that fantastical fantasy, imagine those church leaders embracing you in your same-sex marriage and celebrating your relationship.

This is the vision of a new organization called Evangelicals for Marriage Equality.

Founded about a year ago by Josh Dickson, the former Deputy Director of Faith Outreach for the Democratic National Convention and Michael Saltsman, vice president of a Washington, D.C., research firm, the fledgling organization has big plans for the future of the Evangelical church.

“As Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, we believe you can be a devout, Bible-believing evangelical and support the right of same-sex couples to be recognized by the government as married,” reads the opening line from the statement posted at their Web site. “Our commitment to following Christ leads us to speak out for equal treatment under the law for others — whether or not they share our religious convictions.”

Those are fighting words to leaders of the right-wing evangelical church. The statement was found so revolutionary that three Christian magazines — Christianity Today, Relevant and World Magazine — turned down a full-page advertisement for the launch of the new group in September.

The organization has also been attacked by other evangelical leaders such as Andrew T. Walker, director of policy studies for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, who accused the group of not making its case for marriage equality.

“I saw a lot of emotion. I saw appeals to injustice and craven caricatures of Christianity, but I didn’t see any real arguments,” writes Walker.

Brandan Robertson, the spokesman for EME is not surprised by the backlash.

“We expected that because the sad history of Evangelicalism shows we have become bogged down with a political agenda,” Robertson told Whosoever in a recent interview. “Everyone who has responded to us has missed the point saying things like we’re trying to redefine marriage or water down theology. But, our statement explicitly says we’re not asking anyone to change their theology but rather we are saying, ‘you have a right to hold that theology but are you called by Christ to work to Christianize our government or are we called to love our neighbor?'”

EME has some heavy-hitters among on their advisory board ready to help make that case including well-known author and theologian Brian McLaren and Richard Cizik, the former vice president of government affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals. Cizik resigned that post in 2008 after saying during an interview on NPR that his views on same-sex marriage were “shifting,” and that he believed civil unions should be available for gays and lesbians.

In a post on the EME site he now writes: “While I haven’t come to a conclusion on gay marriage within the Church, believing sincere people will reach different answers on that question, I am convinced that we cannot deny basic societal and constitutional rights — equal protection and due process under the law — to people based on their sexual orientation or practice.”

This is the fine line the organization is walking — urging evangelicals to leave marriage to the political arena and reclaim the gospel of Jesus for the religious arena.

“We hope that as we change the hearts and minds of evangelicals through these conversations that our posture toward the LGBT community will improve because for far too long the church has been on the wrong side of history,” Robertson explained. “Once again, with this issue we have put aside the call of Jesus and picked up political agendas. It’s really harmful and oppressive to the LGBT community and we don’t believe that should continue.”

In October, Robertson and others from the organization will try to begin that heart-changing dialogue with Southern Baptist leaders at Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission meeting in Nashville, Tennessee. Robertson hopes to sit down with some of the leaders speaking at the convention to make his case for evangelical support of marriage equality.

Robertson hopes to make it clear to those leaders that their anti-gay message is not resonating with millennial members of the congregation. A 2014 Gallup poll revealed that 45% of young evangelicals support same-sex marriage, while only 19% of their elders over 50 do.

“We’re trying to show the older evangelicals that this is a generational issue and instead of pushing us out of the church because we support same-sex marriage, we want to show that we are people of integrity with biblical values, but this is where we’ve come to on this issue,” Robertson said.

He is going to Nashville optimistic that he can made a difference.

“If I can, as a millennial, sit in a room with evangelical leaders and have this discussion and show that dialogue is possible, that witness to evangelical millennials will be powerful and will allow them to come out in support of these issues,” he said. “As long as people of power don’t talk with millennials, there will be fear mongering language used and young evangelicals will shy away from speaking out on things they actually believe in and we’ll stay in our theological box. We want to be an example that these conversations can happen and you don’t have to give up your evangelical credentials to do it.”

Robertson does not approach his task with rose-colored glasses, however. He realizes that those evangelicals with political power, especially, will not move easily on a message that has served them well and kept organizational coffers full. In addition, he knows there are fences to mend with the LGBT population hurt by the evangelical crusade against the community.

“If you say the word ‘evangelical’ to the LGBT community, one of the first things that pops into their minds is “anti-gay” or homophobic and we’d like to correct that,” Robertson said.”I’d like them to see that there is a different kind of evangelical that is not working to deny them rights but there are actually people that look like Jesus.”

In the end, Robertson’s vision for the church is one of welcome for LGBT people, without strings or a hidden agenda to change LGBT people or champion legislation against them.

“If we can figure out how we can rediscover the root of the Good News and really center ourselves back around Jesus, the church is going to become a place that has tremendous potential for good,” he said. “It’s going to become a safe haven for LGBT men and women. It will become a place of safety and dialogue as well as a place for doubt. That’s a church I really envision and want to cultivate.”

God and the Gay Christian: A Whosoever Magazine Interview with Matthew Vines

In 2012, Matthew Vines produced a video that went viral, even though it did not feature even one kitten doing something funny or cute. Instead, his video was a speech he gave to his Presbyterian Church USA congregation in Wichita, Kansas, explaining exactly why six pieces of scripture, commonly called the “clobber passages,” do not, in any way, condemn homosexuality as we understand it today. The video has been watched more than half a million times and has been featured in major news outlets such as The New York Times.

“I knew the people at my church cared about me and loved me and I could tell they were pained because they wanted to be able to embrace and support me. I could feel the anguish and internal tension, but many felt they didn’t know how to embrace me without having to significantly revise their understanding of scripture,” Vines said in an exclusive podcast interview with Whosoever Magazine.

Vines_9781601425164_cvr_type_r1.indd

The video has since been expanded into a new book by Vines called God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships, which Vines admits relies on the vast amount of scholarship already laid out on the passages that supposedly condemn homosexuality. What makes his book different is that it is specifically tailored for a more conservative, Evangelical audience, taking a higher view of scripture than many progressive or liberal arguments against the common anti-gay scriptural arguments.

That audience has proved less than receptive so far, with Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, penning an entire booklet designed to refute the book’s arguments before it even hit the shelves.

“I don’t think we can ultimately agree to disagree because this issue, and non-affirming beliefs, are very damaging to the lives of LGBT people,” Vines says about the backlash he’s faced from Evangelicals. “It’s also a double standard, because most people who hold non-affirming beliefs are straight and they don’t have to live with the consequences of their beliefs. They’re asking LGBT people to do something that is vastly harder than they themselves are doing. That separates LGBT people from God and it’s damaging to their dignity and their ability to form relationships.”

Vines remains unfazed by the pushback and is instead using his newfound fame to start a movement called The Reformation Project to change the church from the grassroots up. Vines believes that it’s harder for clergy and other church leaders to put their jobs and reputations on the line to reform the church on this issue. Instead, Vines hopes the arguments in his video and book will be enough to convince that moveable middle in the pews to demand that church hierarchies change on this issue and welcome LGBT people into full membership and full communion.

In this wide-ranging interview, Vines shares his LGBT-affirming interpretations of popular passages used against the LGBT community including Romans 1 and the Genesis story of Sodom and Gomorrah. In the end, he argues that LGBT people are not sinless, of course, but that God intends for LGBT people to be able to come together in intimate, committed sexual relationships.

Below, you can listen to a portion of our podcast interview with Vines. To hear the full interview, join our Whosoever Community. Members of the Whosoever Community get exclusive access to this kind of content every month and so much more including message boards, live group meetings, daily messages of inspiration and a chance to be themselves, be loved and grow their faith deeper within community.

podcast_iconListen Now: Matthew Vines Podcast

Jesus Christ: Terrorist

A pastor friend of mine recently posted this status on Facebook: “‘Just follow my rules and behave, and nothing bad will happen to you,’ is the exact opposite of the message of Christ.”

It reminded me that the version of the Christian message I was given growing up as a child was even a bit more terrifying than that. I was told the “Good News” of Jesus could be summed up this way: “Do as I say, and nobody gets hurt.”

As a child, I didn’t question the message. I didn’t understand that the message was essentially the same that bank robbers, hostage takers and other terrorists use to keep their victims in line so they can get their way and control others.

As lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of faith, that threat is even more menacing, since we are told from the get-go that if we even think about pursuing our God-given sexual orientation or gender identity, or give in to that “twisted gay theology,” or dare to see our differences as a “blessing,” we will get hurt. Of course, the church makes good on its threat to hurt us when we embrace how God has created us. We get criticized, yelled at, abused and finally kicked out of the church because of our failure to do as they believe God commands.

But, what they ultimately mean by getting “hurt” when we can’t keep the terroristic command to conform to compulsive heterosexuality is that we will go to hell. By daring to live into our sexual orientation or gender identity with honesty and integrity, these terroristic Christians warn us we’ll receive the worst “hurt” of all — eternal damnation in the hottest sections of a fiery and never-ending hell.

Ah, Hell …

Ah, hell … that place we like to send the people we don’t like, or the people we disagree with or those who dare to question our beliefs. We love the idea of hell because it’s a place we can consign those who don’t live up to our idea of morality. It’s a place we can put all those people who leave children or dogs in hot cars on a summer day. It’s the place we can put all those people who behead innocent journalists in the name of their bloodthirsty god, not to mention a place for anyone who professes allegiance to such a god. It’s the place we can send our political and religious foes to and feel superior about our own sense of morality.

But, if we believe in the message that Jesus actually did proclaim during his time on earth — y’know, that message that says, “Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you” — how can we justify sending anyone, even those real terrorists who use the threat of pain, economic destruction and death to get their way, to a place of eternal damnation?

For me, a belief in a literal hell where people burn and are separated from God for all eternity, flies in the face of Jesus’ real message of grace that is freely given to everyone whether they “deserve” it or not.

Recently, a couple of good articles about hell — and how many people are beginning to get the idea that it probably doesn’t really exist — have been posted on Facebook. I highly recommend reading both of them to better understand the concept of hell, how it developed, and why it’s not really found within the teachings of either the Hebrew or Christian scriptures.

In this post, author Ken Dahl, gives us a wide ranging history on hell — how the concept was created and why it’s not a biblical concept at all.

The false concept of hell violates the nature of God, which is unconditional Love. It violates the wisdom of God, the pleasure of God, the promises of God, the oath of God, the power of God. It negates the full power of the cross of Christ. It goes against the testimony of the prophets; it violates the testimony of Jesus Christ and his apostles. It violates the scriptures in their original languages. It violates the writings of the early church leaders who read the scriptures in the original languages. It goes against our conscience, and it goes against our hearts.

In this post, Benjamin Corey runs down the five reasons why the idea of hell is losing its cache with Christians who can’t bring themselves to believe that Jesus is a terrorist.

The Jesus we find in the New Testament is loving and just — but not dementedly cruel. In fact, in the New Testament we see a Jesus who notices suffering all around him and repeatedly states “I have compassion for them.” That compassion consistently moves Jesus to action, often breaking the taboos of his day to alleviate their suffering. The Jesus of scripture is hardly the type of person who’d enjoy torturing people.

What the Hell is the Point, Then?

Someone on Facebook, however, made the point that if everyone is saved, if there is no hell and grace is not a one-time-get-it-now-before-you-die kind of offer and God’s reconciling grace can even extend into eternity to save even someone like, y’know, Hitler, what’s the point of Christianity then? What’s the point of doing good, of being good, or evangelizing other people to accept your religion? Most importantly, if we all “get to heaven” when we die, what’s the entire point of salvation?

James Mulholland and Philip Gulley in the book, If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person, make a compelling argument for ditching the idea that Jesus died for our sins — that we must believe he died so that God would not hold our sins against us. In short, we’ve been taught that Jesus died to “atone” for our sins. That unless God took the life of his son as a “ransom” for our sins, God would have to hold each of us accountable for those sins. If that’s true, then Jesus had to die to protect us from God! What kind of God is that?

Instead, Mulholland and Gulley argue that the “forgiveness of sin didn’t require the death of Jesus. It only required God’s resolve to forgive. Grace isn’t about Jesus paying for our debts. It’s about God’s removing our transgressions, as far as the east is from the west.”

So, what got Jesus killed? Grace, according to these authors.

“The cross is simply one more sign of humanity’s consistent resistance to grace,” they write. “We silence any messenger who challenges our quest for a favored position.”

Moreover, we love to consign those kinds of messengers to hell, as well. But, once we understand the magnificent gift that grace really is, I think we can no longer believe in either a ransom theory of atonement or in a literal hell. This is no easy task, however, because we love to see those we hate burning in hell for all eternity because of how they treated us or those we love. A gift such as grace, that demands no repentance, no adherence to a particular religion’s set of doctrines and dogmas, and requires no confession of faith, seems deeply unfair to us. In our minds, we have to earn salvation. We have to be worthy of God’s grace.

This, Mulholland and Gulley argue, is exactly the sin we need to be saved from: our self-absorption, our belief that the world revolves around our judgments not just of ourselves, but of the world around us.

“Salvation,” Mulholland and Gulley write, “comes with believing God loves you unconditionally. It is abandoning the misconception that you are rejected because of your bad behavior or accepted because of your goodness.”

When Jesus gave us the greatest commandment, telling us to love God with all our soul, strength and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves, he was simply saying: “Don’t be self-absorbed.” Instead, we must step outside of ourselves and learn how to live into that unconditional love that God has for us, then extend it outward to everyone around us, friend and foe alike.

This kind of love is dangerous because it asks us to give up our ideas that our way of life, our way of belief, or our particular religion is the one, true and only way to reach God. Yes, this kind of view does make evangelism worthless if your goal in telling others about the God you serve is to “convert” them to your belief. If, however, your evangelism is about telling people about a God that offers unconditional love and grace, free of charge, abundantly and wastefully to anyone and everyone who will accept it regardless of human designations of race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation or whatever, then your evangelism becomes full of purpose — that ultimate Holy purpose to help others find salvation by repenting of their own self-absorption.

As LGBT people, we have been held hostage to the image of Jesus as a terrorist long enough. We have to stop believing in any God that says, “Do as I say and nobody gets hurt.” Instead, we must turn to the true God that says, “Do as I say — love yourself and everyone around you unconditionally — and everyone will be saved.”

Candace Chellew-Hodge is a recovering Southern Baptist and founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians, and author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, published by Jossey-Bass. She currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle, a progressive, inclusive community in Columbia, South Carolina. She is also a spiritual director and is currently taking on new directees. She blogs regularly at Religion Dispatches.

We Still Don’t Know What Causes Heterosexuality

Heterosexuality seems to be a widespread human condition, and yet science hasn’t found its cause. Maybe that’s due to an absence of available funding for the research or just plain lack of interest.

There have been studies to determine the origins of homosexuality, usually in males, but they’ve all been small and, frankly, inconclusive. Nevertheless, we’re still in the dark about why there are people who are attracted romantically and sexually to a different gender than the one with which they identify as if they have problems loving the very gender they themselves embody.

Probably this lack of scientific curiosity has to do with the fact that the majority of people – mostly heterosexuals, but not always – consider unadulterated heterosexuality to be the norm with anything else a deviation. And much medical and psychological science studies abnormalities rather than what’s just assumed.

Consider the host of studies in the last two centuries of others considered deviations from norms – women, African Americans, Jews, left-handed people, etc. Freud, for example, talked about penis envy as if there were some inherent problem in humans born without one, and the measurements of brain sizes were geared to determine something about deviants from an often white and Protestant standard.

So, we’ve been left to social scientific observation, psychological analysis, and anecdotal evidence represented in the inability to answer the question: “When did you decide to be heterosexual?” What seems clear then, and therefore has been embraced for over half-a-century by the mainstream scientific community, is that heterosexuality is not a choice.

It’s apparently something that’s established very early in a human being’s lifecycle. It’s likely that it has to do with physical genetics, bodily chemistry, or prenatal factors.

Now, there still exist those right-wingers, including some deviants from the norms of professional scientific associations, who want to believe that it’s a choice. Or they at least want to blame heterosexuality on how children are parented and use a variety of debunked developmental theories to try to do that.

They like to picture heterosexuality as not just the norm for all human experience, but as actually inherently healthier than any other orientations. To do so, of course, they have to paint heterosexuality in rosier terms than, let’s say, bisexuality, homosexuality, asexuality, or even uncertain-sexuality.

And they do that by targeting whatever the orientation of the non-heterosexuals is for any psychological or social problems some individuals have. If a man molests boys, it’s blamed on homosexuality, but if he molests girls it just can’t, can’t have anything at all to do with sexual orientation.

That type of inconsistency represents heterosexual privilege, though I prefer to call it straight privilege because it has more to do with enforcing the straight role onto people than what one’s sexual orientation really is. And racism, sexism, able-bodiedism, and classism, have followed the same formula – the dominant group is never questioned, nor are dominant group identity or membership blamed.

And believing that heterosexuality is a choice makes security with ones sexual orientation precarious. Instead of settled contentment in being heterosexual, they feel as if they could be talked out of it, or seduced by the glamours of sexualities on the other side of the fence where the grass looks much greener.

That insecurity in someone’s own heterosexuality translates into varieties of psychological projection while they shake in their boots, fearing that something might turn them to non-heterosexuality. They can’t relax as if their own sexual orientation is settled, God-given, or comfortable.

And so they rant about LGBT people, talk about how LGBT people must actively recruit others, fear that LGBT people might come on to them, and hate any attempts to picture LGBT people as healthy, respectable, attractive, and in any way human. They can almost tolerate LGBT people, but don’t want them to show pride, success, committed relationships, or anything enviable in the straight world’s terms.

To argue with them about whether or not sexual orientation is a choice or not only focuses minds on questions that are actually irrelevant when it comes to human rights. That being a person of color isn’t a choice has not ended racism yet.

In the past some people have been won over to equality by the argument that LGBT people can’t help that they deviate from the norm. They’d be straight if they could be, poor things.

Moving beyond such argument to the point that it doesn’t matter whether sexual orientation is a choice or not, ends our own participation in the demeaning of LGBT people. It also questions the idea that being straight has any inherent health or value to it.

It allows lesbians and gay men the freedom to contemplate what is good about being gay. And it allows those who identify as bisexual the freedom to love whom they find companionable and attractive.

We don’t know what the percentage of people who are non-heterosexual are – 10% sounds like the best demographic estimate. But if sexual orientation falls on a bell curve like many human characteristics, that would put most people in an ambiguous middle zone.

The possibility that most fall in that middle might be too much for many to contemplate. It might require a whole redefinition of oneself in the midst of current prejudices and rampant homophobia.

But moving beyond the debate over cause goes further. It questions whether people really would choose to be heterosexual if they actually had a free choice in the matter.

Since they don’t in most cultures, even those where being LGBT is legally accepted, we have no idea what the choice would be if it could be made without any stigma. And that idea in itself is sure to make many uncomfortable.

Heterosexuality is going to have to come out of its closet, then. Right now it’s hidden behind being straight-acting, straight-thinking, straight-feeling, and straight privilege.

But it can’t define itself by what it is not. Being heterosexual is one human option. But being a healthy heterosexual person means living comfortably affirming all human options.

Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction; Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It’s So Hard to Be Human: and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.FairnessProject.org