The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. (T.S. Eliot)
On the first day of 2020, the first day of a new decade — having just relaunched Whosoever after a five-year dormancy — we find ourselves with an opportunity to take the obvious play on words and entertain a conversation about what a 20/20 vision for Christianity looks like at this juncture.
And what better place for that conversation than Whosoever? A website whose founding in 1996 predates that of Google. A publisher of thousands of articles across two decades, reaching tens of thousands of people starved for a message of inclusion. An entity that has made the transition from printed magazine, to website, to its current incarnation in the mobile-first, social media-powered digital world we find ourselves in today.
Not only that, but Whosoever has also become part of a theological provocation that long ago expanded beyond questions of LGBTQ inclusion in the institutional church into a liberated space where the most fundamental questions about how we relate to God begin to surface.
Now, the founding mission of Whosoever back in 1996 was very much a product of its times: At the dawn of the Internet age, with more and more LGBTQ people living proudly and openly, and with both secular and sectarian leaders grappling left, right and center with questions of LGBTQ equality, the institutional church found itself struggling — and in many cases, plainly cleaved — by the question of the role and place of LGBTQ people in the church.
To help simplify the question, a professional journalist, budding theologian and future ordained minister named Candace Chellew settled on the name Whosoever to literally poke a stick in the eye of a Church that seemed fundamentally unable to reconcile the promise of John 3:16 with its own discomfort about LGBTQ people.
In so doing, Rev. Candace chose perhaps the most universally understood non-proper noun in all of Christendom to make the point that in no bible translation anywhere is there an asterisk on that word; in no bible translation anywhere is an exception carved out. Indeed, how could a faith use a word like Whosoever to try to draw the whole world to God and then act confused about how to set the table for them?
In its first 18 years of existence, Whosoever did yeoman’s work to help LGBTQ people who love God and Jesus and the church claim their place in the congregations, or denominations — or just the faith — that they know and love. This took the form of everything from unpacking personal doubts, to unraveling bad theology, to helping people recover from real spiritual violence and not give up on God.
Sadly, that work will probably never be done. Just as the church has struggled with the roles of women and gay people, it now struggles increasingly with questions of gender identity. There is also a real need to help transgender spirituality flourish in much the same way that Whosoever helped homospirituality do so in those first 18 years.
But a funny thing happens while you’re seeking a liberating theology for the maligned and misunderstood: You find yourself knocking on the front door of a theology that has the power to liberate everyone.
Once you understand that God does God’s best work in the individual human heart, and once you start thinking in terms of protecting souls rather than saving them — indeed, once you realize that sometimes the best thing you can do for another soul is to put your arm around their shoulder and then silently get the heck out of God’s way — you realize that you’ve gone way beyond any notion of a “queer Christianity”.
Now what do you do with that, and where do you go? At Whosoever, we see two distinct streams: Serving the evergreen needs of queer Christians trying to take their seat at the table and explore their unique spirituality, and also being open to an understanding of God that is as boundless as love itself.
As for that second part, doesn’t it seem right now that the church, and society as a whole, could use a little bit of a love reboot? We could be at an inflection point right now, and I mean globally. The world certainly feels as if it could use a renewed understanding of how we’re going to relate to one another and help alleviate the suffering in our midst.
So what if we took seriously a return to love in 2020? And if there’s anything that’s God’s jam, if there’s anything that was Jesus’ overpowering message — above all the bible verses and clobber passages and debates about grace — it’s the gospel of love.
With love alone, all by itself, we get an awful lot to hang our hats on. And wouldn’t it be just grand if Whosoever — many of whose readers find themselves maligned and misunderstood simply because of who they love, and/or because they love themselves enough to be fully authentic — could be part of something that helped bring a little love back for everyone?
That’s a vision I think we can all get behind, and it feels like the right kind of arc for Whosoever as it closes out its first quarter-century. So let’s get started, shall we?
An adult convert to Christianity who somehow managed to grow up largely unchurched in the South but was always a spiritual seeker, Lance Helms (he/him) was baptized at age 28 and since 2006 has been a member of Gentle Spirit Christian Church of Atlanta.