The culture war over acceptance of gays and lesbians in society and the church is heating back up as the aftermath of the battle over California’s Proposition 8, that affirmed marriage between one man and one woman in that state, reverberates around the country. Religious attacks on gay and lesbian people are growing louder with even some religious writers like Pat Boone and Chuck Colson comparing gays and lesbians to terrorists. These kinds of attacks have been psychologically and spiritually damaging for many gay and lesbian people.
A new book — Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians by Rev. Candace Chellew — offers not just psychologically sound coping strategies to survive the onslaught, but also provides advice on how to turn attacks into opportunities for spiritual growth.
Rev. Chellew, associate pastor at Garden of Grace United Church of Christ in Columbia, South Carolina outlines the grave situation many gay and lesbian people find themselves in: “Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people (GLBT) are in exile – cast out from our homes, our churches, our jobs, and our society. We are ostracized and oppressed by dogma, tradition, and legislation. We are a wounded and outcast people, desperate for a word of hope from the one who loves us most.” (Pages 151-152)
This one-of-kind book gives that “word of hope” by providing concrete methods to help GLBT people contend with both personal and institutionalized homophobia while they learn to live authentically as God created them. Rev. Chellew uses her own considerable experiences, other eclectic sources, like the television shows Xena: Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and her keen insights to help GLBT people develop a healthy spiritual coping mechanism. The strategies provide a breath of fresh air in dealing with the suffering, heartbreak, and anxiety that GLBT people feel when their faith is under attack.
When one is castigated by virtually all institutions within society, as well as by one’s family, neighbors, pastors, and strangers for who he or she is, and is threatened with being rejected at a moment’s notice for the same reason, one is understandably defensive, angry, and afraid. Indeed, the psychological damage such exclusion and oppression engenders can be overwhelming, and cause much emotional turmoil, often resulting in disengagement from others, self-destructive behaviors, assorted emotional illnesses, and even self-loathing.
The GLBT Christian is likely to suffer from such oppression at least as much as the GLBT non-Christian, as they have long been exposed to spiritual vilification with hateful messages that God doesn’t love them and will send them to hell if they don’t “repent” of their “lifestyle.” How is the GLBT Christian to deal with such vilification, oppression, discrimination, and hate, and the emotional feelings that they engender?
This excellent book fills a much-needed gap and shows the seamless reconciliation between being a Christian and being a GLBT person. Instead of dealing with Scripture passages argued over by both pro- and anti- gay Christians, it provides down-to-earth, practical advice and coping strategies for the GLBT Christian. I’m aware of no other book like this that provides tools for GLBT Christians to neutralize the devastating effects of homophobia on the one hand and on the other hand also improve the quality of his or her psychological and spiritual life.
Rev. Chellew shows an easy familiarity with the Bible, learning and rejoicing at least as much in the questions it poses as in the answers it gives. Bulletproof Faith highlights the Bible’s essence as it applies to GLBT Christians without either torturing certain seemingly offending passages or relegating the Bible to some idolatrous embodiment of God. Instead, she asserts that God is best and most confidently seen in one’s own life experience. That, she affirms, is the only viable means by which to sustain and reinforce our faith.
This very well written, easily readable book delivers on its promise that it: “ empowers readers to withstand even the most aggressive assaults without fear, doubt, or anger by providing a useful working knowledge of biblical history; solid, proven tactics that can be used successfully when faced with an attack; spiritual practices that enhance and strengthen faith; practical tools to discover one’s ‘authentic self’… [and] guidance on how to turn attacks into opportunities for spiritual growth.”
Every GLBT Christian, as well as anyone else, gay or straight, interested in their struggle, will be changed by this book. Those who read Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians will most certainly develop a new, more gracious, approach to their spiritual life, the world, and those perceived as his or her “enemies.”
Rev. Dr. Jerry S. Maneker, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at California State University, Chico, served as an ordained priest in the Congregational Catholic Church, a division of the Independent Catholic Churches International (ICCI). For many years he published a weekly column in the Sacramento Valley Mirror titled “Christianity and Society,” where he dealt with a variety of social issues from a biblical and sociological perspective. Maneker also published a blog called “A Christian Voice for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Rights” and the website Radical Christianity.