He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.” –Ezekiel 37:3-5
If you spend a lot of time reading LGBT-focused blogs or other Web pages, it can get depressing. You read story after story of LGBT kids committing suicide, religious-rightwing organizations demonizing LGBT people and governments, from the federal level to the state and local levels, passing legislation against us.
No matter where we turn, the news seems bad, the climate of our country – indeed, our world, if you look at places like Uganda – appears to be worsening for the LGBT community. If the emails I receive from those struggling with the messages they receive about their sexual orientation and whether it’s something they should accept or try to reject are any indication, the world is a decidedly hostile place for LGBT people.
Indeed, it’s easy to feel, as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people, that we are like the dry bones in the valley described in Ezekiel 37. Bones only become dry and brittle when they’ve been baking in the sun for awhile – and we in the LGBT community have been baking in the desert for many years. We have been shunned by the church, by society, by our families, by our government, and often by friends. We are shunned simply for trying to embrace who we are and who God has created us to be. One can only tolerate such isolation for awhile before we either crumble into a heap of dry bones, or we seek to live as the world tells us to live – denying ourselves. Whatever way you choose, you end up as dry bones in the desert.
“Can these bones live?” is the question God asks Ezekiel. The prophet gives what seems a cop out for answer: “O Lord God, you know.” God has asked a very deep and difficult question and the prophet seems to deflect, but it seems to me like an honest answer – especially if the dry bones are those of our LGBT brothers and sisters. Sometimes, I feel like God really is the only one who knows if our community will survive or die. The assaults upon us are often so fierce, so vicious, so full of lies and made with the intention of deeply wounding our spirits, if not our bodies as well.
“Can these bones live?” They can, indeed, if we understand our role in helping to bring those bones back to life.
“Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.”
Just like Ezekiel, we LGBT people who have found our place within the faith community, are commanded to prophesy to the dry bones of our LGBT brothers and sisters. Too many of those in our community are drying out in the deserts of rejection, the deserts of denial, and the deserts of “healing ministries.” The bones in Ezekiel’s valley got there because of the great violence that had been done to the people of Israel by their Babylonian invaders. The dry bones in this sweltering valley of homophobia also got there because of the deep and sustained violence that has been, and continues to be, inflicted upon our community.
Whether that violence of homophobia comes from outside of us, in the forms of legislation against us, bullying by those around us, lies told by religiously conservative outfits and leaders, or direct condemnation from the pulpit in churches we attend – or whether it’s the homophobia we have internalized because of all of this ongoing abuse – the result is the same. Dry bones. A dead spirit, a withered soul.
“Can these bones live?” Yes, emphatically yes, but only if we prophesy to the dry bones around us. These bones only live – they only are restored to full health with life and breath – when we stop being afraid and start speaking out – prophesying and taking a stand against the lies, hatred and violence that is decimating our community.
Make no mistake, though. We, by ourselves, cannot save the LGBT community. Just like Ezekiel, we can say all the words we want to over dry and brittle bones. It is only because of the power of God – the power of the Holy Spirit – that the bones become reanimated. It is not we who put life back into people, it is God. Our role, however, is to speak the words, to speak words of life, words of power, words of reconciliation and words of grace and compassion.
“Can these bones live?” Absolutely, and they will. The good news is this: Despite the bad news and the continued homophobia in our world – acceptance of LGBT people in both church and society is moving at a rapid pace. Take marriage equality as an example. Polls by the Pew Research Center show that back in 1996, when Whosoever was founded, only 27% of the people polled supported marriage equality. A hearty 65% opposed it. Now, those numbers have evened out with 46% in support and 45% opposed. In just 15 years, support for LGBT people has blossomed and continues to do so.
This is exactly why the voices against LGBT people have grown so loud recently. They see that their lies about us have not hit the mark. The more people get to know about LGBT people, and the more LGBT people they know, the less they believe the lies being told about us. As more LGBT people step up and prophesy, the more people hear the good news that LGBT people are who they are because God has made them that way.
The dry bones of LGBT people are not the only ones lying out there baking in the sun. Indeed, those who oppose LGBT rights are also lying there beside us – dried out by their own hatred and willful ignorance about our community. You cannot hold hatred in your heart for anyone without killing yourself in the process. Those who hate the LGBT community and work so vociferously against our rights are often just as self-loathing as many in the LGBT community who believe the lies being told to them and about them.
Our opponents will certainly protest that they do not hate us, but that they love us and their work against us is proof that they want to “save” us from the fires of hell because of our “sin.” The sad thing is, they truly believe this – but fail to understand that whenever you work against the very life of another person, your “love” feels a lot like “hate.” They do understand this on some level, because now many anti-gay organizations are playing the victim card, saying that our march for rights trample over their “right” to be against us.
All this bickering, all this strife, all this fighting reveals the truth – we are all dry bones in need of God’s refreshing spirit. What LGBT people seek is not to “defeat” anyone, but to put new life into our world. When we, as LGBT people, seek our rightful place within society, we do not seek to do that by displacing anyone. Instead, we seek a place at the table – not to unseat anyone else already there.
“Can these bones live?” They can, as long as we understand that living is not a privilege, it is a right – a right of everyone whether we are LGBT or not. Our task, then, as LGBT people is to prophesy not just to those dry bones in our own community, but to those dry bones who continue to deny us a place at the table. This is the beauty of the Holy Spirit: It blows where it wills. The Holy Spirit does not discriminate and the refreshing breath of God is meant to bring new life to everyone – no matter their differences, their hatreds, their prejudices or their ignorance.
“Can these bones live?” Undoubtedly, but we must be committed to allowing the Holy Spirit to breathe new life into everyone we meet – both friend and foe alike.
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.