Whosoever https://whosoever.org For LGBTQ+ Christians since 1996. Sat, 26 Nov 2022 19:24:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://whosoever.org/wp-content/uploads/cropped-favicondarktransp-32x32.png Whosoever https://whosoever.org 32 32 Founded by "Bulletproof Faith" author Rev. Candace Chellew to proclaim God's love and our place in the church. Whosoever clean episodic Whosoever lance.helms@whosoever.org lance.helms@whosoever.org (Whosoever) Copyright Whosoever, All Rights Reserved For LGBTQ+ Christians since 1996. Whosoever https://whosoever.org/wp-content/uploads/cropped-favicon.png https://whosoever.org Every Right-Wing Bigot Is Responsible for These LGBTQ+ Nightclub Murders https://whosoever.org/every-right-wing-bigot-is-responsible-for-lgbtq-nightclub-murders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=every-right-wing-bigot-is-responsible-for-lgbtq-nightclub-murders Thu, 24 Nov 2022 00:29:55 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=24608 When you weaponize bigotry, it’s only a matter of time before someone picks up a weapon

It was another deadly mass shooting in Colorado at an LGBTQ+ nightclub on another American day that will live in infamy as did the shooting six years ago at an Orlando LGBTQ+ nightclub killing 49. This time, five human beings were murdered, and more than two dozen injured before patrons subdued the attacker. (LGBTQ+ people have learned from generations of experience that they cannot often count on the police for protection.)

But the responsibility for this and all the other violence against LGBTQ+ people falls at the feet of every right-wing religious and political leader who has publicly spoken out in their nationally orchestrated campaign to demonize, dehumanize and threaten LGBTQ+ people with punishment in this life and the next.

Words matter, and words spoken publicly echo and re-echo in the hearts and minds of those who will act on them. They often even produce the kind of self-hate LGBTQ+ people internalize so they come to despise who they are and those who remind them of it.

And of all people, right-wing preachers and televangelists — who spend their time minutely parsing every word in their Bibles because what they want it to say is so important in justifying their prejudices — know what the impact of their words is. They are responsible for their speech and for those who act upon them.

If the shoe fits…

I am not just talking about those who get media attention by literally calling for the return of executions of LGBTQ+ people. That is just the most obviously extreme rhetoric of a last prejudice our society allows to be spoken out loud without consequences.

I am talking about every one of those religion-pushers who has used LGBTQ+ people to further their agendas, their power, their leadership, and their attention-getting needs.

I’m talking about every pusher of addictive religion who has closed their minds and hearts to alternative understandings of their scriptures and traditions, in order to cover up their personal issues around sexuality and their sexual addictions.

I’m talking about every religion leader who finds that LGBTQ+ people are great scapegoats to hold the attention and pocketbooks of congregants, TV viewers, radio listeners, and the gaggle of gullible enablers who host them in the mainstream media. And that includes everyone who joined the party of demonizing the entertainment called “drag” as if it’s a problem for our children.

I am talking about every right-wing politician, and even others who consider themselves more liberal, who must not speak out against anti-LGBTQ+ violence because of their absolute terror of losing their funding, power, and positions, who refuse to be leaders in equality because that will come at a personal cost.

I am talking about those who counsel that now is not the time to enact further LGBTQ+ protections, or any gun control, while more people die.

I am talking about other religious leaders who won’t lead their institutions to take a public stand for the affirmation of LGBTQ+ people with all kinds of fear-based excuses:

“We don’t want to be known as a gay church.”

“We accept everyone, but do we need to mention it?”

“We don’t want to divide the Church (because church unity is more important than the lives of LGBTQ+ people).”

“We need to study this subject more because there are many in our congregation who have other views (and still can’t stand LGBTQ+ people).”

I am talking about religious and political leaders who won’t take a public stand against the violence LGBTQ+ people still experience regularly in our culture often while the perpetrators are shouting things they’ve heard from American pulpits. They are the ones who’ll usually deny in some back-handed, non-public way that they condone the violence, but are too afraid to preach, march in a parade, or attend a rally to openly say so.

I am talking about every right-wing pundit, blogger, and politician who wants to turn what was intentionally an attack on an LGBTQ+ club into something that merely blames mental illness as if mentally ill people are expected to do these kinds of things, to prematurely bury the LGBTQ+ human victims of the attack under their need to scapegoat mental illness instead of the homophobic bigotry they condone daily.

I am talking about all those right-wing leaders who suddenly are acting as if they care about LGBTQ+ victims in spite of the fact that for generations right-wing Christians have been brutalizing LGBTQ+ people without a peep from these same religio-political leaders.

I am talking about those all over the internet who are looking for every loophole, every subtle nuance, every syllable, and every questionable moral argument to condone or even applaud what happened as if it’s God’s will.

You’re all personally responsible

All of you are personally responsible even though many people will claim outrage and refuse to say so. My liberal friends might shy away from me on this because they don’t want to believe that the above is true or because their hope is still that those I’m holding responsible are going to change if, like abused spouses, we’re just nicer to them, more understanding, and more forgiving.

Forgiveness is something, however, to be given only to those who believe they need it and ask for it. Forgiveness of those who don’t want it is hubris.

And if I am wrong, then there are things that those whom I’m holding responsible can do to prove it.

These are actions, not just pretty words, that will show the rest of us that you don’t condone violence against LGBTQ+ people. Otherwise, you’re just a self-justifier.

  1. Make sure that your local, state and federal laws include LGBTQ+ people in hate crime protections. Hate crimes are not just individual crimes; they are directed at someone because that someone is a member of a whole group the perpetrator wants to terrorize.
  2. Take a public stand against violence toward LGBTQ+ people as human beings and citizens in this country. Even if you can’t stand LGBTQ+ people, let everyone you interact with know that you are against the brutalization and dehumanization of them.
  3. Face your own issues about sex and sexual orientation. Get therapy. Attend a support group. Ask yourself why this is the issue you want to be known for, and not poverty, homelessness, or hunger.
  4. Stop condemning as heretical other ways of understanding your religious texts and traditions than the anti-LGBTQ+ ones you cling to for some personal reason. These alternatives proposed by also very sincere believers are all out there in the public discussion and have been for over half a century.
  5. Face your and your religious organization’s fears about public support for ending crimes against LGBTQ+ people and of what other people will think of you. Fear is spiritually debilitating, and facing those fears is a matter of your own spiritual growth not just an action that will benefit others.
  6. And repent for all you have said or done that is regularly cited to kill LGBTQ+ people — or, if you don’t want to do these things, look for other means of justifying your bigotry.
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Thanksgiving Symbolizes the Whitewashing of LGBTQ+ Accepting Native Traditions https://whosoever.org/thanksgiving-symbolizes-the-whitewashing-of-lgbtq-accepting-native-traditions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thanksgiving-symbolizes-the-whitewashing-of-lgbtq-accepting-native-traditions Wed, 23 Nov 2022 04:05:02 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=24601 Preparing for the Thanksgiving holiday reminds me of the autumnal harvest time’s spiritual significance. As a time of connectedness, I pause to acknowledge what I have to be thankful for. Also, I reflect on the holiday as a time of remembrance — historical and present.

Historically, I am reminded that for many Native Americans, Thanksgiving is not a cause of celebration but rather a National Day of Mourning. Since 1970, Native Americans have gathered at noon on Coles Hill in Plymouth, Mass., to commemorate a National Day of Mourning on this U.S. holiday. For the Wampanoag nation of New England, whose name means “people of the dawn,” this national holiday is a reminder of the real significance of the first Thanksgiving in 1621 as a symbol of persecution of Native Americans and their long history of bloodshed with European settlers.

In 1990, President George H.W. Bush ironically — if not ignorantly — designated November as “National American Indian Heritage Month” to celebrate the history, art, and traditions of Native American people.

I am also reminded of my Two-Spirit and LGBTQ+ Native American brothers and sisters. Many of them struggle with their families and tribes not approving of their sexual identities, and gender expressions as many of us do with our families and faith communities.

“Yes, there’s internalized homophobia in every gay community, but as Native Americans, we are taught not to like ourselves because we’re not white. In our communities, people don’t like us because we’re gay,” Gabriel Duncan, member of Bay Area American Indian Two Spirits (BAAITS), told the Pacific News Service.

And consequently, many Two-Spirit and LGBTQ+ Native Americans leave their reservations hoping to connect with the larger LGBTQ+ community in urban areas. However, due to racism and cultural insensitivity, many feel less understood and more isolated than they did back home.

But homophobia is not indigenous to Native American culture. Instead, it is one of the many devastating effects of colonization and Christian missionaries that today Two-Spirits may be respected within one tribe yet ostracized in another.

Homophobia was taught to us as a component of Western education and religion. We were presented with an entirely new set of taboos that did not correspond to our own models and focused on sexual behavior rather than the intricate roles Two-Spirit people played. As a result of this misrepresentation, our nations no longer accepted us as they once had. (Navajo Anthropologist Wesley Thomas)

Traditionally, Two-Spirits symbolized Native Americans’ acceptance and celebration of diverse gender expressions and sexual identities. They were revered as inherently sacred because they possessed and manifested both feminine and masculine spiritual qualities believed to bestow upon them a “universal knowledge” and special spiritual connectedness with the “Great Spirit.”

The Pilgrims, who sought refuge here in America from religious persecution in their homeland, were correct in their dogged pursuit of religious liberty. But their practice of religious liberty came at the expense of the civil and sexual rights of Native Americans. And the Pilgrims’ animus toward homosexuals impacted Native American culture and shaped Puritan law and theology.

In New England, the anti-sodomy rhetoric had punitive, if not deadly, consequences for a newly developing and sparsely populated area. The Massachusetts Bay Code of 1641 called for the death of not only heretics, witches and murderers but also “sodomites,” stating that death would come swiftly to any “man lying with a man as with a woman.” And the renowned Puritan pastor and Harvard tutor the Rev. Samuel Danforth, in his 1674 “fire and brimstone” sermon, preached to his congregation that the death sentence for sodomites had to be imposed because it was a biblical mandate.

Because the Pilgrims’ fervor for religious liberty was devoid of an ethic of accountability, their actions did not set up the conditions requisite for moral liability and legal justice. Instead, the actions of the Pilgrims brought about the genocide of a people, a historical amnesia of the event, and an annual national celebration of Thanksgiving for their arrival.

As we get into the holiday spirit, let’s remember the whole story of the arrival of the Pilgrims and other European settlers to the New World.

In this spirit, we can all stand on a solid rock that rests on a multicultural foundation for a truthful and honest Thanksgiving. And in so doing, it helps us remember and respect the ongoing struggle all our Native American brothers and sisters face every day — particularly on Thanksgiving Day.

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Honoring Rita Hester, Who Sparked Our Remembrance of Trans Lives https://whosoever.org/honoring-rita-hester-who-sparked-our-remembrance-of-trans-lives/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=honoring-rita-hester-who-sparked-our-remembrance-of-trans-lives Sat, 19 Nov 2022 05:00:28 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=24587 In the pantheon of slain Americans who have furthered civil rights gains of a marginalized group, Rita Hester, an African-American transgender woman, is among them. There had been several transgender murders prior to Rita’s — including that of Chanelle Pickett in Watertown, Mass., in 1995, and Monique Thomas in Dorchester, Mass., in September 1998. Rita lived large and loved big, but she could have never imagined her life and her death would mean so much to so many.

On November 28, 1998, Rita was found dead in her first-floor Boston apartment with 20 stab wounds to her chest, just two days before her 35th birthday. Her murder sparked the “Remembering Our Dead” web project that became the catalyst for the annual International Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20.

Her murder occurred six weeks after Matthew Shepard’s in Laramie, Wyo., which became an internationally known homophobic hate crime. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

In 2022 Rita’s murder remains an unsolved cold case, as are most transgender murders. Her murder occurred in an era when the “trans panic” defense — a defendant melodramatically pleads temporary insanity for a killing — was a legal strategy. Friends of Rita told NBC.com their suspicion about her murder: “A man (or men) who couldn’t face his attraction to a trans woman came home with Hester and killed her in a fit of shame.”

I’ll never forget Rita’s vigil because the words of Rita’s mother, Kathleen Hester, haunt me to this day. When she came up to the microphone during the Speak Out portion of the vigil at the Model Cafe, where Rita was well-known in her Allston neighborhood, she brought most of us to tears, myself included:

I would have gladly died for you, Rita. I would have taken the stabs and told you to run. I loved you!

After her remarks, Kathleen Hester collapsed in a grief-induced faint. When the Speak Out portion ended, the crowd moved outside with lit candles and gathered behind Rita’s family.

As the vigil proceeded from the Model Cafe to 21 Park Vale Avenue, where Rita lived and died, Rita’s mother again brought me to tears as she and her surviving children kneeled in front of the doorway of Rita’s apartment building and recited The Lord’s Prayer. Many of us joined in unison.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, this year, at least 32 transgender Black and LatinX sisters have been fatally shot or killed.

At this year’s Association of Black Harvard Women’s Annual Vigil for Black Trans Lives, photos and the reading of names of departed Black Trans individuals were part of the liturgy in Holden Chapel on Harvard’s campus. Chastity Bowick, executive director of the Transgender Emergency Fund of Massachusetts, was the keynote speaker.

Bowick told the audience that she hopes next year she’ll not be among the photos and names. It’s an ongoing concern Bowick expresses publicly every chance she can. She told WBUR in 2020 that what happened to Hester could still happen to any transgender person.

And that concern I heard during the “Trans Catholic Voices” breakout season at the DignityUSA conference in Boston in 2017.

I listened to the vulnerability of an African-American transwoman who pointed out that Pope Francis’ statements about transpeople deny them basic human dignity and perpetuate violence against them. In her closing remarks, the African American trans-sister asked for help from advocates and allies in the room, bringing me to tears when she said:

Trans lives are real lives. Trans deaths are real deaths. God works through other people. Maybe you can be those other people.

As we celebrate Transgender Day of Remembrance, we are those other people honoring Rita Hester and others.

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LGBTQ+ People Aren’t the Only Victims of Our Addiction to Toxic Military Masculinity https://whosoever.org/lgbtq-people-arent-the-only-victims-of-our-addiction-to-toxic-military-masculinity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lgbtq-people-arent-the-only-victims-of-our-addiction-to-toxic-military-masculinity Sun, 06 Nov 2022 04:00:22 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=24554 The true cost to veterans? 44 daily suicides

According to just released Defense Department data, suicides among active-duty service members increased by more than 40 percent between 2015 and 2020. The numbers jumped by 15 percent in 2020 alone.

A 2021 study by the Cost of War Project concluded that since 9/11, four times as many service members and veterans have died by suicide as have perished in combat. In 2011, reports said, 18 U.S. veterans, on average, died of suicide every day, while the latest Veterans Administration report with figures from 2020 still puts the number of veterans taking their lives at 17 a day — after a high of 22.

Other observers warn that these are undercounts. One report just released argues that the number is more like 44 a day.

There is still debate about how many Vietnam veterans have committed suicide on top of the more than 58,000 who died in that war. The number by 1987 might have been as low as the 9,000 the Centers for Disease Control estimated that same year — or as high as 200,000.

One retired VA doctor who supports the latter figure wrote then that:

The reason the official suicide statistics were so much lower was that in many cases the suicides were documented as accidents, primarily single-car drunk driving accidents and self-inflicted gunshot wounds that were not accompanied by a suicide note or statement.

There are many messages one can take away from these grim statistics, but few as moving as the one that hit me as I watched a “60 Minutes” interview years ago with a young American soldier in Afghanistan.

He had just survived a firefight where he’d lost two close comrades. His interview was punctuated with the welling-up of tears that he continually fought back as he struggled to keep in place the mask of his war-assigned duty to cover up what was tearing him apart inside.

A permanent emotional toll

How damaging is the emotional toll for our men, and now women, who must suppress the feelings that connect them to their humanity to fight wars for a system that parties away on the other side of the world, a system where their mostly well-off leaders tell them they must do this thing, and that they can earn no higher honor?

It was difficult enough for many of us to sit through the first 30 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, the 1998 box office hit nominated for 11 Academy Awards, without turning our eyes away as bodies were blown apart and men cried out in agony before our eyes. What must the real experience have done to those men who endured the gruesome, relentless destruction of their comrades for days on the Normandy beaches — or fought in battles since?

One salty old Navy veteran of the actual event confessed to me that he cried during those scenes in the film, adding “I don’t know why.” It wasn’t like him to so react, but those feelings were obviously there in some depths he no longer believed he could access.

It’s still true that a major measure of manhood in our culture is a man’s willingness to go off somewhere to kill other men and be killed by other men. No man ever has his manhood questioned for killing another man.

And this kill-or-be-killed agreement for something as abstract as “the American way,” “freedom,” or “the country” constitutes proof for many that they did live up to what it is to be “real” men.

Equality, as measured by the patriarchy

If that is the measure of a man, then equality in patriarchal terms means women will also have to take upon themselves the idea that their lives are as valuable as men’s only to the extent that they are willing to give them up.

Yet, current impressions persist that women’s lives are more valuable than men’s in these matters. A woman taken in combat is still a much more tragic event in our media and political culture. When women were added to the combat fields in the U.S., one congressman warned: “Wait until you start seeing our girls come back in body bags.”

For men, let’s just keep the body count as low as possible. But a woman taken or molested in combat indicates the enemy has fallen to new lows.

The justification for this difference was that men are somehow inherently violent. They’re more ruthless, competitive, and cutthroat in an inborn, genetic sense.

Internalizing this kill-or-be-killed ideal teaches men that their lives are important only to the extent that they sacrifice them at work, in sports, or in war, for their families, for the team, for the nation. We reward them for killing and dying in the national interest. It’s a big part of the straight (not heterosexual) male role.

Boys will be boys?

To get men to internalize this message requires relentless monitoring. “Boys will be boys” supports the early version of this message: Beat or be beaten. Boys enforce on each other that toughness and aggressiveness are valued, while nurturing — and being emotionally (other than sexually) moved by others — is for girls.

Sympathetic emotions must be stuffed down as deeply as possible to get anyone to become fighters in life. The hurt, fear, and confusion all humans feel cannot bubble up or it will destroy the missions assigned to the standard manhood.

Stuff them deep. Keep them deep enough that they will never enter into your conscious judgment to infect how you decide to treat another human being, especially another male.

Should you feel any bond with the man who is your enemy in business as well as war, you are liable to wimp out. And that is still for sissies. It might even mean you’re gay. That’s how homophobia works after all.

Our men, and now our women, are suffering post-traumatic stress disorder not just because of what they witnessed but because they are human beings — men and women as fully human as when they were born — who are being asked to do something far out of touch with their humanity. And to honor it.

Implications for LGBT acceptance

The men are still those little boys they once were whose minds had to be worked on relentlessly to get them to believe that war was their manly duty. And fear of what would happen to them if they didn’t conform meant they had to deny all within that could threaten the profitable agenda of the military-industrial-prison-media complex.

They did not want to be considered queer for staying in touch with what still lies down deep within — and conflicts with what they’ve been told they must do. They did not want, after all, to be treated the way society has treated gay men.

Equality in the armed services means military women are being taught that they too must be out of touch with their humanity to be as good as conditioned men, to compete with them, and to suffer and die.

And the full acceptance of LGBT people by the Pentagon means they too must show that they’re as “straight” acting and thinking as any of those “real men” who are rewarded for killing and being killed in our warrior society.

Our men came to believe that the alternatives to living this version of manhood could be death, humiliation, and rejection. For they knew that this American warrior code still says a man will get rewarded for killing another man but can be killed for loving another man.

But all this rightful military equality comes with the same price as toxic masculinity: It’s likely now to tear anyone apart as they struggle to bridge the gap between their real humanity and a deadly straight role they must prove they can live — one that could end up killing them one way or another.

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6 Steps to Releasing Fear https://whosoever.org/6-steps-to-releasing-fear/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=6-steps-to-releasing-fear Tue, 01 Nov 2022 04:00:42 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=24570 And becoming a master of Love

One night many years ago, Angie Gorman was in bed at home alone when a man kicked open the door of her bedroom. This was a time before cell phones and her only phone was a landline downstairs.

The man was verbally abusive as he approached her bed. Gorman recalls lying there in abject fear, feeling vulnerable. What went through her mind at that moment though was not thoughts of escape (where could she go?), or screaming (that was useless, she thought since no one was around to hear her). She also thought about how silly it would be to have a gun under her pillow to defend herself.

“Somehow,” she said, “I could not imagine this man standing patiently by while I reached under my pillow for my gun.”

It was her next thought, that she says she believed saved her life.

“I realized with a certain clarity,” she said, “that either he and I made it through this situation safely, together, or we would both be damaged.”

In that moment, she says she found herself acting out of concern for both of their safety – keeping him from committing a more heinous act that would do damage both her and him. That thought, she said, disarmed her. It didn’t eliminate her fear, she said, but it did loosen fear’s grip on her just enough for her to see what she needed to do: talk to him.

She asked him what time it was. He answered, and as the conversation went on, the tension in the room began to ease. She asked how he got in, and he told her he had broken the glass on the back door. She told him that she didn’t have the money to get that fixed. That’s when he began to tell her about his own financial struggles.

“We talked,” she said, “until we were no longer strangers and I felt it was safe to ask him to leave.”

He didn’t want to leave. He told her that he had no place to go. She offered to let him stay the night on her couch. Which he did. She said she stayed up all night, “wide awake and shaking.” The next morning, she made him breakfast and he left.

Gorman was able to defuse the violence of the situation because she acted in an unexpected way. Those who attack others expect to be attacked back or fought off in some way. They expect their victim to scream, to fight back, to try to escape. By responding with curiosity and wonder, Gorman put the attacker off-balance.

She did what A Course in Miracles instructs us to do – to replace our fear with love, thereby replacing an attacker’s fear with love, too.

“Fear is a symptom of your own deep sense of loss,” A Course says in Chapter 12. “If when you perceive it in others you learn to supply the loss, the basic cause of fear is removed.”

The basic cause of fear is the feeling that we’ve lost connection to our higher Divine Self – that we’ve lost that internal sense of the eternal, unchanging and unconditional love that created and sustains us. If we can reconnect to that feeling – that knowing that we are innocent, beloved Children of God who are meant to be the light of love in the world no matter what circumstances come upon us – then we can remove all fear from our lives.

“By interpreting fear correctly as a positive affirmation of the underlying belief it masks,” A Course says, “you are undermining its perceived usefulness by rendering it useless. Defenses that do not work at all are automatically discarded.”

This is how Gorman reacted. All the usual defenses – screaming, trying to escape, fighting back, reaching for a gun – were all useless. She interpreted her fear correctly – as something false that would not help her at all in this situation. Instead, she correctly interpreted her intruder’s fear as a call for love. She supplied the loss, and they both made it through the night safely – together.

Making it safely – together

I will not deny that we live in fearful times. Because of political polarization, ongoing class warfare, unstable economic conditions and a general sense that the world is going to hell in a handbasket has all of us feeling kind of jumpy. We’re divided so thoroughly that we can’t even begin to see the loss of love in others, let alone find it within ourselves to supply that love so that our mutual fear can be ended once and for all. In short, we are deathly afraid of each other in this moment in history.

It’s times like these, though, that we have a choice. We either give in to the fear and none of us makes it through these times safely. Or, it’s times like these when we learn to love again, to live again, and rediscover what we’ve never lost – our capacity to bring love to fear whenever we encounter it – either within ourselves or in those around us.

“If you raise what fear conceals to clear-cut unequivocal predominance,” A Course says, “fear becomes meaningless. You have denied its power to conceal love, which was its only purpose. The veil that you have drawn across the face of love has disappeared.”

Are you afraid in this moment? Afraid of what might happen politically in the larger world? Afraid of what might happen to you personally, be in it a relationship, a job, or how a political shakeout in the next few weeks might affect you personally or the country as a whole?

I invite you to “raise what fear conceals to clear-cut unequivocal predominance.” Instead of looking at the world around you in terror, look at it through the eyes of love. Everyone you see as an “enemy” or an “idiot” who votes wrongly, is simply that man at the end of Angie Gorman’s bed. They are lost, feeling alone and unloved with no place to go and the only thing they can think to do is lash out the world around them.

Deny these things the power to conceal your Holy love. The love we have to offer this world – that unfiltered, unconditional, unadulterated love of the Holy – has no opposite and it will always, always, always defeat fear. We have a choice in every moment, we can try to master our fear, or we can learn to become a master of Love. Only one of these choices will heal us all in times like these.

How do you master love? Practice, practice, practice

The one thing that helped Angie Gorman defuse the violence that the intruder intended to inflict upon her was this: practice. Long before this moment, Gorman had dedicated her life to the practice of nonviolence.

She had rehearsed seeing the loss of love in others and instead of responding with her own feeling of lost connection to the Love of her higher Divine Self, she practiced making that connection, no matter who or what she faced.

When the time came to use her skill, she did, and both she and her attacker were freed from their fear. She practiced, what the Christian scriptures in 1 John 4:17-18 this morning calls taking up “permanent residence in a life of love.”

When we do this, this scripture says that, “love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry [because] our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear.”

You’ve heard that passage before as “perfect love casts out fear,” but I like the Message’s phrase of “well-formed love,” because it calls us not just to a belief, but a practice. That practice begins with recognizing why we are fearful in the first place.

When we look around this world, we feel quite justified in both defending ourselves from attack as well attacking. We believe that if we stop defending ourselves, we’ll constantly be attacked or people will use us as a doormat. Nothing could be further than the truth. A Course assures us that defenselessness is the only thing that keeps us safe.

Why? Because the only reason attack exists in this world is because we started it. We picked the fight. We don’t believe that, though. We think the world around us started all of this. We feel attacked, so we attack back. I’m not saying we go out and beat people up, but we attack in our minds. We judge others. We dismiss others. We hate others. We dehumanize and belittle others – all without laying a physical finger on them. This is still attack.

Why do we attack like this? Because we feel separate from each other. We feel separate from each other because we feel separate from God. We feel separate from the unfiltered, unadulterated, unconditional Love that created us. That fear produces the attack within us – and that is what we’re truly afraid of – that our fear and its habit of attack is what’s real about us – not our Love.  This is why we are in the mess we’re in – both personally and corporately.

Who are you without your fear?

A Course says the only two emotions we can ever feel is either fear or Love. We’re afraid, though, that if we give up fear for Love we’ll be unable to function in this world – because this world requires that we live in fear. If we’re without fear, what are we? Are we just happy all the time, letting people take advantage of us or walk all over us?

Of course not. Without our fear we become who we truly are – “powerful beyond measure,” as Marianne Williamson puts it in her book A Return to Love. We play small because we believe our fear is more powerful than God’s love. That’s why, Williamson says, it is our light that scares us, not our darkness.

Everyone remains afraid in this world for this one simple reason – we rehearse our fear more than we rehearse our love. We practice perfecting our fear instead of perfecting our love. We do it whenever we watch TV news or engage in debate on Facebook or Twitter. We do it unconsciously, all the time when we judge others or think of our grievances with the world.

Overcoming our fear, then, means changing what we rehearse. In times like these, it’s easy to rehearse our fear. Rehearsing love, though, means remembering who we truly are – innocent, divine, Children of God who are eternally safe, no matter what chaos may seem to be swirling around, or within, us.

“We are all meant to shine,” Williams says, “as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; It’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

This is exactly what Angie Gorman did that night. She didn’t master her fear. She said she still felt afraid the whole night. Instead, she allowed her inner master of love come through and shine its light in that dark bedroom. Most importantly, she gave the intruder permission to do the same. It liberated both of them. That’s what we’re in this world to accomplish – the liberation of us all.

6 steps to releasing fear

So, how do you begin to rehearse love instead of fear, so you can become a master of love? Robert Perry, with the Circle of Atonement, outlines six steps to help us learn how to become a master of love. First, he says, be vigilant for your feelings of fear.

The big ones that overtake us are easy to spot, but what about all the little grievances – all the little forms of attack that just routinely run through our minds and the ego tells us that’s nothing to worry about? Don’t ignore them, A Course says, because all those small worries, fears, and anxieties are what the ego uses to build its identity. We must be aware of every fear thought, no matter how insignificant our ego says they are. Even the smallest fearful thought destroys our ability to love.

Next, he says, acknowledge your fears. Don’t minimize, deny, hide, or avoid them. This, A Course tells us, the first step to dissolving our fearful ego. Thirdly, he says, take responsibility for your fear. We are responsible for our fear because we’ve chosen to experience it. Instead of being afraid of our thoughts, we need to correct them whenever we notice how fearful they are.

We do that in the fourth step by looking calmly at the cause of our fear – and that is our own lack of love. The attack in us is the only reason we feel afraid. That fear, though, is not real. It’s simply another trick of the ego to keep us engaged in its game of seek but do not find and constantly attack and defend.

In step five we get to meat of this practice. In any spiritual practice you need tools and A Course gives us those in the form of its workbook lessons that provide us with the language we need to fulfill the step of choosing truth – or love – instead of fear. This is the step that invites us to remember who we truly are. We are not our small, fearful ego. We are the magnitude of God – the awareness of being itself – the light of the world that is meant to shine Love into the world.

In this step, we practice replacing our fearful thoughts with thoughts of Love. Some phrases Perry recommends include: “Light and joy and peace abide in me. My sinlessness is guaranteed by God,” or “God is the strength in which I trust,” or one of my favorites, “You can afford to laugh at fear thoughts, remembering that God goes with you wherever you go.”

Ones I use frequently are: “In my defenselessness my safety lies,” or “I can choose peace rather than this,” or, “Peace to such foolishness.”

The final step is to ask for help. The ego isn’t going to take you rehearsing love over fear lying down. It will seek to remind you of all the things it believes you should rightfully be fearful of. When fear arises, A Course instructs us to ask the Holy Spirit for help. Chapter 2 gives us a simple prayer: “I pray that my fear be replaced by an active sense of your love.”

The key to this practice of Love though is this: We do not do this practice just for ourselves. We do it for the world. This is what saved Gorman that night – she knew that she had to protect not just herself, but her would-be assailant. If either of them gave in to their fear, they would both be damaged by the experience.

We dedicate our lives to becoming masters of love, not as a way to overcome our own fear – but to end fear once and for all – for everyone. We can do this because all minds are joined, and as we heal our own fear within, there will be less fear in the world. This is not navel gazing; it is world changing.

As we move through this week – and especially the upcoming midterm elections – let us practice becoming masters of love by rehearsing love every chance we get. Let us give love the run of the house so that we can create the well-formed love that is needed to banish fear – not just within ourselves, but in the world around us.

It’s times like these when we have a choice. We can continue to rehearse our fear, or we can learn to love again by constantly rehearsing the love that created and sustains us. Let us seek to become such masters of love that indeed just our mere presence is enough to make the whole world say: “Oh, Yeah.”

An important note about this message:

I do not want this message to misconstrued as one of “blaming the victim.” I realize there are plenty of people who have been assaulted and perhaps tried to talk their way out of it and failed. Not everyone’s experience is like Angie Gorman’s. Fear is ubiquitous in our world and it is overwhelming. In no way am I minimizing the fear that anyone has felt when they feel bodily threatened in this world. Our bodies are programmed from the beginning of our existence in the fight, flight, freeze, or faint reaction, and there is no shame when it happens. It’s quite natural.

What I am hoping to convey is this: We have a responsibility, not just to ourselves, but to the world, to do the hard work of practicing nonviolent love whenever and however we can. We practice not to “overcome” or “conquer” our fear, but to see it for what it is – an evolutionary leftover from our belief in our separation from God and those we perceive around us. As such, we have an opportunity to become masters of love – to hold space for those who still experience the very real fear and horrors that we human beings inflict upon one another.

I recall someone asking Byron Katie, who created a system of questioning our thoughts and beliefs called The Work, if she would counsel a woman who had been recently raped to follow her protocol.

“Oh, no!” she replied. “She would not be ready for it.”

This is the heart of compassion that we are called to be in this world – to use our spiritual practices to become masters of love so we can be that space for others who cannot see through the fear and terror that appears very real in whatever moment they find themselves. Their experiences can be devastating, and the emotions quite overwhelming. A Course tells us in those moments, the “sanest” of the two is responsible for holding the space of love. If we find ourselves in that place where we can touch the Love of the Holy for them in that moment, that is what we are called to do.

May we be willing to be so powerfully used for the healing of the world.

Source for the Gorman story: The Powers That Be, by Walter Wink

Music for the Journey: “Times Like These” by Foo Fighters

Republished with permission of the author.

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How To Prepare For the Long Term Even If Political/Cultural Storms Threaten Just Off the Coast https://whosoever.org/how-to-prepare-for-the-long-term-even-if-political-cultural-storms-threaten-just-off-the-coast/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-to-prepare-for-the-long-term-even-if-political-cultural-storms-threaten-just-off-the-coast Fri, 30 Sep 2022 09:16:07 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=24430 “I just figure that when I’m that age Social Security and Medicare will be gone.”

That’s what one of my students said to me after a class lecture on early Chinese thinkers and their views on human nature and government’s role in people’s lives.

“Why doesn’t that get you so angry?” I asked. “My generation is having the party, and yours is getting stuck with our bill.” “If I thought that, I’d burn down every radio station that played Oldies,” I joked to lighten the mood with hyperbole.

I certainly understood why this 20-year-old had given up. Most of the messages around him inspire a hopelessness and helplessness.

There’s the “all politicians are crooked (or no good, or just out for themselves).” There are the constant media attempts to claim a false equivalency between “both sides.”

There are the messages that voting doesn’t matter in the midst of Republican moves to suppress voting and corporate PACS like ALEC investing millions in their candidates because they know voting really matters.

There are the distractions that older generations have created and make profits from to keep young people engrossed in their phones, their apps, their videos, and on and on. After all, their parents are on their smart phones as much as the teens.

There has been a decrease in the kind of long-form reading that gives context and depth of understanding. Even our newspapers fail to entice their declining readership to read below the first few paragraphs — if they publish more than a few paragraphs.

The long-term plan of destruction of the liberal arts in higher education envisioned by those like the Koch brothers and enacted by right-wing state legislatures while cutting state contributions to their colleges and universities — those liberal arts that provide perspective, history, ethics, nuance, and broadly human understanding — is turning these institutions into trade and professional schools fit only to spew out corporate drones.

Remember back when AT&T said it preferred liberal arts graduates over MBAs?

And now we approach yet another “most important election of our lifetime” with a need to work for the best now yet prepare for a storm that could solidify the undoing of reproductive rights, bring an end to the voting rights of those who want progress, and push LGBTQ people back into dark closets.

But all does not have to be lost even if the worst scenario comes to pass. Even then, the path to long-term change — even when we’ve lost the short term — is one that contradicts the hopelessness of that student.

First, it requires that we stop trying to convince the radical right wing to change their minds. All the evidence is that they won’t, that arguing will instead solidify them, and that the few anecdotes about the changed might make us happy in our relationships but will not produce real long term effects. Our money and energies must be spent elsewhere,

Political scientist Rachel Bitecofer, who is famous for her uniquely accurate predictions of election outcomes, concurs — the goal in winning elections is not convincing the other side or the few so-called “swing voters” but to turn on and turn out those who agree already. And, she says, this is the way to move forward in today’s climate in spite of what old-school pundits who are consistently wrong say:

“Bitecofer’s theory, when you boil it down, is that modern American elections are rarely shaped by voters changing their minds, but rather by shifts in who decides to vote in the first place.”

A key to next month’s vote and each election hereafter is whether we can we activate those who agree with us, not compromising our values in the false belief that it will change any other side. That’s just now how it works anymore, as renown linguist George Lakoff continues to remind us.

So, getting that young student and his and future generations to act as politically involved citizens who get out to vote – the younger generations who are the future and who not only share more progressive values but who are going to reap the effects of our views toward inclusion, climate change, social safety nets, and a kind national culture — means convincing these young voters that voting is important, that voting matters, and that voting is about them, their future, and their values.

It involves nurturing through some sort of farm system a young candidate base and supporting them. It means creating or emphasizing organizations that help feed the pipeline.

It means pushing candidates who aren’t already millionaires, who have a future, and who can begin at a grassroots level in their political life.

It means seeking a diversity of candidates who represent the rainbow of human beings in terms of multiple demographics. It means LGBTQ organizations supporting candidates who mirror their own faces and loves.

It means seeing gender issues as all related whether that’s women’s reproductive rights, or the rights of trans children. It means thinking intersectionally that all issues are related.

It means following Lakoff’s advice to never, ever repeat the framing of those against us even to refute it:

Here’s where those on the left make their mistake. Believing in compromise or bipartisanship or some other mediation, they actually affirm the right-wing frame by giving it credence and compromising with it.

Even stating it in order to deny it invokes and supports the right-wing position in these so-called centrists. Instead, for example, of calling it brainwashing (what it is) we call what anti-gay-profiteers do “ex-gay therapy” or “conversion therapy” as if it actually is therapy. And even saying “so-called” before the terms reenforces the right-wing frame of the matter.

When we engage in a debate about whether sexual orientation is a choice or not, we enforce the idea that the view that it is a choice is valuable.

When we talk about “traditional marriage,” we give value to the frame that there is such a thing as one traditional form of marriage even when we recognize that “tradition” is really just a made-up category where one chooses out of all of history what one likes and leaves out the rest, which is actually more of history. But arguing and repeating their label “traditional” even to deny it affirms the frame in the minds of the moveable middle instead of invoking our own frame.

Should the worst happen in the next election, we cannot lose all hope. But from yesterday on we cannot continue to think that doing the same things over and over will promote progressive change.

And we must think beyond the next election not just to win one more election but to secure the future.

Just as all those in Florida at this writing are cleaning up from the worst that Hurricane Ian brought to them while hoping that somehow the storm would have passed with minimal damage, so must we — as we face an election that could mean regression — do both.

Every election from now on could be “the most important of our lifetime,” so, having a long-term strategy in place won’t hurt anything now but will save us from storm damages ahead.

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Stop ‘Shoulding’ Yourself https://whosoever.org/stop-shoulding-yourself/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stop-shoulding-yourself Thu, 29 Sep 2022 04:00:03 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=24566 Follow your arrow, instead

I recently watched an interview with a Presbyterian pastor who has built an online spiritual community that is thriving and growing. It was not her intention to build this community. It simply sprung up around her when she began posting short messages on TikTok about how God loves everyone. In the interview, she said she started posting during the COVID lockdowns because she didn’t have a lot of other things to and it just felt like the right thing in the moment.

She says she was shocked that so many people were hungry for this simple message of God’s love for all of us. She now has nearly 295,000 followers on her TikTok and she has created a Patreon page where her congregation can find support, and support her in her ministry.

“I gotta get moving on TikTok,” I thought to myself after watching this interview. “295,000 followers! Man, what are you waiting for?”

In that moment, though, I had to stop myself, because I’ve been in this place before. That moment when you see someone else succeeding and you think that’s the way you must “succeed” too. I do this all the time. It’s one of my repeating emotional patterns that begins with excitement that turns to envy that turns to despair and hopelessness.

“Why can I ever succeed like that?” my ego begins to whine. “Why can’t I hit on that idea that brings in 295,000 followers?”

Then it turns into doom and gloom and wondering what the hell am I doing with my life anyway? Has my time here just been wasted? Why didn’t I think to post about God’s love on TikTok? Why don’t I ever get any 295,000-followers-ideas?

Now, my ego has me spinning around the thought that so many of us have in our lives: “What is my purpose in life?”

Ego’s purpose or Spirit’s purpose?

I want you all to know, that is a trick question. Because the ego will give you a million different responses and you know what? They’re all based on what we think we “should” be doing in the world. We should be doing more for the environment. We should be fighting more political battles. We should be developing some cure for something or another. We should be posting short messages of God’s love on TikTok every chance we get. We should be out there saving the world in some grand fashion.

But, what if that’s not how the world gets saved? What if the world gets saved by millions of tiny gestures of peace, love, and understanding instead of one – or even many – grand, sweeping gestures? What if our true purpose is to simply be about the business of doing one of those millions of tiny gestures that changes the whole trajectory of the world? What if our ultimate purpose is just to be present in this moment – and seek to do the highest vibrational thing this moment demands of us?

As I considered a TikTok ministry, I realized that while it might be a good idea, it didn’t feel genuine to me. It didn’t call to me in the same way that writing sermons or Motley Mystic articles did. When I sat with it in that moment, it felt wrong.

Sure, I can do it anyway. I could start posting with the aim of getting thousands of followers, and hey, maybe I could get enough folks to support a Patreon page and pay to hear me talk. If that is my motivation, though – to get paid at some point – then it’s not a calling from spirit. It’s just another fear-based calling from my ego. My ego wants to get seen, to get recognized, to get paid. If I just want to get my message out for the specific goal of making money, then I’m not following my purpose.

The world, of course, tells you differently. It insists that, yes, your money-making or fame-making ideas ARE your purpose. We’re inculcated to these ideas from birth. You go to school, get an education in a field that makes money and then you go make the money, climb the ladder of corporate success or fame. You find someone to marry, have kids, buy a house, build a life and a fortune. Build a legacy! And if we don’t to do that, we’re failures. We obviously missed our life’s purpose. You’re not a “success.”

What if, though, success isn’t what the ego thinks it is? What if purpose isn’t what the ego says it is? What if what the world says we should be doing isn’t what our purpose is all about?

Let purpose pursue you

Bashar, who is a non-physical being channeled by man named Darryl Anka, says that your purpose in this life doesn’t have to be grand by the world’s standards. Your purpose is something that gets lived moment to moment. Our past is gone, we can’t build anything there, and our future is yet to be built. All we have is this moment and Bashar says, if we take advantage of this moment and do the thing that sparks our passion right now – then we’ll be living on purpose. If we do the things that we are most passionate about in every given moment, then we build a life of purpose. Instead of picking a purpose to pursue, we let purpose pursue us.

This is exactly what this online pastor did. She felt moved to post on TikTok. It was her highest calling IN THAT MOMENT, and from there, she allowed life’s purpose to live through her. Her purpose is to create this online ministry – but the purpose found her through her passion – not the other way around.

When I get caught up in my pattern of “why didn’t you think of that great idea?” or even the next thought of, “you could copy that idea and make money,” I have to step back and look at the trajectory of my own life. If I’m honest, I’ve actually done everything I’m writing about. I have followed what I have believed to be my highest calling in each moment.

The seeming randomness of purpose

I thought my purpose was to be a journalist – but the industry changed to a point where it was too painful to stay. I could have stayed. Many of my colleagues did and they became completely disillusioned with their lives and profession. I could have stayed in academic public relations which is where I went after journalism, but it too, was not satisfying. I’ve floated around and dabbled in other things such as songwriting and performing, I’ve written a book – and may write another, who knows? I felt going to seminary was important, so I did that. The breadcrumbs seem random, but y’know what? Right here, in this moment, I am using the best part of every single bit of my past experiences.

My time in radio helped me develop my speaking voice. My time in news writing helped me hone my storytelling skills. My time in public relations taught me the value of marketing and networking. My songwriting and performing skills have helped me lead and build a band that entertains and enlightens you every week. My seminary training prepared me – mostly – to start and build a spiritual community.

I didn’t know any of this at the time it was happening, but Spirit was building a purpose for my life through the seemingly random choices it offered to me during my lifetime. As I chose the ones that called to me in the moment – even if they seemed disparate and contradictory – Spirit has put them together in a powerful way that I still can’t explain, but am extremely grateful for.

I’m sure, if you looked at the breadcrumbs of your own life, you can see those moments when you thought you were pursuing some purpose in your life, but in reality, life was building that purpose through and for you. We think we fail when don’t achieve that ego-based goal of pursuing the purpose the world says we should aim for, but when we view our lives differently – through the lens of the spirit – perhaps we can see it in a new way. Even if we have failed to achieve some purpose that we set for ourselves – I would venture to say that however our lives have unfolded, Spirit has been building a purpose through us, even if we can’t yet perceive it.

I invite you to stop “shoulding” on yourself – to stop following whatever it is you think the world expects from you – whatever ego-driven purpose you’ve set for yourself as a goal. Instead, seek to follow whatever it is that excites you in this moment – since this is the only moment we ever really have. If you become aware of what you need to do in the moment – whether it’s something as small as phoning a friend or even taking a nap, or as grand as taking part in a project that’s aimed at a bigger goal of improving the world – I invite you to do it.

If you do, you’ll be living your life on purpose, which allows purpose to live through you and create the kind of life for you that not only satisfies you, but helps to change the trajectory of the world from fear to love.

Music for the Journey: “Follow Your Arrow” by Kasey Musgraves

Republished with permission of the author.

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Why You Should Bury Your Talents https://whosoever.org/why-you-should-bury-your-talents/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-you-should-bury-your-talents Fri, 23 Sep 2022 04:00:18 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=24156 The power of love in an unjust world

Back in June, my spouse, Beth, and I traveled to Gainesville, Fla., to attend a couple of talks that one of my favorite authors and teachers, Michael Singer, gives at his spiritual center there called The Temple of the Universe. The trip was a birthday present for me, and Beth had arranged with the staff there for us to be able to take a walk with Singer after the Sunday talk and spend some time with him.

It was an amazing experience. I thought I would be too fan girl overwhelmed to really have a meaningful talk with him, but he was very calm and relaxed. As we walked it became clear that he was happy to talk with me not as a fan, but as a colleague, as someone else who was engaged in practicing and teaching spirituality.

We strolled around the beautiful grounds at the Temple, chatting and laughing, and as we approached our starting point near the end of our walk, we saw a young man sitting on the walkway, relaxing and smoking some manner of clove cigarette. As we approached, he quickly got up and approached Singer. Without giving any of us a chance to say anything to him, he launched into an obviously prepared elevator speech.

The young man had a dream, you see. He wanted to take Singer’s teachings and turn them into a reality show that he would pitch and produce. On the surface, it sounds like a great idea, right? Create a TV show that espouses the principles of love, peace, joy, unity, oneness and surrender to the universe.

Just before this encounter, we had been talking with Singer about the dwindling attendance at our spiritual community in South Carolina, Jubilee! Circle, since the pandemic. I remarked to Singer, who is a New York Times best-selling author and a frequent guest on Oprah’s shows, that he could have a mega-community if that’s what he wanted. Instead, he has a small building where he has held meetings since the 1970s. Its maximum capacity is probably 60 people. He told me that numbers didn’t matter and that, in fact, like one of his gurus said, he’d rather have a few followers sitting under a tree who are really dedicated to learning spiritual practices than a stadium full of people who just come for the show.

It was in this spirit that Singer answered the young man, who, in his second breath, told Singer he could make this dream happen with a million dollars in funding from Singer. I never saw Singer flinch at any of this. He was very polite to the young man and firmly told him that wasn’t going to happen and wished him well.

After the man retreated, we continued to the end of our walk and Singer side-eyed me and asked, “Do you want a million dollars?”

I will tell you that’s probably the only moment in my life that I truly didn’t want a million dollars. I imagine Singer gets a lot of these pitches and he has every right to be suspicious.

“No,” I said with a smile. “All I want is a photo with you.”

It’s taken me awhile to process this walk with Singer, and there’s probably much more to unpack, but I realized that this moment is when Singer showed a tremendous amount of compassion for this young man. The young dreamer probably didn’t see it this way, but I think Singer did him an enormous favor, all out of that deep compassion.

To understand this, we need to explore this parable of the talents that Jesus lays out in Matthew 25:14-30. The traditional summary goes something like this — we’ve each been given talents in our lives, some seem more endowed with talent than others, but when we put whatever talent that we may have to work in the world, they multiply.

We’re told to be like the first two servants who did just that. The third servant is supposed to serve as the cautionary tale. He went and buried his talent, so it did not multiply. The ruthless and cruel master gave that jerk what he deserved, taking away even the one talent he had and casting him into outer darkness.

This isn’t what this parable is teaching us. It’s not about claiming and using your talents and skills in the world. It’s a story about compassion. It’s a story about choosing unity over separation within the confines of an unjust economic system. It’s a story where the cautionary tale occurs with the first two servants, who show a great lack of compassion.

It’s a story where we’re supposed to live into the ethos of the third servant, burying our talent, choosing the good of the many over the gain of the one. This is a story of the power of Love.

Burying our talent

Usually, in Jesus’ parables, whoever is portrayed as the master in the story is supposed to be God, but the master in this story is a wealthy slave owner who is described as a harsh and ruthless man. It’s easy to get confused here because when introducing parables, Jesus always says, “the realm of God is like this …” and this story is no different, but Jesus turns the story on its head, deliberately making the master the opposite of God.

The key to reading this parable correctly is in what is given to the servants — talents. In Jesus’ day, a talent wasn’t some skill you possessed, as this parable has been taken to mean metaphorically. It’s also not a wad of cash or coins. A talent was a precious metal such as gold or silver that weighed around 80 to 130 pounds. It was worth about what an ordinary worker would make in 20 years — a lottery-winning sum of money for most of us — or that million dollars that young man so blithely asked Singer for.

That slave owning master amassed all this wealth in the typical way back then — by exploiting farmers. He would loan money to poor farmers at astronomical interest rates between 60% and 200%. The farmers would put their land up as collateral and often lost that land when drought hit or the harvest was poor or for any other myriad reasons.

These men who were given the talents in the story were the master’s bureaucratic middle men. They would oversee the land, collect on the debts and ensure the profits kept rolling in while the master was away on his yacht or vacationing in his fancy villa.

In modern terms, it’s as if one of the wealthiest top 1% gave his three most trusted workers millions of dollars to play with. As long as they made money off of the investment they would be rewarded, and they would pile up hefty bonuses for themselves. All they have to do is go out and exploit the workers, seize their property and leave them in abject poverty.

Be like the third servant

Do you see why the third servant could be the hero here? Do you see how burying his talent, refusing to exploit the working poor or seize their property, makes him the paragon of compassion here? Do you see how he is the representative of the Holy in this story? Do you see how his fearless act of rebellion against an unjust system demonstrates the power of love that we’re all called to emulate? Do you see how this last servant is the only truly sane one in an insane system of oppression and exploitation?

“Only the sane,” A Course in Miracles says in Chapter 19, “can look on stark insanity and raving madness with pity and compassion, but not with fear. For only if they share in it does it seem fearful, and you do share in it until you look upon your Holy sibling with perfect faith and love and tenderness. Before complete forgiveness you still stand unforgiving. Those you do not forgive you fear. And no one reaches love with fear beside him.”

This is the lot of the master and his first two servants. They cannot reach love because of their fear. The master fears being one of those poor he exploits, and the first two servants are afraid the master will fire them, then they too, will be like the poor farmers they exploit to stay in the master’s good graces. It is this fear that leads to separation, because the master and the first two servants do not see the poor farmers as their equals. Instead, the poor are demonized.

The poor are obviously not blessed by God with wealth and power. Their lot in life is to be exploited. As far as this manager and the first two servants are concerned the poor are not welcomed as part of God’s realm.

The third servant sees it differently. He finds commonality with the poor farmers and refuses to put them outside the circle of God’s love. Author Paul Selig, in his book The Book of Knowing and Worth, reminds us that when we decide someone is not worthy of God’s love, we put ourselves outside of that love, too.

“When you believe that everything has a right to be loved, from the lowest creature to the highest, from the imbecile to the sage, from the youngest to the oldest, you will witness yourself in love, and the sight that you behold will be the sight of the Christ,” Selig writes.

This is why that third servant could be fearless in the face of insanity. He beheld everyone with the eyes of Christ — the eyes of Love. By burying his talent, he acted in Holy Love. What was his thanks for this? The story tells us he was cast into “outer darkness.”

The joy of outer darkness

This is the other fun part of this story. Being cast into “outer darkness” — being shunned from the economic system that rewards dishonesty, exploitation and oppression, is how the ego punishes us for our refusal to play by its rules. To the ego, you see, not being able to enrich yourself through its exploitative economic system is the worst thing that can happen to you. The ego’s idea of outer darkness is actually the light of the Holy.

Where the ego sees darkness, we can see light, because we realize that we do not have to fear being cast out of the ego’s world. In fact, our goal in life should be to act in such loving and fearless ways that we piss our ego off enough for it to cast us into its idea of outer darkness.

We don’t have to transcend our ego, we just have to taunt it enough and go against its rules often enough, and it will toss us aside. This is the good news! This is the true power of Love! You don’t need money, you don’t need fame, don’t need a credit card to ride this train. Love can seem cruel and sudden sometimes, but it might just save your life.

That’s what I think Michael Singer did for that young man on the path that day. He had no fear, therefore he had the compassion needed to save this young man’s life. It may seem cruel to the young man that Singer won’t bankroll his dream, but I think Singer knows that giving money to a man who wants to play the exploitive game of Hollywood is not a talent well invested. It sounds like a lovely idea, to make these ideas mainstream on a TV show, but at what cost to the truth of the message? Singer knows the exploitive nature of show business.

None of this means that we all have to live in poverty just because the ego casts you out of its corrupt system. Singer lives a very comfortable life on a beautiful piece of land that he has worked tirelessly to preserve. He almost went to jail on federal RICO charges because he had a corrupt executive in one of the businesses he owns. He understands this corrupt system, and he has worked hard to get the ego to cast him into the outer darkness that is his pristine estate in Florida. He has found a way to live honestly, with integrity, humility and compassion, refusing to put anyone outside of God’s realm, even impudent young men who blithely ask him for a million dollars on a sunny, humid Sunday afternoon.

Like the third servant, he seems to have buried his talent — refusing to build a larger sanctuary, refusing to go on book tours when another bestseller hits the shelves. Singer isn’t playing small, though. He knows that anything that needs to grow needs to first be buried. He has found fertile soil in the swamps of Florida. What he is growing with his talent may appear to be small, but it feeds the multitude who find nourishment there.

I invite you to be like that third servant. Bury your talent. Do not squander your skills, your money, your time, your passion, in an unjust, egoic-based system. Bury what you have and nurture it, so it will grow deep roots of Love, and when it blooms, many will be fed by the harvest of your spiritual strength and growth. This is the power of Love.

Republished with permission of the author.

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What If We Don’t Agree Politically? https://whosoever.org/what-if-we-dont-agree-politically/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-if-we-dont-agree-politically Thu, 15 Sep 2022 04:00:41 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=23864 An answer to a question I keep getting asked

There are couples, relatives, and friends who’ve gotten along well when they disagree about politics. They’ve often just agreed to do their best to keep such discussions out of their relationship.

These last political seasons, however, have even strained some of those relationships. It has become common particularly for those in the MAGA crowd to seem not to be able to go very long without a remark about liberals, the current president, gender, or any of the pet complaints they have.

Again and again, we hear how arguments over the presidential candidates in both the primaries and the general election campaigns have actually destroyed friendships and driven couples into silence when it comes to discussing how they’re voting just among themselves. But there are also arguments about vaccines, immigration, LGBTQI people, gender, how the government should help people, and on and on.

Whether or not a relationship can survive political disagreements depends upon what isn’t actually the political disagreement, but something deeper.

It depends upon both why someone holds the political positions they do and what being right about one’s politics means to their ego.

We used to be governed by the old advice that if we want to get along, we should never discuss politics or religion. Yet it turns out that we need to discuss these two topics with each other — not to convert our friend, relative, or partner to our position but to get to know them better.

Just as relationships can work when members hold different religious positions, so it is with politics. But whether or not religious or political diversity is good for any relationship depends upon the psychology behind why someone holds both.

A person’s personal religious and political views (no matter what larger “ism” with which they identify their version of it) tell us much about what’s beneath an individual’s reasons for accepting and identifying with a religious or political position. And those deeper realities are more likely to make relationships unbearable.

One’s politics tells us about what is meaningful to them and how they approach life. It tells us how they analyze problems and what they believe are realistic solutions to those and future problems.

Dating and politics

This means that when dating one can learn about some deeper values by hearing about how someone votes and why they make their choice.

For example: What do they mean by “personal responsibility”? Is it about how someone takes care of themself or do they believe that we are personally responsible for a larger community? And how large is that community?

Do they forget about or ignore the privileges they have due to the circumstances of their birth? Do they actually claim that they are “self-made” and that everyone could pull themselves up by their bootstraps?

How do they relate to someone they see as an other? Do they show empathy for those who are in other circumstances as if they could just as easily find themselves in their shoes?

What are some of their first assumptions about human nature? Are people basically lazy or out to take advantage of others? Or is human nature basically good and when humans don’t act out of their goodness, they’re actually showing us what has happened to them in life?

When we listen to someone speak about their politics, then, we hear about how they will relate to us, to the problems relationships encounter, and to themselves. Their view of what human beings are like means we too are going to be interpreted as another of those human beings.

We learn, through listening to their views and how they react to our responses, much that will matter in the long term. It’s not the individual political issues themselves but what is behind and beneath their decisions.

But there’s also another element to watch. We will learn a lot about a person by how they hold their political (and religious) views.

Whatever their views, then, to what extent can they relate to those who disagree?

Are they somehow compelled to argue? Must they bring up their positions in almost any company?

Can they let some disagreements go or must they defend their own side all of the time? Can they walk away or does the fact that others disagree with them continue to gnaw at them?

Why can’t they let it go? Why is it so important to them?

Why do they need to be “right?” Is being right more important to them than being compassionate?

By watching for how someone is or is not seemingly obsessed with political arguments, we learn about someone’s insecurities. We learn that somehow a person must feel that people need to agree with them in order to feel good about themself. We learn that this person must have people agreeing with them for them to feel that their beliefs are okay.

These are actually the emotional issues that will exist beyond and beneath political and religious disagreements. They’re more likely to affect our relationships in the longer run.

But it’s each person’s own decision about how they want to relate to the other person. We will have to decide with eyes wide open if we are willing to be in a close relationship with someone with these issues.

And, if we’ve already committed ourselves to a life “’til death do us part” to this person, what we’re going to have to relate to is not political disagreement but the reasons why those disagreements are bothering each member of the couple, and whether we’re willing to accept that as just the way this relationship is going to be.

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How to Encourage Children to Celebrate Differences: Start Early https://whosoever.org/how-to-encourage-children-to-celebrate-differences/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-to-encourage-children-to-celebrate-differences Thu, 01 Sep 2022 04:00:03 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=23699 An appreciation for diversity is critical to success in life, with research by the Boston Consulting Group showing that inclusive companies are 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders thanks to the diversity of their workforces.

And it’s never too early to start. Encouraging children to have a wide variety of friends, to experience different cultures, and to take inclusivity into account in their decisions can all help to promote diversity and inclusivity in an organic, meaningful way. If you are a parent with little children, the following ideas may inspire when it comes to helping them appreciate and effect diversity and inclusivity in their everyday lives.

Meeting friends from across the globe

Encourage your children to make friends from a wide variety of backgrounds. Doing so is a fantastic way to help them understand new ideas, habits, pastimes, beliefs, and foods!

Encourage them to learn a new language; in language schools, they may come across children from other countries and learn to communicate in a second language with fluency.

Travel is another important way for them to meet people from different parts of the world. As they get older, leisure travel can be replaced by camps, where they can spend more time with people from different backgrounds, cultures, and languages.

Knocking down stereotypes

One of the most important things you can do for your children is encouraging prejudice-free thinking. Doing so can begin by choosing gender-neutral games and toys that are based on your child’s interests rather than societal expectations. You can point out how different toys are marketed to girls and boys, helping your child understand how advertising can sway their choices and veer them off the path of their authentic interests.

History has shown that children have highly individual tastes when it comes to hobbies and interests. Many girls love cars and racing sets, and many boys enjoy imaginative and role play games. Encourage your children to be who they are from the start, and they will learn how to appreciate individuality in others.

You can also teach children about different types of families, including those comprising one or more LGBTQ+ parents. Children should know that at school, their friends may hail from many different types of families.

Addressing prejudice, discrimination and bullying

It is important for children to know that they can talk to you about instances of bullying and other negative behaviors at school. Reading material can help you broach difficult but important subjects such as racial discrimination, LGBTQ+ discrimination, disability discrimination, and bullying. If you read stories to your children or you read alongside them, just a few books that will provide excellent subjects for discussion include Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, and It’s Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr.

An appreciation for diversity is a key factor to success in adulthood. Start teaching your children about this quality from the time they are tots. Find opportunities for them to meet children from different backgrounds, help them avoid stereotyping, and actively talk about matters such as prejudice against children with disabilities by encouraging open communication and reading important books.

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How Churches Can Support Transgender Survivors of Abuse https://whosoever.org/how-churches-can-support-transgender-survivors-of-abuse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-churches-can-support-transgender-survivors-of-abuse Tue, 30 Aug 2022 04:00:09 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=23787 The 2022 Violence Against Women Act, which Congress re-authorized in March, includes the first federal grant program specifically designed to serve LGBTQ survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence.

The new funding could lead to expanded trans-friendly services to which pastors and laypeople can refer survivors. All survivors escaping abuse face adversity, but transgender individuals encounter additional hurdles due to widespread discrimination, advocates say.

Clergy and laity seeking to support trans folk fleeing violent relationships should start by creating a trans-affirming congregation, undergo training in LGBTQ cultural competence, listen to survivors, and allow them to determine which services they wish to access.

“Know that our fears of police, doctors, and other establishments come from a history of violence and trauma we have experienced. Therefore, it’s important to listen to what survivors need and not try to get people to pursue the path toward healing that we think is correct,” said Robin Gow (they, he, ze), cultural and community programs manager at Bradbury Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown, Pa., in an e-mail.

Gow is a transgender survivor of an abusive relationship who has worked in programs to assist people who have escaped violent partners. “A lot of people tried to get me to report my abuse to the police,” Gow said, explaining that many transgender individuals expect to experience police harassment when they file complaints.

Anti-trans discrimination has historically characterized Christian congregations, leading transgender people to view churches as hostile places from which they would not receive help, said Corinne Goodwin (she/her), president of the Eastern PA Trans Equity Project.

The road to welcoming

To become credible confidants and allies for transgender abuse survivors, church leaders and congregants must educate themselves, Goodwin said in a telephone interview.

The Eastern PA Trans Equity Project offers the training “Trans 101,” which pastors and lay people can take to become familiar with terminology and how to establish a welcoming environment. Gow recommends the book Transgender Intimate Partner Violence: A Comprehensive Introduction by Adam M. Messinger and Xavier L. Guadalupe-Diaz.

Goodwin also advises communicating trans acceptance by adopting a written non-discrimination policy, raising a rainbow flag outside the church, having an open and affirming sign on the building, and posting trans-welcoming content on the congregational web site.

Churches, including those that minister to predominantly LGBTQ congregants, should be sure they are publicly advocating for abuse-survivor organizations to specifically address the needs of trans folk, Goodwin said.

Churches should observe the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20, said Brielle Roundtree, domestic and intimate partner violence hotline coordinator at Trans Lifeline, a crisis phone line for transgender individuals.

Clergy should also state from the pulpit that they believe and support abuse survivors, Gow said. Such actions can enable transgender survivors to trust clergy and laity enough to disclose being transgender and to discuss abuse they might be experiencing.

Practical obstacles to seeking help

In addition to fostering a trans-accepting environment, clergy and laity can address the practical obstacles — such as lack of money, housing, transportation, and medical care — that keep survivors from ending abusive relationships.

Clergy should be aware of affirming non-profits in their communities that are doing the work.

Survivors fear that leaving abusive situations means homelessness and food insecurity, said Goodwin, whose organization provides clients with security deposits and money to cover their first month’s rent.

Transgender people facing homelessness have concerns that may differ from those of cisgender individuals.  Dormitory-style shelters segregated by binary gender increase transgender individuals’ vulnerability to sexual assault and harassment, said Goodwin, who spoke of a transgender person who chose to live in a tent with their dog rather than stay in a communal shelter due to fear of assault and harassment.

To help survivors set up new homes, churches can offer kits of household items and other necessities, said Nika Nicely (she/her), who left her spouse after a 25-year relationship in which she said she experienced abuse. Nicely volunteers at Inside Out Youth Services, an LGBTQ center in Colorado Springs, Colo.

If survivors want medical or psychological care, church members or pastors can offer transportation, Gow said. Of course, this again requires pastors to have a referral list that is up to date and safe.

Listening is the first step

In addition to assisting with practical issues, church members should offer emotional support by “listening” to survivors’ experiences, Roundtree said. “Listening makes a victim feel heard and supported. It also promotes a brave space for victims to seek help from other entities,” she said.

Listening is the first step to establishing trusting relationships with survivors. To maintain trust, clergy should inform survivors about what support services the congregation can realistically offer and avoid making promises they cannot keep, Roundtree said. For needs the church cannot address, members should provide several options of other agencies to contact, she said.

At all times, those wishing to help should respect survivors’ autonomy, Roundtree said. “They know what’s best for them, and we ask that you take a harm reduction approach in all your advisements.”

Trans individuals dealing with abuse can find support by calling the Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860.

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How To Not Let Fear Have the Final Word in America https://whosoever.org/how-to-not-let-fear-have-the-final-word/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-to-not-let-fear-have-the-final-word Thu, 25 Aug 2022 10:01:52 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=23689

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)

Give in to love or live in fear. (Finale B, Rent, Jonathan Larson)

The harm being done is real

It is hard to know what to say about the profoundly disturbing political, legal, and cultural efforts of white U.S. conservatives (represented by Republican politicians and their right-wing supporters) to hoard power and harm anyone who looks, thinks, believes, or behaves differently from them — at least, it is hard to know what to say other than howling in frustration, rage, and fear.

However, if I don’t want fear to have the final word, I must find something else to say. So here it is.

Women, LGBTQ+ people, and members of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities in the U.S. are completely justified in being frustrated, rage-filled and terrified right now — as are many other people who are not wealthy white conservative Christians.

The harm being done by powerful white conservatives is profound: Laws against teaching about past and current U.S. racism, laws against teaching about sexual diversity, laws that deny women (and others assigned female at birth) life-saving healthcare, laws attacking young transpeople, violence against marginalized communities across the country, legal attacks on the right of workers to organize, and a Supreme Court that may be about to ease gun restrictions while making environmental care more difficult.

Democracy itself, however imperfect and incomplete it has always been in this country, is at a new level of risk. So much suffering is being caused, so much flourishing is being damaged. It is heartbreaking and infuriating.

Give in to love, or live in fear?

All of this is unimpeachably true. And at the same time…

If I were not so concerned about the ability and willingness of white conservatives to harm anyone unlike themselves, I would feel profoundly sorry for them much of the time. That might sound strange, but it comes down to that most basic of questions: Will we give in to love, or will we live in fear? Will perfect love cast out fear or will perfect fear cast out love?

Clearly, white conservative actions and priorities are unloving: Hatred, violence, and mistreatment of many devalued groups are surely not acts of love. But I think that we can say more than that.

I think we can say that underneath all that rage, underlying all the cultural and institutional and spiritual and psychological and physical violence is, simply or not so simply, fear. And the depth and power of that fear is as tragic as the harm that the fear is causing — to the rest of us, but also to white conservatives themselves.

What are they afraid of?

Of what exactly are white conservatives afraid? There may be many answers, but here are some possibilities.

They are afraid of being “replaced.” Of not being in power. Of not getting their way. Of not being more highly valued than people who are different from them. Of not mattering.

Perhaps they are afraid that they will finally have to confront the ways their own values and politics harm them and those they love as well as those they despise. Maybe they are even afraid about having to feel all that grief that they have channeled into hostility and contempt.

And thus, the ruthlessness where love would be patient. Thus, the cruelty where love would be kind. Thus, the “alternative facts,” gaslighting, and rejection of empirical reality where love would rejoice in the truth. Thus, the impatience, envy, boastfulness, arrogance, rudeness, irritation and resentment, which, as the Apostle Paul reminds us, are not the ways of love.

How profound white conservative fear must be to lead to all this lovelessness! What a tragedy for all of us!

How we can respond

That said, how should LGBTQ+ people of faith and our allies respond to this maelstrom of fear? How can we keep from drowning in it?

Just as love begets love, fear begets fear. The fear-based harmful actions of white conservatives cause many of the rest of us to fear — completely legitimate fear, it’s worth restating. How can we strive to turn away from fear, live in love, and let that love cast out (at least some of) our fear?

Here are some concrete options available to us:

First, we can practice living into the ways of love, even — and especially — when it is hard to do so.

If, as Paul said, love is patient and kind, we can work on being patient and kind. We can, to the best of our ability, reject envy, boasting, arrogance, and rudeness, and perhaps on our best days, reject irritability and resentment (though we should not be too hard on ourselves when that is beyond what the day allows). We can grieve at wrongdoing; we can rejoice in honesty, truthfulness, and our commitment to engaging with actual reality rather than “alternative facts.”

Second, we can “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16), which will look different for each of us.

We can ramp up our spiritual practices, gently tending to our fear and pain, and seeking connection with the loving mystery at the heart of all things. If indeed perfect love can cast out fear, we can seek out that love as much and as often as possible.

Third, we can support each other, individually and communally, in this challenging time.

We can be good witnesses for each other’s grief and fear, and we can hold each other accountable so that we do not fall into the temptation to allow our fear to turn into cruel and ugly behavior toward others. We can live into love better when we serve as models and reminders for one another.

This can happen in specifically religious contexts, but it can happen in many other contexts as well and should never be religiously limited. Everyone who opposes the tragedies of the day can be part of supportive communities and networks.

Fourth, we can join and support the larger social and political movements against white supremacy, authoritarianism, sexism, heterosexism, unfettered capitalism, and all other inhumane and immoral systems of power causing so much harm.

Working collectively against the violence, against the lies, against the devaluation of groups of people, against the denial of empirical reality, is the only systematic hope we have for moving from reactive defensiveness in a time of danger to potentially bringing about a society more in keeping with Jesus’s vision of God’s Realm. Which, I hope, is what we are all (in our different ways) trying to do.

Finally, as brutally hard as it is not to hate the people who harm us, we can try to cultivate love even toward them.

This does not mean liking them, supporting their agendas, or being complicit in their harm of ourselves or others; it means acting as though God loves them as much as God loves us, as though love is as available to them as it is to us.

It’s worth remembering that the phrase “good Samaritan” essentially means “merciful enemy” and could, in a generous translation, mean “loving enemy.” Ultimately, a loving enemy is no enemy at all. Could we be good Samaritans toward white conservatives? Could we model for them a love that could cast out their fear? I don’t know the answer, but with the stakes as high as they are, it seems like a possibility worth considering.

Peace and strength to you all in these times of trial. May we give in to love and may we cast out fear, now and all the days to come.

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A Time For Everything: A Meditation on Ecclesiastes 3 https://whosoever.org/a-time-for-everything-a-meditation-on-ecclesiastes-3/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-time-for-everything-a-meditation-on-ecclesiastes-3 Fri, 19 Aug 2022 04:00:57 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=23687

There is a right time for everything,
and everything on earth
will happen at the right time.
(Ecclesiastes 3:1 ERV)

My partner of 49 years and I did a spot of spring-cleaning in our home this morning, amongst which was the awful job of defrosting a 40-year-old fridge, cleaning our too-many brass ornaments, and cleaning a forty-something-year-old collection of knick-knacks and tiny, precious things in our equally old printer’s tray (yes, a real printer’s tray).

Not to mention having to hose out our municipal wheelie bin because rotting fruit from a tree in our garden had lain in it fermenting in the heat for days before being taken away to the dump by the rubbish truck.

This was all basically mindless work — it didn’t require much mental energy, although it did help us to work off some physical energy and it left us feeling good, once it was over and done with.

So, during this process I focused on what would happen to all these precious little items in the printer’s tray, as well as what would happen to the fridge and its contents once we shuffle off to our “next home.”

We age the same as non-LGBTQI folk 

While being a part of the LGBTQI community has many unique challenges and wonderful differences from the rest of the world, in the long view of life we are just like everyone else needing to answer all those final questions.

Over the years we have, by means of our wills and Letters of Wishes, attempted to make the best provision we can for what will remain behind once we’re both gone (our great hope being that our elderly, precious cat will already have preceded us by then); but of course, not everything can be foreseen or be taken care of, come the time.

We have no children who would either care for us in our dotage or clean up and dispose of what we leave behind. We can’t know at this point if, when the time comes to die, the last survivor will even be found and helped in a time of crisis or need.

We have many nephews and nieces living far from us (a lot of whom are now reside outside the country) who would no doubt wish to pick up any financial (and other valuable) assets that we might leave behind, but I doubt that many (if any) of them would (or could) make the effort to show much care or energy towards us in our dotage, or afterwards; or even if they should.

Close, trusted friends (especially where we live now) are even fewer; and those we do have are coping as best they can with their own process of aging and the many challenges it presents. As are my two siblings.

We all have the same questions

Who, for example, will deal with what’s left behind in the fridge, come the time? How long will it stand in there before anyone needs to, wants to, or has to, do anything about it?

Will the executor of our wills (which is a trust company and not a person) get involved, or will the auctioneer that we’ve asked to sell off the stuff that remains, do it? It’s work that neither of them is required to do.

Or will a charity be requested to come and do it for those it supports?

Or will the local second-hand shop come and pay a pittance for a house full of valuable stuff? And enrich themselves on it?

Or will it just be left to decay until someone notices we’re not around any longer?

Our local church appears quickly to have forgotten us since we’ve had to relinquish our “jobs” within it due to declining health, together with age-related physical constraints.

It has been four years now since we stopped attending services and even longer since we stopped paying our monthly dues to the church; and (even taking COVID constraints during the two past years into account) none of the clergy or the church council with whom we worked as active members for 15 years has shown any apparent interest in finding out why we no longer attend, how we are… or even if we’re “still around.”

So, no help will be forthcoming from the church either, it seems.

What becomes of our things?

Apart from the fridge then, what of the printer’s tray?

It is home to many precious tiny things given to us by friends and family over many years, together with items collected or bought on various holidays, overseas trips, and in other ways during our time together. Each little item on it has a story, and each one evokes many deep and wonderful memories — such as, for example, a pub coaster I took as a memento from the Rose and Crown Pub at Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Fla., one evening in 1989 when I was there with friends.

Would the cleaner-uppers just bin these things? Or would they be put in a shoebox to be sold as trinket-junk in a charity shop?

What about our art and painting collection? These would of course bring money into the pocket of whoever finds them, so they’d most likely be taken (or disappear) quickly.

As would our valuable porcelain, Wedgewood, crystal glassware, antique plate and stamp collections.

Who would clean out our cupboards?

What would happen to our CD and rather valuable old vinyl disc collections?

And to my computers and all our data and stuff stored on them?

I offered my sheet music collection, together with a lifetime’s worth of hymn harmonizations that I did for my own use as a church musician, to one of our town’s young church organists and he merely thumbed his nose at it. Sadly, such is how what we do and have gathered over a lifetime often seems to be viewed by younger people.

What will happen to our cars? Will they just stand gathering dust in the garage waiting to be auctioned off, or will they be stolen/recycled?

I have already dumped the relics and mementos of my past career — certificates and diplomas, letters of appreciation, employment records, and so on. None of these have any further value to me and would certainly hold even less value for anyone else.

What becomes of our legacy?

When all is said and done, did what I achieved professionally really make any great difference to anything?

The company where I worked for 24 years was taken over by another predatory company with no apparent regard for anything any of us had done or achieved during our careers there. It was all meaningless, in the end, except for the relationships we built and enjoyed there, and what we contributed on a personal level to one another’s lives and well-being.

I have binned many boxes and albums of old photos — some of those photos of people in places I can no longer even remember.

What lies ahead for us now?

Increasing social, family and religious isolation?

Increasing inability to care for ourselves where we are, together with increasing financial inadequacy to move to any other viable caring facility?

Increasing dependence on other people’s kindness and compassion?

And with it all, an increasing and over-arching decline in our self-worth and dignity as human beings?

Youth, through an elder’s eye

Over and over, together with what I have written above, I’ve asked myself the following questions about growing older, and sadly I really can’t find any answers.

  • Why is it that we indulge babies, but when older people do similar things (dribble their food, wet themselves or worse) people get annoyed with us?
  • Why is it that when older folk, who have a bank-vault of experience to share with younger folk, offer help or advice we are either ignored or pushed aside and told to shut up?
  • Why is it that people shout at us as if we’re imbeciles because our hearing is no longer as acute as it used to be?
  • Why are older folk in wheelchairs treated as if they are imbeciles?
  • Why do some supermarket cashiers impatiently count our small change for us? And why do they treat us like nuisances when we’re slow in unpacking our trolleys? Or when we query a price?
  • Why is it that younger folk titter when we make mistakes, sometimes even openly mocking us?
  • Why is it okay for us to bankroll younger members of the family (it even being expected of us by many of them) but not to be invited to or included in their celebrations?
  • Or to be remembered for our birthdays and special days?

There are doubtless many more questions and thoughts like the above that will still dog my mind and spirit as I continue along this “turn, turn, turn” path, but the above verbalizes (and perhaps also summaries) my thoughts and concerns for now.

My thoughts drift over to our sisters and brothers in the LGBTQI community and become the why of this essay. Who are we talking to? With whom are we making plans? What is being done by our folks to answer these questions? Maybe nothing, but maybe this will get people to thinking seriously about the end.

When all is said and done, I really have no concrete or satisfying answers, but I resonate with the wise King Solomon in Ecclesiastes (1:2): “Everything is so meaningless.”

As I approach my end, all that seems to matter will be for where, and how, have I prepared myself to transition to the next phase/place.  And whether what I leave behind will be a meaningful legacy to someone, somehow.

My hope is that when I arrive “there,” I will discover that once again I have value, dignity, a role to play and a contribution to make.

Lord, why are people important to you?
Why do you even notice us?
Our life is like a puff of air.
It is like a passing shadow.
(Psalm 144:3-4 ERV)

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The Pathetic Masculine Heroics of Today’s Right Wing https://whosoever.org/the-pathetic-masculine-heroics-of-todays-right-wing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-pathetic-masculine-heroics-of-todays-right-wing Mon, 01 Aug 2022 04:00:02 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=23651 Watching U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) skedaddle as fast as he could out of the U.S. Capitol — as the insurrectionists he had previously inspired with his famous raised fist (displayed while safe behind the lines of protection that Capitol police provided him) began destroying anyone and anything in their way — was to witness an iconic moment.

It surely represented all those radical right-wing politicians who regularly send others into battles but as so-called “Chicken Hawks” are the first to flee any chance of personal or career harm by claiming, let’s say, “bone spurs.”

But it also symbolized the type of heroes that the current radical right wing listens to in their renewed call to return to a hyper-masculinity, a toxic patriarchal mix that they’ve latched onto again as the crucial cause of everything that’s wrong with our planet.

Refusing to admit that their own policies are the root of the problem, they’ve calculated that preaching everywhere they can that masculinity itself is under siege and in crisis will work. They blame the same groups that they’ve picked on for generations, of course — those who want equal rights for women, LGBTQI people, “socialists,” and anyone else who disagrees with them.

Hawley, the skedaddler, portrays himself as some sort of expert on the subject — though he’s far from alone in this crowd — and he even has a forthcoming book published by a right-wing press titled Manhood: The Masculine Virtues America Needs. Those who actually study masculinity find his claims to be an unspecific, data-less polemic that appeals to white Christian nationalism.

And his crusade is one element that’s crucial to the right wing’s fight in the “culture wars,” which include coming after everyone else.

There’s a long history of right-wing Christian attempts to solve American problems by returning to patriarchal masculinity, as I’ve written before when discussing the six elements crucial to many Evangelicals’ obsession with the former president:

As American culture began to accept equality for women through women’s suffrage and various waves of feminism, these Evangelicals became convinced that they must protect patriarchy and male privilege.

Even conservative churches that had women ministers were criticized. Before the latest waves of feminism scared them even further, a leading Evangelical leader in 1941, John R. Rice, for example, wrote of threats to Biblical Christianity in his Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers: Significant Questions for Honest Christian Women Settled by the Word of God

Again and again, Evangelists and leading right-wing preachers shamed churches for being effeminate. “Muscular Christianity” came to the United States as a movement pushed by popular evangelist Dwight L. Moody as early as the end of the nineteenth century to masculinize the church.

The idea of a “biblical chain of command” with the man of the house just below God and in charge of everyone below him swept up Evangelicals in the 1960s with home-school advocate Bill Gothard touring the country. In 1991 the “Promise Keepers” emerged to pack football stadiums by advising Evangelical men to take back the authority they were losing in their own homes.

In fact, the threat of LGBTQ equality and the Evangelical fight against marriage equality were premised on how this would destroy the traditional patriarchal (“straight”) gender roles. And “traditional family values” rhetoric was built on the man being in charge of his very White Evangelical family.

It’s always been the case in the U.S. that the male gender role central to its national identity has defined real men as what they aren’t — as not “feminine” and not “gay.” That’s still the essence of calls for any “Straight Pride” event.

Putting down women as not having by nature the preferred “masculine” characteristics, oppressing men for not being stuck in every aspect of their masculine straightjacket with gay slurs, and disparaging women who exhibit so-called masculine characteristics, interests, and abilities with lesbian slurs is as traditionally American as apple pie.

Today, so much of that same prejudice central to right-wing culture wars is focused on stifling the visibility of transgender people. Because of the gains of lesbians and gay men, they’ve tweaked their playbook on gender politics to scare the country about those who defy rigid gender binaries.

But even more curious are the heroes they’ve chosen to embody their new-wave masculine ideal in the calls to return to masculinity. They’re not just the tried and true muscle-bound warriors, the he-men that were considered “men’s men,” and men who’d be willing to beat, defeat, or kill other men if needed that they idealized in past unrealistic stereotypes — the Rambos, James Bonds, John Waynes, and steroidal bodybuilders. It’s not those who show courage, self-sacrifice, plain-speaking honesty, and a strong sense of righteousness.

This new wave of right-wing masculine role-models embraces the new politics of our era. It’s the right-wing politics of lying, cheating, self-protection, sacrifice of others, never taking responsibility, and stepping on anyone to climb up the ladders of power.

The news has been littered with these models even though the mainstream media fears calling them out. That’s why Josh Hawley’s activities parody it all.

But think of the others who epitomize this return to masculinity:

  • A former president who exhibited cowardice throughout his life, actually saying for example after claiming bone spurs to duck out of the Vietnam War that not getting an STD was his equivalent and who cowers from anything or anyone he’s scared of?
  • A political party full of people whose recorded condemnations of the president for encouraging the attack on the U.S. Capitol later in fear of him and losing publicly lie saying that they never said it?
  • A gaggle of preachers who shout straight masculine tomes from their pulpits but live the totally different sex lives they condemn regularly?
  • A gang of gun-toters hiding behind their openly-displayed weapons in fear of others?

Who, then, are those who actually show these old so-called masculine virtues today?

  • A female Republican U.S. Representative on the January 6th committee who speaks plainly and knows she’s thereby sacrificing her political position.
  • A Black female prosecutor in Atlanta who courageously and doggedly fights to bring down those at the top who attempted to subvert citizens’ votes.
  • A female Georgia election official who’s still fighting to ensure election integrity in spite of the former president’s gang threatening her and her family.
  • Every woman who stands up now against the Supreme Court’s decision to make them second class citizens when it comes to reproductive decisions.
  • The LGBTQI people who attend their Pride Fests when the gun-toting haters threaten them.

The performance of those so-called masculine virtues among those who weren’t supposed to have them contradicts the lie that these are characteristics confined to a single gender. It also exposes again all the lies about these matters that the right wing is regurgitating as if in today’s world courage, honesty, and strength against the odds aren’t characteristics found elsewhere rather than among their bloviating “masculinity” posers.

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Even When You’re Right, You’re Wrong https://whosoever.org/even-when-youre-right-youre-wrong/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=even-when-youre-right-youre-wrong Thu, 21 Jul 2022 04:00:10 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=23732 So, just be happy instead

A story is told of a little girl talking to her teacher about whales. The teacher told the girl that it’s physically impossible for a whale to swallow a human whole because of the size of its throat.

“Well, Jonah was swallowed by a whale,” the girl informed the teacher.

“It’s just not possible,” the teacher replied.

The little girl was determined and said, “Well, when I go to heaven, I’ll ask Jonah.”

“What if Jonah is in hell?” the teacher countered.

“Then you can ask him,” the girl concluded.

It’s easy to laugh at our penchant for wanting to be right, no matter what the facts of a situation are, when it’s framed as a joke. Our insistent clinging to our beliefs, though, even in the face of a mountain of evidence that says we’re wrong, has created this ego-driven, dysfunctional, tribal, and separated world we live in.

We seem to live in two different realities – each one driven by political, spiritual, and communal beliefs that appear to be polar opposites – never the twain shall meet. In these worlds, it’s clear to us who is going to heaven and who is going to hell.

The truth is, we’re all in hell, one that we’ve created together to keep us believing the ego’s lie that we’re separate from one another and truly have nothing in common.

How do we escape this hell? By realizing that our true function here is to be agents of connection and relationship – bringing unity in a world that is enthralled by a trance of separation.

In this moment in time, we believe we are hopelessly separate from one another. We are divided politically in ways we’ve never been before — so much so that we find it hard to even look at one another, much less strike up a conversation. The wealth gap and decimation of the middle class has created a world of a tiny minority who seem to have it all and the rest of us left with little or nothing. Racial lines seem more bright and solid as black and brown people fear for their lives if they see blue lights in their rearview mirror.

Religious divides have deepened, too. Many are fleeing organized religion as others double down on theologies of condemnation and separation. It’s easy to become captivated by the times, but we are called to break free from the prison that we have collectively created.

We break free through by connection, by building relationships not based on politics, class, race, or religion, but on the thing that we all share – an original blessing, a divine awareness that lives within each of us.

Some have so deeply forgotten their original blessing that they spend their time miscreating in the world. Instead of looking on them with scorn or hatred, we are called to remember our own light of divinity and live into it so deeply that when others see it, they remember their light, too.

When I worked at CNN in the mid-1990s, back before I had even heard of A Course in Miracles, I knew deep down that connection was the better path, even if I didn’t know it consciously. One day, Bob Barr, who, at the time, was one of Georgia’s congressional representatives, stopped by CNN to do a television interview. I was working at CNN Radio at the time and my boss requested that Barr come down to the radio studios so we could do our own interview with him. I just happened to be the editor who was available.

For those who may not remember Barr, he was the author of the Defense of Marriage Act that then-President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996. Much has changed since then for the better as two U.S. Supreme Court rulings – in 2013 and 2015 – gutted the law and gave same-sex couples the right to marry. The U.S. House recently passed a law that would repeal what was known as DOMA, and enshrine LGBTQ rights in the laws of the nation.

None of this had transpired on this afternoon as Barr strode down the narrow hallway to my booth for our interview. At that moment he was just a guy – then in his third marriage – who wanted to ensure that I would never be able to marry the woman I love.

Other editors and anchors were waiting to see how I would handle this, whether I would challenge him or argue with him. As he neared my booth, I noticed his tie which featured a colorful display of Tabasco sauce bottles. I smiled as he approached and complimented him on his tie. We immediately bonded over our love of spicy food and sauces. He explained that his wife had given him that tie and he cherished it for that reason.

It hit me then: someone was in love with Bob Barr and knew him so intimately that they could delight him with a simple gift of a tie that he proudly wears in public.

In that moment, we became human to one another, and we had a great interview. I did ask him about DOMA – which had not yet passed – but I wasn’t hostile.

Some may say that I blew a chance to come out to Barr and openly challenge him on his stance. For what end?

If you look at me you can tell I’m a lesbian – my picture serves as the illustration for the word “dyke” in the dictionary (it should, anyway). Barr knew who he was talking to – but maybe a lesbian treating him as a human being and not an opponent made more of a positive impression on him than me arguing with him or challenging him in that moment.

I’m sure Barr doesn’t remember me at all, but in that moment, we touched our common humanity together. We created a connection and I’m convinced that that was far more effective than being openly hostile to him.

This is how we heal the separation in our world — by connecting, even in the smallest ways with those we may see as our enemies.

Barr had the power to deeply affect my life in adverse ways, but even then, in my nascent spiritual awareness, something told me that if I could connect to him – even on the level of Tabasco sauce – perhaps there could be a chance for deeper connection. If not, then, at least, I got a chance to plant a seed: An obvious lesbian had been kind to him and had provided him with a chance to see her as a fellow human being who also loved hot sauce, just like him.

What are you practicing in the world? Are you acting as an agent of separation or unity?

As a gauge of this, maybe check what you’re posting on social media. Are you arguing, disagreeing, trying to be right, and creating hell for yourself and others?

It feels good to be right. It’s the ego’s favorite drug. A Course teacher Marianne Williamson always used to say, “Even if you’re right, you’re wrong,” because our pride over being “right” simply creates more separation in the world. In addition, in Chapter 29, A Course asks us: “Do you prefer that you be right or happy?”

We can be both right and happy however, because seeking connection and relationships, no matter what our disagreements over things in this world are, is the right thing for us to do because it creates unity which produces happiness and joy for everyone involved.  

Even though a whale may not be physically able to swallow a human, the whale of Love can swallow our fear whole and bring our ultimate unity into this moment. That is what brings us all into heaven.

Republished with permission of the author.

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Not a Straight, White MAGA Male? Then They’re Coming For You https://whosoever.org/not-a-straight-white-maga-male-theyre-coming-for-you/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=not-a-straight-white-maga-male-theyre-coming-for-you Wed, 29 Jun 2022 04:00:35 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=22746 Recent Supreme Court decisions and state legislative actions have brought to the fore the tried and true idea that the variety of oppressions are all related.

The forcing of women to give birth, the threats made by Supreme Court justices to end marriage equality and the right to contraception, the numerous red-state laws from “Don’t Say Gay” to transphobic discrimination, the orders by governors to have family services investigate parents of trans youth or parents who take their own children to an event hosted by someone in drag, the attempts to suppress the votes of those who disagree with them, the calls for “Christianizing” the laws and the country itself, the worship of megalomaniacs, and the violence inspired by all this that’s acted out on anyone not them, are all signs that a bigoted minority is willing to do anything it takes to protect their identities.

If you’re following the news, the list is depressing. It’s all become blatant because the last president modeled hate speech.

We are seeing a radical, right-wing, reactionary version of what Lutheran pastor/theologian Martin Niemöller famously authored in 1930s Germany as he witnessed the rise of the Nazis there:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

And if we don’t see the intersection between racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and the others in the threats of the radical, anti-democratic, so-called “Christian” right-wing, we’re not only not paying attention but enabling our own demise. Even straight white males who voted for the loser, and would again, and their children are threatened if they don’t toe the exact line.

It’s not just an idle saying at all: “No one is free until everyone is free.” A commitment to diversity and equality that will fully heal our society is commitment to a process of ending discrimination.

It’s a commitment to a new way of relating to others, a commitment to an entire way of approaching life. It’s not just commitment to ending discrimination against one group or another. It’s not refocusing discrimination onto a group other than one’s own.

That’s because discrimination and prejudice are something that is more like a lifestyle that blames and scapegoats those we define as “other.” It’s an approach to life which sees others as less than fully human, focuses on roadblocks in the path of understanding others, projects negative attention on others so as to take it off of one’s own group, or says: I may be how I am but at least I’m not like them.

Ending discrimination is ending a pattern of seeing others in a certain way, a pattern of not dealing with the effects of discrimination on each of us, and a way of misunderstanding our larger society itself.

This pattern looks for reasons to discriminate. It clings to personal experiences and universalizes them to stereotype everyone in a group. It hunts through everything in the past to find some evidence that its attitudes are “traditional.” It takes one interpretation of the Bible as “what it really says,” rather than as just one way of understanding that ancient text. It even shuffles through all the data that science provides to find those “facts” that support the prejudice.

This way of life gets so ingrained that it’s not recognized. We become like fish in water. We get so acclimated to the water that we don’t even know that we are wet. We may not know there is an alternative to being wet and we may even fear dying without the water.

And discrimination is not just a personal issue. It’s not merely ended by deciding I will no longer discriminate. Ending it requires change in the institutions about us. It requires recognition that we have been a part of the discrimination, often unconsciously, and that it is time we became more conscious. It means that we reject denial and seek new information and new ways of understanding each other and the dynamics of discrimination.

It means we cannot apply the ideas of capitalism to our relationships. We cannot think in terms of shortages and competition for limited resources when it comes to ending discrimination.

We must reject the idea that there is not enough freedom, attention, or love to go around. We must reject the idea that if your group gets attention it will take it away from mine. We must begin with the idea that the more others are free, the more others experience real equality, the better that is for all of us.

That’s not always easy. We’ve been raised to believe there isn’t enough of anything to go around. We were often taught to believe that if someone gets love, that that will diminish the love available for me.

We were seldom taught that the more love, attention, and kindness that is expressed, the more there will be in the world. As children, our parents’ time and attention were limited. We may have had to compete with brothers and sisters for their attention and may even have “fought” for it.

That pattern is often carried over into our adult lives and our anti-discrimination work.

But it’s not true. We will not run out of time. We will not use up all the attention. And loving another will not mean there is no love left for me.

Seeing discrimination as a lifestyle brings us all together to change things. Seeing it as one victim group pitted against another keeps us fighting and never ends what’s hurting us all.

That’s why we honor all diversity every chance we get and through our votes. The more diversity we honor, the more we are able together to change the lifestyle that keeps each one of us in stifling boxes that never break the pattern that finds someone else to diminish or even hate.

Plus the more we honor diversity, the more we prove that we belong on this planet.

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Southern Baptist Scandal Just the Latest Chapter in the Church’s History of Sexual Dysfunction https://whosoever.org/southern-baptist-sex-scandal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=southern-baptist-sex-scandal Fri, 27 May 2022 04:00:39 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=22706 No surprises here

The recent release of that 300-page report of widespread sexual abuse and its cover-up by leaders and ministers in the Southern Baptist Convention (America’s largest Protestant denomination) is only a surprise to people who’ve been in denial about the millennia-long history of the relationship of religions to sexual obsession. Allegations of sexual abuse and this denomination’s handling of them in particular have been news for decades.

Of course, the anti-Catholic stand of these Baptists and most Evangelicals has kept them condemning the same thing in Roman Catholicism for a century. And widespread sexual abuse is a factor in Evangelicalism beyond this denomination.

But this is not about hypocrisy, which is actually not considered such a bad thing in right-wing religion. It’s about something inherent in its doctrinal structure.

As I wrote in the chapter “Not So Strange Bedfellows: Sexual Addiction* and Religious Addiction:

The existence of widespread sexual abuse by the clergy beyond the Catholic Church remains another societal secret. Though, as best we can tell, it occurs in similar proportions, it’s widely swept under the rug by denominations and local churches.

Religion’s addiction to controlling sexuality

The real history of religions throughout the world shows how its leaders and institutions have been concerned with controlling human sexuality through almost any means, especially when controlling that sexuality supports the culture’s political and economic powers. At the same time, history is replete with sexual harassment and abuse.

Obsession with sexual control is due to religions having been useful to political rulers to promote their power — kings, emperors, and politicians who funded the religious institutions and were often treated as exempt from the religious sexual prohibitions that were enforced on the commoners. Religious leaders and institutions relied on economic and political patronage and protection from governments just as the religious right-wing wants it to be today.

Sexual control of populations is vastly common to, but doesn’t have to be something inherent in, religion itself. There’s as much sexual abuse in non-religious corporations as in any denomination.

Healthy religion could be used to promote so much else, but that would mean giving up much institutional power. Instead, religious leaders would have to become comfortable with promoting freedom and personal choice.

Sex as a power play

But sexual obsession and control represent a familiar way religion has been used by its leaders, institutions, and allies to control the populace — adding eternal damnation, other condemnations, and threats to sanctify worldly power plays.

Sex has been good for stoking religion because it’s universal and, in Capitalism, it sells. Thus, at the same time it can be both promoted for profit and useful to raise guilt when it’s ever practiced.

For millennia, then, religious leaders have been preaching that their divines want all kinds of controls on human sexuality.

You’ve noticed that that kind of preaching has mostly failed, right? If you listen to controlling religious leaders who continue to repeat these failed tactics talk, they’re shouting today as much as ever, if not more, that sexual license — being out of (their) control — is worse today than ever.

Of course, this is combined with right-wing religious leaders’ claims that it’s those other religions or denominations that have the problem — proof that they have the Truth and those others don’t.

The Southern Baptist Convention, like the Roman Catholic Church, has shown that it can act like a major international bureaucracy that has institutionalized sexual addictions and covered them up with religion addiction.

And all through this, these institutions continue to act as if LGBTQ people or homosexuality is the societal problem. No… no, look over there!

That trope was debunked decades ago. The majority of members of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, for example, are women. And reports of sexual abuse to SNAP have regularly come from Evangelicals.

The repression-obsession loop

The reality of right-wing religion’s sexual sickness is that repression leads to obsession. And sexual addiction* and dysfunction and their cover-up with sexual and religious righteousness are widespread cultural phenomena that our sexually sick culture doesn’t want to face.

“As long as we can pin addiction on dysfunctional families and make them the primary cause of sexual addiction,” Anne Wilson Schaef asks in Escape from Intimacy: Untangling the ‘Love’ Addictions: Sex, Romance, Relationships, “can we then hold onto the illusion of ‘normal,’ refuse to look at the role of our institutions (especially church and school), and avoid completely the role of addictive society?”

As I discuss in When Religion Is an Addiction, this relationship between sexual addiction and religious addiction has a long history as cross-addictions in the Church, back at least as far as influential Church Father St. Augustine whose own Confessions show that he’s a classic example of a sexual addict covering it up by becoming a religion addict.

Augustine’s theological cover-up concluded that original sin was actually passed down through the sex act he could never reconcile in his personal life. Hence the Church would become a place for sexual anorexia and bulimia.

Even more today, though, it’s multiplied by that economic sexualization of our culture through conservative corporate, “free market” consumerism. Sex, the ad industry still believes, sells. It’s portrayed as something everyone can “have” better if they buy, buy, and buy more.

Sex is sold as proof you’re a real man or woman. It proves you’re finally close to another human being.

Sex sells goods — and God

Everyone else has the stuff that ensures that they’re having the great sex you aren’t, you should fear. And if you aren’t compulsive about sex, you’re told there’s something wrong with you. Even some “science” colludes with the idea.

This is an ideal environment for religious institutions to recruit followers by convincing them that they’re guilty for having, or even thinking about, sex — or the wrong kind of sex.

This tried-and-true method for getting people to relieve their guilt would lose much of its power if society weren’t selling things this way. No wonder right-wing religion is in cahoots with big business and its consumerism.

Correcting the societally encouraged sexually dysfunctional thinking and resulting guilt would require institutional and personal healing and learning how sexuality can be holistic and healthy. It would require recognizing the variety of sexual orientations and expressions.

But the popular method is to try to relieve the guilt and shame with a cover-up — the religious addiction to the feeling of being righteous.

Enter anti-sex politics and right-wing Christianity with its fear of anything it can’t control. Hide in the high of feeling righteous and identifying with each righteous cause, cling to the righteous feelings of right-wing Christianity’s exclusivism, and you have crossed into religion addiction.

It’s easier than coming to terms with what one hates or fears about themself and rejecting the institutions that promote fear and hate. It’s easier than learning to find one’s healthy sexual self.

Instead, this righteousness high works, until the addicts fall off the wagon.


*  I know that there are also some therapists who want to deny the reality of sexual addiction and feel that it is misused as an excuse — sort of like, “the alcohol made me do it.” To me that is a matter of disagreement among specialists over therapeutical definitions of “addiction.”

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Tired of Violence? Another World Is Possible https://whosoever.org/tired-of-violence-another-world-is-possible/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tired-of-violence-another-world-is-possible Wed, 25 May 2022 04:00:01 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=22701 If you want it.

“I don’t want to live in this world anymore.”

That’s what the voice in my head said yesterday as I learned of yet another mass shooting in yet another elementary school, taking away the precious lives of more children and those charged with their care and education.

Who can blame any of us for not wanting to live in a world that is torn by violence, divided by hatred and plagued by cynical grabs for political power and fame? No one in their right mind would want to live in this world – and that’s just the problem. We’re not in our right mind. We’re in the ego’s rage-filled, hate-filled mind of separation.

The good news is this: We can live in another world. First, though, we have to withdraw our faith and belief in this world. The ego has invested all of its power in making us believe that this is the only world that is possible. It pulls out all the stops to keep us feeling separate, to keep us feeling lost, helpless and afraid.

The ego’s deception is brilliant and it has held us in its sway of separation and fear for far too long. It’s time to call its bluff. It’s time to stop living in its world and instead create a new world of peace, joy, love and compassion. It’s time we took back our world from the lies and fear of the ego and returned it to its rightful state of love.

How do we do that? We stop investing in its stock and trade of a belief that we are separate from one another. We stop believing in our differences and instead put all of our faith and effort into our commonality – our unity. We do that by refusing to demonize or “other” anyone. We do that by refusing to close our heart to anyone – whether they hold different political views, or even a gun.

This gunman, and all the ones before him, are also victims. They have been victimized by a society that tells them they are worthless for any number of reasons – they are not masculine enough, they are not smart enough, they are not famous enough. In whatever way it matters to them, our world has affirmed that they are not enough and will never be enough. We train our young in the art of killing with video games, freely available guns and a culture that produces movies, products and other things that glorifies “redemptive violence” as the answer to any of your problems. “Might makes right,” as the motto goes.

We have all so internalized this violent culture that whenever someone gives in to the temptation to act and takes away the lives of those around them, we shrug, send our thoughts and prayers and go one with our lives, believing such a thing could never happen to us or anyone we love. Until, of course, it does. No one is immune – not even those of us among peace and love crowd.

How do we claim this new world? We stop “othering” those who commit these acts of violence. The young man in this latest shooting, as well as the other 18-year-old in Buffalo, New York, are not anomalies. They are us. Until we can recognize the violence in our own heads, we will never be free from violence around us.

Make no mistake, my friends, even the most peaceful among us, given the right circumstances, has the capacity to kill, to do great violence to ourselves and others. We send our thoughts and prayers, sure, but deep in our hearts, we want five minutes alone in a room with the latest perpetrator of violence. We want to do violence to them, and as long as that is our first reaction – or even our second or third – violence will remain alive in the world.

How do we change this world? We deal honestly and openly with our own penchant for violence and revenge. We become willing to see our own pain and trauma so it can be brought forward and healed. In short, we do our work. The world is in this terrible state because we have not been willing to do our own difficult emotional work. We believe we can create a world of peace outside without first creating it on the inside. This is not how it works.

Yes, do the work in the world that can make a difference – rally and advocate for more gun control laws and any and all mental health policies that can help to turn the tide. But do your inner work, too. This is the key piece that we forget, but it is the only thing that will truly make a difference in the world. We are all wounded by this world, but it is those who have healed their wounds that ultimately turn the world toward love and away from fear.

“Raise your words,” wrote that Muslim mystic poet Rumi, “not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.”

This is the moment where our words need to be raised. We must speak words of love, peace, wisdom and compassion. Those words, though, have to come from a heart filled with love and not hate, filled with peace and not anger. Those words must come from the world we want, not the world we have.

My words may sound hollow and woo-woo naïve to some, but the only reason that love’s solution to this world sounds crazy is because we have yet to try it, let alone invest our entire heart, body, soul, and mind into creating a world based upon it. When will we see that this is our only way out? When will we finally get so tired of the ego’s insane “seek but do not find” world that we’ll even think to try another way? When will we say, “enough,” and finally deal with our own inner violence so that the world may live in peace?

If you, like me, don’t want to live in this world anymore, then don’t. Give this other world of love and unity a chance to come into reality. Do your work. Heal the violence in your own heart and mind. Lay down your inner guns, raise your words and rain down the life-giving power of love on everyone – victim and perpetrator alike – because they are us.

Republished with permission of the author.

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How Much Longer Will the Word ‘Traditional’ Be Used As If It Matters? https://whosoever.org/how-much-longer-will-traditional-be-used-as-if-it-matters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-much-longer-will-traditional-be-used-as-if-it-matters Tue, 24 May 2022 04:00:41 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=22537 How long, O Lord, must we listen to the totally bogus justification for marriage inequality that says: “Traditional marriage is between one man and one woman?” I suppose probably as long as we’ll hear all the other old, long-ago-debunked, bogus arguments against LGBTQ people.

Historically we know that marriages were seldom based on who someone loved anyway and that many marriages were bigamous or polygamous. At the least, a marriage was seldom sexually monogamous for the male partner. One needs only skim through the Bible for example after example among its heroes.

Even in the New Testament, Paul tells Timothy and Titus in the first century that he should choose as church elders those among its membership who are “the husband of one wife.” Scholars debate the actual meaning of this requirement for leaders in the first-century Church and its relationship to Roman laws for those classified as “citizens” — many in the early Church were not from that “citizen” class.

But why is it still a powerful argument to say that something is “traditional”? Just because something is labeled traditional, does that make it good, moral, humane, just, caring, or even valuable enough to preserve?

‘History is bunk’

“Tradition” has something to do with being historical, right? But does that even matter?

No one is sure about who first claimed: “History is just one damned thing after another.” But Henry Ford agreed: “History is bunk.”

In a time like this, though, we need to know our history to see how much is possible and to be aware of all that’s been accomplished by our predecessors.

History tells us how we came to this place, for better or for worse, and whether we’re stuck here or not (usually not). And knowing how things have changed inspires hope that other things can too in spite of any current darkness.

But in what sense does history somehow provide us with norms, tell us how things should be, or model what must be done? And are we victims of our past?

Now, a lot of those past things could be considered “traditional” because they made it down through history, sometimes against apparently overwhelming odds. Slavery is traditional. Women idealized as male property is traditional. Living with cockroaches is traditional. So are an assortment of diseases such as smallpox, typhoid, and pneumonia. To fight them is to go against the weight of tradition.

But “It’s traditional!” is evoked by its brandishers to claim that certain things shouldn’t change, as if we’re expected to assume that because something is traditional it’s better than things that aren’t. “Love one another” is a traditional recommendation, but its value doesn’t rest in the fact that it’s an old idea, and certainly not in whether or not it’s traditionally been widely practiced.

That something is “traditional” has been used historically to argue against LGBTQI people just as it has against any group that a dominant culture has marginalized. If one thing is surely traditional, it’s discrimination.

‘Family values’ mythology

In America “traditional family values,” refers to the values of white, patriarchal, discipline-oriented, middle-class families in 1950s nostalgia. In fact, all around the world “traditional” seems to mean the values of upper-class males who socially, economically, and religiously dominated the majority in their culture.

Those values are supposed to be better than treating women and children as full human beings who are as good as grown-up males or recognizing the value of letting people love whomever they choose.

“Traditional understandings of the Bible” are assumed to be better than those of modern scholarship, especially if they’re taken to condemn anything that threatens “traditional family values.” Words like “revisionism” and “modernism” are used as putdowns.

And this is so even if these “traditional” interpretations actually were developed as late as the mid-twentieth century.

Religious traditions are defined by authorities who see themselves as somehow more qualified than the rest of us to know what we should all consider true. They include merely a few of the ideas, events, and morals from religious history while ignoring many others.

Then these traditions are used to tell people who they are and to confine them inside internalized, restrictive psychological, emotional, and social boundaries that promote guilt, condemnation, and self-hate in those, such as LGBTQI people, who don’t fit in.

It’s the emotional attachment to something called a “tradition” that imprisons anyone. For we were not taught that a tradition is valuable and true merely through logical discussions of it with us.

Traditions were given to us as members of a community, which may have included our immediate families — a community that defined us, accepted us, affirmed us, and validated us. We also learned that that community would do so until we stepped outside of its “traditional” beliefs to live on our terms for ourselves.

Seeing ‘tradition’ as bunk

As LGBTQI people coming out to ourselves and the world around us, our attachment to these communities and our way of seeing things has been, not surprisingly, emotionally difficult to sever. We often find ourselves putting much of our emotional energy in relating to, arguing against, or obsessing over these traditions even if the traditions actually invalidate LGBTQI people.

Those outside a tradition can be baffled by why the stuck ones just can’t get over it.

So, let’s always ask who it is that has chosen which of the array of events of the past are to be considered traditions, that is, which events are more than just past happenings? Someone had to decide which of history’s events and ideas provide norms for the present and which do not — and their motivations might not always have been the best.

All traditions have been defined by someone or some group picking and choosing from the past while ignoring most of it, usually a dominant group. Otherwise, everything that’s ever happened or been said would be included in every tradition.

And all traditions at one time were new. They began as something other than traditional.

So, who says that you and I can’t define today for ourselves what is a part of our “tradition” and what isn’t? And what loss, abandonment, fear, guilt, and emptiness would we feel if what we then chose was different from that of our parents, our religious communities, or other cultural institutions?

Though we may believe the voices that say we can’t, shouldn’t, or aren’t able to do so, the fact is, we are fully capable of choosing for ourselves. It’s a decision we can make.

Not only is it our choice to make and define our own traditions. It’s also our decision whether or not to be a part of any traditions defined by others.

We are not victims of anyone else’s definitions or traditions. We do not need to live under the belief that we are only worthy human beings when we fit in with others or when others love us.

We can be as innovative as we want. We can choose what to value.

We can choose what ideas and beliefs will define us. We can choose to be victims of “tradition” no longer.

So, Henry Ford: It isn’t history, but many “traditions” that are bunk.

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From Conversion Therapy to Activism: Anthony Venn-Brown’s Story https://whosoever.org/anthony-venn-browns-story/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anthony-venn-browns-story Tue, 17 May 2022 04:00:30 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=22681 A personal paradigm shift

Walking home alone, after speaking at my first gay rights rally in 2005, I couldn’t understand why I felt so empty and deflated. 

It wasn’t that I didn’t have the skills to communicate with a crowd. As a high-profile preacher in Australia’s Pentecostal world, I used to preach to congregations in the thousands every weekend. The Hyde Park crowd of 1,500 was not intimidating and had burst into spontaneous applause several times during my speech.

It wasn’t that it was a gay rights rally. Since the release of my autobiography, A Life of Unlearning, I’d had a tsunami of emails from readers beginning with “your story is my story” then detailing the pain and trauma the church had created in their lives. These heart-wrenching stories had created a consuming passion to end this unnecessary suffering and make a difference.

Why wasn’t I on a high and elated?

The rally had marked the anniversary of the 2004 ban on same-sex marriage in Australia’s federal Parliament. Prime Minister Howard saw the growing international movement toward same-sex marriage and, along with the support of Labor, pushed through an amendment to the Marriage Act intended to ensure that “gay marriage” never became a reality in Australia.

Marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others,” the amendment read. We’d marched down Oxford Street to Hyde Park, responding to the megaphone:

“What do we want?”

“MARRIAGE EQUALITY!!!”

“When do we want it?”

“NOW!!!”

The time leading up to the rally was unpleasant. Different gay rights groups opposed politically and strategically were having it out. The conflict became very public. It was stressful and nasty.

My first experience of gay activism left me confused, seeing groups and individuals discredit and undermine each other. Weren’t we all working for the same cause? Didn’t they see how childish it looked to the outsider? Especially to those opposed to our cause. It made little sense to me.

The troubled emptiness was still with me the next day as I walked to the post office to collect the mail.

As a former Pentecostal preacher, I knew how “gay activists” were perceived. Angry, militant, aggressive were adjectives used to describe them. Could I become any of these? These traits were against my natural way of being. I understood the aggression, militancy and anger and recognised we wouldn’t be where we are today without that… but it wasn’t me. “I can’t be that person. What can I do?” kept running through my mind.

In a moment, a thought came so clearly to me that it was like hearing an audible voice. “Why don’t you be an ambassador for your community?” it said. Honestly, my heart leapt immediately with excitement at the prospect. “Could I really do that?” I thought.

The entire paradigm of my life shifted immediately.

I didn’t know of anyone using that approach. It seemed a little arrogant to be a self-appointed ambassador, but to me it wasn’t about a title or position; it was an approach.

The label “gay activist” would ensure some would never speak with me. I also knew condemnation, accusations, judgment, anger or aggression were not the approaches that open a respectful dialogue. It was a simple “Can we talk?” Questioning the traditional beliefs about sexuality and gender identity was an enormous challenge for them.

The adversarial model of “them versus us” was very obvious. It had been going on for decades. The two sides constantly battling it out in the media. This approach did nothing more than reinforce entrenched perceptions. It was like a boxing match and when the bell rang, each came from their corners with fists flying.

I developed a model, “Creating a space for respectful LGBT – Christian dialogue,” and began knocking on doors. Some Christian leaders came to me privately with questions they were afraid to ask elsewhere.

People needed a space of safety, respect, confidentiality and time. No one moves from being anti-gay to gay-affirming overnight. And no one is going to open up and ask questions if there is no trust or they don’t feel safe and respected. It looked pretty obvious to me.

I’m glad I explored an alternative approach. I’ve had some exciting experiences.

I’ve had the most fascinating conversations with megachurch pastors behind closed doors and been invited to speak to their leadership teams.

I’ve seen Pentecostal congregations become affirming.

I’ve worked with Bible college lecturers, who, in turn, challenged their students to think beyond a few misinterpreted Bible verses.

I became friends with the president of the largest conversion “therapy” organisation in the world and behind the scenes was involved in conversations about closing the organisation down. And I was one of only two gay people invited to their conference to witness it firsthand. When interviewing him at the close of the conference I asked “people will be fascinated to know why I’m here,” he responded simply, “you were kind to me.

I worked with a core group in one of the largest Christian organisations in the world. The Secretary General had seen other Christian organisations split and disintegrate over the “gay issue.” He didn’t want to see this happen to their 150-year-old charity. When the proposal was put to the international conference to accept LGBTQ people, it was accepted virtually unanimously.

Two weekends ago.

If you’ve read my autobiography, you’ll know that in 1972 I was in a residential “Christian” program to rid myself of my homosexuality. This was before the founding of Exodus and the introduction of the terms “ex-gay” and “conversion therapy.” Over the last couple of years I have been working with the church and the leadership.

On Sunday the 27th of March, I returned to the very place of my conversion “therapy” experience when they announced that they are now an LGBTQ-affirming congregation. And 50 years after the event, I received an apology.

Lessons, lessons, lessons

Possibly there are lessons others can gain from this experience:

  1. Be yourself. We hear it so often, but even with the LGBTQ world, there are certain expectations of the way we should be, behave, dress, act.
  2. Be willing to try something new. I had no role models to show me the way I had to create it myself.
  3. Stick with your convictions. People told me I was wasting my time. Some have even publicly ridiculed my approach.
  4. Be committed and patient. Positive change never happens instantly. The tipping-point happens after many simple investments of time and energy.
  5. Finally, listen to your inner voice. Yours might not be as loud and forthright as mine was that day, but it’s there if you take the time to listen and risk following its promptings. That’s where adventure lies.
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You Don’t Need the Church https://whosoever.org/you-dont-need-the-church/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=you-dont-need-the-church Tue, 10 May 2022 04:00:41 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=22569 Here’s a message you probably won’t hear at church this morning: You don’t need “church.”

That’s right, you don’t need it. At all.

You can live and do everything Jesus commanded and modeled without “church.”

In fact, often better.

With a steeple on nearly every corner, if churches are making such a positive difference in the world for Jesus, why do we see an increasingly far less positive world and why do we see increasingly far less of Jesus?

“Church” doesn’t work, that’s why. Not with a “gospel” of belief-dependent salvation from a torturous god-designed hell. Not to mention sin-management, conditional love, a codependent god, reaching the so-called “lost,” and converting and colonizing the so-called “world.” That’s a gospel that is no Gospel at all.

It makes people worse, not better; more fearful, not at peace; more self-centered, not humanity-serving. In fact, it’s evil. Anti-Christ to the core.

Ninety-five percent of Christianity… anti-Christ.

There, I said it.

“Church” was never the invention of Jesus — you are the invention of Jesus. You are the church. Each one of us, individually. The mind of Christ is within you. Enough Love to change the planet is within you.

Everything of the Universe is within you. Yet so often, “church” blinds, poisons, restricts, distorts and kills this Light that is within all humanity. A black hole to all that is good, holy and right. It exchanges individual, spiritual freedom for communal conformity; divine affirmation for organizational condemnation; and hope and peace for tribal shame, fear, control and human abuse.

More often than not, “church” is the disease, not the cure. And we wonder why the world doesn’t get any better, especially Christians.

You don’t need “church” to find “like-minded” people.
You don’t need “church” to validate or authenticate your faith.
You don’t need “church” for spiritual growth and maturity.
You don’t need “church” to maximize your impact through a “team.”
You don’t need “church” for accountability or support.
You don’t need “church” to find and live your life with joy, significance, and purpose.

If “church” is a place you go, a service you attend, a creed you follow, or a people you gather with, you’ll never get there, you’ll never find it, and you’ll never have it.

Instead, Church is you: You loving your neighbor, selflessly serving the world, feeding the hungry, freeing the captive, welcoming the stranger, mending the brokenhearted, defending the least-of-these, and proclaiming the unconditional divine favor, affirmation, equality, and inclusion of all into All.

It’s you taking care of the needs in front of you. It’s you resisting and undoing systems of injustice, violence, greed and oppression. It’s you being you in ways that honor Love and authenticity.

It’s you disconnecting from a self-esteem that’s shackled to personal performance and production. It’s you closing the Bible — searching for a perfect thread, answer, defense, meaning, truth or justification — and instead opening the Light within you revealing the perfect One, Mind, Spirit, and Universe.

That’s the Church we need.

It’s you. You, and only you.

You are the renewal God is bringing to the earth.

The church we need can’t be contained in a building.
The church we need can’t be confined to a creed.
The church we need can’t be conformed by fear.
The church we need can’t be caged into the Bible.
The church we need can’t be compromised by racism, greed, power and hate.
The church we need can’t be coerced into judgment, pride, supremacy and ignorance.
The church we need can’t be controlled by leaders.
The church we need can’t be chaperoned by patriarchy.
The church we need can’t be converted through guilt.
The church we need can’t be calculated in numbers.
The church we need can’t be commissioned by vision.

It needs no defense.
It needs no pastor.
It needs no committee.
It needs no membership covenant.
It needs no budget.
It needs no conferences, books or celebrity.
It needs no light systems, branding or worship choruses.
It needs no gathering of the like-minded.
It needs no teamwork to make the dream work.

The church we need is… you.

Everything else is the “church” we don’t need. Everything else is the “church” that isn’t Church at all.

In fact, for far too many, “church” is the crutch and disguise that keeps them from actually following Jesus. It’s the spiritual pacifier of the spiritually restricted and resistant.

For what does most every church and church leader hate and fear the most? The revelation and reality that you don’t need “church” at all. That you can live and do everything Jesus commanded and modeled without “church.” In fact, often better. And very likely, not until you’ve walked away from all of it.

It’s true. You don’t need “church,” and God doesn’t either.

Your move…

Grace is brave. Be brave.

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Say Gay: Responding to the Current Right-Wing Grooming of Americans https://whosoever.org/responding-to-the-current-right-wing-grooming-of-americans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=responding-to-the-current-right-wing-grooming-of-americans Mon, 02 May 2022 04:00:06 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=22649 Right-wing politicians so far this year have proposed more than 325 anti-LGBTQ+ bills around the country, exceeding the previous record of 268 set last year. That’s no coincidence, as if these proposals have just arisen spontaneously from the grassroots.

This is a well-funded national, top-down strategy promoting fear-tested methods aiming not only to destroy any gains LGBTQ+ people have made in the larger public consciousness, but also to end the threat of an open, historical and evidence-based public educational system. Florida is just the most widely talked about model because its governor is positioning himself to capture the cult-like allegiance of those who fall for it in order to become the next Republican messiah.

But it’s played out all over the country, even with Republican women representatives actually following transgender people into men’s bathrooms to gain political points as brazenly and cruelly as possible.

Right-wing strategists intentionally followed their quite successful fabrication of a “CRT”1 panic that was meant to scare White people away from the support of public education by strategies that scare people with the frightening word “grooming,” as if books or teachers are going to willy-nilly convince children that they should all have gender-reassignment surgery. The Florida so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill was thereby dutifully rebranded by the Florida governor’s press secretary as an “Anti-Grooming Bill.”

They’ve conspired to make transgender people the convenient lightning rods again while the privatizers who want to make money off it have made the disenfranchisement of public education a larger goal.

Right-wing religionists have long feared public education as a liberalizing enemy and right-wing politicos have eyed it as a money-making opportunity as well as a good way to maintain political power by scaring people with the trope that something nefarious is happening to their children.

All of this is an intentional and even predictable continuation of the fear-based rhetoric we’ve seen over the years with the power of much mainstream media behind it even more forcefully. It plays upon long-standing and systematic confusion, misinformation, stereotypes, and insecurities especially about gender while the science of gender has long since moved on from those stereotypes.

And the danger is that those of us who oppose this can take little for granted. So many of our institutions are not only unprepared to address these attempts to win the country for permanent regressive power but, like the Supreme Court, are captured by the those who propose to do so.

Preparing to respond

So, we should be prepared to respond. And here are some ideas, none of them new to me.

We cannot focus on changing the minds of those who are caught up in these ideas by using long, complicated, and nuanced discussions, or reciting statistical studies no matter how true and logical they are. And we need to recognize that our arguments aren’t working.

People remember two things about what we do:

  1. Some human being was there in front of them who not only disagrees but is willing to stand up confidently and say so.
  2. A phrase, soundbite, quick response that confronts their assertions, captures their attention, and sticks even if they disagree.

Never, ever repeat their phraseology or labels even to say “so-called.” This means never use the word “grooming” or call them “anti-grooming bills,” or “parents’ rights” bills even when talking to the media. Get the media to say, “what people call the Don’t Say Trans Bill,” the “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” the “Forced Birth Bill” or the “Ban Books that I Don’t Like Bill.” There’s a reason why the right-wing won’t use this framing — because they realize it works for us.

Develop and use repeatedly words, phrases, soundbites, and very brief arguments in response — be creative. Remember how “Hate Is Not a Family Value” was effective until we let the other side talk us out of it?

You’ve heard some of these examples already, I hope, but what’s important is that you use “I” language as if you are sharing something from your values and story.

  • “I studied amphibians in school, but it never made me want to be a frog.” (You can probably think of other examples.)
  • “You make it sound as if your heterosexuality is so fragile that it could be changed at any moment. Mine isn’t.”
  • “Everything I heard about marriage and relationships from my teachers in school was about straight people. We were even forced to read books with straight characters. But that didn’t turn me heterosexual.”
  • “The only people who ever tried to recruit me were right-wing Christians — and no matter how hard they tried it didn’t take.”
  • “The idea of transgender people around doesn’t bother me. I just can’t understand why it scares anyone.”
  • “What I notice isn’t trans people but how many right-wing political and religious leaders I’ve read about who are guilty of sexual abuse (and in bathrooms even). You must have too. It seems there’s a lot of projection in one party that’s full of sexual sickness. It’s like they’re obsessed, isn’t it?”2
  • “You’re talking about my child as if she isn’t a real human being.”
  • “These laws are scary examples of government control, aren’t they?”
  • “You understand, don’t you, that I disagree with all of this? Well, I do.”

The personal is political

Do everything you can to get those who agree with you out to vote in every election. This is more important than trying to change the minds of those who don’t agree with you.

We will lose if we refuse to realize what feminists have long warned: “The personal is political.” We cannot hide behind our religiosity or say we aren’t political. That guarantees that the right wing will win this fight.

Remember, the right wing is a minority in our country, but it’s a loud one and has spent decades capturing the means of power and manipulating them to maintain that power. They try to convince everyone that our values in contrast are radical when polls consistently show them centrist and mainstream.

We owe no one apologies for where we stand against these extremists. Instead, we must model for, and appeal to and empower, the majority who agree with us to respond believably to these vicious right-wing attacks. Sincerity and conviction matter now more than ever.


1 Critical race theory
2 Here’s one list, by the way; here’s a more recent one, and a still more recent one. You’ll need to pick your favorites as examples if you want, such as former Republican House Speaker Denny Hastert, Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, Donald “grab ‘em by the pussy” Trump, or Republican Senate hopeful Roy Moore, but I’m not sure it’s worth listing any.
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Being For Ourselves and Others: Discerning How To Be Our Sibling’s Keeper https://whosoever.org/being-for-ourselves-and-others-discerning-how-to-be-our-siblings-keeper/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=being-for-ourselves-and-others-discerning-how-to-be-our-siblings-keeper Wed, 27 Apr 2022 04:00:03 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=22567

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And being only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when? (Hillel the Elder, first century BCE rabbi)

The second [great commandment] is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Mark 12:31)

The invasion of Ukraine. Global climate change. The rise of authoritarian, anti-democratic movements around the world (including in the United States). Spreading conspiracy theories.

Increasing distrust of authority, including the authority of people with legitimate expertise. The refusal to wear masks or get vaccinated during a global pandemic. Protests against mask and vaccine requirements.

Laws and extra-legal actions to ban books. Banning the teaching of something dubbed “critical race theory” that isn’t actually taught in schools. Suppression of voting rights, and subversion of the power and well-being of certain groups of people.

Continued expansion of congregational commitment to the inclusion and flourishing of LGBTQI people at the local level even as denominational bodies either focus their attention on other topics or fail to make progress on sexuality and gender identity-related issues.

How to prioritize?

We live in strange and profoundly difficult times. I suspect that I am far from the only LGBTQI person of faith wondering what faithful discernment looks like in this time.

How do we know what to prioritize? Where should we put our energy, our money, our passion? How should we spend our time? Given the violent horrors of white supremacy in the U.S., for example, don’t those of us who are white have an obligation to live self-sacrificially into the work of overturning racism?

But then — given the legal, spiritual and physical violence against LGBTQI people, and especially youth — isn’t it reasonable for those of us in LGBTQI communities to commit at least some of our time, energy and resources to tending to ourselves and our communities?

And what about larger challenges such as global climate change? What about the trauma and exhaustion of living through COVID, losing friends, family members and our illusions about other people? What about the AIDS pandemic that is still not over for so many?

While there are many ways to think about what the next quarter century will hold for LGBTQI people of faith, the single word that feels most timely to me is “discernment.”

The call to discernment

We know that we need to love our neighbors as ourselves, which also means loving ourselves; we know that we must take care of both ourselves and others. How do we balance these two opportunities, these two obligations? How do we advocate for our own well-being, for our rights, for justice for our communities, even as we work for the well-being of those in devalued groups to which we do not belong?

When must we de-center ourselves and offer our gifts, passion, and resources in solidarity with struggles against forms of inequality from which we benefit?

When must we focus on the harm done to LGBTQI people to work against that harm most effectively? When are other challenges or struggles so urgent that they supersede working against systematic inequality based on (for example) race, gender/gender identity, or sexuality? When should our focus be local, modest, and based on the needs of those we know? And when should it be larger, national, or global, and based on the needs of those we will never meet?

I do not have answers to these questions, and I suspect that different people will answer them differently (and that different cultural and historical moments may require different responses).

That said, anything we can do to cultivate the ability to discern where we are most needed, where we are being called, and what we are being sent to do in each situation will help us serve others, ourselves, and the world most effectively.

Whatever other work we take on, then, must include the work of deepening our capacity to discern where and how our passion, resources and gifts must meet the world’s needs.

In the remainder of this brief reflection, I consider two types of practices we can take up to deepen our abilities to carry out exactly this kind of discernment, as well as one complex way of thinking about people that can assist our decision-making.

3 steps to discernment

First, we will deepen our discernment capacities through spiritual and religious practices, carried out alone and with others, in private and in corporate worship. Prayer and meditation, listening to silence, practicing waiting, reading, and reflecting on meaningful religious and spiritual texts, engagement with inspirational music and other art forms: these will nourish our souls and strengthen us for the work of discernment.

If we are part of religious communities, the ritual and liturgy of worship will similarly feed our hearts and give us practice in showing up, listening to one another, sharing our vulnerability, and holding ourselves and each other accountable for building Beloved Community.

Second, we are better able to discern the world’s demands on us to the extent that we work to cultivate core virtues in ourselves: Virtues such as love, compassion, courage, generosity, hospitality, and self-sacrifice.

Building our ethical muscles better equips us to run whatever race is before us. Moreover, how we decide what to do with our focus and capabilities will have a lot to do with the insights we gain from our capacity to love, or from the gut-clench of seeing someone else suffering and feeling a need to respond, or from the startling realization that we are not afraid to face our opponents in the service of defending the moral good. As our ethical resilience grows, so too will our ability to discern our work blossom.

Finally, appreciating the complexity of personhood at a deep level will help us determine what we are called to prioritize and do in each moment or situation.

Seeing people as they are

People are, of course, individuals — and sometimes our first task is to attend to someone else in their individual situation, or to attend to our own idiosyncratic needs.

At the same time, people are human beings — meaning that we share important traits, needs, and capacities. As embodied beings, for example, all people need access to bodily resources and freedom from danger to our bodies to live well.

As emotional beings, we need the space to feel whatever emotions we are feeling and to allow them to pass through us without becoming blocked; we also need the ability to avoid situations that will leave us fearful, despairing or rage-filled for extended periods of time.

These are only two examples of the kinds of beings that people are; when we recognize that being human entails several universal, non-negotiable aspects, we can better understand how social structures, individual situations, and the intersection of those two can either help people flourish or cause them avoidable suffering.

Often our ethical capacities, in tandem with our ability to discern, lead us to focus on helping ourselves or others flourish or to focus on mitigating avoidable suffering. When our work flows in these directions, even if we are tending to a small group of people (or an individual), we can rest in the knowledge that what we are doing is helping humanity.

No one is ‘damaged goods’

In summary, people are members of many kinds of social groups, including groups that are socially valued differently, leading to systematically different treatment. A particular challenge of discernment in my experience is focusing effectively on the ways that systematic inequality harms members of a particular social group without reducing the people in that group to the harm they have suffered — i.e., understanding and working against the damage of systematic inequality without stereotyping people as “damaged goods.”

That said, there are many ways to support communities in their work for justice and against the harm and devaluation of systematic inequality — whether that is a community to which we personally belong or not.

It is complicated and sometimes challenging to keep individuality, human being in its multiple aspects, and social group membership in mind at the same time, but all three aspects of being a person always hold true, even if some are more salient in certain moments.

When we are in a good discernment space, we will have a sense of which aspect of personhood needs our focus at a given moment or in a given context, and we will respond accordingly.

Since I began with a quote from Rabbi Hillel, it seems appropriate to end with one as well. When we are overwhelmed, when discernment seems to fail us, may we have the strength and humility to come back to Hillel’s other famous quote and to live into it:

That which is hateful to you, do not do to others. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and learn.

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Christians: Here’s the One Thing You Must NEVER Say to LGBTQ People https://whosoever.org/christians-heres-the-one-thing-you-must-never-say-to-lgbtq-people/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=christians-heres-the-one-thing-you-must-never-say-to-lgbtq-people Mon, 04 Apr 2022 04:00:54 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=23730 I should not have to write this story, but here we go

It’s a personal story that illustrates a sad but powerful truth about LGBTQ people, Christianity, and mental health. I wish I didn’t have to tell the story, but I do, because people who should know better seem unable to walk in the shoes of vulnerable, perfectly moral, traditionally persecuted people.

I woke up Saturday morning feeling bright and cheery. Pain from a chronic health condition had lessened a bit, I’d had a nice dream I actually remembered, my cat was purring on my chest, and the sun was shining.

I whistled a little tune as I made coffee, got caught up with a couple friends who were also in cheery moods, and the world was good.

Then I opened Medium and my day came crashing down. Yet another Christian in a long line of Christians had taken it upon himself to comment (under one of my own stories) that he doubts my intrinsic morality, that he can’t be certain I’m not a “sinner” because I’m gay, and that he “lacks the hubris” to know that LGBTQ people are perfect just the way we are.

If you want some vulnerable truth, I did cry, and for more than just a few moments.

This Christian wrapped up his deadly personal insult in typical Christian “kindness,” bringing up the old shiboleth about Jesus associating with whores and publicans, implying that associating with morally broken LGBTQ people would be OK too. Feel the love, brother, feel the love.

Note: that last sentence is sarcasm.

By the time I’d finished reading this Christian’s cruel comment, I had gone from whistling to cursing under my breath. The morning sunshine no longer filled me with cheer but with an angry fighting spirit, a fierce determination to denounce Christian condemnation of entire classes of innocent, loving, intrinsically moral, good people.

My anger mingled with despair, though, and exhausted me. My stomach tied itself up in knots as I demanded an apology from the Christian who so openly insulted me on such a fundamentally personal level.

My gut soured even further when instead of apologizing and recanting, my Christian accuser doubled down, insisting he cannot “know the mind of God,” cannot know I am not a sinner because I’m gay, cannot know I am a moral person.

My intestines writhed harder upon this Christian’s implication that his message was meant kindly, with his assertion that he stands against discrimination despite thinking my homosexuality might be sinful.

I wanted to scream, but I also wanted to cry – and if you want some vulnerable truth, I did cry, and for more than just a few moments.

I’m so tired and stressed, so sick of being branded a sinner, so fatigued in my very bones from knowing that if I stray outside my queer communities, I’m not just likely to be exposed to deadly personal insult, I absolutely will be.

If you’re a Christian who thinks or suspects that LGBTQ people are sinners because of our gender identity or sexual orientation. I wish you’d think about that. I wish you’d understand that it is never OK to call us sinners because of our identities. If you need more help understanding why, then just my personal story, please check this out:

For LGBTQ people in the U.S. Christianity correlates to clinical depression and increased suicide attempts

Yes, you read that right, and I’m going to back it up with data. For most people in the U.S., church attendance is linked to better mental health and happiness. For whatever reason, from community support to spiritual fulfillment, cis/straight people who go to church usually see an objective, measurable benefit. One large meta study links positive mental health benefits to church attendance among young adults and adolescents, and another has found church attendance decreases the incidence of depression and suicidal ideation among adolescents.

But this data comes with a giant ‘gotcha.’

LGBTQ people who attend church, unless we attend fully affirming churches, suffer rates of clinical depression and suicidal ideation that closely track our attendance. The more we go to church, the worse off we are. Suicidal ideation among LGBTQ adolescents who attend church zooms off the charts, but adults get badly hurt too.

Because fully affirming churches make up only a minority of all U.S. churches, it boils down to this: Queer people are not just exempt from the general rule that church-going improves mental health. Church-going actually hurts us.

We LGBTQ people are not interested in debating our inherent morality, so don’t take it upon yourself to do so

Obviously, exceptions exist, but most queer folk take great offense at having “sin” labels thrown at us. We do not grant you permission to debate our moral worth with us, except possibly in specific academic or religious settings designed for that purpose — settings we can stay clear of.

By the time we’re adults, most LGBTQ people have come to terms with our religious or spiritual choices. We either go to church (probably an affirming one) or we don’t. We either embrace some form of religion or spirituality, or we don’t.

Check this out: when you hear our slogans “Love is Love” and “Born Perfect,” we aren’t just making cute noises. We really mean it.

We reject sin labels and moral condemnation. We won’t even consider them. We certainly aren’t going to debate with you about the worth of our love or our essential moral goodness. We ARE born perfect, end of story.

Want a racist example that might clarify things?

Within my own living memory, a majority or large plurality of U.S. Christians believed interracial marriage was a sin. Remember the Supreme Court’s 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision? It was in response to a Virginia judge who cited sinfulness in criminally convicting Mildred Jeter, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, for getting married.

In his 1965 opinion , Judge Leon M. Bazile wrote this:

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

This kind of statement shocks most Americans today. We find the idea of the “sinfulness” of interracial marriage so alien we don’t even discuss it, even though legal battles over it in Christian institutions lasted right through the late 1970s and early 1980s, by which time I was already an adult. We queer people are just as shocked when you call us sinners or suggest we might be sinners.

Would you dare call a Black person a sinner for marrying a white person?

This is a serious question. Would you comment under a story about a married couple that you can’t be certain God approves of their marriage on racial grounds? Would you suggest they might be sinners? Would you cast doubt on their fundamental morality by saying you can’t “know the mind of God?”

I think not. I think you know better. I think you wouldn’t dare.

I think you understand how that comment would be taken as the most stinging and unacceptable of personal insults.

Suggesting that being gay might make me a sinner is exactly as stinging, precisely as insulting, every bit as unacceptable.

If you’re a Christian, the one thing you must never say to LGBTQ people is that we are or might be sinners because we’re transgender, gay, bisexual, or any other variety of queer.

You don’t have the right to question our morality and basic human dignity because of your religion. You must stop now.

Look, I know plenty of Christians who affirm me and other queer people as fully moral and fully equal with zero equivocation. Some of them are fellow writers like Esther Spurrill-Jones, Ken Wilson, John A. Giurin, Dan Foster, Jamie Arpin-Ricci, all whose work I recommend.

If you can’t emulate them by proclaiming that LGBTQ people are not sinners because we’re LGBTQ, then I ask that you at least exercise the common human decency to be silent, to keep your moral condemnation to yourself, or at least to keep it in church behind closed doors where people liable to be harmed by it can’t hear you.

If you’re feeling argumentative, go look at those mental health links again. Think about the harm you’re doing. Ask yourself what Jesus would do, if that helps.

But whatever you do, do not under any circumstances comment by telling me why it’s OK to say we queer people are or might be sinners because we’re queer. We really have had enough. Please put your swords down.

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Conservative Evangelicalism, Are You Going to Kill Me Too? https://whosoever.org/conservative-evangelicalism-are-you-going-to-kill-me-too/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conservative-evangelicalism-are-you-going-to-kill-me-too Tue, 29 Mar 2022 04:00:51 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=22519 The Bible is laced with stories of murder.

Christianity is laced with stories of murder.

Conservative Evangelicalism is laced with stories of murder.

Fact, fact, fact.

Everywhere you turn, it’s here, there, and everywhere; past, present, and future.

Whether intended or not, spiritual, emotional, and physical death are the wake your creeds have long created upon the sea of humanity. It’s undeniable, well documented, and refuses to be erased. Sadly, yours is a murderous brand of believing. Tough to hear, sad to say.

Don’t believe me?

Noah’s Ark, the Crusades, Indigenous Indian colonization, Black slavery, the list goes on and on. And now, your continued brutal assault on the LGBTQ community, the Black community, the poor, women, minorities, and any and all of those who would stand against you and your pursuit to nationalize your white, male-driven, conservative Evangelical faith and the white supremacy it enables.

I understand, perhaps not all individuals within the conservative Evangelical faith support these pursuits, but as a former conservative Evangelical pastor of 20+ years, I know for sure, beyond any doubt, that your system of faith is a well-oiled catalyst, breeding ground, and incubator for violence of every type and kind. That’s the truth.

You know the saying, “If it walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it probably is a duck.” A past of repeated, consistent behavior is a trustable indicator of the future. Patterns are powerful at predicting. One only needs to connect the very dots your faith system hopes to conceal. As your Lord and Savior Donald Trump declared, “I love the poorly educated.”

Yes, I’m concerned. And I wonder why you aren’t. Because now, more than ever, it seems that many among your faith system are willing to knowingly and cheerfully embrace any evil and all costs to lie, cheat, and bully your way into having democracy vanish and your dictatorship emerge, even to the spiritual rationalization of murder.

You actually called the murder of a police officer during the January 6th insurrection, a “legitimate political discourse.”

You called the reality of school shootings a clear need for more people to have more guns, “if only the victims had been carrying guns.”

You tell women in the inevitable event of a rape to, “lie back and enjoy it.” And don’t forget, there is such a thing as, “legitimate rape.”

You position yourself as against abortion — “every life is a sacred gift from God” — but refuse to support the solutions that actually work to remedy it. It’s as if you’ve decided that you can benefit from the problem more than the cure.

You declare that “America is not racist” while frantically trying to erase all the clear history that reveals the contrary. In fact, it wasn’t until 1995, that your SBC finally admitted your supportive role in black slavery. Which, by the way, makes me wonder, how do you admit to fostering black slavery in the past and try to erase the history of it now?

You want us to believe that you are “pro-women” and “pro-life,” but yet hold fast to patriarchal leadership and the demonizing of a woman’s choice, all while you objectify their bodies. Not to mention, all the violence and death you are quick to rationalize when it serves your purposes and decry when it doesn’t.

Violence, murder, death, and abuse.

Everything you touch that refuses to be white-washed and converted is subjected to your brutality. The history and present, they don’t lie.

Which leads me to wonder, are you going to kill me too?

For some, that may seem like a barbaric question. But at frequent moments in time, yours has been a barbaric system of faith. I would be ignorant not to consider the possibility. History and the present clearly show me, it’s what you do.

So, I’m wondering.

If one day, your dreams come true and you rule the country and make all the rules, when I refuse to pledge allegiance to your so-called Christian flag, are you going to kill me too?

If one day, your dreams come true and you rule the country and make all the rules, when I refuse to give up my land and property into your ownership and control, are you going to kill me too?

If one day, your dreams come true and you rule the country and make all the rules, when I refuse to work in your camps and serve your plantations, are you going to kill me too?

If one day, your dreams come true and you rule the country and make all the rules, when I profess to be a “progressive” and refuse to attend your churches, sing your songs, and believe your brand of believing, are you going to kill me too?

If one day, your dreams come true and you rule the country and make all the rules, if I should have an LGBTQ child who I affirm, support, and empower, are you going to kill me too?

If one day, your dreams come true and you rule the country and make all the rules, if I should stand between the barrel of your gun ready to shoot an innocent black man, are you going to kill me too?

If one day, your dreams come true and you rule the country and make all the rules, if I should refuse to surrender my daughter into your sexual pleasure and service, are you going to kill me too?

If one day, your dreams come true and you rule the country and make all the rules, when I can no longer benefit your pursuits or become a burden, are you going to kill me too?

If one day, your dreams come true and you rule the country and make all the rules, when I feed the poor, heal the sick, favor the brokenhearted, proclaim justice for the oppressed, visit an adulterous woman at a well, give hospitality to a Samaritan, feed thousands for free, dine with “sinners,” proclaim that all are equally imaged in God, place my hope in Love not a nation, denounce your politics, and stand in fierce resistance to your self-righteous, evil religiosity, are you going to kill me too?

Grace is brave. Be brave.

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Is ‘Color Blindness’ a Worthy Goal? https://whosoever.org/is-color-blindness-a-worthy-goal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=is-color-blindness-a-worthy-goal Wed, 09 Mar 2022 05:00:18 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=22488 It doesn’t take much awareness to notice that our Universe loves — really loves — diversity. Just imagine what our world would look like if it were all one color.

From the bright red of the male cardinal to the subtle colorings of his female companion, from the blues of the sky to the greens of our plants and trees, from the deep shiny ebonies of the raven to the glowing yellows of the goldfinch — nature revels in dazzling colors, shapes, and sounds.

There’s diversity in sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, the skin colorings and body types of humanity, the varieties of insects, the shapes of snowflakes or leaves, the colors and sizes of planets, and on and on. It’s clear that a dull sameness is not in the natural interest of the world around us.

Such diversity doesn’t have to be, it seems to me. We could have evolved efficiently without it. But Nature doesn’t want to have that — it’s into flamboyance.

Equality, affirmation and celebration, then, is not about ignoring differences but about rejoicing in them. The goal of our laws, then, must be to treat all equally not because everything and everyone can be reduced to a boring, unimaginative sameness, but because there is a basic humanity that is shared in the midst of nature’s ever-present exuberance and extravagance.

When people say they “don’t see color” in humanity, what is it they are left to see? It certainly isn’t the real universe about us.

The universe isn’t just 50 shades of gray, after all. It consists of so much variety that we can still be thrilled, even surprised, by the discovery of new birds, the pastels and deep colors of a glowing sunset, or the decorations and appearances of the other human beings we meet.

But that isn’t always the response, for though Nature loves such diversity, humans can easily fear those who are not like them. And that fear is easily and regularly exploited by economic systems that have come to thrive on such fears by turning Nature’s extravagance into the lucrative threat that those not like us are the dangerous “Other.”

The most common responses have been to act on those fears by huddling with those who in the midst of the diversity we define as like us, or by minimizing obvious differences in order to be able to accept others. Neither of these responses fully embraces the Universe about us, but puts us out of touch with it.

America as a “melting pot” stew where all diversity is reduced to sameness, for example, is a meme that has come to promote a definition of that sameness in terms of one set of cultural assumptions — everyone is to be as “White” as possible. So we were all supposed to learn how to be “White.”

We can read the histories of this, where different ethnic and religious identities learned to survive by melting into, conforming to Whiteness — the Irish, or Jews, for example — a process that meant separating from those who could not pass. How different it would be if, actually celebrating natural diversity, this image were replaced with newer ones: America as a “salad bowl” or “mosaic.”

Likewise, think of all the calls for LGBTQI people to be more straight-acting. They should fit in by melting into the stereotypes of a heterosexual lifestyle.

That might be natural for some, but what about those who don’t find it so, who express the diversity of possibilities that people in this exuberant world can live in terms of gender or sexual orientation, those who break the straight-acting lifestyle and might even, by living outside the strictures, provide us with some of the great cultural and artistic achievements of humanity?

Since one’s sexual orientation or gender identity is natural, inborn, fluid, God-given — however one identifies or thinks of it — the problem is that being straight-acting, straight-thinking, straight-feeling, is a culturally conditioned role that isn’t natural at all. That role is societally defined and installed, and not part of the Universe’s extravagance; it stifles the diverse possibilities of everyone living freely, including heterosexual people.

And, as I’ve argued in Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It’s So Hard to Be Human, cultures, not Nature, have installed that role through the fear of what could happen to a human being who lives any alternative lifestyle. Yet living outside the limited role seems to be how Nature wants it.

Calling for people to ignore the diversity of Nature can also take the form of spending time emphasizing only our sameness while ignoring our differences. It’s easy after all, and hardly a virtue, to tolerate those who are like us, who agree, who look like us, who share our version of culture.

Tolerance and full acceptance is harder if it calls us to accept not only the similarities we share as human beings but also the differences among us that unfettered Nature has put before us on display. It’s those differences that provide challenges to our way of thinking of the world and ourselves.

They remind us that our culture, our sexual orientation, our gender identity, our skin color, our ethnicity, our body type, is only one of many. They challenge any attempts to value ours as superior or worthy of dominating others.

They call us to open up any limited views we have of humanity. They challenge us to redefine ourselves and to throw off what limits us from being fully free.

They push us to face all the possible ways of being human that a Universe that revels in diversity has set before us. And they question any attempts to pretend we are “color blind” to the vibrancy that surrounds us.

The Universe has set before us the challenge to be as we were born — seeing, not “blind” to, Nature’s variety and living our part in it.

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Feeling Like the Dog’s Breakfast? Try This https://whosoever.org/feeling-like-the-dogs-breakfast-try-this/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=feeling-like-the-dogs-breakfast-try-this Thu, 24 Feb 2022 05:00:23 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=22469 Or, what to do when you drop the dog food

I dropped nearly a whole bowl of dog food onto the floor this morning. It was a spiritual epiphany.

The breakfast for my 9-year-old German Shepherd, The Lord (because “The Lord is my shepherd”), must be wet and mushy because she has TMJ, which makes her jaw quite sensitive to hard, crunchy foods. Much of the wet mess went down my pant leg, then splattered on the floor.

“Well, that’s messy,” I said out loud to the empty kitchen.

This, friends, is a miracle moment. Not even a year ago, I would have immediately been angry, and yelled a bunch of swear words at the gooey mess at my feet. Not only that, but I would also have shamed myself for being so clumsy. “Dang, Chellew, you can’t do anything right.”

This morning? I simply observed the obvious. I had made a mess. I was not angry. I had no words of admonishment to myself. I simply got a broom and towel, cleaned up the floor and served the dogs their breakfast.

Many years ago, one Jubilant, commenting on the spiritual practices we teach at Jubilee! Circle, wisely observed: “Either this shit works, or it doesn’t.” I’m here to tell you, it works. Yes, it takes a bit of time to unlearn past patterns and erase all the tapes of shame and blame that play in your head from past traumas and abuse, but as I always told my classes when I was a Weight Watchers leader, “The program works if you work it.”

Even for me, the one who preaches every week about letting go of our fear, doubt, and unworthiness, it took some time for those axioms to really sink from my head’s intellectual knowledge into my heart and become a knowing and a way of life.

Even for me as the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, released nearly 15 years ago, and founder of Whosoever more than 25 years ago, it has taken some time for this to sink into the marrow of my bones.

Now, I am better at using the tools I teach about to be willing to recognize my old self-abusing patterns, see them for what they are (useless!), heal them, and let them go.

Sometimes it’s hard to really see our progress along the spiritual path. We try and try time and again to use the tools we’ve been given — willingness, awareness, recognition, mindfulness, meditation, forgiveness, prayer — and time and again we feel like we fail. Certainly, LGBTQI people have been given that message to internalize by the society around us. And we continue to play it back to ourselves.

Then, one morning you drop the dog food and those old friends, anger and shame, fail to show up to the self-abuse party. In that moment, you know that all your work is paying off. It’s like stepping onto that spiritual scale and seeing that 10 pounds of self-shame and blame have gone away.

I have been a student of A Course in Miracles since 2016 — but only seriously for the past four years or so. A Course is often maligned as teaching “spiritual bypass” by denying reality, or as downright heretical by those from my own Christian tradition. For me, though, it has given me a lens by which my tradition, and the world, finally make sense.

A Course is a mind-training manual that helps you strip away everything you thought you believed about this world — that it can bring you happiness, joy, and peace from outside of yourself.

Once you learn that everything you need is already within you — or as Jesus puts it, “The realm of God is within you” — then you slowly begin to understand that the only world you can truly change is the one you carry around in your own mind.

People and cultural norms may have told me at some point that I was worthless, clumsy, stupid, sinful, or unimportant, but it was my choice to internalize those things and make them into the foundation of my self-identity. If it’s true that it was my choice — albeit an unconscious one — to build my life on the shifting sands of shame and blame, then it’s true that I can choose to demolish that shameful shack and build my house on the rock of worthiness, love, peace, and joy that created me (and all of us) in the first place.

There was a seismic shift in my soul in the kitchen this morning. My emotional house of cards did not crumble at the first sign of what I believed was my deep character flaw of clumsiness.

Instead, I was simply a human being who spilled the dog food, and now had a mess to clean up.

Once I had changed the world in my own mind, the world outside me changed. Anger and shame were no longer part of my experience of this messy moment.

One of the axioms of A Course that I rely on heavily is the simple idea that we always have the power to “choose again.”

We are not inherently sinful people, scarred forever by some “original sin.” We are originally blessed spirits who are always one with their Creator and everyone that we believe to be separate from ourselves.

That means that while we may commit errors in judgment or mistakes, we don’t have to “repent” or beat ourselves up for them — we simply choose again and make wiser decisions based on what we’ve learned in the moment.

How are you treating yourself today? Are you berating yourself for those dog-food-spilling moments where you yell at yourself for being so clumsy, stupid or unworthy? I invite you: Choose again. Choose to listen to the voice that tells you that you’re loved, because you were created in love, peace, and joy. The voices that tell you anything else about yourself are lying.

That berating ego voice is often the loudest one in your head, so here’s a practice you might try: When the loud, shameful voice of ego starts in on you, take a deep breath and say, “Thank you for your input; now I’d like to hear Spirit’s voice.” (Or God, or Universe, however you envision the Creator.)

By simply taking that moment to acknowledge the shameful, angry voice instead of following it down the rabbit hole, you create space for Spirit to speak.

This is a simple willingness to hear a different voice — the voice of Love that will reassure you that you are, indeed, worthy of joy and peace.

If you can make this a consistent practice, then one day, when you observe the mess you’ve made in that moment, you’ll simply grab the broom, clean it up and realize that you have made the better, wiser choice.

Republished with permission of the author.

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What’s Behind Today’s Flare-Up in the Right-Wing War on LGBTQ Youth? https://whosoever.org/whats-behind-todays-flare-up-in-the-right-wing-war-on-lgbtq-youth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=whats-behind-todays-flare-up-in-the-right-wing-war-on-lgbtq-youth Fri, 11 Feb 2022 12:52:13 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=22448 Back in 2015, as LGBTQ activists celebrated the victories of marriage equality and other progress, Michelangelo Signorile warned that given the right-wing, anti-LGBTQ religious strategies they were already setting in motion, It’s Not Over. Just as they were far into implementing a carefully planned process of chipping away slowly at a woman’s right of choice over her body, they were planning a similar backlash against LGBTQ people.

Progressives were, Signorile wrote then, in danger of a “victory blindness” that would ignore what the right-wing was already preparing to do to LGBTQ rights in that similar manner that it had been using to slowly but surely gut Roe v. Wade.

And now we see that all coming to fruition.

Not only have the years since his warning seen regressive sectarian religious groups work at local and state levels to place their kind in office, but they’ve recently seen right wing use of the previous administration and a Party leadership that is now beholden to them and the previous president to pack the Supreme Court with their ideologues.

Their agenda is broader, of course, than just LGBTQ issues because it’s blatantly entwined with the kind of White Nationalism that now dominates that Party thanks to the constant use of dog whistles and open bigotry by a former president who remains the dominant Republican leader.

Each year since then has seen more and more anti-LGBTQ bills introduced and passed in state legislatures. And already in 2022, the number of bills is staggeringly greater than ever – in the hundreds.

Three key elements of this strategy are worth emphasizing.

The first is that it’s centered in religious justifications.

No matter what the courts might disagree over, the right-wing has filled them all the way up to the Supreme Court with people who would say amen to their “Religious Liberty” argument. Religion (as they define it), then, would do their dirty work.

They wouldn’t have to appeal merely to their prejudices and bigotry. They could blame their god for their positions. And they could say that it was for religious reasons that they were asserting their sectarian, straight, White, patriarchal stands against others.

So, it’s no surprise to hear of a mayor demanding a purge of LGBTQ books from his local library system with religion as his excuse for doing so: “He explained his opposition to what he called ‘homosexual materials’ in the library, that it went against his Christian beliefs, and that he would not release the money as the long as the materials were there,” the library director said.

This use of religion applies to more than just LGBTQ issues. They would use “religious freedom” intersectionally against people of color, all women, immigrants, the poor, those of religions other than how they defined their own, and any other group that they are told threatens them — and the pocketbooks of their rich funders.

From town councils, to school boards, to state legislatures, “God” is blamed to cover them and justify what they’re doing. This, of course is more of the well-worn use of religion as an addiction that will require different strategies to counter.

They know their strategy will work with this Supreme Court — as it already has.

The second key to the strategy is right-wing use of the old trope that their intention is the “protection of our children.” In this they’ve joined those down through the ages who have hidden behind that excuse, some legitimately and some because they know it tugs at heartstrings – those innocents will be scarred for life!

Hence the attack on schools, school boards, and public education.

There’s fear that children will start to feel bad because of something called “Critical Race Theory,” which, found in no schools outside graduate law courses, they can’t define but use as a frightening stand-in for any historical reality the parents fear facing.

There’s fear that they will feel bad if they learn the truth about the history of the Holocaust as well.

Then if happy LGBTQ relationships are mentioned or read about, they’re afraid that that will convert their children away from heterosexuality. LGBTQ people should not be portrayed as healthy, happy, or anything like psychologically normal.
For kids who are LGBTQ, the personal threat of these calls for censorship is to remove from any public forum the chances of those who are trying to understand how and why they feel different from so many others of learning:

  • that there are others of their own age in the same boat,
  • that there is a scientific and even religious community of people who embrace and affirm the very thing that makes them feel different, and
  • that no matter how things might feel now, there are others who know that feeling and, because of their own life experiences, can affirm that: “it gets better.”

The third key to this is that it is applied through bullying.

This is, we’ve seen, the method by which the right-wing takes over school board and other public forums with threats, shouting, and claims that their rights as parents are being taken away. They are the same ones who find mask mandates a destruction of their “freedoms” and insist on the right to be armed everywhere.

The censorship by government entities (“cancelling”?) that they’re calling for of what anyone can read or say has as a major goal the installing of a broader fear in teachers, students, administrators, organizations, and others of what could happen if anyone in anyway attempts to challenge these real threats to “freedom of speech.” Some of the proposed bills are new versions of old “Don’t Say Gay” bills.

To make matters worse, the right-wing has worked hard to embed itself in the legal enforcement community so that law enforcement at many local levels will be on their side if others protest. Any meekness or weakness in a federal Justice Department at this time, will keep this in place at many levels.

We are, then, at a crucial time. Back in 2015, Signorile had already told us throughout his book how to counteract this. Others have as well down through these past decades.

But it’s certainly not by burying our heads in the sand or expecting that there is something we can do to gain love from those engineering this war.

And it will require progressive Christians to take stands for their own religious freedom to practice and proclaim what they believe about equality as if they really believe in it.

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These Holidays Exalt Those Who Must Flee Home & Homeland https://whosoever.org/these-holidays-exalt-those-who-must-flee-home-and-homeland/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=these-holidays-exalt-those-who-must-flee-home-and-homeland Tue, 28 Dec 2021 05:00:02 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=22391 Before we put away the decorations and crèches used in the Christmas and Epiphany celebrations that are taking place around the world, there’s one more episode in the stories surrounding these holidays that’s often glossed over too quickly. Whether any or all of these stories is historical can’t be determined, but this final episode is there in the Gospel of Matthew to complete the saga that’s meant to teach its readers lessons that it considers important.

The previous episode of those foreign Magi and other outsiders honoring the baby Jesus in Bethlehem that’s symbolically depicted in countless nativity scenes wasn’t the conclusion of the series. Matthew 2:12-18 instead goes on further to teach its readers one more thing: that the “Holy Family” are comrades with any who have had to flee their home or homeland for protection.

The Magi, the Gospel previously said, had been to the capital city, Jerusalem on the way to Bethlehem. Their inquiries thereby alerted King Herod and his dutiful political and religious advisers that they were searching for what their astrological signs had predicted: a new king of Israel has been born.

Now, as they were about to return home to Persia after finding Jesus, the tale adds, they were warned “in a dream” not to report their findings back to Herod and to take an alternate route home (Matthew 2:12).

Herod, feeling that he was tricked by the Magi out of their report of what they had found, concludes that he must squelch any threats to his power. In anger, he orders the deaths of “all the male children who were in Bethlehem and its surroundings aged two years old and under.” (Matthew 2:16) The Church over the centuries has depicted this in art and story as “the Slaughter of the Innocents.”

Joseph is also warned “in a dream” to immediately take his family and flee their home country into Egypt for protection. He is told not to return until Herod is dead. Typically, Matthew portrays all this drama as the fulfillment of various “prophecies” in the Hebrew Bible (the Christian’s “Old Testament”).

“The Flight into Egypt,” as it’s depicted down through the ages, adds another note to the beginning of this life of Jesus – the fact that he and his family became refugees who would, when the danger had passed, return to Israel, but never to the unsafe area of Judea where Herod’s son was the new ruler.

The three ended up farther north, as refuges from the new ruler of Judea, by returning to Joseph’s native home, Galilee and a city called Nazareth.

That finally completes all that Matthew wants us to contemplate before it moves immediately on to Jesus’ adult life. Cut and scene.

But what’s the point? Why is this also included among the stories of Jesus’ birth, historical or not?

The Gospel itself ties the episode to the epic story of the Exodus of Israel from Egypt — Matthew 2:15 quoting Exodus 4:22:

Out of Egypt did I call my son.

Throughout the Hebrew Bible there was a consciousness of the fact that the Hebrew people fled the oppression of the Pharaohs of Egypt to a land where they were refugees. That “Exodus” is held to be a central definer of Hebrew identity.

Its law codes included special concern for the protection and welcoming of refugees. Leviticus 19:34, for example, commands:

The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.

Imagine loving the foreigner in your land “as yourself” — there are no “legal” or “illegal” foreigner distinctions here. It seems so far from the anger, fear, and hatred expressed by those religionists whose nationalism has taken over their religions.

And if those old law codes in the Hebrew Bible mean anything, it’s a major sin not to love the alien. Even Matthew 25:34-40 depicts Jesus saying it was he they were serving when they “invited the stranger [alien?] in.”

That Matthew extended the infancy story to include the teaching that Jesus and family were literally refugees, strangers in a foreign land, should be enough for people to know whom they must not disparage but love. Jesus and his family were a paradigm of people fleeing oppression, persecution, danger, and death.

Not only does this apply to refugees who seek foreign shores, though they are certainly ones who need that love as Jesus and family did.

It applies to anyone who can only save themselves by leaving their home to escape oppression. It applies to anyone who leaves their home and/or homeland to face the unknown, the hope that it will be better in a “Promised Land” than it was back in the familiar, though dangerous, even deadly, environment in which they grew up hoping for acceptance and affirmation,

It teaches us to think lovingly of those youth kicked out of their families, or fleeing its abuse, for being LGBTQ+. It teaches us to love the LGBTQ+ adults who had to say goodbye to families who would not accept them or the people they loved.

Not only did the Hebrew Bible single out loving care for those who were refugees in the land, but Jesus and family modeled what it was to be refugees, Matthew extends the Christmas story to tell us.

This final chapter of these stories around these holidays was written, then, for anyone fleeing for refuge, anyone driven from their home or homeland. It tells its readers that it is not a disgrace to flee and seek refuge, it is not a failure of character, it is not because there is something wrong with those who flee to save themselves, their lives, and their dignity.

It is actually something that is to be honored down through history in stories, art, and the good deeds of the religious.

This final episode tells all for whom it’s a teaching moment that no one who seeks refuge from abuse in their home should be treated less than they would treat the hero of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus himself.

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An Appreciation: Our LGBTQ+ Sister-Friend bell hooks https://whosoever.org/an-appreciation-our-lgbtq-sister-friend-bell-hooks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=an-appreciation-our-lgbtq-sister-friend-bell-hooks Fri, 17 Dec 2021 05:00:27 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=22355 bell hooks died on December 15, 2021, at 69 in Kentucky. As a Black Appalachian, she was inarguably one of the nation’s prominent feminist scholars and authors and a friend to everyone she met. Last year, Time‘s “100 Women of the Year” called our sister-friend a “rare rock star of a public intellectual.”

Born Gloria Jean Watkins, she later took the uncapitalized pen name bell hooks from her great-grandmother Bell Blair Hooks.

hooks had legions of followers, especially among women and the LGBTQ+ community, because her body of work profoundly changed the lives of so many of us. Laverne Cox is one. The two had a deep sister-friendship and admiration for each other. hooks called Cox a “goddess for justice.” In a tribute to hooks, Cox wrote on Instagram:

bell hooks has always been the truth. Now perhaps more than ever, it’s paramount that we lean into her work. On this day of her passing, let us celebrate the rich published legacy she leaves behind.

bell hooks was a huge inspiration to me, too. She identified as “queer-pas-gay” and paved the way for intersectional feminism, inspiring generations of women and LGBTQ+ people. Because of hooks, my life’s work is grounded in an intersectional anti-oppression activism and praxis.

Few have changed and challenged feminism like bell hooks. In Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, she challenged the feminist movement to incorporate women beyond the educated and the academy. As an African lesbian minister, theologian, and multimedia journalist, I take theology to the streets. hooks’ body of work has assisted me in shaping both a local and national affirming public dialogue on religion and social justice issues about women and LGBTQ+ people.

In Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, hooks states that she begins her analysis at the margin because it is a space of radical openness, and it gives you an oppositional gaze from which to see the world, unknown to the oppressor. It is at the margin where you can see injustice being done. It is not only a site where you can honestly critique the oppressive structures in society that keep us wounded as a people, but it is also a site that can heal us as a people — both the oppressed and the oppressor.

I’ve learned from hooks in All About Love: New Visions that love is a verb, not a noun, requiring action, responsibility, and accountability to others. Love is about radical inclusion, and it must not be intellectualized but rather connected deeply with our need for personal healing; thus, challenging us to heal our “isms.”

We must address deep-seated biases that impede authentic, respectful, and enriching relationships. And radical inclusion can only begin to work when those relegated to the fringes of society can begin to sample what those in society take for granted as their inalienable right.

hooks taught at several colleges and universities across the country. However, when she decided to return home to Kentucky, she opted to teach at Berea College. This liberal arts college offers free tuition and is the first interracial and coeducational college in the South. At Berea, hooks was the Distinguished Professor in Residence in Appalachian Studies and the founder of the bell hooks Institute that continues her life’s work and mission.

My favorite poem by hooks is “Appalachian Elegy”:

hear them cry
the long dead
the long gone
speak to us
from beyond the grave
guide us
that we may learn
all the ways
to hold tender this land
hard clay direct
rock upon rock
charred earth
in time
strong green growth
will rise here
trees back to life
native flowers
pushing the fragrance of hope
the promise of resurrection

Like so many, I’ll miss bell hooks and wondering what new tome she’s gifting us. I loved bell hooks’ unquiet intellectual energy, her revolutionizing spirit, and her radical love for change. Heartbroken doesn’t aptly depict the enormity of bell hooks’ passing.

May our sister-friend rest in power!

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Time To Say It Again: It’s Looking Grim, But There’s Still a Place for Hope https://whosoever.org/time-to-say-it-again-its-looking-grim-but-theres-still-a-place-for-hope/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-to-say-it-again-its-looking-grim-but-theres-still-a-place-for-hope Thu, 02 Dec 2021 05:00:38 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=22172 When we have a mainstream media that has bought the idea that it will make money by gluing the eyeballs of its viewers and readers to it by hyping violence, controversy, horror, extreme right-wing politicians, and a former president that leads a personality cult, it’s easy for anyone who pays attention to feel overwhelmed by it all.

When there’s one political party dominated by those who refuse to cooperate with anything that it feels threatens its power and position…

When that party has stacked the courts, gerrymandered elections, promoted a culture of unregulated weaponry, and condones and even calls for violence to protect its stash…

When so many leaders in the other party haven’t awakened to how to deal with fanatics and still think one can reason with them…

When so much is under threat — LGBTQ marriage and other LGBTQ rights, voting rights, civil rights protections, the public schools, science that doesn’t support their political interests, universities, libraries, and the livability of our planet…

Then these are scary times. And one way to respond is to bury our heads in the sand, turn inward, huddle in bunkers, and give up on attempts to fight for our values.

The only alternative isn’t optimism, though. The fear is not paranoia. People are really after those they now treat as enemies including LGBTQ people.

My favorite definition of an optimist is someone who falls off a skyscraper, and as he passes the thirtieth floor someone hears him say: “So far, so good.”

Yet, we can’t just look at the half of the glass that’s full and disregard the empty half.

In fact, that glass is far from half full. It’s flowing over for the richest 10 percent or fewer of U.S. citizens who have the funds to hide successfully in guarded communities with helicopters set to take them away if things threaten them.

Many of the other 90 percent — so many deluded victims of constant right-wing propaganda — have been bamboozled into believing that the right-wing social agenda, including deporting foreign workers, restoring white supremacy, or undoing marriage equality, is the real solution to their problems.

But an inability to be optimistic doesn’t mean that pessimism is the only alternative either. No matter how we feel about the future, there’s a better, empowering, and realistic choice that can change things.

It’s to opt for hope. Hope is a conscious decision.

Hopelessness, on the other hand, is a feeling. But that doesn’t make it worthless.

Hopelessness is, like anger or envy, a secondary emotion that prevents us from feeling the primary emotions that lie beneath it: Fear, hurt, powerlessness, and confusion. Feeling hopeless is a real clue that there’s something deeper.

And as the times look even grim, let’s turn again to Paul Rogat Loeb’s classic on realistic hope, The Impossible Will Take a Little While: Perseverance and Hope in Troubled Times (in its second edition), so we can make that choice to embrace hope.

Václav Havel, former Czechoslovakian president, provides one example. Three years before the Communist dictatorship fell, Havel wrote: “Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart.” His experience is one of many that show that a series of seemingly futile and insignificant actions can bring down an empire.

Even in what appears to be a losing cause, one person might knowingly inspire another, and then another, who could go on and change the world.

Loeb tells of a friend who in the early 1960s in a pouring rain joined a small vigil in front of the White House protesting nuclear testing. A few years later, famous baby doctor Benjamin Spock, who influenced thousands, spoke at a vastly larger march against the Viet Nam War, telling the crowd that his inspiration was that small group he saw by chance huddled with their kids in the rain. “I thought that if those women were out there, their cause must be really important.”

From his cell, Nelson Mandela speaks of how to survive prison intact, emerge undiminished, and conserve and replenish one’s hope. Susan B. Anthony warns: “cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform.”

We hear of Native American writer Sherman Alexie’s hope: “Everything is stuffed to the brim with ideas and love and hope and magic and dreams.”

Gay, Tony-award-winning playwright Tony Kushner writes that despair is a lie we tell ourselves, reminding us of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Then there’s Cornell West: “To live is to wrestle with despair yet never to allow despair to have the last word.”

In those essays we read of the creativity of people who carried on against great odds and were there to see the powers fall. They often never identified as activists; they merely tried to end what was hurting them or their families.

Others fought for progressive values even though they didn’t expect to see results in their lifetime. But these were activists, Loeb reminds us, who believed that “living with conviction is of value in itself regardless of the outcome.

Giving up on life and the living, Loeb argues, is really “a form of arrogance.” Alice Walker’s testimony “Only Justice Can Stop a Curse” examines that arrogance in the politics of bitterness.

So, for our own lives, our own good, our own conscience and integrity, we must live in hope.

“Life is a gamble,” historian Howard Zinn writes. “Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning. To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world.”

Giving up in cynicism and pessimism will consume us from the inside and allow those who’d hurt us to destroy the outside.

Loeb: “We can’t afford the sentimental view that mere self-improvement, no matter how noble in intention, is enough. Nor can we afford to succumb to fear.”

Snippets of these inspiring writings make them seem trite and precious. But sitting down to take in these brief essays has a cumulative effect: hope-inspiring.

They inspire those of us who feel we have only a small garden to hoe, not an empire to redirect.

Benjamin Mays, mentor to Dr. King summarizes:

The tragedy of life doesn’t lie in not reaching a goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. It isn’t a calamity to die with dreams unfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream. It is not a disgrace not to reach the stars, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach for.

Even now, hope is still realistic — and a choice.

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God’s Campy Creation: Finding Beauty Within Chaotic Absurdity https://whosoever.org/gods-campy-creation-finding-beauty-within-chaotic-absurdity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gods-campy-creation-finding-beauty-within-chaotic-absurdity Tue, 30 Nov 2021 05:00:38 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=21891

In the beginning God created the Heavens and the earth.

Out of a formless void, through the waters of creation, the Great Cosmic Artist crafted a work of Divine Art. On the fabric of Space and Time, Divinity painted Sacred constellations and Holy galaxies. Through arduous sleepless nights, a spectrum of self portraits appeared in the universe. Out of nothingness, isolation and emptiness came a Queerly bedazzled Campy garment of Love.

Out of nothingness came a world of detail. Out of isolation came a universe of diverse life. And out of emptiness came the beauty of humanity: Humanity made in the image of God, the Imago Dei. From Adam and Eve to you and me, we are all a part of the continual creation and holy artistry.

In the Queer Community, especially within the World of Drag, there is a rich history of Campiness. This is an intentional and individual over-the-topness meant to provoke strong emotions or reactions. Camp is a way of walking the earth that seizes attention and awe while delivering unspoken political or social messages.

Campiness is a drag queen minister traveling the country to preach from a pulpit. Campiness is Lady GaGa wearing a meat dress to an awards show. Campiness is The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and the The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

It is a mode of art that walks the tightrope of absurdity and opulence — balancing between too much and not enough. It often leaves an individual speechless, in fits of laughter, or in a state of wanting more.

The campiness of Creation

If you know what to look for, campiness can be found everywhere. It is timeless and it is boundaryless.

It can even be found within Creation.

You see, Campiness is Creation. Creation is Campiness.

God is a Holy Seamstress of Camp Couture.

“In the beginning…”, “Let there be light…”, “It was good…”, “Be fruitful and multiply…”

These are but a few campy messages and ostentatious statements found in the first version of creation. It is important to note that there are multiple accounts of the beginning, and though tradition has declared the author to be Moses, leading scholars claim it to have been written between the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.E., long after the time that “Moses” was said to exist.

Does this take away from the art conveyed to us through scripture? Or does it allow for space, space where the breath of imagination and creation can work and move within us?

I do not at all believe Scripture to be literal. This campy queen writing this believes wholeheartedly in science and reason. That said, there is insurmountable poetic power and wisdom dwelling in the pages of these stories.

We are shown the Weaver of the Universe claiming space for their art, modeling love through breathing life, showing defiance by challenging the status quo, and embracing chaos through crafting of the laws of physics.

God Created Heaven and Earth and all that lay in between. God Created Water and Land but also marshes and beaches. God created Day and Night, and God created a holy transition between the two. God created a sacred spectrum in all of creation.

Oftentimes, these spectrums go unspoken or unaddressed because of their power. The mere existence of difference, in-betweens, and none-of-the-aboves within the Story of Genesis threatens the historic and exclusionary dichotomies of the Church. This is to say, God’s very first work of art is politically charged.

From the first act of creation, a message was cast: You may try to define me, but you shall never succeed.

You may try to define me, but you shall never succeed.

That is a message of Creation. That is a message of Campy Rebellion.

Humanity as cosmic couture

There is one other word that is used within the world of drag: Couture.

This word is born from the queerly dominated fashion industry. It describes individual garments designed for specific people for specific times and for specific circumstances. It is the opposite of mass production.

Most of what Drag artists wear is couture. This is because we as artists are not a one-size-fits-all embodiment. Mass-produced clothing rarely fits us physically or metaphorically. This is the same with Divinity. And with Humanity.

It was on the Fifth and Sixth days of Creation that the Divine gazed down upon the waters of the universe, saw themself reflected back, and manifested humanity as an abstract non-carbon-copy-self-portrait of holy representation. Divinity breathed a life of evolving renditions into human history. No two creations are ever the same. No two can be placed in the same box. No two can be defined by the same words.

You may try to define me, but you shall never succeed.

Just as we will never be able to define God, we will never be able to define each other. We are the Imago Dei. We are a Campy Rebellion. We are Cosmic Couture. We are God’s Greatest Creations.

We are a part of a Sacred Spectrum. Our genders, sexualities, identities are deemed very good by the breath of divinity which exists within us.

Finding meaning in community

Yes, we are works of art as individuals, good and enough simply by existing; but, like any Art Installation, any Gallery Wall, any symphony orchestra, it is through togetherness, through uplifting our outrageous and holy differences, that deeper meanings can be found.

It is in community that the painful chaos of life can be felt as peace. It is in community that the marginalized can gather as one. It is in community that the Day and the Night, the Light and the Dark, the Absurd and Mundane, can coexist for the betterment of the world.

It is in community that we are meant to live.

No… It is in an equitable community, one where we give reparation for harm, one where we seek justice for the oppressed, one where we experience liberation from the shackles of racism, sexism, homophobia, and all other -isms, that we are meant to thrive.

In the beginning God Created Heaven and Earth…

What is it that we are creating today? What will our children learn to create tomorrow?

Will we create moments that uplift the spectrum of beauty that exist within those different from us?

Will we create change within institutions that cause harm?

Will we create a campy kin-dom of collective misfits and outcasts: Of ourselves and of each other?

Will we create? Will we love? Will we honor the Imago Dei of one another?

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Let’s Put Christ Back in ‘Christian’ This Season https://whosoever.org/lets-put-christ-back-in-christian-this-advent-season/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lets-put-christ-back-in-christian-this-advent-season Mon, 29 Nov 2021 05:00:22 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=22064 As a longtime transgender ally, this time of year hits a bit differently for me than it does for a lot of people. Due to the timing of Transgender Day of Remembrance — always shortly before Thanksgiving, and therefore also Advent — I inevitably go into the Christmas season painfully reminded of the lack of progress our society continues to make on the fundamental challenges faced by transgender people.

I realize this sentiment probably dates me, because I’m coming across as tone-deaf to all the forward progress we’ve made on things such as preferred pronouns and a slightly lessened emphasis on traditional binary notions of gender. It’s all worth celebrating, but as a Boomer my lens is just different.

As the pastor of an LGBTQ+ affirming urban church with a longstanding ministry to the homeless, I’m also keenly aware of the regrettable intersectionality of transphobia and homelessness in my fair city and many others.

If you’re like me, you’re likely to appreciate why it is that for far too many transgender people, homelessness lingers on the periphery of their lives: In a society where your housing is directly tied to your externally defined economic worth, a workforce that makes very few seats on the bus for transgender people is likely to cause a lot of transgender homelessness.

Years ago it used to set my teeth on edge listening to the president of one of our fancier (gentrified) neighborhood associations speak of “the transgender prostitutes” walking her beloved streets; I knew that in her mind she not only couldn’t separate those two identities, but she certainly couldn’t appreciate the forces that too often brought them together.

And while we’re talking about the intersectionality of the many marginalizations plaguing our society, here’s two more: The fact that state-sanctioned identification (a key that unlocks doors to employment and other societal goods) is held out as a privilege, not a right — and the fact that the overwhelming majority of LGBTQ+ homeless youth are people of color.

Add up just these few things, and you begin to understand how slippery the rungs on the ladder of our bootstrap-obsessed culture actually are. I may be 100 percent in solidarity with my neighbors who put “Black Lives Matter” signs on their lawns or like a “Trans Lives Matter” post on Facebook — but my challenge to my fellow Christians this Advent is to take it a level deeper.

Only the headlines have changed

In praying over this in recent days, I realized that I’d actually written about it before — four years ago, to be exact. And in re-reading what I’d written, I had the sinking realization that about the only things that have changed in this tapestry of marginalization are the headlines.

Here are three from just one news cycle:

  • A white teenager who killed two people and wounded another ends up with not even a modicum of legal responsibility laid at his feet. (Contrast that with the fate of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black boy who was killed in 2014 by a white police officer for carrying a toy gun.)
  • An attorney stands in open court and bemoans the presence of Black pastors supporting the family of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed Black jogger who was harassed and gunned down in broad daylight by three white men whose defense is that they were making a “citizen’s arrest.” (The most disgusting phrase I’ve encountered in the news coverage being that the attacker who raised his gun did so because Arbery was ignoring his “commands” to stop.)
  • With at least 48 deaths so far, 2021 already has been the deadliest year for transgender people in the U.S. since the Human Rights Campaign began keeping track in 2013. At least two of those deaths have been in my adopted home state of Georgia.

I sincerely believe that the average person is weary of seeing evidence all around them that their fellow humans continue to act in such a short-sighted and self-absorbed fashion when confronted with situations where our instruction from God is, I believe, rather clear: Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God.

Atlanta’s homeless crisis

Here in Atlanta, just in time for Christmas, we’re ignoring that instruction as it concerns our homeless brothers and sisters. Here in Atlanta, we live in a city where the establishment fought shamelessly for the better part of a decade to shut down the city’s largest homeless shelter — which just happened to be situated on some seriously prime real estate at the intersection of Peachtree and Pine streets.

We are four years past the closing of that shelter, and the building still sits empty, with the surrounding parking lots functioning as unofficial dumping grounds for all manner of waste.

The sad truth is that there was no plan made during that decade-long fight to shut down the Peachtree-Pine shelter that would account for how the 700 – 800 people it served daily might survive with some semblance of human dignity. Four years later, there is still no plan. In fact, instead of meeting the needs of its citizens, the counties and cities continue to offer patchwork fixes that keep their elected officials looking nominally compassionate.

Not to mention that every other shelter in town is already full. And that as fast as a tent city pops up under an underpass it is quickly cleared out. Talk about the city burying its head in the sand! But it keeps the optics right for the neighborhood activists who insist they don’t have anything against particular kinds of people — they just want everything under their gaze to look a certain way.

And why are there tent cities popping up all over my fair city? Because it is actually safer to camp out there — and wait for the city to come bulldoze your home — than to go to a shelter and risk physical abuse or the theft of your few remaining possessions.

And if you thought it was only on the Mexican border that we separate families like livestock, welcome to Atlanta, where if a mother is homeless and her sons are older than 12, they will be moved into separate shelters because separating people by gender is more important than keeping families together.

But our Atlanta officials aren’t completely heartless: They’ve been known to open emergency shelters when the outside temperature drops into the 30s. The only problem with that being that hypothermia begins with extended exposure to temperatures below 50. As an umpire and the pastor of an outdoor church, I am well familiar with this fact — and my congregation and fellow umpires could give you a tutorial on how many layers it takes to get comfortable in those conditions.

Another problem with this being that metro Atlanta’s core urban area is split between two counties, Fulton and DeKalb — and DeKalb doesn’t do emergency shelters.

The arrogance of metro Atlanta’s crazy-quilt political map of cities and counties becomes readily apparent when you read the list of 10 organizations they paternally recommend should be the real focus of our energy — we being those who struggle so mightily to care for the homeless who are our neighbors. Those 10 fine organizations are simply not enough points of light to illuminate the entirety of the gap left wide open by the closing of Peachtree-Pine and the subsequent lack of collective public vision.

Here’s why:

  • Most of these organizations close by 5pm. There are a couple that are open until 8:45pm and one that is open 24 hours — but this last one serves homeless youth only.
  • There are no purely family-oriented shelters.
  • None of them provide ongoing meals.
  • These organizations are spread out all over the city, making it extremely difficult for their clientele to access the services they do provide.
  • Many organizations have a cutoff as to how many clients they can service at a time. People can find themselves waiting in long lines for hours or more and still not make the cut.
  • None of these organizations is willing to work with transgender people.
  • Many of these organizations require a tuberculosis test before one can get housing or services.
  • COVID-19 protocols have made things even more difficult.

Given all these factors, I just have to ask: How, in all that is holy, are these people — who are without resources or transportation, who are hungry, who can also be dealing with addiction or mental illness or disability — supposed to access what the county and city blithely refer to as a “continuum of care”? How long should they wait? How far should they walk? And let’s be honest: Whose way should they stay out of?

Cast out of church and society

Ask a young LGBTQ+ person who’s just been cast out of their family home thanks in part to retrograde Christian teaching whose way they should be staying out of, and many of them would name the church.

Fifty-four transgender people were murdered in the U.S. between November 2020 and November 2021, and I can assure you that even for the ones who had housing, the threat of homelessness was a constant companion. How many of them do you think felt they could have sought comfort or shelter at the average neighborhood church?

The church, which as a whole is slower to adapt to the reality of the human condition than the U.S. Supreme Court, has spiritually criminalized an aspect of humanity that it should be celebrating.

Turning back to secular American society, it may not be illegal to be LGBTQ+, but certain of us unwittingly become extralegal because of the effective criminalization of homelessness. Here’s how it starts: In the state of Georgia, you cannot get a driver’s license or state ID without a birth certificate, Social Security card, and two pieces of mail sent to your residence.

Yes, you read that correctly: Two pieces of mail to your residence. Good luck, homeless people!

Plus, it doesn’t take longer than a couple of weeks for a newly homeless person to have lost whatever they might have been carrying (including all of their state-mandated documentation) to a beat cop who confiscated it, to a fellow traveler who stole it — or simply to “the shuffle” of constantly being on the move and eventually losing track of almost everything.

The last time I went to renew my driver’s license, I had to mail $50 to New Jersey to get my birth certificate. How many homeless people can manage that?

In addition, the next step in the criminalization of homelessness is that once you’ve pretty much lost the ability to prove who you are, you’re eventually going to find yourself arrested for loitering, trespassing, shoplifting, vagrancy, public urination, public intoxication, indecent exposure or any number of other petty crimes that happen along the way when you’re just trying to survive on the streets.

The result is that the city’s jails double as unofficial homeless shelters. So one of the badges that goes along with being homeless is the unemployability badge, because you now have a criminal record thanks to your inability to find a place to live, to stay out of the way, to prove who you are, or to pay a bond or a fine.

And the fact of the matter is that the only thing the average homeless person is guilty of is generally some sort of addiction, a mental health issue, or a disability of some kind. They end up on the streets because they can’t get the help they need.

Meeting the need

I’ve been saying for the better part of 20 years: If we are going to solve these challenges, then we need to stop trying to fix them and simply meet the need. Jesus never once offered to fix anything; rather, he simply met the need as it was presented to him.

To do the modern-day equivalent of meeting the need, three things must happen at once:

  • Full access to drug rehabilitation.
  • Full access to good mental health care.
  • Employers offering to pay a livable wage.

Followed in short order by a fourth thing our currently ridiculous economy is making increasingly necessary: Rent control. Or at least livable rents.

I could probably give you a fistful of additional paragraphs on what it feels like to meet a need — what many of us have learned as “welcoming the stranger” — rather than trying to fix people, but I think this is a good place to let the Word take over.

This Christmas, could we recommit ourselves to taking seriously what our faith teaches?

Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor. (James 3:17-18)

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love. And don’t take yourself too seriously — take God seriously. (Micah 6:8)

When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Humanity will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, “Enter, you who are blessed by my God! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
I was hungry, and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.” (Matthew 25:31-40)

To solve this challenge, we as people of faith need to start practicing what we say we believe. We need to get to the root of what causes homelessness and do as our scripture teaches us.

These “strangers,” our neighbors, are not numbers or statistics or political fixes to gather votes. They are God’s children, and we will eventually have to answer for what we do for and with — and to— these precious creations of God.

So tonight, tomorrow morning and in the days ahead, let’s be unsatisfied with the treacly perennial soundbites of the season — including my personal favorite, “putting Christ back in Christmas” — and instead fight for something that has the real potential for actual, lasting impact.

Let’s put Christ back into what it means to be Christian.

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Transgender People Reveal a God the World Doesn’t Want To Accept https://whosoever.org/transgender-people-reveal-a-god-the-world-wont-accept/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=transgender-people-reveal-a-god-the-world-wont-accept Sat, 20 Nov 2021 05:00:47 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=21873

If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it hated you. (John 15:18 NASB)

They will ban you from the synagogue, yet an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering a service to God. These things they will do because they have not known the Father nor me. (John 16:2-3 NASB)

I was often told the reason people hated Jesus was because he spoke about sin. Especially in the book of John, there are statements such as: “Go and sin no more,” “But because of your sin,” and “Do not be led to sin.”

All of this was used to reinforce my conformity to the beliefs of my church community. However, what if Jesus were hated for who he revealed God to be and not because of his strong teachings about sin?

As I have prepared for the Transgender Day of Remembrance, I have found the Gospel of John to have a lot to say about the hatred that marginalized groups face in this world. It seems that the reason Jesus was hated is the same reason transgender people are hated and killed today:

We reveal the image of God that the world does not want to accept.

Often I would read “Whosoever believes in him” in John 3:16 and think of it as an exclusive statement about those who believe in Jesus the “right” way. I was taught that this type of belief in Jesus meant complete compliance to the morality that I was given from my community.

However, John takes the theme of belief to show the extent of inclusion that the word “whosoever” encompasses.

Inclusion in the Gospel of John

One of the first things that John does is show that Samaritans, the greatest rival of the Jews and people who don’t even worship God “correctly,” fit into the category of “whosoever.” Some of the first believers in his Gospel are Samaritans after they hear the story of Jesus talking to the woman at the well. John goes on to show that royal leaders, the disabled, the hungry, abuse victims — and finally the Greeks — are all able to believe in the things Jesus revealed.

However, that meant that Jesus, while opening the community of faith to those thought to be outsiders, was revealing God as a God of inclusion and love for all humanity. And people hated him for it.

The more I looked at John’s Gospel, the more I started to realize that he wasn’t trying to define morality. (The only time he defines sin is in Chapter 16, in which Jesus says sin is “unbelief.”) He was simply trying to say that Jesus was revealing God to the world. But many didn’t like what they saw and chose to seek Jesus’ death, and the death of his disciples by extension, rather than to accept the version of God that Jesus showed to the world.

This is why Jesus was able to say things such as:

If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. (John 15:22)

The sin of unbelief comes from seeing the full presentation of God and choosing to reject what is seen.

Inclusion in God’s creation

As a trans person, accepted by God for who I am, John’s Gospel speaks volumes to me about the way we are treated in the world. If people hate Jesus because of what he reveals about God, what does that say about transgender people and a God that made the creative decision to make us who we are?

This is the document of the descendants of humanity. On the day God created humanity, God made it in God’s image. On the day they were created, God created them, male and female, blessed them, and declared their name to be “humanity.” (Genesis 5:1-2)

God does not create every single person as an individual representation of God’s image. It is humanity as a whole that represents God’s image.

“Male and female” is not an expression of closed categories, since there is no single aspect of creation meant to be understood as a fixed binary. God’s creativity includes dawn and dusk, swamps, blackholes, frogs, mosquitos, algae, and emus. The totality of humanity, which extends past the binaries of “male and female,” reveals the image of God that God chose to reveal to the world.

However, as it was with Jesus, there are people that hate the expression of God that is being revealed to the world in the lives and experiences of transgender people — sometimes to the point that they seek to stamp out our existence.

Failing to understand God

As we move toward Transgender Day of Remembrance, we are continuing to face the reality that so much of the world doesn’t want to accept trans people as a valid expression of humanity. This year has already set a record for the number of violent deaths, hate crimes and restrictive legislation suffered by transgender people.

In a culture that still relies on heteronormativity, defined gender roles and fixed gender binaries to maintain its supremacy over the marginalized, the experiences of transgender people reveal the extent to which our culture fails to fully understand God.

As people of faith, it is not enough to simply accept trans people in churches and communities while not being willing to stand with us as we face hatred and death for simply existing. Taking part in the ministry of Jesus means the continuing efforts of revealing God to the world, which necessitates the struggle to include the totality of humanity as it reveals God.

Jesus said that the world would hate him and his followers. Not because Jesus revealed the depths of the sin in the world, but because he revealed the extent to which God loves and accepts the fullness of humanity — and also uses humanity to be the image of Godself in the world.

As transgender people, we are not hated and killed because we are contrary to God, but because we reveal a God that the world does not want to accept.

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Why You Don’t Need To Be Dead To ‘Rest in Peace’ https://whosoever.org/rest-in-peace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rest-in-peace Thu, 11 Nov 2021 05:00:18 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=21886 “You can rest in peace only because you are awake.”

Back many years ago when I was teaching a comparative religion class at a South Carolina technical college, the final assignment was a much-dreaded group project where students had to invent their own religion. They were required to include a founder, dogma and doctrines, styles of worship and gathering, initiation rituals, and the all-important question of whether the religion embraced an afterlife, whether it was heaven, hell, purgatory or perhaps, reincarnation.

Students grumbled about the project, but many of them came up with some brilliant religions based on everything from football to shopping to capitalism itself. Curiously, there was always one thing missing from every single religion these students came up with — there was no hell or form of eternal punishment. In fact, the majority of the religions they invented had some form of reincarnation — a promise that you’d come back and do this all again — only better the next time around.

I was curious about why this was, and the answer I got most often was not so much that any of the students were afraid of death, per se. Every religion embraced the fact that our bodies die in some form of fashion. What every student feared was one thing: annihilation. They were afraid that their lives would end by being cast into a black nothingness and they would be forgotten about in this world.

I told them that annihilation sounded like heaven to me — because you wouldn’t know anything that happened after you’re dead, so why would it matter? You wouldn’t even know you had been annihilated. Yet, this fear was deeply rooted in many of my students. It seems that fear over what happens after this bodily life is pretty common — not just the fear of annihilation, but there are those who suffer from “apeirophobia,” which is the fear of an eternal life that goes on forever without an end or an amen.

I think the problem stems from how we think about consciousness, either in annihilation or eternal existence. Our ego has us convinced that no matter where we go — into oblivion or into eternal life — we will still exist as we are now with our likes, dislikes, stories, thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. From that point of view, I can see why it would cause fear and loathing. I don’t want to be this “me” forever and ever. I mean, I like me well enough, but how terrifyingly boring it would be to be this without end!

A Course in Miracles gives us a different way of thinking about the consciousness that inhabits not just our bodies, but the bodies of everyone we see around us — and believe to be separate entities from us — and assures us neither annihilation nor an eternity as these ego identities will be our ultimate fate.

“Complete unconsciousness is impossible,” the Course says in Chapter 8, so annihilation is off the table. This chapter also tells us that “rest in peace” should be a blessing for the living, not the dead, “because rest comes from waking, not from sleeping.”

By keeping us asleep, the ego keeps us gripped in fear about death — a kind of death that can never happen to us since we are already eternal beings who remain in the realm of the Holy, even as we experience this bodily world. Awakening to the truth about ourselves as blessed, eternal beings, is the worst thing that can happen to the ego because our fear about annihilation — or even a fear of eternal life — will disappear — because, as the Course tells us, “You can rest in peace only because you are awake.”

The fear of complete unconsciousness — or annihilation — is one of being forgotten. Our ego does all it can to convince us that our function here is to make some lasting mark on this world before we leave our bodily form so we can be remembered.

There are many traditions around this idea of remembrance. In African-American communities, they believe you’re never truly dead if someone still remembers you. This is why you see those memorials to people on the back of cars, keeping their memory alive. Even Jesus instructs us to enjoy a communion meal in remembrance of him, and we’ve done a pretty good job at keeping his name front and center in our culture for thousands of years.

The ego, though, convinces us that making our mark on this world requires hard work. Some of us employ benign ways of accomplishing our worldly immortality by trying to write the great American novel, working to cure cancer, becoming a rock star or other celebrity, becoming a popular social media influencer or a great teacher or leader of some sort. Others go the opposite direction, claiming fame for themselves by becoming thieves, autocrats, dictators, corrupt politicians or mass murderers.

This is the choice our ego sets before us — we can be Martin Luther King Jr. or we can be Charles Manson. It doesn’t matter to the ego. Its goal is to get us to work hard to be somebody – it doesn’t care about the specifics.

This is why “rest in peace” is a blessing for the living — for those who are awake in this world. Those of us who are sleeping — who are living from our unconscious ego — are out there “striving for wind,” as Ecclesiastes puts it — motivated by a fear of dying to the memory of this illusory world by gaining some manner of illusory fame. We exhaust ourselves in the process, striving for something, anything to be remembered by when our bodies wither and die.

This is why we fear the reaper so much. We believe we have to physically die before we can rest in peace — and, paradoxically, we believe we can’t achieve that peace until we achieve something meaningful in this world. What we fear, truly, is not a physical death, but something much worse — the death of our ego if we ever truly muster the courage we need to awaken to our higher, Divine Self.

There is no death. Wait, what?

When I first began studying A Course in Miracles, I was a bit unsettled about its insistence that death does not exist. I thought that was demonstrably untrue, given that every single one of us experiences a physical death. What I’ve realized is that the death that the Course says is impossible is the death of our higher, Divine Self. The ego, though, convinces us that to even believe in such a thing — a higher, Divine Self that is eternal, timeless, and changeless — is insanity.

I must admit, the ego has a good argument against it. The ego can show us countless ways that we can die in this world, and it can make endless, and convincing, arguments about how woo-woo and ridiculous it sounds to even talk about a “higher, Divine Self” that you can’t see, touch, hear, taste, or smell. This is, of course, where we go off track, trusting in the ego’s bodily senses to tell us anything about the real world of spirit.

The ego’s tell, though, is this: We’re often not so much afraid of physical death as we are the little deaths we die each day — the mental, psychological and emotional deaths we encounter when we feel shamed, abandoned, lonely, fearful, powerless and marginalized in some way. This is because the death we fear is to those things that our ego has convinced us are our true identity. The ego isn’t afraid of your physical death. It’s afraid of its death as the creator and driver of your identity.

This is exactly why Jesus, in John 12:24-25, talks about the necessity of a grain of wheat falling and dying to bring forth new and abundant life. He’s talking about why we must embrace those moments of the death of our egoic identities — why we must seek them out, even — because in that moment when we allow that egoic death to occur is when we are most fruitful.

My ego once told me that the most fearful thing that could happen to me would be that people would find out that I was a lesbian. I was afraid that those I loved would hate me and abandon me and those I didn’t know would reject me outright or do some manner of violence to me. So, I spent decades locked in a closet of fear and loathing.

My ability to die to that fear has produced much good fruit including an online spiritual magazine for LGBTQ people, a published book and years of activism for LGBTQ equality that has helped others die to their own egoic fear of coming out and embracing and healing their sexuality and spirituality. Now, I “rest in peace” with my sexuality. There is no one who can take that peace away from me — but it came about only because I was willing to allow my ego’s fears about coming out to fall away and die.

The death that does not exist is this: The ego’s insistence that we will die if people know our secrets and then abandon us in some way. The ego wants to keep us asleep in this darkness of fear — this place where we can experience no true peace.

The Apostle Paul in his first letter to the early Jesus followers in Corinth (1 Corinthians 15:22, 42-45, 54) makes the argument, even back then, that the death our ego says is real doesn’t exist. He likens the ego to “what is sown” which is “perishable.” But, he says, “what is raised is imperishable.”

What is “sown” is always in the darkness — that seed that is asleep. What is raised, though, according to the Greek word egeiro used in this passage, is “awake.” Paul is literally telling his followers, and us today, that only our sleeping ego can die, but what is awake is eternal.

Within each of us is a higher, Divine Self that is already awake — it is already eternal. Our ego, Paul says, is sown — or planted — in this physical body but it is “raised” or “awakened” in our spiritual body which we also have in this moment. We were created, Paul says, as “Adam” — which doesn’t mean just one guy but means “humankind” — as living bodily beings, but our higher, Divine self is that “life-giving spirit.” When we realize this — when we overcome our fear of our perishable body and put on “imperishability” — then the ego’s false death will be “swallowed up in victory.”

When we see through the darkness of death and realize that it’s simply something the ego fears and does not affect who we truly are, then we understand that death — like everything else in this world — is an illusion. Death does not, and will never, give us peace — only awakening will do that.

How do we awaken? We awaken when we understand that our purpose in this life is not to strive to be remembered. Instead, our function is to remember — to remember who we truly are: We are the light of the world. Then, we are to remember that we are here to shine that light of Holy love in every moment so that others will remember who they are. When enough of us stop trying to be remembered, and instead remember, then we shine our light together — there will be no reason to fear the reaper because the ego’s game of death will be over.

When we remember who we truly are, that ultimate ego fear of not being remembered is gone. Why? Because we are creations of the Holy and we are always remembered because we have never left the mind of God. The ego’s dream is to be remembered in an illusory world, but the good news is that we are already remembered by our Creator in eternity — that true, capital R, Reality that never ends.

This bodily life is about remembering. If you remember who you are while you are in this world, then you WILL change this world because you will be part of creating the happy dream that helps us all to finally awaken. Remembering who we are — and remembering those we perceive as separate from ourselves are also extensions of the Holy — is how we heal and save this world. In that remembering, you help others remember. The more who awaken and rest in peace, then the faster we all awaken.

Our mission, then, is not to be remembered for our money, fame, power or influence in this world, but to deepen our relationships. How many lives can we change and heal with the Holy Love that comes through us when we touch and live into that spacious awareness that is our higher Divine Self?

It is not selfish — or an act of spiritual bypass — to work on your own awakening. Instead, awakening is the one thing you can do that makes the biggest difference for the whole world because you help others awaken.

If you awaken and touch that spaciousness awareness within, then you become an awakened person. You will still have your history, your life, your stories, and people that you love — but you will rest in peace while you are still living, because you have allowed the ego’s fear to fall away from you and die. What grows in its place is “a life-giving spirit” that emanates from your very being.

There is no reason to fear the reaper because we are all part of the eternal wholeness that flows without beginning or end. And that should make you say: “Oh, yeah.”

Republished with permission of the author.

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Self-Care, Healing and Transformation: My 25 Years of Transitions https://whosoever.org/self-care-healing-and-transformation-my-25-years-of-transitions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=self-care-healing-and-transformation-my-25-years-of-transitions Thu, 04 Nov 2021 04:00:41 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=21827 Welcome to the 21st century, an era where evolving consciousness, transformation, and being woke are the trending terms, book titles, and social media memes. And while there is nothing wrong with that, many of us are missing the deeper calling of the deeper questions: What does it mean to be transformed, to evolve, to awaken?

Reading these words from Romans is one thing, embodying them and engaging them as an active practice is a vastly different way of life:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2 NIV)

One of the great things about multiple translations is that we are invited to explore the complexity of language to understand on a different, possibly deeper level. In reading the New Living Translation we are given such an opportunity:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Herein lies one of the most profound shifts I personally have undergone since my first submission to Whosoever back in 2000. In 2000 I was experiencing a great deal of inner and outer turmoil in my personal, professional, and spiritual life! Depression was a constant friend, and the suicidal ideations of my youth had returned.

Enter, stage left: Transformation.

In the New Thought spiritual tradition, it is common to hear people refer to “death” as a “transition.” We refer to people “making their transition,” or say they “transitioned,” rather than saying they died. I have noticed that this occurs for two main reasons. First, death carries with it an energy of finality, and we do not see death as being final. So a more energetically appropriate term was chosen.

Second, in full transparency, there are many in New Thought who use the term not because they “believe,” but because they fear the finality of death. I mention this because over the years I have come to recognize the facts that we — all of us — are in a constant state of transition.

We transition from morning to afternoon to evening activities. We transition from elementary school to high school to college and/or work life. We transition from various relationships as friendships change, romantic connections fray, our children become adults, etc. Even this breath, this inhalation, transitions to an exhalation.

Any attempt to keep things constant or unchanging is to rest in a consciousness of stagnancy. Any attempt to regain the life of yesteryear, to recapture the nostalgia and relive it repeatedly, is to imprison ourselves in a zombie-like hell where we are unable to truly live an abundant life!

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came so that they would have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10 NASB)

When I, over the years since 2000, began to recognize the process of being in transition, to recognize the vast emotional landscape, to see the pain not as enemy but as invitation, then I was able to begin the process of truly transforming my mind.

One may wonder or ask: “Why, what is so important about transforming my mind?” Though we operate within the world, are we not invited to refrain from being of it?

We transform our minds, so we are not conformed to the “mind” of the world — a mass consciousness of lack, scarcity, greed, oppression, and more. In short, the mind of the world is the consciousness of the white supremacist, pseudo-Christian, capitalistic, heteronormative, patriarchal delusion. We transform our minds to first heal ourselves from the trauma and abuse this delusion has inflicted upon us.

We also transform our minds to then affect revolutionary systemic changes in the world (in our homes, churches, mosques, temples, court systems, schools, and legislation).

As I write this essay, I’m 55 years old, and because of the radical self-care I now embody as a daily unapologetic act, I feel the best I have ever felt in my entire life!

Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.

These words of Audre Lorde resonate in a profoundly powerful way where I understand that this thing called Spirituality, and a Religion of Love and Compassion, demands action!

It demands evolution! It demands that I individually — and that we collectively — wake up! Equity, justice, and emancipation from the shackles of Racism, Homophobia, Transphobia, Xenophobia, etc. This “political warfare” is actually “spiritual warfare.”

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12 NIV)

As a metaphysician, I understand and practice this to mean we are not battling people per se, but the consciousness and the beliefs that show up as the fruit they bear, as their acts of hate and ignorance.

By their fruit you will recognize them. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, by their fruit you will recognize them. (Matthew 7:16)

In reflecting on the 25th anniversary of Whosoever, the words of Fannie Lou Hamer come to my mind, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” The work of transformation, evolution, and waking up has been the work of the LGBTQIA community long before there were letters being used or a flag being waved or parades being marched in.

This work was being done, is being done, and will continue to be done, in powerful and impactful ways, and we in the theological spheres must recognize this as a call to action.

Sitting by — watching, waiting, hoping — is no longer an option. It would be great if I could say that it was only one late night in my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pa., that I sat on the railing of a bridge, watching my life spiral out of control with self-hatred, confusion, and fear, waiting for a breeze to nudge me over the edge and help me along, and hoping for the answers.

The actual truth is I have no idea how often I sat there. What I do know is that nothing changed for me until I changed how I thought about myself, the Bible, my beliefs, my sexuality, etc. When I deconstructed a faulty faith and reconstructed a new more authentic and empowered one, my tree — once nearly barren — began to bear the most succulent, nourishing fruits I could imagine!

Now, as a Black Gay man in the United States of America, who has been a minister for several years and is now a newly ordained minister within Centers for Spiritual Living, I am even more committed to the work. Committed to identifying what is mine to do.

I ask daily: “What does it mean to ‘minister’ to the community?” “What is mine to do?” “Am I responding from fear or from faith, from anger or apathy, from resentment or reconciliation?”

Much has occurred and changed since my first essay here to today — both of my parents have died (made their transition); 99 percent of my biological family are not in my life in any life-affirming and meaningful ways; my family of choice has also undergone some painful changes as three of my five sons are now estranged. And a former friend and martial arts student of mine who became a stalker who tried to kill me in 2001 has resurfaced in 2019.

I mention this as a sampling of my journey simply to say that I have found from firsthand experience, from living my spiritual faith daily walking the walk, that there is power within us.

Ruach, the breath of God, moves us, it inspires us and gives us the ability to resuscitate and breathe life into our daily experiences.

Have we transformed over the years? Yes.

Is there more transformation, evolution, awakening to be done? Yes

Can we do it? I have absolute faith that we can, and we will because we are!

We don’t heal in isolation, but in community. (S. Kelley Harrell)

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Halloween As An American LGBTQ+ Holiday https://whosoever.org/halloween-an-american-lgbtq-holiday/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=halloween-an-american-lgbtq-holiday Fri, 29 Oct 2021 04:00:02 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=21801 Halloween is America’s “gay” holiday.

In the words of lesbian poet and scholar Judy Grahn, Halloween is “the great gay holiday.”

And this weekend, after months of lockdown due to COVID, lavish costumes will resurface, especially among us LGBTQ+ revelers.

Back in the day, Halloween — the night before All Hallows’ Day (All Saints‘ Day) — was linked to the ancient Celtic festival Samhain (“summer’s end”) in the British Isles. And because the celebration is associated with mystery, magic, superstition, witches and ghosts, the festivity, not surprisingly, was limited by colonial New Englanders because of their Puritanical beliefs.

But today it’s an LGBTQ+ extravaganza that rivals — if not out-showcases — Pride festivals.

Long before June officially became Gay Pride Month and October became Coming Out Month for the LGBTQ+ community, Halloween was unofficially our yearly celebrated “holiday.”  It dates as far back as the 1970s, as a massive annual street party in San Francisco’s Castro district.

By the 1980s, gay enclaves such as Key West, West Hollywood and Greenwich Village held annual Halloween street parties. And the parades the night of Halloween did, and still do, draw straights and LGBTQ+ spectators out to watch.

Gay cultural influence on Halloween has become such an unstoppable phenomenon here and abroad that University of Florida anthropology professor Jack Kugelmass described Halloween as an emerging gay “high holiday” in his 1994 book Masked Culture: The Greenwich Village Halloween Parade:

The “masked culture” first developed by the gays of San Francisco has reached across the lines of orientation — and now jumped across the boundaries between nations and languages. It’s not just a party. It’s an ideal of personal emancipation, self-expression, and self-fulfillment — an ideal that loses none of its power when it takes the form of a sexy nurse’s outfit.

Nicholas Rogers, author of the 2003 book Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, points out that while everyone enjoys Halloween:

It has been the Gay community that has most flamboyantly exploited Halloween’s potential as a transgressive festival, as one that operates outside or on the margins of orthodox time, space, and hierarchy. Indeed, it is the Gay community that has been arguably most responsible for Halloween’s adult rejuvenation.

Halloween allows many LGBTQ+ Americans at least one night annually, on October 31, of safely being out and “unmasked” while remaining closeted. The community parties the entire night as if there is no tomorrow, and for many there isn’t. Like its pagan antecedent, Halloween provides an outlet for cross-dressing and gender-bending LGBTQ+ who are ostracized by mainstream society.

But as Halloween flourished as a gay cultural phenomenon, so too grew a backlash by fundamentalist Christians with their “Hell Houses.” And these Christians targeted children. (Believing Hell Houses are no longer up and running in 2021, I’ll speak of them in the past tense.)

Hell Houses were a contemporary form of both anti-LGBTQ+ bullying and witch-hunting. Created in the late 1970s by deceased fundamentalist pastor Jerry Falwell, Hell Houses were religious alternatives to traditional haunted houses. They were tours given by evangelical churches across the country designed to scare and bully people away from myriad sins. And one of those “sins” was homosexuality.

In 2006 the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force put out a report titled “Homophobia at ‘Hell House’: Literally Demonizing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth,” explaining how the Hell Houses specifically targeted youth:

Instead of spooking youth with ghosts and monsters, Hell House tour guides direct them through rooms where violent scenes of damnation for a variety of “sins” are performed, including scenes where a teenage lesbian is brought to Hell after committing suicide, and a gay man dying of AIDS is taunted by a demon who screams that the man will be separated from God forever in Hell.

Scaling Satan,” a study published in The Journal of Psychology in 2001, concluded that a strong belief in Satan is directly related to intolerance of LGBTQ+ people. Religious leaders who supported Hell Houses believed that by scaring LGBTQ+ youth into heterosexual behavior, they were saving souls. Their attempt to turn our most cherished holiday against us failed — and Halloween remains our second Pride.

Our influence on culture is being acknowledged and celebrated. Kwanzaa is a black holiday, St. Patrick’s Day is an Irish holiday, and now Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a Native American holiday. Maybe someday soon, Halloween will be officially acknowledged as a gay holiday.

Happy Halloween!

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‘Please Raise Them To Be Monsters’? Really? https://whosoever.org/please-raise-them-to-be-monsters-really/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=please-raise-them-to-be-monsters-really Wed, 27 Oct 2021 04:00:13 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=21782 Are we still stuck in that kind of masculinity?

Just about the time some of us were appreciating the progress being made in our culture’s definition of masculinity and its use of slurs against LGBTQ people to enforce a manhood toxicity, we’re confronted with evidence that much of that progress hasn’t reached as many as we’d hoped.

Two of many examples caught the attention of the media this past month. The first was the use of the tired old slurs and gender expectations by Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden.

Though Gruden resigned on October 11th because his emails showed bigotry against women and people of color as well as his anti-LGBTQ attitudes, his slurs appear to represent an ongoing larger and lingering cultural problem that’s been pointed out again and again. Many of those emails, covering a seven-year period, were sent to Bruce Allen, the Washington Redskins’ then-president, who was fired in December 2019.

Jemele Hill, a contributing writer for The Atlantic, responded after investigating:

The question we should be asking is not really [about] the existence of the e-mails, but what is the culture in the NFL, period… And this culture has existed since the very inception of the NFL… It’s about all the people he was emailing. And people realize that he was emailing back and forth… So if this is the pervasive attitude, if this is the group think in the NFL, Black people don’t have a chance of being in leadership in the NFL at all because this is not just about Jon Gruden.

In one message, Gruden called NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a “pussy” and a “faggot,” according to The New York Times. In another, he called Michael Sam a “queer” after the player was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in 2014. Gruden added that the league should not have pressured the team’s then-coach to draft Sam, the Times reported. Michael Sam publicly revealed he was gay ahead of the draft and ultimately never played a regular season game in the league.

There it is once again — the gay slur used to put down any man as unmanly and used by Gruden of Goodell to put him in his place, not mattering that Goodell is as straight as an arrow. That place is to be “a real man” defined by well-worn old gender roles that keep men from being whole human beings, including putting down LGBTQ people.

The second instance that got media attention was the advice given to parents (who cheered him on) by U.S. Representative Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina. “Our culture today,” he claimed, “is trying to completely de-masculate all of the young men in our culture.” And then of course, singling out moms — who are blamed for children’s problems in these traditional gender schemes: “All of you moms here… if you are raising a young man, please raise them to be a monster.”

A Cawthorn spokesperson later explained: “Congressman Cawthorn was urging parents to raise their sons as strong, godly, men who are warriors for truth and morality. Monsters and lions, not wimps and sheep.”

So, here we still are — there are still those who proudly take advantage of the long-standing, now called “toxic,” male gender role to put other men down. As discussed extensively in Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It’s So Hard to Be Human, they take advantage of existing prejudice about being LGBTQ to put down men who don’t fit their definition of a monster or warrior, of “real men.”

In a patriarchy, the socio-cultural system spends much time conditioning men into the definition of manhood it needs — in our case, we are used to being a warrior culture with the ideal man a fighter, a defeater of other men, and even a killer. No man in our culture is ever put down as unmanly for anger, violence, and the killing of others.

And that prepares men to go off to other countries, or now to commit atrocities and insurrection right here, so that they can beat, defeat, and even kill others. It’s the wimps who refuse to do that.

And in order to produce those warriors, the culture must remove certain human characteristics from boys, for if men stayed in touch with the whole range of human emotions they had at birth, they could not treat others the way they do or accept going off to kill others not because they’re personally threatened but in order to maintain the system.

To quote Cawthorn, the system needs “monsters,” and it needs mothers to do whatever it takes to take little boys and turn them into such creatures. Such “poisonous pedagogy” (to use the language of child abuse expert Alice Miller) sounds like emotional abuse, frankly.

Society’s girls, this ideology goes, must then be turned into warrior support personnel, dependent upon and subservient to conditioned men. Thus patriarchy works to teach women to spend their time responding to its manhood conditioning.

Women who have fought against such conditioning and who try to see their boys not as potential monsters or warriors are taught to feel guilty as bad parents, are put down as “feminazis” (remember Rush Limbaugh?) or are assumed to be lesbians. As long as it’s still a slur, a version of “lesbian” will be used to put down any woman who refuses to conform to feminine gender conditioning, who steps out of that role in any way.

And when a boy or man is put down as a “pussy,” “wuss,” “wimp” or “fag,” it’s not just assuming that LGBTQ people are deviants, it’s putting down all women as lesser than men, even those who conform as much as possible to the feminine gender role. The worst thing a boy can be accused of is being a “girl.”

These ongoing gender issues aren’t just those that end up oppressing transgender people. They keep us all in straitjackets — that is, in the limitations of those binary very straight-acing gender roles.

Because women have different gender conditioning, mothers (and other women) might try to contemplate answers to this question when they consider the conditioning of their boys, an idea it will be hard for anyone other than fully conditioned men to identify with:

What would have to be done to your mind as a girl to get you to buy into the idea that to be a real woman you must reject emotions like hurt, fear, confusion, and your connection to other human beings in order to become someone who fills your role of being willing to define yourself in terms of a homophobia and womanhood that says you fulfill your womanhood by beating, defeating, and killing other women?

In another word, to become a monster?

It would take abuse, right?

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The Black Church Was One of R. Kelly’s Enablers https://whosoever.org/black-church-was-one-of-r-kellys-enablers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=black-church-was-one-of-r-kellys-enablers Fri, 15 Oct 2021 04:00:16 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=21748 The long-awaited justice for R. Kelly’s survivors finally came last month when a New York federal jury found him guilty of racketeering and sex trafficking.

For nearly 30 years, underage black girls and their families have tried to bring Kelly to justice. Now the question being asked is: What took so long?

“The entertainer had an expansive network of enablers around him, federal prosecutors said, from his closest confidantes and employees to many in the music industry who knew of the concerns about his behavior but did not intervene,” wrote Troy Closson, a reporter for The New York Times covering law enforcement and criminal justice.

Several institutions failed these black girls, though, including the judiciary, law enforcement, and the black community and church.

In 2002, on the same day after posting a $750,000 bond on child pornography charges, Kelly left the court to attend a children’s graduation ceremony at Salem Christian Academy in Chicago.

One would think Kelly’s sing-along with the kindergartners would land him back in jail. But accompanying Kelly from the courthouse to the graduation was the renowned Rev. James Meeks, Kelly’s spiritual adviser and senior pastor at the Salem Baptist Church.

In 2019, after the airing of Lifetime’s docu-series “Surviving R. Kelly,” which sparked a national outcry, the seven-time gospel Stellar Award winner Bishop Marvin Sapp was called on the carpet for his association with R. Kelly.

In 2017, Sapp released a song titled “Listen,” featuring Kelly. In an interview on the black gospel radio show “Get Up!” in 2019, Sapp first defended his position, stating they recorded the tune before the controversy.

Of course, you must wonder what world Sapp had been orbiting in, since there had been controversy around Kelly for decades.

When Black Twitter pounced on him for his lame excuse, Sapp said prayer was part of his reasons for releasing the song. “After praying about it — in studying scripture — one of the things that I think that all of us in the body of Christ need to notice is that the message has always been bigger than the messenger,” Sapp said. “I think many of us miss that. When you study scripture, you will notice that when God decided to do something great, God chose a flawed individual.”

Black women have decried how black pastors have used self-serving theological reasoning in supporting Kelly and the deleterious effects it has had on them, reporting sexual abuse and rape, especially by their male parishioners, deacons and pastors.

Studies have revealed that black girls, women and nonbinary individuals confront higher domestic violence and rape incidences. Nearly 60 percent of black girls are sexually abused before 18, and black women are killed at a higher rate than other women.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham tweeted to Sapp:

According to Rolling Stone, R. Kelly album sales have been up by 517 percent since his guilty verdict, which is no surprise — it’s a trend that follows controversy. But it begs the question: Are Kelly’s R&B and black gospel followers the ones buying his music on the down-low since it’s now taboo to do so?

In a Religion News Service essay, Cheryl Townsend Gilkes has posed her question about R. Kelly’s music to the church, “Will the Black church continue to sing ‘I Believe I Can Fly’?”

Gilkes, a native Cantabrigian, professor at Colby College and assistant pastor for special projects at Union Baptist Church in Cambridge, notes that “from its beginnings, gospel music has had a strained relationship with commercial interests and secular artists.”

“I Believe I Can Fly” first appeared on the soundtrack for the 1996 film “Space Jam,” and then in 1998 on Kelly’s album R. At the 1998 Grammys that year, Kelly performed the song backed by a gospel choir. Gilkes reminds readers that “I Believe I Can Fly” resonates in the black community because the “flight” trope has been a core theme in our culture since slavery to the present day.

The trope is expressed in black art, literature, and black liberation theology as a form of resistance and inspiration. And it’s one of the reasons the song is sung ad nauseam at funerals, weddings, and graduations and in churches.

Gilkes hopes the black church won’t sing “I Believe I Can Fly.” I want the church to do more: Stop being on the down-low about sexuality and sexual abuse and develop an embodied theology. As a child of sexual abuse, R. Kelly needed help. The girls Kelly held captive and abused needed rescue from him. The black church missed the opportunity to help both.

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Coming Out As an Act of Love https://whosoever.org/coming-out-as-an-act-of-love/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=coming-out-as-an-act-of-love Mon, 11 Oct 2021 04:00:24 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=21726 Coming out is an act of love — of self-love, and of love for those around us. It has the power to bring us closer to friends and family, and it gives us the security of knowing that however people treat us, it’s because of who we really are.

Not that coming out isn’t still terrifying for most people, with the potential for real harm to occur. And while more and more LGBTQ+ people are experiencing coming out as a joyful confirmation that they’re unconditionally loved, still far too many experience the opposite: Real emotional, spiritual or physical violence — for simply being who they are.

For anyone contemplating coming out, a tremendous resource to start with is “Feeling Good About Yourself: A Guide to Coming Out” by Rev. Rembert S. Truluck, author of Steps to Recovery from Bible Abuse.

Turning to the Bible itself, at least three Whosoever contributors have found stories that are relatable as coming-out journeys: The Transfiguration, Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and Joseph’s story of revealing himself to his family after their reversals of fortune.

And that’s just for starters. Here’s a sampling of the many pieces in our rich and evergreen Coming Out archives that depict the coming-out journey from a variety of personal perspectives:

  • Nikko Espina’s journey of coming out to himself and his parents, with a little inspiration from Lady Gaga along the way, is the subject of “In My Blood: Born This Way and Worthy of Love.”
  • A Transgender Meditation on the Beatitudes” is Jennifer Hasler’s telling of the watershed moment in her coming out journey when she understood the Beatitudes to say “Blessed are the T, for they will be riotously celebrated in the Kingdom of God.”
  • Alyce Keener’s Letters to Home series relates the joys and challenges of middle-age life as an out lesbian in the suburbs of a major Southern city.
  • Coming out while heterosexually married and attending a conservative church is the subject of Dominica Applegate’s “What the LGBTQI Spiritual Journey Can Teach Anyone.
  • Reclaiming Our Baptism, Remembering Who We Are” is Rev. Dwight Welch’s story of finding, in the memory of his baptism, the strength to be out and claim his Christian faith.
  • In “The Case For Not Running,” Claire Murashima tells of her decision to follow a path that led to her becoming the first openly gay student body president at Calvin University, a conservative Christian college with no openly LGBTQ+ faculty or staff.
  • Out of the Closet and Into a Box” is Katharine Royal’s story of coming out as bisexual in a supportive heterosexual marriage only to run headlong into society’s preconceived notions about bisexuality.
  • Leilani Fletcher witnesses a friend’s pain at being young, closeted and forced to return home from college to shelter in place with family during a pandemic in “Queer in Quarantine.”
  • Coming out to a conservative Baptist and Republican college friend the summer after graduation is the subject of Lori Heine’s “Coming-Out-to-Shawnee Syndrome.”
  • Becky Allison, a successful cardiologist and past president of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, tells how her coming-out journey included hearing the voice of God assure her that her transition was “The Way Out” of a lifetime of misery.
  • A college student’s “Dance of Coming Out” begins with attending an on-campus “coming out dance” — at his girlfriend’s urging.
  • Baseball-loving James C. Chappelle comes “Out at 45,” leaving his native Louisiana for Los Angeles in search of the life he’s been missing — and finds it.
  • Afdhere Jama juggles his gay, Arab and Christian identities while “Out in Beirut” — with a little help from his gay, Arab and mostly Muslim friends.
  • Coming Out As a Sacrament in Argentina” is the story of Roman Catholic scientist Ariel Barrios Medina’s efforts to publish in his native country a U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter to parents of homosexuals — and in the process being outed to the entire nation.
  • The story of how Dr. Richard Rossiter’s quest for authenticity after coming out forced him to leave the United Methodist Church for the Metropolitan Community Church is the subject of his book “Out With a Passion.”
  • In “Buckets and Closets,” Rev. Suzie Chamness compares our deepest thoughts to water in a well and likens the coming out journey to raising a bucket of that water into the sunlight.

For these and more stories, essays and articles, visit our complete Coming Out archives.

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Sergius and Bacchus: Sainted Same-Sex Military Couple https://whosoever.org/sergius-bacchus-sainted-same-sex-military-couple/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sergius-bacchus-sainted-same-sex-military-couple Thu, 07 Oct 2021 04:00:40 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=21629 In LGBTQ+ History Month it’s worth recognizing how difficult it is not to read modern prejudices or hopes back into the lives of famous characters. Before the 19th-century category of sexual orientation labelled “homosexuality” was invented there wasn’t a way to categorize those we’d today expect were, or we’d consider, lesbian, gay, transgender, or queer.

The creation and subsequent demonization of modern categories of sexual orientation and gender identity that aren’t straight enough by today’s definitions has raised complaints about what has been ignored about LGBTQ+ people in history.

But it’s also invoked negative responses to the reexamining of historical documents without modern homophobic reactions, responses that expend a lot of effort trying to prove that those examples weren’t really lovers but “friends, brothers, sisters” who expressed their love more intimately than siblings and friends would in today’s apparently more homophobic cultures.

LGBTQ+ History Month — interestingly and to the chagrin of many “traditional” Christianists — has four feast days for recognized “saints” in the pre-homophobic worship patterns of Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches who non-homophobic evaluation suggests we’d call LGBTQ+ saints today.

October 8 is the feast day of Saint Pelagia(os) the Penitent; October 9 is the feast day of Saint Athanasia (Athanasios) of Antioch; and October 29 is the feast day of Saint Anna the New (renamed Euphemianos) of Constantinople.

Sergius and Bacchus: Revered in history

But first we come upon October 7, the traditional feast day of Sergius and Bacchus, two male saints depicted throughout the long history of their veneration as lovingly committed to each other in a depth unquestioned until the rise of that modern category of “homosexual” and the reactionary need to deny that they were lovers by those worried that the long-venerated duo might qualify.

This fourth-century same-sex couple was particularly popular throughout the Mediterranean area. For nearly a thousand years Sergius and Bacchus were the heavenly protectors and official patrons of the Byzantine army. References to their relationship were regularly invoked in rituals for same-sex partnerships.

As with so much purported “history” of saints and martyrs, we have little basis for authenticating the details of the historical claims made in the highly stylized and idealized devotional literature about these two. Like the other martyrs, so much is later, over-worked, and unverifiable.

What we can say is that this loving couple was taken seriously enough to be revered down through history as well as to have shrines built to them. The tomb of Sergius at Resafa became a famous shrine. In the year 431, Bishop Alexander of Hierapolis built a magnificent church in his honor.

In 434, the town of Resafa was raised to the rank of an episcopal see and was named Sergiopolis. Later, Emperor Justinian I enlarged and fortified it and it became one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in the East.

The construction of a Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus in Istanbul in 527 was one of the first acts of the reign of Justinian I. In fact, another legend says that both saints appeared to Emperor Justin, Justinian’s uncle, to save Justinian by vouching for Justinian’s innocence in a plot against the throne.

Parts of Sergius’ relics were transferred to Venice where these saints were patrons of the ancient cathedral. And by the ninth century a church had been dedicated to them both in Rome.

In search of Sergius and Bacchus

Their “Acts” have been retold down through history and preserved in Latin, Greek, and Syriac. Though they’re said to have been martyred in the fourth century, the Greek text known as The Passion of Sergius and Bacchus is probably from a century later.

Sergius and Bacchus were military men of high rank according to the legend. Thus, they are not only examples of paired saints but of an ideal in the broader popular lore of the intimate male-male relationships between soldiers and warriors that has fascinated many cultures for ages. See, for just one example, the love of the Biblical warrior pair, David and Jonathan.

The received text is full of stylized and patterned material not unlike that found in the plethora of legends of Christian martyrs, but the details of the days of their torture and deaths emphasize not only their religious faith but the intimacy of their relationship.

Because they refused to worship Roman gods and extolled the Christ of Christianity, they were first humiliated by being paraded on the journey to their ultimate deaths in women’s clothing. Then they were separated and tortured with Bacchus murdered first.

That foundational text says that while Sergius waited in his cell the night following Bacchus’ death, Bacchus appeared to him, telling Sergius not to lose heart for not only were the joys of heaven greater than any suffering he would endure but that his reward would be to reunite with Bacchus in heaven.

Notice how the gist of the message Bacchus brings is framed in the text that’s been passed down through history in terms of the loss of each other:

Why do you grieve and mourn, brother? If I have been taken from you in body, I am still with you in the bond of union, chanting and reciting, “I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou has enlarged my heart.” Hurry then, yourself, brother, through beautiful and perfect confession to pursue and obtain me, when finishing the course. For the crown of justice for me is with you. (John Boswell’s translation)

Sergius and Bacchus through a modern lens

No one worried about whether this was or was not a romantic sexual relationship between two warrior lovers — they apparently didn’t care — for 1,600 years. But then a distinguished Yale University medieval historian, John Boswell began looking at pre-modern documents without the modern institutional bias that dominated medieval Church historians, who were mostly Roman Catholic.

Boswell knew he was fighting the establishment’s entrenched homophobic traditions. Thus, all his writings are dominated by careful methodological historical discussions, extensive footnotes (almost half of each book), appendices, original documents, and translations as evidence for his upending of medieval studies.

The response to his work was both wide praise and expected and predictable conservative criticisms. But through it all, Sergius and Bacchus remained as icons of an intimate same-sex relationship that homophobia only tried to erase in this past quarter century.

We recognize that historians can’t know with certainty the real history of this couple, described in the oldest material we have about them as erastai (probably “lovers”). But what we do know is that their sainthood was celebrated down through history as a model of male-male love for each other without fear of what that meant about the intimate, romantic, or sexual nature of their relationship.

Only in the last decades with modern homophobia has anyone tried to argue that they weren’t as intimate as the documents we have say they likely were, though most of the criticism of Boswell’s work is meant to reject his suggestions that there were same-sex union ceremonies for romantic couples in the pre-modern church.

All in all, though, why not recognize the centuries-long idealization of Sergius’ and Bacchus’ deep, even romantic, love for each other? And why not celebrate such deep love wherever it is pictured?

Homophobia? Too subversive of anti-LGBTQ+ dogma? Too threatening to authorized anti-gay Church institutional historical claims?

Is the fear of such ideas too much that it means some have to reject even the possibility of such love? Or are the rejecters still products of a modern straight-acting macho culture where a male soldier can get a medal for killing another man but get killed for loving one?

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C.S. Lewis and Homosexuality: Surprising Facts? https://whosoever.org/c-s-lewis-and-homosexuality-surprising-facts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=c-s-lewis-and-homosexuality-surprising-facts Tue, 05 Oct 2021 04:00:01 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=21452 C.S. Lewis’ thinking on sex, and sexual references in his biography, have puzzled readers and scholars alike. He hasn’t always seemed as “Christian” as some Christians would like. “Is C.S. Lewis too Sexy for America?” the Lewis scholar Brenton Dickieson recently discussed.

The suggestions of queer sexuality in Lewis’ biography are even more startling, and more remote from his perceived image. We might begin from the scatalogical talk often found in his family, a theme that Andrew Rilstone detailed in 2006. As noted in biographies, when Lewis was a toddler, his nursemaid, he recalled, threatened  to smack his bottom. For his brother Warren, or “Warnie,” Lewis would forever be “Smallpigiebotham” —Ii.e. “small piggy bottom,” shortened to “APB.”

This may provide context for Lewis having rejected his given name. As Warnie narrates the matter:

Disliking “Clive,” and feeling his various baby-names to be beneath his dignity, he marched up to my mother, put a forefinger to his chest, and announced “He is Jacksie.” He stuck to this the next day and thereafter, refused to answer to any other name: Jacksie it had to be, a name contracted to Jacks and then Jack.

Warnie doesn’t note that “jacksie” was an ordinary British slang term for the anus.

Both boys were packed off to boarding school. In his memoir Surprised by Joy, Lewis recalls that the older boys who were leaders, called “prefects,” made sexual use of younger boys. Startlingly, Lewis describes the sex as a bright spot in a world that was mostly just cruel. “In his unnatural love-affairs,” he writes, the prefect “forgot for a few hours that he was One of the Most Important People There Are.”

Lewis doesn’t say he was himself used in this way, but he had described the event in familiar terms, without citing any informant, or discussing how he had evaded such treatment. There might be other clues. Lewis had made his father take him out of one school by saying he would otherwise kill himself.

Christian scholars have downplayed Lewis’ discussion of school sex, following the lead of Warnie, who had said it wasn’t as bad as his brother said. But in a 2012 study, C.S. Lewis, Poetry, and the Great War 1914–1918, John Bremer observed that the matter may be more complicated. Warnie never married, never showed interest in women, and became a chronic alcoholic. A classic profile, Bremer writes, of “probable homosexual inclinations.”

He suggests that Warnie speaking of prefects having sex with boys in boarding school might be tricky, as Warnie had been a prefect.

Lewis’ first love?

While at boarding school, Lewis made his first friend. In Surprised by Joy he frames his meeting with Arthur Greeves as a “first love,” or love story. Greeves was a few years older and considered an invalid after being diagnosed with a heart condition — wrongly, as he later learned.

Both boys were bookish and interested in poetry and myth. They’d become lifelong friends. Lewis writes later of Arthur as not being an intellectual, but he had feelings, and “he taught me to share.” It seems that in their frequent letter-writing, Lewis found his own voice as a writer. He first calls himself “C.S. Lewis” in a letter to Arthur.

A biographer, A.N. Wilson, offers:

We could very definitely say that if it had not been for Arthur Greeves, many of Lewis’ most distinctive and imaginatively successful books would not have been written. The letters were the dress rehearsal for that intimate and fluent manner which was to make Lewis such a successful author.

A reader might not make a connection: Lewis’ warm, conversational writing voice was developed for his friend who was, it turned out, homosexual. Warnie had strongly hinted at it, recalling of Arthur: “He bears a remarkable resemblance to his sister Lily, even physically.” He added that Arthur was “a very good-looking man with the same golden hair and roses-and-cream complexion as Lily, and something of the same gestures and movements.”

Lewis’ readers are very familiar with Arthur, and not just from reading the letters. In Surprised by Joy, Lewis writes about his “first friend” as:

The man who first reveals to you that you are not alone in the world by turning out (beyond hope) to share all your most secret delights. There is nothing to be overcome in making him your friend; he and you join like raindrops on a window.

Arthur’s letters to Jack don’t survive, but Lewis’ replies seem to indicate that Arthur had been dropping hints about his sexuality. Lewis replies once, jokingly, that “you must have very depraved taste if you like THAT passage…” Then it seems Arthur wrote him a kind of coming-out letter. The matter focused on the issue of how to name what Arthur felt that he was. He seems to have disliked the word “pederast,” and preferred the word “Uranian” as was being used. Arthur was reading Edward Carpenter, the Christian advocate for homosexual acceptance — a startling reference to find in Lewis’ early spiritual biography.

Lewis replies on May 23, 1918:

Congratulations old man. I am delighted that you have had the moral courage to form your own opinion, independently, in defiance of the old taboos. I am not sure that I agree with you; but, as you hint in your letter, this penchant is a sort of mystery only to be fully understood by those who are made that way — and my views on it can be at best but emotion.

Arthur talks about his queer role models, like the sculptor Cellini. Arthur seems to chat about a boy he likes. Lewis replies on December 2, 1918: “Are you still bound to him by the chains of desire as well as by ‘pure’ friendship?”

Was Lewis himself attracted to Arthur? The intimate tone of the letters can make biographers wonder.

As George Sayer writes in 2005:

Jack was sensitive all his life to every sort of beauty, and he was attracted by Arthur’s charm and striking good looks — his fair hair, fresh complexion, and blue eyes. I have been tempted to suppress this obvious fact, because I know it may encourage some people to speculate that they may have had a sexual relationship.

What was the nature of their relationship? It seems to have been, somehow, in love. In 1916, Lewis writes in a poem for Arthur that has them wandering together through some poetic space:

Roaming — without a name — without a chart —
The unknown garden of another’s heart.

Queer Christianity?

Arthur was the Christian one, Jack the atheist. In their letters, Arthur instigates discussion of religion, trying to get Jack to think about the bigger issues. Jack laughs it off. For him, the world is godless, cold and bleak.

The Christian hero seems to have had his spiritual course paved by his queer friend. As Bruce L. Edwards writes in a 2007 biography:

From Greeves, Lewis learned charity and kindness, and it always pained Greeves when the “arrogant atheist” Lewis would rail and attack Christians and their faith. But Greeves was always patient with Lewis, and it is significant that when Lewis passed on from merely believing in God to definitely believing in and deciding to follow Christ, Arthur Greeves was the first person he notified.

The teenage Lewis had his own sexual interest, which was erotic spanking. The references are embarrassing to the Christian biographer. Harry Lee Poe offers: “How this bizarre perversion arose, one cannot say…”

The story appears to be that the idea arose as Lewis had been fantasizing about Arthur’s sister Lily. He’d then read about erotic whipping in the writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau and the Marquis de Sade. The overall suggestion is strange. Lewis was fantasizing about spanking the sister of his queer best friend — who looked similar to each other — when Arthur might have preferred to be the receiver?

The boys talk about it. As Poe narrates:

Jack realized that his obsession with whipping beautiful women was not normal, and he was surprised that Arthur could even engage him in conversation about it when it did not appeal to him. On the other hand, Arthur may have been attracted to the topic from the other way around. Jack suggested that Arthur would enjoy being whipped by “some Eastern queen.” Jack did not mind telling Arthur that he would enjoy whipping Arthur’s sister and that it would do her good.

It’s not clear whether Lewis ever spanked anyone — other than himself. He writes to Arthur about his frequent masturbation as causing him to despair.

Lewis doesn’t appear to have been a spanking fetishist later in life, but some odd suggestions do peek through. In his later children’s novel, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, there is the character of a dwarf who wields a whip. The only person whipped is the boy Edmund, who reads for many readers as queer.

Lewis seems to have evaluated other men he liked in similar terms. When he later meets a young J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis calls him “a smooth, pale fluent little chap  — no harm in him: only needs a smack or so.”

Jack, Warnie and ‘Mrs. Moore’

Lewis launched a romantic relationship, then, with an older woman. Serving in World War I, he says he made a pact with a fellow officer that they’d care for each other’s families if the other died. But Lewis seemed really to like Janie Moore. He was 18, she was 45 — the age at which his mother had died. Jack, Warnie, and “Mrs. Moore” lived together for three decades.

The nature of the relationship isn’t clear. She can seem to be mother and lover and demanding and difficult. Warnie writes in his dairy:

It fills me with both admiration and irritation to see how completely the whole of J’s life is subordinated to hers — financially, socially, recreationally: the pity of it is that on his selflessness her selfishness fattens…

In Surprised by Joy, Lewis writes that “one huge and complex episode will be omitted” — evidently referring to Mrs. Moore. He only says that, until that point, he’d been unemotional and cold, but that was “very fully and variously avenged.”

He’d become an emotional mess. And wouldn’t speak of it. He found Jesus, and his Christian ministry began. A.N. Wilson wonders if Lewis hadn’t used religion “merely to give himself an excuse to abandon sexual relations with Mrs. Moore, whatever the nature of those relations had been.”

Lewis became Anglican, with Catholic edges, always “high church.” But Evangelicals in America liked the story of the brilliant intellectual who’d found Jesus. He was on the cover of Time magazine.

Later, Lewis became a star in this religious community, but it was a tepid interest initially. He was never keyed into many concerns of American Evangelical culture.

He lacked the “masculine” stance and attack that their clerics often summoned. He “writes like a woman,” a reviewer said dismissively in 1953. Lewis responded: Is that not praise? And cited Sappho, and the Virgin Mary.

Surprised by Joy

That he was a bachelor would have been, for his American Evangelical fans, very concerning. But then Lewis married Joy Davidman, a Jewish divorcee with two sons, who’d come to England to meet him in 1952. They ended up marrying in a civil ceremony on April 23, 1956, and had a religious ceremony the following year.

The story of the marriage has not been very clear. Davidman had a feminist boldness, and Lewis seemed to like that, especially as it prompted her to unladylike speech. He writes that she was “quite extraordinarily uninhibited. Our first meeting was lunch at Magdalen, where she turned to me in the presence of three or four men, and asked in the most natural tone in the world ‘Is there anywhere in this monastic establishment where a lady can relieve herself?’ ”

Lewis himself had a problem of frequent urination throughout his adult life, and during the course of their marriage, had a catheter installed. He married her to avoid deportation, as he wrote to a few friends, including Arthur. Sex was out of the question, Lewis adds, since Davidman was divorced. On the Christian logic from Matthew 19:9, it would be “adultery.” He adds: “An easy resolution when one doesn’t in the least want it!”

But then, the marriage became real. That’s the story. A fake marriage, done to help a friend, suddenly turned deeply passionate. If that would remain the public narrative, there were odd details. Lewis and Davidman went on a honeymoon — and Arthur went with them.

A cycle of poems that Davidman wrote in her final years was recently found and published. She seems to be writing here of her husband:

O my Antarctica, my new-found land
Of woman-killing frost!

Or in a later poem: “I wish you were the woman, I the man…”

The context, notes the scholar Don W. King, does seem to be the marriage, but he dismisses the poems as “hyperbole.”

Davidman died of cancer in 1960. Lewis wrote a brief 1961 book, A Grief Observed, about a man mourning his deceased wife. This seemed to many readers to be a non-fiction account of the Lewis-Davidman marriage. Their intimacies are discussed as very sexual. (“No cranny of heart or body remained unsatisfied…”)

But whether the book is fiction or non-fiction has vexed biographers. A sudden, physically passionate romance can seem implausible. Both Lewis and Davidman were at advanced ages, and both were unwell.

The manuscript of A Grief Observed reads like a journal that Lewis was keeping, but it was found only as a polished text. Unusually for Lewis, it was published under a pseudonym, only posthumously identified as his.

A visit from a young American

In 1963, a young American man came to visit Lewis. There was another bonding scene over bathroom talk. When Walter Hooper asked to use the “bathroom.” Lewis went to draw a bath — knowing he’d wanted what the Brits call the lavatory.

As Hooper recalls, Lewis asked him to stay on as a secretary. Warnie had done much of the paperwork, but the alcoholism had become incapacitating. Hooper later shared things he said Lewis told him — like that A Grief Observed was a novel, and that the Davidman marriage had been unconsummated.

In a memoir, Douglas Greshman, the younger of Joy Davidman’s two sons, then age 18, recalls of Hooper:

He was a handsome young man about fourteen years older than I, and he had a charm and gentle manner about him. He seemed at first to be almost in awe of Jack, and this I found slightly amusing, but, nonetheless, charming. He soon became popular with the whole household and his visits were looked forward to by all of us. Walter Hooper quickly took in the strange and difficult situation that existed at The Kilns and he tried to assist in every possible way.

Douglas recalls Lewis as “a tired, sick and grieving man, old beyond his years.”

In later years, Hooper describes his bond to Lewis in curiously wifely terms. “Lewis and I became more intimate, and finally he asked me to become his companion-secretary and I moved into his house,” Hooper writes in a 1979 memoir. “I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone quite so intimately as C.S. Lewis.”

He was remembered by Lewis’ friends in a 1974 biography. Lewis himself is quoted:

I want you to like him. I want all my friends to like him. He is a young American. Very devoted and charming. He is almost too anxious to please, but no fool. Certainly not a fool. I must have someone in the house when I go home.

The arrangement, however, seemed odd. The account continues:

While Hooper was out of the room, Mrs Farrer said to Lewis, “Jack, Austin and I have always thought you guarded your private life very jealously. Is it uncomfortable having Walter living in your house?” He answered, “But Walter is part of my private life!”

Preserving a legacy

Hooper returned to America, intending to resume as Lewis’ secretary — and then Lewis died while he was away. The cause was a heart problem, caused by a kidney infection, brought on by his catheter. Hooper returned to England just in time to save many of Lewis’ papers from Warnie’s destruction. It was all to be burned, just the personal papers of a writer fast being forgotten.

But Hooper saved what he could, and over the next years, working as a teacher, then Anglican priest, did a massive search for all Lewis’ work. Lewis hadn’t even kept copies of his own books.

Hooper seemed particularly interested to know what had gone on with Arthur Greeves. Lewis appears to have destroyed Greeves’ side of the correspondence, but Arthur had kept his, and given them to Warnie — after blacking out several passages. Hooper arranged for them to be X-rayed, and so the text was recovered. Hooper didn’t draw attention to the subject of Greeves’ sexuality, but A.N. Wilson later noted: “Arthur Greeves was homosexual.”

Though there’s little analysis of the matter, that the Christian hero had a queer friend was noticed by Lewis fans. One Christian site reports: “Lewis did not disassociate from Greeves because of it.” That was unexpected — for a Christian.

Hooper’s edition of the letters to Arthur Greeves, published in 1979 as They Stand Together, is a fascinating and largely untapped resource for queer studies.

Hooper made a few other curious moves. He produced a few “new” texts from Lewis’ archive that seemed to many readers very unlike Lewis, especially the half-formed, strange novella, The Dark Tower, which had oddly sexual, even homoerotic features. Among other points, this text became the basis for an American Evangelical Lewis scholar named Kathryn Lindskoog to wage a sustained, deeply personal attack on Hooper. She accused him of an array of forgeries. She sniffed around his sexuality, and insinuated all manner of misdeeds in various publications, including her books The C.S. Lewis Hoax and Sleuthing C.S. Lewis.

Other Lewis scholars sat on the sidelines as Hooper was the subject of what A.N. Wilson later calls “one of the most vitriolic personal attacks on a fellow-scholar… that I have ever read in print.” The matter became infamous, appearing in many popular publications, with Lindskoog regularly surmised to have found something suspicious, even if the details were unclear.

Hooper weathered the storm, perhaps because his services were so valuable to the C.S. Lewis industry. Year after year, Lewis stirred to life as a major religious voice.

It was no easy project. There was no video of Lewis, just some black-and-white photos, and snippets of audio. But Hooper found “new” essays lurking in libraries, and collected Lewis’ voluminous letters. New books appeared, and a whole imaginative world opened to Christian readers. There was Lewis’ fictional Narnia world, the scholarly meeting called the Inklings, “classic” books like Mere Christianity, Surprised by Joy, and The Screwtape Letters.

It wasn’t Protestant, or Catholic, but somehow just Christian. It was like a shared room, a space in which the devout were allowed to be humorous, insightful, colorful, fantastical, feeling, intelligent, joking, querying — not always qualities that read as “religious.” Hooper was adept at marketing C.S. Lewis even to American Evangelicals in volumes like God in the Dock, an anthology tailored to their concerns.

In the popular mind, Lewis was mostly a sexless English professor, an extremely unusual profile for a Christian hero. His marriage was known, but a peculiarity. That was solved by the play and movie of Shadowlands, which found, however improbably, an affecting romance in the Davidman marriage.

And, in real life, Walter Hooper was his ambassador to the world, part scholar, part No. 1 fan. It was amazing to Lewis fans to be able to speak to someone who knew Lewis, a smiling, humorous man who’d serve you tea just as Lewis had served him.

Hooper’s legacy

The prefaces and endorsements Hooper wrote for many scholars became the gold standard for books about Lewis. And Hooper’s personal kindness and consideration became well-known.

He died on December 7, 2020, already ill, but with COVID-19. The Lewis scholarly community did a podcast memorial series in five parts. I listened to the nearly four hours of tributes — twice! The interviews are full of interesting information. I did not realize that C.S. Lewis had died, in 1963, largely unremembered. His funeral hadn’t been a public event.

There was little confidence at all among his social circle that his works would be remembered. Warnie, having inherited his brother’s estate, feared he’d personally become destitute! Lewis seemed a period writer. Hooper recalled going into a bookstore and seeing “a whole table of his books remaindered.”

Lewis became a Christian superstar only after he died — an unexpected development that flowed from Hooper’s public relations campaign of decades that involved incredible archival labor, canny promotion, charm, and sense of theater.

What was Hooper’s own story? A boy from North Carolina who’d been rejected by various religious institutions after checks of his sexuality, had come to England to pursue a semi-forgotten Christian author whose work had some quality he loved.

Lewis’ texts were written, but not the legend. And so, year after year, by Hooper’s unique skills, “C.S. Lewis” was born. Scholar after scholar in the new field of “Lewis studies” seemed, in the podcast series, personally moved by Hooper’s warmth and generosity, with many calling him “Christlike.”

No one mentioned that he was gay.

Republished from Medium with permission of the author.

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Our Collective Quandary: Re-Examination, Reformation, Liberation https://whosoever.org/our-collective-quandary/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=our-collective-quandary Tue, 21 Sep 2021 04:00:30 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=21550 It is easy for the blinded oppressor, from an ivory tower of privilege, to look around at the burning world and declare, “everything happens for a reason.” It is easy for the white slack-tivists, who reap the reward of systemic oppression, to ponder quietly the theoretical injustices that exist outside of their screens.

When self-appointed governors of the status quo place suffering at a safe distance, the painful experiences of those on the margins are sterilized and minimized until all that remains are textbook-ready case studies barred of emotion, reality, and spirit. This is to say, the “comfortable” omit The Comforter’s holy call to collective participatory defiance and liberative action.

It is easy, for all of us, to build a cardboard citadel of unquestionable doctrine. For it is this flappable tradition, without concern of experience, without concern of reformation, and without concern of the Spirit of Creation, that is the most dangerous of all.

It is hard to doubt and to question. It is hard to align ourselves so closely with those on the brutalized margins as to lose the very power that we have inherited from our ancestors. It is hard to beat our heirloom — i.e., weapons of privilege — into keys of extrication.

We walk this earth together

It is hard to truly listen, to uplift, and to liberate.

And yet it is necessary, holy and good.

It is good to amplify the cries of others, while granting resources, power, and care to those suffering within the systems that we must collectively work to change. It is good to say that lived experiences are valid and that painful trauma is true.

We walk this earth together so that we, as a collective body, may stand in solidarity with one another. We are not here to silence the margins nor are we here to dilute reality. We are here for far more than mere clinical observations and platitudes.

We are here for each other. Our lives, our destinies, our journey towards tomorrow are tied together.

As Gabriel Marcel once wrote in The Philosophy of Existentialism:

Evil which is only stated or observed is no longer evil which is suffered: in fact, it ceases to be evil. In reality, I can only grasp it as evil in the measure in which it touches me — that is to say, the measure in which I am involved

If we as people of faith — especially those within the United Methodist Church of which I am a part — are to resist evil, injustice and oppression, we must first be willing to get uncomfortable, to get our hands dirty, and to become inexplicably intertwined within the participatory liberation that we are called, by the Body of Christ, into.

If we are not willing to do so: We are committing the so-called sin of the Pharisees, we are inflicting the pain of Pharaohs, and we are initiating the sorrow of Judas.

The precedential call to question doctrine and to reform toxic theological stances was canonized within an unlikely book: The Book of Job.

The Book of Job: Profoundly subversive

Written between the 7th and 4th century B.C.E., the Book of Job is a story of profoundly subversive truth. In a time of great crisis, depression and pain, Job cries out to his closest friends. Once a man who was comfortable within his pious unwavering tower of faith, Job now must reconcile the presence of injustice and sorrow.

Once comfortable within the privilege of his wealth, once distanced from the threat of loss, Job is suddenly left with nothing to his name but the raw scars of reality. Everything in his life is lost, not for any fault of his own, but because the promise of tomorrow is never known.

His friends hold tight to a doctrine blind to experience. They proclaim a transactional theology accepted and venerated by the culture to which they belong (much like the “Prosperity Gospel” found in modernity). They, representing the privileged few, discredit Job’s experiences of loss and besmirch his truth of pain. They are unwilling to question their doctrine of theodicy which states, “If you are good, good things will happen. But if you are bad, sorrow will follow.”

Job, frustrated by their innocently ignorant circular arguments, declares in Job 16:2-6:

How often have I heard all this before!
What sorry comforters you are!
“When will these windy arguments be over?”
Or again, “What sickness drives you to defend Yourself?”
Oh yes! I could talk as you do,
If you were in my place:
I could overwhelm you with speeches,
Shaking my head over you,
And speak words of encouragement,
And then have no more to say.
When I speak, my suffering does not stop;
If I say nothing, is it in any way reduced.

Their doctrine does nothing for his care. It does nothing for his healing. It does nothing for his past, present, or future circumstances. In fact, it is actively causing harm to his already hurting current reality.

Job demands a re-examination of the systems he once believed without question. He demands a reformation of doctrine he once trusted. He demands liberation from the toxic faith which shackles him to unjust suffering.

As Gustavo Gutiérrez states in the chapter “Sorry Comforters” in On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent:

The friends believe in their theology rather than in the God of their theology… they do so because they have not experienced the abandonment, poverty and pain that Job has.

They have placed the pain at a distance, shielding themselves from the reality of existence. For them, it is easier to dutifully regurgitate doctrine than it is to worship their God through the care of Holy Creation.

Duty to doctrine, or duty to care?

In much of a faith leaders ministry two duties are held as central tenants:

  1. Duty to Doctrine
  2. Duty to Care

When these two divine duties converge in conflict with one another, the Duty to Care must always be given ultimate priority: For doctrine is but a document of humanity, but humanity is a testament of divinity. In caring for one another, we care for the Well of Justice… the River of Peace… the Source of Unyielding Love itself.

So now I ask: Who is your doctrine besmirching? Who is your theodicy silencing? Where does your Duty to Care dwell? Are you protecting your stale doctrine with pacifying platitudes like those who surrounded Job?

Or… are you allowing space for doubt-filled re-examination, subversive reformation, and divine Liberation within your faith?

The moral arc of the universe may bend toward justice, but it shall only do so if we bend it ourselves.

You — yes you — are called to collective liberative actions. You are called to the discomfort found in a fight toward equity. You are called to be like Job. You are called to be like Christ.

You are called to be a Christian: Not by name, but by deed.

You are called.

You are called.

You
Are
Called.

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Does ‘Freedom’ Mean Anything Beyond Selfishness? https://whosoever.org/does-freedom-mean-anything-beyond-selfishness/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=does-freedom-mean-anything-beyond-selfishness Wed, 15 Sep 2021 04:00:30 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=21449 Today we hear it used to shout down and bully school boards during their public meetings. Nurses, school teachers, flight attendants, and people just walking down the street have heard it used by people while the shouter assaults them.

It seems to be an excuse for all sorts of uncivil, rude, and even violent behavior. It was shouted again and again on January 6th by people assaulting the nation’s Capitol to violently interfere with an otherwise regular process of American democracy that has peacefully taken place every four years.

It’s used as if it’s an explanation for denying equal rights to people of color and LGBTQI people. It’s brandished about as a basis for forcing one’s sectarian religious beliefs and actions on anyone who disagrees with them.

It’s the word “freedom.” And it’s attained a status so undefined, so empty of a definition by those who constantly hide behind their invocation of the term, so lacking in thought about what it could mean, that it seems to be an excuse to do whatever one wants and to hell with those others affected by whatever it is someone wants to do.

Thoughtfulness, empathy, a sense of history, recognition of how the word has been used to justify the enslavement of other human beings and to commit genocide on native peoples, are absent from the minds of those who brandish the word around to get their own way.

Attempts to fit the word into some ideologies are afterthoughts discovered later in order to act as if their cries of “freedom” come from a place of careful consideration. The most widely read economist of the last century, John Kenneth Galbraith, put it this way:

The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy: that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.

For so many it’s as if just shouting the word “freedom” is an excuse that justifies whatever they do to others. And the louder and more often it’s shouted, those who do so think it becomes even a better weapon against something or someone, against anything at hand.

This empty sloganish use isn’t new. After the horrific events of 9/11/01, certain politicians knew they could get their way by ignoring history and claiming that the attacks took place because those people “hate our freedoms.” It’s such a mark of American “patriotism” that even those who suffer from American income disparity seemed comforted by the words of that country western song revived after 9/11: “And I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free.”

Who’s going to come out against “freedom,” after all? It’s a given in the United States (“the land of the free”) even when it’s used by people thoughtlessly to justify anything they want, even though our courts have said every freedom has its limits.

In an August 22nd rally, the former president used it to try to calm his rebelling followers. Both before and after he was booed by them for recommending COVID vaccinations, he fell back on what he believed would work: “I believe totally in your freedoms.”

The right-wing use of the term “freedom” has thus taken a selfish turn. Like the common phrase used by Republican politicians during the current pandemic to refuse mandates, “personal responsibility,” “freedom” is used as if there’s no community of people around those who mindlessly invoke it.

Just as “personal responsibility” does not include, for them, a personal responsibility for the larger community they actually depend upon regularly, so “freedom” is defined as what someone wants to be at liberty to do even if it’s dangerous to other members of their own community. In fact, its use today is just another symptom of the loss of the sense of a common good.

Historian Stephanie Coontz documented the actual change in the U.S. from a sense that society was central to the elevation of the nuclear family as the primary institution in The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap. She warned that “the collapse of social interdependence and community obligation in America challenges us to rethink our attitudes…”

This decline of a sense that we’re all in this together was welcomed by economic elites because it’s useful to them. If people can be isolated into their own silos, caring only about themselves, their own pocketbooks, and their immediate family, they won’t challenge the rich and powerful who take advantage of them.

Working people’s very definition of “freedom” selfishly will keep them from powerfully rising up together to make the real change that will improve their status in life. Instead they’ll cannibalize their own.

And religious bigotry leads the way in this selfish definition. The American version of freedom of religion was thereby turned into securing government approval through so-called “religious liberty” laws meant to protect things these religionists are afraid of losing — historical religious privilege, the confidence that their position alone through enforcement is the correct one, majority status for their sectarian claims, faith in their version of their religion, a higher status for their self-definition racially and heterosexually, and the rightness and prestige of the leaders and institutions they’ve bet their souls on.

What we’re seeing daily playing out as right-wingers use the cry “freedom” as a bullying weapon without thoughtful content, is how such a term can divert their attention from their own fears, insecurities, traumas from abusive parenting, and emotional/psychological problems. For those who disagree with them, though, it can also divert one’s own attention to thinking that there’s an easy cure.

Since what amounts to their mantra of “freedom” doesn’t arise out of a desire for rationality and isn’t even arrived at through careful logic, for the rest of us it means that we won’t be able to contradict it through careful reasonable argumentation. We won’t just be able to sit down and rationally educate them.

It won’t even matter to most that they are hurting others by their so-called “freedom.”

Wearing a mask, getting a vaccine, accepting the full humanity of people of color and LGBTQI people will likely depend upon what gets their attention because it immediately threatens them. But even if tragedies happen to them as a result of their belligerence, it will awaken them only if they can stop blaming the rest of us and a government they want to believe is threatening their “freedom.”

They won’t think of “freedom” as something beyond their own selfish fantasies if we enable them either. It’s what we model that’s important.

It’s how we stand up forcibly, resolutely, and convincingly for what we believe is important – that freedom must be something that arises out of a sense that we are a community that we all live in together, or it will be merely another word for selfishness.

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Mormon Homophobia Clashes With Love at BYU https://whosoever.org/mormon-homophobia-clashes-with-love-at-byu/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mormon-homophobia-clashes-with-love-at-byu Thu, 26 Aug 2021 04:00:19 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=21445 As I confess a secret vice

Mormons (members of the LDS Church) tend to be some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. In fact, I have a secret vice to confess in that respect. But first…

Let’s talk about the LDS Church’s cruel homophobia problem.

Let’s talk about a senior LDS leader who just rebuked the faculty of Brigham Young University for discussing ideas contrary to the Church’s moral condemnation of LGBTQ people. Let’s talk about how that leader personally criticized Matt Easton, a courageous Mormon who came out as gay at his valedictory speech in 2019 with the knowledge and approval of his department dean, telling the crowd, “I am not broken. I am loved and important in the plan of our creator.”

Let’s talk about how that same senior leader publicly branded LGBTQ people as evil and undignified as he rebuked Easton and the BYU faculty. Then we’ll come to my secret vice.

Even though Mormons appear to be some of the nicest people on Earth, the LDS Church is one of the most homophobic, stigmatizing, anti-LGBTQ organizations on the globe. In parts of the United States where Mormons are socially dominant, queer people lead hard lives. Youth suicide in LDS-dominated Utah is far more prevalent than in the rest of the U.S. LGBTQ advocates say rejection of queer youth explains the sky-high rate, which is often described as epidemic.

I am not broken. I am loved and important in the plan of our creator. (Matt Easton, gay Mormon)

Growing up in a Mormon family and discovering you are lesbian, gay, or transgender often ends in estrangement or isolation. LGBTQ people who live in places where the Church is dominant suffer significant loss of social and professional opportunity.

As an LGBTQ advocate myself, I have often corresponded with queer Mormon youth asking for help coping with despair. I’ll never forget the teenage girl who wrote to me that since her family discovered she’s a lesbian, she spends her evenings crying alone in her room, excluded from ice skating and other events with her Church friends.

I’ll never forget how she wrote to me that she needs people to be good instead of nice. Her point of view greatly flavors my secret vice, by the way.

Mormon LGBTQ attitudes have been thawing

The LDS Church is not immune to changing times and improved understandings of complex human realities. Many individual Mormons, and Church leadership itself, have in recent years become less cruel to openly LGBTQ people.

While specific policies and teachings are beyond the scope of this article, the Church has softened some of its worst practices, for example scrapping the infamous 2015 November Policy that branded same-sex married couples as “apostates” and barred the children of openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender parents from participation in Church life. For those who don’t understand the impact of denying Church membership, in places where Mormons make up a majority of the population being branded an “apostate” or being barred from Church membership often means a kind of social and professional death.

So when the Church rescinded the November Policy three years after introducing it, many people celebrated.

Brigham Young University, sponsored by the LDS Church, has been something of a center of more progressive LDS thinking, though nothing like a “safe space” for queer students. The administration has sent conflicting signals to LGBTQ students, recently removing “honor code” prohibitions of same-sex dating, then apparently bowing to Church pressure to make clear same-sex relationships are still prohibited and that openly LGBTQ students may face expulsion. BYU students have reacted in part by holding sidewalk “die ins” to honor queer Mormon youth dead by suicide.

Senior LDS leader rebukes BYU faculty and insults Matt Easton

Matt Easton’s coming out was huge. The fact that a senior BYU faculty member approved his speech in advance was even more huge. LGBTQ Mormons and their families began to feel as if a place could exist for them in the world they were born into — that they could be queer and Mormon at the same time, without risking automatic condemnation and shunning.

Then on August 23, on the same day that BYU encouraged LGBTQ Mormons even further by announcing the establishment of an “Office of Belonging” to combat “prejudice of any kind, including that based on race… and sexual orientation,” senior LDS leader Jeffrey R. Holland went on the attack.

In an address to BYU faculty and staff, he sharply criticized people calling for LGBTQ equality in the Church, stooping to personal attack and insult, especially against Easton, whom he characterized as selfish and whom he accused of harming the dignity of BYU:

If a student commandeers a graduation podium intended to represent everyone getting diplomas in order to announce his personal sexual orientation, what might another speaker feel free to announce the next year until eventually anything goes? What might commencement come to mean — or not mean — if we push individual license over institutional dignity for very long? Do we simply end up with more divisiveness in our culture than we already have — and we already have too much everywhere.

Besides perpetuating the very divisiveness he says he opposes, despite falsely classifying Easton’s pre-approved speech as commandeering, Fulton appears to be asserting LDS hierarchal dominance over the university, attempting to silence faculty and students speaking from their own hearts and consciences. His speech puts BYU in direct tension with the ideals of the Academy and independent intellectual pursuit. I’m not writing about that here, however. For those interested, The Salt Lake Tribune published a thorough piece that digs into academic freedom issues.

Kind words paint LGBTQ people as evil

Fulton went on to speak of love and tolerance, of assisting LGBTQ people who “struggle.” But that didn’t stop his fangs from showing as he made clear he believes LGBTQ people are evil:

For example, we have to be careful that love and empathy do not get interpreted as condoning and advocacy, or that orthodoxy and loyalty to principle not be interpreted as unkindness or disloyalty to people.

I bless your families that those you hope will be faithful in keeping their covenants will be saved at least in part because you have been faithful in keeping yours. Light conquers darkness. Truth triumphs against error. Goodness is victorious over evil in the end.

Then he doubled down on LDS doctrine that LGBTQ people who enter into loving relationships are sinners, saying BYU must uphold that doctrine at all costs even if the university were to lose “professional associations and certifications.” If that happens, Holland said, “then so be it.”

He did not discuss the painful cost to LGBTQ Mormons and their families of maintaining that stigmatizing doctrine. By all indications, he’s willing to overlook harm to LGBTQ people as collateral damage in a “holy war” where members of gender and sexual minorities are the vulnerable and relatively defenseless enemy.

And now to reveal my secret vice

For the past year or so, I’ve indulged a passion for relaxing to ASMR massage videos on YouTube. If you don’t know about that recent fad, Google it; it’s wonderfully stress-reducing. In the process, I somehow fell down a YouTube rabbit hole and subscribed to the channel of a lovely family in Utah raising a child with cerebral palsy.

I didn’t know they were Mormon at first; they rarely mention it, and it’s not a central part of their channel. Their videos are friendly and upbeat as they share their lives and their child’s victories and setbacks. The whole family sacrifice to give him the best possible medical care and put him on a road to maximizing his human potential.

But sacrifice isn’t central to their videos either; it’s just an unspoken assertion and a manifestation of selfless love.

I watch some of their videos because I enjoy a peek into the lives of some of the nicest, most loving people I can imagine. I call it a vice because the content is “fluffy.” There’s little intellectual engagement, very little serious thinking, and no controversy.

What there is, is lots of love inside the family and among all their friends and neighbors. My secret vice comes in 15-minute installments of peace and the very best of human nature. Well, truthfully, it doesn’t hurt that that the pater familias is very easy on the eyes, especially when boating and surfing shirtless, but perhaps I shouldn’t go there.

“Not going there” is part of the tension I feel as a gay man looking in on that world of love and kindness. I have no idea what this family and their friends think about LGBTQ people, and I try not to think about it. I want to believe they are tolerant and accepting.

Sadly, I know that if they are, then they live in tension with the LDS Church that they say they love, a Church that holds that LGBTQ students coming out on campus destroy institutional dignity.

And I’m so tired.

I’m so tired of always being on guard, of always worrying that even the nicest people are likely to hold me and the people I love in disrespect and moral opprobrium.

I’m tired of often being on the outside looking in. I feel deeply for Matt Easton, for whom this reality must be so personally painful. His experiences are not dissimilar from my own growing up in a mixed Evangelical/Catholic family where people like me are always outsiders and rarely fully accepted or truly welcome.

But you know what? I won’t stop rooting for that Mormon child with cerebral palsy, and I won’t stop valuing love. I WILL keep telling stories and working for real equality, for a world in which people like Matt and me can come in out of the cold.

Republished from Medium with permission of the author.

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25 Years of Whosoever: So Much Progress, But Mind Our Gaps https://whosoever.org/25-years-of-whosoever-so-much-progress-but-mind-our-gaps/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=25-years-of-whosoever-so-much-progress-but-mind-our-gaps Wed, 25 Aug 2021 04:00:02 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=20204 Part of an occasional series celebrating Whosoever’s Silver Jubilee.

(Author’s note: I use the term “queer” throughout this essay for consistency, even when it is anachronistic.)

If I remember correctly, I saw a print edition of Whosoever at a newsstand near my college. I was excited to see a resource for queer Christians but saddened when I couldn’t find it anywhere back home, at least until I stumbled on the website a few years afterward and became a contributor.

Founding editor Candace Chellew was dedicated to providing information and ideas to help her readers’ spiritual development. But the writers were blessed as well: I was just beginning to heal the division between my sexuality and my faith, and my time writing for Whosoever gave me the opportunities I needed to work through my own theology.

Still, I could not have known 25 years ago how much the internet would radically change how we access news and information, but also how it would multiply the number of queer Christian resources available, with websites, bulletin boards, Facebook groups, Twitter tags, Tumblr threads, YouTube videos, podcasts, and other social media sites existing alongside — and often supplanting — print, radio, TV news, and movie documentaries as sources of information for our community. In fact, social media has allowed many of us to find community — including finding affirming churches—in ways we could never have imagined in 1996.

Cultural change

These positive developments have been reflected in U.S. culture as well. One of the biggest changes has been, of course, the SCOTUS decision legalizing same-sex marriage across the United States — resulting from years of hard work among activists, lawyers, politicians, and others behind the scenes. At the same time, in “front” of the scenes, the queer community made itself more visible to the public. Queer actors, musicians, dancers, artists, writers, filmmakers, and designers showed they could be out of the closet without losing their audience.

Nowadays, television shows and movies not only include queer characters, but some of them actively focus on them: Gays and lesbians, trans folks, drag queens have all been in the spotlight, and bisexual, asexual, pansexual characters are becoming more prominent as well. Outside Hollywood, openly queer politicians are now taken seriously as candidates for nationwide office. Likewise, openly queer athletes are competing at the top levels of both individual and team sports — as I write this, the first active NFL player (that’s American football) came out of the closet — and sports organizations are taking their queer fans (and the problem of homophobic fans) seriously.

We’ve even had openly queer Christian leaders at congregational, regional, and denominational levels. These are changes that, 25 years ago, we were hoping to see, but the speed at which they have happened has been breath-taking.

Trans visibility

Perhaps the most significant sign of cultural progress in the United States has been the increased visibility of trans people and trans activism. Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, all I knew of trans experience came from sensationalist news stories about sex change operations or cross-dressers.

We can be thankful that the past few decades have seen those simplistic categories replaced by a much broader set of terms that cover a much broader set of experiences: transgender, gender fluid, non-binary, etc. We, as a culture, are being challenged to rethink binary notions of gender and to recognize a much more diverse set of gender experiences and expressions.

Notice how often people now post their pronouns! Simultaneously, trans visibility has dramatically increased. When I first learned about trans experience, I was taught that trans people were expected by their doctors to be able to pass in public — implying that anonymity meant success.

In 1996, there was no Trans Day of Visibility—the first Transgender Day of Remembrance was still three years away — whereas today we have openly trans public figures as well as movies and television shows featuring trans storylines. And politically, it seems the old argument that fighting for trans rights would doom the fight for LGB rights has been proven wrong — we accomplish more when we work together.

There is clearly a lot to celebrate. Many of us no longer feel afraid to be out to our families, coworkers, and neighbors.

Backlash and cultural lag

But we aren’t fully equal yet — culturally or politically. Every change brings a backlash, and for all our political victories, there are politicians working to turn back the clock: To undo same-sex marriage and adoption rights, to prevent teachers from acknowledging the existence of queer people in their lessons, to prevent trans people from being able to function as their true selves in public. Churches and denominations are splitting over queer affirmation. People continue to boycott queer-friendly advertising. We still face a cultural lag — as if we have progressed so quickly that our society is suffering jet lag.

A conversation I heard about 10 years ago demonstrates this lag — and reveals that some of the fault lines are now internal to the queer community. I was working at a state university in the southern U.S. and was visiting the student LGBT Resource Center — a small office space where students could hang out between classes, work on projects, hold events, etc.

The day I was there, a group of students was upset because one of them, from a small, conservative, rural town, was not yet out to his family. They could not believe that in 2011, an adult man was still closeted.

The fact that he needed his parents’ financial support to stay in school did not seem to satisfy their sense that he was behind the times. Their disbelief surprised me more than his continued use of the closet, since for my generation closets remained a necessity when parents were paying for school.

But these students had grown up in more progressive (often more urban) environments — many of them had come out before high school and had been supported by their friends, teachers, and even family. They seemed unable to comprehend that people their own age still needed the closet to finish college.

They could not imagine that the support they had found in high school was not the norm across the state. They could not understand how exceptional their own backgrounds had been, how fortunate they were to grow up in progressive areas.

This is the lag, the gap, or divide that we need to address in the next few decades: The queer community has diversified to an extent that some of us have trouble understanding the experiences of the people marching next to us in the parades. Things have come a long way — for some people, to some communities, in some contexts.

But not for everyone, at least not to the same degree. While we continue to face the backlash from the larger culture we live in, we also need to recognize that not everyone has the same level of freedom to be safely out and open.

The conflicted church

Take Christian churches in the USA. Several denominations now affirm gay and trans people as full participants in ministry and leadership; there are even denominations led by openly queer people.

Other denominations have organizations that help individual churches publicly affirm queer folks. Not all denominations are willing to make this leap of faith, of course, and some of them are blatantly ugly regarding queer issues.

But a more complicated problem is that there are many non-affirming congregations inside affirming denominations. Church members are often more traditional and more conservative than church leadership, including their own pastors. This can be dangerous for queer folks looking for a safe congregation — just because a pastor is supportive doesn’t mean the members will be too.

I live in the suburbs of a large southern metropolitan area, an area with a Southern Baptist Church every five miles. Even among the local churches that belong to affirming denominations, such as the Episcopalians, the Presbyterians (USA), and the ELCA, it has been difficult to find congregations that publicly affirm the full participation of queer people in the church.

And then there are non-affirming churches that don’t want to be known as non-affirming: the pastors are not in fact supportive but claim to be welcoming, in hopes that they can later “save” queer folks from their queerness (look up #ChurchClarity).

In my experience, even people who attend these churches are often unaware that gay couples will not be affirmed or that gay or trans singles will not be allowed to serve in leadership. They will invite gay folks to attend, not realizing they might be setting up something ugly down the road.

Worse, some of these churches continue to promote the old menace of “conversion therapy,” despite many of the big ex-gay groups having closed up shop, admitted defeat, and publicly apologized for hurting people, and all major professional psychological associations rejecting it as harmful.

There are huge and dangerous gaps here: Non-affirming congregations in affirming denominations, affirming members in non-affirming churches. And where you live can significantly impede your ability to find a safe place to worship.

I have been at churches to which people drove over one hour because it was the only safe church in the area. Imagine what it is like for people without reliable transportation, for people who have to work on Sundays and can’t drive that far, for youth who depend on family to drive them to church. Access to safe churches is highly uneven across the USA.

Conflicted as Christians

We queer Christians have gaps among ourselves too. We are still divided on the boundaries of our own affirmation: the long-running Side A/Side B debate over whether gay Christians can be sexually active is still active (I confess I don’t know how that debate plays out regarding trans issues). Can this division between traditional and progressive theologies of sexuality be reconciled? Or will we be forever divided amongst ourselves over how queer we can allow ourselves to be? This debate can get ugly, and it can divide congregations.

Meanwhile, a more subtle debate is whether we should attend all-queer congregations or assimilate into mainstream congregations with largely straight, cis memberships.

Going to an all-queer congregation brings an element of safety, and the sermons are bound to touch specifically on topics relevant to queer folks; however, it is vulnerable to the charge of self-segregation and to the concern that we are not giving our straight, cis neighbors the opportunity to get to know us or to see God’s work in our lives. Plus, it is often not an option for many people, if there are no such churches within reasonable driving distance.

In contrast, going to a mainstream church has the benefit of integrating the congregation, but perhaps at the expense of not getting the queer-specific instruction we need and at the risk of becoming the token queer person.

Both approaches are useful — your choice might depend on any number of factors ranging from how comfortable you are being the only queer in the room to whether there is a queer congregation within reasonable driving distance. But the debate is often more ideological than practical, and that could be a problem down the road.

Political gaps

Just as we have gaps among ourselves regarding our roles in church, so also the general queer community has political gaps that seem to be getting bigger every year. As support for queer rights grows among the general population, queer folks have felt freer to disagree with the political strategies of the queer rights movement, and our internal political divisions have become more evident.

Queer conservatives argue that traditional values and conservative policies are more important for society than the needs of queer people. Some queer folks vote for conservative politicians — even anti-queer politicians — for economic or foreign policy reasons, perhaps because believing that these issues are of greater import or that queer rights are “resolved” and safe.

Sadly, we also see that being queer does not prevent us from being racist, not just on dating profiles but in the voting booth as well. Nor, at least among the gay male community, does queerness prevent misogyny, as found in disparaging statements about women’s bodies or about “femme” men.

These divisions hold us back, reinforcing gender/racial separation and distracting us from our common issues, including the rights of our queer siblings in other countries. It is as if our progress has lulled us into forgetting how much our progress has depended on the civil rights and women’s liberation movements. But worse, it suggests that we would be willing to sacrifice parts of our coalition given the right circumstances — a willingness that could easily be turned against us.

Gaps in terminology

Finally, we still have gaps regarding our own terminology. As mentioned earlier, we are much more aware of the diversity of gender identity and sexual orientation: We now understand that some people are non-binary or asexual or pansexual or demisexual or sapiosexual, etc.

For people like myself, who were already adults 25 years ago, the profusion of labels can be a bit overwhelming. But I have found that the situation is worse than simply being overwhelming: These new terms have completely escaped the notice of many people in my generation.

When I use the terms ace or demi in online groups for queer men, guys say they’ve never heard those terms — or that those identities are not “real” (think of how often bisexuality has been dismissed by gay folk).

This issue seems to be more of a lag than a gap. The unfamiliarity is unfortunate but somewhat understandable and can at least be neutral; the dismissiveness is troubling and suggests an unwillingness to update our understandings of identity and orientation. We cannot fight successfully for the rights of people whose experiences we consider invalid.

Perhaps the biggest gap around terminology, however, continues to be around the Q word: Queer. Although the term has become widely used as an umbrella term for the whole set of trans/homosexual experiences and as a useful term for people who have not found which term best fits their experiences, many people still associate the term with bullying — hurled as an insult, sometimes accompanied by physical violence — and forever incapable of being recuperated as a positive or even neutral term. When the popular website Gay Christian Network (GCN) changed its name a few years back to Q Christian Fellowship, it created quite a bit of controversy among its users: Some people left the site completely, and others refused to use the new name.

It is unclear how much the resistance to the term is generational — I hear much more resistance from older folks — so the division may fade over the next 25 years. Meanwhile, we need to address the problem that our labels have shifted from useful tools that help us explain ourselves to fixed boundaries we feel we must defend when challenged. The generations need to understand the differences between their experiences if we are going to be flexible enough to adapt to whatever the next 25 years brings.

New challenges

I point out these divisions not to be pessimistic, but to show how much has changed. With the increased acceptance of queer people among the general public, new challenges have arisen that perhaps we could not have anticipated 25 years ago.

Whereas we have always known there would be pushback from churches and political groups, we might not have foreseen how we ourselves would push back on the diversification of terms or how we ourselves would refuse to let go of racial and gender biases.

Maybe we could have seen that some queer youth would grow up in safe environments. But even then, how could we have prepared teenagers to understand how geography complicates the already complicated intersections of gender, sexuality, race, class, and religion?

And how do we help older folk understand that the younger folk don’t see the word “queer” as a threat? Each generation must learn for itself the limits to its understanding of people from different backgrounds. Those of us who were adults 25 years ago must learn that the labels we adopted back then are not the full expression of sexuality and gender identity.

Those of us who weren’t yet born 25 years ago must learn that people their own age might have very different experiences of coming out or staying closeted. We all need to recognize the dehumanizing effects of racism, misogyny, xenophobia, ableism, and other prejudices that we have learned. And as queer Christians, all of us must continue to be patient with our church siblings who are learning about affirming Christianity for the first time. May we be shining examples of the love of Christ and the inclusivity of the Realm of God.

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2 Cheers for Amy Grant: Good News, But Not THE Good News https://whosoever.org/2-cheers-for-amy-grant/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=2-cheers-for-amy-grant Wed, 18 Aug 2021 04:00:01 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=21195

Gay. Straight. It does not matter. It doesn’t matter how we behave. It doesn’t matter how we’re wired.

So said Christian music megastar Amy Grant in a recent interview.

What matters, said Grant, is setting a welcome table and loving people as we have been, and are, loved.

Grant’s comments are good news to LGBTQI people of faith and especially to LGBTQI Christians, whether they are already Amy Grant fans or will be eventually. (Okay, my biases are showing a bit.) Grant is taking a stand for love and for the kind of welcome that Jesus taught us to offer. She’s showing the willingness to risk getting blowback from her more conservative fans.

She’s sending out a message that, because it’s coming from her, might just move the needle for some people who really don’t want to be homophobic but who need a role model to help them with that. And, of course, she’s warming the hearts of plenty of LGBTQI people of faith, music lovers, and those of us who are both. It’s easy to feel welcomed by her words. Grant’s comments are undoubtedly good news for the Whosoever community and many like us.

That said, because I cannot leave well enough alone, I would like to queer the situation a bit, so to speak. Specifically, I want to suggest that there’s more to the story and that in fact we LGBTQI “stumblers who believe love rules” (a phrase from the Bruce Cockburn song “Mystery”) should think a bit about how delighted we are by Grant’s comments. Her comments do indeed represent good news that is worthy of celebration. But they also represent a temptation that we can and should seek to resist.

People often interpret the temptations of Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11) as a competition over who Jesus would serve and how, but it’s also possible to see these temptations as a distraction from the work of Beloved Community before Jesus, a diversion from a life lived in holy trust, even an interruption of his mandate to bring good news to the oppressed and suffering.

In the same way, while there’s nothing wrong with wanting Christian celebrities to support and celebrate us, we cannot let such moments, however beautiful, distract us from the truth that is not merely the good news of Amy Grant but the truly great news of Jesus.

We are loved.

We, who the world has hated, slandered, discriminated against, and murdered, are loved.

We, who have been taught to hate ourselves, are loved.

We, who may have been taught that God hates us, are loved.

At the heart of everything, in good times and hard times, in life and death, we are loved.

And we, by virtue of being loved, are called to love God (however we understand God) and to love ourselves and to love our neighbors as ourselves and even to love our enemies. We are invited to do so on the assumption that we are capable of loving: Ourselves, each other, our society, our oppressors, the sacred spirit within and around and among us.

We are loved, lovable, and loving regardless of which Christian celebrity does or does not support us. We are loved, lovable, and loving regardless of how the laws treat us or how the haters treat us. I’m not particularly a fan of the Apostle Paul, but he got one thing right: Nothing can separate us from the holy love at the heart of the universe if we show up for it and are open to it.

Now, of course, things are more complicated than that. Most of us experience God’s love primarily through the love and support of other people. As Teresa of Avila said, roughly, the holy has no hands but ours. Whenever any heterosexual person speaks lovingly about LGBTQI people, something sacred is transpiring. I am truly grateful for Grant’s comments, which are genuine good news.

But they are not Jesus’ great news about the love at the core of creation. And we must not be tempted to let this moment of good news distract us.

Grant’s support is not in and of itself evidence of our cherished place in creation any more than the rejection so many of us have faced by Christian-identified homophobes is evidence that there is something wrong with us.

If we look to popular opinion or celebrity support or how the votes go or what the Supreme Court says for evidence of our inherent worth and beauty, we are looking in the wrong place. We are doing what Paul said we should not do: Conforming ourselves to this age (Romans 12:2). And we are doing what Jesus said we should not do, according to Matthew (6:24): Trying to serve multiple masters. (Yes, Jesus was talking about money, but popularity fits here too.)

If every Christian celebrity came out (so to speak) tomorrow and said they were in full support of LGBTQI lives, rights, and well-being, that would be wonderful, but it would not change how much God loves us. It would not change anything that is beautiful and compelling about Jesus’ vision of the Beloved Community, which we are called to co-create. It might make our lives easier, but it would not change the story to which we have staked our stories.

If every Christian celebrity came out (so to speak) tomorrow and said they were fully opposed to LGBTQI lives, rights, and well-being, that would be devastating — but it would not change how much God loves us. It would not change anything that is beautiful and compelling about Jesus’ vision of the Beloved Community, which we are called to co-create. It would definitely make our lives harder but it would not change the story to which we have staked our stories.

That is the great news. That, and that alone.

Now, having said that, I imagine that if Amy Grant somehow read this essay, she might protest that in fact she was trying to communicate the same thing I’m trying to communicate here and wonder why I’m responding with caution along with my celebration. And that response would be completely fair. The temptation here has nothing to do with Grant herself, with her celebrity status or her music or her kind, inclusive, lovely words.

The temptation has strictly to do with us.

If we are delighted that Amy Grant clarified her open-hearted welcome because we think she’s cool or because her music rocks or because, let’s be honest, her words might make our lives and the lives of LGBTQI people yet to come a little easier, that’s great. No problem.

If, however, we are delighted that Amy Grant clarified her open-hearted welcome because maybe God really loves us if Amy Grant says so, that’s a problem. Or a temptation. A temptation to idolatry, to be specific. A temptation to put our trust in the wrong place, to look for the wrong reassurance, to hope for the wrong healing.

Amy Grant as a reminder of God’s love and welcome is a joy and a blessing.

Amy Grant as a modern-day living prooftext? Not so much.

Writing this essay, I was reminded of one of my favorite Buddhist sayings: Don’t mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself. The finger may help you to see the moon by directing your attention to it, but having once seen the moon, the point (so to speak) is to look at the moon rather than the finger.

By all means, let’s be grateful for the finger without mistaking it for the moon. And let’s be grateful for Amy Grant’s hospitality. But let’s be clear about why we are grateful for it, what it means, what it can do for us, and what it can’t do for us. And then, let’s be grateful for Jesus and his stunning vision of a love-infused universe. And then, let’s give ourselves fully to love in gratitude, joy, peace, and compassion.

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To Religious Rejects Everywhere (Part IV): Reclaiming Church https://whosoever.org/to-religious-rejects-everywhere-part-iv-reclaiming-church/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=to-religious-rejects-everywhere-part-iv-reclaiming-church Wed, 11 Aug 2021 04:00:25 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=21161 Read the rest of the series

When you hear the word “church,” what first comes to mind?

For many of us queer folk, harmful memories may reemerge — memories of people who “loved” us but wouldn’t accept us, and of places where we were “welcomed” but not affirmed, and definitely not celebrated.

While the church has always been my home, it wasn’t always a place where I felt I could be authentically me. Like many people, it wasn’t until I went off to college when I was finally able to see other realities; suddenly worlds were available to me that my small town and church had either a) ignored, or b) spoken against.

This time of growing self-understanding is something unique for us queer folk. That isn’t to say that straight people don’t undergo challenging situations that make them look in the mirror and ask: “Is this who I really am? Is this what I really believe?” But for us queer people, this questioning is inherent to our existence.

We fall outside the lines of what Christian society has defined “normal” to be, and so we’re forced to reconcile our “deviation” — our queerness — with the world around us. And this process, for many of us, includes the church. We suddenly have to figure out our own relationship with this ancient, and often homophobic, institution.

As I began to gain confidence in being gay, the church began to feel more like a battleground than a sanctuary. My faith had always been strong, but it was formed by a community that wasn’t sure whether I’d go to heaven or not if I married a man. And so, being put in tension with the community that raised me, the process of finding my own relationship with the church began.

For some of us, our home churches won’t come around, and so leaving becomes the only healthy opportunity. For others of us, and I’m fortunate to be one of these, the simultaneous questioning of both my sexuality and beliefs helped me to gain greater insight and confidence in both.

Sure, my home church wasn’t openly affirming of queer people, but they were willing to listen. For this I am privileged and thankful.

But it wasn’t only my home church that I began to question — it was the very concept of church itself (in theological studies we call this ecclesiology). If the church has been a place of harm for so many for so long, why?

If, as we discussed in the last article, the Bible wasn’t used against queer people at first (and the word homosexual didn’t appear in translations until the 20th century), then what happened?

What happened in the course of Christian tradition to place the church in tension with queer people? And all these questions led me to wonder, what were the first churches like; what did the word church mean in the first century?

As with each previous article, you can follow along in my book, Reclaiming Church, to go deeper into this conversation. In chapter four, I examine the word that the first-century Christians used for church, which was ekklesia. This Greek word simply meant assembly or gathering. Seems pretty harmless so far, right?

In the first couple centuries of the Common Era, church didn’t equate to elaborate ceremonies or wealth or homophobia. The ekklesia was the gathering of the faithful. These gatherings were inherently political — they weren’t recognized Roman cults, and they defied some of the gender norms of the day.

People of all genders gathered together, greeted each other with a kiss, and called one another sister and brother. They were redefining the recognized family structure and refusing to acknowledge the total sovereignty of the emperor. They had a unique way of life that set them apart. They gave food to the hungry, some gathered all of their wealth in a common pot and created communes.

Of course, the early churches had their share of troubles; each community was keen on calling those who believed differently than them “heretics,” and they eventually aligned with the Empire. But those first fruits, the first ekklesia, offer a powerful way of life to reclaim — something that queer people are uniquely positioned to do.

We’re already in tension with many of the current manifestations of the church. We know what it’s like to be different — dare I say, set apart. We know how to build unsanctioned communities where the “acceptable” family structures are reimagined — where we’re all siblings.

Of course, the queer community isn’t perfect either. Many queer and trans people of color aren’t affirmed in white queer spaces. Racism and transphobia within the community must continue to be addressed as the queer community continues to provide what the governments and churches of the world haven’t: affirmation and safety.

We’ve got work to do, but I believe we can get there together. We queer folk and allies can reclaim what it means to be and do church from a uniquely queer perspective. Welcome to the queer reformation. Welcome to the breaking lights of dawn.

Whether you attend a Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, or congregational church, or none at all, this is a unique moment in time for us all. If we look at the Church’s history, we see that every five hundred years the Church goes through a massive re-creation, a change in its structure and identity… We’re at our five-hundred-year mark. It’s our turn in history to transform the Church and reclaim our assemblies as political in nature and transformational in practice.

It’s time we separate ourselves from the empire again and align ourselves with the underpaid, the unhoused, the previously rejected and condemned. It’s our time in history to reclaim what it means to be the Church.

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Puerto Rico Conference of Catholic Bishops Incites Anti-Trans Hatred https://whosoever.org/puerto-rico-conference-of-catholic-bishops-incites-anti-trans-hatred/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=puerto-rico-conference-of-catholic-bishops-incites-anti-trans-hatred Tue, 10 Aug 2021 04:00:29 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=21172 Bishops incite anti-trans hate

A friend of mine in Puerto Rico tipped me off the other day that the American territory’s Conference of Catholic Bishops was endorsing a massive street protest against local political efforts to make the island safer and more legally equitable for transgender people, including trans school children. My body stiffened with rage even as my stomach soured.

Details of the bishops’ statement made me more nauseated and more outraged. The bishops pretend (with no apparent insight into how absurd their position is) that citizens can take to the streets to force transgender people into hiding and silence without showing disrespect to those trans people or encouraging unjust discrimination.

I immediately flashed back to recent outrageous news that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) actively lobbied Congress last autumn to try to block a federal suicide hotline — solely because it included specific resources to help suicidal queer people. I flashed to more recent news that even as USCCB General Secretary Jeffrey Burrill organized that lobbying effort, he was using Grindr in his Church office to arrange sex hookups with men.

Then I remembered my friend Peter, and I started to cry

When I moved to New York City during the height of the HIV pandemic, Peter counted among my first and closest friends. He was gentle, slender, beautiful, and very effeminate. Peter fled his native Puerto Rico for the same reasons I left my Midwestern world and plopped myself down in the middle of a crowded, frightening metropolis.

He and I were both gay and felt alien and unwelcome in our more rural homes. My Catholic and Evangelical Protestant religious upbringing scarred me emotionally. Peter’s Catholic upbringing scarred him physically. He often spoke of being beaten in school by nuns and priests because he acted “girly.” He had permanent white lines on his palms he said were caused by steel ruler strikes.

Even though he became a successful CPA and bought a lovely apartment off Central Park, he never stopped yearning for home. My de facto husband and I flew with Peter once to Puerto Rico to visit the village where his family lived. For Lenny and me, that trip was a lovely holiday. I remember white sand beaches, green mountains, and the aroma of hundreds of mysterious flowers blown around on tropical breezes.

One day as we lay on a beach taking in natural beauty, I shouted to Peter over the surf, “Why don’t you just come home for good? You love it here so much.”

“I can’t,” he sighed, holding up a scarred palm. “I’m not safe here. I’ll never be safe here.”

He didn’t have to explain. Peter and I were both members of Act Up, both of us focused on safer sex education, both fighting in the trenches to get life-saving information to people — even as the Roman Catholic Church fiercely opposed every measure we took. They hated us so much they took steps they knew would cause more of us to die.

For Peter, going home to Puerto Rico meant exposing himself to even more religious hatred and the probability of more violence. He wouldn’t have been able to hide his gender nonconformity even if he wanted to, which he did not.

Catholic nuns and priests beat Peter when he was a child, they spread messages of hatred and intolerance that made him afraid to go home when he was a man, and they worked hard to make his life (and mine) miserable even in his liberal, adopted New York City refuge.

Peter died a long time ago, and I’m glad he doesn’t have to see what’s going on with LGBTQi people in Puerto Rico today, particularly with transgender people.

Peter didn’t identify as trans then and I don’t know if he would today, but he was gender-nonconforming for sure. Sometimes he did drag, always he presented as very feminine. Often, people who heard his voice on the phone addressed him as “Ma’am.”

Some of our friends and a few of our Act Up colleagues identified as transgender. They were our beloved family, no matter what any church or culture might say to vilify them.

The Roman Catholic Church in general today takes an increasingly hard line against transgender people, even the supposedly progressive Pope Francis speaking out to demonize this vulnerable human minority as “annihilators of nature.” I’m glad Peter didn’t live to hear that nasty bit of religious hate speech. His heart was so torn, because while the Church terrified him, he never gave up his personal faith.

Puerto Rico governor fights to protect women and LGBTQ people

Today, I think Peter would be both alarmed and proud of what’s happening in his home. Last January, Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi declared a state of emergency over an epidemic of violence against women, including transgender women. Violent attacks and murders of transgender women have been on the rise for some time, and they’re continuing to this day.

For a recent example: Ethan Biando just reported in a story on Medium that three men in Puerto Rico have been brought up on federal charges for tracking down and attacking a transgender woman because they believed she had used a women’s public restroom.

Anti-LGBTQ violence in Puerto Rico (like in much of the world) is getting worse instead of better, but brave activists and politicians are working hard to make the island safer and healthier for women and trans people. Governor Pierluisi didn’t stop at an emergency declaration, he’s taking action, and the Church is fighting him tooth and nail.

The Catholic Church fights to spread anti-LGBTQ hatred

Peter’s story is not ancient history. If he had survived HIV, he would only be 65 years old today. I don’t know if Catholic leaders in Puerto Rico still beat little boys for being “girly.” I don’t know if Catholic school teachers still shame little girls for not being feminine enough. I know for certain they do in many parts of the world, because my inboxes fill up constantly with the cries of queer people Roman Catholic nuns, monks, and priests brutalize emotionally and physically.

(Is it a coincidence that my own gay business partner in Montreal was repeatedly beaten by monks when he was in high school? No, it’s par for the course.)

Peter was a gentle, loving man who flinched at the sight of clerical collars and nun’s habits, and he is far from alone.

Isn’t it about time for nuns, monks, and priests to declare a cease fire? To stop emotionally and physically brutalizing LGBTQI people? Isn’t it time for a religion founded on the teachings of another gentle man who lived 2,000 years ago to declare an end to judgment and hatred of historically persecuted, harmless people?

Transgender and gender-nonconforming people threaten nobody. LGBTQI people are not dangerous, evil or toxic to society. We have faced centuries of intentional shaming and acts of violence, much of it encouraged by the Roman Catholic Church. The street protests the Puerto Rican Conference of Catholic Bishops is encouraging this month are direct extensions of that violent shaming. Like with the anti-LGBTQI street protests Catholic bishops organize in Poland, violence is an assured outcome.

Calling people out into the streets to protest simple legal rights and protections will lead to more shaming and violence. No church should be complicit with that. No person of faith should be complicit with that.

If you are a faithful Catholic, what will you do to help end this shameful vilification of gentle people like Peter?

Republished from Medium with permission of the author.

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If Christ Can Cry, So Can You: Healing Toxic Masculinity Through the Empathetic Incarnate https://whosoever.org/healing-toxic-masculinity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=healing-toxic-masculinity Thu, 05 Aug 2021 04:00:56 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=20926 Here I sit in quiet stillness.

For 30 minutes, there is no scrolling, swiping, messaging, emailing, chores, work, or needs of any form.

For 30 minutes, I kneel before a makeshift altar composed of two candles and a vaguely anthropomorphic stone statue.

For 30 minutes, the solace of reflective prayer seems to stir something deep within me: Could it be emotions, thoughts, the Spirit… maybe a little indigestion…

Whatever it is, a feeling of Peace permeates throughout the entirety of my being.

As I move through the motions of a Queer-ed form of the Holy Rosary, I imagine my personal connection with Divinity: A connection which is much like that which one shares with a good friend. This type of connection is unlike most. It is rarely found and experienced in the world.

However, when it is found and it is experienced, it is never forgotten. It is the type of connection that can be called upon at a moment’s notice, even after months of silence, without the minutest amount of awkwardness or shame or fear.

I have found this practice of the Holy Rosary to be one of my favorite forms of prayer. It allows me to steady my mind and my body and my soul all while breathing with and listening to the nudges of the Spirit from deep within.

For the duration of the prayer, I am allowed to step outside of my own self, so to speak, and to think of the broader context of scripture. Not only does the Holy Rosary call upon the stories and rituals of old, it furthermore, imparts wisdom and experiential solidarity with the roar of today.

Last night, as I made my way through the Sorrowful Mysteries…

  1. The Agony in the Garden
  2. The Scourging at the Pillar
  3. The Crowning with Thorns
  4. The Carrying of the Cross
  5. The Crucifixion and Death of Christ

… I had a bit of an epiphany: A moment of “OMG yesss! Duhhh! Why didn’t I think of this before?”

You see, this Christ dude knew full well the pain of betrayal, the shadow of loneliness, and the brutality of hatred. It is often said that the cross was meant to “take away our pain” but… I disagree: There’s a hell of a lot of pain and hatred and loneliness and sadness and brutality in our world still to this day.

Perhaps these Sorrowful Mysteries and experiences outlined in the Gospels are meant to show that Christ has existed in moments of pain and that Christ is here and now in the moments of our pain.

Perhaps Christ is holding our hands and breathing with us, wiping our tears and saying, “You are not alone,” and “It’s okay to cry.”

It is okay to cry.

For some men, this is a hard concept to accept. It was once hard for me as well. But we are all worthy of allowing ourselves the power to move through our emotions, no matter how big and scary they are.

As a person who grew up as a cis-man in a patriarchal society, I know all too well the opposition to and condemnation of emotions. The air that we breathe in America is riddled with the potent toxicity of masculinity.

Therapy is frowned upon. Medication is seen as a crutch of the weak. So many men inherit harmful lessons of how to transform their feelings of sadness, grief and sorrow into a distilled concentrate of anger, rage and hatred.

It is time for us all to both realize and actualize the divinity which dwells within mental health care.

Christ has allowed the tears that we shed.
The Spirit beckons us to the process of unpacking our trauma.
God invites us to end cycles of abuse and harm through therapy, medication, and the embrace of our full true self.

If Christ, the One who was fully God and fully human, can cry out, so can we. If The Trinity set aside time to process their fear and anguish in the garden, so can we.

If the Alpha and Omega sought counsel and relationship in moments of pain, so can we. It is only through embracing our emotions and honoring our minds that we can begin to heal our pasts and our futures.

Toxic masculinity is not the only form of masculinity in the world. Christ was an example of what can be healthy masculinity. Perhaps it is time that we live into the age-old adage, “What Would Jesus Do?”

Jesus would cry. Jesus would feel. Jesus would do what he could to heal the world, including himself.

The pain we feel is not from God; but mental health care, medications, counseling, and connection are.

Hail Mary, full of Grace, Divinity is with Thee. Blessed art Thou amongst the Depressed, and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us sufferers: Now and at every hour of our life.

Amen.

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No Queer Person Should Face the Abuse I Endured at College of the Ozarks https://whosoever.org/no-queer-person-should-face-the-abuse-i-endured-at-college-of-the-ozarks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-queer-person-should-face-the-abuse-i-endured-at-college-of-the-ozarks Wed, 04 Aug 2021 04:00:50 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=20536 Read the rest of the series

I have been watching the College of the Ozarks’ lawsuit against the Biden administration over protections afforded to LGBTQ+ persons and cannot in good conscience keep silent about this very personal matter. I am a queer, non-binary trans person who was born an hour away from College of the Ozarks (C of O) on a cattle farm. My dad attended C of O, and it was expected that this was where I would go. I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s. My mother was a conservative Catholic and raised me in the church.

Although I wasn’t fully aware of my identity as a young child, I did get the message from my parents and my community that being LGBTQ wasn’t an option. I only started realizing I might be queer when it was used as a slur against me as a preteen. I was choked by some older boys during a community event and after that did everything I could to hide who I was, out of fear of further violence and exclusion. I was a good student in high school; I ran cross-country and track; and I was in Future Farmers of America and the art club.

I arrived at C of O in January of 2001. That first summer I stayed on campus to work and pay my room and board. I met a girl and started having feelings. This led to a lot of anxiety for me, as my identity was demonized and even pathologized during this time.

During the spring of 2002, I was in a class where the college licensed professional counselor (LPC) came and talked to the class about counseling services. I thought this was someone I could confide in about the sexual and physical abuse I had experienced in my own family. I came to realize this counselor was practicing conversion “therapy,” which attempts to turn queer people straight. I also came to understand that going to the college counseling center was not safe for me.

The Christian narrative of the pure ingenue who needs to be protected because she is worthless if her purity is lost increased my own feelings of worthlessness and depression. This is the very narrative that is being used today to vilify trans women. The so-called fragility of white, heterosexual, cisgender women has been weaponized against minorities for decades.

After several years of attendance, I dropped out of College of the Ozarks and joined the Air Force. While serving under “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT),” I achieved the rank of staff sergeant. I was assigned to be an aircraft mechanic on the stealth bomber (B2). My six-year term of service ended honorably.

I started coming out as queer during my last full year of service in 2012 as DADT was being repealed. I finished my undergraduate degree and went on to get a master’s degree in counseling and guidance. I now live in Oregon, a state that provides protections for LGBTQ+ folk. I am very happy to be providing services to young LGBTQ+ individuals who are coming to terms with their identities.

Looking back now as a registered counseling intern, I am enraged that College of the Ozarks used its power and position of trust to inflict psychological and spiritual abuse upon me and many others. This took years for me to unravel as I suffered from depression and anxiety. I eventually came to realize that the shame and worthlessness inflicted upon me in that environment was not mine to carry.

This is why I am able to speak up today. Christian college counselors across America are using their position of trust to abuse college-aged youth. It is hard to witness College of the Ozarks and other religious colleges play the role of the victim as they perpetuate harassment and discrimination.

As I reflect on my experience, I find it reprehensible that any person, institution, or religion would try to control who people love. It is unconscionable when counselors, educators, or clergy of any cloth use their power to hurt people.

It is additionally outrageous for the Department of Education to fund these colleges that violate the rights of LGBTQ+ students. That led me to join a class action lawsuit by the Religious Exemption Accountability Project to push back against this faith-based discrimination.

As a healthcare professional, I feel that I have an obligation to step forward and sound the alarm. When systems or institutions use shame or threaten punitive action against individuals surrounding sexuality or identity (as College of the Ozarks and many others have done), they create an environment that is dangerous for all individuals. It must stop now.

Republished with permission from the Springfield (Ill.) News-Leader.

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Netflix’s ‘Pray Away’ Takes Unflinching Look at Ex-Gay Movement | Review https://whosoever.org/pray-away-netflix-film-takes-unflinching-look-at-ex-gay-movement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pray-away-netflix-film-takes-unflinching-look-at-ex-gay-movement Tue, 03 Aug 2021 15:48:21 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=21086 Occasionally a seminal work appears that becomes a defining piece, a turning point, or a breakthrough in a particular area. Considering the religious LGBTQI conversion movement, the documentary “Pray Away,” released today on Netflix, could very well be that work.

After mental health professional organizations realized that gay and lesbian people were not sick and that their decades of cruel — and at times barbaric — treatments had failed, the Christian church stepped into the space. The “ex-gay” movement, later to become more commonly known as so-called “conversion therapy,” was born.

In the early 70s, fueled by the Jesus Revolution, the Charismatic movement, and modern translations of the Bible, individual but unconnected “ministries” sprung up like mushrooms in the U.S. and other parts of the world, including Australia.

As Michael Bussee, a pioneer of the movement, tells us in the documentary, some of the U.S. groups came together in 1976 and founded Exodus.

Exodus grew to become the umbrella organization with 100s of affiliate ministries globally. At its height its president, Alan Chambers, who also appears in the documentary, claimed that Exodus International received more than 400,000 inquiries each year from people wanting to turn straight — and that hundreds of thousands actually had.

In less than a decade, Alan would not only be admitting publicly it was a lie and that 99.9 percent of the people he knew had not changed orientation, but also apologizing for the harm and deaths caused by those lies and the organization. This process is also explored in the documentary. Exodus closed its doors in 2013.

Previous leaders and spokespeople for the “change is possible” movement and organizations — John Paulk, Yvette Cantu Schneider, Randy Thomas, and Julie Rodgers — all have a story to tell. There are uncomfortable and sometimes chilling moments as they talk about their involvement, regrets and moments of awakening.

Archival footage is shown of now deceased “ex-gay/trans” advocates Joseph Nicolosi and Sy Rogers, with whom some will be familiar. Current proponents Anne Paulk from Restored Hope Network and Ricky Chelette from Living Hope Ministries refused to be interviewed. Considering Julie Rodgers’ claims of manipulation by Chelette while she was a part of Living Hope, his unwillingness to go on camera is understandable.

To think that this documentary is just about a series of historical events would be a huge mistake. It is still happening now, and new groups have started up.

In every non-affirming evangelical, Pentecostal (and some mainstream) churches, young LGBTQI people are going through the same emotional, psychological and spiritual torment many of us endured for decades. Within some cultures and countries today, the pressure to conform to a heterosexual norm is enormous, even life-threatening. Exorcisms to cast out homosexual demons still occur in Christian and Islamic circles.

One thing that isn’t explored in the documentary is the intermediary step Randy and Julie took on their journeys. When I spent time with them at the final Exodus Conference in 2013, they had both moved to the “it’s okay for me to be gay, but I can never act on it” space. They were looking at a celibate future. Falling in love changed that.

In some circles there has been a movement away from “change is possible” to a celibacy model (e.g., Sydney Diocese Anglicans). The celibacy model, however, is still based on the same outdated belief that was the foundation of the conversion “therapy” movement. That is the belief that any deviation from a heterosexual orientation or binary gender model is sin and a sign of brokenness.

It took Exodus four decades to realize they were wrong and the harm they had caused. God, I hope it doesn’t take that long for the celibacy movement to wake up.

The above does not detract from the content of the documentary. “Pray Away” is chock full of excellent and powerful material. The only reason you’d turn it off is to give yourself a break from the highly emotional content.

Director/producer Kristine Stolakis and her team are to be highly commended for their well thought-out and constructed documentary.

Let’s hope and pray that the documentary will go way beyond the viewing of LGBTQI people and allies and be the catalyst for change, so desperately needed, in conservative churches and denominations and in the lives of religious leaders and parents.

Warning: If you have experienced LGBTQI conversion practices or religious trauma you may be triggered by the content. On the Pray Away website there are some tips and resources to prioritize your mental health before, during, and after viewing the film: https://www.prayawayfilm.com/resources

Republished with permission of the author

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‘Freeing Jesus’ by Diana Butler Bass | Review https://whosoever.org/freeing-jesus-a-review/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=freeing-jesus-a-review Thu, 29 Jul 2021 19:22:53 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=20897 In Freeing Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way, and Presence, Diana Butler Bass discusses six ways of approaching Jesus, six ways that Christians have spoken of Jesus, and most importantly, six ways Christians have experienced Jesus — or as she calls it, the “Jesus of experience.” In particular, Bass uses her own life story to explore how over the last 60 years she has related to Jesus — from being a young child, to being an aspiring academic, and onward to today.

But it’s not an evolution upwards — as if the Jesus she experienced as a friend in childhood is to be put away when she arrives at Jesus as presence and way. Rather, each of the six approaches, the six ways of experiencing Jesus, have a place in her life. As she began to see them as templates for relating to Jesus, she was able to pick up older ways of relating to Jesus in a new light, processed through the experiences she had over time.

Each approach highlights something important in the life of Christian faith — and also suffers from blind spots. I don’t believe she says this directly, but one conclusion I draw from her account is that none of the approaches work by themselves or are self-sufficient. You really need a breadth of approaches — in fact so much so, that these six approaches hardly exhaust the ways people have experienced or could experience Jesus. They simply give us a good starting point for reflection.

It may have to do with my autism, but I could never imagine Jesus as a friend. While I loved church as a child and was active in every area of church life from VBS to Sunday school to church camps to youth groups, I would have been confused about the idea that Jesus is my friend. It would have made as much sense to me as Jesus being in my heart. Maybe such phrases were more metaphoric than I knew what to do with, or maybe my inner imagination had different characters. I suspect I had more imaginative play with Luke Skywalker than I did with Jesus.

But in Bass’ account, these templates also serve as a model for how we should be in the world. And she wonders why friendship is not a more central category for how Christians understand our lives. Jesus modeled a kind of friendship with his disciples. Perhaps to be a friend of Jesus is simply to be a friend the way he was.

I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. (John 15)

Yet as a philosophy instructor, I invariably go to the Greeks and Romans to read accounts of friendship. Aristotle makes it central to his ethics; Cicero has a whole book on the subject. It’s telling that the first time I read accounts of friendship by a theologian, they were written by feminist theologians.

I’m thinking of books such as Fierce Tenderness: A Feminist Theology of Friendship, for example. In the Christian world, Bass notes, friendship seems to be the domain of children and women — but in a society dying of loneliness, this should not be. Friendship should be raised up as central. And not just in children’s books and literature. We train children for friendship yet imagine it as just another thing to leave behind in adulthood. But if Christianity is to be salvific, then friendship — the friendship of Jesus and with one another — needs to be lifted up again.

That friendship was modeled by Jesus because in the end, Jesus is the good teacher. While liberal Protestants are often discounted for talking about Jesus as a teacher,  Bass makes clear that this is the overwhelming portrait of Jesus we find in the Gospels. With more than 60 references to Jesus as teacher, rabbi, and master — more than any other term — it may be time to reclaim this way of relating to Jesus.

As a philosophy instructor I was tempted to go to other sources. I think of Xunzi’s writings where education is central to what it means to be human, to teach, and to receive teachings. It forms the crux of Confucian writings. But somehow I hadn’t noticed how much of the Gospels and Paul were shape by teaching, by the renewing of our minds. “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” For Paul, ethics was just not mere ethics, it was the living proof of the good intentions God has for the world being played out.

This is not to be confused with moralism. As Reinhold Neibuhr writes in Man’s Nature and His Communities:

The long history of religious self-righteousness reveals that religious experience is more effective in inducing repentance for deviation from common standards than in inducing repentance for the hatred, bigotry, and prejudice involved in the common standards of race, nation, or church. Perhaps human self-hood in its collective form constitutionally is unable to imagine any higher value. Hence, the redemptive value of dissident individuals, the prophet, the critic, even the rebel, in a free community.

One of the most fascinating pieces in Bass’ book was not about her stint at Scottsdale Bible Church, which promised an escape from death in the rapture and heaven for those who believed rightfully. We’re all familiar with that kind of evangelicalism. It was the story of her time at an evangelical college in the late ’70s where earnest young evangelicals, seeking to follow the Lordship of Jesus, took seriously the idea of mission, of bringing hope to the hopeless, of working with those on the margins of society.

What I did not know was how significant this form of evangelicalism was. It was the folks like Jim Wallis and Sojourners, Ron Sider and Evangelicals for Social Action, and Tony Campolo. It was Jimmy Carter’s evangelicalism; he himself in 1976 won over half of the white evangelical vote. To realize the significance of this expansive and justice-oriented evangelicalism is to realize what was lost. I’m 49 and grew up in the shadow of the religious right. So I had no idea that evangelicalism could be anything other than its modern incarnation.

There was another strand of evangelicalism that found its way into the academy by the 1980s. It rejected the caricatures of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, but it too was a form of reaction. It found its power in orthodoxy, in the creeds, in the magisterium, in the historical traditions of the Church. Calling themselves “radical orthodox” and “post-liberal,” they had no time for experiential religion and those not firmly rooted in “the faith of the Church.”

This movement never went away and seems to have a significant foothold among many, both in the academy and in mainline churches. They trend left in support of marriage equality and socialist economics — but if you doubt any article of the creed, if you have questions about the virgin birth, you are to have no place in the church. Bass’ line about women preaching against women pastors has reminded me of how many LGBTQI clergy have told me that as a gay pastor, I should not be in the Church because of my doubts.

In Bass’ description of Jesus as a way, as presence, she hopes that the new generation of folks, LGBTQI, women, the neurodivergent — any group that has traditionally been marginalized in the church — will find their theological voice, and claim it — which is exactly what Bass has done, to the great benefit of the wider church. But some of the exchanges with the orthodox, regardless of denomination, age, or demography, seem more emphatic about a narrow vision of Christian faith. Changing the demographics has not opened the church up after all.

And so many of the groups that could open up the faith have left the church, including many who may well pick up Freeing Jesus. My hope is that these “nones” and “dones” find avenues for critique and, even more, cast a new and more generous vision of faith that can open the church and Jesus up to imagine a more generous and shared world.

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Why I’m Suing the Department of Education on Behalf of Queer Students https://whosoever.org/why-im-suing-the-department-of-education-on-behalf-of-queer-students/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-im-suing-the-department-of-education-on-behalf-of-queer-students Wed, 28 Jul 2021 16:14:24 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=20545 Read the rest of the series

Two weeks before graduation in 2020, I was counting down the days until I would receive my diploma from Moody Bible Institute. Graduation was set to be virtual that year due to COVID-19, but that couldn’t overshadow my joy. My cap and gown were still laid out, ready for me to wear alongside my family on a day I had been looking forward to for years. I had completed my studies and every academic requirement; all that was left for me to do was to attend graduation, receive my diploma, and celebrate the end of my undergraduate career.

The excitement and thrill of my upcoming commencement were quickly stifled, however, when I received an email from two members of MBI’s administration requesting I meet with them over concerns they had. Within a few days, and less than two weeks before graduation, I was on a Zoom call with them and was informed that MBI had a process leading up to graduation in which faculty on campus could object to a student’s graduation. Several had objected to mine. The reason for their objection was clear: They did not want an out lesbian to graduate from MBI.

During the meeting, I was asked to plead my case for why I deserved to receive my diploma, despite the fact that I had already completed all graduation requirements. I was asked invasive questions concerning my romantic and sexual history, my mental health, and whether I intended to romantically or sexually pursue women after MBI, among other sensitive subjects.

It became obvious that unless my answers aligned with MBI’s anti-LGBTQ beliefs, they would refuse me my diploma. In order to graduate I was forced to hear their hateful, bigoted comments about my past, present and future as a lesbian.

That meeting was not an isolated event. I had feared losing my diploma since I came out two years earlier. During those years between my disclosure and graduation, I had at least 10 meetings with administrators. All were focused on their disapproval of my sexual orientation. This same sentiment was expressed not just by the administration, but also by my peers and instructors.

I was exposed daily to homophobic rhetoric in casual conversations, in academic settings, and in comments directed at me. I consistently felt unsafe, unsupported, and unprotected by my classmates, staff, and the administration. The message was clear: Queer people are not welcome at Moody Bible Institute.

Unfortunately, my story is not unique. A recent survey by College Pulse revealed that 12 percent of students at religious colleges and universities identify as non-heterosexual, and 2 percent identify as a gender minority (e.g. non-binary, genderqueer, transgender, agender, etc.). There are thousands of students like me at religious colleges across the nation. These schools continually show us that we don’t belong and we don’t matter.

By just existing, we walk around with targets on our backs, constantly alert for physical or verbal discrimination. What makes this even worse is that these schools receive federal funding, meaning they are refusing LGBTQ students fair treatment and protection on the taxpayer dollar.

On March 30, I joined a historic civil rights lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education on behalf of myself and 32 other LGBTQ students and alumni from religious colleges and universities. This lawsuit demands that Moody Bible Institute and all other religious campuses receiving federal money stop discriminating against LGBTQ students.

This complaint, brought by the Religious Exemption Accountability Project, asks the court to declare that federally funded anti-LGBTQ discrimination at more than 200 religiously affiliated schools in the United States is unconstitutional. If the court rules against us, it will allow these schools to continue harming LGBTQ students.

It’s time for our government to hold accountable the institutions they fund by requiring them to safeguard all students on their campuses, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. This lawsuit is an opportunity for me and countless others to demand that our government end LGBTQ discrimination on religious campuses and require them to respect, protect, and support their students. Without intervention, thousands of students will remain vulnerable, unheard, and unsupported.

Republished with permission from LGBTQ Nation.

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I Won’t Forget What That Bethlehem Breakfast Club Taught Me About Religion https://whosoever.org/i-wont-forget-what-that-bethlehem-breakfast-club-taught-me-about-religion/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=i-wont-forget-what-that-bethlehem-breakfast-club-taught-me-about-religion Tue, 27 Jul 2021 21:32:16 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=20875 I had just finished my Master’s in Biblical Studies, and with an emphasis on Near Eastern archeology was on a summer tour working on archeological sites from Turkey to Lebanon to Egypt and from Jordan to Israel. I was so single-mindedly focused on the past then that my photos from that summer in 1969 were all about old stuff, the “digs” and their relics, not the living people around me.

I regret that I hadn’t taken a photo of five old men who gathered every morning at an outdoor table at the coffeeshop on Manger Square in Bethlehem. Yep, that Bethlehem, as in “O Little Town of…”

My week at a small guesthouse off the Square from day one included the daily pleasure of sitting with these elders who warmly accepted me into their morning ritual as “that young graduate student” who could benefit from their on-the-ground advice and mentoring.

They were right, of course. And I’ve never forgotten it, though I’ve no idea what happened to them after they bid me well for the remainder of my summer.

Those five — for who knows how long — got together the way retired old men do around the world for morning coffee and conversation, renewing their bonds daily through bickering, discussing the news, and enjoying each other’s company.

What they had in common was that they were Palestinians. It didn’t matter that two were Palestinian Muslims, two were Palestinian Jews, one was a Palestinian Christian, and the fifth proudly declared himself a “Palestinian atheist.” (“The secular PLO is our future.”)

But they were obviously close friends with a long history together who emphasized that their families had known each other for generations. They were not those they called “the newcomers.”

The five agreed on the lesson they would teach me about where everyday people are in comparison with all the “politicians” who claim to speak for them and get all the attention of the media.

They objected to the portrayal of the Near East as a place where there has always been conflict between religious people. After all, how common is it to hear people (“experts”) fall back on facile explanations of current conflicts there by saying: “What do you expect? They have always been that way toward each other. Those religions have been at war for millennia.”

The facts for these men were: “We have always gotten along. We are all Palestinians who live together and share the same customs. It’s those damn politicians who are out for their own power and pocketbooks who have caused all the religious fights.”

Not one of them had a problem living in a religiously pluralistic community. It was so assumed that they hadn’t thought twice about it.

And any religious tiffs they had were harmless fun. It was always clear that they relished the diversity of their comrades and held their Palestinian identity as their most important bond, the one that “politicians” had threatened over the ages just as they do today.

The five didn’t blame anyone’s religion for the horrific way human beings were treating each other. They fingered those who used their religions and tried to divide people by religions. “Politicians” were the culprits in the strife that would years later engulf them, their land, and their lifestyles.

That experience so stuck with me that I sought another out a dozen years later when I lived in India. My home base was Chennai (then Madras) in the south where I lived in a flat in a village-like area of the city of then four million called Nungambakkam.

There I found the neighborhood teashop and an assortment of old men that met mornings to do what those Bethlehemites did. They too represented variety in religions including a couple of Hindu sects, two Muslims, and two Christians.

Once they realized that I was there to learn as their guest in their city, not to flaunt my Ph.D. or be a Western sahib, they opened up to me about their varying takes on India, America, the world, politics, and religion. They were interested in my thoughts, but I was there for theirs.

They were all Tamils, southeast Indian people who had grown up with families who identified first and foremost with their region, its culture, and religions. (Few people realize that Christianity in South India was established by the second century and traditionally traces itself back still further to the missionary work of the “doubting” apostle, Thomas.)

The men’s Tamil identity was fully in view as they spoke of people from other regions in India through common, seldom positive, stereotypes — “You can’t trust him, he’s a [region name] man.” “Those [region name]s are always fighting.”

And here too, not divided by their religious differences but sharing customs of their particular region no matter what their religious practice, they became quite animated in criticizing attempts by “political parties” to separate them in terms of religious identities. They also wanted me to understand that Muslims, Christians, Jains, Hindus, all got along unless interfered with by “kings and princes,” or now “miscreant party bosses.”

The reality at this grassroots level, the level of the everyday human here, was not “Muslims and Hindus have never gotten along.” There might have been a Hindu raja or a Muslim ruler who attempted to divide them in the past, they wanted me to know, and there were political parties who profited off of doing that today. But that was not their experience of community.

I wonder still how often that this is true world-wide. How often is religion being used by elites for power and wealth to divide people who share so much in common because of their real roots? A right-wing Hindu fundamentalist government in India today is enforcing just that.

Religion is as easy for politicians to use as any part of a culture war that picks on an “other” as defined by the politicians, whether that “other” be the LGBTQI person or another racial identity.

I’ve found that local camaraderie, however, so common throughout my historical studies that my heart went out to everyday humans who’ve gotten caught up in the use of their religion to break these everyday bonds.

It’s a reason why I’m convinced that religion isn’t to blame. I’m also convinced that to blame religion for anything, good or bad, is actually a dangerous copout for clear thinking about the fact that religion, as other cultural factors, gets used, and that people and institutions are responsible for how they use religion or the books, institutions, and traditions that come along with any of them.

It’s why I never argue about religion, just about how people use it when they want something bigger than themselves to justify their prejudices. Eventually it was why I wrote When Religion Is an Addiction with a first chapter entitled: “Religion Never Does Anything.”

Thanks, Bethlehem breakfast gang, wherever you are. See guys — I haven’t forgotten.

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Grindr Exposé on Anti-LGBTQ Priest Points to Staggering Church Hypocrisy https://whosoever.org/grindr-expose-on-anti-lgbtq-priest-points-to-staggering-church-hypocrisy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=grindr-expose-on-anti-lgbtq-priest-points-to-staggering-church-hypocrisy Thu, 22 Jul 2021 04:00:34 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=20846 Powerful priest exposes Church hate speech

Last autumn as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops actively lobbied Congress to kill a proposed national suicide hotline because it directed help to suicidal LGBTQ people, the Conference elected Jeffrey Burrill as their general secretary. He had worked as a high-level staffer since 2016. His promotion made him the highest-ranking, most powerful Catholic priest in the United States who is not a bishop.

On Inauguration Day, Burrill remained general secretary as the Conference’s senior bishop chastised President Biden for supporting LGBTQI equality, claiming the president’s policies “advance moral evils.” Many lay Catholics rolled their eyes, having long since rejected the Catholic clergy’s relentless homophobic hate speech.

Burrill said nothing.

Nobody expected him to. His colleagues knew him as a conservative and staunch traditionalist who was “all in” with Church teachings that gay people are “depraved” and “disordered” and that transgender people “annihilate nature.” He had been an enthusiastic participant for years in advancing institutional homophobia and transphobia.

He continued to administer the day-to-day work of the Conference and lead its staff as the bishops took steps to religiously punish President Biden for refusing to enforce Catholic doctrine about abortion, for refusing to make abortion a crime for all women and doctors, including those who are not Catholic.

Burrill again said nothing.

The U.S. bishops are notoriously conservative, and they chose their man well, grooming him for more power and influence in the Church as he executed their homophobic policies, including promoting an official Catholic organization called Courage that claims homosexuality is a result of mental illness and that encourages so-called conversion therapy, a practice every major mental health association in the world acknowledges is intensely harmful and likely to result in suicide attempts.

Then Burrill’s other shoe dropped. He’d apparently been using Grindr at work. Constantly. For years.

Grindr is a sex app. Men use it to meet other men for sex. Journalists at the right-wing Catholic news site The Pillar claimed to have legally purchased data Grindr sells to third-party vendors. The data included unique mobile-device ID numbers and geo-time stamps that allowed investigators to identify Burrill’s mobile phone as he used Grindr in his office, his homes, family members’ homes and on his travels.

They say that information is non-identifiable. This is another example of how it’s an utter lie. (Professor Ari Ezra Waldman)

The Pillar alleges that the general secretary of the U.S. Bishops Conference was using Grindr practically every day. That he was spending time at gay bars and at The Entourage in Las Vegas, an upscale bathhouse where wealthy gay men meet one another for casual sex. That he often used Grindr before and while driving to private residences he never visited again.


Three disturbing stories pop out in this scandal about a homophobic gay priest

The first implicates Grindr and other tech companies that behave recklessly as they betray user privacy. The second centers around a continuing right-wing Catholic tendency to conflate gay men with pedophiles and sexual abusers. The third is the hypocrisy of homophobic Catholic clergy pushing official Church anti-LGBTQI hate speech. Let’s break each of these stories down.

1.) Privacy implications are dystopian in scale

This story is at least as worrisome as the Pegasus spyware scandal that also rocked the privacy world this week. But while Pegasus is sold to governments for tens of millions of dollars, the techniques that outed Burrill don’t require expensive software and are available to almost anyone.

The Pillar investigators were able to legally buy aggregated Grindr data from third party sources and use it to identify Burrill based on his movements. This should trouble anyone who uses a mobile device. Grindr routinely sold highly granular location and demographic data to advertising networks and analytic firms.

Pretty much every social media app on the Internet does this.

Grindr defends its privacy policies by pointing out they “anonymize” data before selling it, meaning they strip out names and phone numbers. But that didn’t help Burrill. Pillar investigators bought the data, observed that somebody was using Grindr on a unique mobile device just about every day at USCCB offices. From there, checking to see where else that unique device popped up in their data set was trivial, they correlated the device to Burrill’s homes, his family’s vacation home and to his publicly available travel records. They had their man for the nominal price of a data set.

Experts have long warned of the potential for this sort of tracking. Some say they’re surprised privacy violations like this haven’t already become common.

They warn that this is just the beginning.

“There’s an entire multi-hundred billion dollar industry of companies you’ve never heard of,” Northeastern University Professor Ari Ezra Waldman told Slate. “Their business model is collecting info from all corners of the internet and selling it to people so they can make general conclusions about a population and advertise to it. They say that information is non-identifiable. This is another example of how it’s an utter lie.”

Indeed, The Pillar suggests they have more stories on tap, more gay priests to out.

2.) Religious news sources are falsely framing this story as a fight against pedophilia and sex abuse while morally condemning LGBTQI people at large

The Pillar story itself is rather breathless, making one illogical leap after another to correlate consensual gay sexual activity with risks of predatory abuse. The authors describe Burrill as having engaged in “serial and illicit sexual activity” immediately after writing “he is widely reported to have played a central role” in coordinating the U.S. Church’s response to the ongoing clerical child sex abuse scandal.

Their plain implication is that sexually active gay men are incapable of protecting children from predators and present a heightened risk of being predators themselves.

The authors are not coy about linking Grindr to the risk of child sexual abuse. They cite three examples of priests using Grindr to meet teenagers for sex but fail to make any case that Burrill himself is attracted to minors or has any track record of predatory behavior. Instead, they write:

There is no evidence to suggest that Burrill was in contact with minors through his use of Grindr. But any use of the app by the priest could be seen to present a conflict with his role in developing and overseeing national child protection policies.

They quote Thomas Berg, a professor of moral theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary, to make their point more directly:

When it becomes evident that a cleric is regularly and glaringly failing to live continence, that can become only a step away from sexual predation.

This assertion, repeated by many other Catholic publications in the past two days, shocks the conscience of LGBTQ people everywhere, many of whom work with children as teachers, social workers, and community leaders overseeing child protection policies without the least conflict with their private adult sexual lives.

Religion News Service jumped on the gay-bashing wagon fast, Steven P. Millies opining:

I am a sinner. So are you. So is Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill. Not one of us has a personal life that would withstand the sort of scrutiny The Pillar has applied to Burrill. Every single one of us has had a shameful moment we regret, and I suspect most of us must be caught up in cycles of sinfulness that we repeat less because we want to than because we are sinners and cannot help being sinners.

Notice how Millies appears to defend Burrill even as he heaps hate speech on LGBTQI people, calling us shameful and sinful while implying that our sexuality is regretful.

I choked on story after hateful story like his while preparing this piece, both in nominally liberal and more conservative religious publications. The Burrill scandal has prompted a tiring and toxic wave of overt homophobia from religious writers who seem more interested in targeting gay people for moral condemnation than in focusing on the hypocrisy that should be the center of this tale.

3.) Jeffrey Burrill is a hypocrite who worked to hurt LGBTQI people while living his off hours as a sexually active gay man

First, let’s shoot down a disingenuous liberal Catholic talking point. The accusations The Pillar printed are not innuendo. They are not mere gossip. Look, I’m angry Grindr sold private data, but the data is out there now and the allegation is clear: Jeffrey Burrill used Grindr for years, often every day, for its intended purpose — to have sex with other men.

Gay men don’t use Grindr to talk about the weather. They don’t use it to idly chat. They use it to have sex. That’s what it’s for. Gay men don’t go to The Entourage and other bathhouses to have a steam and a cup of tea. Gay men go the Entourage for only one reason — to have sex with other men.

That’s not innuendo. It’s reality. It’s truth.

So let’s stop playing silly games, liberal Catholic press. Jeffrey Burrill, the highest ranking Catholic priest in the United States who is not a bishop, has apparently been having sex with men for years, on purpose, on a regular basis, and often while traveling on the Church’s dime.

This while working for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, arguably the most cruel homophobic organization in the United States. You don’t get more cruel, more immoral, than trying to stop a suicide hotline because it reaches out to queer people in crisis. American Catholics and Americans in general reacted with shock and horror when they learned of the moral depravity of the U.S. Catholic bishops in that episode.

But LGBTQI Americans have long understood the Conference’s moral depravity. The fact that the USCCB website (under Burrill’s direction) actively promotes Courage International’s so-called “conversion therapy” is just another example of moral depravity. PFLAG and ILGA, respected LGBTQI human rights organizations of long standing, group Courage with extremist anti-LGBTQI hate groups.

Rightfully so!

So-called “conversion therapy” hurts people. Badly. It causes suicide. Which makes the USCCB’s effort to stop suicide-prevention outreach to LGBTQI people even more despicable.

That all this morally despicable behavior happened under the watch of a sexually active gay (or possibly bisexual) man is jaw dropping. The English language has words for vicious hypocrites like Burrill, but I won’t use them here. I already have in private, and I’ll leave the color and depth of my vocabulary as an exercise for the reader.

Can we stop feeling sorry for this homophobic gay priest, please? Patheos suggests we should “feel bad” for Burrill given he was doing nothing illegal and nothing to feel ashamed of. But this overlooks the critical fact that Burrill was complicit with oppressing and persecuting LGBTQ people, including working to pass laws to hurt gay and transgender people. (LGBTQ Nation has published a summary of the USCCB’s recent homophobic track record.)

No, there’s no shame in using a gay hookup app. There’s nothing shameful about visiting gay bars and bathhouses. That goes without saying. Anyone who suggests otherwise is indulging an ancient human habit of reviling and hurting members of gender and sexual minorities.

The shame here lies in Burrill’s complicity with evil.

He is a member of a reviled sexual minority and he chose to climb into the highest ranks of an ancient organization that has been making life hell for LGBTQI people for centuries. He lived well. He enjoyed a luxurious (rent free) residence in Washington, D.C. while maintaining a luxury apartment in Wisconsin and jetting around the world on Church business.

His shame lies in his fronting for a Church that pillories LGBTQI people for engaging in the very “acts of grave depravity” he indulged in all the time. His shame lies in living with one foot in a Catholic clerical world that constantly flings hate speech at LGBTQI people even as his other foot danced in a world of gay men who know the Church is dead wrong in its baseless moral condemnation and scientifically absurd diagnoses of mental disorders.

I’m glad The Pillar exposed Burrill. It needed to be done.

I’m not happy that Grindr and other tech companies make privacy invasion easy. I’m deeply troubled by the probability that meaningful privacy is no longer possible in today’s high tech world.

I’m equally troubled by the motivations of the conservative Catholic journalists at The Pillar. I know they are engaged in a witch hunt. I know they printed their story to hurt gay people and to strengthen the false notion that gay men are likely to be predatory.

But nobody in their right mind is buying that nonsense, not outside Catholic clerical circles and small numbers of extremist lay Catholics.

Lay Catholics in the United States as a group are fed up with the hierarchy’s homophobia. Unlike members of the clergy, U.S. lay Catholics are slightly more likely than the average American to support LGBTQI equality measures like equal marriage and the proposed federal Equality Act.

It’s a mystery to me why lay Catholics keep funding the Church as it works so hard to stop equality and so hard to hurt queer people, whether those queer people be Catholic or not.

This newest exposure of extreme hypocrisy elegantly underlines how out of step the all-male, toxically homophobic Catholic clergy are with the flock they say they lead.

American Catholics are good, decent, moral people who don’t put up with injustice. The same cannot be said for their nominal leaders. This episode of hate and hypocrisy underlines that perfectly well.

Isn’t it time for the flock to fight back against the morally depraved shepherd? Isn’t it time to end the Church’s extremist anti-LGBTQI hate speech? If not now, when?

Republished from Medium with permission of the author.

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To Religious Rejects Everywhere (Part III): Reclaiming the Bible https://whosoever.org/to-religious-rejects-everywhere-part-iii-reclaiming-the-bible/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=to-religious-rejects-everywhere-part-iii-reclaiming-the-bible Thu, 22 Jul 2021 04:00:25 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=20568 Read the rest of the series

Stories are powerful, but not all stories withstand the test of time -and not all stories should. Think of the story of The Giving Tree by the great Shel Silverstein. At one point in time, it was perfectly okay in the eyes of white U.S. society for the boy (and later, man) in that story to take everything from the tree until the tree was nothing but a stump in the ground, and even then, the man found a use for the stump — to sit on it.

Growing up this story was like an extra book of the Bible, one that we read in public school and at home before bed. I was taught to marvel at the kindness and generosity of the tree — it gave and gave of itself to help another. I don’t remember where or from whom this interpretation was handed on to me, but the tree was the ideal mother — she gave and gave of herself to help the little boy. How sweet, right?

While white U.S. society taught me to value these characteristics, and to even see this story as a parable of sorts, it is deeply problematic. At this point, the conservative side of my family might start to roll their eyes: “there he goes again with the ‘liberal agenda’ (whatever that is).” Perhaps you’ve got a slight eye roll coming or you know someone who would respond similarly. But hear me out — they’ve started to. As I said above, stories are powerful; stories shape the lens through which we interpret the world. When we, and here I mean we white men, are taught to expect this of our mothers, it shapes the way we interact with women and the earth.

We’ve been conditioned, by other white men, to take and take — particularly from women and especially from women of color — and this behavior is reinforced through stories like The Giving Tree that unknowingly (and sometimes knowingly) perpetuate the patriarchy — the system that values men over all others.

We’re also taught from this story that nature, like ideal mothers, is there for us, to serve us and provide for whatever we need. If white U.S. society had popular stories about caring for the earth and making sure that our relationships with each other were reciprocal and guided by care for one another, then we probably would not be in this present situation of a climate and moral crisis.

Stories alone aren’t responsible for this devastation, but they are an integral part of it. And stories are an integral part of how we’ll face these challenges and overcome them.

Another story that demands accountability is the story of Queer people and the Bible. Like The Giving Tree, the Bible has been used to justify harm against others: women, people of color, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Unlike The Giving Tree, however, fundamentalist Christians believe that the text of the Bible itself specifically condemns same-sex intercourse, and their interpretation of this story has shaped societies for the last few centuries.

Queer people have been regarded as sexually “deviant,” sinners, evildoers, and the list goes on… And all because of one interpretation of a story.

But when I read the Bible, and when I study the original languages and the teachings of the early church, I don’t see this interpretation anywhere. Let me say that again: No early church leader (Augustine, Jerome — you name it) interpreted the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, or the other five texts fundamentalists use, as stories that condemn gay people or same-sex intercourse.

Neither does the ancient Hebrew language or Greek language have a word that describes loving same-sex intercourse or same-gendered partners. We’ll get to what the text does say in a second, but I believe it’s past time that we reclaim the Bible from fundamentalists and disarm the harmful interpretation of the text through solid study, compassion, and an eye to the infinite love of God.

For a thorough examination of what each of the “clobber passages” (passages used against LGBTQIA+ folks) says and doesn’t say, take a look at Chapter Two of my book, Reclaiming Church. One can also look among the 25 years of Bible scholarship on Whosoever for a wealth of information concerning these passages.

However, for now, I’ll start with the word abomination, which follows the actions listed in Leviticus 18:22 and elsewhere. “Abomination” in English is a translation of the Hebrew word toevah, and when the early Christians were reading the Greek translation of this word, it was bdelugma, which means ritual uncleanness.

Almost every time bdelugma  is used in the Bible it’s referring to an act of idol worship.

In the King James Version of the Bible (KJV), there are fifty-nine places where the worship of other gods is called an “abomination.” How could these two verses [Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13] be the exception? The point is, in both biblical languages, the sin in Leviticus is an act connected to idol worship — not a type of person who is inherently evil. (Reclaiming Church, p. 57)

This is the truth, as I understand it, from the Biblical stories, and it’s time we reclaim it. No longer shall the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah or Leviticus or Romans perpetuate anti-LGBTQIA+ sentiments.

We are reclaiming them, and they once again shall shape us into a people who do not turn away the stranger, who value love in all its diverse manifestations, and who condemn exploitative sexual practices, such as those condemned in 1 Corinthians. May our reclaiming of these stories participate in the reshaping of this world into a more just one.

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I Was Tormented at Liberty University, Now I’m Suing https://whosoever.org/i-was-tormented-at-liberty-university-now-im-suing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=i-was-tormented-at-liberty-university-now-im-suing Wed, 21 Jul 2021 04:00:50 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=20542 Read the rest of the series

I read with great interest that Liberty University filed a suit against its former president, Jerry Falwell, Jr. Liberty says that he damaged its reputation after last year’s revelations of “a years-long sexual relationship involving Falwell; his wife, Becki; and another man, Giancarlo Granda.” It’s ironic to watch this institution paint itself as a victim, when it has victimized so many of its own students. I was one of them.

I still vividly remember my meetings with Dane Emerick, Liberty’s former in-house conversion “therapist” and the pastor I met with over the span of my undergraduate studies. At Emerick’s behest, I was consistently expected to offer a detailed stock of my teenage sexual history and activity. He told me that despite being attracted to men, I was not actually gay but, rather, a heterosexual “struggling with same-sex attraction.”

He claimed that living “the gay lifestyle” (whatever that is) would lead to years of unhappiness and ultimately to hell. And as a college freshman at the age of 18, I thoroughly believed him.

Now, over a decade later, I am one of 33 plaintiffs suing the U.S. Department of Education. Brought by the Religious Exemption Accountability Project, the lawsuit centers on the question of whether or not religious colleges and universities (mostly of the evangelical or Mormon varieties) should receive federal funds while actively discriminating against their LGBTQ+ students.

I joined this class action lawsuit — at least in part — because of how Liberty “dealt” with me as a gay student when I attended from 2008-2012.

I chose to attend Liberty because, as a kid who was a part of a faith tradition that hated queer people, I earnestly thought I could become straight, and I knew that Liberty had a program for it. For years, Liberty has offered one-on-one conversion “therapy,” a bogus pseudo-scientific attempt to change individuals’ sexual orientations and/or gender identities/expressions. The school has also offered a group version of this “treatment.”

These programs tried to convince me that I desperately wanted to be straight. They were of course wrong, and they should never have been offered in the first place. As experts have established, conversion “therapy” catalyzes and compounds a litany of psychological issues, and many even recognize it as a form of torture. Thus, it is deeply troubling that Liberty, an institution which receives millions of taxpayer dollars annually, wreaks such havoc on its LGBTQ+ students.

I wholeheartedly acknowledge that everyone has the right to practice their religion freely. I also know that trying to turn people straight does not constitute religion.

Rather, at Liberty and elsewhere, conversion “therapy” is homophobia cloaked in the false robes of Christian “love” for LGBTQ+ persons. This cruelty and discrimination should not be supported using federal funds, and this harmful practice should be outlawed all together.

In addition to my personal motivations for attending Liberty, there are a number of reasons why other LGBTQ+ students attend the school. For some, their parents would only finance their education if they went to Liberty. For others, they received scholarships, which made it possible to afford college. And for still others, they went to Liberty because they simply didn’t know any better after being raised in repressive evangelical households and churches.

The motivations to attend are as numerous as there are LGBTQ+ students at the school. But what ultimately unites so many of us are our experiences of shame, guilt, and anxiety, in concert with our experiences of fear and self-hatred, that are a product of Liberty’s anti-queer campus culture. It should not have to be said, but I will say it nonetheless: No student should have to deal with such emotional and psychological onslaughts nor should any student ever face discrimination, exclusion, and/or spiritual violence while at college.

This is yet another reason why I’m part of this lawsuit: To stand with the countless LGBTQ+ students whose lived experiences expose the wrongdoings of Liberty and of similar institutions. To stand with my friend Eli Germanotta (they/them) who also went to Liberty. One night while walking back to their dorm, the word FAGGOT was spray-painted on their back by a group of male Liberty students.

To stand with my friend Tessa Russell (she/her) whose resident advisor forced her to return to Liberty’s campus and humiliatingly followed her to her room until she climbed into bed simply because she suspected that Tessa was out with another woman.

And to stand with the dozens of LGBTQ+ students and alumni who have reached out to me over the past year and described the numerous ways that Liberty administrators, professors, and students have targeted them for simply being their queer, beautiful selves.

While it’s fascinating to follow Liberty’s action against Jerry Falwell Jr. for his misdeeds, Liberty should take a hard look at its own wrongdoings. I’m suing the Department of Education because I want to see that what happened to me, my friends, and other LGBTQ+ students at religious colleges happens no longer — or at least not on the American taxpayer’s dime. If we are successful in this lawsuit, Liberty and schools like it will finally be forced to choose: either treat LGBTQ+ students equally and with dignity or find another way to finance their homophobia.

Republished with permission from the Advocate.

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Abundant Life: A Kin-dom Ethic of Flourishing https://whosoever.org/abundant-life-a-kin-dom-ethic-of-flourishing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=abundant-life-a-kin-dom-ethic-of-flourishing Tue, 20 Jul 2021 04:00:11 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=18958 Part of an occasional series celebrating Whosoever’s Silver Jubilee.

I believe God is that essence in us that reaches out to another, committed to their well-being, their enlightenment, their moral, emotional, relational, and spiritual growth. (Phillip Gulley, Unlearning God, 2018, pp. 193-194)

Much has changed for me since I last wrote for Whosoever in 1999. Among other things, I have moved from being a Jesus-loving Unitarian Universalist (UU) to being a non-doctrinal, frequently stumbling Jesus follower in the United Church of Christ: still an outsider of sorts, but far more besotted with Jesus’s vision of the Kin-dom of God and far more committed to trying to live it into being along with my fellow stumblers (LGBTQ+ or not, in all religious traditions and none).

I have recently developed what I call an ethic of flourishing, a way of thinking about morality that puts people above principles. This ethical approach began as a secular project, informed by my sociology training, my leftist feminism, and my identity and experiences as a queer bisexual androgynous white person who strives to work against white supremacy.

It is now powerfully clear to me that this ethical project is in fact an inclusive Christian project in which the Kin-dom of God is a realm of flourishing and Jesus’s command to love God, our neighbors, ourselves and our enemies is a command to support their and our flourishing and the flourishing of creation. This essay introduces the ethic of flourishing and suggests its value to inclusive Christianity.

All people, without exception, should have the opportunity to flourish, to have a good life. Ethically good acts are those that support our flourishing and the flourishing of others; ethically bad acts are those that contribute to otherwise avoidable suffering.

This ethical approach puts the thriving of actual people ahead of principles such as freedom, equality, rights, or other abstractions, which can be used to cause suffering as well as flourishing. For example, minimal gun regulation in the U.S. is a freedom that arguably has caused tremendous suffering and led to many deaths, whereas the freedom of same-sex couples to marry has led to tremendous flourishing for such couples and those who love them.

The principle of freedom alone is insufficient to guide our morality. We need to know the consequences of specific freedoms for specific people with regard to flourishing or suffering. Put differently, principles are not ends-in-themselves but means to an end. That end is flourishing.

People can flourish or suffer as individuals or as members of groups that are more or less valued in society. Heterosexism, for example, makes it harder for LGBTQ+ people to flourish and more likely that we will suffer.

But all people flourish or suffer as human beings with certain basic attributes. Human beings are (among other things) social creatures. We are embodied, have emotions, have a need to make meaning of our lives, are moral animals, and are spiritual beings. These aspects of humanity have implications for our flourishing and suffering:

  • Socially, people flourish when they are treated well and can establish meaningful relationships. People suffer when they are shunned, isolated, devalued, or mistreated.
  • Physically, people flourish when they are physically safe, have sufficient resources for bodily health (food, water, clean air, clothing, a place to live) and opportunities to use their bodies for pleasure and accomplishment. People suffer when their bodies are harmed, when they can’t access resources for bodily health, and when they are restricted from using their bodies for efficacy and enjoyment.
  • Emotionally, people flourish when they are free of fear and have unfettered access to the full range of their emotions, enjoying positive emotions and processing and releasing negative ones. People suffer when they are subjected to systematic fear or trauma, have deeply negative life experiences that limit joy and cause pain, or are unable to process and release negative emotions.
  • As meaning-makers, people flourish when they can make sense of their lives and the world around them in ways that are empowering and positive and that provide guidance for action. People suffer when their lives don’t make sense or only make sense in terms of negative experiences and understandings of the world.
  • Morally, people flourish when they are empowered to live according to a moral code that makes sense to them and that leads them to treat themselves and others well. People suffer when the prevailing morality sees them as inherently immoral and unworthy of positive treatment or when they cannot live according to their own best moral understanding.
  • Spiritually, people flourish when their lives are filled with gratitude, awe, wonder, humility, reverence, and other responses to being part of a larger story, community, or experience than just themselves. (This might be a religious, story, or community, but it need not be.) People suffer when they are cut off from such opportunities.

This way of thinking about flourishing and suffering can shape our personal ethical choices and our political and economic commitments. For example, all forms of systematic inequality, including class inequality, white supremacy, patriarchy, and cisheterosexism, make it impossible for certain people to flourish fully and make it much likelier that they will suffer. And arguably all people are diminished in important ways by this suffering, even those who benefit from inequality.

An ethical commitment to the flourishing of all people is, therefore, an ethical commitment to end all forms of systematic inequality, even those forms of inequality from which we personally benefit. For example, my life is much easier as a white person in many ways, but it is easier precisely because life is much harder for people of color. If I believe that all people should have the chance to flourish, I am morally obligated to work against white supremacy.

Thus far, everything I’ve proposed fits into a secular framework but it also fits remarkably well into a progressive/inclusive Christian framework. The prophets lifted up freedom from violence (Isaiah 2:4) and from fear (Micah 4:4).

Principles as means to the end of human flourishing is reminiscent of Jesus’s claim that the sabbath was made for humankind and not the reverse (Mark 2:27). Jesus’s two great commandments (Mark 12:28-34a) focus not on principles but on love: Of the Holy, ourselves, and our neighbors (and of enemy; Matthew 5:44). Nations will take care of Jesus by taking care of the least of those among them (Matthew 25:31-46).

The Johannine community understands Jesus to offer people not just life but abundant life (John 10:10). Jesus’s practice of valuing people, healing them, feeding them, teaching them, and keeping an open table that broke down status hierarchies shows his commitment to what I call human flourishing. And this commitment is in keeping with the prophetic Jewish tradition from which he emerged.

The early Jesus community helped the poor among them flourish (Acts 4:32, 34-37), argued that faith without works was dead (James 2:14-18), and claimed that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). The epigraph to this essay, by progressive Christian pastor Phillip Gulley, takes the image of God as love and puts it to work in the service of human well-being.

Following Gulley, we might say that love is made manifest in the work we do and the relationships we build in support of our own flourishing and the flourishing of others. If “God is love” and love partakes of the Holy, then the work we do for our own flourishing and for the flourishing of others is holy work. If avoidable suffering is in a sense the opposite of flourishing, then the work we do to mitigate our own avoidable suffering and the avoidable suffering of others is also holy work:

  • Loving God with all our being means working to enable God’s creation to flourish, including all people and the natural world, and working against suffering.
  • Loving our neighbors as ourselves starts with loving ourselves, which means working for our flourishing and against our suffering.
  • Loving our neighbors as ourselves means working for the flourishing and against the suffering of our neighbors — all of them.
  • Following the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), we are called to show our enemies mercy which I translate as both wishing for them to flourish and working for their flourishing (and against their suffering) when and where this work is not at our own expense.

Lifting up an ethic of flourishing as a moral and spiritual demand made of inclusive Christians would have implications for our justice, peace and environmental work, of course, but also for our self-care, our spiritual and psychological development, our liturgical practices, our interfaith commitments, and indeed our entire lives. It would be a particular way of following Jesus involving both deep joy and substantial self-sacrifice, the cultivation of delight and of virtue.

Perhaps such an ethic, if taken seriously by enough people, would contribute to moving all of us and our planet toward a life more abundant than we can imagine today. After all, nothing is impossible with love.

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What’s Behind the Catholic Rage That Fueled a Gay-Bashing? https://whosoever.org/whats-behind-the-catholic-rage-that-fueled-a-gay-bashing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=whats-behind-the-catholic-rage-that-fueled-a-gay-bashing Thu, 15 Jul 2021 13:03:36 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=20499 Man flashes cross, crowd beats gay couple

Would you be shocked if I told you a mob in France ganged up on a gay couple and beat them badly enough that one thought he was going to die and both ended up in the hospital? The story is shocking in a way, but has powerful lessons to teach about religious disdain for LGBTQI people and about how churches must start behaving more morally. As Christian friends of mine say, churches need to become more Christian and less hateful.

This happened last night in a French tourism hot spot

A gay French couple were gathered with family for Bastille Day and fireworks on the French island of Corsica. Before the evening ended, religious insults were flung and both men were badly beaten by a large crowd while a larger crowd looked on.

They heard the crowd chanting ‘pédés!’ pédés! pédés!’ as if happy to have driven them out of the village.

One of the men, while he was being kicked and punched, remembered Samuel Luiz, a gay man in Spain beaten to death by a homophobic crowd earlier this month. He feared he would share Samuel’s fate.

He almost did.

It all started when a group of youths aged about 15 to 20 spotted the couple dancing in a club with straight family members. The young people jeered and mocked the couple. Then one of them approached and showed off a photo of somebody urinating on a rainbow flag. He flashed a Christian cross and said being homosexual is “against nature.”

The gay couple, whom the French pro-LGBTQI publication TÊTU identifies only as Benoît and Mickaël, say they remained calm but left the club to take a stroll in the village of Macinaggio. They wanted to get some air and get away from the crowd of hostile youths.

They did not succeed in de-escalating.

The original youth who flashed the Christian cross spotted the men in the village and started hurling insults again. Another man grabbed Mickaël’s arm and called him a pédé, short for pédéraste, a highly inflammatory French pejorative for gay men.

That’s when everything blew up.

A crowd of about 20 descended on Benoît and Mickaël, beating them while a crowd of about 60 looked on. Mickaël told TÊTU that the onlookers acted as if they were grabbing popcorn to enjoy the show.

Mickaël says he took five blows before getting cornered between two cars and set on by 10 men. He told TÊTU blows were raining down so fast he feared for his life. “Heureusement que je n’ai pas perdu connaissance, qui sait ce qui aurait pu se passer… est-ce que je serais encore en vie ?”

My translation: “Fortunately, I didn’t lose consciousness, who knows what might have happened; would I still be alive?”

He says he was thinking of murdered Samuel Luiz at that moment, just as police alerted by Benoît’s family arrived at the scene. But the crowd wasn’t done. From inside an ambulance rushing them to the hospital, the couple say they heard the crowd chanting ‘pédés! pédés! pédés!’ as if happy to have driven them out of the village.

From reporting released so far, the extent of the men’s injuries isn’t clear. At least one broken bone is involved, but they don’t appear to be in danger of losing their lives. According to franceinfo, local police are investigating the incident and a local prosecutor has opened a formal inquiry.

What does a Christian cross have to do with all this?

This incident, like the earlier mob killing in Spain, isn’t getting much press in the English speaking world, though LGBTQ Nation has written it up. And while accounts accurately reflect what the men told TÊTU and spelled out in their own Instagram accounts, reporters seem to be ignoring a large trumpeting elephant.

Nobody is reporting that this story revolves around Roman Catholicism, around Catholic Church teachings and practices that fire up hatred and violence against LGBTQI people.

Most English speakers probably think of France as being very accepting in terms of LGBTQ matters. After all, the French take secularism seriously today, and a look back into history reveals a society that didn’t tend to criminalize members of gender and sexual minorities.

That’s why Oscar Wilde fled to France after his prison term at hard labor for “sodomy” in England.

But the story of French homophobia is more complex than that. The State stayed out of sexual matters after the 18th century, relying on the Church to enforce cultural norms. The Church still takes that role seriously when it has the power to discriminate against LGBTQI people.

As the Christian Science Monitor reports, many parts of France today remain culturally conservative, with agencies run by the Catholic Church openly discriminating against LGBTQI people despite nominally supporting secularism — even in regions where the population has largely stopped attending church.

For example, while same-sex couples may legally marry and adopt in France, many “family councils” that must approve adoption petitions are dominated by Catholic clergy and conservative Catholic lay workers who oppose adoption by gay couples and rarely or never approve such adoptions.

While same-sex marriage barely ruffled big French cities like Paris, whose cosmopolitan population took it in stride when it became law 8 years ago, the same cannot be said universally. “Manif pour Tous” (Protest for All) is a largely Roman Catholic, far-right, racist coalition that led anti-marriage protests and continues to stir up controversy over adoption.

They are not shy about flinging homophobic stereotypes and insults. (When they aren’t busy stereotyping and reviling immigrants in starkly racist terms.)

Here comes that elephant

Much of France’s population has stopped going to church. While many French people still identify culturally as Catholic, most don’t practice the religion and fewer still give credence to Catholic teachings that condemn LGBTQI people with vicious language.

Corsica, on the other hand, is exactly the opposite. Ninety-two percent of the population identify as Catholic, and most of them describe themselves as practicing Catholics. Churches are packed on Sundays and public religious processions are common throughout the year.

This makes Corsica a very dangerous place for out queer people, which Benoît et Mickaël discovered all too well last night.

When that young man flashed a Christian cross and told them homosexuality is “against nature,” he was repeating a common Church teaching. Official Catholic teaching describes sex between same-sex couples as “acts of grave depravity.” Children learn in Catholic schools that gay people are disordered, a stance they will not back down from despite overwhelming evidence from practically every medical organization in the world that the Church is dead wrong.

Both the depravity and disordered teachings spring from a falsehood the Church spreads that homosexuality and transgender identity go against nature or “annihilate nature.”

Crowds often chant that nature nonsense where populations are majority Catholic. From Poland with its anti-gay street mobs and “LGBT Free” zones, to Italy where anti-gay street violence is a serious social problem, to Ghana and other West African nations where Catholic leaders call down hate on gay people and lobby politicians to put us in prison, Catholicism strikes fear into the hearts of queer people.

Even in the United States where we worry more about evangelical Christians and their alliance with Republicans, Catholic Church officials work hard to hurt queer people. Just last fall, the American Conference of Catholic Bishops lobbied Congress to kill a national suicide hotline just because it reaches out specifically to LGBTQI people in crisis.

Last month, the Vatican tried to use treaty powers to stop an Italian hate-crime law that adds queer people to protected categories, even though anti-queer hate crimes are endemic in Italy. Among other things, the Vatican was angry that the law does not exempt Catholic schools from participating in an annual event to teach about and work against homophobia and transphobia.

Nobody should be mocked and beaten over Christian teachings

I’m sure nobody would disagree with me that religion should never be an excuse for violence. But you know what? Even as Catholic bishops in Poland tell people violence is unacceptable, they compare LGBTQI advocates to Nazis and Soviet communists, referring to our Pride flag as a “rainbow scourge.”

Those Corsican boys last night weren’t the first to show off photos of people pissing on rainbow flags. That goes on in Poland all the time, often in crowds headed by Catholic priests and bishops.

A Catholic priest in Chicago burned a rainbow flag a couple years ago to the delight of his congregation. And while his bishop disciplined him over it, that doesn’t undo the damage.

That boy last night didn’t flash a cross and repeat Catholic teaching by accident. Twenty young men didn’t beat the shit out of two gay men by accident. Sixty people didn’t look on approvingly by accident.

They were hating on queer people just as they learn in church. That has to stop. It has to stop now.

I don’t care what your religious affiliation is; if you teach that LGBTQI people commit “acts of grave depravity,” you are teaching hate that will lead to violence. If you teach we are “disordered,” you are teaching hate that will lead to violence. If you teach we “go against nature,” you aren’t just wrong — you’re teaching hate that will lead to violence.

This isn’t complicated, it’s obvious.

Isn’t it time to stop the hate? Isn’t it time to stop the violence? I’m not a Christian, but I grew up with stories about Jesus and his followers. I don’t recognize Jesus in common Christian hate speech.

I don’t know if Benoît and Mickaël are people of faith, but I know they were terrified when they saw that cross flashed at them. If you’re a Christian, that should you tear you up inside.

Republished from Medium with permission of the author.

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LGBTQI People, Check Those Guilt Feelings https://whosoever.org/lgbtq-people-check-those-guilt-feelings/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lgbtq-people-check-those-guilt-feelings Wed, 14 Jul 2021 04:00:43 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=20230 There’s a long history of using guilt and shaming — I mean going as far back as we have a human written record. People and institutions soon became experts at spreading guilt among those they felt needed their control.

It’s been quite an effective tool to get people to do what the powerful want — maybe even as effective as fear. And when the two work together, as they most often do, their power is enormous. LGBTQI people know how both have been used against them.

What makes it so easy is that people can be made to feel guilty in very passive-aggressive ways.

Think of those old bumper stickers that bragged: “I BRAKE FOR ANIMALS.” The implication for those following that car was: “What’s wrong with you that you hate animals and don’t have my moral righteousness to display the same bumper sticker?”

Or take that fish symbol brandied about on the back of vehicles testifying: “I’m a real Christian.” Ironically, its origin was as a secret insider code in times of Roman persecution. It disguised that a location was a place where Christians met, only letting insiders know.

Whether wielded passively or self-righteously, guilt is seldom purely a moral idea. It’s mixed with the power-plays of people and institutions that wield guilt.

There’s a difference, of course, between being guilty according to someone’s standard and feeling guilty. Just think of your immediate reaction when you look into the rear view mirror and see that police cruiser behind you — no matter how lawfully you’re driving.

Of course we first think of religious institutions dominating the field of guilt. But feeling guilty, whether or not a person is really guilty of some real offense, isn’t just a well-worn tool of religions.

It’s a control mechanism that’s useful to focus the person who feels guilty on themselves rather than confronting larger issues that might call the standards themselves into question.

Think of legal systems — the guilty who have enough class or racial privilege to control, populate, buy, and otherwise affect the legal system are judged by a different standard than those who don’t.

Justice is hardly ever a blind application of “you do the crime, you do the time.” Some are declared not guilty when they are or guilty when they aren’t.

When you know the right people, have enough money, or are a potential plea-bargainer who’s got beans to spill about the powers that be, there are completely different ways to relate to guilt. And if you’re into such power, you won’t even feel guilt at all.

The previous occupant of the White House, so many in his political party today, and the good ol’ rich boys surrounding them don’t consider lies as guilt-raising but as shrewd means of doing business and getting ahead. If there’s any key to their entire life, it’s that it’s about little more than knowing, and being bailed out by, the right people.

Still, these people will use it against others because guilt is a useful tool of the elite. It keeps those they control occupied with themselves and working not to feel guilty by self-controlling.

As a tried and true way to maintain control, promoting guilt and feeling guilty work on a number of levels.

By doing so, people who promote the guilt feelings assert and maintain their positions of power over those whom they encourage to feel guilty. Guilt feelings bind people to the one they believe has the authority to free them from guilt.

Using someone’s guilt to get them to do what you want, such as protecting you from criticism of your own deeds, has become an art. It’s one of the reasons our leaders love the idea of guilt.

They use the words “personal responsibility” to invoke it. And they know that that phrase itself triggers those they want under their control.

But they never include in “responsibility” the responsibility a member of society has to the whole of the community and the least of its members.

Preachers know how successfully getting people to feel guilty brings in more souls along with those souls’ pocketbooks. And the guilt feelings keep followers dependent upon preachers for the salvation from the guilt.

Religious guilt-promoters might talk about a god saving the guilty, but those preachers are the real dealers of that message. So guilty people become as dependent on those preachers and their messages as on any drug.

Remember: people caught up in dealing with their personal guilt feelings are distracted. Preoccupation with personal guilt keeps them so focused on it that they have little energy or time to threaten the powers that be. They’re too obsessed with their guilt.

So, guilt feelings keep the powerful and prejudices in place. The system loves it. The rich and powerful thrive on the guilt of others. And the beat goes on.

Yet, guilt feelings don’t just come from outside us through religious and political leaders. We come to learn to use guilt to control our personal environments.

Our comfort with feeling guilty hardly needs leaders to trigger it. We’ve often so internalized our guiltiness that most of us actually embrace feeling guilty in order not to face the fact that life and the actions of others are really out of our control.

Trying to control everything, after all, is a protective mechanism we learned as children. Back then we couldn’t control the adults around us. And those adults could at times be responsible for quite negative responses to us. So we wisely saw that we’d better learn how never to let things get out of control.

Today, if we can just feel that we’re in control of the environment around us, we believe it’s less likely to hurt us. And much of the time we can pull this off.

But illness and accidents happen. And instead of embracing the fact that we’re not in control of the universe, instead of learning to welcome surprise and growing in the process they provide for our lives, we’d rather dwell on “what we could have done.”

Our guilt over what we coulda, woulda, shoulda done to prevent a death, an accident, an illness, or a negative response from others is easier to embrace than admitting that we’re not able to control most of these events or many people. Our guilt somehow comforts us.

An illusion of control is a recognized mark of addictive thinking. The desire to control an addict is a mark of those who enable the addiction to thrive.

A fear that the world is full of chance and serendipity drives people to religions and systems that comfort people that there really is some Controller, no matter how accidental things look.

So guilt, a seemingly noble expression of justice, is a useful control mechanism for those protecting their power and prejudice. And even for the less powerful, dwelling on one’s own guilt helps us feel that we’re in control of what we probably are not.

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‘Pray Away’ Netflix Trailer: Is This Conversion Therapy’s Swan Song? https://whosoever.org/pray-away-trailer-is-this-conversion-therapys-swan-song/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pray-away-trailer-is-this-conversion-therapys-swan-song Tue, 13 Jul 2021 04:00:14 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=20401 Oh, conversion therapy, how can we miss you if you won’t go away? Having witnessed to the ex-gay movement for a quarter century and counting, Whosoever has seen conversion therapy’s major institutions become hobbled, its principles discredited, and most of its founders now living out gay lives following apology tours. But is the spiritually violent anti-LGBTQ+ “pray-it-away” movement fully in the rearview?  Only time will tell.

In the meantime, the upcoming Netflix film “Pray Away,” debuting on August 3, promises to take us on a disturbing trip down memory lane with some of the ex-gay movement’s notorious leaders, as well as some current members and survivors.

The film’s main subject is Exodus International, once described by Soulforce as “the market leader in reparative/ex-gay/sexual orientation change therapy,” whose leaders were revealed to have struggled intensely with their own same-sex attractions, and which closed its doors in 2013 after issuing an apology to the LGBTQ+ community.

One of the movement’s acolytes, Darlene Bogle, wrote movingly for Whosoever in “Leaving Exodus” of the moment she realized, in the middle of addressing attendees at an ex-gay conference, that she was indeed a lesbian and needed to live her truth.

It should be familiar thematic territory for anyone who’s seen “Boy Erased,” the 2018 adaptation of Garrard Conley’s memoir of surviving a spiritually violent Love in Action program, which in the movie occurred in Memphis, Tenn. — the same city where Whosoever contributor Brent Walsh escaped from a Love in Action program in 2000. In “Waking Up in Memphis,” Walsh wrote:

It didn’t take long to discover that the “experts” were just as clueless as everyone else. The emotional hoops they put me through were far more traumatic than helpful.

Former Love in Action director John Smid consulted on “Boy Erased,” and he served as the inspiration for Joel Edgerton’s character in the film. Smid resigned from Love in Action in 2008 and started an LGBT-affirming ministry not long after it became public that Love in Action co-founder John Evans had written him a letter saying conversion therapy “shattered lives.”

Shortly thereafter, the American Psychological Association officially disavowed conversion therapy.

The “Pray Away” trailer reveals that John Paulk is also heavily featured; as the founder of Focus on the Family’s ex-gay ministry Love Won Out, he has since come out, disavowed conversion therapy and apologized for his role in the ex-gay movement. In “Fear and Loathing at the Ex-Gay Conference,” Darrell Grizzle provided Whosoever a first-hand account of attending a Love Won Out conference and a prevailing mood there that he could only describe as… paranoia.

That conference was in the year 2000. Twenty-one years later, can the affirming church afford to let its own guard down? Consider this from James Finn, in “Pope Francis Takes the Gay Gloves Off“:

In 2018, Francis instructed Catholic parents to send gay children to therapy, implying that before the age of 20, conversion therapy might be effective. Prior to that pronouncement, the Church had a reputation for opposing conversion therapy, known to be ineffective and dangerous. Since then, Catholic dioceses all over the U.S. have partnered with conversion therapy providers, and the practice is increasing.

Watch this space — and mark your calendar for August 3.

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‘If I Was Your Girl’ by Meredith Russo | Review https://whosoever.org/if-i-was-your-girl-by-meredith-russo-review/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=if-i-was-your-girl-by-meredith-russo-review Mon, 12 Jul 2021 04:00:44 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=20201 In today’s world we have an ever-growing selection of LGBTQ+ focused books; however, the pool is still lacking on the transgender front. I am a trans man and have scoured countless shelves to find proper representation.

Luckily, I came across If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo. It tells of a teenage girl growing up in the South who happens to be transgender. The author does an amazing job helping the reader see past her medical label in that Amanda is just a girl trying to navigate high school unscathed.

I also love that the character never lost her Christian faith with all she went through. As a Christian myself, it was something I was pleasantly surprised to see.

This book dealt with heavy topics such as suicide, homophobia, and transphobia. These topics are common in today’s world, and especially so in the queer community. According to The Trevor Project:

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24… In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25.

These numbers are staggering and will only continue to increase if we don’t discuss it and find ways to do better. I’m grateful that Meredith Russo chose to have these facts represented in this novel.

The author allowed readers to see through the eyes of this girl and her transgender experience. The way Russo depicted this character made it very clear that she was female no matter the biology. It did not feel as though the book held a magnifying glass up to Amanda to “prove” her trans-ness; instead, it proved her humanity.

She was shy in the beginning and then as she became comfortable with herself and surroundings, she flourished into a beautifully confident young lady. Amanda made friends, journeyed through high school, fell in love, and not only survived but blossomed. This is what she and many like her wish for every day — the ability to thrive.

If you choose to read this amazing book, it will leave something in you long after you turn the last page. May you be blessed by it.

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To Religious Rejects Everywhere (Part II): Reclaiming God https://whosoever.org/to-religious-rejects-everywhere-part-ii-reclaiming-god/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=to-religious-rejects-everywhere-part-ii-reclaiming-god Wed, 07 Jul 2021 04:00:34 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=20350 Read the rest of the series

When you think about God, what do you imagine? What’s the first image that surfaces in your mind?

Take a moment and just sit with this image. Don’t critique it or praise it, just take it in.

OK, now the fun begins. Like any child, we get to ask over and over again — persistently and without ceasing — “Why?” Why was this image the first one you thought of? Were you taught by someone — a movie, a Sunday School teacher, or pastor — to see God in this way?

What does this image make you feel? When it first emerged, what was your gut feeling; was it guilt, shame, love, forgiveness, or a combination of emotions?

Why do you feel this way? Did someone/some community condition you to feel what you feel; has this hindered your relationship with the Divine?

Does this image still work for you, or have you developed a different one (or many)? If it doesn’t, why? How do the new images make you feel? How did you move from the image in your initial reaction to the ones that are meaningful for you today? Was this transition important for you? Why?

I’ll stop the inquisition here, but I hope you’ll take time to journal about these questions and keep probing what and where from and why you have the image of God that you do. Even the word “God” is charged with so many feelings, experiences, dogma, and cultural conditioning that it’s difficult to say for some of us, and even more difficult to have a healthy relationship with.

Here’s some of my experience, and maybe it resonates with yours in some way:

For a long time, my idea of God was based on what I heard other people say. I had this whole “macho masculine” image in my mind, the God who sent plagues and turned people to salt. I heard people talk about “Him” and “His judgment” or “His power.” Don’t get me wrong, my home church was full of kind-hearted older ladies who acted as everyone’s mothers. I was lucky. Even in this church, though, that idea of a masculine God hid under the surface of every conversation; we just assumed that’s who God was… Sometimes my image of God seems like a rigid marble statue whose cold eyes look at me with judgment. It’s time to take that dusty statue of God and smash it. (Reclaiming Church, pages 25-26).

For so many of us in the LGBTQIA+ community, the idea of God has been used against us: “He’s” a threat, a punisher who will torment us if we live as our authentic selves. This is where the gift of our queerness is especially important because it gives us a reason to question what most people have always taken for granted: The nature and identity of God.

It’s a brave thing to face something as triggering as a being who’s been used to threaten us, so I want to name the courage you’ve shown just by opening this article. Thank you for your courage. Now, let’s use our queer gift.

For me, my image of God is constantly evolving. Even in the time between when I wrote my book in 2019 and today, I’ve started to use the word “God” less and use words like “the Holy” or “Divine” more.

These words help tap into the expansiveness of the images in which I currently find meaning. For me, looking out at the ocean as the sun sinks at dusk or watching the sun rise again, pink and gold, at dawn over the hills in upstate New York — these are the images and experiences that I associate with the Holy, with God. These images evoke different emotions within me than the marble statue does. And even though those feelings of guilt sometimes arise when my first image of God pops up, they don’t have control over me anymore, and they don’t define the Holy for me either.

Learning to reclaim God is probably a life-long process, but it’s been a liberating one for me already. I hope you’ve experienced some of this liberation in your journey thus far with the Divine, and if you need a little more help taking that first step, Chapter 1 of my book will walk you carefully deeper than this brief article could hope to.

But know this: God is bigger than the bully that others have made Them out to be. Enjoy this journey of discovery and questioning and unloading and be set free.

So, whatever you were told about God before, let it go. Release the tension in your fists as you read this and feel the chains around you fall. You have every right to experience God in your own way. Take everything you were ever told or just took for granted, and say, “Goodbye,” because right now we’re starting fresh. (Reclaiming Church, page 25)

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The Case For Not Running: Why I Chose To Stay in a Position of Power https://whosoever.org/the-case-for-not-running-why-i-chose-to-stay-in-a-position-of-power/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-case-for-not-running-why-i-chose-to-stay-in-a-position-of-power Tue, 06 Jul 2021 04:00:41 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=20206 I hope for a future where the church is more inclusive, queer Christians are still on fire for the Gospel, and we choose to fight to improve imperfect institutions rather than abandon them — even when they oppress us. I’m willing to do this even if I don’t see results in my lifetime.

Institutional change is slow. So slow that you may not live to enjoy the fruits of your labor. I remember the shock I felt when a mentor told me that she didn’t know if she’d ever see a change in the institution where she worked during her career. The point of activism, another friend told me, is working to make institutions better for the next generation, not just pointing out how they need to change to better serve us.

When I was on my college’s student government, we once had a discussion on how to table meetings that, ironically, was tabled after more than an hour of discussion. The core curriculum developed during my year as student body president at Calvin University had been in the works for over a decade. Despite rekindling conversations on queer representation when I came out as Calvin’s first openly gay student body president in 2020, the Christian Reformed Church (the denomination Calvin is associated with) has been refining its stance on homosexuality for more than 50 years.

Like it or not, institutions help us organize ourselves in society. Even if I organized 20 friends to have the most efficient meetings, we wouldn’t have access to the thousands of dollars to enact our policies that our official student government has. Even though I could have proposed a new core curriculum on my own in a few weeks, it wouldn’t contain nuances that only extensive feedback from each department could offer.

Most importantly, if I left the CRC to start my own denomination with queer people in positions of leadership, there are still hundreds if not thousands of queer kids growing up in the CRC who would have one less, perhaps even zero, queer CRC role models during a crucial time in their personal and spiritual development.

The specific changes I want to see within student government, Calvin University, and the Christian Reformed Church have not changed — but the ways that I’ve gone about that change have. Prior to being president, I thought that tearing down long-standing yet imperfect institutions was nobler than becoming part of them to improve them for future generations.

Yuval Levin’s A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream argues that there’s value in having the humility to allow ourselves to be formed by institutions while working within them, not just canceling institutions when they don’t meet our every need perfectly. This idea, and the one that more queer representation in faith-based institutions is needed, are not mutually exclusive.

I’m a strong proponent of speaking truth to power. But I’ve learned that it’s easier to speak truth to power than to actually become the one in power. It’s even harder to speak truth to power once you are in power.

When I found myself with influence after being elected student body president of a Christian college that, to my knowledge, had no openly LGBTQ+ faculty or staff, I chose to just share my story rather than focus on specific policy outcomes. I was hard on myself at first for not “doing enough,” but there are many ways to make change, and I don’t regret the one I took.

If you’re part of an institution that oppresses marginalized communities, I initially thought, didn’t that make you personally responsible for all of the injustices that occurred within it? Not necessarily. Two epiphanies during my last semester of college nuanced this line of thought.

First, a professor told me that I’m only liable for unethical behavior within an institution if my actions perpetuate norms that encourage that behavior. To me, that was a huge relief. I didn’t have to be on every committee to show my commitment to queer folks: Being fully invested in two committees with top university leaders was better than being somewhat invested in many. Plus, I could ask the occasional pointed question to the people who held the most power on campus.

Secondly, I became strangely comforted by the Reformed church doctrine of total depravity, which says that sin touches every inch of our world. There’s not a single institution that’s immune to the effects of human wrongdoing. If I left the CRC’s congregation of 210,000 because of a specific problem, only to start a new denomination: It would have different problems and a congregation of zero.

Out of these 210,000, I’d be willing to bet that a few of them are queer youth who are trying to reconcile their faith and sexuality in secret, on their own, just as I once had. If I had transferred to the big state school I had quietly applied to during my sophomore year, if I had decided not to run for president because Calvin had “too many problems,” or if I had started my own church denomination instead of staying in the CRC — who would be there for queer youth in CRC churches when they ask themselves if they are loved by God, if they should leave the church, or if it’s even worth it to be alive right now?

Thirty-nine percent of LGBTQ youth in the U.S. are religious, according to a 2019 survey by the Trevor Project. There are also 5.3 million religious LGBTQ adults in the U.S. — yet growing up I knew zero queer adults or youth who were also religious.

The church needs us to be the mentors, pastors and leaders for the next generation of LGBTQ+ youth. I know why we leave the church.

I’m not asking every queer person to fix problems they didn’t cause yet face every day. I just want there to be more of us: For those of us in faith communities to own our LGBTQ+ identities so that we can be there for the ones who might otherwise leave the church and their faith. And ultimately, I want the love our communities have for us to be an unmistakable reflection of the love that God has for us.

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You Are God’s Masterpiece: Celebrating 25 Years of Being a Whosoever https://whosoever.org/you-are-gods-masterpiece-celebrating-25-years-of-being-a-whosoever/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=you-are-gods-masterpiece-celebrating-25-years-of-being-a-whosoever Thu, 01 Jul 2021 04:00:40 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=20212 Part of an occasional series celebrating Whosoever’s Silver Jubilee.

I grew up hating my body. I still feel a bit like an alien trying to work out how this human meat suit works. I’ve always been awkward, clumsy, and had the ability to trip on a linoleum design. I’ve never felt at home in this human costume. It’s always been ill-fitting.

I think I know why. You see, I was raised in a Southern Baptist household. My father was a preacher and my mother was the good stay-at-home-and-fix-dinner-for-Sunday-guests housewife. I was taught that my body was evil — that it was home to all manner of fleshly sins from masturbation, lust, greed, sloth, gluttony — all the really good, juicy types of sin.

The biggest sin you could do with your body, though, was to be a homosexual. Even the word lends itself well to be spit out of the mouth like a nasty piece of rotten meat.

I don’t recall my daddy ever explicitly preaching against homosexuality. It wasn’t really a big issue in society and the church in the late 1960s and early 1970s. There were some admonitions about hippies and the “free love” movement of those times, but my daddy stuck to the classics — adultery and divorce — temptations he succumbed to before I reached my teenaged years.

My tradition had its arsenal of anti-body scriptures:

  • “If you live according to the flesh, you will die…” (Romans 8:13)
  • “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God…” (1 Corinthians 15:50)
  • “… the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God…” (Romans 8:7)
  • “For I know nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.” (Romans 7:18)

Just to name a few.

Yeah, the Apostle Paul was pretty obsessed with the sins of the flesh and he was always the go-to guy for my tradition. I already hated my body by the time I realized I was a lesbian, and Paul’s obsession with fleshly impurities and desires didn’t help me one bit.

It would, of course, be years before I realized that all of these scriptures were taken out of historical context and twisted to fit my sect’s particular authoritarian and misogynistic worldview, but in my early adulthood it was all this flesh and sin talk that drove me to leave the God of Christianity. I came back, of course, after a crisis with my first girlfriend’s family drove her to discover a Metropolitan Community Church in the Atlanta area. That changed my life and made me determined to reconcile my spirituality and sexuality.

I began where most of us do — by searching the scriptures and reading anything we can get our hands on about the so-called “clobber passages” that supposedly condemn same-sex attraction as well as gender identity. I, however, went one step further in my quest to fully understand my sexuality in relation to my spirituality: I started an online magazine specifically designed for LGBTQ Christians called Whosoever, because I wanted to help others who were on the same quest.

Belief was my main argument at the time against those who said, “You can’t be gay and Christian.” Jesus (remember him?) said, and I quote, “Whosoever believes… shall not perish, but have eternal life.” For me, salvation turned on belief. If you gave your heart to Jesus and accepted him as your Lord and Savior, then that’s it — you will not perish, but have eternal life. Jesus said so, without adding any exceptions to the statement.

Even now, belief is the linchpin to spirituality for me, even though I don’t call myself a Christian anymore. I still fully believe in Jesus and his admonishments and model for living in this world while not being of it. I just don’t believe any of the trappings that humans have built around him over the millennia in the form of an “organized” religion.

In this particular time, however, I had not reached that stage. I was still struggling to stay in my evangelical tradition and to “know” that God loved me. I learned all the apologetics I could find. I argued with strangers on Internet message boards. I answered hateful emails — sometimes with vitriol and other times more charitably. I even doubled down on the knowledge track by enrolling in seminary and earning a master’s degree in theological studies.

I wanted to KNOW — to have the intellectual assurance — that I was okay with God.

Here’s the problem with that, though: I was seeking outside affirmation the entire time. All the arguing, all the defending, all the stuffing my head with arguments to “take down” my opponents, it got me on a lot of panels — and it even helped me produce a book — but it didn’t settle the question in my mind, and most importantly, it didn’t settle the issue in my body. I still felt as if God’s approval was elusive — and I still hated my body for the desires it was having that seemed to draw all this condemnation.

When did that change? I can’t tell you a specific time or place. It was a gradual understanding that I was seeking approval and permission to be who I was in all the wrong places. I wanted the church to accept me. I wanted the homophobes to accept me. I wanted my family to accept me.

But, how could anyone accept me if I could not truly accept myself?

True spiritual transformation is never about head knowledge. You can read all the books, say all the creeds, believe in all the dogma, but until that knowledge sinks into the depths of your body, and becomes the air you breathe, the sustenance you need to survive and the blood that pumps your heart, you will never know the true peace of God’s acceptance of you just as you are.

The only one who can give you permission to walk that path isn’t anywhere outside of you. Only you can give yourself permission to walk away from the approval of the world — from the approval of your church, your society and even your family. My world changed when I realized that, and I gave myself permission to love all of me — and to recognize the amazing wisdom of my body.

The bottom line is this: You don’t need to KNOW yourself. You need to FEEL yourself. Your body is a Holy creation — it is how the Holy Spirit communicates with you. Your flesh and bones provide that link to God. Scripture tells us that God called all of creation good.

It wasn’t until St. Augustine’s invention of original sin in the 16th century that we began to think otherwise. This doctrine gave the church the tool it needed to control people by making them feel ashamed of their bodies, using scriptures out of context, like those I quoted before, to debase and degrade the body.

That same tactic continues to be used against our community. If we feel ashamed of our bodies and see them as “sinful,” then we can be made to believe that our natural impulse and attraction to those of the same gender is an “abomination” or that we are “intrinsically disordered” in some way. We’re a lot easier to control and manipulate if we think we’re inherently bad.

Why do we stay in a system that does that, not just to us, but to everyone? Why would we want to worship a god that created such a cruel system?

My liberation came the day I realized there was nothing wrong with my sexual orientation and there was no shame in my body about it.

What was wrong, I discovered, was the view of God that had been forced upon me by my tradition. A god that trades in shame, condemnation and eternal damnation can’t be a god of love. It’s a god created by humans who believe that they should be ashamed of the bodies they have been given.

Scripture, when read in context, though, reveals God’s delight in our bodies:

  • “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
  • “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14)
  • “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27)
  • “For we are God’s masterpiece.” (Ephesians 2:10)

This is the truth about all of us: Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit — they are how we commune with God — and thus how we communicate God’s love back into the world. Our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made, and we each make up that body of Christ in the world — performing our function as the light of the world.

Finally, we are God’s masterpiece, which means that our bodies are not built on shame, but on a foundation of original blessing, glory, joy, peace, love and beauty. How we use our bodies will either glorify God or not, but using our sexuality rightly — accepting it as a gift from God — means that we bring no shame to the body of Christ by being who we are. Instead, we complete that body, because we are embracing our function as one of God’s beautiful, creative and passionate LGBTQ children.

It was always my goal with Whosoever to invite our LGBTQ community to realize that they were God’s masterpiece — put here to live their lives fully, love wastefully, and know that they are fearfully and wonderfully made. I can’t give you the permission you need to realize this, though. Only you can do that for you.

No one in our community needs the approval of outside authorities. They can reject us into eternity — but God never has and never will. The God that dwells within each one of us is constantly calling us to give up our shame, to give up our guilt, to give up our despair and give up our need for anyone to call us good but God Herself.

As we reach Whosoever’s 25-year milestone, I hope that this magazine has provided the tools you have needed to give yourself this permission to see that you are God’s masterpiece, walking around in the flesh. If you’re just beginning your journey of understanding and are still seeking that outside approval — take your time. Head knowledge only becomes heart and body knowledge when you allow yourself the time you need to grow and become as God has created you.

The journey can be painful, and it can seem endless, but I invite you to check in with your body from time to time. Trust your gut. Trust your intuition. It knows who you are because that spark of the divine is within us all. As A Course in Miracles puts it: “God is but Love, and therefore so am I.” You are God’s masterpiece, and God only produces beauty. Allow yourself to feel that, all the way down to your soul.

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For Imprisoned Immigrants, a Happy Pride Month Is a Dream Deferred https://whosoever.org/for-imprisoned-immigrants-a-happy-pride-month-is-a-dream-deferred/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-imprisoned-immigrants-a-happy-pride-month-is-a-dream-deferred Wed, 30 Jun 2021 04:00:36 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=19488 Immigrant rights are too often pushed to the margins of concern in American LGBTQ+ communities. The past year of political hatred targeting transgender people and the past decade of institutional violence against immigrants have left me sickened at the toxic positivity contained in the phrase “Happy Pride!” There can be no happy Pride given the terrible hardships faced by people who happen to be both LGBTQ+ and undocumented immigrants.

Therefore, I felt a sacred sense of calling to attend the June 15 action “No Pride in Detention,” organized in Atlanta by Community Estrella, a nonprofit organization dedicated to community organizing and mutual aid on behalf of transgender immigrants. To make it clear who they were protesting, the rally was held in front of the local office of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico are extremely dangerous places for transgender women and other LGBTQ+ people to live. In such countries, murders of trans women are chillingly termed “social cleansing.”

Yet upon arriving in the United States, too many trans asylum-seekers are imprisoned simply for the “crime” of seeking a safe place to live. Despite promises from the Biden Administration to shut down privately-run ICE detention facilities, many immigrants continue to be held in the deplorable conditions of private prisons.

While the Administration has terminated the contract of the company running the most notorious of these private prisons, Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Ga., nearly 40 U.S. immigration detention centers remain in operation. The goal of Community Estrella’s June 15 rally was to call upon the Biden Administration to make good on its promise.

For transgender immigrants with special medical needs, such as HIV-positive status, the privatized ICE detention facilities have proven deadly.

  • Victoria Arellano, who had lived in the U.S. since age 7, died in a California ICE facility in 2007 after being denied her HIV medication.
  • Roxana Hernandez of Honduras died in 2018 from pneumonia and dehydration after being held for several days in an “icebox” cell while waiting to have her case heard by an immigration judge.
  • Johana Medina Leon, an asylum-seeker from El Salvador, died in 2019 of untreated HIV complications while in a New Mexico ICE facility.

So the sign at the June 15 rally saying “ICE has blood on their hands” was not mere rhetoric. The poor medical care at ICE facilities (and outright medical abuse at the Irwin County Detention Center) is indeed tantamount to murder.

The June 15 rally brought attention to these issues in an artful and colorful manner. It was a form of street theater. Participants who had endured ICE detention at any point in their lives were wearing orange jumpsuits. Participants in black and khaki represented ICE facility guards, and participants in scrubs represented healthcare workers at ICE facilities.

After the organizers spoke, recounting hardships from both their native countries and in ICE detention, all the participants marched around the city block housing the ICE office. We chanted “No Pride in Detention!” and “End Trans Detention — Now!”

I joined the ascending chorus of chants and wails as the march continued. Toward the conclusion of the march, I added my screams to the collective din as if we could together topple the walls of Jericho.

Yet for participants like myself,  who are white and U.S.-born, this was only a beginning to the hard work in becoming a good ally to BIPOC, immigrant and incarcerated trans people.

Moreover, advocating on behalf of people in prison or detention is a commandment of scripture:

Remember those who are in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:3)

We cannot have a truly “Happy Pride” until Black, Brown, immigrant and incarcerated members of the LGBTQ+ community are accepted and honored.

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The Stonewall Uprising Wasn’t Anything Like Today’s Pride Fests https://whosoever.org/the-stonewall-uprising-wasnt-anything-like-todays-pride-fests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-stonewall-uprising-wasnt-anything-like-todays-pride-fests Mon, 28 Jun 2021 04:00:16 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=19190 The Stonewall uprising of LGBTQ people in June 1969 was nothing like the Pride fests of this month that are often more like gay expos than remembrances of the real-life fights for equal rights that continue even today. There is nothing wrong with celebrating even though entrance to many is becoming more and more expensive, but they clean up the real grit that the actual events involved.

Making the uprising more respectable has been de rigueur. Remember director Roland Emmerich’s film “Stonewall,” that hit the theaters in 2015? Of course, it was a fictional story based loosely upon the real events of the Stonewall uprising.

But it drew criticism as soon as its trailer appeared as a “whitewashing” because it portrayed white men led by Jeremy Irvine’s character, Danny, as central characters in inciting the fight against police brutality on June 28, 1969. On-line petitions multiplied, one saying: “Do not support a film that erases our history. Do not watch Stonewall.”

Though the actual events of those early morning hours in June 1969 outside a Greenwich Village gay bar called the Stonewall Inn are often called the “beginnings of the Gay Rights Movement,” we know that that’s historically inaccurate.

Organizations such as the Daughters of Bilitis, ONE, Inc., and the Mattachine Society were founded back in the 1950s. In that decade, gay people also began to turn to the courts to fight for the right to receive gay magazines in the mail or to congregate in bars without police harassment.

The civil disturbances that came to be called the “Stonewall Riots” are then more symbolic, the way the Battle of Bunker Hill or Paul Revere’s late-night ride symbolize the beginnings of the American Revolution. They were LGBTQ people saying: “Enough is enough,” or, as Popeye would’ve put it: “That’s all I can standz ‘cuz I can’t standz no more.”

But was that night at Stonewall extremely disorderly? You bet.

The “order” of things was bigoted, harassing, and deadly. And when people oppose the order of things, the keepers of the status quo accuse them of disorderly conduct.

To be “orderly” is never a neutral, non-political act. It promotes the skewed values and “normal” discrimination of the current structures.

Was it also messy? Definitely.

Real healing makes messes. Democracy itself is messy. It’s not for neat freaks or the anal-retentive. It’s not for those who want to look good in the eyes of people who set the dominant, sick agenda and who reward anyone who supports it.

Was it perfectly done the way contemporary leaders would like it to be? I doubt it and would hope not.

We lose much in the struggle for freedom when leaders wait until it can be done perfectly. It was a hot, muggy night of spontaneous resistance, the kind that explodes out of a long-lasting, wearing, burden of oppression that the larger community refuses to acknowledge.

Was it led by gay leaders who worried about what straight people would think of them if they didn’t remain moderate, middle-of-the-road, “straight-acting,” and nice? Of course not.

If any worried mainline gay leaders were in the bars that night, they didn’t want to stand out. They probably criticized these revolutionaries as ignorant rabble.

Did it take place in a boardroom, theater, concert hall, dinner party, church, or fine, well-mannered social club? Are you kidding?

The Stonewall Inn (next door to the present New York bar by that name) was a shabby dive that served watered-down drinks in glasses that were questionably sanitary. It wasn’t really even a drag queen’s bar. Only a certain number of drag queens were allowed in at a time and only if the owners knew them.

Was it led by gay leaders who drank expensive wine, read style magazines, could afford to attend expensive fund-raisers, hob-knobbed with politicians, and invested wisely? No.

As if to throw the whole issue of LGBTQ classism in our faces, it was led by drag queens and street people, many of color.

This symbol of LGBTQ liberation isn’t about the cultured, coiffed, and privileged but the least understood and the down on their luck. They were looked down upon by others as lazy, dirty, and “low class.”

But that’s not how the real combatants and their contemporary supporters viewed the scene. The late transgender person, Ray “Sylvia Lee” Rivera claimed that for her compatriots who were there in the midst of the disorder of the Stonewall revolution it was “beautiful and exciting”:

I thought, ‘My god, the revolution is here. The revolution is finally here.’ . . . I just knew that we would fight back. I just didn’t know it would be that night…. that’s when I saw the world change for me and my people. (Leslie Feinberg, Trans Liberation, 1998, 109)

Michael Fader described the scene as:

All kinds of people, all different reasons, but mostly it was total outrage, anger, sorrow, everything combined, and everything just kind of ran its course. It was the police who were doing most of the destruction. We were really trying to get back in and break free. And we felt that we had freedom at last, or freedom to at least show that we demanded freedom. We weren’t going to be walking meekly in the night and letting them shove us around—it’s like standing your ground for the first time and in a really strong way and that’s what caught the police by surprise. There was something in the air, freedom a long time overdue and we’re going to fight for it. It took different forms, but the bottom line was, we weren’t going to go away. And we didn’t.

To have the symbol of LGBTQ liberation as the resistance of drag queens and street people, many of color, reminds us of what’s important. It’s not the ability to fit in, rest in privilege, and gain the approval of the powers that be.

It’s the prophetic disturbance by the outcasts of society. And thus Stonewall symbolizes our connection to the other human issues it represents: poverty, gender oppression, and racism.

Was it non-violent? Hardly. And for someone committed to non-violence, that’s a hard fact to face.

But the United States was born in violence and symbolizes its birth violently, which probably contributes to the violent nature of our country. Our leaders use violent images to justify the American emphasis on the symbols, mythology, and responses of war and our war-dependent economic machine. American’s like to think about their history in terms of glorious, righteous wars.

Of course, we’d like to believe that all positive change is non-violent — certainly it’s not passive. Yet, when any people have been oppressed long enough, and other attempts to get society to focus attention on their need for humane treatment have incited no interest, then the volume of their cry for relief increases, and the methods used escalate and break out in direct confrontation.

When we hear privileged LGBTQI leadership collude with the structures by saying, “Just calm down and relax. Don’t get worked up over it,” then we know that such leadership is out of touch with the sufferings of LGBTQI people. We also know they’re not leaders who would have been caught up in the reality of Stonewall.

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A Transgender Journey Toward Pride: A Creation Theology https://whosoever.org/a-transgender-journey-toward-pride-a-creation-theology/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-transgender-journey-toward-pride-a-creation-theology Wed, 23 Jun 2021 04:00:17 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=19188 Five years ago, I would not have thought I would be celebrating Pride month. Having spent my life trying to ignore the person I am, I had gotten good at defending LGBTQ exclusion from the Church.

My non-acceptance of myself wasn’t about the select passages in the Bible that are commonly interpreted as speaking about homosexuality or transgender identities.

Rather, my struggle came down to the story of Creation and the purpose of God’s design in the formation of humanity. I believed that the gendering of humans in a binary was God’s creative design to establish God’s purpose for human relationships in the form of heterosexual marriage.

Transition is the process, or a period, of changing from one state or condition to another. Before my physicality ever began to change, my transition started with my thoughts and positions of understanding evolving. This caused me to recognize the inconsistencies in my own hermeneutics, especially in reference to the way gender non-conforming people fit into the Creation.

When I let the Creation story speak for itself, I was finally able to see my identity as a trans woman, and the identities of every person similar to me: We’re expressions of God’s creativity and fully embraced in the Creation story.

Male and female are not exclusionary categories

One problem with my binary understanding of gender in Genesis 1 is the fact that it didn’t leave room for intersex individuals. I assumed that gender variance in the form of intersex was a result of the Fall and the corruption of the natural world. However, this understanding was incredibly harmful and dehumanizing, as well as theologically unfounded.

By enforcing a fixed binary on gender, I was not reading the creation of humanity consistently with the rest of the passage. In fact, the creation of humanity as male and female was the only set of categories that I interpreted to be fixed and exclusive.

Every day of the Creation account in Genesis 1 contains some sort of division into categories. However, things outside of those categories are not meant to be understood as existing outside of God’s creative order. Every single division is meant to be understood as a generalization. (Gor more on this, see Transforming: The Bible & the Lives of Transgender Christians by Austen Hartke).

For example:

  • Day One: The creation of day and night does not exclude dawn and dusk.
  • Day Two: The separation of waters does not exclude fog or mist.
  • Day Three: The separation of land and water and the growth of vegetation on the land does not exclude marshes, mud, algae or seaweed.
  • Day Four: The placement of the sun, moon and stars does not exclude black holes or comets.
  • Day Five: The development of creatures living in the water and flying in the sky does not exclude frogs or mosquitoes.
  • Day Six: The development of “cattle, creeping things, and beasts of the earth” does not exclude penguins or animals categorized as “beasts of the earth” that would later be understood as “cattle,” such as bison or emus.

Unfortunately though, when I would read of the creation of humans on the sixth day, I would uncritically hold to the idea that the gendering of humanity as male and female had to be understood as two distinct, fixed categories. This was problematic, since I did not interpret the rest of the passage in the same way.

If the categories are not exclusive or fixed elsewhere, then why would I understand the gender categories to be different?

Understanding the Creation account in this light allowed me to see that gender was never supposed to be understood as a binary. It not only allows for inclusion of intersex people into the created order, but it also affirms their existence as part of God’s plan for humanity.

In the same way, seeing the gender categories as non-exclusive allowed me to accept people who have a gender identity outside the confines of their genitals. If the Genesis story  never intended the categories to be understood as closed, then I should not force that understanding on the Bible.

The image of God on humanity

The categories of Genesis 1 weren’t the only issue that I had to work through. Like most people — and for the sake of theology this would include the Pope (as head of the Roman Catholic Church) — I believed that the image of God was reflected in the gendering of humanity.

Thus, identifying outside one’s assigned gender at birth was an act against the image of God, and consequently gender identity, embedded in all individuals. The problem with this idea is that it is a misunderstanding of the theology expressed in the Creation story.

In Genesis 1, the Hebrew word for “man,” as in English, is singular. This is because the word can also be used for “mankind” or “humanity.” In this case, the most accurate translation would be, “Let us make humanity in our image.”

This is significant in that it means the image of God, as understood in Genesis 1, is not something that is bestowed on each individual person, but rather corporately on humanity as a whole. Thus, whatever humanity is comprised of, it is made in the image of God.

When I combined that with the idea that the gendering of humanity is not meant to be understood as a binary, I was blown away by the implications.

Intersex, trans and gender non-conforming people are not only accepted into the created order, they are part of that which is encompassed in the humanity upon which God bestowed God’s image. In fact, because they are part of humanity as a whole, the image of God would not be fully reflected without their inclusion.

Procreation

This left one area that I still needed to process. I had believed that one of the main reasons for the gendering of humanity was to enable us to fulfill the blessing to “be fruitful and multiply.” However true the foundation of that belief may be, it did not mean that I had to understand the blessing in such simplistic terms.

For example, Genesis 1:28 is not the first time that God gives Creation the blessing to be fruitful and multiply. Similar to the blessing given to humans, the first blessing is also given to creatures in two distinct categories: Sea creatures, and animals that occupy the sky.

Interestingly, even though I thought the compatibility between male and female was required for the blessing, I did not hold that rule for the fulfillment of the blessing given to animals in the sea and sky, which revealed an inconsistency in my interpretation.

Likewise, I was also ignoring the fact that the blessing is not given to individuals, but rather to humanity as a whole, similar to the image of God. Thus, it is not the responsibility of every single individual to take part in procreation in order to fulfill the blessing.

This idea is picked up in the New Testament when Jesus and Paul both uphold those who remain single. People who do not procreate are not any less a part of humanity or of the image of God.

In the same way, it is not necessary for every person to take part in heterosexual, cisgender relationships for the sake of upholding the blessing in Genesis 1. Being fruitful, multiplying, and having dominion over the earth is a call to all humanity to take part in the blessing together. It is a corporate call that requires humanity, in all its forms, to join together in God’s blessing. 

Acknowledging the image of God on humanity

When I was able to see the way that the Creation acknowledged and held room for those who do not fit the gender binary, I was able to see the way that God’s creativity is able to be expressed in the varieties in humanity.

God’s image is placed on all that is expressed in humanity — not fixed to gender binaries.

Trans, intersex, and all gender non-conforming people are loved and affirmed by God because they are expressions of God’s creativity in the Creation itself.

This is the source of my pride as a trans woman! I am the expression of a creative God!

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To Religious Rejects Everywhere (Part I): A Call To Embrace the Dawn https://whosoever.org/to-religious-rejects-everywhere-a-call-to-embrace-the-dawn/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=to-religious-rejects-everywhere-a-call-to-embrace-the-dawn Tue, 22 Jun 2021 04:00:47 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=19341 Read the rest of the series

“I didn’t think I could have both,” she said, looking back down at the table.

We sat there for a while, looking outside at this place that had brought us together. It was a typical spring afternoon at Sarah Lawrence College, and the great hill that led down to the dining hall was illuminated by the waning sun.

Through the iron-paned glass, we could see our classmates shuffling up and down the golden image: Blue hair, red hair, distressed denim jackets, black jeans and shirts and combat boots; two guys kissed before they parted ways, a non-binary couple sat sunbathing, half-naked, in the grass.

It was a typical spring day at Sarah Lawrence College. Sure, there were some basketball bros at a table on the other side of Bates dining hall, but most of us that called this place our home didn’t fit the typical college scene that’s portrayed in the movies.

One of the many features that made that place unique is that it’s rated as both one of the most LGBTQIA+ accepting campuses and as one of the least religious campuses in the U.S. by the Princeton Review.

Sure, many people would call themselves spiritual… But religious? No way. To be religious means that you uphold the harmful beliefs of whatever faith you identified with, right? And as a very queer campus, you can imagine that there was a lot of apprehension about Christians on campus. And these apprehensions were justified.

A small group gathered weekly and was unofficially resourced by a national conservative campus ministry known as CRU (Campus Crusades for Christ). To be a leader in this group, which I was for a while, we had to sign covenants that included the usual “purity culture” rules: No sex before marriage, no drinking or gossiping, and of course, no same-sex relationships. And yet, here we were, on one of the most queer-affirming campuses in the country, and I was just beginning to learn how to reconcile my faith and sexuality.

My friend looked back up at me from across the table. “You know, I went to church when I was younger, and I loved it. But one day in high school I couldn’t stand not being fully present in worship. I shared with some church members that I was lesbian…” she looked away again, “… and they never saw me in the same way. They made me feel like I wasn’t welcome — that I had to choose between my faith or being myself.” She looked back at me and said, “I never went back, and I’ve been angry with them ever since for pushing me away from my relationship with God. They made me feel like God couldn’t love me as me.”

I held her hand as she teared up a bit, and then she continued: “But I know something’s missing, and I want my faith again. I know that you’re gay and a leader in the Christian group, so how do you do that? How do you reconcile being gay and being a Christian?”


If you’re reading this, you’ve probably wondered at some point whether you could be who you are and a Christian. Maybe you’re in the midst of that tension right now, still searching in the shadows for some direction or light. Maybe it feels as if the only way out is denial: Deny you’re a Christian, or deny your sexuality. Either way, it seems as if a choice must be made; it seems as if something must be sacrificed.

Or maybe you’re reading this and you went through that process years ago — decades even. Maybe you’re comfortable in your identities; you’ve explored the tension between your faith and your sexuality, you’ve studied and poured out your soul to friends who walked with you as far as they could, and now you’ve arrived at the conclusion that many of us eventually come to realize: The choice between our faith and our sexuality is an illusion. It’s like slowly understanding that night and day aren’t opposites, they’re two halves of a whole.

But let me pause here because it’s okay to say things, realize that they might be wrong, and then learn from that mistake. So, let me challenge what I just wrote. (This is the practice of accountability that’s at the heart of what people call “cancel culture,” but that’s a whole other article!) “Two halves of a whole” isn’t quite right — it still implies a clear distinction, two neat and separate aspects of one clearly defined object/concept/idea.

But you probably know from experience that you can’t be divided up neatly. To say “this part is the gay part/the queer part/the trans part of me and this other part is the Christian” just doesn’t work. And so instead of continuing the illusion that we must choose between two separate things, I invite you into the dawn.

Night doesn’t instantly become day — there’s a transition: Dawn. And this mysterious moment is proof that our tidy boxes and definitions are imperfect and arbitrary.

It’s okay not to know how to define yourself, and it’s okay to explore the creative possibilities of the dawn — the place where our faith and sexuality and other identities are in dialogue and can’t be separated out. No one can point to the dawn and say “here is the night, and there is the day” — they are wonderfully interconnected, and this unique moment creates something beautiful. You are that something beautiful.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be doing something that neither I, nor Whosoever, have done before: I’ll be writing a series of articles here that are based on my book, Reclaiming Church: A Call to Action for Religious Rejects.

It is my hope that these articles will offer some small dimension of wholeness for you or for queer folks you know as we approach and/or live more fully into the dawn together.

That spring day on campus was five years ago now, and my friend has been dating the girl she admired ever since. She doesn’t attend a church, but she has found her faith again.

Wherever you are in your journey, I’m glad that you’re here and that we get to journey together for a little while. My hope is that you’ll not only be able to reconcile your faith and sexuality, but that we’ll also all be able to reclaim the Bible and the church along the way.

For so long I thought that coming out as gay meant giving in to sin and temptation. That the perfect Christian boy I had tried to be would be tarnished. I was wrong. (Reclaiming Church, p. 83)

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A Father’s Day Message for Pride Month https://whosoever.org/a-fathers-day-message-for-pride-month/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-fathers-day-message-for-pride-month Sat, 19 Jun 2021 04:00:02 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=19211 Around the country, June is a time when LGBTQ festivals, parades, and events are held to commemorate the 1969 unrest at the Stonewall Inn, an LGBTQ bar in New York City.

It has evolved to be a whole month of celebrations, and I’ve noticed events being held across my own state of Montana in places such as Helena, Great Falls and Billings. Even my old church, First Congregational in Sheridan Wyoming, was active in Sheridan’s Pride events.

Some folks in the church may not be at ease with such a thing as “Pride.” The name itself raises concerns. Pride is one of the seven deadly sins. It indicates hubris, a focus on self — often at the expense of a neighbor. As a society, maybe we need a bit more humility and a bit less pride.

But I don’t believe that is how Pride is being used by LGBTQ folk. It’s rather an assertion of the value and worth of the individual. And this becomes important when parts of our society tell such folks that they are not worthy or valuable, and certainly not to be welcomed in the church.

The ability to trust in one’s own value and worth may be a Gospel issue. “For God so loved the world,” starts John 3:16 — that is the precondition of God’s saving work in Jesus, that love for each one of us.

In the work I do with college students, what I run into is not undue pride. It’s the opposite. Too many of my students do not believe they are worthy, that they are loved by God, that their lives are important to God, and that their contributions are meaningful to God’s world.

If I were to say what evangelism looks for at [Montana State University Billings], it is my effort to convince students that they are loved by God. We do this by saying as much. The theologian John Swinton writes that love says, “It’s good you exist. I am glad you are here.”

So we seek to demonstrate this by genuinely including them in discussions, in our group activities, in hearing their stories, in giving them a chance to show leadership. They are not a “them” that we seek to help. They are us; they make up United Campus Ministries.

This includes LGBTQ students who have not always been welcomed in the church. It includes our work with autistic students who need a chance to be heard and valued in community. It includes students who are struggling — with faith, with doubt, with life circumstances — who need a home.

In the end, it’s an attempt to ensure that everyone has a home, in the church; that no one should find themselves orphaned in this world.

That’s the plea we find in 2 Corinthians 6:8-13:

… in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see — we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return — I speak as to children — open wide your hearts also.

There’s a juxtaposition between rejection and self-worth in this passage.

We are treated as imposters but in fact we are true. We are treated as invisible and yet here we are, we are treated as those with ill repute, but we are in fact reputable before God. There is what many in the church say, versus what Paul knows to be true of himself and his ministry.

The self-knowledge that Paul has because of God in Christ gives him the confidence to assert his value and his contribution to the life of the church while acknowledging that others would reject him for it. That is, Paul is asserting his rightful pride, pride in his work and ministry, his approval before God.

What follows is the plea:

… our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return… open wide your hearts also.

That plea to the church in Corinth is the plea given to every church. We are to welcome in love those whom God loves and considers worthy. It’s a plea that the rejected can take to heart.

Rejection can take many forms based on sexuality, gender, race, age, ability and disability, economic background, one’s religious beliefs, one’s political beliefs, one’s social skills or lack of them. The result is that everyone in this room has experienced rejection by somebody.

Everybody is an outsider to some group, to some set of people — in school, in work, with other churches, with folks who disagree politically — or we’ve experienced rejection because we are too old or not old enough.  In Miles City, Montana, we even had a divide between those who lived in town and those who lived in the country.

The key is in that in the midst of rejection, we experience ourselves as worthy. That was Paul’s basis for seeking welcome from the churches to which he wrote.

At UCM, we try to provide that experience. Churches can try to provide this experience, but given what I know of church members, many haven’t given that sense of self-worth that so many of my students lack.

It could have come from the church, from school, from friends and family. But I want to propose, as I did for Mother’s Day, that it might have come from your father. The confidence to seek one’s rightful place in the world and in our communities often starts with families.

For those who received it from our fathers, we’ve been given a gift that can stay with us over a lifetime and [are] able to negotiate the good and the struggles in life. Sometimes that is biological fathers; for others, some other man — a grandfather, an uncle, a pastor, a teacher, a coach — provided that.

But that sense of self-worth is what Reinhold Niebuhr calls “original security.” It’s the feeling of safety, security and worth in a father, in a mother, in anyone who recognizes God’s handiwork in you.

A study was done of schoolyards. When there is a fence, the kids can play right at the edge of the street. But without a fence, the kids are afraid and stay close to the school building. A father’s love, a family’s love is that fence, that gives us the freedom to make our way in the world.

It’s the original security, even pride, that allows us to take our place in the communities of which we are a part, including this church. It’s the kind of pride we should be nurturing in one another, the kind of pride that the secular calendar lifts up for us LGBTQ people in the month of June.

And to close with a prayer:

God, we give you thanks for fathers and mothers and all who have played that role in our lives. We give you thanks for the security and the knowledge that we are beloved of God, a security that we first experienced in others who affirmed that in our lives. We pray that in our lives and in the life of our church, we can pass on that gift to more and more people until everyone we know can truly believe that God so loved the world. Amen

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The Supreme Court Washes Children in the Holy Water of Bigotry https://whosoever.org/the-supreme-court-washes-children-in-the-holy-water-of-bigotry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-supreme-court-washes-children-in-the-holy-water-of-bigotry Fri, 18 Jun 2021 04:00:11 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=19213 The U.S. Supreme Court, in laying down its unanimous 9-0 decision in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, loudly proclaimed that the basic human and civil rights of LGBTQ people are superseded and trumped by the “deeply held” religious beliefs of bigoted groups and individuals.

The case involves Catholic Social Services, a child adoption and foster care agency in Philadelphia, which sued the city after it refused to refer cases to the agency because it was in violation of local nondiscrimination laws by not considering LGBTQ foster parents. Though this Supreme Court ruling applies only to this specific case, the court ruled:

Under the circumstances here, the City does not have a compelling interest in refusing to contract with CSS. CSS seeks only an accommodation that will allow it to continue serving the children of Philadelphia in a manner consistent with its religious beliefs; and does not seek to impose those beliefs on anyone else.

The case validates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which states that “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion,” which was applied to corporations in the 2014 Supreme Court case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

The five men voting in the majority in that case denied the rights of women — most particularly working-class women employees at “closely-held” for-profit corporations (i.e., family owned with a limited number of shareholders), which includes most U.S. corporations — control over the reproductive freedoms generally extended to women at other companies.

The case concerned the owning families of the national chain of craft stores, Hobby Lobby, plus a Christian bookstore chain, and Conestoga, a Mennonite family-owned woodworking company who claimed and won the argument that the 2010 Affordable Care Act, and in particular, a few specific contraceptive devices covered by health insurance companies, violated their religious beliefs.

The decision follows former 2012 presidential candidate Willard “Mitt” Romney’s assertion that “Corporations are people my friend,” and clearly shows that million- and billion-dollar corporate families certainly exist more humanly (i.e., they are more of a person) and have more rights than workers.

According to Justice Samuel Alito, writing the majority opinion in the Hobby Lobby case:

The owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients.

Before this week’s Fulton v. City of Philadelphia decision, Catholic Charities of Buffalo, N.Y., terminated its adoption program in 2018 rather than comply with New York’s anti-discrimination laws banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Catholic Charities of Rockford, Ill., an adoption and foster care agency, reached a similar decision in 2011 when it shut its doors rather than place young people in the guardianship of LGBTQ people or in same-sex-headed households. Illinois law mandates that any agency receiving state funds cannot discriminate against same-sex couples, and since Catholic Charities accepts such funding, it must abide by the terms of the law.

In those cases, the good news was that young people were no longer filtered through the millennia-old Roman Catholic church’s cult of dogma that, likely, the historical Jesus would not have condoned and would not have approved if he’d had the chance to understand what was mandated in his name.

For example, according to the Roman church Catechism:

Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are gravely disordered. They are contrary to natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of love [i.e., offspring]. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

Rather than tossing out the babies while retaining the bigoted bath water, the larger Roman Catholic church must rethink its outdated and self-destructive policies, lest it find itself tossed to the trash heap of history.

If the Vatican truly wishes to protect young people, it must initiate policies to turn over to local law enforcement agencies priests and other personnel suspected of child sexual abuse and immediately terminate their service once charges are proven. In addition, any church official found to have covered up such allegations must be terminated and reported to law enforcement.

The Vatican must also permit women to achieve the highest ranks within the hierarchy — including seminarians, priests, bishops, cardinals and the pope. Church patriarchal domination and dictatorial control must end!

The church, since it clearly engages in political issues, must pay its fair share of local, state, and national taxes. The church currently may have morally unjust exemptions from governmental anti-discrimination policies, but it must no longer have tax exemptions.

And hey, how’s that abolition of marriage for church officials working for you? Oh, I thought so.

Well then, marriage must be approved for church personnel with the adult partner of their mutual choice.

In addition, Roman Catholic conversion therapy — the brutal and inhumane practice of attempting to “convert” LGBTQ Catholics to heterosexuality and gender normativity, must end immediately with a full apology issued from the highest levels of the church for the damage to body and soul it has wrought.

Though the Roman Catholic faithful and religious scholars have touted Pope Francis as “The Liberal Pope,” and as the change agent of liberal reforms — and while he talks a good game — he has taken little real action in bringing the church out of the Middle Ages and into even the 16th century, let alone the 21st Christian century.

But possibly the time has come for the Roman Catholic church to fade into actual irrelevance, as it has long since faded virtually.

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The Community of God Is Like a Pride Parade https://whosoever.org/the-community-of-god-is-like-a-pride-parade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-community-of-god-is-like-a-pride-parade Mon, 14 Jun 2021 04:00:03 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=19048 Why write a Pride hymn? My answer begins with a parable and some commentary.

And he spoke to them and said, “What is the Community of God like? It is like a Pride parade filled with a great diversity of people, decked out in rainbows and beads and drag, marching down Fifth Avenue in New York City, twirling batons, roller skating.

And among the marchers is a young man whose parents threw him out. This is his first Pride parade. He sees protesters on one corner and he is filled with terror and shame. But he keeps marching.

And on the next corner, he sees a group of older men and women holding a huge banner reading, ‘Free Mom Hugs! Free Dad Hugs!’ His eyes meet the eyes of one of the older men, and the man holds out his arms and beckons the young man over.

The young man falls into the older man’s arms, sobbing. They embrace for a long time. Then several other men and women from the group take over, hugging the young man into joy and gratitude and connection.

This is what the Community of God is like. All who have been exiled will come home, all who have been judged will be loved without condition, all who have been oppressed will be free, and all who have been excluded will be welcomed. Behold, this is the good news!”

Jesus didn’t actually offer us that parable, of course. But if he were here today, he just might, especially if he were teaching a bunch of LGBTQ+ people.

Jesus was a genius at coming up with parables that reached people where they were but then took them someplace else, someplace new, by juxtaposing the familiar and mundane with the ridiculous and unthinkable, the ho-hum and ordinary with the uncomfortable and barrier-breaking.

Some people might be tempted to see the protesters in my parable as similar to the Pharisees because Jesus condemns them in Matthew’s Gospel. However, we know that the invective Matthew puts in Jesus’s mouth about the Pharisees represents not Jesus’s own words but the struggle within Judean Judaism at the time Matthew was writing, an intra-family struggle that was all the more bitter for being so very close to home. It is, therefore, not helpful to compare the protesters to the Pharisees.

Perhaps instead we can compare the young man’s response to the protesters to the temptations of Jesus in the desert.

For those cast out by their families, self-hatred and self-doubt are serious temptations. For those raised to believe that “God Himself” is homophobic, worshipping an unloving god may be a temptation (though it is by definition idolatry, since any unloving god is not the true Holy One).

For those enculturated in violent, shame-driven forms of religiosity, the temptation to trust what is ultimately untrustworthy must be powerful. But our young man resists temptation, and indeed, when he does, angels come and minister to him in the form of a group of ally parents.

In resisting these temptations, our young man is practicing repentance, turning away from shame and self-hatred and turning toward love and joy. He is practicing true humility, in which honest self-love casts out humiliation. In jettisoning vigilance for vulnerability, he is remaining open to the good news that Jesus taught and lived.

Pride celebrations represent some of what is best about humanity. They, and the communities they lift up, merit gratitude and hymns of praise. Which brings me to my Pride hymn, “Days of Rage and Days of Hope.”

I wrote the hymn in 2019 when I learned that there was a need for such pieces. I structured the verses carefully to capture and celebrate the original event of Stonewall, the struggles and successes of the LGBTQ+ community/communities since then, and the gifts and joy we LGBTQ+ people bring the world today. Each verse ends with the lifting up of thanks for our good gay/queer/bisexual/trans/lesbian/gender-fluid/non-binary/otherwise variant lives.

As a bisexual person and a sociologist, I struggled with the “born that way” phrase but I think enough people find that self-understanding meaningful that it was reasonable to leave in the lyric. I chose to leave doctrinal language out of the text to make it accessible to a broader range of religious communities.

I set the text to fairly traditional European-inspired hymn music with (what I hope is) a fairly singable melody. Sheet music is freely available on my website, Queer Sacred Music, where you can also find scores, recordings, and videos of about a hundred original free-use inclusive hymns, worship songs, and rounds.

Peace, grace, and Happy Pride!

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Who Said Forgiveness Is the Ultimate Answer? https://whosoever.org/who-said-forgiveness-is-the-ultimate-answer/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=who-said-forgiveness-is-the-ultimate-answer Wed, 09 Jun 2021 04:00:26 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=18945

I know this one thing to be true: You do not need to forgive a person who has hurt you in order to free yourself from the pain of negative emotions. You can even reach a place of love and compassion for the wrongdoer without forgiving a particular action or inaction. You are not a less loving or whole person if there are certain things you do not forgive, and certain people whom you choose not to see. Perhaps you are even a stronger or more courageous person if you have leftover anger, whether from one violation or countless little micro-violations, even as you move on.

More importantly, it is no one else’s job — not that of your therapist, mother, teacher, spiritual guide, best friend, or relationship expert — to tell you to forgive — or not to.

Those are some of the eye-opening insights author and therapist Harriet Lerner included in her 2017 book Why Won’t You Apologize? — Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts as she analyzes what makes a real and healthy apology. And her analysis contradicts so many of the pop psychology answers thrown out as wisdom for people today.

The widespread claim that people must focus on forgiving others who’ve hurt them, in fact, can add guilt as well as additional hurt on top of the pain of the original offenses — What’s wrong with me that I can’t forgive? Why am I not ready to forgive? Why don’t I think that they deserve forgiveness? Why do I have to work so hard to forgive them?

And that claim is heavily promoted by the people and institutions that are some of the greatest offenders. No institution needs to repent and ask for forgiveness more than the Church which for centuries (no matter how much good it might also have done) destroyed the lives of others, especially LGBTQ people.

Quoting that line in what’s come to be called “The Lord’s Prayer” — literally “Forgive what we owe (opheilémna) as we also have forgiven what is owed us” — or the verses about forgiveness in Matthew 18 seldom comes with an in-depth look at the psychology and overall problematic tit-for-tat theological thinking that turns these verses into commands to forgive others willy-nilly if someone wants to earn forgiveness from God.

The long history of the atrocities that have been, and are still being, sanctioned and committed against LGBTQ by the Church means it’s an institution, which claims its identity as descendants of those who self-righteously tortured, murdered and more, that should be begging LGBTQ people (and others) to forgive it and working night and day to make amends.

But what about calls to forgive on the part of those who’ve suffered? Before Harriet Lerner’s book appeared, I wrote a 2016 column questioning popular beliefs about forgiveness in the light of the fact that people had voted for a previous administration that proved, as expected, to pander to the Christian right-wing by doing its best to undo the progress of LGBTQ people and to pack U.S courts with appointments that would stifle such progress for generations.

Here is another version of those thoughts about forgiveness (written not as a religious thinker but a historian of religion and social scientist):

(1) Forgiving people who have not asked for your forgiveness is an assertion of a superior moral position over them. It’s passive-aggressive.

(2) Forgiving people for what they’ve done that hurts and continues to hurt others is to assert I am god. It’s one thing to forgive people for what was done to you personally but it’s hubris of a high sort to take the place of those others and forgive their abusers for them.

(3) Forgiveness is not a psychological requirement for personal closure no matter how people say it is. It takes real counseling or the equivalent. It takes feeling one’s feelings, working fully through them (like the stages of grief), though not thinking, acting, or deciding on the basis of those feelings.

In agreement with Harriet Lerner and other therapists, rushing to forgive without doing previous personal work is actually emotionally harmful and an act of denial. It’s why internationally known author and expert on child abuse, Alice Miller, labelled the seventh commandment, “Honor thy father and mother…” the most dangerous of all – it kept adult children from facing their parents’ failures head on.

(4) Telling people they should forgive someone who hurt them is preaching at them and minimizing their pain. At the very least, it’s insensitive.

At the most, it’s abusive and another assertion that one thinks oneself morally superior to those who haven’t forgiven.

(5) People are ready to be forgiven when they say they were wrong (not just that they’re sorry if you were hurt) and are ready to make amends. In old fashioned terms, it’s to repent (the Greek word for “repent” in the New Testament is metánoia, that is literally “turn around”). Their actions show that they are heading on the opposite path than they were and that their actions are intent on correcting past sins.

Are they willing to own up to their part in what has been done? It’s a basic principle of 12-step recovery programs that informs a number of those steps.

(6) Not forgiving until asked by the offender to forgive them does not mean one is to be inhuman, bitter, or not treating the offender as a full human being. Quite the opposite.

It instead accepts that the reason why someone is not so asking for forgiveness is that they’re not doing the work that will help them get beyond their own issues. The coming out of LGBTQ people is a gift to them — the gift of giving them the opportunity to face their own fears, homophobia and transphobia.

They get to choose how to respond to that gift. They’ve been given a chance to grow emotionally. And the LGBTQ person is not responsible for their response.

So, forgiving them before they ask for it is encouraging them to stay stuck in their own mire. It’s enabling, sickness-promoting, and even cruel.

The inability or unwillingness to forgive is not another flaw in LGBTQ people or anyone who doesn’t forgive and forget. It’s not what is holding anyone back.

It’s a recognition that the healthy path forward is to face the truths of history and personal experience, seek the counseling and good advice that ensures self-esteem and places the blame where it belongs, and, when ready and not prematurely, to forgive those who repent.

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Pride Can Pressure LGBTQ Kids Who Need Support To Thrive https://whosoever.org/pride-can-pressure-lgbtq-kids-who-need-support-to-thrive/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pride-can-pressure-lgbtq-kids-who-need-support-to-thrive Mon, 07 Jun 2021 04:00:15 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=19778 Pride is a season for LGBTQ joy. Isn’t it?

It absolutely is for me and most of my queer family. But did you know many closeted LGBTQ folks feel left out, dejected, and pressured when June rolls around?

I have a letter I want to share with you to illustrate something.

For many, Pride season is a reminder of missing joy, of a struggle for hope. I received a poignant reminder last night in the form of an email from a young teenager asking for coming-out tips. I’m used to questions like that, so their note felt casual at first, and I planned to send them a link to a story I’d already written about how to safely come out in high school.

But … then they ramped up to serious pain and grief that reverberated deeply with me. I get more painful messages like this in June than any other season.

Let me share my response with all of you, because I think adults can benefit too. We need to understand what kids are facing and understand that some of us face the same issues.

Hi James,

I’m a gay 8th grader but nobody knows about it yet, do you have any tips on how I should come out to my friends? I’m afraid of what they will say. And also about the hard times.

My dad and step-mom are very conservative, and they found out by looking at my phone and social media. They were not okay with it and tried to ‘pray the gay away’ but I just said that I was cured.

Sometimes I lie in bed and think if I should have just ended my life before they found out. It would have been and easier thing than having my conservative parents talk about how gays should be killed and shit. It made me feel bad because they talked about this before they found out about my sexuality.

I need help!

When you can’t be open, Pride pressure can hurt

Too many of us still live in my young correspondent’s world. They’re hurting because they WANT to be out. They WANT to cash in on June’s rainbow promises, but they can’t. So let’s talk about it.

I’m a gay 8th grader. Do you have any tips on how I should come out to my friends?

I sure do. Coming out and living as the real you is important and critical for your mental health. Especially during Pride season when social media bursts with rainbows, we want to reach out for support. Some of us want to come out more than ever. Many teens your age (13 or 14) say coming was really good for them.

But should you come out?

I can’t answer that question, because I don’t know how your friends and local community would react. But if you do come out to a handful of close friends, understand something. The secret won’t keep. Your whole school will find out, and pretty darn fast.

Can you wait?

You’ve heard the saying “It gets better,” right? It does.

As you get older, you’ll have more control over your life. You’ll be better able to avoid toxic people and surround yourself with supporting people.

But “it gets better” is simplistic and frustrating. Telling somebody to wait 5 or 6 years means asking them to hide and delay ordinary life for 5 or 6 years.

LGBTQ adults often regret having missed out on ordinary teenage experiences like dating, having close friends we share everything with, and enjoying a sense of optimism about the future. We know “it gets better” is a true answer but not perfect.

If you can figure out how to be safe, coming out now could be an excellent idea. Experts say finding good friends who love you for who you really are can make a huge positive difference. According to recent data from the Family Acceptance Project, LGBTQ teens who come out in school tend to be happier and more mentally healthy than their closeted peers.

But be careful about data.

It doesn’t always mean what you think. It’s possible many of those kids in the study were healthy and happy because they already knew coming out at school was safe. The kids in the closet weren’t necessarily going to become happier and healthier if they came out.

Find an adult you can trust.

Does your school have a GSA (Gender and Sexual Alliance) club? Can you find out who the teacher advisor is? If anyone can help you figure out if coming out is safe, they can. No GSA? How about a guidance counselor or cool teacher?

Can’t talk to an adult at school? Does your area have a PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) chapter? With over 400 chapters in the U.S., it’s likely. Reaching out for support from a local group of parents could be a great idea.

Speaking of data, plenty of good data show that even one supportive adult in an LGBTQ teen’s life makes all the positive difference in the world, even more difference than supportive peers. That’s something maybe all of us should think about.

Some tips for how to come out

When we LGBTQ people decide it’s safe to come out, we often start slow. We throw out feelers by talking about queer entertainers, music, movies, etc. We judge reactions. If somebody reacts badly, we know who NOT to come out to. We look carefully for people who react better, who say positive things. We try to make friends with those people and wait for the right time. “Can I tell you something private because I value you as a friend?” Like that.

My dad and step-mom tried to ‘pray the gay away’

That has to feel just awful. For many people, faith and spirituality are fundamental needs. Feeling rejected by faith can wound deeply. So, please understand it’s OK to feel awful about this. It’s also OK to feel embarrassed and angry your parents violated your privacy.

Know what else is OK?

Lying about being “cured,” and learning how to use technology to keep your private life private. If your parents are going to spiritually abuse you, you don’t owe them cooperation. You have the fundamental human right to grow up mentally and spiritually healthy.

Did you know tons of Christians are totally cool with LGBTQ people? After all, you’re reading this at Whosoever.org, an online magazine filled with the writings of so many that are.

Tons of LGBTQ people go to church where people love and accept them without any moral or spiritual condemnation. Many LGBTQ people even lead churches as ministers and bishops. If you don’t want to be religious, that’s fine. But if you do want, you can be. By the way, I’m specifying Christianity because I gather your parents are Christians. The same applies to other faiths.

Would you like to talk to a Christian leader in your area who fully supports LGBTQ people? Check out Church Clarity, which maintains a huge database of U.S. churches that are fully “affirming,” religion-speak for “completely accepting LGBTQ people.” Odds are, you live reasonably close to a church like that. Maybe you can get somebody praying for you instead of against you.

Sometimes I lie in bed and think if I should have just ended my life before they found out

I’m not going to sugar coat it, I used to think like that too when I thought my parents didn’t accept me. I’m sorry you have those thoughts sometimes, but I understand why you do. It’s normal for people, especially teenagers, to feel really dark sometimes. People call those dark feelings adolescent angst, and sometimes they try to downplay them. But they shouldn’t.

You deserve to be happy, and you deserve parents who accept and support you. You didn’t choose to be gay, you couldn’t stop being gay even if you wanted to, and there’s nothing wrong with being gay. None of this is your “fault,” so please understand that your parents’ negative reactions say more about them than you.

You’re going to be fine one day. Hold on to that.

If thoughts about ending your life become frequent, hard to stop, or focus on specific methods, then it’s time to reach out for professional help. Even if you’re not sure that it’s time to reach out, do it anyway. Connect with a friendly, trained adult who can help guide you.

  • The National Suicide Prevention Hotline has trained LGBTQ counselors available around the clock, seven days a week. They know what they’re doing, and they understand your issues from the inside out.
  • The Trevor Project offers support especially for LGBTQ young people. Their trained counselors are also available 24/7 and have a lot of direct experience helping teenagers.

Don’t feel pressure this Pride season.

Whether you’re a teenager or an adult, coming out is not necessarily the right choice for you right now, even though you might be feeling pressure to join in the month’s festivities.

Know that you don’t have to.

Sometimes, patience and caution are the wiser roads to take. Sometimes careful planning is best, even if that means putting off living openly for a while. Do what’s best for you and your eventual happiness.

In the meantime, you can still celebrate by joining in Pride on the Net. You can find virtual community even if you don’t have physical community yet. Supportive communities exist on Facebook, TikTok, and even Twitter if you’re careful. Watch some cool Pride films. Listen to good music by young LGBTQ phenoms like Lil Nas X or Eli Lieb.

Get outside and enjoy some fresh air, natural beauty, and sunshine.

And remember, it really really does get better, even though that’s not a perfect answer.

Republished from Medium with permission of the author.

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A Death Drop of Honey in a Bitter Medicine: My Carnivalesque Faith https://whosoever.org/a-death-drop-of-honey-in-a-bitter-medicine-my-carnivalesque-faith/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-death-drop-of-honey-in-a-bitter-medicine-my-carnivalesque-faith Mon, 07 Jun 2021 04:00:14 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=18956 “I can not do this,” I thought to myself as I began my inaugural ascent out of the basement of The Bistro, the premier gay bar in Bloomington, Ill. My right hand traced up the railing, and my left hand clenched tightly around a nine-inch rainbow rhinestone cross. The club’s music grew louder, and the cheering grew clearer.

At the top of the stairs stood my best friend, my saving grace, the first person to believe in my art, the incredible woman who (thankfully) refused to let me back out of this performance at the last minute. We locked eyes and she rather matter of factly stated, “You’re ready.”

I took a deep breath and listened as Sharon ShareAlike, the hostess and emcee of the night, announced to the crowd: “Y’all better put your hands together and make some noise! For the first time on the Bistro stage, please welcome our Lady from Church, Ms. Penny Cost!”

My debut in drag was far from the Ballroom Eleganza Extravaganza I had hoped for; and yet, it was nonetheless an undeniably life changing moment of liberation and grace. As soon as my stilettos touched the stage, a feeling of peace and power fell over my entire being.

“This is exactly who I am meant to be,” I thought.

For the next two minutes and 57 seconds I paraded through the crowd, dancing and lip-synching to “You Can’t Pray the Gay Away” by Laura Bell Bundy. My “dancing” was reminiscent of the awkward gyrations of a grandmother humorously attempting to show her grandchildren just how hip she used to be. The crowd erupted in praise and in laughter. Several individuals who had stood more reserved and quieter in the background mouthed two words as they handed their crumpled dollar bills to me: “Thank you…”

The song concluded. I gathered the last of my tips. I made my exit.

As I descended the stairway, I sent up a small prayer to the Divine, thanking them for the opportunity to see myself, to feel the Holy Spirit, and to experience the peaceful assurance of Heavenly Love.

How was it that I was able to connect so powerfully with the Divine through this art? How was it that something so inherently Queer and so historically Unholy, could hold such seraphic zeal? How was it that random strangers could be moved by the comedic reclamation of church and God?

A thousand questions of theology and faith whirled and twirled through my head. One thing was clear, there was something here. Something intrinsically powerful and intensely Holy.

Unsurprisingly enough, I was not the first person to pose this arrangement of questions. In fact, in the early 1930s, a Russian literary theorist by the name of Mikhail Bakhtin composed a philosophical work titled “Rabelais and His World” which, I believe, holds insight into why and how the Art of Drag holds such power within Queer spaces. In his work, Bakhtin examines the poignancy of earthly humor and grotesque realism (a form of raw power redistribution through the deliberate comedic inversion of societies’ prevailing systems) within the carnivalesque French Renaissance.

Bakhtin writes:

Laughter has a deep philosophical meaning, it is one of the essential forms of the truth concerning the world as a whole, concerning history and [humanity]… Therefore, laughter is just as admissible in great literature, posing universal problems, as seriousness. Certain essential aspects of the world are accessible only through laughter.

This is to say, that sometimes at points of oppression and hardship, the only thing a person can think to do is laugh. In order to better understand, accept and begin to change an upside-down world, marginalized people must first flip it on its head: Invert the oppressive regime, point to its spears of domination, and chuckle. Only then, in a state of obnoxious irony, can a culture fully realize and approach the once-overwhelming systemic harm perpetuated against itself, all the while presenting the truth of the situation in a now more palatable form.

The comedic Art of Drag is but one route on which individuals in the Queer community can begin to engage both the Carnivalesque and the Grotesque of life. It is not a solution to oppression. It is a starting point at which we may each begin to reclaim the power of love and of life for ourselves.

It is a starting point at which we may showcase the truth of our harm.  It is a starting point at which we might celebrate our experience and position, regardless of what the now inverted, hegemonic powers which surround us demand that we think. Drag allows us to see ourselves and each other as worthy: worthy of our stories, worthy of our creation, and worthy of our connection.

As the comedian and social advocate, Hannah Gadsby, states in her 2018 Netflix special “Nanette”:

Laughter is not our medicine; stories hold our cure. Laughter is just the honey that sweetens the bitter medicine. Because, like it or not, your story is my story, and my story is your story… That is the focus of the story we need: Connection.

Due to the historic oppression and exclusion of Queer people by the “capital C” Church, LGBTQIA+ individuals hold a nearly inherent holy trauma. For some, this trauma has been more prevalent and pervasive than others — and yet it affects us all nonetheless.

This point of connection through holy trauma is the reason that I crafted my Drag Persona around the stereotypes of a 1960s “church lady.” For many Queer individuals within my own generation and the generation that came before me, this holier-than-thou, bless-your-hearting, casserole-making, passive-aggressively pleasant woman stands as a conglomerated manifestation of the powers of the Church within our childhoods. Ms. Penny Cost is the comedic epitome of that which once caused harm, while simultaneously seeking to liberate the power of faith from its historically exclusionary state.

She is the grotesque truth of a midwestern Christian experience.

She is also the carnivalesque joy of a liberated history and a reclaimed institution.

Ms. Penny Cost is my own comedic starting point: A death drop of honey in a bitter medicine.

I do wish to note that I identify as a cis-queer man. Though the Art of Drag is largely dominated in the mainstream media by cis-men, anyone and everyone can partake in the incredible art form.

Being a Drag Artist does not equate to identifying as a transgender individual; however, these two identities are also not mutually exclusive either. The beauty of Drag is that it lives, and it breathes. Drag means something different to every single individual who performs and partakes in it. No singular identity or sexuality holds its trademark.

Drag, like the carnival experience in the French Renaissance is, as Bakhtin writes:

Not a spectacle seen by the people… Everyone participates because its very idea embraces all people. While carnival lasts, there is no other life outside it… It is a special condition of the entire world, of the world’s revival and renewal, in which all take part.

All can partake in the joys and revolution and deconstruction and renewal found at the heart of drag. I use my art specifically, to open the door to a new inclusive and justice-centered faith, welcome to all people regardless of identity and sexuality.

It is not everyone’s starting point, but it is for some.

It is a point on the road to healing within the hearts of many Queer people.

It may also be a point on the road to awakening within some of the hearts of church and societal officials. Hearts that were once rooted in a previously unmovable position of harm and oppression.

Drag is a joyous revolution.

It is a grotesquely carnival experience: One dip, one twist, and one drop at a time.

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Experiencing Pride Month As the Work of the Triune God https://whosoever.org/experiencing-pride-month-as-the-work-of-the-triune-god/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=experiencing-pride-month-as-the-work-of-the-triune-god Thu, 03 Jun 2021 04:00:52 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=18967 As we enter Pride Month and leave behind Trinity Sunday, I wanted to explore both as we go into the season of ordinary time — a time that a parishioner once told me, is the time that God often uses to redeem us.

LGBTQ Pride Month occurs in the United States to commemorate the Stonewall riots, which occurred at the end of June 1969. As a result, many pride events are held during this month to recognize the impact LGBTQ people have had in the world.

And the doctrine of the Trinity holds that God is one God, but three coeternal persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The three persons are distinct, yet are one “substance, essence or nature.” In this context, a “nature” is what one is, whereas a “person” is who one is.

First, I’ll explore the Trinity and then offer a short meditation on Pride Month.

When I encountered the idea of the Trinity in seminary, it grabbed hold of my imagination. How can there be one God and yet three persons? Is it a mystery? The way language gives out when trying to plumb the depths of God? A contradiction?

To me, any religious doctrine that has had sway over a significant period of time and with a broad array of communities, suggests not a puzzle that can’t be solved but instead an idea that touches on something important in human experience.

That is, religious doctrines that have some staying power, like most kinds of language, disclose something about our world — patterns that make sense of our experience.

So that when Christians speak of the Trinity, when we speak of any doctrine, about God, about salvation, about grace, we are using words that connect to our very lives and how we sort through things.

Now my guess is that if I asked any of you about grace, you could point to where you experienced grace: In church, in family life, in the community, for yourself. If you were asked about salvation, you could point at how God works to deliver people into a life of meaning, even transformation.

So where does the Trinity fit into our life as Christians? What could we point to in life and say there is the Trinity? The Bible gives us some clues in this regard.

The first time the Spirit makes an appearance in scripture is in Genesis. There, the Spirit of God hovers over the deep and begins the first act of creation by separating water and the land and the light from the darkness. That is, the Spirit separates and makes distinctions which make for individuality.

Abram is driven out from his people into the desert and is given a new name, Abraham, to express the creation of something new, a new people, a transformed individual. It is the Spirit that names who Jesus is in the waters of his baptism, and it is the Spirit that drives Jesus into the wilderness to take stock before his public ministry.

So, the Spirit is intimately involved in the creation of the new, of the individual, of uniqueness, and of identity. The Spirit names things, separates people out, and creates new individuals.

If anyone remembers the process of adolescence, the separations involved in the growing up years, especially from parents, they provide the space for an individual to emerge, with a unique set of gifts, ideas, and personality to give to the world.

The key part in the previous statement is to “give to the world.” The point is not simply to be an individual but to take that individuality and put it in the service of others. That is what makes it a gift.

Paul identifies Christ as the power that makes for salvation. To the degree that our gifts can be put into the service of others, the encounter, the exchange that occurs, can become transformational, a source of salvation.

In that we know that Jesus is the Christ, not just in the waters of baptism, but when he leaves the wilderness and begins his public ministry, when he goes out into the world ministering to people, healing them, teaching them.

When we share who we are with others, it can transform individuals. A new community emerges as individuals add their gifts and individuality into the mix. You’ve seen this as new members come and help shape the church. You’ve seen it as kids become adults and add their contribution to the community.

The act of creating an enlarged community is another way of speaking about God as creator. God doesn’t simply create the world and let it spin on its way. Rather God is continually creating us, our communities, our kids, the natural world, businesses, and so on. God created and is creating still.

In all this, there appears to be a three-fold process.

The first is the act of creating individuals and individuality, the Spirit. The second is taking the gifts of individuals and sharing them with others, the Christ. The third is the deepening of relationships, the transformations of individuals and communities, God the creator.

All three presuppose each other.

You can’t create individuals apart from other people in community. You can’t create growing communities apart from individuals adding their uniqueness to the mix. You can’t deepen relations apart from the encounter with others. All three are necessary, all three need each other, and all three become the creative workings of God.

To be a person is to do, it’s an activity. If I were to ask you who you are, you might talk about being a parent, a grandparent, a spouse. You might talk about your work, your activism, your hobbies, your volunteer efforts. They paint a story of who you are.

Likewise, to talk about three persons in one, is to talk about what God does. To create us as individuals in the Spirit, to move us to service to others in the way of Jesus the Christ, and thus building new forms of community, in the church, in the community, in your organizations, God the Creator.

They are all the work of God and yet they are different ways of experiencing the work of God, the person that God is that is expressed in the world.

So when folks ask where you find the Trinity in the world, it should be as easy as saying: Where do you experience God in your life? You experience the Triune God in your growth, in your service, and in the communities that are built through individuals in service to one another through God’s help.

As Trinity Sunday is followed by LGBTQ Pride Month, a short thought: If the Holy Spirit creates individuals to be the gift they are in the world, then coming out can be an expression of following the Spirit’s leading. To take that gift of our lives and add them into the work of the world in service of others, is following the way of Jesus the Christ. And the way our communities are enriched because of our participation, is the work of God the creator.

When churches reject individuals and deny the gifts of LGBTQ folks in community, in this account, this is a sin against the Triune God. It’s a rejection of the work of the Spirit, blocking the work of the Christ in the world that God the creator is making. The Triune God then will find other forms of community more fitting to allow this work to unfold.

Thus, the very existence of Pride Month — and of any of the organizations that have arisen that draw from the gifts of LGBTQ folks — is an expression of the Trinity. The question that confronts the church is whether we are a fitting form for the work of the Triune God. That is the question we must address in this month of June and every month.

But for those who are living into the life and the person God is calling you to be, adding your gifts to the world, may this month be a time of celebration.

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Hitting Close to Home: 2 Georgia Transgender Women Lost to Murder https://whosoever.org/hitting-close-to-home-2-georgia-transgender-women-lost-to-murder/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hitting-close-to-home-2-georgia-transgender-women-lost-to-murder Wed, 02 Jun 2021 04:00:30 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=18952 I am writing this as a person who has a target on her back, a transgender woman. As such, I feel the depths of scathing pain each time one of my trans sisters, brothers, or relatives is murdered. Whether through overt murder or subtle forms of political and economic violence, too many beloved members of my community are taken from this life. How is targeting my community acceptable?!

Two transgender women were murdered in Georgia less than one week apart. In Brookhaven, a suburb of Atlanta, on May 4th, between the hours of 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., Sophie Vasquez was shot multiple times in front of the door to her apartment.

While the Brookhaven Police Department have identified a suspect, the circumstances and motives surrounding Sophie’s murder are unknown. As Sophie was accepted as a woman by her family, her correct name and gender have been used in all press releases surrounding her case.

In Albany, Georgia around 4 a.m. on May 8th, Serenity Hollis was shot in the back of the head while she was walking along a street. No suspects have been named, but police have video of the shooting.

The Albany police, the Dougherty County District Attorney, and even Serenity’s own family continue to deadname and misgender her. The deaths of Sophie and Serenity mark the 31st and 33rd murders of trans people since the most recent Transgender Day of Remembrance in 2020.

Sophie Vasquez Memorial

Sophie Vasquez memorial in Brookhaven, Ga., May 12, 2021

These two women who were unjustly taken from us represent the breadth of diversity within the transgender community. Moreover, the deaths of Sophie and Serenity expose how the worst forms of violence are exacted upon Black and Latina members of the trans community.

Sophie Vasquez was 36 years old, an immigrant from Costa Rica, and was much beloved by her mother and sister. Serenity Hollis was 24 years old, African American, and seems to have had less support from her family than Sophie had from hers.

While highly visible organizations advocate for Black victims of violence at the hands of law enforcement, precious little attention is given to hate crimes against transgender people of color.

Serenity Hollis

Serenity Hollis of Albany, Ga.

Worse yet, politicians and dark moneyed organizations push for state laws limiting the freedom and healthcare access for trans people.

In Arkansas, the erroneously-named “Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act” would have revoked the medical license of any physician who provides gender-affirming healthcare to trans people under the age of 18.

Surgical transition-related care is already prohibited for minors; hence, this law was pure misinformation and scapegoating.

The week before passing the ban on healthcare for trans minors, Arkansas also passed a ban on trans children participating on sports team congruent with their gender identity. Governor Asa Hutchinson made headlines for vetoing the healthcare ban, but only after signing the sports ban.

This is bullying, plain and simple. So far this year, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee have likewise passed laws restricting trans student engagement in K-12 or even college sports.

Of these aforementioned states, Tennessee has perpetrated the worst legislative violence against trans folks. Tennessee’s “Business Bathroom Bill” requires any business that allows trans people to use their restrooms to post “warning” signs. It is not clear if any businesses are going to fight this law since it violates free speech.

Tennessee also passed a “Student Bathroom Bill” which forces students to use the restroom or locker room according to their sex assigned at birth. This law obviously contradicts federal law, but it seems at present that no one has the will to fight the state of Tennessee.

If these exclusionary laws are allowed to stand, many southern and western states will proceed to build a new, transphobic version of Jim Crow segregation. Given the current epidemic of street-level violence against trans women of color, many Black and Brown women will suffer disproportionately from state-sanctioned anti-trans violence.

Cisgender Black women could be targeted by enforcement of these laws just as readily as trans women. The day has arrived when all women must recognize their vulnerability to both street-level and legislative violence.

When I reflect upon the many levels of violence against my trans family, I mourn. All the women, men, and non-binary persons listed below deserved to live out their truth. Each one had a Divine spark to contribute to humanity. Now, they have been removed from this world by the cruelty of individuals and the indifference of society. Note that the 15 names in the list below are not the total for the year (which is actually 34 so far), but are only a count of trans murders in the U.S. in the past two months.

Possible hate crime murders from April through May 2021
•   Jaida Peterson, 29, slain 4/4/2021, Charlotte, N.C.
•   Dominique Lucious, 26, slain 4/8/2021, Springfield, Mo.
•   Remy Fennell, 28, shot 4/15/2021, Charlotte, N.C.
•   Natalia Smüt, 24, stabbed to death 4/21/2021, Milpitas, Calif.
•   Tiffany Thomas, 38, shot 4/21/2021, Dallas, Texas
•   Tiara Banks, 24, shot 4/21/2021, Chicago, Ill.
•   Iris Santos, 22, shot 4/23/2021, Houston, Texas
•   Keri Washington, 49, slain 5/1/2021, Clearwater, Fla.
•   Jahaira DeAlto, 43, stabbed to death 5/2/2021, Dorchester, Mass.
•   Thomas Hardin, 35, slain 5/2/2021, York, S.C.
•   Whispering Wind Bear Spirit, 41, died of a gunshot 5/4/2021, York, Pa.
•   Sophie Vasquez, 36, shot 5/4/2021, Brookhaven, Ga.
•   Danika “Danny” Henson, 31, shot 5/4/2021, Baltimore, Md.
•   Serenity Hollis, 24, shot 5/8/2021, Albany, Ga.
•   Oliver “Ollie” Taylor, 17, died from kidnapping 5/19/2021, Gervais, Ore.

 

In the face of the mindless hate which kills my family, I can find no earthly solace. Yet, I am convinced that there exists more than the merely physical.

The very existence of trans people, souls at odds with our bodies, points to an Otherworld beyond this physical one. According to the more inclusive branches of Christian tradition, this Otherworld is none other than Christ’s coming kingdom.

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9, NIV)

As trans people are oppressed by the principalities of this current world, it is apparent that we will be included as one of the many peoples to be restored to life with Christ. Hope, healing, reunion, and joy await us all in this Otherworld, Kingdom of God, Jerusalem, and/or Heaven.

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It’s the ‘Pride’ Part of LGBTQ Pride Celebrations That Still Drives Them Nuts https://whosoever.org/its-the-pride-part-of-lgbtq-pride-celebrations-that-still-drives-them-nuts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=its-the-pride-part-of-lgbtq-pride-celebrations-that-still-drives-them-nuts Tue, 01 Jun 2021 04:00:31 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=18926 “If they just didn’t have to flaunt it.” “Why do they throw it in our faces?” “Can’t they act like Americans?”  “I like the ones who fit in with the rest of us.” “Why do we have to have all this Pride month propaganda?”

All these complaints are typical of statements like this one by a state lawmaker: “When you look at the tenets of religion, of the Bible, of the Quran, of other religions, there is a distinction between homosexuality and just being a human being.”

All reflect where anti-LGBTQ people who’ve convinced themselves that they’re not prejudiced are and how those who still raise money off of anti-LGBTQ crusades get the attention of their followers. They’re in sync with anti-LGBTQ claims that the goal of “the militant gays” (you know, like some mafia) is to destroy “traditional” American culture or some part thereof.

It’s also another example of what members of dominant groups say about any outsiders. White racism doesn’t mind gouging on its version of the food, or usurping the music, of the cultures of people of color, but it wants their individual members to act as White as possible.

Any person of color knows how white they have to act to get ahead in our society just as LGBTQ people know how acting as straight as possible is a way to keep their heads down. There are so many pockets of America where the finest compliment any group can get is: “they fit in well.”

And then the complaints begin about a Black History month, a Women’s History month, or an LGBTQ Pride Month. The complainers even go so far as whining that their dominant group ought to have a special month.

But the dysfunction of discrimination — in terms of how it separates even the discriminators from their own humanity — would make such observances little more than attempts to prove that they’re not like whatever they conceive those others to be.  Can you imagine a Straight Pride without picturing it as some display trying to celebrate how they’re not whatever “gay” stereotypes they accept?

The dominant group in any discrimination is willing to admit that those other people are around (“I don’t care what they do in private” or “I know some people in our church are gay” are often lines they recite even though they’re usually obsessed with it.). They just don’t want anything “those people” do to challenge their privileges, especially their sense that they’re the definition of “normal” human beings.

They don’t mind “those gays” around as long as they don’t act as if they love being LGBTQ. If they can see them as sick, scared, lonely, failures, and suicidal, that’s okay.

For them it’s best then that LGBTQ people stay in their closets and come out at night so no one can see them or might think they can be proud of, and happy with, who they are. And the history of outright threats experienced by LGBTQ people is reflected in the fact that so much of LGBTQ nightlife began late after dark to hide in the shadows.

In particular, then, celebrations of LGBTQ Pride contradict so much in American straight culture, that they’re really a healthy threat to many of the assumptions and limitations of conforming to being straight acting, thinking and posturing. Of course, it scares those who’ve bet their lives on all the straightness and don’t see how the straight role they’re performing with all its gender rigidity is limiting and hurting them.

Homophobia is a key part of that role. And though it takes many forms, the key culturally conditioned basis for all others is the fear of getting close to one’s own gender.

That fear is used to promote America’s warrior culture and turn little boys into men who will cheer culturally approved violence particularly against other men. It’s used to encourage competition among women for the limited number of “good men” straight-acting women are supposed to need to save themselves from hopelessness, emptiness, loneliness, and meaninglessness.

So, if two heterosexual male friends walk down most streets in the U.S., they’ll still possibly become victims of some form of gay oppression. That’s not about who they’re in bed with or in love with; it’s about their acting as if they don’t have to fear getting close to their own gender — they’re “flaunting” it.

Homophobia isn’t natural to human beings. And being heterosexual is not the same as living the straight role that takes decades of fear-based conditioning to install in everyone.

But being straight-acting is still useful to encourage competition and the fighting spirit that will mean that no man’s masculinity will be questioned if he displays anger and violence. Should he show gentleness and the ability to be in touch with other human emotions, he’s likely to be a threat to the straight role.

That’s the danger Pride Fests pose to this whole system as well as do other examples of LGBTQ people out and proud as healthy and happy. They challenge what’s actually a house of cards by saying and showing that human beings don’t have to be afraid of closeness with their own genders but can enjoy such closeness.

And that means that all friendships could be different and close no matter what the gender of their members. It means that heterosexual coupling doesn’t have to be limited by straight-acting – both partners can choose how they want to express their closeness with each other.

It means that we’ll have to come up with better ways of selling our products, motivating people, investing in our future, and doing our currently patriarchal politics.

LGBTQ Pride is a radical notion not because it expresses some twisted idea of humanity but because it confronts every human being, causing them to question the limitations of the straight role they’ve been scared into, a role that becomes a straightjacket.

And that is what anti-LGBTQ communities fear – all of this means they’ll have to move out of their comfort zones and learn again what it is to be as they were born — full, unlimited human beings. No wonder Pride Fests feel threatening to them.

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Religion As a Literal Battlefield https://whosoever.org/religion-as-a-literal-battlefield/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=religion-as-a-literal-battlefield Thu, 27 May 2021 04:00:55 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=18936 I am in the middle of grading student papers on our unit on Religious Oppression and Christian Hegemony. Below in the initial quotation is how one student began her essay with my response:

“I feel very fortunate to have not been raised as a member of any particular religion.”

What seems like a simple statement is so full of meaning and deep impact.

I was thinking as I read about the riots in Israel from Israeli evictions in East Jerusalem and the missiles Palestinians are dropping, and also with my understanding of all the complexity and history surrounding these events, I imagined: what if the Palestinians and Israeli Jews had been “very fortunate to have not been raised as a member of any particular religion.” Maybe instead of evictions, riots, and missiles, we might see only sunshine coming down from the sky.

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

(John Lennon, “Imagine”)

On Religion and War

I gave a presentation on the topic of heterosexism and cissexism at Pace University in New York City several years ago. I talked about my own experiences as the target of harassment and abuse growing up gay and non-gender normative, and I addressed my book, Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price.

In the book I argue that everyone, regardless of their actual sexuality and gender identity and expression is hurt by heterosexism and cissexism and, therefore, it is in everyone’s self-interest to work to reduce and ultimately eliminate these very real and insidious forms of oppression.

Following my presentation, two students came up to me — one woman and one man — to continue the discussion. The young woman began by telling me:

“I’m really sad to hear about the abuse that you and others have received because you are gay or lesbian,” she began.” I am here to tell you that I have a way to prevent that from ever happening to you again. I believe that Jesus Christ can help you. If you ask Jesus and pray hard, Jesus will save you from your homosexual feelings and help you to achieve the life that is meant for you, in his service, as a happy and healthy heterosexual. This will save you from the abuse you have suffered.”

My response:

“So, let me see if I understand you,” I said. “If I accept Jesus in my life and ask him to help me become heterosexual, then I won’t suffer from homophobia any longer? So, to be supported in society, I must change who I am and conform to the dominant standards of society? So, for people like yourself to truly support me, I have to become like you? While I understand that you are offering me, in your mind, a gift, do you not see how this itself is a form of homophobia, a form of oppression? Do you not see how this perpetuates oppression?”

She responded with surprise and claimed that she knew the “truth,” and that if I accepted her truth, Jesus could grant me salvation and happiness. If I rejected this, though, I would remain in earthly and eventual eternal torment.

We continued our dialogue for more than one hour, and we ended cordially. All the while, the young man had been closely looking on and listening to the young woman and my discussion. Then the young man spoke to me. He asked:

“Professor Blumenfeld, you stated that you are a writer, that you had published a number of articles and books. Is this correct?”

“Yes,” I responded.

“Okay, then,” he continued. “You know that in the writing process, the first draft is never really complete or isn’t any good.”

“Yes, that’s often the case,” I agreed.

“Okay, then after you have had some time for reflection and you write your second draft, this is an improvement over the first draft, but still, it can be improved. So, after further reflection and writing, your third version is great. Now you can send it to your publisher.”

I said to him,

“Oh no, please don’t tell me that this is a metaphor for religious texts.”

“Yes, indeed,” he uttered. “The first draft is the Hebrew Bible — not so good. The second draft is the Christian scriptures — somewhat better, but not much. But the best version, the third, is the Quran. The real truth. The ultimate truth. The only truth.”

My response to this young man:

“As we speak, we are standing a few short blocks from the former World Trade Center towers. Utterances and understandings like yours and like the young woman I just spoke with, and by many people of any faith, that there is one and only one ultimate religious truth results in people taking it upon themselves, for example, to crash airplanes into buildings. Utterances like yours of many people of any faith give people justification to kill in the name of their interpretation of ‘God.’”

“Why,” I argued, “cannot the young woman I just spoke with realize that her understanding of God, while valid and reliable for her, may simply not be valid and reliable for me or for you, too?

“And why cannot you realize that your understanding may be great for you, but not necessarily for me and for the Christian woman? How many deaths must occur before we realize that there are many ways toward the truth, not one way for everyone when it comes to religion and spirituality?”

Recalling my conversations with these young students at Pace University, I wrote a short satirical editorial for a local newspaper in 2006 (Jewish year 5766) related to events occurring in Israel in what could be viewed as extraordinary.

There the leaders from three major monotheistic world religions that were often at odds with one another — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — joined in a united demonstration to protest and to prevent a 10-day international Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Pride festival planned for Jerusalem in August that summer.

While the Middle East has been a flash point of conflict and warfare for millennia, this coalition between orthodox religious leaders indicated that agreement, at least of sorts, was possible. In bringing these leaders together, I nominated the International LGBTQ Community for the 5766 / 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, an award well deserved for converting warring parties into allies and for reducing tensions that have traditionally separated them.

My point, though filled with irony, was simple: the prime stimulus keeping oppression toward LGBTQ people locked firmly in place and enacted throughout our society — on the personal/interpersonal, institutional, and larger societal levels — are the destructive doctrines and judgments emanating from primarily orthodox and fundamentalist religious communities.

Monotheistic Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) view the Supreme Being as without origin, for this deity was never born and will never die. This Being, viewed as perfect, exists completely independent from human beings and transcends the natural world. In part, such a Being has no sexual desire, for sexual desire, as a kind of need, is incompatible with this concept of perfection.

This accounts for the strict separation between the Creator and the created. Just as the Creator is distinct from His creation, so too are divisions between the Earthly sexes in the form of strictly defined sexes, genders, and gender roles. This distinction provides adherents to monotheistic religions a clear sense of their designated socially constructed roles: the guidelines they need to follow in connection to their God and to other human beings.

The verb “to colonize” can be described as the process of appropriating a place or domain to establish political and economic control. Throughout history, nations have invaded not only their neighbors’ lands, but also territories clear across the globe for their own use.

During the practice, the dominant nation attempts to colonize not only indigenous peoples’ domains (territorial imperialism), but also their minds, their customs, their language, in fact, their very way of life. In countries with a historical legacy of colonization, and even in those without this history, members of dominant groups have accumulated unearned privileges not accorded to others.

Though the official terms “colonization,” “colonizer,” and “colonized” may have changed somewhat, nowhere in the world have we experienced a truly post-colonial society. Imperialism remains, though at times possibly in less visible forms.

Europeans, when they invaded the North and South American continents and Africa, were surprised and offended when they came into contact with indigenous populations who did not conform to rigidly enforced gender roles including styles of dress, and sexual and gender expression.

Missionaries attempted to impose primarily Christian, and in some places Islamic, orthodoxy. For example, they oppressed two-spirit people while killing many and forcing these individuals to go underground. Europeans nearly virtually exterminated two-spirit traditions from throughout North America.

Joel Spring, in his book Deculturalization and the Struggle for Equality: A Brief History of the Education of Dominated Cultures in the United States, discusses “cultural genocide” defined as “the attempt to destroy other cultures” through forced acquiescence and assimilation to majority rule and Christian cultural and religious standards. This cultural genocide works through the process of “deculturalization,” which Spring describes as “the educational process of destroying a people’s culture and replacing it with a new culture.”

An example of “cultural genocide” and “deculturalization” can be seen in the case of Christian European American domination over Native American Indians, whom European Americans viewed as “uncivilized,” “godless heathens,” “barbarians,” and “devil worshipers.”

White Christian European Americans deculturalized indigenous peoples through many means: confiscation of land, forced relocation, undermining of their languages, cultures, and identities, forced conversion to Christianity, and the establishment of Christian day schools and off-reservation boarding schools far away from their people, which combined constitute “settler colonialism.”

“Civilizing” Indians became a euphemism for Christian conversion. Christian missionaries throughout the United States worked vigorously to convert Indians. A mid-19th century missionary wrote:

“As tribes and nationals the Indians must perish and live only as men, [and should] fall in with Christian civilization that is destined to cover the earth.”

More ultimate questions need to be raised as the world spins around, as individuals and nations since recorded history have attempted to explain the mysteries of life, as spiritual and religious consciousness first developed and carried down through the ages, as people have come to believe their way stood as the right way, the only way, with all others as simple pretenders, which could never achieve THE truth, the certainty, the correct and right connection with the deity or deities, and as individuals and entire nations raped, pillaged, enslaved, and exterminated any “others” believing differently.

In reality, all religious doctrine stems from uncertainty and conjecture, from multiple gods, hybrid gods and humans, from Mount Olympus and before, to Earthly deities and the heavens, to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, to the Burning Bush, to the Covenant and the parting of the Red Sea, to the Immaculate Conception and Resurrection, to Muhammad’s rising to Heaven from the Rock, to the Golden Tablets, all beginning with the human creation of god(s).

Anyone can believe anything they wish, whether others find those beliefs laudable or offensive. When, however, the expression of those beliefs denies other individuals or groups their full human and civil rights, a critical line has been crossed, for their actions have entered the realm of oppression.

How many wars are we going to justify in the name of “God,” our “God” versus their so-called “false gods”? Someone said to me once that throughout the ages more people have been killed in the name of religion than all the people who have ever died of all diseases combined. I don’t know whether this is actually the case, but I do think it highlights a vital point, that we continually kill others and are killed by others over concepts that can never be proven.

Throughout history, Jews and Muslims have killed each other, Christians and Muslims have killed each other, Christians and Jews have killed each other, Hindus and Muslims have killed each other, Catholics and Protestants have killed each other, Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims have killed each other, many faith communities have killed Atheists and Agnostics, and on and on and on.

Individuals and entire nations continue to believe that their reality fits all, and that it is proper and right to force their beliefs onto others “with God on our side.”

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Why We Read Aloud Our Welcome Statement in Worship https://whosoever.org/why-we-read-aloud-our-welcome-statement-in-worship/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-we-read-aloud-our-welcome-statement-in-worship Wed, 26 May 2021 04:00:22 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=18867 Welcome home! We are delighted you are here. In your worship bulletin is our Welcome Statement. Listen carefully, faithfully as I read it aloud.

First Christian Church of Decatur (Disciples of Christ) is an open and affirming congregation. We welcome everyone into full participation in the life and membership of the church.

Inspired and informed by God’s love, mercy, and justice, we are purposefully involved in healing and helping our community and our world. We covenant with God and the greater community to nurture a spirit of love and service to neighbors, honor one another’s differences, and fellowship in the breaking of bread.

Actively striving to honor each other’s race, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, ethnicity, marital status, physical or mental ability, family configuration, political affiliation, economic circumstance, or theological perspective, we truly do welcome all.

In your hand and now in your memory bank is something precious: You now possess a communal covenant that we crafted over the course of almost two years of prayerful, playful, purposeful work, together. We did so in dialogue with God and one another, and then we asked for God’s blessings, and then we shared it with the whole wide world.

Our Welcome Statement is a reminder that the Church of Jesus Christ is bigger than this significant congregation. Before us is a living testament that declares that we refuse to succumb to cultural temptations to devolve into cliques or tribes made up of Us versus Them. We testify in print and aloud that we’re intentionally creating the Beloved Community on earth as it is in Heaven. Ministry is meaningful, messy, and muddy; yet here we are, diving in together.

Most every Sunday in the context of worship we share aloud our Welcome Statement. It’s shared aloud weekly because change happens. You and I are not the same people we were in the last decade, or last year, or maybe even last Sunday. Thanks to the grace of God, we evolve, grow, and change, whether subtly and gradually or dramatically, being born again from above, again and again.

And because of the New Being you are becoming, you may find yourself in different places and definitions and transitions than before. No matter where you find yourself today, right now, hopefully you’ll find yourself lifted up by knowing that you belong. Trust that in your resurrected New Self, you are welcome in God’s home and people.

Our Welcome Statement is an opportunity to pray. As we read this aloud, we pray.  We pray for those who are experiencing such a greeting for the first time, and for those hearing it for the 100th time. We pray that those of us who may not be able to see as well, or have not learned to read, or the letters on the page swim and dance and refuse to be in focus, may be able to hear such hospitality.

We lift up a prayer of hope, hoping that at least one soul, one child of God, one neighbor in need will hear these words of welcome and know — he or she or they will know! — that they are loved. God loves you, and we do, too.

And we pray for the Church Universal. This is a Welcome Statement that testifies to the One True Church of Jesus Christ about who we are, whose we are, and is our collective prayer for the world. May all the world search for safe places and sacred spaces, and be found and loved, just as they are.

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Lutherans Elect Megan Rohrer 1st Openly Transgender Bishop in Mainline Christianity https://whosoever.org/lutherans-elect-megan-rohrer-1st-open-trans-bishop/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lutherans-elect-megan-rohrer-1st-open-trans-bishop Fri, 21 May 2021 04:00:13 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=18851 The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America made history on May 8 when its Sierra Pacific Synod elected Rev. Megan Rohrer as their bishop, marking the first time an openly transgender person was elevated to the role in a mainline American Christian denomination.

Rohrer (they/he), who was called while serving as pastor of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Francisco, will be installed on July 1 to serve the synod that includes about 200 congregations in northern and central California and northern Nevada.

The ELCA officially opened its doors to LGBTQ+ ministry in 2009 when it voted to allow non-celibate gay ministers to serve, becoming become the nation’s largest denomination to do so. For their part, Rohrer had already been ordained extraordinarily in 2006 via the Extraordinary Candidacy Project (now Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries). The ELCA’s recognition in 2010 of Rohrer’s ordination made them the denomination’s first openly transgender pastor.

“Megan has always found themself walking alongside in solidarity with, and to provide safety for, those lifting their voices for justice,” ELM said in a statement. “Today, history was made in our church! ELM celebrates a church that now recognizes the gifts of queer leaders like Bishop-elect Rohrer and we anticipate the day when all queer ministry leaders will be called to ministry settings without hindrance or barrier and will be affirmed in their God-given calls.”

The ELCA called its first openly gay bishop in 2013 with the elevation of Rev. Dr. R. Guy Erwin to serve its Southwest California Synod.

The Episcopal Church in 2003 was the first major Christian denomination to elect an openly gay bishop, the Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson — a move that rocked the Anglican Communion, prompting some U.S. congregations to join foreign dioceses and others to form a rival Anglican denomination.

While the world waits for Pastor Rohrer’s leadership, their social media presence paints a picture of a minister who moves through life with humility, warmth and a healthy sense of humor and history. Here’s a sampling.

For starters, they speak both Boomer and Gen X.

They’re all for self-care — and also for a person’s right to tangle with glitter.

They recognize the realness of the quarantine-heightened plant-parent struggle.

They know that call-and-response can happen anywhere, including Twitter.

On the question of preferred pronouns, they break it down.

They have an elegant, loving response to a seemingly complicated question.

They can snark, throw shade and cancel body shaming in 79 characters.

They call out transphobia in a relatable way.

They challenge us to get out of our comfort zones, reminding us that the best way to relate to trans people is to listen.

They underscore the fundamental importance of a loving home.

They pull focus back to where it belongs.

They remind us who we’re called to serve.

And last but not least, they’ve got serious historical perspective.

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Putting the ‘Bi’ in the Bible https://whosoever.org/putting-the-bi-in-bible/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=putting-the-bi-in-bible Thu, 20 May 2021 04:00:09 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=18906 If we know one thing about guys in ancient Rome, it’s that they swung both ways. “Roman society almost unanimously assumed that adult males would be capable of, if not interested in, sexual relations with both sexes,” as John Boswell noted back in his 1980 book Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality.

This isn’t new or controversial. Roman bisexuality is on view in innumerable sources. Lucretius, in De Rerum Natura (4.1052-57) refers to a “normal” man’s love for “either a boy or a woman.” Cicero notes that to bribe male jurors with erotic favors, both women and young men were required. It goes on and on… and on.

But then why, one might wonder, are men from the New Testament somehow imagined to be — divinely heterosexual?

Scholars have been probing the issues around same-sexuality in the New Testament era and narratives. There are several questions. Did Jewish men of the New Testament period have same-sex sex?

In a 2011 paper, Alan Cadwallader noted that, in 257 BCE, a Jewish leader of an aristocratic Palestinian family is recorded to have sent to the king of Egypt a gift of four young male slaves, two of them circumcised, apparently for erotic use.

Was this really a community that avoided same-sex everything?

Herod the Great, the Jewish official who looms over the New Testament narratives, “had some eunuchs of whom he was immoderately fond because of their beauty.” The fact is recorded by Josephus, the Jewish historian. He mentions it in passing.

Josephus mentions that, in 37 BCE, the famous Roman general Mark Antony had fallen for Aristobulus, a 16-year-old Jewish boy from a good family in Judaea. He was “in love” with him, “filled with admiration of his height and beauty…”

Cleopatra would be on the watch for female lovers, but by the rules for bi guys in Ancient Rome, the teen heartthrob Aristobulus would be all right. Antony sent for him — which presented Herod with quite a problem. Antony was known to beat up his tricks, and the youth’s prominent family would throw a fit were that to happen. Herod made up a story about Aristobulus being unavailable.

Christopher B. Zeichmann discusses these scenes in a 2020 paper, “Same-Sex Intercourse Involving Jewish Men 100BCE–100CE,” and he notes that “Herod’s objections to Aristobulus’ travel to see Mark Antony are not grounded in any fear or contempt for same-sex intercourse.”

And one might have to note that Roman moralists, just like their Jewish counterparts, regularly insisted that Roman men are ruggedly “straight.” As Zeichmann notes, Cicero, Plutarch, and many others assert “that same-sex penetration was incompatible with Roman identity…”

Such claims are typically brushed aside as bluster, except in one case — Jews.

In a cave in Beth Gurvin, there is some touching graffiti: “Here Philinus the youth buggered Papias, Craterus’ stepson.” These were names used by Jews.

There’s a curious scene in the Talmud, recorded around the early 4th century but apparently taking place earlier. As it reads: “Judah ben Pazzi once went up to the attic in the study hall and saw two men having intercourse. They said to him, ‘Rabbi, make note that you are one and we are two.’ ”

This might not be an actual memory, but rather, a story to deal with a curiosity about Old Testament law. If Leviticus 18:22 is a reference to homosexual sex, then it becomes a capital crime, and prosecuting infractions requires “two or three witnesses” on God’s strict standard (Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15; cf. Numbers 35:30). These convictions are rarely obtained when men have sex in a cave or in the attic. Even if a rabbi catches a glimpse — it is not enough.

On this episode of Bible Law and Order, one might even wonder if Leviticus 18:22 is actually about male-male sex. The English translation is clarity itself, of course, but a literal scholarly translation of the verse can leave one scratching one’s head, or anywhere else one wishes to scratch:

And-with a male not you-will-lie “lyings-of” a woman.

It’s all so unfamiliar. What is this “lyings” — plural?

Scholars and rabbis puzzle over the enigmatic phrase, as David Brodsky described in a 2009 paper, “Sex in the Talmud: How to Understand Leviticus 18 and 20.”

So then, how did Jesus, or Peter, Paul or Mary, understand Leviticus 18:22? Because Christianity likes to assert these figures read the verse as a prohibition on male-male sex and makes the further claim that same-sex narratives are therefore absent from the New Testament narratives — even when concerning Gentiles.

Back in 2004, Theodore W. Jennings Jr. and Tat-Siong Benny Liew had suggested that the Roman centurion and his slave, as narrated in three gospels, looked like a same-sex relationship. The case was updated in 2008 Eric Koepnick. It might have seemed an eccentric view, even so, because the Bible was assumed to be somehow remarkably, magically cleansed of non-heterosexuality.

In a 2018 paper, “Gender Minorities in and Under Roman Power,” Zeichmann returns to the case of the centurion and his “boy.” (His scholarly specialty is the Roman army and the New Testament.) A sexual relationship, he notes, would have been common for the period. The Centurion calls his slave a Greek word, παῖς, that can suggest a sexual relationship. In Luke 7:2, the boy was “dear” or “precious” to him.

Could it be that only Christian insistence prevents the text from being read with the apparently obvious suggestion? If the young slave is Jewish, the narrative might easily be a same-sex analogue to the story of Esther. But back since Hagar in Genesis 16, the Bible often relies on narratives of affections for sex slaves as key turning points for the faith.

Near the end of the New Testament is a tiny letter by the apostle Paul that tells a story about — a runaway slave? Efforts to identify the plot tend to run the gamut. A 2011 paper by Joseph A. Marchal, “The Usefulness of an Onesimus: The Sexual Use of Slaves and Paul’s Letter to Philemon,” followed up by a 2019 book, Appalling Bodies: Queer Figures Before and After Paul’s Letters, suggested that the basic terms have been misread.

Marchal works off the slave’s name: “Onesimus.” In the Bible, names tend to set out the core of a character. Christian commentary typically says that Onesimus means “useful.” But apparently this is not quite right. The name “Onesimus,” Marchal says, means “good for use,” “well-used,” or “easy to use.” To a person in the world of the New Testament, he writes, this suggests “the erotically available (or sexually vulnerable) enslaved person…”

Christianity broke its own rules in translating the slave’s name, for “use” is often seen as a cue to sex. If “natural use” in Romans 1:26–27 is “intercourse,” as often supposed, then “Onesimus” means — “good for intercourse.” If Onesimus is a sex slave, then he may be young, “pretty,” long-haired, and castrated.

The slave owner’s name, “Philemon,” is as meaningful. It suggests the Greek word phileo, or “love,” and also philema, which means “kiss.” Philemon seems to be a man made for love. He seems to be a very “loving” person — who has a male sex slave. Thus we see a conflict — both in Christian anti-slavery teachings, perhaps, and in traditional Jewish views on same-sexual eroticism. It might be either which Paul steps forward, acting as a theologian, to help resolve.

We read in Philemon 1:16 in the NIV translation Paul speaking of the slave:

He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

But is this right? The men could not be “dear” as “fellow men” — or Paul, also male, would be as “dear.” Marchal provides a literal translation. As dear as Onesimus is to him, Paul writes:

How much (more) especially to you, both in the flesh and in the lord.

Onesimus and Philemon are close in spirit and in flesh. That is as close as anyone can be. Paul’s counsel is for the men to love each other on terms of Christian quality and equality. He sends Onesimus back home to Philemon, as he writes:

That you might have him back for ever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother. (Philemon 1:15-16 RSV)

It seems that Onesimus makes a cameo appearance in Colossians 4:9, where Paul notes he will be arriving as “our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you.”

Christians of the time — and still — need a little reminder of the reality of the culture for which we claim.

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What Jesus’ ‘Coming Out’ Story Says to All of Us https://whosoever.org/what-jesus-coming-out-story-says-to-all-of-us/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-jesus-coming-out-story-says-to-all-of-us Tue, 18 May 2021 04:00:03 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=18812

His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. His clothes shimmered, glistening white, whiter than any bleach could make them. Elijah, along with Moses, came into view, in deep conversation with Jesus. Just then a light-radiant cloud enveloped them, and from deep in the cloud, a voice: “This is my Son, marked by my love. Listen to him.” The next minute the disciples were looking around, rubbing their eyes, seeing nothing but Jesus, only Jesus. (Mark 9:2-8)

Later in this month of May, many Christian denominations will celebrate Pentecost, which challenges us to go out to the whole world with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Soon thereafter we enter the month of June, in which we celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride.

In Christian scripture, we hear in three of the four Gospels the “Transfiguration” stories (Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36). In my decades-long LGBTQ+ ministry, I often highlight these particular Gospel stories and present them as Jesus’ “coming out” story.

In his case it is his coming out as “divine” — revealing his truth for the first time to certain of his disciples. I believe there are rich parallels to LGBTQ+ coming-out stories with guidance and direction not only for those of us who are LGBTQ, but also for our families, loved ones, friends and for our houses of worship as well, who — like the three disciples in the Transfiguration stories — can often struggle to handle such truth.

As with the coming-out experiences of many LGBTQ+ people, it is clear that in the Transfiguration stories Jesus has worried about the circumstances of revealing his truth: On which disciples and how many of them would first be told; and on where, when and how they would be told.

“Coming out” as divine

Clearly Jesus has a sense of anxiety, not only for himself but also about the reaction of the disciples and how they may not be able to handle the revelation of such truth. Of his 12 disciples, Jesus takes only three of them to a safe place, away from the regular world, to a remote and isolated place, to a mountaintop to “come out” to them as divine.

How do these three disciples handle Jesus’ coming out? They fall to the ground and are paralyzed, crippled by fear and cannot speak.

And what does Jesus do? Does he storm off? Does he express anger? Does he yell at them or express his disappointment?

No, he doesn’t do any of these things. Rather, he acts with compassion and understanding. He goes over to them, crouches down to be with them, touches them, and tells them (as he so often told all of us during his public ministry), “Do not be afraid!”

Perhaps most like the coming-out experiences of LGBTQ+ people, what does Jesus tell these three disciples before they descend from the mountaintop together?

We know from LGBTQ+ coming-out experiences, that it is not a one time event, for LGBTQ+ people do not come out all at once to everyone and everywhere. In an all-too-human exchange — and as so many LGBTQ+ people have said to others — Jesus tells these three disciples not to tell anyone else of his just-revealed truth. At least not yet.

While there are differences among all three Transfiguration versions, here is one thing they all share in common: Jesus and his three disciples do not remain on the mountaintop to wallow in the bewilderment of the occasion. Rather, they descend to return to the regular world with knowledge and the experience of his good news and to continue Jesus’ public ministry and spread his Gospel message.

Guided by the Transfiguration stories then, let those who are LGBTQ+ take comfort in the knowledge that after any bewildering, and at times challenging, coming-out experiences, it can be a time of grace where one can return to their regular lives, not only with their own good news, but so too with the good news of Jesus Christ, continuing his public ministry and living and spreading his Gospel message.

In this season of both Pentecost and Pride then, be heartened by the Transfiguration stories in these three Gospels and by Jesus’ “coming out”: Celebrate your own coming out, your truth and his. And take his Good News — and yours — out to the whole world.

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The Latest in LGBTQ Bible Scholarship https://whosoever.org/the-latest-in-lgbtq-bible-scholarship/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-latest-in-lgbtq-bible-scholarship Thu, 13 May 2021 04:00:54 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=18739 Scholarship on the Bible and ‘LGBT issues’ is proving to be very startling lately. Here are a few recent papers to check out:

1. Biblical-era Jews were maybe not so ‘anti-gay’

Most men in the ancient world were assumed to be bisexual, so it’s not surprising to find Jewish officials who loom over the New Testament gospels keeping slave boys for sex. The Jewish historian Josephus recalls that Herod the Great “had some eunuchs of whom he was immoderately fond because of their beauty.”

Christopher B. Zeichmann discusses this and related examples in a 2020 paper, “Same-Sex Intercourse Involving Jewish Men 100BCE–100CE.” Jews from the Biblical period are often thought to be very opposed to same-sex eroticism, but were they just on the theological down-low? As he notes, “many Roman writers condemn same-sex intercourse with equal fervor” — and that’s a big LOL.

2. The Roman centurion and his slave are a thing?

In a story told in three gospels, a Roman military officer comes to Jesus asking for a healing for his young male slave. A few scholars have suggested this looks like a sexual relationship. It had seemed an eccentric view to the Christian who sees the Bible as a narrative zone somehow, remarkably, cleansed of all sexual difference. In a 2018 paper, “Gender Minorities in and Under Roman Power,” Zeichmann updates the case of the Centurion and his boy. See also the recent Whosoever article: “Maybe Jesus Actually Did Say Something About Homosexuality After All.”

These relationships were common in the Roman world. The Centurion calls his slave a Greek word, παῖς, that can suggest a sexual relationship. In Luke 7:2, the boy was “dear” or “precious” him. Why does the English word ‘gurrrl’ keep welling up in one’s throat? The writing is on the wall.

3. Jesus and sexual violence

The world seems to be catching up to David Tombs, the scholar of Liberation Theology in Latin America who, back in 1999 had a very provocative paper, “Crucifixion, State Terror, and Sexual Abuse,” which suggested that Jesus had been subject to sexual violence at the hands of Roman soldiers. They might not’ve been just using their hands, either.

Jesus was stripped, beaten, subjected to “mockery” — which is a regular clue to Bible rape narratives. In the post-#MeToo world, Tombs updates his case with a 2019 paper, “#MeToo Jesus: Naming Jesus as a Victim of Sexual Abuse,” and a 2020 paper offers help, as an educator, for helping Christians to see the messiah offering a compelling witness to the trials of victims, being one himself: “Hidden in Plain Sight: Seeing the Stripping of Jesus as Sexual Violence.”

Later scholars have picked up on Tombs’ direction. Jason J. Ripley, in the fascinating 2015 paper “Behold the Man”? Subverting Imperial Masculinity in the Gospel of John,” has the provocative possibility that Jesus’ gender instability “is also the revelation of the Father’s masculinity, who likewise opens himself to mutual interpenetration and indwelling,” as both Father and Son offer a new model of masculinity based on “vulnerability rather than vanquishment.”

4. Is Philemon a ‘gay’ romance?

Near the end of the New Testament is a tiny letter by the apostle Paul that tells a story about — a runaway slave? Or something. Efforts to identify the plot tend to run the gamut. A 2011 paper by Joseph A. Marchal, “The Usefulness of an Onesimus: The Sexual Use of Slaves and Paul’s Letter to Philemon,” followed up by a 2019 book, Appalling Bodies: Queer Figures Before and After Paul’s Letters, suggested that the basic terms have been misread.

Marchal works off the slave’s name: ‘Onesimus’. In the Bible, names tend to set out the core of a character. Christian commentary typically says that Onesimus means ‘useful’. But apparently this is not quite right. The name ‘Onesimus’, Marchal says, means ‘good for use’, ‘well-used’, or ‘easy to use’. To a person in the world of the New Testament, he writes, this suggests “the erotically available (or sexually vulnerable) enslaved person…”

Christianity broke its own rules in translating the slave’s name, for “use” is often seen as a cue to sex. If “natural use” in Romans 1:26–27 is “intercourse,” as often supposed, then ‘Onesimus’ means — ‘good for intercourse’. If Onesimus is a sex slave, then he may be young, ‘pretty’, long-haired, and castrated.

The slave owner’s name, ‘Philemon’, is as meaningful. It suggests the Greek word phileo, or ‘love’, and also philēma, which means ‘kiss’. Philemon seems to be a man made for love. He seems to be a very ‘loving’ person — who has a male sex slave. Thus we see a conflict — both in Christian anti-slavery teachings, perhaps, and in traditional Jewish views on same-sexual eroticism. It might be either which Paul steps forward to help resolve.

We read in v.16 in the NIV translation Paul speaking of the slave: “He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.”

But is this right? The men couldn’t be “dear” as “fellow men” — or Paul, also male, would be as “dear.” Marchal provides a literal translation. As dear as Onesimus is to him, Paul writes: “how much (more) especially to you, both in the flesh and in the lord.”

Onesimus and Philemon are close in flesh and spirit. That is as close as anyone can be. Paul’s counsel is for the men to just — love each other? He sends Onesimus back home to Philemon, as he writes: “that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother” (RSV).

5. Who is Romans 1 about, again?

Traditionalists have maintained that the dense narrative of Romans 1 was somehow about gays and lesbians. It was a reading which took some time and effort. Finding the phrase “contrary to nature,” early Christians first supposed it meant the divine perils of heterosexual anal sex, as Theodore de Bruyn had detailed in a 2011 paper, “Ambrosiaster’s Interpretations of Romans 1:26–27.”

If taking a step back from the prurient focus on phrases, we seem to find Paul in Romans 1 telling a story in the past tense about some unnamed evildoers. It’s always fun to ask Christians to identify these figures — since they can’t. They just know these beings are having anal sex? Scholars have come up dry as well. In a 1999 study, Kathy L. Gaca gave it her best shot, concluding: “the identity of Paul’s ‘truth-suppressing people’ remains open-ended…”

That lesbianism was criminalized by the deployment of two words — “their women” — when all of Old Testament law was silent on this subject — might’ve been a clue to some kind of problem. Along came David J. Murphy in a 2019 paper, More Evidence Pertaining to ‘Their Females’ in Romans 1:26,” to detail more of the problems here. For sex to be ‘unnatural’ to ancient people, he suggests, it might’ve more easily been non-procreative straight sex.

But scholars have been murmuring for years that the blizzard of allusive references in Romans 1 looked suspiciously like the master narrative of the Enoch literature — that old story of fallen angels taking human wives. Brett Provance lays out this case in a 2019 paper “Romans 1:26–27 in Its Rhetorical Tradition.”

The talk of a union that is “against nature” might then come into stark clarity, because it then concern angels with women — beings that have different natures. One is human, the other is angelic. For humans of the same gender to touch each other in even the most intimate of embraces couldn’t trip the offense, for they share the same nature — human nature. Thus, Provance finds that “homosexuality is not the main concern in this passage, and female same-sex sexual activity is not to be found in the passage at all.”

Paul’s language, he observes, tracks rather closely with several passages in biblical literature, including the Wisdom of Solomon and a striking parallel in a Dead Sea Scrolls text, the Testament of Naphtali (3:4-5). The offenses in view, then, would clearly not be two humans rubbing excitedly, but rather involves the rather more important problem of a divinity gone wild.

Details might still be worked out, but the real problem to be faced might be in understanding how a religion managed, for so long, to wrangle a few incidental, ill-understood passages into an overthrow not only of the teachings of Jesus, but of Paul himself. For how had the apostle put it in Galatians 5:6?

“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

Republished from Medium with permission of the author.

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80,000 Christian Men To Hate on Queer Folks in Dallas Stadium https://whosoever.org/80000-christian-men-to-hate-on-queer-folks-in-dallas-stadium/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=80000-christian-men-to-hate-on-queer-folks-in-dallas-stadium Sat, 08 May 2021 15:43:05 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=18819 In the middle of a pandemic

I almost feel I don’t need to write this story, that the headline speaks so strongly for itself that elaboration is pointless. But I won’t tease. The details, distressing as they are, matter too much to ignore.

So, the Promise Keepers are back. Maybe you’ve heard of them? They were a popular Evangelical Christian men’s movement that fought same-sex marriage and promoted theocratic sexism while packing stadiums with men who prayed and sang hymns.

Honey, I’ve made a terrible mistake. I’ve given you my role. I gave up leading this family, and I forced you to take my place. Now I must reclaim this role.

Those are the words of Tony Evans in the group’s founding text The Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper, urging Christian men to wield authority over their wives. He couches patriarchy in Biblical language, and his message resonated with certain conservative men in the 1990s and early naughts.

PK founder Bill McCarthy didn’t mince words about gay men and lesbians. In 1992 (and many times after) he called homosexuality “an abomination of God.”

He also promoted theocracy, selling books at packed events that urged “Christian men” to “take over the country,” including the government, preaching a dominion theology that would later come to a head in the marriage of Christian nationalism and Donald Trump.

By the mid 2000s, however, PK largely lost its ability to fill stadiums. Their hate-the-gays message, combined with preaching that women and adult children should obey husbands and fathers, didn’t resonate even with many conservative young people. PK’s echoes of Bill Bright’s Campus Crusade for Christ messaging that young adults should strictly obey spiritual leaders landed with a dull thud.

Maybe patriarchy doesn’t sell when its bones are exposed.

Young Christian men might dutifully nod their heads at the messaging, but they didn’t rush to buy tickets to mega events. It seems Gen X and Y just couldn’t get excited about a return to 1950s values.

Promise Keepers is leveraging transphobia for a big comeback

Today Ken Harrison is the chairman of PK, which never went away, just sort of withered on the vine. He recently appeared on Steve Bannon’s alt-right podcast to announce a return to mega events.

Leading with scaremongering transphobia, Harrison announced that PK will pack out AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, this coming July 16 and 17. Whether he can sell enough $85 tickets remains an open question, but he’s giving it the old college try, making the rounds of ultra-conservative media sources.

“How quickly we went from homosexual marriage to, now, men putting on dresses and being called women,” he sneers while promoting his event. He says Christian men are “sick and tired of the evil,” as he promises to “preach God’s word unapologetically.”

Given that raging against same-sex marriage increasingly taps a vein of apathy even among conservative Christians, Richardson is raging about the scapegoat du jour, trans folks, positioning them despite their small numbers as an existential threat to the Republic, sure to bring down the vengeance of a wrathful God.

I guess God got over his pique about us fags and dykes getting married? Or maybe COVID-19 is God’s punishment for naughty nuptials. Richardson’s God seems mightily pissed off about something, and if you listen to Richardson, he’s got a direct line to the Throne so he can fill us all in on the details — while we sing patriotic songs.

Oh, and racism? On Bannon’s podcast, Harrison calls racism a “leftist lie.” Will that message fill stadiums? I wonder what his God thinks about equality and humanity? Something tells me Harrison’s direct line is filled with some static.

Speaking of COVID… Seriously, guys? Packing a stadium?

This should go without saying, but COVID-19 is a still a serious problem in the U.S., with medical experts warning that vaccine hesitancy will almost certainly stop us from reaching herd immunity this year. Some states, Texas included, are seeing distressing rates of new infections and hospitalizations.

Doctors who specialize in pandemics are telling us to stay alert for a while longer, doing sensible things like wearing masks indoors and in crowded areas. Shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, as in packed stadiums, top the list of things to avoid to keep our neighbors free of COVID.

Sadly, conservatives, especially conservative Christians, are more likely than other Americans to reject safety measures and avoid vaccination. Given the Texas government’s resistance to enforcing public safety measures, experts warn a deadly fourth wave of infection is likely in the state later this summer.

Before I read about the Promise Keeper’s upcoming mega event, I wouldn’t have thought ANYONE would think a packed stadium in Dallas was a good idea right now. I was wrong.

This is what conservatives are reduced to these days

This is all they’ve got. Hate on a statistically tiny group of transgender people already facing violence, marginalization, and extremist discrimination. Leverage fear by spreading falsehoods. Pretend COVID-19 doesn’t exist, and preach a kind of antique sexism and misogyny just about nobody in the United States is down with.

But then maybe it’s really about the money? If Harrison manages to fill AT&T Stadium to capacity both days, he’ll rake in close to $9 million. Not a bad return on making a few vulnerable trans people the subject of more hate than they already are.

Hey Promise Keepers, check it out

Same-sex couples who love each other and get married have not destroyed the world or the institution of marriage. All the dire predictions didn’t come true. Accepting people who are different from you really and truly doesn’t make your life worse.

Gay people getting married hasn’t led to a rash of men wearing dresses and calling themselves women. That isn’t what transgender is all about. It’s about a statistically small number of people who, whether you want them to or not, experience gender differently from how you do. They aren’t hurting you, they aren’t a threat to you, and God isn’t going to hate on you for being nice to them.

In fact, if it weren’t for events like yours promoting scare-mongering, you’d probably never even notice trans people — which my trans friends tell me is what they want anyway.

So what do you say, how about you find a positive message to promote. Maybe something to do with Jesus? The New Testament is PACKED with his words about loving our neighbors, not judging them, and helping them stay safe and healthy.

Packing a stadium in Dallas during a pandemic, filling it with crowds egged on by hatred of trans folks? That’s got nothing to do with Jesus’s promise of love. Just saying.

Republished from Medium with permission of the author.

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German Catholic Clergy Defy Pope To Bless Same-Sex Couples https://whosoever.org/german-catholic-clergy-defy-pope-to-bless-same-sex-couples/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=german-catholic-clergy-defy-pope-to-bless-same-sex-couples Thu, 06 May 2021 17:29:06 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=18741 Hundreds of bishops and priests proclaim ‘Love Wins!’

[Gay people] want the church to hold their life in such value that they are given the blessing of God and not denied it. We must face up to this wish. (Bishop Georg Bätzing, president German Bishops’ Conference)

German Catholic clergy vow to celebrate God’s rainbow covenant of love on May 10

In a move stunning for its embrace of love, hundreds of Roman Catholic bishops and priests in Germany have set aside May 10, the day the Eastern Orthodox Church commemorates Noah, to bless the loving relationships of lesbians, gay men, and committed same-sex couples of all stripes. The date recalls how God’s covenant with Noah was sealed with a rainbow, which LGBTQ people and others receive as a sign of universal love and peace.

LGBTQ people are accustomed to experiencing the Roman Catholic Church as an agent of hate and persecution, but in protest of a recent Vatican decree, hundreds of Catholic clergy in Germany are reaching out with love to queer people on May 10.

The movement, which started small in Hamburg then exploded, has a catchy slogan, #liebegewinnt, (Love Wins) and a hip website constantly updated with church locations and times where priests will bless same-sex couples.

The coming event began as a quiet initiative by a few priests who wanted to succor queer congregants wounded by an anti-LGBTQ Vatican decree Pope Francis recently approved that banned blessings for same-sex couples. The movement has turned into a groundswell of loving revolt that will be celebrated in most Catholic churches in Germany, including in the grandest cathedrals.

The news almost makes me wish I lived in Germany again. It reminds me of living in Montreal and facing up to the harsh reality of my pariah status in the eyes of the Church.

When I lived in Montreal with my life partner Jason and our foster son, I fantasized about a commitment ceremony at the gorgeous Notre Dame Basilica. Towering over the city’s Old Port for 200 years, the glorious gothic-style church reminded me of the years I’d spent prowling Europe seeking out ancient cathedrals, fine organ music, and baroque choirs.

My fantasy wasn’t active; I didn’t crave legal marriage. I wanted to affirm our love in front of friends and community. I was drunk on the unqualified acceptance Jason and I discovered in Montreal after growing up with the background-radiation homophobia of Australia and the United States. Montreal by comparison was a homophobia-free fairyland.

My business partner splashed cold reality on my fantasy. “Forget it,” he laughed while we sipped cocktails in his trendy loft right behind Notre Dame. “The Church would never let you, not even if we rented the place privately.”

“Oh, right,” I mumbled. “I forgot.”

Few LGBTQ people around the world need that reminder

Though I lost my head in a dream for a moment, the Roman Catholic Church is fast and furious about reminding people like me that we cannot have a valued or honored place in communities they control.

In the United States, the Church isn’t subtle. While almost 80% of Catholic lay people support LGBTQ equality, including marriage, the clergy routinely treat us like vermin.

The details are distressing and toxic, but if you want them, please read my recent story about how the US Conference of Catholic Bishops worked to block a federal suicide hotline because it included specific resources to help LGBTQ people in crisis.

German bishops, leading a synodal process seeking fundamental reform, encourage priests to follow their consciences

Bishop Georg Bätzing heads the German bishops’ conference, which is so different from the the American one that an external observer could be forgiven for assuming the two bodies belonged to different religions.

For two years, Bätzing and other German bishops have been leading a “Synodal Process” with the goal of profound reform that would include women in leadership positions (including as members of the clergy) and would integrate LGBTQ people into the full life of the Church.

Birgit Mock, vice president of the Catholic German Women’s Federation, who heads one of four Synodal Path working groups, has praised the Love Wins movement, saying, “The current discussion could lead to a historic step: a positive appreciation of responsibly lived sexuality in the Catholic Church in Germany.”

Bishop Helmut Dieser of Aachen, who heads another Synodal Path working group, says his office does not allow him to mandate blessing gay couples, but said priests should be bound only by their consciences. Bishops across German have likewise indicated priests will not face discipline for publicly blessing same-sex couples on May 10.

The number of priests participating started small but has swollen to near 200 according to some reports, and continues to grow.

Bätzing, who as Germany’s senior bishop finds himself in a difficult situation with Rome, has said the blessings should not be seen as a protest against the Vatican but has not moved to forbid them, not even in his own diocese.

German Catholic theologians join in protest

Catholic theologians in Germany are almost completely united in opposition to the Vatican’s anti-LGBTQ teachings and practices. Almost 250 professors of Catholic theology in Germany and German-speaking nations have signed a statement protesting the March 15 decree banning blessings of same-sex unions.

They write that the decree “is marked by a paternalistic air of superiority and discriminates against homosexual people,” adding, “We distance ourselves firmly from this position. We believe that the life and love of same-sex couples are not worth less before God than the life and love of any other couple.”

German press is strikingly different from American press with its approach to Pope Francis and anti-LGBTQ teachings

In the Unites States and other English-speaking countries, press reports tend to treat Pope Francis as a reformer and a supporter of LGBTQ people, something actual LGBTQ people often find puzzling (and even offensive) given Francis’s evident lack of appetite for reform beyond the occasional hard-to-interpret aphorism.

German press reports are strikingly different, often portraying Francis as an impediment to reform, noting his strong, public opposition to the German Synodal Path and frequently mentioning his track record of anti-LGBTQ actions. For example, a recent Deutsche Welle report focuses on Francis’s statement that there is “no place for homosexuality in the Catholic Church,” positioning him as a primary obstacle to equality and dignity for LGBTQ people internationally:

Within the Catholic Church, however, homosexuality remains taboo. In October 2015, the pope fired a gay Polish priest who had come out in spectacular fashion shortly before a key summit on the family.

In 2018, in a series of conversations with the Spanish missionary Fernando Prado which were published under the title The Strength of a Vocation: Consecrated Life Today, the pontiff said there was “no room” for homosexuality in the Catholic Church. “For this reason, the Church urges that persons with this rooted tendency not be accepted into (priestly) ministry or consecrated life,” he said.

Let’s celebrate May 10 and Love Wins with Germany

German Catholics and bishops aren’t waiting on Pope Francis or anyone else. They’ve declared that this year, May 10 is about love winning, about including all people who love in the embrace and acceptance of their institutions and communities.

I’m still haunted by that day in Montreal when my business partner reminded me I am too Other to celebrate love in the city’s most beautiful church. I never thought I would see the day when I could walk into a Catholic church and hold my head up high as a fully equal, dignified human loved for who I am.

Astonishingly, it seems that in Germany, that day has come, and it’s next Monday!

How about we all work together to light a fire of love beyond the borders of Germany? Can May 10 come to mean Love Wins everywhere? Can Catholic churches in the UK, the US, Australia and other English-speaking nations join the movement?

Isn’t it time to reject theologies of exclusion and celebrate love instead? May 10, 2022 in a church near you. What do you say?

Republished from Medium with permission of the author.

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Why Are Transgender People at the Center of Republican Culture Wars? https://whosoever.org/why-are-transgender-people-at-the-center-of-republican-culture-wars/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-are-transgender-people-at-the-center-of-republican-culture-wars Thu, 29 Apr 2021 11:20:53 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=18642 There are several reasons why Republican “culture wars” today are targeting transgender people (along with people of color in general). The right-wing, egged on by its radical right Christian adherents, is showing us how it’s fixated on transgender people as it struggles to hold onto the power it thought was assured with the election of the former president to protect itself from the progress of larger cultural forces.

Hundreds of anti-transgender bills are appearing in state houses around the country because national right-wing think tanks are feeding them to Republican state legislators who’ve hitched their wagons to a regressive, radical, White, heterosexual male-supremacy agenda tied to the former president. And these bills aren’t going away because their assumption is that a radical right-wing Supreme Court Democrats won’t have the will or power to change and will uphold anti-transgender laws.

Their anti-transgender culture war agenda is, first of all, pretty much all that Republican party operatives have left because the majority of Americans no longer support right-wing policies. Major party leaders who’d rather focus on economic issues that further accumulate their wealth and that of their wealthy buddies recognize this and so, more often than not, refuse to counter the bigotry involved in the White supremacist, transphobic actions of the Party’s radical membership and leaders whose votes they court.

This makes for a real schizophrenia for big business. Business supports these politicians because they’re the ones who vote to lower corporate and wealth taxes and remove consumer protections (“de-regulating”). But at the same time business must appeal to the larger culture for profit-making reasons by waving rainbow and equality flags.

So corporate America has learned to talk a good line — to make gestures supporting equality while funding the legislators who threaten equality because those politicians are more likely to line corporate pocketbooks. Like Republican politicians, big business knows that keeping the GOP in power must not be threatened too much by moral issues.

The anti-transgender agenda is, secondly, fueled by threats to leadership, political and religious. There are leaders, especially in the area of religion, who’ve bet their lives, careers, power, and leadership — and their own pocketbooks — on the creed that there is nothing more than two fixed genders, only two, and that that’s exactly how their god wants it.

They portray it as a liberal (“atheist,” “secularist”) plot to destroy the sectarian views they’ve espoused. A long history of patriarchy in religious institutions has put power in the hands of males who have promoted the privileges of cultural masculinity.

Even the possibilities of female clergy feel threatening to that privilege. Instead, they’re used to being the ones who define who a woman is and controlling women and their ability to reproduce, as well as stifling women’s attempts at leadership and equal regard. Equal pay for equal work to these leaders is considered a radical idea, a “slippery slope.”

And concocting theories in response to women’s gains in order to act as if putting women back in their place is really an honor for women is one way they do that. Hence the recent reaction to Southern Baptist woman leader, Beth Moore’s apologizing for promoting “complementarianism,” the claim that while women and men are equal in value before their god, He has assigned them specific, unchanging, gender roles with women as support personal for their men.

A third reason, and most important, is that our society’s personal confusion and fears, and a clinging to misinformation about gender have made anyone who openly challenges any of that lightning rods for our culture’s gender dysfunctionality.

Portraying transgender and gender-role non-conforming people as sick and immoral is a way to protect that societal and personal gender dysfunction. As long as they are seen as ill and miserable, transgender people are no threat to it.

If transgender people are out among us, accepted, affirmed, and looking happy and proud to express themselves as who they are, just knowing that they are upsets notions of how so many define themselves using well-worn, safe, essentialist gender binaries. To assure oneself that one is a man or a woman by societal definitions, that there are not only two different, settled but “opposite” sexes,” has been such a default setting in their minds that being reminded that there are all sorts of questions around this feels like an earthquake destroying the solidarity of their footing.

And yet, if they were self-reflective enough, most people would see that they’re somewhat insecure in all this. They just aren’t as secure in the idea that they’re expressing their manhood or womanhood as clearly and publicly as they should be and unthinkably wondering how secure their gender identification is, and whether others wonder too.

Think how people who feel they’ve moved beyond gender rigidity talk about getting in touch with their “feminine side” or “masculine side” as if they’re clearly one gender who must search for traits supposedly assigned only in the other.

Transgender people aren’t the ones who’ve asked for any of this, and they’re not asking for it. Their goal isn’t to make some sort of statement about or be poster children challenging society’s sicknesses about gender.

Their desire is much simpler — to be in touch with, affirm, and just live their lives as who they understand themselves to be. In the midst of our culture’s broader sickness around gender, they just want to live as full human beings who define themselves.

And maybe that tells us of a fourth reason transgender people are targets of suppression and fear. In a society where most feel that gender performance and presentation are limited by a straightjacket woven of the fear that if we deviate from the gender roles, we’ll be denigrated and worse, the way LGBTQI people have been, there’s a hidden, inadmissible resentment of anyone who openly breaks out of it all to live in integrity by their own definition of who they are.

All the current attempts to suppress transgender people, then, tell us more about those whose own lives are stuck, and transphobia is really a fear that someone can’t live freely as they would want to be without embracing all that gender dysfunction. The problem is more than just ignorance; it’s emotional and psychological.

Transgender people are just fine; it’s society that’s sick and acting it out on them. And the Republican Party and right-wing Christians are spreading the contagion.

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Be Ready: Fierce in My Witness for the Lord https://whosoever.org/be-ready-fierce-in-my-witness-for-the-lord/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=be-ready-fierce-in-my-witness-for-the-lord Tue, 13 Apr 2021 12:32:29 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=18219

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15 NIV)

In preparing us for ministry, my dad taught my siblings and me to be ready to sing, preach, or die at any given moment. Dad was a Baptist minister and took me with him as he traveled all over the country. I think his vision was to be the traveling, singing, preaching, God-loving, bible-preaching family always ready and willing to serve in ministry and in praise.

During my brief time of military service, we were trained to be ready for any given event at any given moment. Combat-ready was to sleep with my M-16 and ready to march forward into battle — even if women were not allowed on the front line during those days. Our training was the same as our male comrades’.

Today’s verse reminds me that there will be times when I am challenged about my belief in the power of God in my life. I must be ready to witness and testify about that power. I must be willing and ready to testify to the goodness of God in my life. Despite the negative karma surrounding being a witness for God, I must be ready to tell it.

I was working a booth for the church during a LGBTQ Rainbows Festival Pride event. A man wearing a sandwich board shouting “repent and be saved” was walking by. He clearly was not in favor of the event. As he was walking by, I challenged his authority to speak condemnation, so he stopped and challenged the church’s presence at a LGBTQ pride event. He asked me if I was saved. I could hear someone in the background say “BRACE, BRACE, BRACE” as I began to testify about who God is to me and what the Lord has done for me.

“Am I saved? Yes, I am. I confess Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. He is the ruler of the universe and the captain of my life. He is my Alpha and my Omega. Jesus is my bright and morning star. He pulled me out of the muck of the miry clay and set my feet on solid ground when I was lost in the wickedness of this world. It was Jesus that opened my eyes to see that the path that I was on was not good or pleasing in His sight. Jesus made a way for me when I couldn’t see my way clear.

“AM I SAVED? Yes, I am. I know that He died and rose again just for me and I’m glad about it. I’m not counting on the help of any human being to find my salvation. I’m not waiting on the approval of any church or religious ruler to mark me as saved. The day He died and rose again, Jesus marked me and made me whole. For by grace I am saved through faith lest anyone should boast. If it had not been for the Lord on my side — where would I be?

“AM I SAVED? YES, I AM, and I don’t need you or the likes of you or any other hater to prove that I am saved and have been healed with that precious balm of Gilead. While you perpetuate a message of hate under the false guise of God’s love, I will forever shout from the mountaintops that Jesus is Lord. Your message of condemnation is not wanted or needed in this place. You, sir, are a liar and a hypocrite. I know that I AM SAVED by the power of the blood of the precious Lamb of God, JESUS.”

Needless to say, the crowd listening had grown from three to about 100. My favorite police community relations resource officer had been quietly standing by as I said about all I had to say. When I finally took a breath, she asked me if I was done — I said “yes ma’am.” She advised the man that he should come with her for his own safety while I was still taking a moment to catch my breath.

There are political advocates for the LGBTQ community that say we are not to argue with the fundamentalists that come on a regular basis to bash us. They stand on their hilltops with their bibles in hand to deny LGBTQ folk entry into the kingdom — or at least their small portion of what they see as heaven. I stand at the ready to speak to these haters in a language they can understand. Those who rely on the law of the land are ill equipped to rescue the fundamentalists from the error of their ways.

I am fierce in my witness for the Lord, and I will not go quietly when asked about the source of my hope. Jesus is the center of my joy. He is my beacon in the darkest night. When I need shelter, He is there to cover me. When I need a shoulder, He is there to embrace me as I pour out my heart and release my fears. When I need a friend, Jesus is there to listen to me and encourage me along the way. I have resurrection possibilities as I stand at the ready to tell the world Jesus is the source of my hope and my salvation.

To all those who would think we are an easy or weak evangelical theology target, think again, we are ready!

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‘Culture Wars’ Are Tweaked and Front and Center Again Because It’s All One Party Has to Offer https://whosoever.org/culture-wars-are-tweaked-and-front-and-center-again-because-its-all-one-party-has-to-offer/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=culture-wars-are-tweaked-and-front-and-center-again-because-its-all-one-party-has-to-offer Sat, 27 Mar 2021 02:00:28 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=17453 This past month we’ve seen that while the Democrats debate policies, how they reflect their inclusive values, and how best to enact them, the Republican Party is discussing Dr. Seuss, Pepe LePue, the Potato Heads, discrimination against transgender people, preventing people who disagree with them from voting, and ensuring government control over women’s reproductive choices. They’re still trying, as well, to figure out ways they can demonize and marginalize all LGBTQ people after all those Court decisions that have rejected such discrimination.

The previous president was a useable egotist for the Republican “culture war,” and demonizing President Biden has become a centerpiece because he refuses to play their game of “Calvinball” with Republicans constantly and hypocritically changing the rules and moving the goalposts to appeal to their supporters. By his executive actions and appointments, Biden has defied their definition of “culture” and its values.

The previous president helped Republicans lay bare their real “culture” agenda for all to see. Blatantly he showed us that White supremacy was at the heart of it all along with the accompanying patriarchy that fits so well with that supremacy.

For generations now, Republicans have chosen to consistently define “Culture” in very straight, White terms. When they’ve spoken of “traditional family values,” it was a very straight White family we were to bring to mind.

They topped this off by talking as if one of our major national problems was a breakdown in “the family” among, of course, families of color, and with unsubstantiated claims that families with two daddies or two mommies were absolute disasters. Those families just weren’t White or straight enough according to their nostalgic idea of what they claimed families always were and should be.

This became a crucial feature of their politics following the successes of the Civil Rights movement when Republicans responded with what they called their “Southern strategy.” Their appeal to White Evangelicals was steeped in the promotion of this exclusive kind of “culture.”

Limiting the right to vote of anyone who threatened their “culture” in this war is nothing new either, but the previous president’s “big lie” countering his re-election trouncing inspired renewed efforts to squash any opposition. It was just another front in the same “culture wars.”

They had seen decades ago that their days were limited as more Americans voted. Paul Weyrich, cofounder of the Heritage Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the Moral Majority, made that clear to a gathering of White right-wing religionists in 1980: “So many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome: good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people; they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

They also schemed to do their best to hide their straight, White cultural supremacism by focusing on issues that would negatively impact LGBTQ people and people of color but not sound openly racist and homophobic. They could act as if they were talking about “fiscal conservatism” rather than bigotry.

Back in 1981 influential Republican campaign consultant Lee Atwater explained the “Southern Strategy” his Party was using to win the vote of racists without changing anything but not sounding racist themselves:

“You start out in 1954 by saying, “N****, n****, n****.” By 1968 you can’t say “n****” — that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now [in 1981], you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things, and a byproduct of them is blacks get hurt worse than whites.… ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N****, n****.”

And those who started claiming that they were fiscal conservatives but cultural liberals (even among those in some of the targeted groups) never saw, or refused to admit, the connections. But the Republican strategists knew and exploited them.

The “culture wars” always included the subordination of women, and that continues. The fight against the Equal Rights Amendment and attempts to exert government control of women’s reproductive choices, even when Republicans behind these fronts in the war practiced abortions for themselves, were about controlling those women in particular who didn’t jive with the Republican definition of “culture.”

Until the Supreme Court decisions affirming sexual orientation equality (2003) and marriage equality (2015), it was publicly acceptable to openly discriminate against lesbians, gay men, and bisexual people. Thus, it was one of the most visible tactics in Republican culture wars and successful in rallying religionists in churches that agreed.

But social and cultural forces required change not in their underlying view of who true Americans were but in using more acceptable ways to rally the same old bases that had bought the culture war trope before. They could combine their views about gender issues, women’s issues, and LGBTQ issues by promoting transphobia.

As with the Equal Rights Amendment fight and the fight to prevent LGB equality, their focus was again bathroom usage. Transgender people would be the lightning rods to maintain rigid gender roles and gender definitions, and by raising all sorts of fears they could claim that Republicans were protecting children from the undocumented threats posed by those who didn’t fit their ideas of culture.

But in order to do this in a way that would not just sound like the old-fashioned bigotry behind it, they came up with new strategies for promotion of discrimination – the claim of “religious liberty” that still gave them the cover to remain bigots. With the promotion of “religious liberty” laws and conservative judicial decisions for “religious liberty,” they could appeal to the trope that it was religious people who were victims in all this, that it’s really their freedoms that are threatened.

So “religious liberty” became a new salvo in the same old “culture wars” with rejuvenated claims that election fraud by “those people” is rampant. And, of course with dog whistle phraseology like “urban” and even “Democrat” (not Democratic) as labels of who the problems are, they’re revealing that the underlying goal of protecting straight White patriarchal supremacy is still all they’ve got.

With the Republican Party rejecting policies that the majority of Americans support, there’s little left for it to do but play the hand that has underlain its work for a couple of generations – that all this is reduceable to a “culture war” that must protect straight, White male patriarchy because the alternative will destroy their kind of “culture.”

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Pope Francis Takes the Gay Gloves Off https://whosoever.org/pope-francis-takes-the-gay-gloves-off/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pope-francis-takes-the-gay-gloves-off Tue, 16 Mar 2021 11:53:55 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=17211 Can we drop the Both Sides journalism façade?

False balance, also bothsidesism: A media bias in which journalists present an issue as being more balanced between opposing viewpoints than the evidence supports.

I woke up Monday morning to harsh, depressing news

In a story from Axios, I learned Pope Francis and the Catholic Church have once again morally condemned me and most of the people I love, instructing priests to stop (or not to start) blessing same-sex unions — a practice that until yesterday was finding currency in more liberal Catholic quarters.

The story gets worse from there.

The details of the pronouncement are bad enough, but the bigger story is the journalistic environment in which they’re being reported. From the beginning of Francis’s papacy, major media have bent over backwards to find reasons to paint him as progressive on LGBTQ matters when regressive is a more fair description of his LGBTQ teachings and practices.

Journalists even in the most left-leaning publications often practice classic bothsidesism that paints a distorted picture of how Francis’s Church actually treats LGBTQ people, who mostly experience the Roman Catholic Church as an agent of oppression and stigmatization.

I belong to a large Irish-American Catholic clan, and I’ve heard my own progressive-ish nieces and nephews latch on to inaccurate news reporting that allows them to feel better about the Church they support and — this is critical — lulls them into a complacency that almost guarantees they will not pressure the Church to reform itself.

Here’s what the Vatican did on Monday

That Axios headline was clear and accurate: “Priests can’t bless gay unions because God “cannot bless sin.” Ireland’s RTE, a national public news service, broke the story down in more depth. Besides nixing blessings for gay couples, The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has ruled that priests must restrict individual blessings to “persons with homosexual inclinations who manifest the will to live in fidelity to the revealed plans of God as proposed by Church teaching.”

In other words, the Church demands celibacy in exchange for inclusion.

The ruling explicitly calls gay people disordered and sinful, spelling out that gay people are fine with the Church only so long as we never form intimate sexual relationships, a basic human need. With this document, the Church continues a tradition of religiously bullying members of gender and sexual minorities by inaccurately reducing our identities and innate biology to pathology.

Despite that, the CDF authors maintain their position constitutes the “respect and sensitivity” the Catechism requires. In Orwellian doublespeak typical of Francis, they claim their ruling is not a form of the “unjust discrimination” the Catechism forbids.

In fact, with Francis’s explicit authorization, this ruling affirms all the Church’s traditions that stigmatize and morally condemn LGBTQ people. For Catholic progressives hoping for the reform of Church teachings, Monday’s ruling dashes hopes.

Does Francis intend to reform the Church?

The document he just approved demonstrates his implacable opposition to reform. It’s harsh, authoritarian, dehumanizing, and damaging to real human beings all over the world. It gives Catholic clergy and lay leaders all the tools they need to continue condemning and pathologizing LGBTQ people.

That’s the real story here, and almost nobody is reporting it like that

Check out this New York Times sub-header: “In a ruling made public on Monday, the Vatican said the Roman Catholic Church should be welcoming toward gay people, but not their unions.”

That sentence is fundamentally inaccurate, even outright misleading.

It’s a perfect example of looking for two sides to a story even when one of those sides is barely true. Sure the CDF document calls for “welcoming,” but it explicitly instructs priests not to be welcoming — to withhold ordinary blessings from gay people in partnerships, to teach those gay people that they are living “in sin.”

You can dig into that Times article and get some good information, though you’d have to dig hard, and you would not find the critical piece about banning individual blessings. The Times chose not to report that, even though it’s perhaps the most important part of the story.

The Washington Post did a slightly better job, but their lede is as inaccurate and misleading as the Times’ sub-header: “Pope Francis has invited LGBT advocates to the Vatican. He has spoken warmly about the place of gay people in the church. He has called for national laws for same-sex civil unions.”

Seriously? That’s the lede? That’s neutral journalism?

It gets worse. Look how they report on individual blessings: “The decree said individual gay people could continue to be blessed by the church, provided they show ‘the will to live in fidelity to the revealed plans of God as proposed by Church teaching.’”

If the reader blinked, they missed that the Church just ordered priests to stop blessing individual gay people who aren’t celibate. This story is much more detailed than the one in the Times; it contains some accurate information. It frankly confronts the issue of gay Catholics feeling betrayed. But it uses classic bothsidesism to paint a more positive picture than exists on the ground. Nobody reading the story would conclude that the Church under Francis has regressed on LGBTQ inclusion, even though it has regressed substantially.

Reading the Times, the Post, or most mainstream newspapers, the reader would have missed something profoundly important: Francis often makes kind-sounding personal observations about LGBTQ people but has done nothing to translate those observations into policy. His specific actions have more often been regressive, and his statements have often been misleading.

  • Regressive: In 2016, Francis hardened the 2005 ban on gay men training for the priesthood that his predecessor Pope Benedict had put in place. Two years later, Francis implied that the ban is based in part on his personal belief that gay men are likely to be neurotic.
  • Regressive: In 2018, Francis instructed Catholic parents to send gay children to therapy, implying that before the age of 20, conversion therapy might be effective. Prior to that pronouncement, the Church had a reputation for opposing conversion therapy, known to be ineffective and dangerous. Since then, Catholic dioceses all over the U.S. have partnered with conversion therapy providers, and the practice is increasing.
  • Regressive: In 2018, Francis indicated in unscripted remarks at the Vatican that families headed by LGBTQ parents are not “real families.” Subsequently, he refused to meet with with a delegation of Catholic families headed by gay parents. He demonstrated unwelcoming behavior.
  • Misleading: Last September, Francis was widely quoted as telling a group of Italian parents of LGBTQ children that “The church does not exclude them because she loves them deeply.” He did not address their petition to him, which was for the Church to stop excluding their children. His kind words were widely reported, but almost no press source reported that his words were so misleading they were, practically speaking, a lie.
  • Misleading: Last October, following the release of a documentary, press reported that Francis supports civil unions for gay couples, quoting him saying gay people deserve families. Nobody reported that he opposes gay couples raising children together. The Vatican later clarified that by “deserving families,” Francis meant that straight parents should not kick gay children out of their homes. He did not mean that gay couples ought to form families. Almost no one noticed the correction.

Mainstream press perspective on Francis is itself misleading

The Catholic Church is in crisis, shrinking in the western world so fast some analysts call the trend an implosion. In former monolithic Catholic strongholds like Ireland and Quebec, the Church no longer plays any significant cultural role. Around the world, from the United States, to Argentina and even Italy, Church attendance is falling fast, precipitously fast among young people.

Most of those young people cite harsh teachings and practices about LGBTQ people as one reason for seeking spiritual succor outside the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Francis and the Vatican have powerful motives to mislead about their deeply unpopular values. That’s understandable, but the Press ought to hold them to account.

It’s funny how mainstream news sources hold Evangelical leaders like Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson up to barely concealed scorn, usually reporting their anti-LGBTQ practices and teachings accurately. It’s funny, because Pope Francis’s theology is every bit as harsh, yet the Press is consistently kind to him, seeming visibly to cooperate to make his harsh, stigmatizing theology appear “kinder and gentler.”

Granted, they’re following his lead, but that doesn’t justify bad reporting.

Francis’s Church causes enormous pain and suffering

In the United States alone, where bishops are very conservative, LGBTQ people trying to be included in Catholic spiritual communities are regularly shamed and shunned.

The details include teenagers bullied at school by administrators, blackmailed into unwanted counseling, and forced into conversion therapy. LGBTQ and allied teachers and administrators are fired in witch hunts. Music leaders lose their jobs after decades of faithful service. LGBTQ support groups are forced out of Church-owned buildings. Every day, Catholic leaders teach and show people that queer folks are second class and deserving of punishment.

Around the world, the situation is even worse. Catholic bishops have incited anti-LGBTQ violence in places like Poland and Ghana. The Church is inarguably perpetuating and strengthening anti-LGBTQ sentiment. But the Press reported none of that yesterday.

It’s time for the Press paradigm to change

That story about gay civil unions is a story of oppression. It’s a story about a religious institution working to deny real civil marriage to same-sex couples, about an institution working to stop same-sex couples from raising children together.

You’d never know that browsing the Times or the Post — or almost any other major newspaper — because just like yesterday, the Press framed “both sides” of an issue that is deeply and factually one-sided. That paradigm has to change. It’s not the Press’s job to make excuses for a deeply toxic, unapologetically homophobic institution.

When the Press does that, they strengthen homophobia by normalizing it.

Mainstream press should be as hard-hitting as the LGBTQ press

The only hard-hitting press coverage I’ve seen of yesterday’s story about gay people being sinful comes from the Washington Blade, a newspaper that focuses on LGBTQ issues.

The Blade reached out to Juan Carlos Cruz, a gay Chilean man and a survivor of clergy sex abuse who met with Francis at the Vatican in 2018. Cruz had harsh words of truth for the Pope and the rest of the Vatican hierarchy. He compared the CDF to Tomás de Torquemada, who spearheaded the Spanish Inquisition from which the CDF is descended. Cruz called for immediate change in Vatican leadership:

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and especially its prefects are completely in a world of their own, away from people and trying to defend the indefensible. We see it in this quest to annihilate LGBT people, in the slowness with which the crimes of abuse are dealt with, their inhumanity in their awareness of people’s suffering so contrary to Pope Francis who I don’t know why he allows such inhumane and self-interested people in charge.

Bothsidesism is suppressing accurate news coverage

Francis will likely never hear Cruz’s angry, anguished words. He’ll likely never hear a chorus of outraged, anguished LGBTQ voices condemning him for his toxic, inhumane teachings and practices.

Most people will never hear those voices, because mainstream press won’t amplify them.

Laila Lalami observed in The Nation a couple years ago that bothsidesism “poisons America” by giving people too busy to thoroughly read news coverage a false impression of current events. When journalists bend over backwards to create balance where little exists, they do great harm.

That’s happening right now with Pope Francis, and it’s time for it to stop. It’s time for my nieces and nephews to stop finding excuses for the inexcusable dished up on silver platters. It’s time for them to feel deeply uncomfortable about the Church they support — so they can help reform it.

Knowledge is power.

It’s time for journalists to report on Francis as accurately — and as harshly — as they report on Evangelical leaders with beliefs almost identical to his.

Republished from Medium with permission of the author.

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Just Say No to the Right Wing’s Hip-Flask Hooch https://whosoever.org/just-say-no-to-the-right-wings-hip-flask-hooch/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=just-say-no-to-the-right-wings-hip-flask-hooch Sat, 13 Mar 2021 13:43:49 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=17104 Some years ago I served on a panel of LGBTQI community leaders for a local community college.  I was there as a representative of the queer spiritual community; among the panelists were a couple of businesspeople, a hardcore activist and the college’s police chief, a Latina lesbian.

The night went well, with lots of back-and-forth, good conversation and questions. We got down to the very last question of the night when a woman in the back of the room came to the microphone and asked: “What is it you people want, really?”

The police chief gave a simple answer that resonates with me still today: “I want to walk down the street in my neighborhood holding my girlfriend’s hand and nobody give a damn!”

Fast forward to 2021 and I believe we’ve arrived at that inflection point. Call it Inclusivity Junction, where the mainstream culture train has just arrived — and you know what’s not on the menu in the lounge? That toxic cocktail of white male supremacy and Christian exceptionalism that Beth Moore just pushed away and that Glennon Doyle’s 1.5 million-follower Instagram account fairs quite nicely without.

On that train, the Christian and political right keeps pouring that ages-old patriarchial exceptionalist hooch out of their hip flasks while their car is so far back that they can’t see the sign on the depot announcing where the rest of us have arrived. They might as well be in the last car of the Snowpiercer, completely unaware of just how poor in spirit they actually are.

And what’s playing on the TV in the lounge up front? Commercials where LGBTQI people are just… there. As in, unremarkably, so many comedies, dramas and movies we’re just part of the cast of characters in whatever story is being told. Our revolution has arrived, and it was in fact quite televised. Netflix and equality, anyone?

We’re also the CEOs of major companies. We’re all over the military, within all ranks and branches. We’re among the theologians in the progressive wing of the Christian faith — without being viewed solely through the lens of our queer identity. We’re in professional sports of all kinds. We’ve already become so unremarkable that it barely registered when the U.S. Congress approved the nation’s first out gay (and quite openly, happily married) Secretary of Transportation.

Not to understate the real difficulties facing the transgender community right now; they remain vast, deep and too often deadly. But I lay all of it at the feet of the folks in the Ignorance Class cars of the culture train — and eventually even they will have to de-board and sit in the same depot with the rest of us and look around and realize that there aren’t any scapegoats left. Perhaps there will be mirrors in the gift shop.

Meanwhile, we LGBTQI folks (and our allies) have enjoyed riding in the car with the panoramic view because we’ve faced life with eyes wide open, teaching the community around us how to live and survive for a long time.

Need good fashion sense? Come to us. Need openness and creativity around sexual practices? Come to us. Need a hot and well-attended party? Come to us. Need gender definitions blown up and re-written? Come to us. Need to understand what it really takes to be married? Come to us. Need to learn what affirming and progressive theology is all about? Come to us. Need to learn how to die with dignity despite being rejected by family and the community at large? Come to us. Need to learn how to survive and thrive during a pandemic? Come to us.

In other words, we’ve fought many of life’s worst challenges as a regular feature of our existence. We know how to paddle the canoe while being buffeted by the twin waves of patriarchy and Christian exceptionalism caused by a political/religious right wing that still gleefully ignores the “No Wake” signs posted by our society’s more civilized members.

Do you disagree? Then tell me this:

Who is gunning down black men in the streets? Who are the authors of the voter-suppression bills surfacing in our statehouses? Who makes sure women are paid 70 cents on the dollar — and still far too often demonized as man-hating (probably lesbians), angry (especially if you’re Black) or just plain hysterical if they stand up for their own equality?

Tell me: Who stormed the U.S. Capitol? And who blessed the ones who did? And who is now trying to explain it away, minimize it, or just plain excuse it in the name of “healing” and “unity”?

Who is telling us that gender confirmation surgery is mutilation? Who is telling us the state should have the right to decide what medical procedures a woman may or may not have?

Who is now telling us that COVID-19 is a dark-state plot to take over our lives, that we don’t actually need to do anything to protect ourselves, and that this pandemic will eventually blow over like a common cold? Who is now characterizing everything that has been done to fight the pandemic as a scheme to rob you of your individual rights and God-given liberty? Who is now accusing us all of simply overreacting?

We know who they are, and we recognize that smell on their breath: It’s that patriarchal exceptionalist hip-flask hooch. And like a lot of hillbilly hooch, if you let too much of it into your life you’re flirting with blindness.

For the rest of us who may enjoy a nice normal (perhaps bottomless) mimosa with our Sunday brunch, it is of course foolish not to queue up for the vaccine. It is foolish not to ask our doctors all the questions, foolish not to stay informed, and foolish not to protect ourselves, our families, our friends and society.

Again, our people already know what it’s like to hear CDC safety precautions like a dog whistle calling us back to safety. We’ve been wearing condoms for decades, so a mask is hardly an imposition. (And just for the record, the HIV pandemic is not over yet… It’s just well-managed.)

Due to COVID-19 there are more than 500,000 people dead in the United States — 17,000 in my home state of Georgia alone. There are still 1,000 people a dying daily. Once again, I find myself at far too many funerals; I don’t like that particular familiarity.

And this is to say nothing of what COVID-19 does to its survivors over the long haul. It’s a truly nasty virus. Now that there are three equally good vaccines available, please get one of them. It’s such a simple thing that I truly struggle to understand how some might regard it as a choice. How many must die before we’re all convinced?

People need to get vaccinated, wear masks, socially distance themselves, avoid large public indoor gatherings, wash their hands, not pick their noses (okay that last one is from me) — and this pandemic will ease so much sooner than if we had kept fighting the paper tiger of “creeping socialism.” (Spoiler: If you get real close to that tiger, it smells like that hip-flask hooch.)

Seriously, no one’s actual rights are being trampled here.

In fact, everything I’ve said about this is truly a moral imperative. It’s called following the commandment of Jesus when he said:

Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples — when they see the love you have for each other.

I think my friend the Rev. Dr. Delman Coates said it best:

We are waiting on God to change our circumstances. Meanwhile, God is using our circumstances to change us.

In conclusion: I had to come on strong in this article because I’m tired of all the faux swagger from people who swear they aren’t going to get the vaccination for one reason or another — especially coming from the evangelical religious right. Did they not see their White House poster boy Mike Pence get the jab? He was practically first in line. (I’m also thinking he secretly adores a brunch mimosa.)

So don’t drink the hip-flask hooch; don’t risk being blinded to what’s actually happening; don’t fall for the anti-hero in this particular story. Are side effects from the vaccine possible? Yes; I’ve actually experienced them myself. But they’re also quite limited and rare. Would I subject myself to them again? Absolutely; it beats the alternative.

Now, why did I start off by talking about equality and inclusion and end up urging everyone to follow CDC guidance and get vaccinated? Because all the talk tracks I’m hearing that oppose all this public-health common sense are old tapes I’ve been hearing for decades from the Neanderthal car of the culture train. They’re the mutterings of the same sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigots who have kept women’s pay off-par for generations.

Whether you live or die is of the utmost importance to me — to all of us. So my question for the LGBTQIA community today is this: Will we step up and teach our world how to live with dignity, honor and unconditional love? Or will we flirt with cultural and political blindness by ordering what the patriarchal exceptionalists at the end of the bar are having?

I think I know what I’m giving up for Lent. How about you?

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Lessons I Hope We’ve Learned Over the Decades, 2021 Edition https://whosoever.org/lessons-i-hope-weve-learned-over-the-decades-2021-edition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lessons-i-hope-weve-learned-over-the-decades-2021-edition Sun, 28 Feb 2021 14:06:40 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=16758 Let’s review what we’ve learned as we face 2021.

 The moveable middle is shrinking. This is both good and bad news. It means that more people are sympathetic with causes for equality, while it also means that others are stuck in the extremist right-wing and more immovable.

We thus must recognize that there are some we cannot reach and that it’s not our fault or personal responsibility when we don’t.

For most of these the best we can do is marginalize them societally by laws and practices that support the world as we want it to be and live our lives as models of what should be. For many nice people that is a hard lesson to accept.

It also means that we need to encourage and strengthen those who are already with us. As the old preacher said, “We’ve got to preach to the choir because so many of them aren’t singing.”

There is little need to listen more closely to right-wingers (especially members of the previous president’s cult).

It is more often a waste of time that keeps us from doing what is effective. We know what they believe and they have nothing new to say.

If anyone finds something new, let us all know, but the odds are on the bet that we’ve heard it all before and that it’s been answered before. That means hardly any new mean, self-centered, hypocritical things they do should surprise us.

For them there’s no bottom just as there was nothing too low for their hero, the previous president. Expect the worst and hope to be surprised because upping the outrageousness each time gets more of the attention they desperately need from media, both mainstream and social. Doing so is a practice perfected by Westboro Baptist Church.

When right-wingers claim liberals don’t listen or don’t understand them, they’re saying that until you agree with them they won’t count it as listening or understanding them. Baloney.

Most of us understand them and couldn’t disagree more. We, in fact, disagree vehemently because we understand them.

So, do not expect more listening to them to change their view about you not understanding them.

Remember that their use of this tactic is a means of control used by abusers to manipulate the abused, one that is often internalized by the abused to blame themselves. Essentially, it is your fault, “If you just understood him better, we’d get along.”

Don’t buy into any of it.

When they say liberals talk down to them, right-wingers mean that liberals just insist on using facts and careful, peaceful language. Pro-equality people, liberals, will be accused of talking down to right-wingers until liberals agree completely with them.

And, by the way, no one talks down more to those they disagree with or uses labels to put down those who disagree than right-wingers. Examples abound.

The current right-wing mindset is not based on reason, rationality, or logic. It is about supporting their prejudices and power by any means possible.

The more that liberal people argue as if reason and presenting facts will work, the more they’ll be accused of talking down to them. Right-wingers are not caught up in their ideology because they’re stupid or just don’t understand something you have to tell them – they are caught up in something like the comfort of a cult that has teachings that support their prejudices and fears.

Cults are not rational enterprises. They attract people who have other deep emotional and psychological issues. They function as addictions, and their members’ responses sound like those of the non-recovering addict who blames everyone else and needs to protect their stash.

That means arguments that challenge their beliefs and anything that challenges their suppliers threatens their very beings and what they’ve based their lives upon. It’s difficult to argue someone out of a cult.

Right-wingers will lie, reject anyone who points out that they’re lying, and defend their heroes no matter what they do – unless, maybe, its same-sex relations with children.

We have seen this with the previous guy’s presidential cult. Even he knew that his followers would continue with him even if he shot someone on New York’s Fifth Avenue.

Right-wingers love to play the victim role – no matter how much they’re in power, they will always talk like a persecuted minority. There’s a long history of playing the martyr and raising any casualties of their beliefs to the status of martyr.

They count on that act raising more liberal guilt. And liberals are really good about thinking it’s their own fault (something they did or didn’t do or didn’t do enough of). Many of the analyses liberals promote sound like excuses that abused spouses give for why their abusers don’t change.

And, again, doing that blames the abused.

Right-wing religion supports all of this if it makes right-wing religionists winners. Look at their view of the end times which includes their salivating about the violent, vengeful destruction of their enemies.

The key to right-wing religion is experiencing and seeking the high of righteousness, and that means winning at all costs. Those wins are how they renew that high. That’s why they’re so ruthlessly sought after.

Political activity and supporting anyone who promises that high of righteousness are not add-ons in their lives. They become essential ways of finding meaning, self-love, attention, and worth when society around them looks as if it wants to take all that away.

The leaders of the Republican Party who dominate it are not dumb or lacking in some understanding of democracy. They have shown again and again that they know how to use the minds of their cult members and how to con liberals to get their oligarchic ways.

One of the skills of an addict who is not in recovery is the ability to con others. By the questions asked and the claims made, they can sound sincere and convincing, and they know how to turn those around them into enablers by getting others to play the games they invent.

Linguist George Lakoff for the last twenty years is still the best analyst of what needs to be done and why it’s not based on so much that liberal people have used because they don’t understand how the mind works.

Though he gathered attention for his writing in the previous decade, few seemed to follow through, and the old guard, the entrenched, looked on with skepticism because he was challenging the established and lucrative approaches of what economist Paul Krugman calls some “very serious people.”

It’s past time to read more of George Lakoff. His approach still works well for me and seems even more valuable in 2021 after over three decades of an activism for equality that’s taught me these lessons.

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Reclaiming Our Baptism, Remembering Who We Are https://whosoever.org/reclaiming-our-baptism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reclaiming-our-baptism Sat, 27 Feb 2021 13:00:02 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=16562 One of the features of being in foster care for many, especially in the ’70s and ’80s, was there was no contact with the birth family to be had. Depending on family circumstances, that can be a good or bad thing.

But the result is that one’s early childhood and life story is a bit of a mystery. I never knew my birth last name until I was in high school. I had no photos and no stories of any time before I was five years old. It’s like being an alien who just gets transplanted into our world, I came from nowhere.

But given that in foster care, the one consistent family I had was my life in the church — largely Lutheran churches — growing up, I knew of the importance of baptism. It comes up in Lutheran churches as they often recite Martin Luther’s charge to “remember one’s baptism.”

But like much of my early childhood, that was a mystery as well. I didn’t remember my baptism. In fact, I had no evidence about whether I had been baptized or not. So, in 1983, at the age of 11, I spoke to the then interim minister at First Presbyterian Church in Miles City to see if I could be baptized.

The answer of course was yes and around Halloween I was baptized. I remember almost everything about the event itself as I said the words affirming my faith in front of the congregation.

It’s telling for me, that 1983 was also the year of my adoption to my adoptive dad, Clark Welch. Thus, I got a new last name as I was adopted into his family at the same time that through the waters of baptism I was formally adopted into the life of the church.

‘You can’t be Christian and gay’

Later, as an adult, I did connect with my birth family and discovered that I had never been baptized until that moment in 1983. But the significance of the event itself grew on me as I got older.

Because when I was in college, I underwent a crisis of faith, partly brought on by the questions and doubts many young adults experience about their faith. Partly brought on by the fact that I was coming out of the closet as gay.

For both reasons, I was told by many well-meaning Christians that I was not a Christian. That I couldn’t be gay and Christian. That I couldn’t raise certain questions and entertain certain doubts and still call myself a Christian. On the list of propositional claims, some hold about Christianity, I came up short.

And yet, for whatever intuitive reasons I had, I did not believe them.

A central part of this was my experience in an open and affirming Lutheran campus ministry at the University of Montana, and I have related that story to many in the past.

Partly it was the faith given to me in my childhood of God’s love and acceptance of me, which was stronger than any doubts I was wrestling with and stronger than any worries in coming out.

But I think in the end it was the fact that I was baptized. The memory of my baptism was key because it told me who I am, a part of the church, a child of God, a Christian. That is, my fundamental identity in faith had been secured at that moment in time.

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:27)

For LGBTQ Christians, for doubters, for anyone who has been told that they don’t measure up to the standards of being a Christian, remembering our baptism takes on new significance.

Set free by baptism

Baptism is a counter-story. The story in society says we must prove our faith, we must believe in this list of things, we must vote a certain way, our families must look like this or that, our social and cultural obligations require this or that of us, whether those obligations are good or not.

Some of us have experienced them as not always good at all.

But hear the good news:

But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian. (Galatians 3:25)

I’d suggest that any story that tries to rob of us of our faith is a disciplinarian, that is it seeks a kind of discipline and set of practices that mirrors the values of a given community.

But saving faith tells us a different story:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water[s] of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4)

To trust in God’s goodness is to trust that as Paul writes, we are adopted into faith and that this Is an adoption that cannot be revoked. We can’t be written out of the will.

As an adoptee this matters to me.

But to the task of remembering my baptism, I feel as if I have a distinct advantage. Because as my story indicates, I literally do remember my baptism.

But for traditions that practice infant baptism, including the ELCA and the UCC, what could that mean?

It certainly means that you did not choose your baptism.

As Alexander Campbell, founder of the Disciples of Christ, writes:

Baptism is a sort of embodiment of the Gospel, and a solemn expression of it all in a single act. In baptism we are passive in everything.

Or as Martin Luther writes:

I know full well that I have not a single work which is pure, but I am baptized, and through my baptism, God cannot lie, has bound himself in a covenant with me.

Now, remembering one’s baptism does not mean one literally remembers the event. It means we hold on to this story as ours, never letting competing stories diminish who we are in God.

I remember a Lutheran minister who when asked about remembrance said: When you can, watch another’s baptism. Make sure you see it happen, listen to the words of baptism said over a child or an adult, see them as the water washed over them and they are named anew.

That is, we can encourage each other in our faith. It could be that an infant baptism helps you remember what transpired for you as you claim your identity in Christ.

Therefore finding a congregation that loves and accepts you fully as you are, becomes so important. It encourages us to claim who we are in Christ.

And that could be one way of thinking of Jesus’ baptism. He sets the example; he joins in solidarity with all of us who would claim our adoption.

That solidarity takes on new meaning when one considers John the Baptist’s call in Mark 1:4:

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

It’s not that Mark believes that Jesus sinned, but rather for Jesus he knows what sin does to the community.

If we needed a reminder of that sin, we were just reminded of it in the events that happened in our nation’s capital January 6th. where whole groups of Americans couldn’t imagine sharing a common life and world together. Many of those who claim the term Christian are among this lot as they justified their violence.

The church and our country need repentance. As Reinhold Niebuhr writes:

Ideally the church is a community who know themselves to be “forgiven sinners.”

This ideal should make for humility. But the long history of religious self-righteousness reveals that religious experience is more effective in inducing repentance for deviation from common standards than in in inducing repentance for the hatred, bigotry, and prejudice involved in the common standards of race and nation, or church.

Rather than bringing forth the fruits of repentance for shortcomings as judged by the transcendent God, perhaps human selfhood in its collective form constitutionally is unable to imagine any higher value than the common value of its devotion.

Jesus envisions something different as he took ordinary elements, of bread, of cup, of water, signaling God’s good intents towards us, even when we don’t express that to one another near enough.

They become sacraments because we follow the example of Jesus and share these elements. We enact the beloved community even when the news says otherwise.

The beloved community that shares in food and drink, that through the waters brings in those who would be rejected by the various divisions that mark our world, into one body

My prayer is that our baptism reminds us of the shared world God would have for all of us. Amen.

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Becoming Bodies of Love https://whosoever.org/becoming-bodies-of-love/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=becoming-bodies-of-love Wed, 24 Feb 2021 05:00:19 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=21768 “I am soft and luscious… “

I watched an amazing YouTube video a few years ago made by an Australian woman named Taryn Brumfitt who went out onto the street to ask other women about what they thought of their bodies. Woman after woman stared into the camera and described how much they hated their bodies. “I need to lose some weight,” one remarked, while several described their bodies in one word, “Disgusting.”

As a child, growing up in the Southern Baptist tradition, that was the word I was trained to use to describe my body: Disgusting. You see, in Southern Baptist theology, this body is not our home. In fact, this body is to be seen as the enemy, because it is this bodily form that holds us here, in this foreign land, and keeps us from ascending spiritually into our eternal heavenly home with God.

During my childhood, I was taught that the body was evil — full of sin and lusts and other impure thoughts and actions. Without this body, I was told, we would not be the filthy, awful sinners that we are because it is with our bodies that we give in to temptations that cause us to defile ourselves. Needless to say, I internalized that lesson fully. I have always found my body to be disgusting and I have always felt like an alien inhabiting some ill-fitting flesh suit that I can’t wait to shed.

Of course, nobody told me that this wasn’t actually something that Jesus had actually said. In fact, this idea, that our body and our spirits are separate — and not equal — comes from the Greek philosopher Plato. He believed that spirit and matter were dire enemies and the two could not exist together for long.

Jesus, on the other hand, believed no such thing. The proof is in all of the healing stories in the Bible where Jesus heals both the body and the spirit of those he touched. If the body were an intrinsically bad thing, why would Jesus heal it? Why not just tell those ill people to buck up? After all, if they’re sick they’ll be out of those useless shells soon enough and home with God.

But, no, to Jesus the body is important. Jesus knew what A Course in Miracles would tell us thousands of years later: “The body is the means by which God’s [Children return] to sanity.” Our ego thinks this body is the cradle of safety and it proves it by, paradoxically, pointing to its inherent impermanence. If we think bodies are all we are, we’ll fight to keep them, no matter what. Jesus, though, understood the correct use of the body — to bring us into our right mind, into alignment with the heaven that exists inside of us in the state of our true, Divine Self.

In Luke 13, Jesus illustrates this contrast. Some Pharisees come to warn him that King Herod, who has already beheaded his cousin John the Baptist, is out for Jesus’ blood as well. Jesus has a warning for Herod in return: “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.'”

What Jesus is saying is all those forces of the world — all that egoic energy around us that seeks to bring us out of our right, undivided mind into dualistic thoughts of “us vs. them” — have no power over us when we’re living fully as our true, Divine Self. There are no foxes — no egos — no matter how powerful, cunning or vicious they may seem to be — that can stop us from our work to bring ourselves back to the sanity of oneness and, in doing so, ending the separation we feel in the world.

Jesus is inviting us to use our bodies to live fully, love wastefully, and be about the work of healing the world of its ego-driven sicknesses of greed, hatred and injustice. We do that by becoming chickens — that mother hen that Jesus imagines himself to be — offering safety and security under his sheltering wings of Love — which is the only place true safety is found.

This is the purpose of our bodies — to live in our right minds that can offer shelter and be a source of redemption, love, and grace to everyone we meet. This world of ego is not our home — we are just visitors in the world of duality. When we can spread the wings of our true, Divine Self in the world through our bodies — then we understand we are all one and we can invite everyone to come on up to the house.

Enemies of the cross of Christ

Not everyone will appreciate our outspread chicken wings, however. That’s what the apostle Paul is telling the members of that early community in Philippi. There are some people he calls “enemies of the cross of Christ.” Now, it’s easy for us to start picking out the people we think are those enemies, whether they’re politicians, strangers, or even family members.

But, when we examine this phrase in Greek, what Paul is really saying here is that there are some whose minds remain closed to the “cross of Christ” — which in a metaphysical sense really means they are simply unwilling to let go of their ego and embrace their true, Divine Self. He goes on to describe what we all act like when we are caught up in ego — we are driven by our bellies, our hunger for the things of this world, its glory, its fame, its rich food and wealth.

We are “enemies of the cross of Christ” whenever we are living out of our ego instead of our true, Divine Self. And yes, it’s true, we destroy ourselves when we live from that place. It’s inevitable, because the ego is never satisfied.

“Our citizenship,” Paul writes in Philippians 3, “is in heaven.” Now, that doesn’t mean we’re not also citizens in this world. We have to go to work and pay the bills and feed our pets and make our beds and wash our dishes, at least once in a while.

But, when we claim that our true citizenship is in heaven, while living here in this ego-based realm, we’ve already accepted that invitation to come on up to the house, because now we realize that heaven is not some other place — it’s right here, already present in, through, and among us.  When we realize this, Paul says, God “will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory.”

This is what the Course means when it says the body is a means to return to our sanity. When we can fully incarnate as a spiritual human being, we realize that our body and God’s body are one and the same. The same Greek word, soma, is used to describe both our body and God’s body. That means that when we return to our sanity — the knowledge of who we truly are as innocent beings — God can use this body to communicate love and joy in the world. Our “body of humiliation” comes when we forget that this is the right use of our body and instead follow the ego.

Our transformation doesn’t require anyone to get on a cross and shed their blood. We are redeemed by this one miracle — that shift in perception that makes us realize that within this walking, talking, belching, and farting mass of molecules, we are the whole universe because, in Reality, there is only one of us here.

Oh, but the ego wants redemption to be about struggle and sacrifice. And oh, how we love to tell our stories of challenge. They all start the same: We were just living our lives like normal and then, bam, somebody lost a job, the car broke down, the parents got divorced, a pandemic started — and seemed to have no end. Then, we tell the story of how we persevered and overcame those obstacles and emerged into an even better life.

Here’s the thing, though: Our story is everyone’s story, but the ego doesn’t want to hear that. We’ve all started out trapped in these ego bodies and we all have the means to recognize the divinity within if we’re willing to receive the miracle. We don’t like it when we’re told that our suffering is not special, because our ego says we are special, especially in our suffering.

“What I had to overcome was harder than what someone else had to overcome,” we say. “Some people just have it easy.” But, like Jesus says, we are just like Jerusalem. We kill every messenger who comes to us bearing the good news that we are not all separate egos, but one divine creation.

As the Course says, we resist this good news of redemption because if we actually did overcome our fear of transcending our ego we would be compelled “to answer [God’s] call and leap into Heaven.” The ego hates this idea because the ego believes that message denies the mental, physical and spiritual struggles that we all encounter in these bodies. So, we fight back because if we acknowledge our true citizenship is in heaven, then we lose our identity in this hell we’ve created with our ego and these bodies.

The Holy, though, is tirelessly giving us the invitation to step out of this ego world, to recognize that heaven is already within us and come on up to the house.

“I am soft and luscious”

At the end of the video where all those women were describing their bodies as overweight and disgusting, there is one woman who looks straight into the camera and describes her body as “soft and luscious.” It was hard to understand her at first because she slurred her words. You see this woman, who said her body was soft and luscious, had a body that was riddled with deformities that left her confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk or talk clearly.

Here, the one woman who had every reason in the world to hate the flesh suit that she had been given to endure for this physical life, instead found it soft and luscious. This is what it looks like to make right use of the body.

It’s not about what we look like or our abilities or disabilities. It’s about realizing that while we are in this body, our task is to remove all of the barriers to Love. This woman has done that. She knows, no matter what she looks like, she is “soft and luscious” because that’s what our true, Divine Self is — it is soft and luscious and all it knows how to do is Love and end separation.

The Course says when we realize this the body becomes holy because we know that we are here to use it to embody love for ourselves and others. This was the point that videographer Brumfitt was trying to make. She talked about how she hated her own body many years before and — in an attempt to feel better about herself — she became a professional body builder. She sculpted what the world calls a “perfect body” — but, she says, even though she won competitions in body building, she was still dissatisfied with how she looked.

Brumfitt currently gives talks where she uses a picture of herself in a bodybuilding competition as her “Before” picture, and a picture of her now more curvaceous, and less toned, body as her “After” picture. She says that she’s realized, just as that woman in the wheelchair knew, that she was always beautiful — she was always soft and luscious — no matter how she looked on the outside.

Her film epitomizes what the Course calls us all to do — to use whatever body we’ve been given to reach out to our siblings and show them that they, too, are soft and luscious, because they were created in the soft and luscious mind of God and because that’s where we all continue to live in eternal unity. We are all citizens of this heaven.

Jesus, Paul and the Course all preach the same thing: We perceive our body as being one of “humiliation,” something to keep in check or under control. This is the ego’s ploy, to keep us addicted to its purpose for our life which is to “seek but do not find.” As bodies, we find a few things satisfying for a short time, but we’re always seeking the next thing outside of ourselves we think will bring us happiness.

Our bodies, though, are not meant for competition, but for connection and communication — to be constantly sending out signals of Love that allow all of us to find true safety, that place where no fear can exist. We are called to be that mother hen that draws others under the wing of our own true, divine Self so others can recognize that they, too, are divine chickens who are also called to offer the true safety of Love to the world.

We identify with whatever makes us feel safe, as the Course says, so I invite you to examine what makes you feel safe. Do you feel safest when you’re striving and competing out in the world, trying to secure some financial, romantic or other bodily security? Or, do you feel safest when you surrender to the unity of Love that assures us that if we use our body rightly, if we allow Spirit to put us in our right mind, everything we need in this bodily world and more will be drawn to us as we draw closer to those around us?

“Identify with love,” the Course says, “and you are safe. Identify with love, and you are home. Identify with love, and find your Self.” This is an invitation to “come on up to the house” — that heavenly place within each of us where we are all welcomed home — and we all get to say: “Oh, Yeah.”

Music for the journey

Sarah Jarosz performs the Tom Waits song, “Come On Up To The House”

Republished with permission of the author.

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Black Prism: We Are the Black History of the Future https://whosoever.org/black-prism-we-are-the-black-history-of-the-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=black-prism-we-are-the-black-history-of-the-future Sat, 20 Feb 2021 16:40:52 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=16287 Take all the colors of the rainbow, mix them together and what do you get? You get a very dark shade of brown you might as well call Black. This is metaphorical as well as literal when it comes to explaining the place of Black people in the vast tapestry of humanity.

Now we know that “race” as it applies to different physical genetic characteristics within the race Homo Sapiens is a misnomer. We are not different kinds of human beings. But based on our appearance, we can readily assume for most people what continent the stock of one’s heritage descends from.

For me, Africa is on my face. I am of the genotype from which all other genotypes descend.

Blackness is the mitochondrial mother of all of humanity. This is not cultural propaganda. This is science.

As humanity populated the globe less than half the time of our existence from our starting point on the equator, just as siblings can have just enough variance to be identified as different individuals, races or “genotypes” developed exactly like certain families to have certain physical characteristics like height, hair texture or a gapped smile which differentiates them from other families. It was like differing light waves, climates and available foods refracted the Black Prism, and all characteristics it comprised were given expression, just like a crystal does to white light.

Instead of embracing the beauty of our diversity and seeing one another as relatives, we decided to make our looks a fault line upon which to divide ourselves and judge one or the other as superior to the next, to exploit and engage in genocide. We are not different kinds of human beings; I repeat for emphasis.

Black and Gay as identities

So, what does it mean for me to be Black and Gay in a society which has marginalized and oppressed both identities? Why is Black History Month important to me and why do I still see it as necessary?

“Negro History Week” was founded by Carter G. Woodson in 1926, during the height of The Negro Renaissance Era, one full generation after slavery. My own grandparents were young children at that point in time.

Many people then had grandparents or great-grandparents who vividly remembered slavery days on first account, but by this point, we had Black colleges and universities, Black banks, and insurance companies, and thriving and prosperous all Black communities.

We were taking advantage of all opportunities available to us while still being lynched and shut out of the electorate and public accommodations in the South. This was all done by self-reliance. It was felt then that a narrative that respected and esteemed who we are and what we have come from was needed. This was nothing different than what the Jews did to preserve their legacy and lessons and esteem their cultural heritage with the Torah, Christians now refer to as the Old Testament.

50 years later, the Week was expanded to a month-long celebration in 1976.

Growing up with Black History Month

I was born in 1982, just six years later. I attended Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland. Most of my teachers were Black, and so Black History Month was a high-water mark moment in the scholastic year during my formative years.

It consisted of documentaries, movies, book reports, projects and discussions about a short-list roster of legendary Black Americans: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.

Year after year, it was mainly the same conversation as stale Christmas traditions can sometimes be. We would watch Roots, The Miniseries like we’d watch A Christmas Carol in December.

As a youngster, it would often fill me with anger and resentment at the atrocities and indignities my ancestors had to endure. What my parents wanted to instill in me was a pride in our resilience as a people and I picked that up too, but I never forgave how the luck of being born Black in this society would arrest the full experience and expression of their lives and doom them to an inherited life of unearned struggle.

I remember making a defiant decision that I would never accept that for myself. I am here by GOD’s decree, and everyone else is just going to have to deal with that. I was determined to make the problem all theirs and never mine. I had done nothing wrong for being born the way I looked at to whom my affections are directed, so therefore I would suffer no consequences so far as I could help it.

This has been my attitude since a child; maladjusted. No, I will never become comfortable and accept things the way that they are. This was the disposition I had taken upon discovering that my newly chosen state of Georgia had written into law an amendment robbing me of the hope of legal marriage the way that I would have it and have an equal right to have it like anyone else. Therefore, I went to war with my state as an activist with every ounce of power I could muster as an individual.

Where did I get the idea of being a problem to those who make themselves a problem to me? To those who would deny me enjoying all the rights and privileges deeded to me as an American?

We are the weapons

“The only weapon we have is our bodies; and we have to tuck them in places so wheels don’t turn,” said one Bayard Rustin, an early out and proud activist who suggested that we make ourselves into angelic troublemakers. He was the link transferring the method of nonviolent civil disobedience from Mahatma Gandhi to MLK, and this proved to be a very effective fighting style for a minority population not equipped to engage in physical combat with a hostile oppressor. We battled on the grounds of morality and justice because racism is the flawed concept that would find no leg to stand on in this contest.

When I felt the need to express myself as fiery with passion, being suspect for being gay would often subvert my personality and my energies. But then I could look to Little Richard who blew the status quo to pieces with his androgynous appearance and intense energy as he was giving birth to Rock and Roll. He was here by GOD’s decree and he was making the rest of us deal with him like a hurricane, a force of nature that comes only once a generation. The music scene was never the same in his wake, and it helped to stir the nation in rhythm toward integration.

As a writer, and poet, I could articulate the Black experience of my time as melodious as Langston Hughes. I could think and help raise the consciousness of anyone willing to spend a moment with my words like James Baldwin did and aid the necessary shift of the paradigm within our society.

I too have something to say. They were all Black and Gay like me. We are the rainbow in the Black Prism and have always been there.

This is why we have history. It is not just to enjoy great stories. It is a passing of the torch. Black History was never intended to end with those antiquated Black portraits of our fierce and proud ancestors who whisper to us today.

We are the Black History of the future. There is still more work to be done. Life still ain’t fair, and we should never accept that so long as we have breath in our lungs.

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An Old, New Way To Pray https://whosoever.org/an-old-new-way-to-pray/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=an-old-new-way-to-pray Wed, 17 Feb 2021 05:00:02 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=17150 Gamma, gamma, hey!

Neuroscientists who have been studying Buddhist monks and how meditation affects the brain since the early 1990s have made some pretty phenomenal discoveries over the decades. Meditation on subjects such as compassion, loving-kindness and even just following the breath, is shown to have incredible health benefits including slowing aging, decreasing feelings of anxiety, increasing concentration and attention span and minimizing self-centered, egoic thoughts.

As a kid growing up in the Southern Baptist tradition, I was taught that meditation was a gateway activity to Satanism. The reasoning went something like this: “If we just sit and open up our mind, then Satan can come in and fill that void, because suddenly, you’re no longer focusing on how Jesus died for your sins.” There are actual novels out there, written by Evangelical Christians, which I have read, that teach about the evils of meditation – not to mention that other Satanic gateway drug – yoga.

Of course, there are other practices out there that are meditation but we just don’t call it that, such as mindfulness, contemplation, chanting or awareness practices. Meditation isn’t just one thing – but encompasses many different practices all with the same goal, which is becoming aware of the thoughts we think and how, if we give them an inch, they’ll take a mile and lead us down an egoic road of miscreation.

That, of course, is enough proof for those in my tradition to ditch meditation in favor of prayer. Prayer, of course, is just another form of meditation – but our focus is often very different. Prayer, in the Christian sense, is most often used to ask for things, be they material, ethereal or spiritual. We go to God in prayer to ask for a new car, a good outcome to a challenging situation or to become a more patient, loving, kind and spiritual person.

There’s nothing wrong with that and it is part of what A Course in Miracles, in the Song of Prayer, calls “the ladder of prayer.” Praying for things is usually our “on ramp” to prayer. We begin our lives focused on what kind of goodies we can get in this world and so we often treat God as a cosmic vending machine where prayer goes in and stuff comes out.

We can move into that ethereal realm, too. As children we prayed for God to watch over us as we sleep. We prayed a blessing over our daily bread. We prayed for good grades or to be noticed by someone we liked. We also made spiritual supplications, praying to be made good boys and girls so our parents wouldn’t punish us and Santa would bring the goods in December.

These are all steps on the ladder of prayer, according to the Course, from lowest to highest:

1. Praying for material things, because in this bodily world we experience lack;

2. Praying for spiritual things – such as patience, humility, joy or peace, again, because, again, we think we lack these things;

3. Praying to love our enemies, because in this illusion we see others as separate from us, which means they can be against us or attack us in some way.

The next two steps involve praying for and with others. These steps take us higher because we’re beginning to realize that our separation is not real.

The highest form of prayer, though, is meditation. This is where we are no longer asking for anything, because we finally see, as the Course says, that “prayer is a stepping aside; a letting go, a quiet time of listening and loving. It … is a way of remembering your holiness.” If we are praying for any thing, any gift or any one, then we are in a state of separation – a place where we have forgotten who we truly are.

How do you think you manifested that Tesla, anyway?

This revelation that prayer for any other reason but to remember who we are – to give up any thought of our egoic self so that we can “be at one with Love,” as the Coursesays — didn’t set well with me. In fact, it brought up a lot of old Southern Baptist alarms, not just because it flew in the face of everything I had been taught about prayer, but because it appears to contradict the value of praying for and with others.

I think we can all see that praying for things, situations or better spiritual gifts can be selfish forms of prayer that the ego can easily hijack. We like to feel all spiritual making these kinds of supplications – and the Law of Attraction, when improperly used – can even make us think we’re super spiritual because our prayers “manifest” stuff, power or feelings of spiritual superiority. However, this is all evidence of the ego creeping in and perverting your prayer time.

This idea though, that praying for and with one another, while a higher form of prayer is still not its purest form, took me by surprise. Surely, we are to join with each other in prayer. Is that not a form of ending the separation? Well, yes, it is an early form, a stepping stone, to that ultimate goal. The flaw is that we’re still praying for specific things, situations and outcomes whenever we pray with and for one another.

In this place we’re still in the illusion’s belief system that prayer should produce the specific outcomes and manifestations that we’re expecting. In chapter 19 of the Course, we read these words: Everyone who ever tried to use prayer to ask for something has experienced what appears to be failure. The Bible emphasizes that all prayer is answered, and this is indeed true. The very fact that the Holy Spirit has been asked for anything will ensure a response. Yet it is equally certain that no response given by Him will ever be one that would increase fear.

I think this is the key. Most often, when we pray for things, situations and specific outcomes, our prayers are fear-based. We’re afraid things won’t work out as we want them to, then our ego takes a perceived lack of an answer as “proof” that this prayer stuff doesn’t work anyway so we should give up.

God always answers our prayers – we’re most often just not in the place where we can receive them yet. We’re still too busy looking at the world through the ego’s eyes – praying for things, attributes and specific outcomes and forgetting that as innocent, beloved Children of God there is nothing we need. Once we are aware of this ladder of prayer, though, we can choose again and experience the miracle of a new perspective – constantly answered prayers that invite us to see the world through the eyes of love and not the eyes of the ego’s fear.

That step of praying for and with others then turns out to be one of the most important things we can do. The Course, in that same chapter, says: You can no more pray for yourself alone than you can find joy for yourself alone. Prayer is the restatement of inclusion, directed by the Holy Spirit under the laws of God. Salvation is of your [siblings]. The Holy Spirit extends from your mind to [theirs], and answers you. You cannot hear the Voice for God in yourself alone, because you are not alone. And [God’s] answer is only for what you are.

Our prayers, whether they’re for things, attributes or specific outcomes to situations, are never answered in a vacuum. Those answers – even those things – come through other people. You can’t have a Tesla before it was invented by Elon Musk and put together by manufacturers using materials made by other people. Your dream house was constructed by many hands who gathered and formed the material and drew up the blueprints. Prayer is a communal activity and the answers we receive are a restatement of inclusion – an end to separation and a reminder of who we truly are.

The ego, of course, likes to contradict all of this and remind you that the car, the swimming pool and everything else you think you need is for you alone to enjoy and you alone brought them into your existence. This is why prayer for things, situations and outcomes is the lowest form of prayer because it can be so easily manipulated. That higher form of prayer – praying for and with others – is the gateway we need to go even higher, to that form of prayer that “asks nothing and receives everything,” or what the Apostle Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 calls, “praying without ceasing.”

Gamma, gamma, hey!

One of those studies on the Buddhist monks produced one amazing result: For the first time, researchers were able to detect that monks who had trained for many years in meditation were able not just to generate gamma brain waves, but to sustain them. Gamma waves happen to each of us whenever we have some manner of insight, or “ah ha” moment, like when we solve a puzzle or take a bit of delicious food. The monks could sustain those kinds of waves for up to a minute, which may not sound like much, but we mere mortals only experience gamma waves for about a fifth of a second.

If the Apostle Paul were here today, he’d use these monks as an example of praying without ceasing because they are able to reach an ongoing state of open, rich awareness in their daily lives – not just when they’re on their meditation cushion. Indeed, the research showed that these monks could maintain those gamma waves even as they slept. They truly do pray without ceasing.

Now, someone reading this may be able to achieve this altered state of consciousness and can produce those fairly constant gamma waves. For those of us who haven’t gotten there yet, there is hope. Because now we understand that prayer, when used as a vehicle for things, situations and specific outcomes is not how we remember who we are.  It’s okay to pray this way, but these types of prayer are our cosmic training wheels. As the Course says, again from The Song of Prayer: Prayer is tied up with learning until the goal of learning has been reached, which means we have to go through these stages of learning to reach the highest rung of prayer: meditation that focuses on love alone.

“Well,” you might be thinking, “how’s that gonna change the world?”

I’ll tell you. It changes the world because once you emerge from that state of gamma brainwave activity – and perhaps one day manage to keep it going for more than a fifth of a second – you change. Instead of looking out at the world and seeing things to have, situations to work out how you want or outcomes to be just so, you see a world where the only thing you want is for all of these seemingly disparate beings you encounter to realize their unity – their divinity – their absolute beauty and grandeur.

If that is what you see, how do you think you’ll act in the world? Instead of seeking to fulfill your own desires, because you are afraid of not having enough or being enough, you’ll seek ways to serve and bring so much love into this world that all you will encounter are those kinds of opportunities – because you know everything you will ever really need in this physical realm will arrive when you need it.

Jesus shows us how it’s done in one short scene from the first chapter of Mark that tells us he went to a deserted place to pray. That place Jesus went to was probably a physically desolate place, but that Greek word also denotes a place where there is nothing – a state of mind where we are empty of our ego. The word used for prayer can mean “supplication” but it also means “to worship.”

Jesus is showing us that true prayer – that top of the rung – recognizes that this world is illusion and invites us to go beyond it, into the nothingness of God’s realm and to just worship – or be present there – instead of asking for specific things or outcomes. “That nothingness,” the Course says, “becomes the altar of God. It disappears in God. Herein lies the power of prayer. It asks nothing and receives everything.”

This place of nothingness is what our ego fears the most because in this place it can no longer exist. This is the place where WE truly exist though, which is why we can share this type of prayer with others, because this field of spirit is their true, divine, egoless home as well. This is the field out beyond right and wrong that the Muslim mystic poet Rumi invites us to meet him in.

Guess what happens when we go to that place? Prayers are answered, because we have ended the separation and dispelled fear. The Course, again from The Song of Prayer, says: Perhaps the specific form of resolution for a specific problem will occur to either of you; it does not matter which. Perhaps it will reach both, if you are genuinely attuned to one another. It will come because you have realized that Christ is in both of you. That is its only truth.

Jesus shows us how to put this into practice. After his meditation, he says to his disciples: “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”

In meditation, Jesus remembers who he is and he remembers why he came here and when he arises – that message is still within him – a constant prayer that he then puts into action by doing what he came to do. We are here to do what we are all called to do. We are all called to pray without ceasing – to climb that ladder of prayer that leads us away from praying for the temporary goodies of the world and instead sets our sights on the eternal riches of God’s realm.

I invite you to engage in this highest form of prayer as often as you can and then go into the world to proclaim and become the message of love, for that is what we came here to do.

Republished with permission of the author.

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It’s Just Hard to Admit That We Don’t Have Answers — Even When We Don’t https://whosoever.org/its-just-hard-to-admit-that-we-dont-have-answers-even-when-we-dont/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=its-just-hard-to-admit-that-we-dont-have-answers-even-when-we-dont Sat, 13 Feb 2021 15:21:40 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=15773 There’s something human beings possess that’s proven awfully important for progress in science and technology, and even for advancing human cultures. It’s the need to understand, to discover answers to the questions we ask, and to continue to ferret them out in the belief that if we can just understand, then our species will be able to conquer everything that confronts us.

If it weren’t for that impulse — maybe an innate need — to understand, who knows where we’d be? It’s taken generations of people who’ve sought answers, after all, to get to where we are today.

Often that’s fueled by a basic desire to survive — to preserve our species by finding a new vaccine or a cure for a deadly disease, for example. At times it’s led us to new and improved ideas that fuel more inclusive ways to understand societal concepts such as equality. At other times it’s made our war machines more deadly.

But the results of those attempts to understand have also taken longer to gain wide acceptance because new understandings have come up that threaten the comfort of those who feel that they’ve already understood, that it’s settled. Refusing to accept that what we’ve understood and built our lives and institutions on is no longer the final truth, has historically been another human response. And it’s meant that much of science, morality, theology, and philosophy has been hindered, stifled, and even condemned.

Famously, Galileo’s challenge to the institutionally accepted science of the 16th century with his heliocentric and Copernican astronomy was condemned by the established Church as “foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical” in 1615. In 1992, that condemnation was recognized by the Papacy as an error. For some reason Church leaders felt that it was safe enough over 300 years later to admit that established Truth needed adjustment.

To believe that one knows the Truth in some absolute and unchanging form that’s unquestionable can be comforting. It enables one to feel safe and secure just because they know.

It also sees new attempts to understand as threats to that comfort and security, and reacts in “Truth”-protecting and self-protecting responses.

The two institutions worldwide throughout history that have most feared new knowledge as threatening are the governmental and the religious. With a few exceptions, neither has been able to admit that they don’t have all the answers or that new understandings should be welcomed with open arms.

That’s because it’s been both internally comforting and self-protecting in any era for governments and dominant religions to believe, propagate, and enforce by any means possible, that their version of government or religion is the final, absolute way it should always be. Neither has been good at living as if they’re in merely one passing historical moment that will be subject to the change that’s common throughout the larger timeline of history.

Neither institution has been comfortable with the possibility of living in ambiguity, for that is a difficult status for individual human beings to live in as well. We don’t want to say that we don’t know, that our ideas are subject to change, or, even worse, that we might never know the answers – especially to some of the bigger questions of existence.

To bolster established understanding, it’s common to retreat further into the comfort that we can actually protectively control reality around us with either/or thinking. To embrace nuance would mean that more and deeper thinking is required and that those easy answers we rely upon aren’t as helpful as we’d hoped.

It’s no surprise, then, that addictive thinking is fixed and controlling through either/or dualisms. Or that feminist scholars have pointed out that that kind of dualism is a mark of patriarchal thinking.

“Real men” in our culture are supposed to know, supposed to have all the answers, and are taught to be uncomfortable with ambiguity. And the corresponding definition of a leader as a male who convinces us that he has all the answers and will act swiftly, without taking time to weigh alternatives.

Transgender people embody the possibility that either/or categories such as male and female are more social constructs than fixed identities tied to genitals or tired gender roles. And they can, in our society today, end up as casualties of a desperation to play it safe and not upset ourselves by doubling down on unambiguous, absolutist dualistic thinking about gender that sounds like other facile dualisms that have been used to control the world such as: “East is East and West is West and never the ‘twain shall meet.”

I’m thankful for thinkers who are willing to throw aside certainty to step into the ambiguities of life. They’ve opened new possibilities for all of us.

I’m also thankful for those who’ve reminded us that at times we must live in terms of ambiguity – that there are things we don’t know, that there are possibilities yet to be explored.

There are times when we must choose to bet our lives on what we know so far — taking the word of the best and preponderance of science to choose to be vaccinated, for example. There’s a place for experts who have given their lives to study their fields.

And yet there are also times to find a comfortable place among the ambiguities of life.

You’d think that a religious studies professor who has studied, written about, and taught the world’s religions for their entire career would be easily able to answer the question: what is the afterlife like, for example. And I wish I could.

But I can’t, and so must live comfortably in ambiguity. When students asked me such questions, I reminded them that I’m a historian by training and that there’s much more to reality than what I know or have experienced.

But I know that whatever afterlife is like, it’s not my motivation for celebrating and promoting love, compassion, justice, and equality in this world. I don’t do good because I’m afraid of punishment if I don’t.

For me, I can’t bet my life on what I don’t know, and I’m fine living in that ambiguity. There are others who work for answers to such theological and philosophical questions, and I leave that to them and read what they come up with.

But there are personal and societal dangers in thinking we have the absolute truth about such things. Non-addictive religion is a journey, not a set tour with an itinerary.

And I’m convinced that one of the great challenges we have as human beings is the ability to admit that we don’t know — searching for and discovering answers when we can, while living in ambiguity while we do.

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Good Queer Trouble: 3 Black Leaders in the Movement for Inclusion in the Church https://whosoever.org/good-queer-trouble-3-black-leaders-in-the-movement-for-inclusion-in-the-church/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=good-queer-trouble-3-black-leaders-in-the-movement-for-inclusion-in-the-church Sat, 06 Feb 2021 17:39:57 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=15750 Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder

When Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder participated in President Joe Biden’s inaugural prayer service on January 21, 2021, it wasn’t her first Presidential engagement, but it still made history: Being one of five openly LGBTQ clergy there made it the queerest inaugural prayer service ever.

Flunder, who was also the keynote speaker at the White House’s 2014 World AIDS Day observance, has been advocating for decades for LGBTQ inclusion in the church, getting into what the late civil rights leader John Lewis famously called “good trouble.”

Her story and those of other Black LGBTQ spiritual leaders are well preserved as part of a larger biographical index on the LGBTQ Religious Archives Network website. Here’s a snapshot of just three of those stories, starting with Flunder’s.

Founding and Senior Pastor of City of Refuge United Church of Christ and Presiding Bishop of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, Flunder is a singer, third-generation preacher and native San Franciscan who began ministering to people with HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and went on to pursue a lifelong ministry of radical inclusivity.

Flunder began singing and recording in 1984 with Walter Hawkins and the Love Center Choir and was later ordained by Hawkins. In 1986 she began ministering to people with HIV/AIDS and founded the Hazard-Ashley House, Walker House and Restoration House in response to the epidemic. In 1991 she founded City of Refuge UCC, whose Transcendence Gospel Choir was the first all-transgender choir in the United States.

Founded in 1999, the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries grew out of Flunder’s church-planting efforts and has grown into a “multi-denominational group of primarily African-American Christian leaders and laity representing churches and faith-based organizations from the USA, Africa and Mexico.”

Flunder earned a certificate of ministry studies and master of arts from the Pacific School of Religion (which named her a distinguished alumnus in 2013) and a doctor of ministry degree from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. She was named a trustee of the Starr King School for the Ministry in 2015 and has served on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, was a keynote speaker at the 2014 White House observance of World AIDS Day, and was one of five LGBTQ faith leaders invited to participate in President Joe Biden’s inaugural prayer service in January 2021.

After her sexual orientation sparked controversy when she was a guest speaker at the American Baptist College’s 2015 Garnett-Nabrit Lecture Series, Flunder said that the Black church represented “one of the last bastions of power that a lot of my brothers feel like they have, and I represent everything that flies in the face of it. I am a woman. I am woman clergy and I’m a same-gender-loving woman.”

Rev. Peter Gomes

Harvard University chaplain and professor Rev. Peter Gomes, an American Baptist minister who was named “one of the great preachers of our generation” by Harvard President Drew Faust and “one of the seven most distinguished preachers in America” by Time magazine, made waves in 1991 when he came out publicly by declaring himself “a Christian who happens as well to be gay.”

A lifelong conservative who gave the benediction at Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration and preached a sermon at the National Cathedral for George H.W. Bush’s inauguration, Gomes’ coming-out was in response to the publication of an entire 56-page issue of Peninsula, a conservative Harvard campus magazine, devoted exclusively to a critique of homosexuality.

“I now have an unambiguous vocation — a mission — to address the religious causes and roots of homophobia,” he told the Washington Post. “I will devote the rest of my life to addressing the ‘religious case’ against gays.”

Gomes went on to publish The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Heart and Mind, The Good Life: Truths That Last in Times of Need, and The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What’s So Good About the Good News.

The recipient of 39 honorary degrees, Gomes was an Honorary Fellow of Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge, England, where the Gomes Lectureship was established in his name, and he received the Preston N. Williams Black Alumni/ae Award from Harvard Divinity School in 2006. From 1974 until his death in 2011 he served as Harvard’s Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister at the Memorial Church. He majored in history at Bates College and earned his bachelor of divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School.

Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey

The first out Black lesbian elder in the United Methodist Church, Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey was named vice president of academic and student affairs and associate professor of constructive theology at Meadville Lombard Theological School in January 2018 and is an activist focused on peace, social justice, racial justice and LGBTQ rights.

“I believe humanity is interconnected. This means, I have a responsibility to the world to agitate for justice; I also have a responsibility not to lose my love for the human soul and human dignity in the midst of that work,” Lightsey said in a biographical statement.

The author of Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology, Lightsey has served as a dean and professor at Boston University School of Theology and as a dean and vice president at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

An ordained elder in the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church, she served as pastor of Southlawn UMC on Chicago’s South Side and was honored with the conference’s Harry Denman Award for Evangelism in 2006 due to her church growth efforts.

In her role as a board member of the Reconciling Ministries Network, Lightsey has critiqued Christian churches for their homophobic policies and practices and spoke out for justice for LGBTQ people at the 2012 and 2016 United Methodist General Conferences.

A native of West Palm Beach, Fla., she earned a bachelors degree from Columbus (Ga.) State University, a masters of divinity from Gammon Seminary at the Interdenominational Theological Center, and a doctorate from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

Don’t let your journey stop here. This is truly a brief window into just three of the many lives of Black LGBTQIA spiritual leaders advancing the cause of inclusion and equality — every single one constituting a powerful reminder of the shoulders we all stand on and of the work being done to ensure that, in the immortal words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” 

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Could Creativity and Imagination Be Too Scary, Subversive, and Even Too Queer? https://whosoever.org/could-creativity-and-imagination-be-too-scary-subversive-and-even-too-queer/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=could-creativity-and-imagination-be-too-scary-subversive-and-even-too-queer Thu, 28 Jan 2021 12:14:34 +0000 https://whosoever.org/?p=15450 Renowned theoretical physicist Albert Einstein in a 1929 magazine interview put it this way: “I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

If such a brilliant thinker, whose name has become synonymous with being a genius, recognized the priority of imagination, what’s happened to us to stifle and devalue our imaginings?

Why is it that we live in a world whose leaders most often try unsuccessfully to solve the same old problems with the same old unimaginative solutions that hadn’t worked before? Why is it that the dominant ideas in politics are the same old ones that assume the rich can only exist by being dependent upon and ensuring that a class of people stay poor?

For how many millennia have religious leaders been preaching at the world to stop the same old sinning — and yet, here we are, rife with the same old sins, especially those so-called “Seven Deadly” ones?

How long have we tried the same old militaristic solutions to problems and find so many still thinking that war is the way to peace while we create even more enemies? World War I was called “the war to end all wars,” wasn’t it?

In other words, why no Einsteinian revolution in our foundational moral, social, and political thinking?

It sure would have been fitting if he did, but it wasn’t really Einstein who defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” That astute quip actually originated in one of the 12-step communities.

So, what’s happened to our ability to imagine and find really creative solutions? Where are those new ideas that we should expect to still be drawn freely from creative imaginations?

Will even this very discussion of imagination’s value be tsk-tsked as too unrealistic? Has our dominant culture so lost the ability to creatively imagine alternatives that those who tell us that imagination is worthless for “really important” thinking are right in saying we’re hopelessly stuck in some culturally defined straightjacket with little wiggle room?

Have we sidelined imagination to those fields that we consider unessential, even eccentric, frills such as the arts or creative writing? They’re certainly some of the first areas our leaders choose to get the ax when educational budgets are cut, aren’t they?

Have we reached the end of the line for any new ideas that aren’t just improvements in technology? Is “blue-sky thinking” just a temporary luxury that must always be limited by the pull of a gravity defined as someone’s ideas of practicality and realism?

We certainly did much better at fantasizing about how anything could be different when we were very young. What if the what-ifs of children before they’ve been sufficiently conditioned by grownups and institutions around them weren’t just dismissed as “childish” but actually reminded us somehow about a natural human imaginative and creative potential?

Teaching children to grow up, to understand the world “as it really is,” as adults think it should be, and as we conditioned people want them to see that they must understand it to be in order to get along, usually comes at a price of stifling their imaginations, dreams, fantasies, and real creativity. At some point we’ve internalized the “limits” of “reality” as defined by our cultures.

Of course, there actually are limits to reality. But the problem is that these teachings about the boundaries of thinking come with stifling warnings that function mainly to keep the current system intact.

Fantasy and imagination must give way to what is considered efficient, what supports the status quo that we take for granted, and what keeps consumerism energized. Soon kids are told that they won’t get a job, get ahead, or get wealthy with those “wild” ideas. They’ll find themselves on the outside of society.

So, they slowly learn what is acceptable about creativity and what it’s okay to imagine, through “Art Appreciation” or “Music Appreciation” courses. Good art, they’ll learn, is what only the rich can afford and in their charitable generosity might give to a museum for the rest to view — with the benevolent donor’s name on a plaque beside it.

“Good” music won’t be that of their band that gets together in a garage to jam but music that sells online or is played on the airways. You’ll know music is good because it makes one financially prosperous.

They’ll come, then, to value their own art and music as successful to the extent that it makes money. The words “good” and “valuable” will be capitalist commodities.

But imagination and creativity have no inherent standards, after all. They’re not constrained by what’s considered rational or normal. They might be feared because they’re hard for the establishment to control.

They might cause too many to accept that their own artistic creations and own musical compositions are more valuable than that “good” costly stuff they would now not need to buy and download to keep the marketplace going and to confirm that the wealthiest rightfully belong at the top setting the standards. People might discover that they can enjoy the music in their own head or can without apology hang the art that they themselves create on their walls.

And when it comes to solutions to societal and world problems, imagination and creativity — when not marginalized to people stereotyped as eccentric, quirky, even queer, “artists” — might challenge the solutions of the so-called important people, threaten the security of the powers that be, question the nobility of those who are monetarily at the top, propose new religious options that dispute the value of tired orthodoxies, or upset an economy stuck in its addiction to consuming and profit-making.

Valuing imagination might mean that there’s a whole set of inefficient, “unrealistic” questions to be asked in order to develop new and better solutions to what we’ve been relentlessly taught is the inevitable way things are. What is “realistic” could transcend the limits of our economy.

When my son was in preschool, he asked: “Dad, what if there were a fourth primary color?”

Now, that’s a truly creative question. And I’m glad that at that moment I was dumbstruck without falling back on norms of efficiency and money-making to tell him it was silly, unrealistic, inefficient, impractical, or wouldn’t get him anywhere in life.

Later as a teenager he enjoyed guitar lessons and became good enough that his teacher recommended bands he could audition for. Trying to encourage him, I said a dad thing: You know that guitarists in bands get awfully popular with people they might want to date.

But with the pleasure of imagination, experimentation, and creativity he experienced for himself, he didn’t want more – his music back in his room brought him joy. And the home I lived in, as a by-product, was happily filled with it.

This is why to me it always seems important personally and for our society’s future to ask every so often: Are we free enough from our system’s unimaginative demands to indulge in imagining other possibilities?

One stereotype is that queer people are — that coming out to themselves means they have already faced and contradicted so much that culture’s tried to convince them was really, really important such as worn out and destructive societal patterns about sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity and performance, and that they are somehow more “artistic” and creative.

There’s certainly truth in that for anyone who’s flaunted so many of the straight norms of society, because once you have, why not feel more comfortable outside that straightjacket exploring the realm of imagination and creation in many even forbidden ways?

Is imagination and creativity, then, even a little too frightfully “queer” for many?

Or is it way past time for all of us to let go and ask: when was the last time I was free enough to indulge my imagination?

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