Human authenticity: The key to spirituality
When Daniel Helminiak wrote What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality, he had several goals in mind.
“I wanted a book that would be short, inexpensive, easily accessible and would put out information that would counter what’s coming out from the religious right,” he said.
Mission accomplished. The book has been a perennial bestseller at gay bookstores like Outwrite here in Atlanta and Lambda Rising in Washington, D.C.
Helminiak calls the success of his short, inexpensive book on the Bible and homosexuality, “astounding” and telling.
“These issues are much more important to the gay and lesbian community than anyone has ever allowed,” he explained in a recent interview with Southern Voice. “We, ourselves, tend to downplay religion because it’s so critical, but a lot of us, in our hearts, are still struggling with questions and we need someone to help us through them.”
The book has served that purpose. Helminiak says he’s spoken to many people who bought several copies of the book to give to family, friends and co-workers who are struggling to understand homosexuality in light of fundamentalist interpretations of scripture, and the growing viciousness of attacks from the religious right.
The popularity of the book also points to a hunger for spirituality in the gay and lesbian community despite the rejection by mainstream religion. Helminiak believes gays and lesbians already have a deep understanding of spirituality.
“There is a lot of honesty and goodwill in our community. That is the core of spirituality. We are a good people. We’d have to be honest to do what we’re doing. It would be much easier to cop out and pretend and go along with the rest.”
What that innate understanding of spirituality needs is guidance. That’s what Helminiak offers in his new book, Religion and The Human Sciences, An Approach via Spirituality.
“What I do in my book is spell out the criteria for what is healthy spiritually,” he said. “It will help the gay community to recognize the fact that we’re okay, to rejoice in the spiritual sensitivity that’s already there.”
To spell out the criteria, Helminiak explores the gap between psychology and theology. For so long, psychology has refused to deal with spirituality, deeming it a “religious” issue. Theology often co-opts psychology in a way that bolsters its claim to ultimate truth, but tends to play down the value of the human experience. Helminiak suggests the missing link between the two is an honest spirituality.
“My own grappling with the issues led me to this,” said Helminiak. “For the gay and lesbian community, which has felt rejected by religion from the start and still feels condemned, many have left religion but still seek some spiritual sustenance. My approach allows gays and lesbians to develop a whole spirituality.”
That whole spirituality is based on what Helminiak calls, “human authenticity.”
Helminiak says this is a different approach from the fundamentalists who say you have to believe in Jesus and say Jesus is Lord. Helminiak points out a complete spirituality is more than just a belief. He cites the parable of judgment in Matthew 25:34-45:
Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;
for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink?
And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee?
And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’
And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’
Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;
for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?
Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’
“What’s fascinating is that the people who are being praised did not even know of Jesus. What mattered was how they acted. That’s spirituality, whether it has to do with God or not,” Helminiak observed.
“There’s something basic to being a human being that requires us to be open minded, willing to question and pursue things, to marvel to be in awe, in reverence, to be honest about things to be good-willed,” he continued. “That to me is the core of spirituality. That’s what leads people to talk about God. If you take marvel and awe to its ultimate conclusion then you realize that we stand before absolute mystery. People will call that mystery God.”
But, a final belief in God is not necessary for ultimate spiritual fulfillment, Helminiak stressed.
“Being a good, genuine human being is the most important thing. If it turns out you don’t believe in God, I don’t think God would mind.”
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.