“What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. … It is the harder because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; but the great (person) is (the one) who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance
I’ve been experimenting with living as a Whosoever lately. I’ve been frequenting message boards where our detractors love to camp out and take potshots at us. I’ve not quite figured out why it’s so important to some of our enemies that they be in constant battle with us over whether or not we are living a “sinful lifestyle.” On some level they seem quite obsessed with what we do in our bedrooms. On another level they seem genuinely concerned that we not follow the wrong path and wind up in “hell,” whatever their version of it may be.
In my experimentation, I began posting my devotionals to one rather contentious board. I made it clear that I was not there to argue, but instead was there to bring some sense of peace and joy to a place sorely in need of it. Except for one of the more vitriolic homophobes on the board, no one has attacked the devotional posts, and several have thanked me for posting them.
This exercise has not been easy. In between my devotional postings the bickering, the name-calling, the cajoling, the posturing and frankly, the hatred, continues unabated. My inspirational comments may serve as a calm island in the midst of a roiling sea, but they have not miraculously stilled the waters like Jesus did. I’m certainly no Jesus. But, it was an interesting lesson in learning how to live as a Whosoever.
On that board there are dozens of people who Emerson rightly observed believe that they know my duty better than I know it. They believe my duty is to give up my sexual orientation for only then will I be worthy enough to be called a Whosoever. It’s been a bit disheartening and it has shown me that I have much to learn, and more of a journey to embark upon, before I really begin to live my life as a Whosoever.
I am like the person Emerson talks about. I am okay when I am alone or in the presence of other like-minded folks who believe wholeheartedly that being glbt and Christian is not an oxymoron. But, when I step into the atmosphere that is pervasive on these message boards, I become discouraged. Some of our detractors would rather die than give us an inch. They won’t budge in their beliefs that we are inherently sinful and hell-bound if we don’t change. I am not yet that great person Emerson speaks about who can bring that peace of solitude or community into this adversarial environment. I tend to get too defensive, too emotional, too drawn up in the battle. In short, I tend to forget that I am a Whosoever.
To be a Whosoever, in my opinion, is to be able to live with that peace of mind that we are beloved by God no matter where we are or what situation we face. Even in the face of such vitriolic hatred displayed by men like Fred Phelps, it is an assured Whosoever, who can withstand such hatred without returning it or internalizing it. I admire our Soulforce brothers and sisters who have reached this point in their journey as Whosoevers. I have yet to reach that point. I’m not sure I ever will, but I am committed to continuing the journey.
The bottom line is, no one can tell you what your duty is except God. Those of us who have reconciled our spirituality and our sexuality have heard quite clearly from God that our duty is to live as Whosoevers, beloved gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender children of the living God. But, the world will constantly attack that assurance, seeking always to make us doubt ourselves, and most of all, seeking to make us doubt God.
Henri Nouwen wrote in Life of the Beloved that the feeling of being cursed comes easily. Too easily!
“We easily hear an inner voice calling us evil, bad, rotten, worthless, useless, doomed to sickness and death. Isn’t it easier for us to believe that we are cursed than that we are blessed? Still, I say to you, as the Beloved [Children] of God, you are blessed. Good words are being spoken about you — words that tell the truth. The curses — noisy, boisterous, loud-mouthed as they may be — do not tell the truth. They are lies; lies easy to believe but lies nevertheless.”
As glbt Christians we are lied to all the time. We are told we’re filthy sinners who will never enter the kingdom of heaven. We begin to believe these lies and fall away from God and the church. Living as a Whosoever means recognizing these lies for what they are and beginning to believe that we are not cursed, but blessed.
Where do we find such assurance? We need not look much further than Jesus for our answer. Jesus’ ministry was all about assuring us that we are forgiven and blessed. Jesus forgave prostitutes, tax collectors, a woman taken in adultery and many others. All of them were assured that they were Whosoevers because they had faith enough to seek him out and show him that they believed that through him they could reconcile themselves to God. They all did. Who did Jesus rebuke? Those who shunned the sinner, thought themselves better than the sinner, or insisted that everyone must strictly follow the letter of the law. Those who sought Jesus out of faith were blessed. Jesus rejected those who sought to impose their own idea of duty on others.
It is clear then that living as a Whosoever means constantly coming to Jesus with the faith that our sins are forgiven and that we are beloved by God. When we begin to impose our own ideas of morality or duty on others, that’s when we are rebuked. By posting my devotionals to the message board, and refusing to be drawn into contentious arguments over the law and duty, I was living as a Whosoever. I displayed my faith, my assurance that Jesus has clearly spelled out my duty to me to live as a beloved child of God. Now, the challenge is to become a “living devotional” and bring that sense of peace, of “belovedness” off of Internet message boards and into the real world.
The Woman at the Well: An Example of Whosoever Living
The Bible contains many examples of people who embraced living as a Whosoever in the real world. The disciples themselves exemplify this notion when they abandoned everything to follow Jesus. After Jesus ascended into heaven they continued to live as Whosoevers despite being beaten, jailed and shunned by the very people with whom they sought to share the good news.
The best example of living as a Whosoever, of course, is Jesus. He continued to spread his message of God’s unconditional love in the face of insurmountable odds and eventually gave his life to show just how committed he was to his “Whosoever” message. We, certainly, will never be able to follow Jesus’ footsteps so closely, for we are not like Jesus.
The Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well is probably our best example to follow of how to live as a Whosoever. Their meeting is recounted in John 4:1-42. [The scripture will open in a new window so you can follow along.]
This story is quite shocking on many levels. First, Jesus talked not only to a woman, but to a Samaritan woman. The Samaritans were hated and shunned by the Jews. They shared many beliefs in common, but were divided on the finer points of worship and other matters, much like our denominations are divided today. This point of conflict did not concern Jesus — he spoke to the woman anyway, and shared with her his message of God’s unconditional love for everyone.
Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
— John 4:13-14
As Whosoevers, we must recognize the unconditional love that comes to us through this “living water” and embrace it, just as the woman at the well does. One of the most important messages conveyed to the gay reader in this passage is that Jesus clearly urges us to embrace ourselves as glbt Whosoevers and reconcile ourselves to God. He tells us that “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth (v. 24).” We can only “worship in spirit and in truth” when we truly become Whosoevers. We do that by reconciling our spirituality and our sexuality or gender identity. If we try to worship God just in spirit, but deny the truth of our sexual orientation or gender identity, or try to change ourselves through “ex-gay” ministries because we seek acceptance by society, then we are not truly worshiping God because we have left out the truth of our lives. God knows you’re gay, or lesbian, or bisexual or transgender. In this passage, Jesus knew everything about this woman, including the fact that she had five husbands and the person she was with now was not her husband! There is no detail about our lives that God does not know. Don’t deny your sexual orientation or gender identity to God! Worship, instead, in spirit and in truth as a beloved glbt child of God! Only then are we truly Whosoevers!
Not everyone is ready for us to become Whoseovers, though. Just as Jesus’ disciples were horrified that he was talking with this Samaritan woman, so are some of Jesus’ followers today horrified that Jesus might be speaking words of salvation for glbt believers. They believe that we are mistaken when we read John 3:16 and take Jesus at his word that “whosoever believes” is saved. They insist that there’s more to it than that. They insist we must, at the very least, give up or sexual orientation or stop seeking to live as our true gender despite what kind of body we were born into. It’s simply not true. Jesus meant “whosoever” when he said “whosoever.” The word included even this Samaritan woman, hated and despised by the “righteous” of Jesus’ time. It includes even the glbt believer who, like the woman at the well, is despised by the “righteous” of today.
This Samaritan woman serves as a wonderful example of “whosoever living” because of the action she took when she finishes speaking with Jesus. Despite her rejection by society and the disciples, who represented the “righteous” of the day, she goes into the town and tells everyone she meets about Jesus and his message. In the passage, we’re only told about the people who believed the woman and came back to see Jesus. But you can bet there were some who rejected her message. There were some who told her that she was mistaken. There were some who told her that she had no right to talk about Jesus and told her that certainly she was not genuinely touched by this man nor would she be part of any kingdom of God simply because of who she was. We get the same reaction when we talk about our experience of Jesus in our lives. We’re told that we’re mistaken, that our faith is false and that we have no right to speak about Jesus or God. Yet, she persisted. She continued to talk about Jesus and her meeting with him. Some were convinced, others were not, but she continued to speak. She continued to testify about how God had moved in her life. That’s living as a Whosoever. No matter what the cost, no matter what the reaction, we must continue to testify to God’s true presence in our lives.
Whosoever Living: A Manifesto
In 2 Corinthians 4:13 Paul writes, ” … we too believe, and so we speak.” This is the manifesto of “whosoever living.”
Living as a “Whosoever” means we are not ashamed of how God made us. Living as a “Whosoever” means we are not ashamed to speak out, to tell our truth, to share our faith, with anyone, friend or foe. Living as a “Whosoever” means we believe solidly in Paul’s promise that nothing separates us from the love of God, least of all our sexual orientation or our gender identity.
“We too believe, and so we speak.” Never let anyone tell you to be quiet as you speak about God and what God has done in your life. No one has the right to take your belief away from you and let no one take your voice from you. Speak, because you believe. Speak, because you are a Whosoever, one of God’s beloved children. Speak, because your encounter with God has given you a message and a voice.
We are warned, as Whosoevers, to “avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, and quarrels over the law, for they are unprofitable and futile” (Titus 3:9). As my little experiment on the message board showed, when I avoided arguing with those who disagreed with me, the contention ceased. They could not argue with my testimony. They could take pot shots at it, sure, and at lease one did. But they could not argue with the reality of me. Instead of getting into “stupid controversies” I just spoke my belief that I, too, am a Whosoever, a beloved child of God. Instead of quarreling over “the law,” which in this case is the homophobe’s belief that homosexuality is a “sin,” I showed clearly that I, too, am blessed by God, covered with grace, just like anyone else.
Do not quarrel with those who disagree with us — simply live your life in the light of God’s mercy and grace. Be the woman at the well. Accept the living water that Jesus offers, and tell anyone who will listen to you what God has done for even you, the glbt believer. Speak your truth, worship God in spirit, and live simply as a Whosoever.
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.