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.
Whosoever founder and Editor Emeritus Rev. Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians. 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 serves as the spiritual director of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C., and blogs at Motley Mystic.