Archive for the ‘GLBT’ Tag
I’m here at Calvin College attending the Festival of Faith and Writing, one of the most amazing, one of the best, writing conferences out there. The quality of the speakers—Gary Schmidt, Jonathan Safran Foer, Marilynne Robinson–not to mention the different seminars I’ve already taken–gives depth and urgency to writers who hope to change the world. I have never felt such deep emotional responses to these calls and challenges to be good writers and write good stories. Calvin College does a great thing for writers of faith.
And yet…. I find myself, as I knew I would, disturbed by Calvin College’s policy towards GLBT students. It’s an ethical dilemma.
Calvin’s stance on GLBT issues
To their credit, Calvin is far more liberal than most Christian colleges. They do not run them off campus, as they did in my day. So by that measure, I should be pleased. I have read their FAQs on their policy towards homosexuality and GLBT students, and you can read it here: Calvin’s FAQs about homosexuality.
You’ll notice that it’s very kind and generous. It acknowledges that gays and lesbians are attracted to same sex people.
“While the orientation seems usually to lie outside the scope of an individual’s will, by God’s power and grace, behavior lies within it.
Calvin College is also concerned that homosexual members of our community are treated with respect, justice, grace and understanding in the Spirit of Christ. We recognize the complexity of current issues around homosexuality and desire to engage this conversation with courage, humility, prayerfulness and convicted civility.” (I use the quotation marks here because my pic makes it difficult to know where the quote starts and ends.)
It’s that sexual behavior that seems so SEPARATE to Calvin; it’s almost ridiculous. However, they want to frame a “conversation” in respectful terms. Conversation, of course, means that both sides are listening. But I appreciate their dedication to civility, a civility that they have the authority to enforce.
In the classroom, Calvin College notes that multiple perspectives may be explored by students:
In exploring the full range of human experience, faculty will certainly acquaint students with many perspectives that are inconsistent with the confessions, but will do so from a perspective of adherence to the confessions.
That policy– the adherence to confessions–can be found in the the newest document on academic freedom for professors and students. Mentioned in these FAQs, it addresses how faculty should approach difficult topics. The underlying conclusion, as you read here, is that the administration is not wrong, and that they are not the ones listening, but the ones correcting:
We have learned that the best outcomes for such conversations are those in which an inquirer later reports “I’m glad I asked. I really do see this now from another, more biblical, point of view,” or where the faculty or staff member reports “I’m glad you raised this. I hadn’t been aware of all the ramifications of my view, and I’ve now refined it to take other concerns into account,” or where both later say “we disagree, but we remain open to learning from each other” or “I realize that I need to learn more and think further about any position I advance.” Not every inquiry will end in this way. But we have learned to give such questions every chance to end with a positive outcome.
I like to point out that their “positive outcome” is one where there is learning on the inquirer’s side only. However, Calvin’s new policies on homosexuality do protect gays and lesbians from negative slurs, prejudice, etc.— however, they don’t realize the institutionalized creation of prejudice they engender by their different treatment of gays and lesbians. Watch the FAQs carefully:
[SAGA–Sexuality Awareness, Gender Acceptance] is not a ‘student organization,’ but a group of students with a counselor mentor from the Broene Counseling Center, who seek to educate others at Calvin about the challenges faced by homosexual students.
Gays are given groups within the auspices of counseling. “These are not student organizations” the policy says emphatically, thereby denying them student rights. They are, instead, places of refuge for gays and lesbians and places where they can, apparently, come to terms with the fact that God wants them to remain celibate–and teach others how to treat them better because of their “challenges”. *note the student response below for a great insight into SAGA and Calvin College that I didn’t know, and am very pleased to hear. While policy may be against gays at Calvin, the people there aren’t.
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To be a Christian, it’s important to live a life of integrity, honesty, transparency, and of love. Being in the closet doesn’t allow these things to happen. You will find it difficult to love others if you can’t love yourself first, and increasingly, hiding who you are will take away the friendships you wanted to preserve. Being in the closet is a false sense of security–and like every big secret, it takes a big toll.
But how do you be who you are and keep the church and the faith and the God that you love? Where is the abundant life Christ promised us? While we, as Christians, are ready to sacrifice our pleasures and lives for the cause of Christianity—certainly we’re not all required to give up our sexual expression. And I can’t believe God intended only gay people to do that either, while letting straight Christians have more freedom.
If fear keeps us in the closet, it will have to be “love” that casts out that fear. If love is the answer to eradicating fear, it’s going to take a lot of people’s decisions. I’ve outlined a few of them in the pages: what to do when someone comes out to your church, and what to do when you want to come out to your church. But let’s look at the life you can have as a gay Christian.
“I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly”
Amen. So what will that look like, and how do I know that this life is possible? First, I know it’s possible because Christ offered it to everyone–not just the straight folk. We already saw how Jesus treated those who “sinned,” which in his eyes had to be everyone. Think about it. And he affirmed them. Welcomed and affirmed them. His “Good News” is for everyone.
More Freedom to be who you need to be
If and when you come out, you will find a great freedom. “The truth shall set you free” never meant more to anyone else than it does to GLBT Christians. Literally it allows us to stretch and grow, unencumbered by the constant weight of our own fear and the constant work of our own deception. You will find yourself able to love others deeply, more deeply than you ever have before—because you have been rejected too. And you have tried to play the game of perfection.
I’ll tell you this about that game: you’re not going to be as nitpicky about perfection anymore. Because tied to the pursuit of perfection is the pursuit of a perfect reputation. And once you come out, your reputation will take a beating, at least in some circles. Whew! That’s a load off your shoulders, I expect. Now you don’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations. You and God still work things out, but you don’t have to be “perfect.”
You will be where Jesus was–not in the elite, not in the people polishing their Sunday School attendance pins, or seeing who could outdo whom–you will be with the people who are hurting, and who need to know that God and Jesus still care for them. Until you are rejected, you almost can’t see the invisible “Rejected” around you.
It’s an Old Message for the New Evangelicals
It’s amazing the parallels between Paul’s struggle with bringing Gentiles in to the mostly Jewish church, and today’s struggle with the acceptance of the GLBT community in the mostly Straight church. But Jews adapted–and ironically, the church became mostly gentile. I don’t think the church will become mostly gay…. However. The reason that the Christian church lost its Jewish heritage is because mainstream Jews didn’t want to give up their traditions to embrace new ones. The church gathered members from the Gentile community. Who knows if the parallel will extend to modern churches? Churches without gay members might completely break away, and we will see that those churches that accept gay members are the only true churches left.
As a Gay Christian, you get to talk about Jesus in a completely different way. Suddenly God and Jesus are divorced from mainstream evangelical creeds that come across as judgmental, fear-inducing and shame-oriented. You get to bring the original message–of hope, of love, of salvation–that has gotten mired by 21st Century Corporate-Modeled churches who think of membership and tithes as dues to a club, and the prestige of membership–with its benefits–as available to those who can pay. (To be fair, some MCC churches also stress a financial angle–for the good of God and the good of the mission–and they can add just as much pressure for the generosity of those who attend services.)
You get a chance to show Jesus on the right side of justice and the right side of history once again—you get to save Jesus from the Conservative Evangelical Doctrine that had him trapped. People need to know they are loved and accepted in whatever way they want to express themselves. Christ isn’t Republican, Conservative, Wealthy or Exclusively White. But he seems owned by them. You get a chance to break that mold, to show Jesus as the person who can go anywhere to talk to anyone and spread joy and love to them. You get to be Christ to a world that needs him.
There is a Joy in being liberated from the confines of current Christianity
The Rule is Love. Love God, Love Each Other. In Jesus’ words, it was “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul and mind.” And the second was like it–that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. All the commandments and laws HANG on this idea, he said. Notice that it’s not the reverse. Loving God and Each Other do not HANG on keeping the commandments. We get caught up in commandment keeping, rule keeping, and lose sight of what’s truly important. Of who is truly important. I’ve heard countless preachers amend Jesus by saying, “and the way to love God is to keep his commandments…” and then they list a hundred rules that you have to follow or else you make God angry. Thank God you don’t have to listen to them any longer.
Preachers have power, for now. They’re enjoying their time with power–and they can bring politicians to their knees. I wait for the day that a politician puts a preacher in his place. But you don’t have to worry anymore about preachers. You can if you want–you can fight them and tell them they’re wrong, but you can also turn around and do good in the community and let the false churches and the false prophets rail on….
Your Power is with God. God is not with the Preachers who are against you. Romans 8:31 “If God is for you, who can be against you?” That goes for Preachers and Evangelicals and those who have anything to say about the exclusionary nature of God, or his “rule” of celibacy for gay people. Be the disciples who were in direct conflict with the City (Acts 5) who preached the gospel because they had to obey God rather than man. Let no one stop you from telling gays and lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, and straight people too that God loves them–and that God has a plan for them. Tell them it does not include suffering under the straightjackets of any church that says the GLBT community must stop “acting on” their gayness.
The Lost and the Evangelicals: a reversal of roles
Today, the GLBT community can be the evangelicals who tell the good news of Christ’s love. The churches, unfortunate for them, get to be the LOST who need to hear this message. They dished it out for so long, they believe they can say no wrong, but God knows they have gotten off topic and off message. It’s time they got a new lesson in Christianity.
“It is Good that Man not Be Alone”
The importance of the Genesis story for man is that God knew that Adam should not be alone—and neither should anyone. Though Adam was straight and needed an Eve, you are not, and you need a partner. Many in the gay community have given up on partnership. No wonder–the straight community has not allowed us to have it for hundreds of years–but it is still a good thing to have a partner, to not be alone.
You have the freedom now to find someone, and over the next ten years, there will be more and more Christian men and women to choose from—but get someone who can love, whom the bitterness and cynicism given to us by the straight culture has not broken–if you find the cynical and the bitter, love them and help them know they don’t have to listen to anyone who tells them that they are less. It’s a NEW OLD Good News—the original is the best, and it was for everyone.
Take back Christianity. You are made to have an abundant life in Christ Jesus and the enemies who come in Christ’s name are not acting anymore on His behalf. They have lost their way. Love them and when they don’t listen, wipe the dust from your shoes and move out to those who will listen to the great message of New Life.
“Within the typical secondary school curriculum, homosexuals do not exist. They are ‘nonpersons’ in the finest Stalinist sense. They have fought no battles, held no offices, explored nowhere, written no literature, built nothing, invented nothing and solved no equations. The lesson to the heterosexual student is abundantly clear: homosexuals do nothing of consequence. To the homosexual student, the message has even greater power: no one who has ever felt as you do has done anything worth mentioning.” -Gerald Unks, editor, The Gay Teen, p. 5. From Famous Gay People.
It’s difficult for gay Christians to come out because they don’t see a place for themselves in the world–because frankly, all the past gay people have been erased from history, or had their gayness washed away. What could you accomplish, really, as a gay or lesbian in this world?
Famous People who were gay
There are some hugely famous people who were gay. In fact, as an English Teacher I could design a syllabus of American Literature solely with GLBT authors and you’d think it looked like every other American Literature survey in colleges: Willa Cather, Tennessee Williams, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman (of course), James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, Henry James, Henry David Thoreau, Countee Cullen, Adrienne Rich, just to name a few. These are hardly the marginalized authors of American literature–these are The Canon. You can’t do a survey course without Whitman, Melville, Williams, Dickinson, Hughes, Emerson and Thoreau…you can’t. Our culture has been interpreted and refined through their pens and their lens.
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“Welcoming and not affirming” is a murky idea. As an English teacher, it’s hard to read it and really understand what it means. We all know what “welcome” is and how to welcome, but it seems “not affirming” is an odd way to express a verb. It seems important to figure out what “affirming” is and then what “not” doing that would look like. According to the dictionary, affirming is defined as:
State as a fact; assert strongly and publicly
he affirmed the country’s commitment to peace
he affirmed that she was, indeed, a good editor
“Pessimism,” she affirmed, “is the most rational view.”
Declare one’s support for; uphold or defend
Accept or confirm the validity of (a judgment or agreement); ratify
Make a formal declaration rather than taking an oath (e.g., to testify truthfully)
(of a court) Uphold (a decision) on appeal
Offer (someone) emotional support or encouragement
Antonyms include: negate, reject, deny, nullify, renounce, refuse, decline
So, “welcoming and not affirming” could just as easily be said as “welcoming and denying ” or “welcoming and rejecting.” We can probably see that no one wants to have a billboard say that they are both “welcoming and rejecting”…. but in a sense that’s what welcoming and not affirming means.
The other problem with this phrase is that for most evangelicals the adjectives don’t modify the same noun. What are we “Welcoming” –all people, we might say. What are we “not affirming”–a sinful lifestyle. But without the nouns to make a difference, the phrase gets confusing—and we end up saying we are “Welcoming, but not affirming” actual people. Because we’re not saying we’re “welcoming and not affirming” a lifestyle…. You’re not welcoming a lifestyle into your church are you?
But perhaps there is another definition that we need to consider.
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Jesus met up with lots of sins he couldn’t affirm–especially lifestyle sins. But we only use the phrase “welcoming but not affirming” when we talk about gays and lesbians, not when we talk about sinners in general. We’ve already seen that the phrase itself is murky, at best. Surely, there must be a Biblical precedent for how to welcome but not affirm gays and lesbians. The church can’t possibly be using a method that Jesus himself would not endorse, and practice. Since there are no visible gays and lesbians in the Bible, we’re going to have to expand to those other sins that Jesus encountered. What did He do when He met up with greedy tax collectors, two adulteresses, a prostitute, the Pharisees as a group and as an individual, and rambunctious, argumentative disciples?
Jesus must be against greed. It’s a sin. Now Zaccheus was a greedy little man, but Jesus went over to his house. He eats there, accepts his food and family. He makes a public show of his acceptance to the whole crowd both outside and inside the house. He doesn’t say anything against Zaccheus, neither privately or publically that we can find. In fact, it is Zaccheus who repents because of this outpouring of acceptance. So Jesus never affirmed greed, but he also never displayed any disgust, any judgment, any reprimand, any opinion against greed. How do we know he didn’t affirm it? We know Jesus. Oh, wait, he did have a tax collector as his disciple, Matthew. We don’t know if Jesus ever publically rebuked Matthew. But the words we know he said to this sinner, of whose sin he didn’t approve or affirm, “come follow me.”
Jesus can’t have approved of sexual sin. But he does meet up with an adulterous woman, a promiscuous woman, and a prostitute.
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I get asked a lot which books I would recommend for those seeking some answers in their struggle to reconcile their faith with homosexuality. I’ve started compiling a list of books I found most helpful. On the top of the list is Jack Roger’s Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality–with a study guide. For churches and individuals who are seeking answers, it’s thorough, complete, but not too heady.
When I was looking, I didn’t want answers based on “feelings” or “desires” or “wants”…. I needed a way to think of homosexuality as I think of other things: in accordance with the one book that holds a lot of importance and authority in my life–the Bible. If I couldn’t find a Biblical way to make it work–a way to make it work within my faith–I don’t know how I would have coped with being gay.
Christians have a worldview that includes a personal relationship with a god–the God. This is so radical that I think we’ve lost sight of how radical it is to talk like this, both inside the Christian community and what we sound like outside of it. But the truth is—we DO communicate with a god, and that God is seriously in love with us. He watches us individually as if we were the only person on Earth, and he cares what’s happening in our lives. So, we don’t want to hurt him, and we don’t want to do anything to mess up that relationship.
This is why many Christians who find out they are gay commit suicide. They can’t find a way to reconcile these two things. The Helpful Books page is a way, I think, for people to find the merging of their faith–INTACT–with their sexuality. If they are afraid of the “lifestyle” choices of other gays, they need not be—straight men and women also choose “lifestyles” that aren’t the most productive. You can choose to do whatever you want to do with this life you are given, straight or gay. The important part is to choose life.
The Books page is for anyone looking for life.