The Gospel of Intolerance–from the New York Times   Leave a comment

If churches who have embraced Uganda as a long lost mission, a possible utopia for God’s will to be done, a better version of the Christian American Dream, could watch this short documentary on the damage that American Evangelicals are doing to Uganda, specifically the torture they are bringing to the gays and lesbians in Uganda…..they would probably keep doing what they’re doing.  Check this article out called “the Gospel of Intolerance”.

Or here if the link above doesn’t work:

Raised in Pennsylvania, I grew up in the black church. My father was a religious leader in the community, and my sister is a pastor. I went to church every Sunday and sang in the choir. But for all that the church gave me — for all that it represented belonging, love and community — it also shut its doors to me as a gay person. That experience left me with the lifelong desire to explore the power of religion to transform lives or destroy them. I became interested in Uganda, an intensely religious country that attracts many American missionaries and much funding from United States faith-based organizations. The American evangelical movement in Africa does valuable work in helping the poor. But as you’ll see in this Op-Doc video, some of their efforts and money feed a dangerous ideology that seeks to demonize L.G.B.T. people and intensifies religious rhetoric until it results in violence. It is important for American congregations to hold their churches accountable for what their money does in Africa.

A forum for short, opinionated documentaries, produced with creative latitude by independent filmmakers and artists.

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This video is part of a series produced by independent filmmakers who have received major support from the Ford Foundation and additional support from the nonprofit Sundance Institute.

Walk Out of Non-Affirming Churches   3 comments

2248069430_91b7e75b3eI used to think that if you found yourself attending a non-affirming church, and you were gay and by yourself, that dialogue with a non-affirming church was the answer–but I know differently now.  Safety for gay people is more important than trying to “change” a non-affirming church.  The only way they will change is if they lose people.  If people walk out of non-affirming churches–straights and gays alike–non-affirming churches will lose power.  That’s the only answer. Lack of people means lack of offerings means closing their doors–or changing their ways.  This does not mean that if a church is open to hearing your thoughts, and they put you in a pulpit to talk about it, or they invite over some well know gay christians to talk that you should leave.  There Dialogue is working! God bless those churches who have listened to his current message to them–that gays and lesbians are to be accepted and affirmed.  The rest of the churches, those who refuse to listen to GLBT folks, refuse to be open to this new affirmation and acceptance (which isn’t really new) are rapidly moving towards a minority, and will fall under the non-affirming mantle.  You can’t have a dialogue with a non-listening church by yourself (unless they give you a pulpit to talk to the congregation or a panel discussion).  It’s just rare.  I think you can only have a dialogue with an individual, someone who comes to you (like Nicodemus).  Churches are ruled by denominations or by money or by administration with red tape.  Non-affirming churches are a Mighty Fortress of Entrenched Bigotry.  They have archers on the battlements.  And if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can help out, even fund, a church that discriminates and seeks to destroy GLBT individuals and their relationships.

How to know if you’re attending a non-affirming church:

If you are going into a church for the first time, look for any literature that says “we are an affirming church” or says “gays and lesbians are welcome here.”  Check the pews, or the front lobby, for that kind of literature.  An easy way to find out about a church is to scan their books in their library, if it’s open to the public.  If you find no literature (or no pro-gay books in their library) get a moment with the pastor, or another church member, and ask one question to determine whether you stay or not: Are you an affirming church?

If the pastor says anything BUT, “Yes, we affirm gays and lesbians,” be polite, and walk out. Do not look back.

They will attempt to hold you there in conversation, convince you to chat with them more, say it’s complicated–all sorts of excuses. They will want to talk to you more about it, but ask them for their bottom line right up front. There is no Godly, no Biblical reason NOT to affirm Gays and Lesbians in their relationships and in their sexuality.

These churches need to know that they can no longer smokescreen discrimination with nice conversation.

Non-affirming churches say they want to start a dialogue, a conversation, so that they can, ultimately, confuse people with a lot of bad interpretation. These churches want to remain relevant in the world today, as it changes, and they know that gays are on your mind. They believe hobbling gays, in the name of God, is the answer. They want to convince you, if you are gay, that God accepts all kinds of sinners, you among them, and they want to equate your gay sexual relationships with sin. The bottom line is that they want you to be celibate.  If you are straight, they want to convince you that they have the best answer for gays, really.  And that they know better.  They want to assure you that they have “dealt” with the issue.  They will be “concerned” for gays, and want them to know the truth.

For gays, it won’t matter what else they say: if they don’t accept you for who you are and who you are made in God’s image to be, walk out. Knock the dust off your feet (Matthew 10:14) and find an affirming church.

Some tactics: Non-affirming churches talk about “dialogue”

I’ve just listened to a sermon from Connexus Community Church in Barrie, Ontario by Lead Pastor Carey Nieuwhof on homosexuality. Actually it was entitled “Why is it so difficult for Gays and Lesbians in the Church?” The irony of the title puts a lot of the blame for the uncomfortability gays feel back on the gays and lesbians themselves (“Why you squirm so much in our fun churches!”).

Not to put Carey on the hot seat— but so much of Carey’s sermon was smoke and mirrors and misdirection that it took everything I had to sit and allow that poison to come out. The answer for why it is so difficult for gays in churches apparently rests on God’s shoulders: He did it to gays–He is asking them to be celibate. (admittedly, Carey makes a strong statement to his congregation to stop arguing and hating gay people. Carey’s remedy, the homework for straight people who “hate” gays, awkward at best, is to “love their enemies” meaning gay people–who are equated with enemies and non-Christians…how’s that?)

Carey wants to start a dialogue, a conversation. Instead of having a conversation, though, he gives a sermon, where he outlines all his points, the way he believes. I’m not certain, but if anyone ever wanted a conversation with me it would not start off with a 44 minute sermon. Too bad he didn’t have a gay christian on stage, one that disagreed with his Major Points:

1. He says–Natural inclinations often lead to sin; Jesus wants us to deny natural inclinations. Jesus wants us to surrender our inclinations to Him.

2. He claims–Asking straights to be committed to their spouse is the exact same (in both difficulty and importance) as asking gays to be celibate.

3. And he’d like to say– gays can have their own relationships, but the Bible says different.

Afterwards, it was the same dreck we’ve heard before in other churches who proclaim to love and who instead offer a message of “if you’re with us, you’ll change.” Since God can’t affirm all our actions, gays can’t have sex either. (Lovely example of Non Sequitur reasoning)

My point, though, in this post is that you, as a gay person, get to safety. There is no safety in a church that believes God is telling you something which He is not telling you. There is no safety in a message that asks you to deny your sexuality. And when straight people say, as Carey does, “Oh if you think we’re being tough on gay people, just listen to my last sermon on marriage. Married guys, you have to be devoted to your wives!”– he should listen to his lack of compassion.  Catch that comparison, Carey. Gay people don’t have it so bad, because straight people are FORCED to love their spouses for life. Oh, the burden. Oh, the pain. God is FORCING people to stay devoted in marriage to each other. But for gays, Carey wouldn’t even allow them someone to be devoted to. What a mockery of the burden he wants to place on gays! Remember: This is CAREY talking. NOT GOD.

Creating the “dialogue”–how it’s done

According to Carey, what the Bible tells him is equal to saying “What God Says”, but this is not true. He will say it again and again though until you think it is.  Repetition of “what God says, not me” is using God’s name in vain.  God said nothing of the sort.

His 44 min sermon is designed to pretend to answer questions gays might have (as well as questions from straights).  It fashions our questions for us, therefore pretending to have a dialogue. He sets up straw men, so that he can knock them down. He doesn’t ask the questions that need to be asked. He pretends he’s answering really tough questions. He makes those listening, Straight people, believe that they are just as much in a pickle with their “sins” as gay people are: but the bottom line for him is that straights are only in sin if they have too much of something. Gays are in sin, apparently, if they have any.

Most of the drive in this sermon is for straight people, really. His goal is to make them believe that the church is really answering gays’ needs, really addressing the gay’s issues. The problem is that Carey thinks our issues are in regards to sexuality. Wrong. Our issues are in regards to affirmation, acceptance, finding a community, hunger, poverty, struggles in life–the same as straight people. He makes our issue sexuality. He wants straight people to believe that they have an answer for gay people, and it’s really not so bad. Gays will LIKE the Answer. And if they don’t, well then they’re not listening to Jesus, so it’s okay to let them go out of church.

While he should have had a gay person up on stage with him to have a conversation, or even, yes a minister of a church that affirms gay people, I’m telling you not to even wade through the sermon. You can. If you want. But it is poison.

The primary goal of this sermon is to make gay people believe that they are being treated no worse or better than other Christians and that they are ALL under the same difficult rules. Their goal is to convince you to stay with them, under their mentorship, to remain celibate–and that God’s love and relationship is dependent on your continued celibacy, your “surrender of your sexuality”.

Dear God, that sets up an impossible task. While Carey is allowed to slip in his gluttony or greed, he gets a wife. You are allowed to slip in your gluttony or greed too, but you don’t get a spouse. Carey tries to make “surrender your sexuality” an across the board requirement, but he’s not asked to give up his sexuality, his sexual practice. If he wants to be even with what he’s requiring gay people to do, he would move out of his house and never have more than a friendship with the woman that was his wife. That’s what he’s asking gay people to do.

Get out of his church. Get out of any church that does not affirm you. Do not argue with them. Do not discuss. What’s important is that you retain what God has given you as his child–which includes your sexuality and your sexual feelings and your relationships.

Just some Polite Conversation

He comes across very politely, just asking for conversation. But his side of the conversation has just been spoken to thousands, both in his church and online. His sermon is permanently online. He asks for individual talks with him. Your side of the conversation will always be private so that your opinion won’t get out. He’s just indoctrinated the rest of his congregation to believe his way–which is what the power of a sermon, or any speech is. A private conversation cannot hope to compete. (This is one reason why I will be posting my response and not entering into a private dialogue with Carey).

Carey will not change his opinion on gay people for two reasons: he rests his opinion in the “authority of the Bible”; however, his interpretation clouds what that Bible actually says.  He is no friend of the Father.  And his interpretation does God no favours.

If he wanted dialogue, he would have many dialogues with gay christians who are happy in their sexuality, embedded in other churches. He would have sought out great speakers and men and women like Mel White, Gene Robinson, Shelby Spong–people who disagree with him. Instead, as most pastors do, they don’t want to give up their authority, and so they do some private reading, and some consultation with gays who are uncertain, maybe non-christian, and that suffices as an equal argument.

Get out of any church that does not affirm you. Your lives are too important, too special to God, to be hobbled by Connexus Community Church or any other church that says God doesn’t affirm gays and lesbians. Your time is too important to argue about it. They are just going to try to convince you of their side.

It boils down to this:

Either you believe God designed you to be gay, and to have sexual expression, or you believe he didn’t design you to be that way. Either you agree with non-affirming churches and become celibate and find a happiness in that celibacy because the church you are in is forcing you to do it; or you come to a church that realizes that God never asked you to be celibate, and they bless your unions and marriages with your same-sex partners and build a loving community around you.

A crippling church, or an uplifting church? Is there really a decision here?

Leave and find the freedom in Christ in an affirming church.

For straight allies, I leave this with you— I know it’s hard to find a good church.  No matter how much good a church is doing in Uganda, or with an inner city mission, if it still harbors judgment towards ANY person–and supports telling gays they can never marry or find love, it is doing damage in the world.  Rather they did nothing good rather than do something hurtful.  It’s as if they help those they find helpless–and that act of charity is supposed to compensate for the pain they divvy out to others in the name of God.  Helping those less fortunate is nice, but it also makes us look good–and churches need to look good.  But can you live with the fact that you are a part of a church that hurts gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people?  Can you be associated with “non-affirming” churches?  Would you ever want your child to know that you purposefully assisted a church in hurting another human being?

In a growing world of Affirming churches (6,826 at last count), I would hope that you would look for an open, accepting, affirming church.  You never know when you might be the person who needs to be affirmed and accepted. 

CBC’s DNTO to air my story on Coming Out to My Church for “Lost Causes,” Nov 3   Leave a comment

Definitely Not the Opera, (DNTO) a CBC Radio One program devoted to the art of storytelling in Canada, asked me to tell my story of coming out to my church for their Nov 3 show “Lost Causes”.

I had pitched the idea to them last year for a different show called “Making Enemies” but withdrew the pitch because a) I don’t think I meant to make enemies, nor do I think I have made enemies; and 2) because I didn’t want to restir a pot that has finally calmed down.

But they remembered my pitch.  And they sought me out.  Which is humbling, and cool.  We recorded on Friday morning and they are editing my lengthy story to 3-4 minutes.  I appreciate Andrew Friesen’s belief that my story was important and needed to be told.  I feel like the story is more appropriate under “Lost Causes” because trying to reason with people who don’t want to listen to you, or discuss with you–and believing that you alone have to spark change–well, it can feel like a “Lost Cause”.  But in the end–and the end hasn’t come yet–who knows if the cause is lost?  I think every person who says the church must look at the evidence, must consider the Christian testimonies of LGBT folks in the discussion, is a step towards change.  We need more people who realize how many people have fallen away from the faith, have decided against Christ, have been repelled from the church, and who, sometimes when there is no hope left, taken their own lives, all because the Church has historically refused to consider the scriptures in an accepting light–and this causes their members to refuse to accept their children in an accepting light.  This splits familes.  My God and my Christ are not what I encounter when I come into a Baptist Church anymore.  I daresay they wouldn’t recognize it.  Churches are not all one defined Mass though–as many churches are beginning to change their minds about LGBT people.  Episcopals, Lutherans, Presbyterians, United Church of Canada–all have begun seeing that this is just the next issue the church has to rethink.  As it did slavery, race, and its treatment of Women.  And divorce.  Change comes when people inside churches decide they can’t hold false doctrine anymore.  Christianity and Faith are not the problem.  Interpretation is.

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If You Come Here from GEEZ #27 where I have two memoir pieces…   1 comment

Geez Magazine, editor Melanie Dennis Unrau, selected two of my short pieces to go in Geez’s fall issue.  One of them, Undercover at the Festival of Faith and Writing, you can read as a web-exclusive.  The other “As the Spirit Moves Me” is available in the newsstand print copy.

If you came here from Geez 27, thanks!  and Welcome!  You’ll find some additional pieces from my trip to the Festival of Faith and Writing.  Think of them as addendums–things I couldn’t fit into such a small space.

Four essays:

Gay at Calvin College: more about going to the festival and wanting to do something to help those who are gay at Calvin College

The Last Supper: Johnny’s Cafe remix: mainly a photo where I asked students in the cafe to recreate Da Vinci’s  Last Supper.

Christians (Wanting to) Talk about Sex: where I go into depth about one of the seminars there—as no one recorded it for later discussion.

Marilynne Robinson, Hero–which talks in depth about her keynote address and the reaction of the crowd, and later comments at the college

Together, they comprise most of my Calvin College experience.  I should write up more of the seminars–and I will.  Certainly they will not be what others gathered there.  Take into consideration who I am and what I felt being there.  I am a Christian, a Writer, and a gay man.

I enjoyed Calvin College’s conference immensely and will go back in two years.

I hope these four supplemental blogposts will enrich the essay you did read in GEEZ.

It’s sometimes impossible to boil down an experience into 1000 words, or 1500, or 750.

“As the Spirit Moves Me” is a 500 word piece on going to my birthmother’s church, at Camp Chesterfield, a famous psychic institution.  I need to write the full story there—it’s quite amazing.

Thanks.  J


“How do I save my daughter from a lesbian friend?”   2 comments

These words appeared today as search terms used to find information—but found my blog.  The story they tell breaks my heart.  I don’t know who put the words in, whether father or mother.  I do know they are frightened.  The question was whole.  As if someone just hoped the internet would kick back a whole answer.  I do that when I’m desperate, when I’m upset, when I hurt.  I put the whole question in, as if I’m divining.

I feel so sad for the parent who wrote this–sad because I can feel that fear, that sense of powerlessness, that you are helpless to watch your child get hurt, or seduced, or taken away.  The word “save” in there— it’s a “rescue from danger” word.  For a parent to write this in Google is to ask anyone, anyone at all, for advice.  Please, please help.  I hurt for that parent who is at that stage.  I wish I didn’t empathize so much–but what I identify with is a parent’s cry, here, for help, for what they perceive as danger, as out of control.  This is much worse than “how do I get my daughter to stop dating thugs”–there’s a whole different, scary feel to it.  I want to comfort that parent, but I can’t.  I don’t know who it is.  And they don’t know me.

I am saddened too that he or she feels as if lesbians and gays are dangerous to their daughter.  Oh, I understand where that point of view comes from–it’s not new.  I think many of us grew up with people in our community who had that mindset–that people like us were a threat.  Some resources I hope that this parent found might be these:

Someone to Talk To—this is a great great resource designed for parents.  It answers questions parents have.

Can my gay child change?— for parents who have a child who is coming out, or has come out.

Having a gay friend or a lesbian friend will not cause your own child to “become” gay or lesbian.  It doesn’t work that way.  Just as having a gay or lesbian friend hasn’t done that to you–if you have one. We don’t rub off on people.  We don’t convince them of a theological concept that then makes them act on a sexual impulse.  Sexuality is hard-wired.  Although many of us might try to be the other way–MANY gays have tried being straight and kept up the pretense of being straight for most of their lifetimes, fifty years or more, with kids to show from it.  Being gay doesn’t mean that you can’t have sex with the opposite gender.  It means that you aren’t attracted to the other gender sexually.

One final note: I’m glad that lesbian has a friend in your daughter.  We need friends too.  I hope and pray that you understand that we mean no harm to people–we are just like you.  Humans in search of friendship and relationships.  There is no need to rescue your children from gay kids in their lives—gay kids need you more than ever.


Geez #27 has two of my short pieces   Leave a comment

Thank you, Melanie, for accepting and working with me on two short pieces that tried to find a common theme.  I took a trip to see my birthmother, the spiritualist, and went to the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College.  All in the same trip!  And man that was a trip!  I think the commonalities between how spiritualists look at communicating with Spirit, and how Christians communicate with the Holy Spirit and “inspiration” are fascinating.  And I’ll probably turn that into another piece one day.

For now, “As the Spirit Moves Me” and “Undercover at the Festival of Faith and Writing” are in Geez #27, forthcoming!

Posted July 4, 2012 by jstueart in churches, writing

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Introducing the New Biola University Queer Underground!   Leave a comment

It is with great pleasure that I read of the exciting things happening at Biola University in California.  It breaks my heart to go back onto Christian campuses sometimes–knowing that the LGBT community cannot express themselves as both “good Christians” and LGBT people (unless they pledge celibacy).  My recent trip to Calvin College moved me to respond–and while I see in SAGA a group that is surviving under the pressures of Calvin, I see the students at Biola, riskier perhaps, thriving.   They are pushing the envelope, not happy with the “yard privileges” that the university gives them, still prisoners, in many ways, of the administration and policy decisions on sexuality that are in place at Biola.  They have instead spoken out, strongly, and I hope that their speaking out creates a conversation for change in the administration.

For more amazing stuff, read the article in Inside Higher ED here.  I put a picture of Bryn Terfel as Wotan in the Ring Cycle here to let you know, Biola Queer students, that I think of you as bold warriors.  That what you are doing takes courage.  That it’s going to be a tough fight.  That the denomination which controls Biola may not play fair.  But that you are warriors, every one of you.

May God bless you and bring you peace in your decisions, in your convictions, and strength in holding to them.

For the Biola Queer Underground’s website, click here.

I hope more Christian campuses follow your lead.

Marilynne Robinson, Hero   4 comments

Attending the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College, I was very happy to hear that Marilynne Robinson would be giving their keynote.  Each of her three novels are highly prized.  Ms. Robinson received a Pulitzer Prize for her second novel, Gilead.  Her first novel, Housekeeping, won a Hemingway Foundation/PEN award and was nominated for a Pulitzer.  Her latest novel, Home, was a finalist in the National Book Award, and won the Orange Prize for Fiction.

No slouch, Marilynne.

She’s written, as well, a number of nonfiction books of essays on culture and thought, most often about religion and faith.

She’s a Congregationalist with a bright Calvinist core.

She’s an amazing, award-winning writer–and has been motivational in speeches in the past.   Calvin College and the Festival of Faith and Writing invited her because a) she is a Calvinist, and b) she won a Pulitzer, and c) she won the Pulitzer for a book about a minister’s life.   She could motivate their writers.  And she had been a keynote speaker at the festival in 2006 as well as given an address then to the Calvin Seminary, which was hailed as magnificent.

But Marilynne is no trained monkey as some at Calvin College discovered the night of her keynote address.  She is a mama bear.

No doubt some folks there believed she would be addressing writing, or faith, and talk about craft.  The Festival is the premiere venue for writers of faith–the best writers, in the most literary style, and probably some of the more left-leaning thinkers in the Evangelical Christian writing world attend this event.  Writers in general tend to be progressive.  It’s hard to be a reader and be closed-minded.

Still, I think most at Calvin College didn’t know quite what to do with Marilynne’s address, “Casting out Fear.”

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Christians (wanting to) Talk about Sex: a conversation with John Estes and Amy Frykholm   1 comment

At the Festival of Faith and Writing today, two intrepid authors/speakers, John Estes and Amy Frykholm, offered a seminar called The Word Needs Flesh: Sex and Faith in Contemporary Writing. As you can imagine at a Christian conference, the room was packed. People stood along the walls; they sat on the floor.

How we Talk (badly) about Sex

Amy started by saying, “There’s a misunderstanding about sexuality in the church. As Christians, we’re really bad at having this conversation. So, we’re going to step out now and try–though we’re going to make some mistakes. But if we don’t start a conversation, we leave it to the Mark Driscolls.” This received long sighs and laughs of approval, with a tinge of fear. If we were ever going to hijack the conversation, it best be right here, right now.

Many of us in the room were still giggling at double entendres before the session began, but all were rapt at listening to Amy and John have the dialogue the church should be having. I won’t spoil anything by telling you the last thing anyone said in the room. An older woman, in her “seventh decade” so she felt a freedom to speak her mind. “I learn more outside the church than I ever have in it,” referring to all that she had heard today in this seminar. We found ourselves agreeing. How do we get this conversation in the church?

“Why are we so bad at this?” Amy started. We didn’t know. “Sex is part of our core being.” Still we had problems discussing sex unless it was to talk about it as the glorious bond of marriage or the ever present temptation that could destroy that marriage. We avoided it, perhaps, because it made us more like the animals than we wanted to be. Still, it was not a topic in churches very often–and we weren’t really talking about the joy of our sexuality. We acted like it was a weapon against us till the wedding bells rang.

John’s phrasing sometimes caught me off guard as he tried to find the words for it. “Our sex is a problem without a solution. The solutions offered by the church are wanting.” Here he referred to sex only inside marriage–but also something wider–the inability, even the avoidance of talking about sexuality positively. Though I didn’t like him referring to sex as a problem, I understood which perspective he was taking. The church’s position was that sex seemed to be treated as something OUTSIDE us, a separate thing.

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The Last Supper: Johnny’s Cafe, Calvin College remix   1 comment


Art is all around us. We just have to find it. Take for instance this moment.
Go find your art.

Recreation of The Last Supper in Johnny’s Cafe, Calvin College, April 20 2012.

From Left to Right: Daniel VandeBunte, Kit Graham, Hannah Chee, Annie Bultheis, Seth Wilson, Emily Diener, Joe Gibson, Walter T. Runn, Kaile VanOene, Linda Anderson, Cotter Koopman, and Peter Rockhold. With great thanks to all these wonderful people! 🙂

Posted April 20, 2012 by jstueart in my life, writing

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