Why I Feel Homeless in the Church

Nearly 40% of this nation’s homeless youth are lgbt.  That is no accident.  Family rejection is the leading cause, which means that when young lgbt people come out to their families, they are far too frequently kicked out of their homes, and left to fend for themselves in the streets.

I have never been without shelter myself, but I submit that the homelessness that besets the lgbt community, especially those of us raised in the church, runs far deeper than we are comfortable to admit, and that the staggering number of our homeless youth is one symptom among many.

In my sophomore year of college, I participated in the Emmaus Scholars program, a residential year-long exploration of the intersection of faith and justice. It was also an experiment in Christian living, where we aimed to recreate the beloved community enjoyed by the early disciples.

One of the most valuable lessons I gleaned from that year is that poverty takes many forms. It is from a mask of privilege that we think and speak about poverty as only referring to material or monetary lack. Far more affecting, perhaps, is the devastation materially disadvantaged people experience in their psyche. When I learned this, I suddenly saw two things: I was reminded of my own privilege as a middle-class college-educated white American, and I was struck with how exactly this insight gave language to the internal anguish I experienced as a gay man in the evangelical church. More on that specific intersection later.

As I learned to take better notice and care of physically homeless people, I began to see all the ways in which so many of us are victims of “homeless hearts,” as Jay Emerson Johnson says in Peculiar Faith. Specifically, I realized the depth to which I personally felt unmoored, without a home, especially as I fought my way out of the closet.

It’s difficult to express, but absolutely essential to communicate, this hard truth: exactly as much as I have had the courage to come out, so I have felt alienated and distanced from the evangelical church.

I say difficult to express, not only because it is painful and I avoid confrontation like the plague, but also because it’s difficult for me to point to specific moments when I was actively rejected by the Body of Christ. My family never kicked me out; I enjoy intimate and honest relationships with both my parents. My home church never kicked me out; Mosaic LA is a vibrant and diverse community of artists and visionaries, who embraced me when I came out to certain people in the congregation. Nevertheless, the distance is real. And it was certainly not because I walked away.

I say essential to communicate, because the church needs to understand its position in regards to lgbt people. As Christians, we know what is at stake: the flourishing of humankind, the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth, the salvation of souls. But I posit that we’ve had the picture upside-down this whole time: lgbt people are not in danger of eternal damnation just because we live sexually gendered lives that are different than most people. Christians, however, should consider their eternal fate when perpetuating theologies of exclusion, lest we become those who cry “Lord Lord,” and hear in return “I never knew you.” It was the Pharisees, the religious right, whom Jesus called white sepulchers, a brood of vipers, those who heap on burdens, and misuse the law.

To my great sadness, whenever I reenter evangelical spaces, I immediately strike against walls. Previously, these were the closet walls, and I had erected them myself, and they were small enough to fit inside me, so that I could fit inside Christian spaces without damage. But now that I have dismantled the closet, at least enough for me to climb out and breathe clean air again, I have come up against more formidable walls.

I have to sit through bible studies where we breeze through Romans 1, as if it doesn’t carry centuries of violent weight, where I look around and no one seems to notice that I’m sweating, my heart rate is up, and I’m just waiting for someone to say “and that’s why homosexuality…”

I have to struggle through times of worship, where we listen to the same songs that have molded me since childhood, and while I no longer substitute “gay” for words like “broken” and “sin” and “healing,” I still feel a sinking in my gut that says something’s wrong with me, and if that boy on the guitar stopped singing and looked over, he would see right through to my gay self, and be filled with disgust.

I have to watch other people touched by the Spirit; speaking in tongues, or moving trance-like, or praying with great passion, what I used to call “fire,” and remember how easy it used to be, to slip into those moments, recreate those feelings, feel the euphoria. Now my mind goes on checklist mode, I go over all the times I’ve still successfully communed with God on my own, thinking “yes, I’ve still got it,” I can still pray, I can still worship, I still have my Christian card, I still belong.

The fact that those questions and fears run through my head and cause me anxiety during times of worship and study is absolutely unacceptable.

I keep coming back, however. I keep returning to the altar, taking communion with the Anglicans next door, visiting friends’ churches, watching podcasts from my home church. It’s still home for me, even though I feel homeless at home.

So my goal is to formulate a theology of home-making, where the insights and lived experiences of lgbt people take center-stage after being pushed to the margins for so long. We cannot simply be let in through the backdoor; we cannot whitewash the damage done, or downplay abuses of power. If lgbt people are going to be fully grafted onto the Body of Christ (as we already are), the rest of the church needs to repent.

And if we can successfully navigate this grafting, this transformation in the body, then I believe whole new vistas will unfold, not only for lgbt people of faith, but all of us, in all our sexual and gendered experiences, of all walks of life.

 

Thanks Obama – Why I Am a Feminist

So I just learned that in 2010, the Obama administration created the Young African Leaders Initiative, “to invest in the next generation of African entrepreneurs, educators, activists, and innovators.”

I had no idea this was a thing, and neither did most of my friends, even the politically and socially active ones; even the ardent Obama supporters. Thanks American exceptionalism.

They posted a video earlier today sporting a panel of activists to discuss issues of gender justice and equality. It was immensely refreshing to hear these voices, directly from the perspective of African nationals, because so often I encounter anti-feminists in the US loosely referring to gender injustice in African nations as a “gotcha” tactic to bolster their shitty arguments with undue social capital.

I’m not saying Obama made me a feminist, but I am so grateful for this initiative, for a glimpse into the state of the discourse in African nations, and a chance to network with activists and young people across the world. I also wish that more Americans, on all sides of the discourse, would actually listen to conversations like this, because we could learn so much from our African counterparts.

Okay, now for some boring theory time:

I am an aspiring feminist because I recognize that the patriarchy affects everyone, people of all genders, in harmful ways. Said without jargon, I am a feminist because I have come to notice certain patterns in how the world works, and how we treat each other. Namely, I have noticed that men are in power over women, and that this power imbalance results in devastation to all parties.

As a gay man, patriarchy hurts my body. The way I am sexually gendered goes against patriarchal structures; the fact that I am attracted to other men threatens the stability of other men’s relationships, because I don’t live or feel the way men are supposed to live or feel, and that makes other men question why they live and feel the way they do. It also means I don’t fit into the space we’ve carved out for men in relationships with other men and with people of other genders. Because of this transgression, I am targeted for violence. Aside from slurs and threats and ridicule (all of which I have experienced), this violence also takes the form of constant, never-ending pressure to reject my sexually gendered identity and conform to expectations. Expectations of what a man is supposed to be; especially a Christian man. More on that later.

Unfortunately, this violence also takes the form of housing, job, and healthcare discrimination, and hate crimes. We live in the shadow of the Pulse shooting; we champion the victory of marriage equality while at the same time recognizing that that milestone needs to be the first among many.

I hope we can be encouraged by remembering that young people across the world, in Zambia, Mauritius, The Gambia, and Ethiopia, as well as many others, are also fighting for equity along gender lines, and an end to the patriarchy.

For all these reasons and more, I call myself a feminist. Thanks Obama for helping open lines of communication between young people dedicated to making the world a better place, where gender differences are celebrated, not regulated.

The Dancing Boy

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One day, as I was preparing for dance class, getting dressed, I looked down at my thighs. For the first time in many years, I liked what I saw.

The fear of coming out had me saturated in self-hatred to such a degree that it seeped into how I viewed my body. As middle school advanced, I quickly developed insecurity about my looks. Coming into the dance world rather late, in 9th grade, did not help the situation: I looked around at all the beautiful, flexible girls in my dance classes, and the hip hop boys with style, smooth moves, and solid abs, and I deflated a little.

Because of my amazing professors, I have been able to blossom as a dancer, and gradually begin to overcome my huge frustration with my body. Dance as an art form does something unique: more than any other method of communication, creative or otherwise, dance allows a person to project something outward while at the same time discovering it within themselves.

And when a person wakes up to their body as an instrument of beauty and creation, they develop a sense of dignity and worth.  As my Modern teacher says, “You take up valuable space and breathe valuable air, so don’t apologize for it.”

Dance is now the tool God is using in my life to help overcome self-hatred, and almost against my will (it’s definitely a surprise) I’m beginning to love myself as I am, and simultaneously fight for greater fitness.

Sidenote: Crossfit is a wonderful exercise philosophy and technique that everyone should dabble in!

2012-04-01 Urban Photo Collective Visit Stichting Aight

Both dance and martial arts (Shotokan Karate) have taught me how to present myself confidently regardless of what’s going on behind the scenes in my life. This is a good thing, an important skill. Another grace in my life is that while I was a young dancer, no one teased me for it, and if people thought I was gay for being a male dancer, they never told me.

But sometimes I wonder.

Has performance practice taught me how to face my fears?  Or hide from them behind my confident face?

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A Chocolate-Filled Eclair: Fear Faces

~ This is the beginning of a series of posts on my story, and the importance of words. ~

The two most terrifying moments of my life were when I jumped off of Victoria Falls with a bungee cord wrapped around my legs, and when I pressed “Send” on an email to my father telling him I’m gay.

The fear of coming out is probably one of the most devastating fears people face today. The image of “coming out,” especially out of a “closet,” gives an easy visual to the roiling internal reality that queer people face whenever they consider revealing their identity for the first time. Why is this fear so potent? All people are afraid; what gives the queer experience a unique place in the plethora of human fears?

Because being gay in Christian America means to be a hidden minority.

I was a hidden minority in my church, in my neighborhood, in my family, in my friend circles. And for some reason, even though I never heard it from anyone in authority, and rarely from peers, I had ingested and accepted intense self-hatred for being gay.

So for me, the fear of coming out was the fear of revealing a new piece of myself, previously unnoticed by anyone as I thought, and I was sure that when I was found out and brought to the light, I would be rejected; cast off as disgusting.

When the secret of your minority status gets out, there’s no telling what your friends and family and youth leaders will do, especially when everyone around you is so good at gay impressions, or spouting off about faggots going to hell, or how the homosexual agenda is ruining our country. While this slander was not part of my early coming-out experience, it is universally understood and acutely felt by the queer community. And for a young person with a burgeoning sexuality, what could be more terrifying than baring the most vulnerable part of yourself to peers who are just as emotionally unstable as you are?

So the fear of coming out is related to the fear of exposure. What makes the queer struggle unique from other minority issues is that we can be invisible if we want. We can be silent if we want. We don’t wear our queerness on our skin.

But silence can be deadly, no one wants to be invisible, and secrets can kill.

So in the spring of freshman year in 2009, instead of killing myself, I came out to my dad.

Which, in retrospect, is not the usual course of action for a young gay person growing up in a Christian household. But my father responded with unbelievable love and acceptance, my mother as well, and I went on throughout high school to develop a close-knit group of friends who supported me. My fears of rejection were never realized, and with each person I came out to, I felt a little more free, a little less heavy and dark, and a little more rainbow-colored on the inside.

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Creative Commons License Photo Credit: غzǻҰёll ♥ RAINBOW ! via Compfight

Last summer, I worked with a Christian organization as a camp counselor, and had the time of my life. On one of our staff retreats, we went to the beach, where several worship stations were set up by the water. One of them was on “loving yourself.” The exercise was to write down our brokenness in the sand, and watch as the waves washed it clean. Then we would write it down again, and watch the waves come once more, repeating this process until it sunk in that God’s grace is never-ending and unconditional.

So I bent down and wrote “Boys” in the sand, because obviously boys were my problem.

But the waves never came.

I stood, growing increasingly anxious, as absolutely nothing happened. I thought frantically, “Maybe I should rub it out and write it closer to the water!” I was terrified someone would look over and see what I had written.

And then I realized: I was terrified. The real issue was not boys in general, but fear in particular. So I bent down and wrote “Fear” above the word “Boys,” slightly further from the shore.

And instantly, a wave came and crashed over it all, washing it away into nothing.

Boys were not the problem: in the area of my sexual orientation, I have rarely been hurt by a boy. I was afraid they would disown me as their friend, but they didn’t. I was afraid they would stonewall me and refuse to communicate, but they didn’t. Instead, it was my fear that caused me to suffer. The boys in my life have been wonderful sources of healing and nourishment; it was my fear that crippled me.

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~~~

Fear is incredibly versatile. This deep-seated fear of discovery branched out and blossomed into other fears:

I still have a lingering fear of confrontation, which has made it incredibly muddy whenever I attempt to resolve conflicts. I also still retain a moody fear of rejection, which manifests itself in a desperate need to prove my worth, to be a people-pleaser, and to maintain the image of niceness and innocence. I even believed for a time that God was purposefully isolating me from my peers because I was gay. And for ages, I couldn’t stand up to injustice. Not just gay jokes and insults, but also anything else: racism, bullying, sexism, classism… I remained silent.

But now I see my Enemy, and I recognize its face. And so I practice facing my fears, doing those things I know are right regardless of how my stomach feels about it or what my shaking knees might tell me. Slowly, I have begun to hatch from my egg, to come out of my bubble; and not just out of the closet, but also out of shyness into sociableness. And I am learning that with words, fears can be overcome.

All of this leads to the present: This blog is part of my goal to eventually bring my story into the open, to a point where I no longer have to hide from anyone. And I am very close to coming out in a large, complete way at my college. There are extended family members who still should not know, and I could forfeit job opportunities and lose contact with some of my favorite people if I came out on facebook, or to certain friend circles.

But there is change in the air. And not just in my life, but at my campus as a whole, and in this nation at large. If I want to join the movement of God as it leaps into the future, I must throw off the fear that so easily entangles, and take up the yoke of Christ, which is easy and light.

Besides, part of being an adult is the ability to just take a deep breath and press “Send”.

Three Posts And A Blog

Two weeks ago, by some magic coincidence of the Internet, I came across three links, one right after the other on my facebook feed, and was struck by their deeply clashing messages.

The first was a picture of the “Fagbug,” along with the following story: “Erin Davies, once a victim to a hate crime in Albany, New York where her car was vandalized and left with the words ‘fag’ and ‘u r gay’ on the driver’s side window and hood of her car, decided to embrace what happened by leaving the graffiti on her car in efforts to educate others about the continued presence of homophobia that is still woven in the fabric of society. She took her car, now known worldwide as the Fagbug, had a documentary featured on Netflix and Hulu, and embarked on a 58-day trip around the US and Canada. After driving the fagbug for a year and taking on LGBT advocacy full-time, Erin decided to give her car a makeover and in 2013 stopped by the Equality House. On Saturday she stopped by again to share more stories and to give us a sneak preview of her second documentary, Fagbug Nation, that chronicled her last pilgrimage.” (Equality House)

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Reading this encouraged me about the state of our nation: that queer people experience this kind of hate is not surprising, but that Erin Davis was so quick on the comeback made me hopeful that in this generation things really will get better.

On a deeper note, I also look forward to the day when the Fagbug is no longer needed: when queer people are accepted to the degree that we no longer have to fight for basic human rights in a country that boasts of “liberty and justice for all.”

Then I read the comments.

I probably shouldn’t have, everyone knows that comments on facebook and youtube are like a black hole of despair for humanity. I saw comments that scoffed at the redneck idiots who had the audacity to hurt Erin Davis. Comments that decried the hateful bigots in this country and complained at the ugliness of Christian and American culture. While I completely understand the basis for these comments; there are certainly idiots, some of them rednecks, some of them Christian, some of them American; I’m sure Erin Davis is not trying to tell us about the haters when she rides the Fagbug.

My question to those commentators would be, “How can we expect a change in attitude towards the queer community if we return hate for hate and reinforce the polarization of our communities?” The message of the Fagbug is overcoming hate, not returning it; standing up under insults, not throwing them back at the senders.

As victims of social discrimination, we as queer people have a strange opportunity: we get to be more Christian than some Christians. We get to turn the other cheek, we get to love our enemies, we get to pray for those who persecute us. Instead of using our (very legitimate) victim status as an excuse to lash out against our enemies, as the “weak” ones we get to prove everyone wrong by the overwhelming strength of our character.

As we step into conflict, unafraid to blend colors together, to live alongside each other peacefully, to acknowledge and celebrate our differences, we reveal why rainbows are absolutely captivating. The world was not made in a monochrome: it was created to reflect the beauty and diversity of the divine Artist.

What community is better equipped to communicate this than one that has chosen the rainbow as our image of pride?

~~~

The second post on my feed, directly following the first, was an article on the Daily Signal about two ministers possibly facing fines and jail time because they refused to marry a gay couple. The story illustrated unnerving behavior on all sides: questionable government interference, a gay couple’s confusing decisions, and unbelievably dense Christian heads.

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This story concerns me on a number of levels. First of all, it is unacceptable for the government to coerce anyone’s hand in any marriage. This is why I share Mr. Anderson’s indignation that the government would force a chapel to perform a gay wedding. This is also why I believe gay marriage should be legalized nationwide.

I agree that the city cannot claim their course of action is pursuing the issue in the least restrictive way. And I also find it strange that the gay couple would go to the Knapps to be married if they thought they might be refused, and why they chose this more difficult path instead of finding another chapel.

However, Mr. Anderson reveals his ignorance of the significance of marriage when he points across the street to a county clerk’s office, saying “There are numerous other venues where a same-sex couple could get married.” A gay couple wanting to get married would naturally want to be married in the same way straight people are married: in a church setting, with all the recognition of the beauty and seriousness of their commitment. Getting a piece of paper from a clerk’s office is not the same. How this is not patently obvious defeats me.

But the clincher came when I read this:

“[A]s a result of the courts redefining marriage and a city ordinance that creates special privileges based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the Knapps are facing government coercion.”

As if, in a surprising turn of events, people in governmental authority have suddenly redefined marriage and passed an ordinance, and as a result the church body finds itself disadvantaged in relation to a certain population granted special privileges based on sexual identity.

This, of course, is a wildly inaccurate view of the situation. A broader vision of social reality in the United States reveals that the queer community has for at least a century suffered violent discrimination at the hand of normative American culture, most often Christian. To suggest that Christians are the marginalized group and the queer community is the privileged group is ridiculous, just as it is to suggest that Affirmative Action privileges minority students and marginalizes white students.

But on a deeper level, doesn’t the fact that we’re blowing up over fines and jail time and ordinances and government policies show us that we’ve mixed up our priorities? Personally, I get much more out of discussing how faith informs sexuality than how policy informs my marriage prospects. I should be able to get married if straight people can get married. But the relationship between my Christian faith and queer identity is complex and compelling.

In fact, I would prefer to get over the hurdle of sexuality, and simply discuss how to be a good Christian; gay, straight, trans, cisgendered, bisexual, black, white, red, yellow, purple, or rainbow-colored.

If someone were to ask me, “You’re gay? That’s awesome. How has God revealed himself to you in a way that maybe those of us who are straight might not understand?” I might just die of happiness.

~~~

And then, immediately following these two stories, I saw this picture:

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From “Jesus Christ is KING” Page on Facebook

I see so much chaos today in the divide between the church and the queer community. My prayer is that both sides would see that chaos has authority as long as we refuse to be humble, to listen, to see the “other” as a human being with a full and painful story.

To my Christian friends: as followers of Christ, indwelled with the Holy Spirit, it is our responsibility to take the first step towards reconciliation. Queer people have not hurt us; not systemically. We are the privileged, the powerful, the spiritually wealthy. So if we don’t humble ourselves, as our Lord did, and come to the queer community on equal footing, how on Earth can we have the audacity to say to queer people that they are welcome at our churches?

To my queer friends: I know it’s hard. Forgiveness sucks. Sometimes hatred feels good, especially if it masks a world of pain. You are completely justified in your rejection of the church. But I’m asking you to believe better of people. I’m asking you to consider that even if Christians may fail, maybe the Person they’re trying to emulate won’t. And if nothing else, we should live by the respect we ask of others, and give to those who have persecuted us the same dignity and freedom that we ask for ourselves.

To my queer Christian friends: The time to speak is now.

Let’s do this thing!!

We Are The Church–The Code of a Sarcastic Lutheran

It’s time the queer community stops being called an “issue.”

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“Our Inspiration”

One of the main problems queer people in the church face is that the moment their identity is made clear they suddenly attract all kinds of attention, positive or negative, that focuses on their sexual orientation as an important political, social, or religious issue to be discussed. Instead, the church should respond by accepting and affirming all its members equally, and focusing the discussion on how to best live in beloved community. The church should respond with joy at the diversity of its members, whether ethnic or sexual or economic or otherwise, and should seek to understand what the gospel of Jesus Christ looks like in the unique lives of each culture represented.

Nadia Bolz-Weber, a pastor in Denver, Colorado, produced a video that addresses this problem, and beautifully communicates the voice of her congregation as they reveal the truth that it is not only possible but powerful to be both queer and Christian.

Her video includes soundbites from several queer members in her congregation who give reasons for why they continue to attend church, why they continue to believe in Jesus Christ, and why they do not appreciate being called an “issue.”

Nadia Bolz-Weber was asked to upload a video for a leadership conference which focused on discussing “culture clash,” especially “the issue of homosexuality,” so instead of joining the throng of participants probably posting about their opinions and academic or political debates over the “issue,” she captured the real voices of her congregation.

The world needs more of these voices. Some of my college friends and I had the privilege of hosting Oliver O’Donovan (a world-class ethicist) for dinner a couple Sundays back, and one of the things he said that grabbed my attention and hasn’t left my head since is that he is disturbed by the relative silence of gay Christians, compared to the din of conservative and liberal political noise drowning out clearer voices in this critical conversation.

It was motivation like none other to get this blog going, and hopefully add one more clear and honest voice from the gay Christian perspective. My prayer is that more people, on both sides of this divide that should not exist, would see people like Pastor Nadia and come increasingly onto the middle ground, which is really the only place that reconciliation ever happens.

One more word about the middle ground: it does not mean compromise.

Neither the most conservative Christian nor the most liberal queer person needs to compromise anything about what they believe in order to find reconciliation.  The only things that we cannot bring to the middle ground are prejudice and fear. If we can believe the best in each other, not because everyone’s secretly good on the inside, but because love overcomes hate, then we can begin to have honest conversations about what it means to be gay, and what it means to be Christian.

Then we’ll discover more of what it means to be human.

A Chocolate-Filled Eclair: Speaking in Code

Yes, the title of this post is in code. It means that I am filled with words, and I am ready to speak. It means that when people expect an eclair with white filling, they get chocolate filling instead:

It is October of 2014, and as a gay Christian, I have to tread carefully online in order to protect myself.

This is unacceptable.

When people meet me for the first time, I am straight until proven gay.  When people learn that I’m gay, I am promiscuous until proven healthy.  When people make gay jokes, they assume I’m okay with it until I object.

This needs to change, and I pray that with words, I will be able to make some sort of difference in this world when it comes to the church, the queer community, and the love Christ calls everyone to share.