Friday, March 05, 2010

Another Opportunity for Ministry

My writing for today is an e-mail I sent to a young man in Florida whose story has been told in recent days on Daily Kos, in a diary entitled, "My Nephew Was Outed and Kicked Out of School Today." As the title suggests, the young man (18) was outed as gay and thrown out of his conservative "Christian" high school in North Carolina. His parents tried to send him to the pastor of their evangelical church where he would be told he needed to be "cured."
A similar situation in that church a bit earlier ended with the suicide of a young gay man who was told he needed to be cured from his sinful life. Lots of studies show that tragic story is repeated often among young gay men, especially when they are in unwelcoming contexts.
Instead of going to his church, the young man in the diary hopped in his car and drove to Florida to his aunt and uncle's home. She wrote the diary, and in a follow up, at her nephew's insistence, included his e-mail. I wrote him a brief supportive note last evening, and he wrote back asking a few questions.
Here's what I sent him this morning.

I have heard many others say pretty much exactly what you've said here. The good news is ... well, the good news! The gospel is about God's love for all of creation or it's about nothing at all. As Paul wrote to the Romans,
"Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." Romans 13:10

So when people say hateful things or act hatefully to you in the name of God or the Bible or the church they are simply wrong. They may believe they are acting out of the best intentions, but they are wrong. They're wrong to take the Bible as more important than its message of love. They are wrong to treat you as less than a neighbor to be loved, as other than a child of God made in the image of a loving God for the sole purpose of loving and being loved.
Their Biblical interpretation skills aren't very good either. To begin with, the Bible actually says nothing at all about "homosexuality" because, in fact, the word "homosexual" did not exist in any language until the late 1800s. The writers of scripture simply had no concept of committed, same-gender relationships and thus no word for it. The handful of passages that are used to condemn homosexuality have nothing to do with what we now understand homosexuality to be -- that is to say, those passages have nothing to do with you and your sexuality, which is a gift from God.
There is a ton of Biblical study on this topic, but the best relatively short piece I've come across is actually fairly old (1980s) written by a theologian named Walter Wink. You can find it on line here. The organization whose web site is linked there is called SoulForce, and it was founded by the Rev. Mel White and his partner. Mel was raised in a conservative evangelical household and trained for ministry in the evangelical part of the church. Along the way he worked with Pat Robertson, Billy Graham, Jerry Fallwell and other conservatives pastors. Mel is a warm, wonderful, grounded Christian and could be a voice of wisdom for you. His contact information is on the bio page of the SoulForce site.
Beyond the gay-related scripture stuff, I encourage you to read the Psalms. As a straight guy (married with three kids, including a son your age), I've certainly never had to go through what you are in the midst of, but like everyone I've faced difficult times and deep pain. In those moments the poetry of the Psalms has reminded me that I'm not alone, that pain and hurt and anger are universal experiences, that though we walk sometimes through the darkest valleys and feel that enemies surround us, God is with us and God's steadfast love endures forever. The Psalms give voice to all of that, and I believe that's why Jesus quoted them on the cross -- "my God, my God, why have you foresaken me" -- and, hey, if it's good enough for Jesus!
I also highly recommend getting hold of the documentary, For the Bible Tells Me So. It is a wonderful look at the lives of several families who struggle through a child's coming out and their church's response. If you follow the link to the film's site take a look at the statement of director Daniel Karslake. My good friend, the Rev. Carol Howard Merritt, interviewed Karslake on her radio podcast, God Complex Radio, a while back and it's a good listen. The religion and faith program of the Human Rights Campaign has produced a study guide for the documentary as well. The Rev. Harry Knox, who directs HRC's faith-based outreach is friend of mine and I'm sure he'd be happy to e-chat with you as well. Harry's going to be preaching at my church in a couple of weeks. He's a warm, funny, faithful, southern, gay man who is just good fun to talk with.
I hope I'm not overloading you with this, but I'm figuring you'll use what seems useful and ignore the rest. I do hope you'll get the sense from this that there are tons of faithful Christians who love God and take scripture seriously (and seriously enough not to take it literally), who also understand that the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered folks are part of God's wondrous creation and they are beloved by their Creator just as they are. Lots of such folks are, like you and me, southeners, and many grew up in pretty conservative households and churches, and have walked down the road you are traveling. So you are not alone in this, and there is a place in a loving, supportive, welcoming faith community for you.
I've written a note to my friend Michael Adee who directs the More Light Presbyterians network of congregations in my denomination working for the full inclusion and empowerment of GLBT people in the life of the church. I asked Michael for suggestions of contacts in the Tampa area, and I'm sure he will have some ideas that I'll pass along. Michael is another strong, warm, funny, faithful, southern, gay man (who also has a strange sports affliction being a die-hard Saints fan which also deeply offends the Peyton fan in me -- what is it with you people that you cannot see that God loves Tennessee more and that Rocky Top is a hymn in highest heaven!). He's also an accomplished athlete and has competed in the world Gay Games in tennis. I'm sure that Michael would also be happy to connect.
Hang in there through all of this. Keep the faith, and know, above all else, that you are beloved.

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