In the early 1990s I was indoctrinated, the only other appropriate word would be brainwashed, into fearing and discriminating against those who were born homosexual. It was a time of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” in the military and I was in the Marines. I was also a member of a Southern Baptist Church in Honolulu at the time and it was there that I learned all about the “Gay Agenda” and how it was perfidiously undermining America, the nuclear family and society in general. I wish I could say that I saw right through the hate filled invective that spewed forth from the pastor’s mouth, the videos we were shown, and the story of the guest speaker who claimed to have repented from the “sin” of promiscuous homosexuality. Alas, I cannot truthfully make that claim for my 20 something year old self. I was told, along with the rest of the congregation, that the North American Man Boy Love Association was a typical, mainstream group in the gay community, i.e. that gay men are essentially pedophiles, and that the bathhouse scene of wanton, promiscuous sex was also the norm for gay men. Of course both of those things were outrageously false then as now but I fell for it basically hook, line and sinker and became an ignorant, homophobic young man who ran around wearing a custom made ball cap that said, “I Support Gun Rights and Gay Control” because I thought it was clever. It wasn’t. It was bigotry pure and simple.
I do not recall precisely when that view point began to unravel for me. The only explanation I have is that I am the beneficiary of some truly amazing grace in this and other areas of life and thought. As my collegiate studies progressed and I learned to think more critically about the things I had learned in my life while growing up in rural Texas and as an evangelical Christian Marine, the more views that were based upon ignorance, fear, or some sort of racial superiority complex began to come apart at the seams. I could no longer believe in the American fundamentalist version of Christianity, the notion of “American Exceptionalism” and its inherent militarism and xenophobia, nor could I believe that the LGBTQ community was going to precipitate the downfall of humanity due to its godless sinfulness. Later I learned, or finally allowed myself to understand that I am not “exclusively heterosexual” as described by the Kinsey Scale. I’d say that I would be determined to be a 1 or 2 on the scale which makes me predominately heterosexual but with “incidental” or perhaps”more than incidental” homosexual desires. On a scale of 1-100% I’d place myself as 90-95% heterosexual and 5-10% bisexual and I now understand that this simply describes how I was born as a sexual human being.
The 2016 mass shooting tragedy in Orlando, FL at the Pulse nightclub underscores painfully the ignorance that still exists in America and the world regarding homosexuality due in part to poor understandings of scripture, people’s inner conflict with being gay or having a gay loved one, toxic masculinity, and lack of education about the LGBTQIA community. I am hopeful that my story, and the stories of others who have moved from abhorrence based upon ignorance to complete, loving acceptance of our gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning neighbors will inspire others to become radically welcoming to the LGBTQIA community and love them for who they are. To do anything other than accepting people for who they are often leads to hatefulness, bigotry and in extreme instances, violence. Imagine feeling extremely vulnerable whenever you are in public or literally being hated simply for being who you are…
I’m a white male in a heterosexual marriage and I have a Bachelor’s degree in history and a Master’s Degree in Religion, all of which indicates a certain level of privilege. This privilege insulates me from a great number of things that people of color, LGBTQIA, or those in low income areas have to deal with routinely. In order to understand, if even a tiny way, what it might feel like to be vulnerable like that and to show solidarity with my LGBTQIA friends and neighbors, I decided to wear a skirt to church one Sunday shortly after the Pulse shooting and then to the Lancaster Pride Fest afterwards where I would be working at the church’s booth for a couple of hours. It didn’t take long for the anxiety that I experience due to PTSD to kick in and the self talk to become a negotiation with myself about showing solidarity in a less “envelope pushing” or “safer” way. My heart started to pound before I even left our house and I began to sweat much more than usual. In the end, I stopped negotiating with myself, took a deep breath and headed out the door. Walking down the street by myself in our new neighborhood (we had recently bought a small house in Lancaster, PA) wearing a long, bright red skirt, rainbow suspenders, and a blue “seek peace” t-shirt , felt like one of the bravest things I’ve done in quite a long time. There was no way for me to be inconspicuous. I’m 6’2″ tall, weigh about 180 pounds and at that time had long hair and fairly unruly beard. In other words, I stuck out like a sore thumb.
The walk from church to the Pride Fest downtown was equally nerve wracking. Every time a person drove past me or walked by, I braced myself for some nasty comment or snide remark. To add to my consternation, I needed some cash for the event and had to stop at two different places to find an ATM, all while feeling incredibly conspicuous. After getting some cash, I got myself an organic iced tea and then went to stand in line at in the CVS to pay for it. The guy in front of me gave me a sidelong glance and I detected a mildly derisive look but nothing further happened. I walked the last few blocks to the event without incident and once I was there, I no longer stood out so much, nor did I feel threatened in any way. I had literally walked a mile (actually a bit more than a mile) in someone else’s shoes and it was scary, which was illuminating in more ways than one. On the lighter side, I know now that skirts are SUPER comfy in hot weather… I hope my decision to don a skirt and step out of my comfort zone will help me to be more consistently loving, more compassionate, and to more fully embody the ethic of “neighbor care” and “The Golden Rule” as I continue on my journey in life. I also pray that it will inspire others to do likewise.
In the event that any evangelical Christian people chance upon this blog, I say, “Grace and the Peace of Christ be with you”. If by chance anyone wants to say that I am cavorting with “sinners” by having friends in the LGBTQIA community and by attending an open, affirming church, then I’ll politely say in advance that I fundamentally disagree with the notion that God created people who are gay and then said, “Sucks to be you. You’re gay, I made you that way, BUT it’s a sin, so good luck with that.” Imagine that someone determined that having blue eyes was sinful. Absurd right? Even if it were a sin (which again, I think is absolute nonsense) I would remind my Christian neighbors that Jesus hung out with so called “sinners” ALL THE TIME and he just loved them rather than condemning them. He offered them grace and saved his condemnation for systems of oppression and sacrifice be they religious or related to an occupying empire. We are called to love as Jesus has loved for God is love, and Jesus is the Incarnation, according to John’s Gospel. And here’s the kicker, “Love keeps no record of wrongs” as Paul notes in i Corinthians. So if God is love and therefore keeps no record of wrongs, why do we insist upon keeping such lengthy, detailed records of everyone else’s “wrongs”? I’d say we’ve had it backwards for far too long…Diversity is beautiful and is evident throughout creation in myriad ways–including human sexuality. Gender scientist at Brown University for instance now know that there are a minimum of 5 human genders of which cis females and males are only the most numerous. (See Hanne Blank’s book entitled Straight for more details.)
We are also called to stop judging one another and to look deeply at ourselves, make ourselves perfect first, which is a rather difficult undertaking, and only then can we legitimately call others out on their “sin” if we choose to ignore grace. I would also like to to remind anyone using God to bash gays, that Jesus said not a single word that we know of about what we know call homosexuality despite the fact sex between same gendered people was common in the ancient world. Perhaps this is because there was never meant to be a blanket prohibition of homosexuality at all, as a rabbi once told a Jewish friend of mine. Some scholars maintain that the ancient manuscripts do not actually speak of loving, same gendered relationships at all, but rather denounce all coercive, forced sex, including that which takes place between men and boys, which of course is an entirely different thing. There are translation issues at stake as well. Dr. Julia O’Brien, a world renowned Hebrew Bible scholar, noted in our class on Gender, Sexuality, and the Bible, that one of the so called clobber passages in Leviticus is actually not translatable into anything that makes sense. The original text reads, “Man shall not lie with the lyings of a woman.” Who can say what the original Iron Age authors meant. And does it matter in the broader context of the entire canon which is much more focused on love, justice, mercy, and peace? We must remember that Jesus flipped so much of the Jewish scriptures on their head by saying things like, “You have heard it said, but I say to you…” If we as people of faith are using our faith or our scriptures as a weapon to hurt individuals, or groups of people, we’re doing it wrong.
I’ll leave you with my own modern retelling of the parable of the Good Samaritan:
A certain man, holding hatred in his heart against gay people, while walking home was stabbed in an alley and then robbed. The man moaned loudly as a bishop was going past. The bishop not wanting to stain his robes, crossed the road, muttering a little prayer for the wounded man. Soon a Southern Baptist preacher, in suit and tie, saw the stricken man and quickly turned away, looked at his watch and hurried past. Moments later, an impeccably well dressed and groomed black man, whose name was Nathan walked towards the alley where the wounded man lay. He was talking on his cell phone to his husband, and the wounded man heard him say, “I love you too Gary and I’ll be home soon.” Upon hanging up, Nathan saw the wounded man, let out an exclamation of alarm and then ran towards him. He removed his tailored jacket and placed it under the wounded man’s head and then pulled off his expensive shirt to staunch the flow of blood from the knife wound. Nathan then called for an ambulance and waited for its arrival while doing everything he could to keep the man in severe pain calm, holding his hand and speaking softly to him as the minutes passed. He rode to the hospital in the ambulance and once there insisted upon paying for the victim’s medical treatment and all his living expenses while the victim recovered.
Which one of these people was most like Jesus? Who do you want to emulate?