“The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickedness of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness. For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what He has made. As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord Him glory as God or give Him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. While claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes. Therefore, God handed them over to impurity through the lusts of their hearts for the mutual degradation of their bodies. They exchanged truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for perversity. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God handed them over to the their undiscerning mind to do what is improper.” (Romans 1:18-28)
Yesterday was one of my patented “Oh, crap (G-rated version of expletive), I’m running late again!” mornings. It was Sunday and I didn’t have to be at church until 8 a.m. instead of the usual mad dash to be on the road before 7:30 like most Wednesdays through Saturdays. Of course, that was the problem. I had “plenty of time,” or so I thought. But that is neither here nor there and I’m getting off topic. To keep the long story short, I got to church about 10 minutes late. With many blushes, I slipped into a back pew, got down on bended knee and then settled myself to listen to the next 40 minutes or so of the homily. Of course, being late, I was still working through that last minute adrenaline rush. For those first few moments, my mind continued to race and dart about, unable to focus.
And then I was brought up short.
Did Father Ben just say what I think he said? Did he just ask us to love our brethren…yeah, I’m used to hearing about loving and praying for our brethren regardless of the color of their skin or economic status, etc., etc., etc., but…regardless of their lifestyle? He didn’t label it as a choice (because it is not); he simply said lifestyle. I confess, it is the first time I have heard any member of the clergy utter anything that might be loving towards anyone identifying as LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (or Questioning)). In fact, I’ve even heard horror stories of some clergy (and it extends across many denominations) refusing to give even a eulogy for someone who is LGBTQ.
I smiled. This sermon’s been too long in coming.
Father Ben is new to my parish. Father Elson left the parish last December to return to India. I miss him, as do many other parishioners, for he breathed new life into our parish in so many ways. Well, it seems Father Ben is doing likewise. And, to confirm that, yes, I did hear what I thought I heard, he went on to ask us to extend the hand of fellowship to all of God’s children…from every shade and tone of skin, walk of life, culture, country of origin and, yes, even if homosexual. (Yes, he uttered the word)
I felt this warmth settle over me. And I’m sure Father Ben knows the passage of Scripture I quoted at the beginning of this post even better than I do. If I’m not mistaken, I believe Catholic priests spend something like 12 years in seminary (maybe more). So, yes, he knows this passage that so many quote to malign and ostracize those who identify as LGBTQ.
How many plantation owners used biblical passages to “justify” the ownership of another human being before the American Civil War?
This is also the second “nudge” I feel He has given me in as many weeks to write this post. The first was last week’s anthropology class reading about how many Native American tribes refer to LGBTQ as people “gifted with ‘Two Spirits'” and have a third gender identified in their culture for “those born with both the male and female spirit”(MindEdge, Inc, 2016, 5.26). Rather than reviling someone for their orientation, they hold them in very high regard. These people of “Two Spirits” often become holy men and women within the tribe because it is said that they have a deeper understanding and empathy towards others, having the body of one but the inclinations of the other. This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve looked at my Native American heritage with so much respect and admiration. Despite being termed as “savages” by early settlers, and having had no formal teachings, or readings of the Bible before Europeans arrived, our First Nations’ people have/had a deeper understanding of the Lord and His teachings than many more “learned” members of the clergy (and I believe the first part of the above passage would explain that, being so close to His creation (nature) as they are/were…). Would that the values and beliefs our native tribes held for each other have been embraced by greedy European settlers who saw instead a land of great wealth and sought only to cheat and rob them of their land…and even their culture, in some cases. But that’s a different rant for a different day.
You see, this blog post has been written and re-written numerous times. And I’m still dipping that proverbial toe into those turbulent waters and pulling it back out again repeatedly. I confess, I have shied away every time before hitting “Post”. This is a controversial subject. Oftentimes, it leads to heated discussions. It has even escalated into acts of violence in some instances. And I avoid conflict like the plague. If you accused me of timidity, I’d probably turn on you like a viper; you’ve hit a nerve. I could blame it on a childhood where violence and abuse were re-occurring events but I can only blame the childhood so far. It may have left me with a bitter taste for conflict but it is no excuse for not standing up for what I believe is right and true. I believe God is telling me that He can’t use me if I’m going to play it “safe” and avoid the conflicts. If I’m going to follow Him, I have to be brave. I have to trust that He’s got my back. And that He knows my heart, knows that this post comes from a place of love. His love. He isn’t asking me to go looking for the conflicts; He’s asking me not to shy away from them. When they matter.
I am hetero. I don’t say this out of any phobia. It’s simply a fact of life. And there’s a point to it if everyone stays with me here…both Christian and non, hetero and LGBTQ. I was born with this orientation. Both ex-husbands were male. And any dating has also been with men. That’s not going to change today, tomorrow, next week, or next year. It is as natural to me as breathing to date men. And I have to believe that for anyone who identifies as LGBTQ, the same is true…but yet the opposite. I.e. it is as natural as breathing, for example, for a homosexual male to seek another man when dating as it is for me to do the same…even though I am female. In other words, again, it is not a CHOICE. We are born with our orientations, whatever it is for each of us.
And I firmly believe that.
I have two cousins who are in same-sex relationships, one male, one female. In fact, they are both in what our society terms “civil unions” with their partners. They were also brought up in Christian homes. I can’t imagine the courage it took to open up about themselves, and the people they ultimately fell in love with, but I can tell you one thing: not a single member of our family was the least bit surprised. You see, though one is female and the other male, biologically, they each had certain…I’m going to say “elements” of the opposite gender. (Or maybe I should borrow that Native American terminology and say they had ‘two spirits’…) The female cousin is of my own generation. We spent our early childhoods together but then my family moved out West. When we returned to New England, that first Christmas home, my grandmother hosted a Christmas party in her basement. I was looking forward to seeing my cousins again; it had been many years. And then my eyes settled on someone behind the bar, someone I didn’t recognize at first. I remember asking one of my other cousins who the boy was behind the bar. It was my female cousin. She hadn’t opened up about her sexuality yet; she was still only about 15 and, doubtless, finding her way, coming to terms with it all…maybe building the courage to speak up, as her parents had left the Catholic faith and become born-again. I imagine their church may have taken a harder line on homosexuality. The other cousin, a boy, is closer in age to my much-younger brother. I never mistook him for a girl but, even as young as 4 or 5 years old, the age he was when we first returned home, you could see the two spirits lighting him up from within. And at 4 or 5 years of age, I seriously doubt he was even thinking about his sexuality yet. Yes, each chose their life’s partner, just as I chose my ex-husbands. But the orientation that pointed them in the direction their dating life took was not a choice.
What was a choice was for past generations of LGBTQ to marry someone of the opposite gender, even knowing their attraction was to the same gender (or maybe both…or maybe they just liked wearing the traditional clothes of another gender–we could go on). I’m going to guess that maybe some thought there was something “wrong” with them for this preference. And sometimes their religion (if any) rained fire and brimstone down on their heads, quoting passages like the above, so that they were too afraid to open up about their orientation. Because such things weren’t talked about in past generations (I’m a 50-something woman). Being openly LGBTQ 30, 40, 50 years ago was a serious taboo. You could lose your job or your career; be denied housing; be denied the right to serve your country in the military; be beaten…even killed for something that is inherently a part of each of us and cannot be changed by something as limiting as a “choice”. Our orientation is like our hair or eye color. Sure, I could open up a bottle of Clairol and dye my hair red or blond (and I have done both in the past) but, when my hair grows out, it will grow out brown again (okay, brown with lots of silver highlights…). I can insert a contact lens to make my eye appear brown but, underneath that lens, the iris is still blue. It’s an illusion, a lie.
Much like one hetero and one homosexual person marrying and trying to make it work.
Perhaps, in past generations, some have managed to make it “work”; I’m sure, though their orientation was towards their own gender, they still loved their spouse…much like I might love a sister, a mother, my best friends. But, if we could talk to those people, what would they say? No, this isn’t about fulfillment or completeness; that’s a fabrication of our instant gratification society. This is about something that, for the person experiencing it, feels dreadfully wrong to them. It’s something that must surely have made these past generations feel very uncomfortable…as many of us who are hetero would feel with someone of our own gender. That’s just not how we’re oriented…and the shoe fits on the other foot, so to speak. It takes courage to open up about your orientation…even in today’s world where it has become more commonplace and accepted.
But what about the above Scripture I quoted in the beginning? There’s some pretty specific stuff there against being with someone of the same gender. Granted, it implies that these were adults who chose to start worshiping idols and following the adversary…and so He punished them by making them “burn with lust” for their own gender. It doesn’t say anything about children growing up with one body but having the mannerisms, or “spirit”, of the other. It doesn’t say anything about orientation. Of course, it also doesn’t say anything about these people loving each other. It says they lusted after each other. That may be the key word here. But, to play a bit of devil’s advocate here, why would God create a person with an orientation towards their own gender if He would also consider it a punishment to burn with lust for such? And therein lies the slippery slope that a lay minister, such as myself, with only two semesters of theology, does not have an adequate answer for. So maybe I’m wrong about the “choice” thing. (Again, everyone, please stay with me here…)
However, what if I am wrong? What if it isn’t a choice? In my heart, I don’t believe that it is a choice, based upon both the strength and confidence in my own orientation, and what I have observed in others–both friends and family members alike–who are of the LGBTQ community. But I am willing to explore both sides of the “debate”.
If I am wrong, and our orientation is a choice, how does ostracism and bigotry against someone who makes a “choice” that doesn’t fall in line with our own, show Jesus’ Light and Love? How does pointing the finger of judgment awaken a conviction in people to walk with Jesus? Jesus commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. This statement qualifies: it doesn’t quantify. It doesn’t say only to love those neighbors with whom we agree or approve of. How would we feel if someone looked at something about us, a lifestyle, a skin color, or any other thing and rejected us in His name? That may be why our churches are half-empty each week. Whether a choice or not, our brethren in the LGBTQ are children of God, the same as us. And, in almost every one I have had the grace to know–and love, I have seen His Light in them. If there is sin in their lifestyle “choice”–and we are all guilty of some sin; no holiear-than-thou attitudes allowed here–it is a choice to love another person. Despite the above biblical passage, I’m having a hard time equating “love” with “sin” and calling it “wrong” in the same sentence. Sure, we could argue that the person we love–even if it’s not an orientation thing–is all wrong for us but, if this were a hetero relationship where we felt the two individuals didn’t suit, we wouldn’t condemn them for loving each other. We might point out our observations, our feelings, our opinion…and hope they might come to that realization themselves in time…but, most of us, wouldn’t condemn their feelings for each other. We may not see it but they see something in the other that speaks to their heart.
Again, I may be wrong. But it is not a choice. It is how a person is made. Perhaps our orientation is one of those crosses we have to bear in life (i.e. because of others’ intolerance and discrimination). Perhaps people are being created with so many different orientations to teach us to be more loving and tolerant. And, yes, I’ve heard that the word “tolerant” isn’t in the Bible. However, it’s meaning is: love your neighbor as yourself.
Father Ben said to extend that hand of fellowship.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.
May God bless you & keep you!
MindEdge, Inc. (2016). Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. Waltham, MA: MindEdge, Inc.