In Defense of my Brother

A dear friend of mine received some troubling news this week.

In the middle of the day he received a horrible text. It was from his mother. It asked him a question that most sons never want to hear. I am only paraphrasing, but in summary, it read, [Do you think that you are going to Hell, because you are gay?]

Startled by the choice of words, coupled with the delivery and timing of this message, my friend was thrown for a loop. His mind raced back in time. He searched through a dozen awkward conversations, then a million unrealized ones. He thought about all the Christmases and family reunions, the birthday messages and Sunday afternoon calls, the trips home to celebrate weddings, births, and graduations – the mourning of family members too soon gone from this world. He connected how during these moments of laughter, sorrow, and love that no one ever asked him the questions that one is asked by family. Who are you dating? Where do you like to hang out? Who are your friends in that picture that I saw online?

*Swoosh* *Ding* My friend forwarded me the text.

Me: Are you ok?

Brother: [I don’t know what to do.]

Me: [Just do what you need to do.]

Brother:[I’ll deal with it later.]

Me: I’m here for you.

Tucking his phone away, my dear and justifiably upset friend returned to his work.

Few people in life should be so lucky as to have a friend like mine. He is among the kindest and most generous people that I’ve ever met. He is a first-choice confidant, while still offering healthy perspective when he thinks that I am doing something stupid. I am overwhelmed by the way that he helps people – mostly in subtle ways. He veils his love for humanity in sarcasm, but just below it is a heart of gold – no, platinum! When I am blue, when I am happy, when I don’t know what to do with myself, he is the remedy phone call. When we have missed each other for several weeks, we mourn the time, and when we find the moment to connect, it is always a parade of tales about the boys, the dates, the hilarious moments, or hard choices that we had to make. And, even if he was only half of these things, he is my brother, and I would still love him.

*Ding* An email arrived in my inbox. Having a few hours to process the morning’s event, he had decided to write a letter. He sought my counsel.

Immediately, I opened the attachment. Dear Mom… It was a lovely note. He talked about wanting to hear her and thanked her for her opening the door. He shared where he disagreed with her, but offered her love and kindness. He stated his belief in God’s salvation for his life. And then, he spoke bravely, and for the first time, about the boy whom he had recently come to adore. This boy adored him back. Actually, he was a noble man – a grown-up, whose character and values reflected those of my friend. My friend was happy and full.

[Please, Mom, come into my joy!]

He sent the letter.

*Swoosh*Ding*Swoosh*Ding* Swoosh*Ding* Three texts in a row. This can’t be good. A series of Facebook messages from Dad. [How dare you?] [Here is where you are wrong.] [We don’t condone your choices.]

It is hard not to resent ignorance. I find it especially hard when it is a proud surprise. And, perhaps one of the hardest things for me to hear is, “I am your mother/father, and I love you, but…” It doesn’t matter what follows the “but.” Because love is actually one choice and one direction. You either choose to love somebody and you move forward, or you choose to hate someone and you move backwards. It is a delicate, critical, and tough choice, which is why it does not always work.

“I would love you, but I am afraid.”
“I would love you, but it requires me to change.”
“I would love you, but I would rather believe a lie from a stranger than accept the joy of my own son’s freedom to love as he was designed to love.”

It is madness, and I hate it. My temptation is to blame something or someone. This is a human behavior, so there has to be a reason. Where is the pattern? How were they raised? Look at Fox News or their church. I just can’t. I am so tired. See, because my friend’s story is my own. And, it is the story of so many whom I adore. Not just LGBTQIA folks, but so many of the disparaged and easily shunned.

When do we get to stop climbing this mountain of doubt in our ability to be fully human and fully loved by Christ? How can I be seen both as a child of God and queer? I am so tired.

Fortunately, my battle cry is written for me. In Romans 8:38-39, the holy scripture reads, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

AMEN. See, I don’t need; my friend doesn’t need; 40% of homeless youth (who are LGBT) don’t need; the LGBT people in Russia don’t need; your gay friend at work doesn’t need; nor, does the lesbian who teaches your student everyday need your approval.  We are the wonderful and perfectly formed creations of God. We are recognized by the same Creator and the same Judge whom has promised us that he will never fail us. And, if you refuse to share the banner of Christ with us, then surprise, you are on the outside.

My brothers and sisters, I welcome you in, but you better pick a better lifestyle. Why? Because, my read of scripture is that God doesn’t have time for your exclusion, and if nothing you can do will separate me from God’s love, then in the words of a modern day prophet, “Bye, Felicia!”

Go in Peace.

 

 

 

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Are you poly?

Part 1: Sexual Ethics & the Church

As I sat in my first public board meeting recently, a newly-minted Member of the Gay Christian Network’s (GCN) Board of Directors, I was prepared for anything. Or, so I thought.

GCN had endeavored, especially over the course of the last three years to become a home for diversity. The organization’s public stances supporting both conservative and liberal relationship practices – called Side A and Side B, as well as its intentional welcoming of straight allies, including conservative parents and their viewpoints, was already seen as somewhat controversial. There was a significant effort to incorporate broader issues within the annual conference’s agenda, which included keynotes and workshops representing a range of viewpoints and experiences. Even our board had diversified significantly, no longer being a stronghold for primarily white, male, gay representatives.

Now, there is still much work to do, but I am struck with how far the organization has come. So, naturally, I was saddened when the first question raised of the Board was from a woman from the Northwest part of the United States (let’s call her Jenny) who rose to share her story of being actively discriminated against for being Polyamorous by volunteers/staff at the conference.

Please, allow me to explain.

For those unaware, and before you start Googling, being Polyamorous is a sexual identity in which a person shares serious romantic connections with people of any gender and is involved in some form of long-term relationship with one or more people. In other words, said person is in love with many people. It is one of a few growing social phenomena where monogamy is not the end purpose or result as people accept their full sexual identities. Even though it sounds a bit like polygamy, such as that which might be found in the Bible (see 2 Samuel; Genesis; or, Judges), it actually is a bit more postmodern than that. Instead of the relationship being in the form of one relationship with multiple partners, it is rather focused on individual connections developed between different people over time. Sometimes these relationships are developed within a community, but not necessarily. It also differs from bisexuality, which connotes a desire for monogamy.

All cards on the table, I am not a sex expert, sociologist, medical doctor, or mental health expert. In addition, I am only beginning to receive training in pastoral care. So, if you are confused by my description, I can relate. I have had minimal interaction with the polyamorous community; thus, my study of this community is only a little over two weeks old.

For my part, returning to the setting of the Board meeting, as I listened to Jenny explain her situation, it was heartbreaking to me to hear that she had been excluded. The whole purpose of GCN, and, especially the conference, is to bring people of different backgrounds together in the love of Christ, to examine our lives together, empower each other to live fully into the creation of which we are designed, and to recharge with a host of activities and social interactions. It is a simple formula, which is always complicated to create, but the results have been transformational to many people’s lives.

It turns out in Jenny’s case that a great deal of bias had been exposed. Most of this bias stemmed from a misunderstanding of Jenny and several of her peers whom were in attendance.  They sought to gather and discuss issues related to their lives as Christians, but others saw them as attempting to bolster an agenda. This misunderstanding quickly devolved to fear on the part of several volunteers and staff who thought that a willingness to embrace Polyamorous relationships openly at the conference could signal political and social fights inside and outside of the organization. A perfectly valid fear, as similar moves to be inclusive had resulted in such fights.

The Board listened, offered apologies for the poor experience at the conference, and asked that, in partnership, if Jenny and others would be willing to educate the Board and staff further on the experience of being Polyamorous. An appropriately human response in my opinion. Jenny agreed and the matter was resolved for the moment.

Afterward, as I heard my fellow Board members express their concerns and desires to address the situation better in the long-term, I found my mind wandering to think about various scenarios. If we openly allowed discussion of non-monogamous ideas and theology, would there be a cost or a benefit. Was the risk worth it? How did I feel about the idea of polyamorous relationships? Did it matter how I felt in contrast the to my bigger desire to see that all people felt welcome to the conference and Christ’s love?

I hate to admit that I don’t have adequate answers to these and many more questions. My mind runs to the political risk, while my heart beats to support Jenny and her peers. It is an awkward struggle that I feel a need to control. And, maybe, that is the ethical lesson for this post, do we need to control, especially control over the sexual identity of our communities, or should we live into an ethic that promotes more freedom of choice? It is a gray area for sure.

As this blog series develops, I hope to examine and share lessons that I learn. I look forward to finding more human stories and their connection to God. Along the way, I hope to discover ways to talk about sex and sexuality within my faith community. I hope that you will join me and share the experiences of discovery in your life. If not, then at least, I hope that you will not judge me for being curious and open to the lives of others. Regardless, let’s learn how to be better humans together!

 

Loving My Enemies

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My run-in with infamous anti-LGBT activist and fellow human Kim Davis…

A little less than a week ago, I was returning home to Washington, DC after a third consecutive year of attending the annual Gay Christian Network Conference (gcnconf.com). It was another powerful year of inspirational and forward-leaning workshops and keynotes, some of which I was able to lead for the first time as a recently minted seminary student and member the organization’s board.

Among the keynotes at the conference was my friend, mentor, and colleague, the Rev. Allyson Dylan Robinson. Rev. Allyson challenged my 1,499 fellow LGBTQIA Christians and me in attendance, to not only embrace the fact that we had been victorious in the “Culture War”, but that now was the time for us to show more grace to those over whom we had been victorious than we had been shown before the war had started. It was a challenging and controversial call, not only because of its claim of victory, but the way she pin-pointed a fault in our human nature, which is to look for opportunities to accumulate power for ourselves – not to serve a greater purpose.

I was inspired. Many were inspired! It was a simple, clear message, delivered masterfully. Rev. Allyson would even remark to me later that it was perhaps the greatest preaching experience of her 12 year career. A fantastic description of the experience, and certainly a remarkable moment propelling her forward in our mutual work to bring meaning to our fellow queer Christians’ lives.

As I sat in seat 26C on my American Airlines flight connecting from Charlotte to Washington Reagan National Airport, I glanced up and instantly recognized infamous Kentucky County Clerk, and national icon of the Religious Right, Kim Davis as she passed me boarding the same flight. It was reported later that she came to Washington as part of a political group to attend the State of the Union Address at Congress the following evening.

All the oxygen left my body. Here within the touch of my hand had been a woman whose sole employment now was to openly mock and fight the rights and recognitions that so many of my friends and I had fought earnestly to achieve. I attempted not to stare, instead looking down, then left, anywhere that would allow me a personal moment to process this event. My enemy was ever present, and I didn’t know what to do.

Tray tables went up, engines roared, and soon we were in the air. I got up to use the restroom – an activity I have volunteered to do on a plane maybe twice before, but it was the only way to catch an innocent glimpse of her, again. My eyes panned back and forth searching for her. I failed. I returned to my seat morbidly curious and unsettled.

Not knowing what to do, my next logical move was Facebook. Downloading the in-flight internet service, I quickly posted a frantic alert to my list of friends about the seemingly absurd situation in which I found myself. Friends commented, laughed, yet provided no immediate thoughtful advice on how to handle myself.

Finally, I began to pray. Asking God for a reason why I was living in this moment, looking for wisdom. Should I find her? Should I say something? Do I just continue to gawk at her? Do I leave her alone? The questions rushed through my head, unanswered. Then I thought about Allyson and the Golden Rule. I reflected on other times where other people of some power or celebrity had crossed my path, and how in some cases I interacted, but only when welcomed. But, this felt different.

I finally resolved to meet her. And as the captain announced our decent into DCA, I hatched a plan. I would walk to about mid-way down the sky bridge and wait for her. I would wave her down and say… Oh my God, what would I say?!? The oxygen left my body, again. I began to run scenarios through my head. Keep it simple, Ben. Tell her how you feel. Three seconds.

The plane landed. I grabbed my carry-on and I sped out into the sky bridge. I counted to myself while I examined each face that departed the plane. Deep breath. She de-planed in front of me, wearing what I think was a nude-colored dress over-laid with a thick winter coat.

Waving my hand in the air. “Hi, Miss Davis? Can I take a picture with you?” She agreed. We leaned in for a selfie – the most modern human activity of which I can think. I quickly stated, “Miss Davis, my name is Ben. A lot of what you’ve done has hurt many of my fellow LGBT Christians and beyond, but I want you to know that I offer you the Peace of Christ.” I extended my hand so as to shake hers.

Blank faced, either from being stunned or afraid, she lightly grabbed my hand and said, “God bless you.” She quickly turned and walked away to a waiting group.

I shook for about 3 seconds, collected myself, and resumed my exit from the airport. As I went to meet my checked bag in Baggage Claim, I filtered and posted the picture on Facebook with only the quotes of my interaction with Kim Davis above it to my private friends list. It was a viral hit among my friends, and with each like or friendly comment, I felt like something interesting had just happened. I had achieved something, but I didn’t quite know what it was. The overwhelming response was immediately positive. I was brave, courageous, and had lived-into my Christian principles, said many. I had inspired others and been true to myself and to the greater good of humanity. That felt good.

However, the story didn’t end there. With each acknowledgement from friendly voices, suddenly came something dark and unexpected. As the news of the event spread due to my friends sharing of it, I started to receive personal messages and public comments about people’s disgust with…me. I was called a brazen self-promoter; a hypocrite; a secret conservative; disloyal; hurtful; and, most onerous to hear, of a low character. Not being a regular public commentator, or accustomed to such personal attacks, these comments – mostly from friends really HURT. I soldiered on, and tried to ignore the comments, but they nagged at me, and a few hours later, wanting to avoid the stress of hearing that I was a bad person, I deleted the post.

Many friends reached out with curiosity for my reason for doing so, and I posted about the event, again, this time without the picture, saying that I had not wanted to deal with the hurt I had apparently and inadvertently caused, and that I wanted to find a better way to express myself than a momentary response. An attacker and friend posted that if I had any conviction that I would have left the original post up and stood by it. A perfect catch-22.

In my work at Cook Ross, I daily remind my clients to express and embrace their humanity and that of those around them. My colleagues and I are paid to give people good reasons and better strategies to treat each other with honor, respect, and, hopefully, love. In fact, our founder Howard Ross instructs us to go out and fall in love with our clients. This is not unlike the instruction of Jesus Christ whom I have professed faith in since I was a child.(See Matthew 5, preferably in the NRSV.)

I fell in love with humanity a long time ago. And, that love doesn’t waiver just because someone denies my friend a marriage license, or calls me or my friends faggots. It doesn’t change for the person who tells me how proud they are of me, or the one that tells me that I lack any integrity. My love for humanity is open and inclusive. It is a hard, daily struggle to see goodness in all that God has created.

I love Kim Davis. I love my friends and family. I love my community. And, I love those who would choose to tear me down. If you don’t approve of my message or the tactics by which I choose to share my story, I still love you. And, ask anyone whom I have dated, I don’t throw that word around very much. It is, however, what I feel in this moment. Maybe, tomorrow I’ll be cranky or mad, but in this moment, I feel free to speak my truth. And, I want to offer you this same freedom.

My prayer for you, my reader, is that you will find the same love from God that I have found. That it will heal you in the places of your humanity where you find yourself discouraged, flawed, or damaged. Take courage and know that someone out there loves you.

Go in peace.