Piece of the Puzzle

random musings on whatever…

Category: GLBT Page 1 of 3

Gay AND Christian

On June 2, 2019 I had the honor of sharing a few words at an Interfaith Pride Service in Kalamazoo, MI. Here is what I shared:

I have known many people who have struggled with reconciling their religious faith with their sexuality and gender identity. Too often religious institutions have tried to tell us who identify as queer in some way, who find ourselves in the rainbow of LGBTQA, that we should be who we are not. Because of this, many have been driven away from their religion or even abandoned their faith journey altogether.

My story, however, is a little bit different. I grew up going to a sort-of conservative Christian protestant church in northern Michigan. But when I went to college, my religion fell by the wayside. Much of the teaching and doctrine just didn’t ring true anymore and it no longer held a lot of meaning for me. And it really had nothing to do with my sexual orientation.

It was actually finally dealing with my own inability to accept myself as gay, coming out at the age of 30, that I found myself back on a spiritual path. I heard of this group called Phoenix Community Church that had a lot of gay people and some allies and I thought hey, that sounds like a safe way to meet people.

The church was started in 1988 by a group of 18 or so folks after one of the founding pastors was fired from his previous church a year earlier because of his sexual orientation. And those brave folks decided that they needed a safe and welcoming place to explore their spirituality, where they could be true to themselves, and they gave birth to Phoenix Community Church.

These many years later I find myself the pastor of that church but that is a whole ‘nother story. When I encountered the church for the first time back in 1996, I found what I was looking for. I’ve met many absolutely wonderful people there through the years. But I also found what I was not looking for. I found God again.

I found a place that accepted me and supported me.

I found a place that taught the truth that God loves me unconditionally, that I didn’t need to change.

A place that encouraged questions and didn’t claim to have all the answers.

A place that even acknowledged, celebrated, and learned from spiritual paths other than Christianity while still maintaining a Christian foundation.

And in the journey that brought me to this church, that brought me back into relationship with the Divine, I found a couple of things that really stand out for me in this intersection where our spirituality and our sexual and gender identities meet.

First, being queer and Christian forces us to question the status quo. To think for ourselves. We can’t just accept whatever traditional doctrine that we’re told to believe.

This questioning and challenging is a gift that queer people give to the church and all religious institutions. It’s how we can learn and grow in our spirituality and in all aspects of life. From a Christian perspective it’s also very Jesus-like. Jesus was always challenging the status quo and trying to make people think.

Second, I learned I have a right to my spiritual identity as much as I have a right to my sexual identity. Queer people are the loved children of the Divine and our inherent, God-given worthiness is not up for debate. If we cannot find a spiritual community where we feel welcome than we do what queer people have been doing for a long time – we create our own. Luckily for us here in Kalamazoo, we already have options.

But, no matter what, no matter what others say, no matter which religious framework we put around our spiritual journey, no matter our sexual orientation or gender identity, let us celebrate the fabulous people we were created to be by this Divine, loving energy we sometimes call God. Thank you for hearing my story.

Thoughts on incivility, restaurant service and homophobic bakers

The issue of civility in no way compares to human rights violations. I also have no interest in hearing complaints about civility from Trump supporters as such complaints are completely hypocritical. On the other hand, there are good reasons to try to remain civil and respectful. Rude behavior can also demean one’s humanity. Perhaps the question is what constitutes incivility versus truth-telling, because truth-telling is dearly needed right now and to the oppressor it is going to sound like rude behavior. I despise everything Sarah Sanders and Trump stand for but I still believe that they are children of God worthy of love and respect. Of course, I also believe I have a responsibility to challenge their dishonesty, their constitutional violations and their crimes against humanity. But, incivility also widens the divide. In reading anecdotal articles about those who have made inroads and helped transform people who were white supremacists, it seems to happen through showing compassion and love, not getting in their face about the evil of their ways. I might also note that Jesus challenged religious authorities over their corruption but was also known to go to their houses for dinner. Is it possible to challenge immoral behavior and still remain respectful of their humanity (i.e. be civil)? If we not, then we put ourselves in danger of becoming them – incivility is a major tool of Trump and his followers. Kicking Sanders out of a restaurant could be construed as some dramatic truth-telling rather than incivility but what if, instead, the manager had pulled a chair up to Sander’s table and started engaging in a little verbal truth-telling, face-to-face? Maybe there were better ways to handle it (and maybe not).

Regarding the baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding, I’m not convinced the situation is really different. Both were refusing service based on their personal sense of morals. The only difference I see is that I agree with one of them and not the other. I’m also probably in the minority of gay people because I’m also not totally convinced that he should be forced to bake that cake (although I understand the arguments for that and don’t oppose them). Frankly, if a baker doesn’t want to make me a cake, I’d rather know that up front. I don’t want to eat a cake made for me by someone who despises my very being. What if, instead of suing the homophobic baker to force him to bake cakes in the future, folks engaged in protests and boycotts instead? I think we always have options on how to react to injustice. It’s not always easy to figure out the best way.

The Family of God and LGBTQ Pride

In the early morning of Saturday, June 28, 1969, the New York City police raided a bar called the Stonewall Inn. This was a bar that catered to marginalized people: drag queens, transgender people, effeminate young men, butch lesbians, male prostitutes, and homeless youth. But the raid didn’t go as planned. Those marginalized people fought back against persecution that night. Riots developed and the modern liberation movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons was born. One year later, on June 28, 1970, Christopher Street Liberation Day marked the anniversary of the Stonewall riots with the first ever Gay Pride march. The New York Times reported that the parade of marchers stretched for 15 blocks.

48 years after that first march, we still celebrate Pride. Although the world is much different than it was for LGBTQ people in the 1950’s and 60’s, it is still important to celebrate who we are and to stand up and declare that LGBTQ lives matter. I feel blessed to live in a city that is relatively liberal and accepting but we don’t have to stray very far into the world to know it’s not that way everywhere. Even here in Kalamazoo, there is still much work to be done. Because of that Pride shouldn’t be a once a year party. We need to live with pride in who we are every day, affirming our self-worth to ourselves and to the world.

Our culture would rather that those who are oppressed and marginalized be invisible. Humans fear what we don’t understand. The world would rather we deny our authentic selves rather than challenge their notion of how the world is supposed to work. But, to deny who we are is, in religious language, a sin. To deny who God created us to be – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, cis, gender-bending, queer, straight, etc. – is a sin. Denying who we are separates us from the Divine Presence within us and around us. It creates a barrier between us and the sacred and that barrier is what we mean by sin. In Jesus’ words found in Mark 3:20-35, it’s a serious sin, an unforgivable sin, a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

When the religious scholars accuse Jesus of working for the Devil, they are accusing him of being something he is not. Jesus responds by telling them that they know better than that. They know his power comes from God but they deny it. They know the truth and yet they deny it. And he goes on to declare that denial a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. In other words, to hear and understand the voice of the Divine within and still deny it is an unforgivable sin. To use the word unforgivable is a bit misleading, however. It’s clear from all of Jesus’ other teachings that there is nothing that cannot be forgiven. Or in the apostle Paul’s words, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. Perhaps Jesus here is engaging in hyperbole, exaggerating to make a point. Perhaps he’s trying to stress the seriousness of denying what we know to be true. For if we deny who we are, how does one recover from that? For those who are LGBTQ, we all have experience with what we call being in the closet. We know firsthand how damaging it is to our mental and spiritual well-being to deny who we are. The only way to recover from that denial is to embrace who we are. That’s not always easy.

We may need to work on discovering ourselves. We may need to overcome internalized homophobia. We may need to deal with hostility from friends or family. We may need professional help. We certainly need the support of good, healthy relationships. These things are not always going to be easy, especially if we lack the support of family. In scripture, Jesus’ family wasn’t so sure about him, either. We’re told they thought he might be losing his mind. Religious leaders were accusing him of working for Satan. He was constantly being mobbed by crowds of marginalized people, those needing healing, those thought possessed by demons. It was all beyond his family’s understanding. So his mothers and brothers went to try and rescue him, but Jesus wasn’t having it.

Jesus redefines family as what I’d call the Family of God – family defined by love, not blood. Anyone who lives with and by God’s love is our sister, brother, mother, and father. Jesus is teaching about community. To live an authentic life we need loving community, the support of family, of people who love us for who we are, as we are. That may include our birth family but it certainly includes the Family of God, those who love us for our authentic selves, who will support us in our times of need, who will forgive us when we mess up. It is this Family of God that we are called to be. It is this Family of God that can change the world.

One of my seminary professors interviewed people about what changed their minds regarding their acceptance of LGBTQ people. What he found was that it actually had little to do with their understanding of scripture. Discussions about how to interpret scripture and apply it to their lives didn’t matter nearly as much as getting to know someone who identified as gay. Relationship and love – these are the things that change people. Welcoming people into this Family of God is where the hope lies for this world we live in. That doesn’t mean converting people to Christianity. It simply means loving people unconditionally, for who they are, as they are. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Note: The above reflection is an edited version of my sermon from June 10, “Family of God.” Go to www.phoenixchurch.org/sermons.php to listen to the entire message.

Two Who Dare

My only attempt (so far) at a prose poem… had to change the line breaks to make it fit properly on the blog…

Two Who Dare

We greeted with the choreography of two hesitant mutts
sniffing each other out, surrendering an awkward quick pat
on the back and pull away of men embarrassed by intimacy,
an almost-waltz at arms length, over before the music
began to play. Later we would come to know each other.
First with the tango of predator and prey, more interested
in a quick roll in the hay than any real affection.
Then came the perfunctory contra dance of sun and moon
executing steps called out before time began as we came
to move in each other’s orbit. Finally, we danced the close
waltz of two comfortable friends no longer fearful of a lingering
gaze or the spine-tingling graze of fingers that stray.

But tonight? Tonight we embrace the idea of each other,
relaxing with willful abandon into our authentic selves.
Curled on my side next to his supine form with legs intertwined,
my arm drapes over his naked chest as we drift
between sleep and wakefulness, cloistered under the protective
quilt pieced together by his grandmother. The pulse of his heart
yokes with the contented beat of my own. Thought flees our stilled
bodies as the silky heat of his flesh steals into my soul.
I relish the profound perfect imperfections of his anatomy,
the bond formed from skin caressing skin. This is the slow dance
of two lovers transformed, lost in gentle music, cheek to cheek,
floating in empty space as if nothing else existed,
having forgotten the necessity of any proscribed movements.
We waft through no-time, hearts open and exposed to the elements,
heedless of future frosts or withering desert suns.
He turns his head and our lips meet, two who dare.

©2017 Kenneth W. Arthur

River or Rock? at Topology Magazine

My poem River or Rock? was posted at Topology Magazine today!

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