One More Time Down the Slippery Slope – A Follow Up

So today RHE (Rachel Held Evans) posted her review of a new book, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins by Peter Enns.

I have added it to my ever expanding reading list. I am including the quote she had in the blog because it goes hand in hand with yesterday’s post, Sledding down the Slippery Slope.

For many, it is important for the future viability of faith, let alone the evolution-Christianity discussion, that we recognize and embrace the fact that the Bible is a thoroughly enculturated product. But it is not enough to merely say so and press on, with a quaint nod or an embarrassed shuffle of the feet. It is important for future generations of Christians to have a view of the Bible where its rootedness in ancient ways of thinking is embraced as a theological positive, not a problem to be overcome. At present there is  a lot of fear about the implications of bringing evolution and Christianity together, and this fear needs to be addressed head-on. Many fear that we are on a slippery slope, to use the hackneyed expression. Perhaps the way forward is not to resist the slide so much as to stop struggling, look around, and realize that we may have been on the wrong hill altogether.

Sledding Down the Slippery Slope.

When you were a kid did you ever sit at the top of a sledding hill that looked like it was a gazillion feet high? And did you and your friends have a harrowing name for it like dead man’s hill?

We did. The first time I saw it I think it almost blocked out the sun. As we began the walk to the summit I thought this is the biggest hill I have ever seen. As far as I was concerned, if I was sledding down dead man’s hill I might as well be heliskiing (being dropped out of a helicopter while on skis). I was surely going to DIE!

But you know what? My Dad offered to go down with me and I thought, if my Dad goes with me it will be scary but I am going to be okay. I am not going to die.

So we are flying down dead man’s hill, me and my dad and it is the scariest thing I have done in my young life. Yet somehow, strangely, when we got to the bottom I asked him to go with me again and again.

Have you ever been back to your own “dead man’s hill” as an adult? I have. I was shocked! IT ISN’T THAT BIG! I will tell you it isn’t nearly as big and as scary as I thought it was. Sliding down it doesn’t even approach heliskiing any more than my son’s old race track resembles Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

That’s why when I saw Rachel Held Evens post this morning (READ IT HERE) I knew I needed to pull out my sled and invite you to fly down the slippery slope with me and Jesus. Yes the slope is big, sometimes it is icy but together with Jesus we won’t be in any danger. In fact, we might have some fun on the way. Sure our knuckles may be white from holding on and our voices may be hoarse from screaming on the way down. But when we reach the bottom and fall in a heap breathless we will look back up at it and realize that “dead man’s hill” isn’t really going to kill us. Heck it just might bring us closer to where we always wanted to be.

Pray Away the Gay?

Today’s post is dedicated to every boy, girl, man or woman who has ever attempted to “pray away the gay.” I am sorry. I am sorry that anyone ever made you think that God didn’t love you JUST. LIKE. YOU. ARE.
This post has been coming all week. I apologize in advance for its length.
First I saw a picture on Facebook that was posted by a friend…

The caption said: A Christian group shows up to a Chicago Gay Pride parade holding apologetic signs including “I’m sorry for how the church treated you”.

This is a beautiful thing.

As the week progressed, I came across an amazing blog post in Rachel Held Evans‘ Sunday Superlatives called, A Mountain I’m Willing to Die On by Glennon Melton.” (You can read the whole post here.)

Part of the post was about how kids model what adults say and do and that we as adults and parents have to do better if we ever expect bullying to stop. But the second half was a letter to her son who is still just a little guy. It reads:

Dear Chase,

Whoever you are, whoever you become. You are loved. You are a miracle. You are our dream come true.

Chase, here is what would happen in our home if one day you tell your father and I that you are gay.

Our eyes would open wide.

And we would grab you and hold you tighter than you would be able to bear. And while we were holding you we would say a silent prayer that as little time as possible passed between the moment you knew you were gay and the moment you told us. And that you were never once afraid to tell us. And we would love you and ask you one million questions and then we would love you some more and finally, I would likely rush out to buy some rainbow t-shirts, honey, because you know mama likes to have an appropriate outfit for every occasion.

And I don’t mean, Chase, that we would be tolerant of you and your sexuality. If our goal is to be tolerant of people who are different than we are, Chase, then we really are aiming quite low. Traffic jams are to be tolerated. People are to be celebrated. People, every person, Is Divine. And so there would be celebrating. Celebrating that you would be one step closer to matching your outsides with your insides, to being who you are. And there would be a teeny part of my heart that would leap at the realization that I would forever be the most important woman in your life. And then we would tell everyone. We would not concern ourselves too much with their reactions. There will always be party poopers, baby.

We just wanted you to know this, honey. We’ve worried that since we are Christians, and since we love The Bible so much, that there might come a day when you feel unclear about our feelings about this. Because there are a few parts in The Bible that discuss homosexuality as a sin. So let us be clear about how we feel, because we have spent years of research and prayer and discussion deciding.

Chase, we don’t believe that homosexuality is a sin. Your parents are Christians who carefully choose what we believe and follow in the Bible. Some will tell you that this approach to Christianity is scandalous and blasphemous. But the thing is, honey, that the only thing that’s scandalous about this approach is admitting it out loud. The truth is that every Christian is a Christian who picks and chooses what to follow in the Bible.

Several years ago I was in a Bible study at church, and there was some talk about homosexuality being sinful, and I spoke up. I quoted Mother Teresa and said “When we judge people we have no time to love them.” And I was immediately reprimanded for my blasphemy by a woman who reminded me of 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10. But I was very confused because this woman was speaking. In church. And she was also wearing a necklace. And I could see her hair, baby. She had no head covering. All of which are things that are sooooo totally against the Bible Rules. * And so I just assumed that she had decided not to follow the parts of the Bible that limited her particular freedoms, but to go ahead and hold fast to the parts that limited other people’s freedoms. I didn’t point this out at the time baby, because she wasn’t a bad person. People are doing the best they can, mostly. It’s best not to embarrass people.

What I’m trying to say is that each Christian uses different criteria to decide what parts of the Bible to prioritize and demonstrate in their lives. Our criteria is that if it doesn’t bring us closer to seeing humanity as one, as connected, if it turns our judgment outward instead of inward, if it doesn’t help us become better lovers of God and others, if it distracts us from remembering what we are really supposed to be doing down here, which is finding God in every human being, serving each other before ourselves, feeding hungry people, comforting the sick and sad, giving up everything we have for others, laying down our lives for our friends . . . then we just assume we don’t understand it yet, we put it on a shelf, and we move on. Because all I need to know is that I am reborn. And here’s what I believe it means to be reborn:

The first time you’re born, you identify the people in the room as your family. The second time you’re born, you identify the whole world as your family. Christianity is not about joining a particular club, it’s about waking up to the fact that we are all in the same club. Every last one of us. So avoid discussions about who’s in and who’s out at all costs. Everybody’s in, baby. That’s what makes it beautiful. And hard. If working out your faith is not beautiful and hard, find a new one to work out. And if spiritual teachers are encouraging you to fear anyone, watch them closely, honey. Raise your eyebrow and then your hand. Because the phrase repeated most often in that Bible they are quoting is Do Not Be Afraid. So when they tell you that gay people are a threat to marriage, honey, think hard.

I can only speak from my personal experience, but I’ve been married for eight years and barely any gay people have tried to break up my marriage. I say barely any because that Nate Berkus is a little shady. I am defenseless against his cuteness and eye for accessories and so he is always convincing me to buy beautiful trinkets with our grocery money. This drives your sweet father a bit nuts. So you might want to keep your eye on Berkus. But with the exception of him, I’m fairly certain that the only threats to my marriage are my pride and anger and plain old human wanderlust. Do not be afraid of people who seem different than you, baby. Different always turns out to be an illusion. Look hard.

Chase, God gave you the Bible, and He also gave you your heart and your mind and I believe He’d like you to use all three. It’s a good system of checks and balances He designed. Prioritizing can still be hard, though. Jesus predicted that. So he gave us this story. A man approached Jesus and said that he was very confused by all of God’s laws and directions and asked Jesus to break it down for him. He said, “What are the most important laws?” And Jesus said, “Love God with all your heart, mind and soul, and love others as yourself.” ** When in doubt, Chase, measure all your decisions and beliefs against that. Make damn sure that you are offering others the same rights, courtesies, and respect that you expect for yourself. If you do that, you can’t go wrong.

Chase, you are okay. You are a child of God. As is everyone else. There is nothing that you can become or do that will make God love you any more or any less. Nothing that you already are or will become is a surprise to God. Tomorrow has already been approved.

And so baby, your father and I have only one specific expectation of you. And that is that you celebrate others the way we celebrate you. That you remember, every day, every minute, that there is no one on God’s Green Earth who deserves more or less respect than you do, My Love.

“He has shown you what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” ***

 Love, Mama

PS. We thought we should mention, honey, that if you’re straight, that’s okay too. I mean, it’d be a little anti-climactic now, honestly. But your father and I will deal.

PPS. All of the above holds true if you are overweight or Muslim too. No problem on either count.

PPPS. As daddy read this essay, I watched his gorgeous face intensify. He teared up a little. Then he slammed the letter down on the kitchen table and said emphatically and without a touch of irony, “DAMN STRAIGHT.”

Which, when you think about it honey, is really the funniest possible thing daddy could have said.

Love you Forever.

It made me cry. It made me cry for people I know from my past like Chase Hutchison from A list Dallas who grew up in a church I used to attend, friends from high school like Seth, Scott & Eddie, people from my church like Cathy & Crystal, people in my extended family like Tracey & Liz and today it helped me learn about my husband’s friend. She saw his post of the previous article on facebook which started a conversation. He knew a little bit of her story so he sent her a private message and asked her if she would be willing to share her experiences. With her permission I share her story here in her own words. I pray you will find it as powerful as I did.

I have been a Christian my whole life. Some of my first memories are of going to church with my family, and the church has remained a frequent source of joy and compassion throughout my life. I have accepted Christ three separate and distinct times, which may sound funny. The first was as a child,probably before I knew much about what it meant. The second was as a 12-year old, when I knew more about what it meant. And the third was as a 28-year old lesbian, when I knew exactly what it meant.

Growing up in a small Texas town that had more churches than gas stations, I frequently sat through sermons about right and wrong. That same town had only one gay person: the junior high P.E. coach (enter cliché here), so homosexuality was a frequent – and easy – topic on which to preach. From the pulpit I heard about “them” being Other…Unacceptable…Fallen. History teaches us little more than that having a common enemy unites. Cheaply, but unites nonetheless. We all want to feel like someone is worse than us. I have done that myself many times…judged others in order to feel less judged myself. It is bullying, and I am ashamed of that.

I was 13 years old when I realized that I was attracted to girls (not all of them, of course). It was not a choice that I made. The biology of the body doesn’t lie (to dispense with the abusive/absentee mother theory: I come from a nonabusive, stable, loving home of two parents (married for 43 years this July) and four children, of whom I am the third). Having been deeply engrained with the idea that homosexuals were unacceptable, I felt absolute and total panic. As I think of it, I can still feel my heart race. But the “I think I’m gay” conversation doesn’t have a place in the Christian world of a young girl, or boy for that matter. Not with my church. Not with my family. Not with my friends.

So I turned immediately to God – a practice that I’m still quite fond of. I started a prayer journal, which I would continue for the next ten years. I would ask God to “take it away from me,” and to “fix me.” I even asked God to let me live until I was straight, so that I wouldn’t go to hell. I was too afraid of someone reading the journal to actually write down the issue, but it permeates my prayers. As I read back through those hundreds of pages now, I cry for that girl who felt so alone, so ashamed, so unworthy, and so separated from the Love of God. My sexual orientation consumed my prayer life for years after.

I also immersed myself in the practice of my faith: Bible studies, worship groups, Young Life, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Sunday School, everything. If I get close enough to God, I can’t still like girls, right? I also lived the life I sought after so desperately. I dated boys, kissed boys, and ultimately married one. My mantra was some version of “fake it ‘til you make it.” And I believed that would work. I was taught that it would.

In 2006, three years into my marriage, I got sick. Quite sick. I was having panic attacks several times a week, was depressed, and was working 17-hour days to keep myself from being at home. All still while praying and attending church constantly. It was as though the secret I had been keeping for all those years became too much to keep down. It was like a poison. I finally decided to tell my husband that I was attracted to women. Around the same time, I told my family. I should have told them earlier, but I was afraid. And that is my fault, not theirs.

My husband and I prayed and cried and turned to our church for help. We believed that prayer and support would provide a way out of it. But our church’s solution was some version of “pray away the gay,” and I was confident that was not going to work (see prayer journal for the prior 13 years, though we nonetheless continued to pray that I would be “healed”). Committed to staying together, we experimented with unconventional marital arrangements, none of which worked. After three years of hope, my husband and I divorced in 2009. He has forgiven me for it all, and he remains the most Godly man I have ever known. His love, support, and compassion are a constant reflection of God’s love for me, and – while he has had his own struggles with the situation – he remains one of the two great earthly loves of my life. And God has forgiven me as well.

While my marriage came undone, something else happened. With every honest word I spoke about myself, I got better. And not only did I get better, my faith transformed from a judgmental expression of failed expectations into one of compassion, love, hope, and grace. And through that I have realized that the separation from God I felt for all those years was my fault, because I let something come between me and Christ’s Love. Now I know that nothing…nothing…nothing can come between me and the Love of Christ. I only wish that fewer churches taught that something could…that some things do.

From the scriptural perspective, my best answer is that a condemnation of homosexuality in the Bible is a reflection of the time in which it was written, and that it needs to be interpreted with some acknowledgement of human rights progress. It’s also worth noting that Jesus, in His Sermon on the Mount, was far more concerned with sins of the heart than sins of the flesh. But the reality is that if homosexuality is a sin, then I am a sinner. And even if homosexuality is not a sin, I am still a sinner. I cannot change who I am attracted to. Believe me, I tried. I wept and prayed and tried and wept and prayed and tried. So far, God has seen it fit to leave me and love me just as I am. And so I am not afraid of it anymore…not ashamed of it…and it is no longer a secret. I am gay, and God loves me. I have Christ to thank for that.

Now I am in a committed relationship with my partner of several years. We pray together, worship together at a wonderful church in which we can hold hands during communion and not be judged, and ask God together to bless and guide our family. God hears our prayers, and we feel His peace in our hearts.

I listen frequently to the Church v. Gays battle that goes on in cities and churches all over the country. I feel like screaming “I am gay AND a Christian AND conservative!” But what I find is that’s too much for people to understand, which I completely appreciate because it was too much for me to understand for
28 years of my life.

The response from many of my life-long friends was difficult. Soon after word got out that I was gay, I started to receive emails from people urging me to “repent,” to “seek the Church,” and to “turn back to Christ.” Most of them were replete with scripture and ended with “I’m praying for you.” The obvious assumption was that I had given up my faith in favor of my sexual orientation, but nothing could be further from the truth. I have done my best to respond with love even when I’ve felt judged and rejected. During a moment of wanting to be understood, I asked a friend: “What would you do if you had a physical reaction to another man?” His response: “I would kill myself.” That was the church talking. Not God. And I realized things were even worse than I had thought. Only one person has ever asked me how my faith relates to my sexuality. Everyone else assumed it didn’t.

I share my story because I think of that boy or girl who, sitting in church this Sunday loving God, is attracted to the same gender and feels ashamed…scared…separated from God. Though surrounded by Christians who are the best in the world at loving, he or she will probably not find acceptance or compassion. It is more likely that he or she will find at atmosphere of rejection, unacceptability, and a “let’s pray that you change” attitude. And that makes my heart ache, having spent 28 years wondering how God could love me if I am gay. We can do better. We all need the grace of Christ to be acceptable in God’s sight. If you’re ever looking for that grace, you can find it under my feet, in my arms, and stamped across my heart. I pray that every person has a moment in his or her life at which it is realized that all of us sin and fall short of the Glory of God. That’s not just a line; we really do.

In the words of Ms. Melton, I want every gay person to know that “They are loved as they are. Without a single unless.” By me and by God.

Full Speed Ahead.

I read something that made me stop and think this week. While I didn’t agree with every word of the article it really got me thinking. Check this out.

The fact is that, unless you’re a white, Christian, straight male, there’s little to look back to and say “yeah, I was better off back then.”…To call for a return to the good old days is, in some ways, a marginalization of those for whom history has meant progress. For the majority of Americans today, turning back the clock means losing ground, acceding power or opportunity and returning to a time of greater imbalance and division.

BAM! I never thought of this before, at least not in so many words. How is that possible? I tend to be a glass half full kind of gal. I find this statement while incredibly sad also to be a call to action and a statement that fills me with hope. It not only means we have made progress to this point but also that we can and must do even better. We must ensure that as my friend Stephen is fond of saying, the best is yet to come.

Which brings me to some practical points from the week regarding the advancement of women beginning with an article from the Los Angels Times called, Gender equity: Doing the math. It discusses a new study which found, “When girls do better in society, both sexes benefit. Gender equity is good for everybody…And boys and girls are becoming more equal, globally, in math performance”. The most surprising outcome of the study was “that the more equal the societies were around gender, the better everybody did in math”. This is a phenomenal thing. For years people have looked at women’s education and women’s advancement as a negative for boys, men and the family. The argument has been made that as girls have increasingly been brought into the educational establishment that the boys and men have suffered. However, as God originally intended, humanity working as a whole (male & female) means that women’s education and advancement is a win-win for both genders.

People have also looked at scientific history which assumed that men are better at math as a function of their genes since they consistently perform better as a gender in math and the sciences; however this study seems to suggest that men are better simply because societies have historically favored men in every area including education. God’s order of equality set out in the Genesis story (incidentally, I am not a new earth Creationist. I have not decided exactly what I am, but that is a post for another day. Rest assured, what I believe includes God and Science] and Galatians 3 lays out the precedent for the findings of this study. We are better together. The more gender equity in the society the better math scores are for BOTH genders.

Ah, but what about the family? What about the fabric of society? What about the children?

Just last week before our trip to Mexico I read an article while preparing to deliver the message at Novitas (listen to the podcast here). I didn’t end up using the information in the message but it turns out it is very useful here, Yay! The article was published by The Economist and is called, Women in the workforce: The importance of sex. In it the author states:

Some people fret that if more women work rather than mind their children, this will boost GDP but create negative social externalities, such as a lower birth rate. Yet developed countries where more women work, such as Sweden and America, actually have higher birth rates than Japan and Italy, where women stay at home. Others fear that women’s move into the paid labour force can come at the expense of children. Yet the evidence for this is mixed. For instance, a study by Suzanne Bianchi at Maryland University finds that mothers spent the same time, on average, on childcare in 2003 as in 1965. The increase in work outside the home was offset by less housework—and less spare time and less sleep.

What is clear is that in countries such as Japan, Germany and Italy, which are all troubled by the demographics of shrinking populations, far fewer women work than in America, let alone Sweden. If female labour-force participation in these countries rose to American levels, it would give a helpful boost to these countries’ growth rates. Likewise, in developing countries where girls are less likely to go to school than boys, investing in education would deliver huge economic and social returns. Not only will educated women be more productive, but they will also bring up better educated and healthier children.

This is not a post about working inside versus working outside the home. As far as that goes we all get to decide for ourselves. (Great article on this subject here). My point is simply that the fear that women advancing in society will cause men and children to lose out is simply false. If anything it is a benefit to all.

But what about divorce rates? Don’t they go up when women enter the workforce? According to a New York Times article from 2010:

While it’s widely believed that a woman’s financial independence increases her risk for divorce, divorce rates in the United States tell a different story: they have fallen as women have made economic gains. The rate peaked at 23 divorces per 1,000 couples in the late 1970s, but has since dropped to fewer than 17 divorces per 1,000 couples. Today, the statistics show that typically, the more economic independence and education a woman gains, the more likely she is to stay married. And in states where fewer wives have paid jobs, divorce rates tend to be higher, according to a 2009 report from the Center for American Progress.

And the blurring of traditional gender roles appears to have a positive effect. Lynn Prince Cooke, a sociology professor at the University of Kent in England, has found that American couples who share employment and housework responsibilities are less likely to divorce compared with couples where the man is the sole breadwinner.

The future is bright. There is still work to be done, in hearts, in governments, in marriage, in classrooms. I personally believe God always intended men and women to subdue the earth together. Humanity has always had two sides which together reflect the image of God and we work best and are benefited most when all of humanity works together to lift each other up, prefer the other over ourselves, and let love rule the day. There is a cry in the hearts of humans to be equal, to be free, to have justice, to be loved. I believe that is part of what it means to be fully and truly human. Humanity is made in the image of God.  As Jesus said, the kingdom of heaven is at hand. I choose to live in the kingdom where love, justice, freedom and equity are for all, where everything is made right. It is both already here and yet not here, but I pray the prayer Jesus taught me, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” As far as I can tell, I get to be a part of making that happen. That is why, I for one do not want to go back. I want to go forward. Full Speed Ahead!