Posts Tagged ‘love’

Love and Justice (and Babies!)

// April 25th, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

It has been a hectic week with a surprise trip to Las Vegas to help take care of my new niece and nephew while their mother (my sister-in-law) recovers in the hospital after a rough delivery.  She is improving and the kids are sure to be the smartest, kindest, beautifulest people the world has ever known.  I’m back in town for a couple of days and I look forward to sleeping.  (Seriously, this has given me some insight into what it takes to bring a child into the world, so hats off to all those who have taken that leap.)

Anyway, I just wanted to drop a quick note to invite you to join us tomorrow, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we continue our discussion of the distinct early Christian communities described in Acts and in 1 John.  This week, we will focus especially on the practice of love and justice.  Hope to see you there!

Grace & Peace,
Scott

Love and Light

// December 19th, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

We will have two services Sunday.  Plus a post-evening-service feast.  Plus getting the building ready.  Plus the holidays.  Plus a surprise appearance by my dog jumping through yet another window.  It’s a busy time.  I don’t know if I will get it all done or how it will all turn out.  Advent is a time of waiting, a time of mystery, a time of not knowing.  That can easily translate into a time of anxiety.  But this is the week of love.

Love overcomes anxiety.  I don’t know how it will all turn out, but I know that I am loved – by my family, by my friends, by my church.  That love both inspires me to try a little harder and to know that it will be okay even if I fail.  Love provides comfort and confidence.  Love sustains us in the waiting and the unknowing.  On Sunday morning, we will celebrate a love that carries us into a new year and new possibilities, a love that is the love of all loves.

On Sunday evening, we will celebrate the light coming into the world.  The prophets speak of a world plunged into shadow.  This is sometimes regarded as a remarkably prescient vision, that there will be this one time when everything seems bad.  But this is the season of short days and long nights.  It is the season of economic turmoil, wars and rumors of wars, weeping and gnashing of teeth.  This is the cycle that humanity rehearses over and over again.  Somehow, in the midst of that, out of that, because of that, something new and beautiful is born.  On Sunday evening, we will celebrate the breaking of the light over the horizon and our journey into a new day.

Please join us Sunday morning, 11am at Church in the Cliff, 1719 W. 10th St., as we celebrate (and practice!) love.  And join us again in the evening, 6pm at our house, 221 S. Edgefield Ave., as we celebrate God’s becoming in the world.  There will be a feast after the service.  Wear stretchy pants.

Grace & Peace,
Scott

The Best Defense is Love

// May 24th, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Christianity has always been a defensive faith, even from birth.  Our lectionary texts this week bear witness to this.  In Acts 17.22-31, we find Paul in Athens making an argument.  He is trying to convince the Athenians that they had been worshiping his God all along and that, if they did not soon recognize, they would be condemned.  In 1 Peter 3.13-22, Peter exhorts Christians to always be ready to defend themselves.  And in John 14.15-21, we get an Advocate, a defense attorney to stand by us in the trials to come.  It should be no surprise that the history of the faith is one of heresies and excommunications and denominational splits.

And it should be no surprise that the current environment is so toxic.  Christians often understand themselves to be under threat from a variety of sources.  Despite retaining far and away the majority in this country, Christians understand themselves as victims with diminishing freedom to practice their faith.  Whether pernicious holiday greetings or enforced gay cake baking or science classes that teach science, the world is out to get Christians.  Clearly.

Perhaps we should pay a little attention to the context in which the Christian Testament was written.  Christianity was in a formative process.  The first followers of Jesus were Jews.  They didn’t think of themselves as Christians, but Jews who had witnessed the coming of the promised Messiah.  They were ejected from the synagogues as their own self-identity developed in contrast to the dominant group.  So the Christian Testament is a testament of antagonism and strife.  It is the minority view over against the majority view.  Christians must recognize that this is no longer our context.

More importantly, Christians must look past the defensiveness to see what is being defended.  In Acts, Paul speaks of a God that transcends all boundaries so that we will, too.  Peter asks us to defend, not our hatred, but our hope, to account for that which drives us to gentleness, reverence, and a good conscience.  And John’s Advocate faithfully stands by our side in love so that we might bear witness to the presence of God.  The defense that Christianity requires is the steadfast conviction that we are all children of God, deserving of love and all good things.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we speak of the unknown that God that calls to us from beyond our own bounds.

Grace & Peace,
Scott

Specific, Indiscriminate Love (Genny’s Farewell)

// February 23rd, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

We are packing up. I’m pretending that we aren’t really leaving, or that this will all be a fantastic adventure, or that this week is just a really fun one in which I get to go to lots of parties and see lots of friends (and since I’m pretty introverted, this is some exhausting fun, though so worth it). In the middle of this, I’ve been sitting with our text this week, holding our departure at the edges of my brain so I can ostensibly think clearly.

It hasn’t worked so well. I’ve had 3 false starts on this darn email, and it’s because I love you all, and am sad I won’t get to see your faces every week. Saying goodbye to you is hard. The things I love in life are particular: in the philosophical sense, love is a wide umbrella. In practice, love happens in very specific relationships in very specific contexts.

Who do you love? What draws your affection? Where are the places your spirit tells you, “This place is home”? I’m asking because, in this week where I’m thinking so much about the love of friends, the lectionary passage is about what I view as Christianity’s most revolutionary teaching: the love of enemies. Love is particular – and so is hatred. For ire to be so real and deep to qualify as hatred, it must be directed towards something specific. So it seems that to engage this world-subverting subject, we have to be willing to do some very specific self-reflection that holds a mirror to our deepest loves and the things we actually hate.

Frederick Buechner says we don’t really talk much about real enemies these days. His hunch is that while we like to think that’s because we’re more “civilized,” it’s actually because we’re a bit cowardly. Rather, he says, “we smolder…when we declare war, it is mostly submarine warfare, and since our attacks are beneath the surface, it may be years before we know fully the damage we have given or sustained.” In other words, to even begin the journey towards loving an enemy, we have to first see them – we have to recognize an ugly response that lives within us, rather than ignoring it. It is a tall order, this transformation. Love, as in, willing all goodness for the abuser, for the prejudiced, for the ones who smugly enjoy our struggles. Somehow, love has to be the response when it is impossible, as well as when it comes naturally. Jesus’ words flip the “eye for an eye” world on its head, dismantling the logic of “take care of our own,” and heralding a revolution.

I hope you’ll join us Sunday at Kidd Springs, 11am. We have lots to talk about. There will be probably be public crying on my part, so be forewarned…

Love,
Genny

Looking for Love

// December 20th, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

What happens when life doesn’t sync up with the seasons? When our world seems filled with joyful laughter and shiny things, and we just don’t feel shiny? Is it possible that the holy can be found both within the holiday mirth, and also within struggle?

We are nearing the final week of Advent. Advent is a season of longing, of anticipation. It is my favorite liturgical season, perhaps because it helps me dream of a world where, as Julian of Norwich said, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Sometimes, though, life gets in the way of Advent. These past few weeks I’ve had a pet die and two dear friends become gravely ill. I know some of you have been sick or struggling to figure out work, relationships, and general life stuff. Sometimes when we’re trying to wrap our heads around the present, it’s hard to anticipate a world where Love is the center of life. Longing for transformation gets lost in surviving the worries of now.

One of our biblical stories this week is Joseph’s dream (Matthew 1.18-25). Joseph, being a stand-up guy for his era, plans to “dismiss” his betrothed, the pregnant Mary. He plans to do this quietly, to avoid shaming her and still maintain his honor, since he’s not sure who the father of her baby is. After he makes up his mind, he goes to sleep, and has a dream. An angel appears, telling him not to fear public disgrace, because the child Mary carries will save his people. This story isn’t really about a virgin birth or sexuality, but about God’s communication with Joseph, and the presence of the holy in a human baby. For some wild reason, Joseph pays attention to this dream, and marries Mary – a risky response not anticipated by cultural standards of normalcy. It’s a shining moment where love and courage win – Joseph’s response makes way for the holy in our world.

This week of Advent, we meditate on Love. We remember that Emmanuel means “God with us” – in the midst of life, wherever we are. Love with us, in the midst of sickness. Love with us, in the midst of grief. Love with us, in the midst of tangled relationships. Love with us, in loneliness. Love with us, too, in all that is joyful and good and beautiful, lest we forget that our world is always charged with these things. Wherever we are this Advent, I wonder – how can we tune ourselves to the Holy in our midst? And how might we be changed if this happens?

Join us Sunday morning, 11am, at Kidd Springs Rec Center, and connect with our face-to-face community as we work out what it means to live in Love together. Join us Sunday night, as well, for our early celebration of Christmas Eve hosted by the Shirley’s. There will be Jesus stories and candles and singing and friends. Food, too, if I heard the rumors correctly, so please join us at 6pm Sunday evening, 221 S. Edgefield.

With Advent Longing,
Genny

The Baptism of Jesus

// January 12th, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

In the Epiphany, we considered the identity of Jesus.  However, we only really considered it through the eyes of others.  Every child is born with expectations, but perhaps none more than Jesus.  I mean, my dad wanted me to be good at golf, but he didn’t have angels singing to him about it.  The reality is that none of us can live up to the expectations of others, regardless of how noble or well-intended, because those expectations have nothing to do with us.  At some point, our lives have to connect to who we really are, to the image of God within.  As the story is told by Luke (3:21-22), baptism was that moment for Jesus.

Luke is the only canonical gospel to include stories of Jesus’ upbringing, but it is very limited.  There is the story of his circumcision with the songs of Anna and Simeon.  Then Luke zips ahead to the 12-year-old Jesus taking it upon himself to be educated in the temple in Jerusalem.  Next thing we know, Jesus is thirty, standing in the Jordan River being baptized by John.  A curious thing happens: the skies open up and Jesus hears a voice that says: “You are my child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Unlike Matthew, who frames this as a public announcement, Luke has God addressing Jesus alone.  This is a private moment, a moment in which a voice from heaven and a voice inside speak in unison.  There is an unmistakable clarity.  We don’t know exactly what Jesus did for the first thirty years of his life, but after this moment, with the certain knowledge that he belongs, that he is loved, and that he is good, he begins his work.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about what it would be like to have that kind of clarity, what it takes to find it, and what we might do with it.

Grace and Peace,
Scott

Advent: Love All

// December 22nd, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Advent is a time of waiting, no time more so than the final Sunday of Advent when we can finally see the light on the horizon.  And no year in my admittedly short memory of Advent seems like so painful a wait, so desperate a time to be on the threshold of a new year.  I wonder what will be different on the other side of the horizon.

The truth is, we will never know.  The horizon lies ever in the distance, the thing to which we move, but never reach.  Like every year, Jesus will be born; Jesus will die and rise again; Jesus will ascend and return in judgment.  We will mark all of it with laughter and tears, healing and heartbreak.  And then we’ll do it again.

The truth is, we are always waiting.  Waiting for justice.  Waiting for love.  Waiting for peace.  Waiting for God to come into the world.

Tragic events like Sandy Hook always bring into sharp relief questions about the source of evil and the nature of God.  Where is God in all this?  How does God get wherever God is?  Many commentators have worked this angle, for better or worse.  I don’t really want to add myself to either side, but I think there’s a reason we enter into this cycle of the Christian liturgical calendar.  We cling as desperately to our faith in God’s ever-present love and support as we cling to our hope in God’s eventual triumph.  We separate out bits of that at times to mark it, but we really experience it all at once, all the time.  That is why, as the Advent tradition reminds us, we wait and that is why, as Advent Conspiracy reminds us, we must “Love All.”  We are always waiting and longing and hoping, stuck on the threshold of what has been and what might be.  If we can’t hold onto each other, nurture the image of God in every Other One – with apologies to Rachel Held Evans – God does not come into the world.  Instead, God is silenced, beaten back, and the forces of evil triumph again.

Like Mary, we have to say yes to God.  We have to nurture the Divine, give it a place to gestate and to emerge, bodily, into the world.  If we can’t do that, we are indeed condemned to the shadows and dawn will never break.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about seeing the image of God in ourselves and in others so that we can live together in the space between Faith and Hope, the now of Love.

Grace and Peace,
Scott

Undone by Love: The Redoing (Program)

// August 22nd, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

This is from a couple of weeks ago.  (Still catching up from vacation and the beginning of school.)  For this service, we broke up into small groups.  A portion of our “Prayers of the People” from the series was read followed by a moment of silent reflection and then some discussion questions.  At the end of the service, participants were asked to indicate their priorities among a range of social justice issues using sticky notes.  I just looked at the results and the “winners” are poverty, hunger, and youth & education.  This information will inform discussions of the Social Action Team, who will meet soon.

Program

Undone by Love: The Redoing

// August 2nd, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Before I moved to Dallas, I was a manager in the Information Systems department of a medium-sized company that owned funeral homes and cemeteries.  Yes, even funeral homes have information systems.  And, yes, I was a nerd.  The part of my job that I liked the most was facilitating groups of people in a software design process.  I got to use lots of office supplies: sticky notes, flip chart pads, dry-erase boards.  But the thing I liked the most was that, in the process of designing software, you inevitably had to design a business.  In trying to narrow down a business function to the point that it could be accurately captured in software, we had to pick the business apart, find and resolve conflicts, create a unified mission.

Now I’m a different kind of nerd.  I love the Bible.  I love theology.  I love church.  But what I still really love is picking things apart, finding the common threads, and weaving them into something new.  Maybe I’m the same nerd, just aimed in a different direction.

We’ve spent the last five weeks picking things apart.  We’ve been talking about an ethic of love that deconstructs systems of power.  We’ve covered a lot of ground: the earth, the alien, neighbors of different races and classes, the others within our own families.  We’ve even talked a little about how and why we define the other as the other.  Now it’s time to pick up those threads and weave them into the dreams of God.  With sticky notes and flip charts and prayer!  Nerds FTW!

Elvis was right: there’s not much point to all this conversation, if there’s not some action.  So this week we’re going to move a little closer to action.  In prayer and reflection, we’ll break into small groups and, with some guiding questions, we’ll talk about which pieces mean the most to us as individuals and as a group.  What challenges us?  What is obvious?  Where do we agree or disagree?  Where do we want to move forward?

Obviously, this does not get us quite to the action part, so the conversation must continue.  In a couple of weeks, we will convene our Social Action Team to try to put together a portfolio of social justice concerns that makes the best possible use of our limited resources and allows us to develop ongoing relationships around those issues.  I hope that everyone will continue to participate in that conversation.

Please join us on Sunday, 11am at the Kessler, as we dream together with God to make it on earth as it is in heaven.

Grace and Peace,

Scott

Undone by Love: The Other (Program and Sermon)

// July 31st, 2012 // 1 Comment » // Church in The Cliff

Program

Jann’s Opening

Both my parents were preachers, but only one was ordained.  I grew up in a small town in Louisiana in the 1950s and 60s. It was in a time in the South when water fountains were labeled “colored” and “white,” and we didn’t know gays and lesbians existed. My father almost lost his job as pastor of First Baptist Church, Minden, La., because of his stand for integration during the Civil Rights movement, and he did lose his position on the board of Midwestern Baptist Seminary because of his stand for the academic freedom of a professor who wrote a book on the symbolic interpretation of Genesis. My mother always served as a minister, but she was never ordained or paid. Her dynamic speaking ability and exceptional leadership skills made her every bit as qualified as Daddy to pastor a church. She was always taking care of the underdog, never realizing that she was one. Growing up, I never saw a woman in the pulpit, except a missionary to Nigeria. And what she did was called “speak,” not “preach.”

It was not until September 18, 1977, that I discovered that anything could or should be any different. That Sunday evening my friend Raynal Barber and I went to a service at Cliff Temple Baptist Church, here in Oak Cliff. At the time Raynal and I were teaching in the English department at Dallas Baptist University. That evening at Cliff Temple Martha Gilmore was being ordained, the first woman in the South to be ordained by a Baptist church. With awe, I watched a woman kneeling before the congregation as a long line of people—women as well as men—passed by to lay hands of blessing upon her. Before then, I had seen only men ordain only men. Now something new was happening! After the service Raynal said to me: “Jann, one day we’ll be going to your ordination!” I gave her a shocked look and replied, “Oh no! I’ll research, write, persuade, give chapter and verse to support the ordination of women. But I wouldn’t want all the criticism and struggle Martha’s gone through.”

Eight years later Raynal stood at my ordination service at Seventh and James Baptist Church in Waco to read these words of the prophet Habakkuk: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come.” Martha Gilmore preached the ordination sermon, proclaiming that I was “the vision made flesh, the vision that God indeed calls women to ordained ministry.” Martha declared that I had also become “a statement, a promise for many women and men and a hope for many women who may be frightened to hear the divine call.”  It helped to hear Martha bless me as a “statement,” because that word had been used negatively in reference to me and other women who had followed nontraditional paths. People had tried to dismiss me by saying, “Oh, you’re just trying to make a statement.” I realized that we were in a time in history when statements about the worth of women needed to be made. And these statements need to be made today as much as ever.

In the years since, I’ve discovered that it’s easier to see the vision than to live it.  Time and time again I’ve faced the challenge of breaking free from cultural traditions that limit women and men.  Breaking free to become all we’re created to be in the divine image is a continual challenge.  Religious and cultural traditions are constantly trying to stifle our gifts and our voices, to put us back into boxes we’ve broken free from. External and internal forces are formidable.

The more I tried to live my call to pastoral ministry in various roles, as a chaplain, on a church staff, as a pastoral counselor, and as a writer in support of women in ministry, the more I realized that the resistance to ordination of women is only a part of a larger patriarchal culture that gives greatest value to white, straight, able-bodied, financially privileged males.  Other people are considered “other” and marginalized and oppressed.  One of the arguments I heard against ordination of women was, “If we start ordaining women, the next thing you know we’ll be ordaining gays!” I must confess that at that time I tried to argue that the two issues were separate.  But Sophia Wisdom kept expanding my vision so that I could respond, “Yes, that’s the point!  The ordained ministry should be open to all.”  I was realizing that the ordination issue is just the tip of the patriarchal iceberg.  At the foundation of our patriarchal culture is an image of a male God, sanctioning patterns of dominance and submission. More and more I was understanding that the strongest support imaginable for the dominance of men is this worship of an exclusively masculine Supreme Being.  So my call expanded to writing, preaching, and teaching on the inclusion of the Divine Feminine.

Isabel Docampo tells me that some of the young women in her classes at Perkins say, “We don’t need to do inclusive language any more. That was important when you were going through seminary because there were all men. Inclusive language isn’t important anymore because now women can be leaders in church and are in the workplace big time.” Isabel says that when these young women go out into churches, they discover that gender discrimination, although more subtle now than in the past, is still all too prevalent.

People have tried to discount my advocacy for inclusive language by saying, “You’re making such a big deal over a few words. The Creator of the universe can’t be limited; He’s above male or female.”  When I agree and say that there should then be no more problem referring to God as “She” than as “He,” I get strong negative reactions, like I’d suggested  that we bring pornography into worship. No better proof can be found for the bias against the feminine and the need to overcome it by calling God “She.”

My passion for changing worship language is not just about personal preference or about making women feel better about ourselves, although that’s a worthy goal, and it’s not about political correctness, but about faithfulness to our Gospel calling. Gender-balanced language in worship is a justice issue on a wide scale.

Naming the Divine as “Sophia” (Greek“Wisdom”) “Hokmah,” (Hebrew “Wisdom”) “Mother,” “Sister,” “Ruah,” (Hebrew “Spirit”) “Midwife,” “She,” and other biblical female designations gives sacred value to women and girls who have for centuries been excluded, denigrated, discounted, even abused and murdered.  Including the Divine Feminine in worship comes from our call to do justice, to alleviate suffering. I’ve come to understand how worship of an exclusively male Deity forms a foundation for demeaning, devaluing, and abuse of women. Language and symbols shape our thinking which drive our actions. Many people don’t realize how worship with exclusive language oppresses people; it oppresses by devaluing those excluded. This devaluation lays the foundation for worldwide violence against women and girls. In the U.S. alone, every fifteen seconds a woman is battered. One in four American girls will have been sexually assaulted by the age of 18. One in three women in the world experiences some kind of abuse in her lifetime. Worldwide, an estimated four million women and girls each year are bought and sold into prostitution, slavery, or marriage. Two-thirds of the world’s poor are women. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, in their book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, state: “More girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than people were killed in all the battles of the twentieth century. More girls are killed in this routine ‘gendercide’ in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century.” There are many more alarming statistics on worldwide violence and discrimination against women and girls. A theology that truly includes females and males and bisexual and transgender people, all genders, can make a powerful contribution to a more just world.

Perkins professor Marjorie Procter-Smith in her book The Church in Her House: A Feminist Emancipatory Prayer Book for Christian Communities, writes about the need for faith communities to recognize overlapping and interlocking structures of oppression, which theologian Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza calls “kyriarchy,” meaning literally “rule of the masters or lords.” The more familiar term “patriarchy” suggests that all men (literally “fathers”) are rulers. But men of color, gay men, disabled men, poor men are usually excluded from power.

Theology and worship practice make a difference. That’s why CityChurch, now Church in the Cliff, was founded, to be a truly inclusive community that preaches inclusive theology, and practices and models inclusive worship that shapes actions of justice and peace. Our theology and worship practice matter. Not just personal preference, but can often be a life and death matter. Read Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Victims, by Brite Divinity School professor Steve Sprinkle, and you’ll see how religion can be the cause of or the solution to hate crimes. Complicit in these crimes are not only churches preaching anti-LGBTQ theology but also those remaining silent in the face of this hate-inducing rhetoric.

What can be do to end sexism, heterosexism, gender oppression and violence? As a faith community, we can continue to grow toward greater inclusivity in our theology, worship language and symbolism. We can give equal value to women and men through worship that equally balances Mother and Father, Brother and Sister, She and He, Christ and Sophia, and other female and male divine names. In addition to this inclusive language, we can find ways to include all genders in our symbolism, our theology, and our practice. Worshipping a Deity who includes more than one gender lays a strong foundation for justice and peace in our world. As individuals and as a community, we can find other specific actions to take. I recommend these two books, Unfinished Lives and Half the Sky, hard to read because of the alarming stories, but also hopeful in listing actions we can take to bring change. Steve Sprinkle also has a blog and FB page that give specific things we can do. Half the Sky has a whole chapter entitled “What You Can Do,” and an Appendix listing many international organizations that support women and girls. And closer to home: National Organization for Women; Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus-Christian Feminism Today; ecumenical, multicultural Equity for Women in the Church Community; Dallas Foundation for Women; Planned Parenthood. Individually and together as a faith community we can continue to grow in becoming the Good News of liberation and abundant life for everyone.

Scott’s Opening

It has been an interesting few months in the culture wars.  And first, let’s be clear that it is a war.  Over the last couple of weeks, I have been told by people who oppose change, by people who gleefully patronize businesses that oppose change, that it’s not helpful for me to characterize it as such.  These words denoting conflict show my own intolerance and bigotry.  Bullshit.  This is not a fight that women and LGBTQ folk and their allies would like to be having.  But those in power do what they always do: they take their active response to change, their clutching at the power they have, as normal and neutral.  They view their action as inaction.  So they frame things as if they are passively minding their own business while this unexpected turmoil erupts around them.  When Martin Luther King was in jail in Birmingham, he did not have kind words for those who sat on the sidelines, quietly enjoying their freedoms, and pretending that segregation was none of their business.

So let’s look at a few dispatches from the front lines.  The Vatican came down on American nuns in April.  Ostensibly, it was for doctrinal problems, but at the core of those doctrinal problems is the nuns’ refusal to be conscripted into fighting against the interests of women and children, of the poor and the forgotten.  In May, President Obama came out for marriage equality.  In the last week or so, we have the Chick-fil-A boycott after the CEO, Dan Cathy, said clearly what everyone should have known before: he opposes same-sex marriage and uses company profits to support anti-gay organizations.  And, finally, this week no one was surprised when another anti-gay evangelical cultural critic, Jonathon Merritt, was outed by a gay blogger with whom he had put himself “in an unwise situation” and “had physical contact that went beyond the bounds of friendship.”  And then there was one more that, strangely, seemed to pass without much fanfare.

Around the end of June, Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus International made a startling announcement.  If you don’t know, Exodus is an umbrella organization for ex-gay ministries and reparative therapists, who believe that through prayer and psychotherapy, homosexuals can be made straight.  Mr. Chambers’ announcement was, essentially, that none of that is true.  He admitted that people could not decide not to be gay, that reparative therapy does not work, that all the prayer in the world won’t change one’s attractions, and that trying to do so might, in fact, be harmful to those who try.  This is not startling news because we did not already know this.  It is startling because it erases every claim they have ever made about homosexuality.  It reveals the truth that their starting point was never science, but their belief that homosexuality is simply wrong.  I’d be happy to talk about why I think they have always been wrong about that, but right now I’d like to talk about the ideology behind the ex-gay movement, which appears to be continuing with vigor in spite of Mr. Chambers’ change of heart.

I’ve been reading a book called Straight to Jesus, which is the story of an ethnographer, Tanya Erzen, who spent a year working in an ex-gay ministry to study them, like Jane Goodall living among the chimpanzees.  She became quite close with the men in the program, so it was not at all an unsympathetic portrait, though she clearly disagreed with both the premise and the method of the ministry.  Briefly, ex-gay ministries and reparative therapies are predicated on the idea that people are made gay by some kind of break in the development of gender identity.  It could be abuse or an absent or critical parent.  The net is cast so wide that almost anything can be said to be the cause.  And when those things that are supposed to be causes don’t, in fact, cause someone to be homosexual, there is some countervailing cause that kept the person’s gender identity on track, say an uncle or minister who was always present or a mother who raised the child to believe in the Bible and God as the ultimate father.

So the task set before a person who wants to stop being gay is to reconstruct proper gender identity and reestablish non-sexual, same-sex friendships.  People in this program spent their time doing manly things like playing team sports and hiking, because nothing gay ever happens in sports or on long camping trips.  Participants are prohibited from doing anything the program categorizes as gay, such as shopping or being sarcastic.  Apparently, snark is totally gay.  If the men in the program stick with this regimen, they are told they will eventually learn to be attracted to women.  They will get married.  They will be the head of the household, as a proper man should be.

The interesting thing is that no one believes this.  The men in the program never really think that will happen.  Some try to never leave the program by moving into leadership positions.  Some quit trying.  Most simply live out a pattern of fall and redemption.  It’s so common that it is built into the program.  In a strange amalgam of Pentecostal testimony and twelve-step program, they confess their failures publicly, whether it’s thinking about another man in the program, buying gay porn, or hooking up with someone at a rest stop.  Because few of them have ever lived in an openly gay community, they are told that those things are what being gay is.  According to everything they have ever been told, there are no healthy gay relationships.  And so their desire can only be suppressed or lived out in fantasies or momentary trysts.  And all of it is viewed as the worst kind of sin.

For the longest time, the religious right ignored the ex-gay movement.  But as the battle for gay rights heated up, the politicos found they needed a counter-narrative to that supplied by gay activists.  If you could change your sexuality, if it was merely a matter of lifestyle choice, it need not be protected.  When Exodus International got involved in politics in 2001, many in the ex-gay movement felt betrayed.  Exodus ran a series of ads telling the stories of ex-gays and leveraging them to argue against same-sex marriage.  Those whose stories they told, for the most part, did not agree to be used that way.  In fact, many favor same-sex marriage and other civil rights for LGBTQ folk, seeing their own choices and struggles as their own.  So if you ask ex-gays, they would say that the culture warriors aren’t really on their side.  What, then, do they want?

In short, they oppose homosexuality and all other manner of queerness because it upsets their apple cart.  Their apple cart holds all the power.  They control access to God.  They control access to money.  To justice.  To love.  What the culture warriors are really after is to maintain the status quo.  Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians of the wisdom of the world and its failure to reveal God.  God’s wisdom, God’s power, is Sophia standing on the busiest street corner, yelling at all the idiots who will believe anything they are told, the ones who buy into the fear, who build a bunker out of tradition.  God’s wisdom, Sophia, the message of the cross, is a scandal.  Imagine, a woman speaking with the power of God!  Imagine, two men married to one another!  Imagine, a man raising children or a woman leading a church!  Imagine relationships of equals where no one possesses or controls anyone else!  It’s all scandalous!  Indecent, even.  If you want to find God, look for the scandal.  Make no mistake, the battle for same-sex marriage and the battle for ordination of women is the same battle.  And the culture warriors are right: the family and our society are at stake.  Do we want a society of equals working in partnership toward a common good?  A world in which we discover together who we are?  Or do we want hierarchies of power, learned from childhood, and maintained with brute force?  A world in which everyone’s role is predetermined and merely acted out?  Where does a God of liberation and hope stand in that battle?

Scott’s Closing

I had an art teacher in high school, Ms. Griffin, that loved to say, “There are two types of people in the world…”  She would then provide an obviously simplistic and meaningless division of all people.  “There are two types of people in the world: those who like ice cream and those who don’t.”  When we pointed out that there exists a far greater range of people in the world according to their feelings about ice cream – some are indifferent, some like some kinds and not others, some like it on hot days, but not cold – she responded, “There are two types of people in the world: those who think there are two types of people in the world and those who don’t.”  One way that systems of power work is by giving the illusion of clarity in false binaries like this.  There are two types of people in the world: whites and non-whites; men and women; gays and straights.  But we are all really of Ms. Griffin’s second type.  No one really sees the world as being so simple, so easily divided.

Over the last few weeks, we have seen the foolishness of division.  We divide ourselves, creatures, from the earth, creation.  We divide the local from the alien.  We divide white from non-white and rich from poor.  We divide male from female and gay from straight.  This last is particularly disturbing because it shows how we “otherize” those to whom we are closest.  We turn our families and friendships into systems of power, everyone in his or her proper place.

In the second creation narrative, the one where the earthling is split in two, the other is supposed to be our counterpart, the one that stands across from us, beholds us and confronts us.  We have commonality that can bring us together in love, “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.”  And we have difference to reveal new possibilities to one another.  If we see only sameness, we see only our own reflection.  If we see only difference, we have a tendency to hate it.  We no longer recognize the dignity of the divine humanity in which we all share.  The divine, in whose image all of humankind is created, includes unity and difference.  Each of us is this subtle concoction of sameness and difference.  We have to see the whole person, that which we recognize and that which we don’t.  Because the binaries just don’t work.  They obscure a much richer and more nuanced reality that requires a richer and more nuanced ethical posture.

God calls us to live in a rich and complicated world.  That is its beauty and its challenge and its hope.  It is often confusing, often unclear, often surprising.  Thank God for that.