Blog-reader, Rosemary sent me a lengthy email asking me to address sexuality and Christianity--specifically my sexuality and my Christianity. Here is a key excerpt from her query:
How do you reconcile being gay and being a Christian? I know you've talked about this some on your blog, but....when so much that is in Christianity (as it is currently being expressed by some religious people) seems to be focused on being anti-gay, how do you reconcile that community worship act with knowing that many who would call Jesus savior do not believe you should exist, and should definitely not be there?
They key word that stands out for me in the question is "reconcile." I realize that my experience may be fairly unusual (or perhaps people like me just aren't compelled to talk a lot about this) but I have never felt the need to "reconcile" my queerness with my Christianity. As far as I'm concerned, this is the wrong question.
The question should be, "how do anti-gay Christians 'reconcile' those two stances?" Because to me it is quite obvious that the message of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit revealed in the community and Church history is unambiguous that God doesn't give a flip about sexual orientation.
Coming out was a difficult thing for me, but the difficulty was never about religion or my faith. My church was 150% supportive of me (and I might add, my ex-husband, then a church staff member) through the entire experience. It never came into my mind that coming out would cause any change in my faith except that I needed it all the more to get through the parts that were hard. I doubled my volunteer dossier at church over the couple of years I was coming out, because church was the one place I had an untroubled feeling of ease and a sense that it really would eventually all be okay. I just wanted to stand within those walls, and be among those people every chance I got.
I am blessed that while growing up, I never heard anyone I trusted speak against homosexuality from a religious perspective (or any perspective, really). I grew up knowing that some people felt that way, but those people were never my people--and this in the context of attending my small, Southern Baptist church, a Catholic parochial school and then a Catholic girls' high school.
My family had a lot to do with it, I imagine. They made it clear that people of faith could all believe different things but ultimately, whether or not you're a good Christian is really between you and God and no human being can judge that relationship. This is absolutely pure, essential Baptist tradition at its best.
I know plenty of people not raised Baptist are probably scratching their heads right now, because aren't Baptists those loud people decrying all kinds of personal decisions on the part of others that are really none of their business, sexual orientation chief among them? Yes, and no. Ironically, due to their ecclectic, catholic nature, Baptists are a splintery lot. (It's so fun to call Baptists catholic.) One of the biggest rifts in the Baptist tradition has occurred over my lifetime, leaving some in the very un-Baptist position of spending all kinds of time cooking up behavioral requirements for the salvation (or damnation--because isn't that so much more fun?) of others.
I am not a Baptist anymore (though sometimes I say my genotype is Baptist and my phenotype is Episcopalian), but I do have my opinion on who the "real" Baptists are: My folks and their pastor; my BFF's parents who spent 40 years in the mission field in Japan teaching in a university, doing family counselling and other non-conversion-type jobs; Bill Moyers; Jimmy Carter.
Anyway, this is a digression and yet it's a key to why I feel so strongly that the burden of proof is on those who would judge "gay" as automatically outside Christianity.
Another huge key is my own high level of biblical literacy. People who say the Bible is "against" homosexuality are not biblical scholars of any depth. I have read the Bible in its entirety about 3 times, studied it in original languages and studied many traditions of biblical interpretation (and personally applied more than one of them). Here are some of my findings: A) "homosexuality" in its contemporary definition isn't in the Bible at all. B) when same-sex sexual behavior is condemned in the Bible (in very few places) it is condemend side-by-side with loads of other things we pay no attention to at all in contemporary society--even the most literalist fundamentalist doesn't condemn mules, organic farming practices or polyester/cotton blends (I myself condemn them, but not on biblical grounds)--and it is often side-by-side with endorcements of slavery, plural marraige and/or concubinage, incest and other things we abhor today. C) There are positive representations in the Bible of same-sex commitments that might have included sexuality or might not have, but it is clear in the text that this wouldn't be a problem in and of itself.*
As for the part of Rosemary's question that alludes to people in the Church who "think [I] should not be there" I have to tell you those people are loud, but few and far between (well, maybe not in Texas). Anyway in my own small-c church, there is nary a one who'll say any such thing out loud. The reigning attitude is embrace of all, encompassing all kinds of difference. The larger-C Episcopal Church has officially made this their dominant position since 1976 (I think the coolest part is the call to "equal protection o fthe laws."). As for the Church Universal, well, I direct you to John Boswell. Too much to get into here.
So for those who do think I shouldn't be there? I pray for them to feel more welcome in the Church, forgiven and blessed themselves. I can only see their attitude as one of insecurity. I have spent my life in one church or another--or more than one at a time--and I have a total sense of entitlement to it. The Church is mine. Christianity is mine. You're going to have to do a lot better than throw bad prooftexts my way to run me out.
Evenagelicals sometimes refer to something they call the kerygma. What they tend to mean by it is the stuff in the Bible that is core to its overall message. Of course, what the "real" kerygma is, is somewhat subjective. There isn't really just one. And yet, a biblical scholar can certainly look at the text for patterns and themes that manage to recur in spite of the thousands of years spanned by the writings of the Bible.**
What I've decided to do for each Sunday in Advent is to give ya'll four of the texts in the Bible that are key to my own sense of the kerygma. What I mean by "key to my own sense" is not "key to the Church of Lilysea," but what I regard through scholarship and experience as key to the Church. These will have come to me over time, through many other people and communities of faith. Four is not the grand total, so I'm just going to pick four favorites that arise throughout the month and spark me to write.
How does that sound, Jody?
* For an easy read that exegetes all of these texts in depth, see Tom Horner's lovely little book, Jonathon Loved David. Walter Wink also has a terrific essay on the Bible and sexuality in his edited collection, Homosexuality and Christian Faith: a Question of Conscience for the Churches.
**Just a nod here to the important difference between Christian biblical scholars and Jewish scripture scholars. Many (but not all, and not me!) Christian biblical scholars read the Hebrew Scriptures (which they call the Old Testament) through a lens of Christianity, rendering the kerygma to be quite christocentric. Again, not me.