Where I Stand

Patio Ash - SoCal fires

Be it a favorite baseball team in reach of a World Series trophy for the first time in a century or a grave injustice somewhere in the world, we all have passions that catalyze us from apathy to action. I think the best activists for any worthy cause are those who have a deep, personal connection to the cause. This is why I’ve devoted my energies over the years to what I perceive as broadly pro-life causes – communicating the message that giving birth to your unplanned baby won’t ruin your life, suicide prevention and mental health advocacy, racial justice.

I’ve taken some hits both personally and professionally for shining my spotlight on these topics. At 52 years old, I’m not eager to publicly wade into controversies outside my passion areas. Nonetheless, I find myself pressed to do so because of a situation I’ve unexpectedly found myself in. I had a deal for an e-/print-on-demand book that was scheduled to be published early next year by Christianity Today. The first draft had been submitted and was in the process of being edited when I was added to a private Facebook group for female contributors to the outlet. I didn’t ask to be in this group or receive an invitation to it. Like everyone else, I was just added to it.

I haven’t contributed more than once or twice a year to Christianity Today since I stopped writing for its  Her.Meneutics blog after a kerfuffle in another of these private FB groups back in 2010. That conflict was about the outlet’s comment moderation policy. We writers were getting assaulted by trolls on a regular basis and there seemed to be no organizational response to it. I left and launched my boat in safer seas.

Fast forward to 2016 and my e-book. I have long known (and they should have) that my convictions about marriage equality for LGBTQ people are at odds with CT’s position. It’s one of the reasons I have not sought to publish there in recent years aside from a few news articles on topics of relevance to its audience.

However, in 2013, after reading Nadia Bolz-Weber’s excellent memoir, “Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint,” I was inspired to communicate with an editor about publishing my conversion story as part of CT’s  Testimony series. I thought this story would be a nice way to close the circle of personal essays about my faith journey that the magazine had published over the years.

Then I was hired for a communications job with a large non-profit organization. At my request, the essay was held until we had completed a project with Evangelicals.  I didn’t want the story of my misspent youth to influence the way participants in that work project viewed me. After it wrapped in March 2015, the essay was published.

With that, I thought it might be nice to collate all my CT essays into an e-book anthology. I proposed the idea to the editor who gave me my start with the magazine. He was enthusiastic, but preferred that I weave them into a single narrative. Then, we both got preoccupied with other priorities. This spring he emailed to say CT was preparing to launch a new e-book line and he wanted mine to be among its first offerings.

Although the timing was not good for me and my discomfort with the magazine’s positions on a variety of issues had only grown stronger, I said yes and submitted my first draft in October.

Then I was added to this private FB group. As is my habit, I found myself asking the wrong kinds of questions. Another writer said she had been told by an editor that CT wouldn’t publish anything by her on the topic of marriage because she supports marriage equality. One thing led to another and I emailed my editor to see if my position would be a problem. He said yes and the next day, during a brief, but cordial phone call, my contract was canceled.

So, here I am taking a stand on an issue beyond the scope of my passions. I don’t think this would have happened were it not for the context of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship issuing an ultimatum to its LGBTQ supporting staff, popular Christian author Jen Hatmaker stating her support for marriage equality in an interview, and importantly, an election cycle that has revealed a majority of white Evangelical men to have forfeited the moral authority to make pronouncements on sexual ethics. These topics are on the minds of some of the women writing for Christianity Today. I spoke up. Now I’m looking for another publisher.

How I Got Here

Some may wonder how I went from Column No to Column Go. I’m a creative. My dream growing up was to be an artist. Instead I became a writer. My tribe is one that is generally populated with and supportive of those outside the straight and narrow mainstream of society.

As a teenager, I lived a wild, self-destructive life from which Jesus rescued me. In college, I struggled with my newfound faith and had a few truly misogynistic experiences with religious men. I briefly thought I might explore relationships with women. My Bible told me those were taboo and since I had made a mess of my life with my other explorations, I decided it was a road I was not free to go down. Since then, my husband and I have had a very satisfying physical relationship except when illness and/or grief have interfered. And they have, at times, interfered.

Married folks are called to chastity in the same way that single people are. Anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t been married for very long. Many, many people do not experience sexual fulfillment in their marriages. Our faith calls us to curb our desires. If it is anything of substance at all, it demands that we die to self in a million different ways. Sexual desire is just one of them.

Where it is different for gays and lesbians is that there is no scenario in which conservative churches make space for sexual fulfillment. I think this is what makes their position untenable and oppressive. It’s not as if positions on marriage haven’t changed before. It’s not as if all these conservative churches are going to kick their divorced and remarried members out for dishonoring the sanctity of marriage and a “clear reading of scripture” that their unions are “adulterous.”

I was grappling with this 10 years ago when my husband and I left Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa because of its habit of covering up the sexual misconduct and predatory behaviors of pastors. Conservative churches, in my experience, often care more about orthodoxy than orthopraxy and I’d had enough of it. In what may have been a prophetic 2006 blog post, I wrote about how this played out in my relationship with my husband as we visited Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, on a trip we took to recover from our experience of confronting sexual misconduct in a famous Evangelical megachurch.

Then our son died by suicide in 2008. I had gotten pregnant with this boy during my college struggle and had raised him not to treat women as sex objects. He went to Wheaton College, where he was immersed in a culture that pathologized his sexuality as an African American man. For example, when he was a freshman, he got into trouble for visiting “illegal” websites, but the only one he could recall having visited was “Hot or Not.” It’s a vile site that is exactly what is sounds like — an online venue for rating women’s sexual desirability.

During the discipline process, the dean of men produced a study that linked usage of sites like “Hot or Not” with sexual pathology.  My husband and I were like, “What the hell?” As it turned out, my son was out of state when actual porn sites on his computer had been accessed. His roommate, who went on to become president of their senior class, eventually confessed that he had been using my son’s computer to access those sites. Did I mention that this morally challenged individual went on to become president of their class?

Another example is the time a classmate knocked on my son’s door to tell him he was not holy enough to be a student at Wheaton College. This kid was keeping a list of unholy sinners who didn’t belong. He said he had been reading my work at Christianity Today, including an essay I had written with my son’s permission about the circumstances of his birth and my hope that he would remember my experience and abstain from “defrauding anyone sexually.”

Like many suicidal people, in the final months of his life, my son was filled with self-loathing and was engaging in some high risk behaviors. His self-loathing was directed at his own struggles to control his sexual impulses. His suicide notes made this clear. But his struggles were ordinary and his shame about them way out of proportion to reality.

My family is in agreement that the culture of Wheaton College did him harm, but my husband and I debate whether or not our desire for our children to NOT make the same youthful mistakes we did put too much pressure on him, or whether or not confronting the leaders of our church in relationship to their sexual misconduct cover-ups intensified his shame. I will have to live with those questions for the rest of my life. What I will not do is contribute to any other vulnerable person’s sense of shame about their sexual identity or impulses. If you want to know what ultimately catalyzed my move from column No to column Go, it is this. It is my pro-life passion for suicide prevention.

The Bible

Some will ask, “But what about the Bible? Doesn’t the Bible say …?” Ok, well, the Bible says a lot of things and I am not a theologian. I will say this though: while I was wrestling with the orthodoxy v. orthopraxy priorities of different kinds of churches 10 years ago, I was coming to the conclusion that the way many of us read the Bible is a function of the Scientism of our age. It’s a way of seeing the world that categorizes and systemetizes everything and I think it does a disservice to our sacred text.

Two books reinforced my sense that the kind of hermeneutic I was raised on is too rigid – philosopher Charles Taylor’s “A Secular Age,” which traced the rise of secularism and how it eradicated a sense of enchantment in the world; and, Scot McKnight’s “The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How We Read the Bible,” which delves into our tendency to pick and choose which passages of Scripture we prioritize and which encourages us to see the Bible as “God’s story of redemption, instead of reading it merely as a set of laws or blessings, or as a puzzle or big inkblot, open to interpretation,” to quote Christianity Today’s review.

While I will leave the theological wrestling to the experts, wooden readings of Scripture no longer hold sway with me. On the issue of homosexuality, I rest on Philippians 2:12, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Here it is in context from the New King James version of the Bible for those who want to make sure I’m not proof-texting.

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, 2 fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

The bottom line is that I trust my gay and lesbian loved ones to work their faith out in the same way that I do. We do not entirely appreciate what that entails for others, but every sincere Christian engages in this work. As I told my editor when he asked if I support marriage consecration in churches, if an LGBTQ loved one of mine—along with their partner and their pastor—is at peace about the consecration of their marriage, I would support them and gladly attend their wedding.

This perspective will be unlikely to satisfy anyone and will likely mark me as a theological lightweight, but as I said at the outset, I have a few areas of personal passion to which I devote my limited energies. While I’ve read some of the theological arguments around this topic, I’m afraid it does not hold my interest for long. I am a member of the Episcopal Church, and while I was was confirmed as an Anglican in a church that separated from the Episcopalians over Biblical interpretations of homosexuality, I am glad to have landed on the other side of the divide where all marriages are not only consecrated, but celebrated.

A Final Word

I’m never going to be a person who rails against conservative Christians for holding fast to their convictions about marriage. I recognize and lament the fact that the Church’s position on homosexuality and treatment of LGBTQ people has caused enormous harm. I also understand that the revolution from opposition to support for same sex unions has been rapid from a historical perspective. Marriage is a foundational institution in public and private life and it deserves the kind of intense debate that we have seen over the past quarter century.

I will however strongly disagree with anyone who makes support for marriage equality a litmus test for orthodoxy. As many more eloquent and informed writers than me have said, cultural norms around marriage are not the creeds upon which our faith rests. To treat them as such does violence to the Gospel. Members of my own family may disagree with me on this. I love them. I respect their high regard for Scripture and their commitment to their faith convictions. They do not hate gay people. I will not acquiesce to insinuations that they do. I am also not going to debate this topic with anyone. I don’t have the energy for it and again, more informed and impassioned people than me have taken up the cause.

Onward Christian soldiers.

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