I wrote this in 2007 and how many changes have happened! On the personal level, I have come out to myself, loved ones, and now the public as bisexual and begun healing the wounds of heterosexism which compounded those of sexism and clergy sexual abuse by the very adviser mentioned in the post (a married Protestant pastor but my beloved Jesuits repeatedly fostered and mishandled his evil behavior) to lead, along with hyperfertility and NFP, to a nearly sexless marriage. On the societal level tremendous steps toward justice and religious freedom have been taken with civil marriage equality and more social acceptance of LGBTQ+ people, though much still needs to happen especially intersectionally and for transfolk. And on the church level more mainline Protestant denominations are bringing healing by ordaining and marrying faithful affirming LGBTQ+ folks, while the discourse in more traditional Catholic and evangelical circles is being transformed, despite remaining hatefulness from some, by the courageous witness of proud celibate LGBTQ+ Christian bloggers and speakers like Eve Tushnet and Gabriel Blanchard.
(Image: Angel Miyoko)
Have you ever had to write something—for a class in school, or a presentation at work, or to share deep feelings with someone you love—and found yourself facing a writing block? The clock is ticking, and you know you have to produce something, but your mind is a swirl of confusion. Maybe you know what you want to say, but can’t figure out how to say it. Or maybe you know how to say it, but you’re scared to put it out there, because you don’t know if your audience will respect your words, or rip them apart. I don’t know about you, but I find this a painful thing to wrestle with. And I find myself doing that from time to time, since my vocation as an academic theologian as well as retreat leader requires quite a bit of writing.
When I do find myself facing a writing block, I often turn to a piece of advice I received from a teacher in college. I had been up most of the night and still couldn’t finish a paper, so I dragged my sorry tush across campus to my adviser’s office to beg for an extension. He wasn’t in yet, so I stood in the doorway of another professor to wait and poured out my tale of woe. After a while, my exhaustion caught up with me; I slithered right down the doorjamb and landed on the floor in a pathetic heap. I looked up and wailed, “How on earth do I get over this writing block?” And the prof smiled sympathetically and said, “I think to get over a writing block, you need to know that God loves you.” Now at the time I thought he was crazy. What on earth could God’s love have to do with a writing block? But over the years I have come to know the deep truth of his words. Because when I really know and feel that God loves me, my heart is at peace and my mind clears. I can speak my truth for the world to hear, even if it’s not perfect and I don’t know what the response will be. Because I do know that I am good, and beloved, and safe in the arms of the most nurturing parent and friend and lover that any of us could ever dream of.
My experience with writing block is probably the closest thing that a straight person can experience to a similar spiritual challenge and triumph: coming out. I have been told that shining forth in the beauty of how God created you, and proudly claiming your sexuality as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered, is a healing and powerful step. And I know from the other side what a precious gift of love it is to God’s people, opening the eyes of those of us in the sexual majority to the beautiful rainbow of diversity with which God has blessed the human race. But I also know that coming out is a scary and dangerous process, because of the sin and injustice that still rule the world and the church. There are countries where being an open and affirming LGBT person places one in danger of a prison sentence, even death. And in our own country it can have terrible consequences for employment, social and familial acceptance, and, most devastating of all, the right to worship God and share one’s gifts as a respected and equal member of the Body of Christ. So it takes a deep experience of the love of God, experienced in prayer and worship and also in a loving community, to help give the courage to come out—at least in relatively safe contexts. To speak the truth of your life for the world to hear, even if you don’t know what the response will be. Because you do know that you are good, and beloved, and safe in the arms of the most nurturing parent and friend and lover that any of us could ever dream of.
I believe that justice for gay and lesbian people is one of the most pressing calls to conversion that the Spirit is working in our churches and in our society today. Racism is evil, and still does terrible damage despite the gains of the civil rights movement. Sexism is evil, and still does terrible damage despite the gains of feminism. But these forms of discrimination and prejudice are, at least, admitted to be clearly wrong, even though they have not been completely overcome. Racism and sexism are subtle poisons: few bigots now openly proclaim such views and expect to be accepted in polite society. Not so with homophobia, tragically. It is only LGBT people whom others feel free to proclaim are lesser than others, undeserving of equality in marriage, adoption, employment and a host of other basic human rights. And shamefully, it is the church that so often leads the way in fighting to maintain unjust structures, rather than challenging them with Gospel truth. The Scriptures which God meant to give life become weapons of death as they are twisted and misused, just as they were misinterpreted to uphold slavery and oppression of women for so many centuries. Two of the seven sacraments are denied to holy, baptized Christians; LGBT pastors often must remain in the closet to remain in the pulpit. And God weeps at the suffering of her beloved, precious people.
In our Gospel today, Jesus speaks about the glorious and amazing love that God has for each of us, and how we are called to share that love with one another. He gives us a new commandment to show that we are his disciples, the bottom line of what Christianity is all about: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” This is a ringing call against homophobia, and all forms of discrimination, because love is not just a feeling, but an action. It makes no sense for the church to claim it loves gay and lesbian people, and then fight against their civil rights and tell them not to be how God made them, to hide in lies and shame. As the first letter of John says, “Let us love in deed and truth, not merely in words.” There are four different Greek words found in the New Testament, which describe different kinds of love. Eros is sexual love; storge familial love; philia the love of friends. Agape, the word Jesus uses here, is the self-sacrificial, hard-working love that underlies each of these, when they are healthy and holy. Agape, of course, is shown most fully in the life and death and resurrection of Christ. This is what Jesus calls each of us to in his new commandment, and that is what he will enable us to live out in sending his Spirit on the approaching feast of Pentecost.
Living agape in an unjust world means different things for those who are oppressed and those who are oppressors—whether actively, or because of benefiting from and failing to work against the oppression of others. In the call to fight homophobia, I believe that one of the primary invitations of the Spirit to LGBT people is to love themselves, taking active steps to live and believe the truth that they are God’s beloved children, whose loving partnerships mirror forth the radiant love of God within the Trinity and poured out on humanity. This is a beautiful way to glorify God as Jesus speaks of in the Gospel, because, as St. Irenaeus wrote in the early church, “The glory of God is a human being who is fully alive.” It takes great faithfulness to prayer and self education and advocacy and support of others in the LGBT community, as appropriate to individual vocations and personal styles, to become fully alive—to cast out internalized homophobia and receive the love of God that Jesus came to share. Another invitation of the Spirit is to keep challenging and teaching us, your straight brothers and sisters, to better live agape. Please help us to better understand your lives, to stop taking the undeserved privileges we enjoy for granted and thoughtlessly benefiting from an unjust system, to do more to fight injustice in the way that Jesus is calling each of us.
There will be times that this work is hard and painful, just as Jesus himself found, but we can take courage in the beloved community which the Spirit gathers with her gentle inspiration, and the table of plenty where we receive Jesus’ very life and strength for this peaceful fight. If we are tempted to despair, let’s remember the powerful vision in our reading from Revelation: God dwelling with us; wiping every tear from our eyes; clothing us with radiant beauty, like a bride prepared for her sister-spouse; and giving us the privilege of working together with Christ as he makes all things new.