Here's a piece I wrote back in the spring about some good changes and things I see happening back at my alma mater (that sounds weird to say...). Bethel is one of my favorite places, and I'm thankful for the ways God is moving there, especially in the sense that LGBTQ students are starting to feel safer and that the atmosphere is shifting for the better. Hopefully, this is just the beginning.
Amidst all of the culture wars that our world and society are currently embroiled in, it goes without saying that there’s always room for more grace, and I believe that’s true. If you’ve ever read any books or articles about conflict resolution, they will usually tell you that the blame for a problem can very rarely be 100% attributed to one party. In most cases, both or all parties have contributed at least a little bit to the overarching problem, regardless of whether that split is revealed to be 97% one party’s fault and only 3% the other party’s fault. That’s a pretty significant split, and that doesn’t mean that the one guilty party hasn’t done something wrong. In simple terms, most conflicts usually involve one party who was wronged and another party that committed the wrong, but what this conflict resolution strategy does is to point out that in any given conflict, there were often factors on both or all sides that were key to the situation unfolding the way that it did. And this is the perspective of grace with which I try to approach the raging controversial debates, but so often, it feels like maintaining a posture of grace is getting you nowhere, which very quickly becomes exhausting. It’s widely believed that a grace-filled approach doesn’t really satisfy anyone, especially because the majority of the controversial issues being discussed in the world today are intricately intertwined with existing power imbalances. It’s difficult, if not impossible at times, to tell LGBTQ people or people of color to have grace and acknowledge their tiny contributions to the overall problems that result in their oppression without making it into a case of victim blaming. This is even more true in certain cases, because the powerful majority will often be quick to take those concessions and admissions of miniscule contributions to the conflict and use them to justify the systems of oppression or institutionalized inequality that are already in place, resulting in zero progression or change. They take the grace and self-awareness of the oppressed to mean that there’s nothing wrong and thus the same inequalities and injustices continue to perpetuate themselves.
However, at the same time, we’ve seen that the opposite doesn’t really tend to work either, when the oppressed go on the offensive, or perhaps even just try to point out the systems of oppression and inequality that are already in place, without even being too pointed. The majority rushes to their own defense. This is where we get movements like #NotAllWhitePeople, #NotAllMen, #NotAllChristians, and the like. But this doesn’t do anything to remedy the injustices that exist in the world either, because this only continues to pit groups of people against each other, when conflict resolution is really what needs to happen. This is because neither group wants to be wrong. The oppressed obviously don’t want to concede because they have been wronged; that’s factual. And the majority doesn’t want to be seen as bigoted, sexist, racist, homophobic, or any other form of ignorant. But all that gets us is a stalemate, with neither side, but mostly the majority side not willing to admit to any wrongdoing. And there we find ourselves deadlocked in conflict.
So what do we do with that?
Honestly, I think that the solution is that the majority needs to have more grace, because if only the oppressed, whether those are gender minorities, racial minorities, sexual minorities, or any other kind, are willing to have grace and be introspective, we really will be stuck at a stalemate.
And that grace can manifest in many ways, but I think that one of the most important is simply listening, listening to our stories, to our hurts, to what we have to say about things that directly affect us. Specifically related to LGBTQ issues and the church, it’s all too common for straight, white, cisgender pastors and speakers to get all the attention for the work that they’re doing with LGBTQ people. While I certainly don’t want to downplay the impact that allies have had, I think that it’s a little hypocritical for people to say that they are our allies and that they care about and love LGBTQ people when they won’t listen to us or let us tell our own stories, rather than trying to tell them for us. Who better to tell our stories than us? Because the bottom line is that we have voices. No one can take that away from us, but it’s a very harsh reality that though we have voices, many people choose not to listen to us.
And that’s where grace comes in. There’s no doubt in my mind that all parties involved in any given conflict need to approach it from a posture of grace, but at the same time, perhaps the majority needs to take its turn at being gracious, and in many cases, having grace starts with actually listening.
Alright, here's the full, unedited version of the article that was published in the Bethel Clarion earlier this week, detailing my stream of thought about the Mark Yarhouse sexuality event last week. The Clarion staff did a great job editing it, but it definitely read more like a newspaper article (as it should have) than some of my normal writing, so I wanted to stick the original version up on here. Take a read if you weren't at the event or haven't already. I checked the time on my phone as I speed walked through the BC on my way to the Underground. It was already 8:01pm and I was late, having just come from helping lead an exam review session for CWC. Mark Yarhouse, a psychologist and professor from Regent University, was giving a talk on sexuality and I was going to be there, though a bit reluctant at first. From what I had heard and read of him in the past, I wasn’t incredibly optimistic about the event, but the Underground was relatively full, so I slid into the second row from the front and took out my notebook just as it was beginning.
Over the course of his talk, which consisted of a presentation of his research on sexual minorities at Christian colleges and a Q&A afterward, I found myself pleasantly surprised at how well he handled the topic and how nuanced many of his answers were, a sentiment that I found many other LGBT students in attendance shared following the event.
Among the positives in his presentation, he gave a mildly muddled, but overall helpful explanation of why it’s important to LGBT people to identify as “gay,” “lesbian,” etc., rather than “same-sex attracted” or “homosexual.” This is an important distinction for the Bethel community to realize because using non-standard terminology can often carry dehumanizing connotations for LGBT students, even Christian LGBT students, because they often have roots that go back to ex-gay reparative therapy movements or when homosexuality was still considered a mental health disorder, two things that he also touched on briefly.
In addition, he affirmed several fundamental truths of existence for LGBT Christians that often get glossed over the highly politicized culture wars over LGBT issues. Among these, he made it clear that it is very possible to be gay or lesbian or transgender and also a Christian, defending that those two things are not mutually exclusive, something that is still debated in some Christian circles. Further, he noted that even though he doesn’t take an affirming stance in terms of same-sex marriage or sexual relationships, that doesn’t mean that people who do are necessarily wrong. He explained that many of his LGBT friends hold different positions there, but that doesn’t have any impact on the quality or legitimacy of their relationship, because there are many good Christians who happen to fall on different sides of that spectrum of belief. This is so significant because these types of differences tend to be highly polarized, with either side being alternately considered morally right or morally wrong, so the fact that he also explicitly stated that he never questioned the faith of his friends who held to differing beliefs is a good example of how non-affirming Christians can and should react to those kinds of differences, choosing to maintain relationships with people who hold other perspectives rather than feeling the constant need to remind them that we disagree with them. And this goes for both sides, affirming and non-affirming.
Finally, he also spoke quite a bit on what it might look like to engage with these kinds of issues on Christian college campuses, his main point being that we should strive to create safe spaces where LGBT students can still feel wanted and fully included in those communities. Thus, he spoke against using the phrase “love the sinner; hate the sin,” a popular saying that has been used in reference to LGBT Christians and only serves to reduce those people to their sexuality while simultaneously dehumanizing them. In addition, he indicated that he’s not a proponent of reparative therapy, meant to make LGBT Christians straight, and only reserves the right of sexual orientation change efforts to informed adults who voluntarily seek it out. Rather, he advocated for the climate change on Christian college campuses and support for LGBT students, pointing out that LGBT students have no fewer needs for intimacy than straight students, that coming from interpersonal relationships and social and institutional support among other sources. Thus, while his claims that policy change is probably not the most realistic expectation for LGBT students might upset some and be considered less than satisfactory, his calls for broader and deeper support for LGBT students at Christian colleges are a bright spot and definitely a good starting point for schools like Bethel.
Overall, it was refreshing to hear a speaker that represented our stories more or less accurately, portrayed us in a humanizing way, and helped other students and faculty understand what it’s like to walk the journeys that we do a little better. Though ideally we would be hearing these stories from LGBT Christians and students themselves, the mere fact that this event occurred and that he was willing to engage with the difficult questions many of us raised is a positive step toward the right direction for a place like Bethel, especially for students who still harbor fears of alienation, unacceptance, or backlash related to coming out.
Beyond that, though events like this may be considered to be only baby steps by students who are looking for more sweeping reform and change, they are still strides in the right direction and help raise greater awareness for topics like this at Bethel. It’s my opinion that events like these are the beginnings of creating places of openness and safety where LGBT students can feel comfortable and supported coming out and being a part the community fully, not fearing reprisal, condemnation, or questioning of their faith, but rather feeling wanted, included, and valued.
Obviously, there’s still more work to do, but I personally hope that all the positive progress will encourage more students to come out and share their stories, being willing to help drive the movement to create safe spaces and be the change that they’re looking for, both for their own benefit and for the benefit of students that will come to Bethel in the future. Though it might take a while to get there, the progress and openness that I’ve seen gives me a vision of Bethel possibly becoming a model of how Christian colleges, though non-affirming officially, can become safe spaces that advocate for the humanity and inclusion of LGBT students.
Notes: Before I get into this post, I just want to take a moment to thank everyone who’s been reading this blog and keeping up to date on my outward thought process. For many of you, that’s involved sitting with me as I rifle through thoughts and ideas over tea and food on multiple occasions, and I’m especially thankful for that. For others, that’s encompassed your kind and encouraging words that create safe spaces as I continue to write and think out loud in a public space on what it really means to be on this journey and on this path that has all the twists and turns you could imagine. And for yet others, that means challenging me and having open discussions on where we’re coming from, the perspectives that we hold, and why we hold them. So thank you. And for anyone who’s just met me recently or who’s new to the blog, I hope that you find this as a safe place, a safe place as an LGBT Christian, as a Christian in general who has a heart for this, as a Christian who might not know a lot about this sphere, as anyone. I hope that everyone who comes here finds this as a safe place where dialogue is open, where learning is sought after, and where ignorance is not always willful or inherently bad. So, (in a bit of self-promotion here) for you guys (and anyone else who hasn’t yet), feel free to subscribe to the blog so you can get emails that link to new posts when they go up, and also feel free to engage and talk with me about anything that you might be thinking, whether that’s questions about what I’ve written or what I believe on this, curiosities on things in general, or just to talk. I’m open to that and I love it.
All of that being said, I want to talk about two things in this post: a couple things that I’ve seen and realized thinking over everything that’s happened since last year when I started writing this blog and also some of the things that I’ve been reflecting on, specifically regarding LGBT Christians, as it’s Holy Week this week and Good Friday today.
I think that the most significant thing that I’ve noticed between last year around this time and this year is both the magnitude and also surprising lack of change, which I’ll explain. If you had asked me relatively soon after coming out where I saw myself in a year, I’m not sure I would know how to answer that question. I’ve already written a “one year later” post/letter, and I’m going to put that up later this week, but I think that with everything going on a year ago, I don’t think I ever would have thought that I’d look one year into the future and see that a lot of things were actually pretty similar, pretty normal. And I think that lack of change is beautiful, because it feels so normal. It takes away a lot of that stigma that many people feel surrounding the coming out process. It seems like this thing that’s going to change your life forever and make it so that it’s never the same. While that is true to an extent, I think that when the people around you choose to value relationships over rightness and to see you as the same person you were before you came out, it really creates this beautiful normalcy that I’m starting to return to, and I’ll talk more about that in my “one year later” letter.
At the same time, I think that it’s also encouraging to see all the change that has happened over the past year. The Supreme Court ruling forever changed the way that people in this country will view LGBT people, and I think that’s a good thing. It created the visibility and (though not always productive) kickstarted a lot of conversations that needed to start happening. In addition, even in my smaller sphere I’ve seen change. After appearing in the Clarion (Bethel’s student newspaper) article about what it was like to be LGBT at Bethel, I wasn’t sure what to expect in the aftermath, even more so after studying abroad for a semester. I didn’t know what kind of ripple effect that would have and what my final semester at Bethel would look like, but I think that I’ve been pleasantly surprised to the atmosphere of openness and curiosity that’s been created on campus.
Several weeks ago, I was walking through the halls and noticed this sign outside the Student Life office. It advertised the fact that Student Life, and the message was that by extension Bethel as an institutional whole, was willing to dialogue about controversial topics. One of the little boards stated that “It’s okay to talk about sexuality,” and I think that’s a massive step forward for a Christian university, and one that I like to think I contributed to by being open and willing to take risks last year. However, I think that the vast majority of the credit goes to Bethel and the student body for having an air of openness prior to last year that was just ready for all of this change. So, I’m glad to see that magnitude of change. I’m glad to see campus pastors and Campus Ministries engaging in topics such as race and sexuality that people may try to shy away from, and I’m glad that it’s being presented as a way for everyone to learn from each other, rather than Campus Ministries throwing the Bible at people and saying that they will teach you how you should think about things and how you should react to them. Coming from a very conservative and stringent Christian background in elementary and middle school, I think that this is huge for the Christian community at Bethel, because it reminds everyone that black lives matter, that LGBT lives matter, that students with disabilities’ lives matter, that EVERYONE matters, and I think that is so crucial because it re-humanizes people, which is the first step to getting to a better place in any sort of conflict or tension.
And that openness and culture of respect that I’ve seen develop and am proud to say that I’m a part of ties into my Good Friday reflections: I think that it’s really easy for us to only selectively apply Jesus’ sacrifice, and I think that we give up on people too easily when we feel like the differences between us and them are too great.
In the midst of all the conflicts that exist in the world, I think that we need to remember to re-humanize people continually, and that’s not just something that applies to hot button topics like LGBT issues or Black Lives Matter or things like that. I think that it’s something we need to remember in any situation arising out of conflict, whether that’s conflict with your roommate or your manager at work or anyone else, because I think that in the heat of conflict, the first casualty of that conflict is usually the other person’s humanity. We start thinking of them as just being wrong or being annoying or being hurtful or being whatever might be going through our minds at the time, and all of sudden that’s all that person becomes to us. But what we need to remember is that regardless of the situation, regardless of how confident we are that we’re right, regardless of all those things, the other person is still human, for better or for worse. They’re human, and that means they make mistakes and they’re not perfect and that happens. And they’re human, and that means that they are made in the image of God and deserve our respect even when we’re not in the best of moods and even when we disagree and even when they’re treating us less than human in the same ways. Because, in the end, the blood of Jesus covers us equally and none of us is better or worse in His eyes. His sacrifice was for all of us.
And my second thought also ties into this one: I think that we give up on people too easily, whether it’s that friend who can’t seem to text you back to save their life, or that one relative who claims to be a Christian but doesn’t in any way act like it, the entire population of people of color in America, or the LGBT population. I think that American Christians give up on people too easily. They seem too hard to deal with. It seems like too much work to engage in relationships with people rather than judging them by stereotypes. It’s too frustrating. Whatever the reason we come up with, I still find myself saying that I think we give up on people too easily, and that’s a problem, especially for Christians.
Over and over in the Bible, we see that God never did that. He never gave up on us, even though I think we can all agree that He had every reason to. Just look at the Old Testament. Most Christians would agree that Israel had probably four thousand more chances than they really deserved, but God never gave up on them. In fact, he had Hosea marry a prostitute and told him to continue seeking after her when she went back to her old ways to illustrate just how much God doesn’t give up on us.
In relation to Good Friday there’s two more examples I want to point out. The first one is Peter. I think that I would probably give up on someone and cut my losses if someone denied me not once, not twice, but three times in the face of arguably the hardest and most difficult point of my entire life. I would be done and over that faster than Westboro Baptist would be over me. But that’s not what happened. After His resurrection, Jesus reconciled with Peter and told him that he would be the stone upon which the church was built, and from that passage, Roman Catholics consider Peter to be the very first Pope in many traditions.
Secondly, Jesus spoke with the criminal to His side even as He was dying on the cross. I’m pretty sure that any rational person would probably consider someone being crucified beyond hope at that point, but Jesus didn’t. Even as He was hanging there, bleeding out and in agony, He found it in Himself to reach out to someone who was being crucified right next to Him for a crime that he actually did commit. Even at the last possible moment, Jesus didn’t give up on him.
I think that those should all be examples for us as Christians today in the 21st century when we consider other people being able to get legally married as a threat to our faith system and when red Starbucks cups become an attack on Christianity. And this is all when it can take months for pastors to be investigated and dealt with for allegations of sexual abuse while a tenured professor at a Christian university can be fired in four days for even wanting to discuss perspectives on LGBT issues in a class. So, yes, I think that we give too easily on the things that actually matter while blowing insignificant things out of proportion.
So, don’t give up. LGBT Christians, don’t give up on the church. Don’t give up on God. Don’t give up on other Christians. Don’t give up on those that are Side A or Side B or whatever the opposite side is. Don’t give up when it feels like it’s getting hopeless. Don’t give up when it feels lonely. Don’t give up, because Jesus hasn’t given up on you and He’s not going to.
And mainstream Christians, don’t give up. Don’t give up when your church tells you that “homosexuals” are beyond hope and deserve to burn in hell. Don’t give up when other Christians or your church spurns you for showing love. And don’t give up on LGBT Christians or anyone else. Jesus saved the other criminal on the cross just hours or minutes before both of their deaths. Let’s follow that example that says that anything is possible and it’s never too late.
As I said at the beginning of this post, there’s been a lot of change in the past year, in both my life and the world. You don’t know how much of a difference a few months or a year will make or what God can do in that time. So keep loving. Keep persevering, and don’t give up, regardless of what it is.
As we’re in Good Friday and as the Resurrection approaches, may the Lord find you all where you are. May the memory of His sacrifice linger in our hearts past today, and may the glory and hope of His resurrection strengthen us to face whatever it is that we may encounter, reminding us never to give up.
I’m not even going to try and say that I don’t normally do this, because everyone who knows me knows that I do. But the whole US Syrian refugee thing is really starting to piss me off. And the reason is that all these “Christian” politicians are talking absolute garbage and straight up fear mongering. I mean, think about this situation realistically for a minute. What if these people weren’t “evil Muslims” seeking shelter in our country? What if it was you? What if a crazy, murderous cult on a bloody rampage operated out of your country? Wouldn’t you want to get your family as far away from that as possible? Of course you would, and that’s why this whole “national security” defense for turning away refugees is honestly the stupidest thing I’ve heard of.
In Matthew 25 Jesus says this:
And the King will answer them,
‘Truly, I say to you, as you did for one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me...
And Truly, I say to you, as you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
What are we supposed to make of that in this situation? What would Jesus do if He were physically on this earth right now? I think that He would want to welcome these people.
Because here’s the thing: we’re called to love sacrificially. If sacrificing a little of our own security and a little of our own paranoia to love on people who need it most is too much for us, then how can we call ourselves followers of Christ? Besides, you are crazy if you think that every refugee coming into this country is a terrorist in disguise. Yes, there’s a chance that one might slip in, but at least for Christians, what’s more important, our own comfort and our own security, or the testimony that we show the world? Because if support the turning away of people who need our help, we’re basically raising a banner that says we value our own comfort and our own peace of mind more than the literal lives of people who are trying to escape a murderous cult.
I’ll say this again in this post because I feel like it’s worth repeating. I might write angry posts every once in a while, but it’s only because it breaks my heart that people are being turned away when they literally have no one else to go to. And not only is that horrible in and of itself, but it also paints our God and our Jesus in the same colors.
And this is why I feel like Christians should be the biggest group of supporters for helping these refugees, these people that have fled their own countries because they no longer feel safe there. We like to say that we’re the body of Christ and that we’re the hands and feet of Jesus, but how can we continue to declare that if we don’t actually do anything of substance with our lives? Do we think that our God cannot protect us if we open up our borders to welcome in His children at the risk of exposing ourselves to danger?
“For God has given us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control.”
2 Timothy 1:7
If our hope and our salvation have been assured because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, why, then, do we continue to fear people that can only destroy bodies and buildings? That fear shouldn't get in the way of doing what we’re supposed to do: loving people the way Jesus would, even if that means risking some of our own safety to do it.
“And do not fear those who kill only the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell.”
We need to stop treating ‘what would Jesus do?’ as a hypothetical question, because we have the opportunity to practice that in this day and age.
Anyway, I’ve ranted for long enough already in this post. But I’m being so serious. I feel like so many of us continue to treat the Gospel and Jesus’ words like they’re hypotheticals, like we need a neatly delineated, signed mission statement in order to do anything worthwhile in our lives. There are so many things that we can do right now, right here, without any special training or special equipment. You don’t need to be trained in how to have compassion or how to love people. You just do it.
So think about some of those things in the days that come. What are the real reasons that we oppose things? Because fear is not a legitimate excuse. That says we don’t believe our God is big enough or powerful enough to handle what the world He created might throw at us. And then what would Jesus actually do? That’s not a hypothetical question. That’s how we should be living our lives. Because that’s how people will see Jesus, not by our cheap words or our politics or our theology, but by our actions.
So let’s maybe try and actually be the hands and feet of Jesus as the world continues to give us more opportunities to show off the God that we serve.