– For Frances –
I’ve been asked these questions so frequently that I compiled a few answers here. Love.
Q: You’ve been vocal in your support of marriage equality even though you are a Christian. Can you talk about that?
Yes. I will, but I do so under protest. It makes me squirm that we are still talking about this, that a straight woman is being asked to discuss whether or not her gay sisters and brothers should or should not be granted their basic civil rights. As if we Christians are the morality police, the gatekeepers for God, the legislative branch of the government, the bosses of the world. My gay friends know they’re fine and good and worthy of their rights even without knowing what I think. Even so – I will share my thoughts here with great anticipation for the Supreme Court’s ruling this summer – after which I hope we’ll need to discuss this less often.
One of the brilliant ideas that launched this country is that religions shouldn’t legislate their interpretations of holy texts to citizens. It doesn’t make sense to me to ignore this very American idea and call ourselves patriotic about it. But if we must, then I wish we Christians could come up with an actual tenant of Christianity to legislate, one that would serve the world – like gleaning or caring for widows and orphans or embracing the alien or turning the other cheek or turning all our weapons into plowshares or giving away our first fruits. I think it says a lot that we choose the rights of homosexuals to obsess over. It feels too easy. I’m not big on faith rules but if I had to choose one – it would be that every person must choose a faith issue upon which to hang her hat that requires HER to change – not somebody else.
It makes no sense to me that my gay friends cannot get married to each other because a certain slice of Christianity doesn’t believe in gay marriage. And let’s be clear, deciding that certain folks can get married and others cannot is not just a symbolic gesture. My married friends and I enjoy a host of government privileges and protections by virtue of being part of a government-approved marital unit. So when we do not support marriage equality, we support the government denying from gay families the rights we claim for ourselves, including rights to hospital visitation and emergency medical decisions; public housing access; certain inheritance rights and tax benefits; the right to residency and family unification under immigration law; and certain social security, retirement and health insurance benefits.
So, the first reason I support marriage equality is that I believe in the separation of church and state. I think if people don’t believe in gay marriage, then mostly they should not get gay married. That should be enough of a stand to take. We should live out our particular brand of faith, sure – but we should never force our brand of faith upon anyone else. All violence starts with the desire to change others and then never, ever ends.
Having said that, I’ll admit that I came to my stand on this “issue” through my faith, not in spite of it. I support equal rights for my gay neighbors not even though I’m a Christian, but BECAUSE I’m a Christian. In the Gospel Jesus makes it crystal clear that if we are going to take seriously only one of his suggestions- we should make it this one: love your neighbor as yourself.
I think there is a big difference between simply loving someone and loving someone as yourself.
For example: when a married Christian says that he loves gay people but can’t support marriage equality, it strikes me as an incomplete kind of love. Because loving your neighbor as you love yourself, I think, must mean that you bestow every right you claim for yourself onto your neighbor. If you are free and you love your neighbor as yourself, you want your neighbor to be free, too. If you claim your right to be married, but deny it to your neighbor, then you are loving your neighbor just a little bit less than you love yourself.
This kind of talk upsets people, which makes me sad because I really, really don’t like to upset people. Upsetting people feels wrong to me. But it feels more wrong to be quiet about freedom matters for fear of upsetting people. I have so many Christian friends who privately disagree with what is being preached from their pulpits about marriage equality, but they stay quiet so they don’t rock the boat. What’s ever going to change if we don’t raise our hands kindly? If our kids see us sitting silently, they’ll never know they have the freedom to ask questions. I get it, though. It’s dangerous to disagree with “the church.” You can get yourself crucified. People never get more riled up then when someone starts talking about God and freedom in the same sentence. It’s like we Christians love the idea of grace, but we don’t want it distributed indiscriminately- we want make rules about it and dole it out carefully and strategically. It’s like we’re worried that if everybody knows that she’s loved and accepted by God – it will be Grace Anarchy! I want that. I want Grace Anarchy. I want people to be free to be who they are. It makes sense to me that the free-er people are, the BETTER people are. I believe in people because I believe in God. I think God knew what God was doing when God made each of us.
Q: And so I suppose you agree that homosexuality is not a choice, then- but an inborn trait?
Yes, of course. Although I have a hunch that our sexual orientation is much more of a sliding scale with lots of grey than most of us are comfortable admitting. I think if we all got a little more cozy with our own grey areas we’d probably be more accepting of the gray in others. So, yes- I believe that gayness or straightness is inborn- but honestly I never understand why that is what we focus on. It makes me uncomfortable when people say: You’re okay because you were born that way. That feels negative to me. Like, it’s okay that you are this weird thing because God made you weird. I don’t love that approach. For me, I don’t care if you’re a woman who wants to marry a woman because you were “born that way” or because you met this one person and everything you previously thought about your sexuality changed in an instant. I don’t care. You are my neighbor and I trust you to choose your life and your love. I’m married and it’s one of the best things to ever happen to me and if you want this wonderful thing too, then I want it for you.
Q: How do you respond when people accuse you of picking and choosing what you believe in the Bible?
Well, that theory suggests that there are two kind of Christians: Those who pick and choose what they follow in the Bible, and those who follow it all. I just tend to think that the two kinds of Christians are: those who admit that they pick and choose what to follow, and those who don’t admit that. For example: most folks reference 1 Corinthians to prove that homosexuality is a sin, while ignoring the fact that the same book of the Bible says that women should wear head coverings and be silent in church. The strange thing is that when I bring that up, people say: well, that was written in a different time. You have to understand the context. It is so strange. Context is allowed to be considered when discussing women (progress! great!) but not when it comes to homosexuality. It doesn’t seem right to pick and choose which scriptures we are permitted to consider the context of and which we are not. As a woman, it is important for me to say: Let’s please not take hold of our freedom, but leave our gay brothers and sisters in prison. This is like the Bible underground railroad; as the church moves forward and frees oppressed groups one at a time, let each newly freed group go back for those still imprisoned. What good is our freedom if we don’t spend it on those not yet free?
Q: How do you interpret the scriptures about homosexuality?
When these scriptures were written, there was no precedent for monogamous, consensual homosexual relationships. Many theologians agree that the original Hebrew word used here (the one that has been translated again and again by imperfect people) originally referred to the common ancient practice of taking child sex slaves. Many theologians agree that the original scripture writers were referring to child sex slavery as abomination. The abomination here is about abuse of power. It’s about the abomination of people in in power abusing the vulnerable. (Read more about this here.) If you want to fight against the abomination referred to in these scriptures, don’t picket a wedding of two grown people who love each other and want to start a family, join the work of courageous organizations who are fighting the very real abomination of the child sex trade across the world today.
I think that if someone translates scripture to me in a way that seems to rub up against what I know about the God of love, it’s my responsibility to start asking questions. We must work out our own faith with fear and trembling. We need to take scripture seriously enough to look hard and research and ask questions. Every time someone tells me that homosexuals need to repent and leave their life of sin I want to say: but repent means to RETHINK .Why do you read God’s direction to repent and assume God is talking to someone else? What if God is talking to you? What if you are to rethink your ideas of who is in and who is out? I know when I read the direction to repent, I know it’s meant for me. I feel constantly, just constantly, called to rethink. If we live in a constant state of repentance, that means we are always letting go of old ways of thinking to make way for the new. Behold, God says. I am doing a new thing! Repentance is the way of God, which means that if I want to follow God, I can’t cling too tightly to my ideas about God. Ideas and beliefs about God are not God. Opinions and beliefs can become the idols that are hardest to let go. And so faith has to be more of a dance than a checklist.
I’ve had a lot of repentance to do lately. I used to be really angry at Christians who think differently than I do. God is working with me. I am softening. I have many conservative Christian friends who look at all of this differently and I have come to understand that they are good people. They are not hateful, they are just like me: doing the best they can with what they’ve been taught. It’s good to be kind and humble about what we think we know. It’s good to choose mercy over judgement in all cases. I’m working on it. My son said to me recently: “Mom, you’re judgmental too, you just tend to judge judgy people.” Dangit, I thought. Repent, repent. repent, Glennon. Walk humbly.
Q: How do you talk to your kids about homosexuality?
Early and often and badly.
Recently my 11-year old and I were talking about this and my five year old walked in and overheard us. She said: “what’s gay?” And Chase said: “Well, it’s like when a girl loves girls more than she loves boys.” And Amma said,” Oh, I’m definitely gay then.” And I thought. Wait, Crap, Well – based on that definition, I might be gay, too. We need to tweak that, maybe.
So we don’t talk about it perfectly. It’s awkward and I’m always certain I’m saying all the wrong things. There’s no script. After one family discussion about sexuality- I called a gay friend and said: “UGH. How do I talk about this? What do I say? I feel so awkward.” And she said, “Well don’t go blaming that on us. You’re awkward about a lot of things.” YES. That’s true, I thought.
But we do talk about sexuality openly and often and we keep two things in mind:
First, we don’t ever assume to know our kids’ orientation. Recently, we were playing the Life board game and when each child landed on the “Get Married” space I was careful to say: “Congratulations! Should I give you a wife peg or a husband peg?” No assumptions until and unless they talk to us about it.
Secondly, our kids know that homosexuality (or heterosexuality for that matter) is not something to tolerate, but to celebrate. We tolerate traffic jams, we celebrate love and sexuality. They need to know that NOW. I often see loving, wonderful, courageous parents changing their “views” on homosexuality after their child comes out to them. That is some brave progress, and I applaud it, but it’s not ideal. Many of my gay friends tell me they knew they were gay as children, long before they told their parents. How much better for a little one to know he’s ALWAYS been accepted for whoever he turns out to be?
Most importantly, our minister, Dawson (that’s him in the picture up top, officiating a wedding!) is our good friend and he’s gay- so my kids aren’t growing up with the idea that homosexuality and church are at odds at all. They just see their gay friend wrapped up in a vestment Sunday morning, being his brilliant, divine, human, hilarious self. They just watch Dawson preaching truth and love and freedom and then they feel him placing his hand on their little foreheads and blessing them: in the name of the Father/Mother, Son and Holy Spirit. They feel God through Dawson. So that’s how we “talk” about it. We just love Pastor Dawson and he loves us. And as my kid see our church family not just “accept” pastor Dawson but be led by him — they learn that church is a place for humans to be human, and then love each other in superhuman ways.
We just want to dance in the streets with God and Pastor Dawson.
It will be Grace Anarchy and we will all be free and it will be on Earth as it is in Heaven.
*Comments are closed. I’m certain that most of the conversation here would be loving and thoughtful, but I also know what else to expect. More than I care about creating a dialogue about this, I care that this space remains a safe place to land for LGBTQ people. Feel free to comment on FB or anywhere else on the interwebs. And if you’d like to read more, my friend Jessica wrote an essay ten times more lovely than this one.
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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