You ask whether your post will make you an outcast from the Christian community. I hope it does not because we could do with a dose of clear thinking, careful theological reflection, and honesty on this subject, and others.Of course, the Christian community cannot bear such questions because, if we could answer the question honestly, we might discover that we’re just as queer as each other, in one way or another. However, that corporate testimony would lead to a serious theological question: What kind of a god would allow his creatures to be so screwed up? And it has to be God who shoulders that level of responsibility, because Adam and Eve are in no way big enough to do so. So, we keep our queernesses in the cupboard, because we cannot bear to encounter a God who, for all we know, has made us in his own queer image.
Archive for LGBTQ
The biggest problem with wearing a mask is that as long as we wear it only the mask receives love. The psychology is as simple as it is diabolical, I know that what I am presenting is not real me, therefore I also know that the person you are loving is not really the real me. No matter how sincere your proclamation of love is I will always think that if you knew the real me you would not love me as you do now.
The mask hides our truly sacramental nature with a religious covering. If a sacrament is the outward sign of an inward grace, does not a fake exterior either hide that inward grace (best case scenario) or, worst case, witness of a false interior?
As Christians we talk about “walking in the light” and most often we mean by that, to be truthful and honest, to be open and perhaps transparent. I think we all would want people to see our masks (fine and polished as they are) and marvel at how composed and pure our exterior is.
The trouble is that in the closet there are only shadows and while we can, in the closet, see our own unmasked light, we cannot share it until we come out. And we can only come out by the grace of god. Patrik Cheng writes:
Regardless of how one ultimately comes out, the act of coming out reflects the very nature of a God who is also constantly coming out and revealing Godself to us in the Out Christ. Coming out is a gift that is accompanied by other gifts such as self-love, the love for others, and the overcoming of shame and internalized homophobia. Coming out is not something that can be “willed” or “earned”; it can only happen as an act of grace from God.
I have just finished reading Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan. It may be the first time in a long while that I read a book that so persuasively and thouroughly deconstructs one of the often unspoken meta-narratives of our contemporary culture, namely the hetero-normative monogamy centred narrative of human sexuality.
I also realize that this leaves us in a precarious situation. It could be dangerous to deconstruct such foundational beliefs as how we view human sexuality without having a clearly defined narrative to take it’s place. Still, this must be a work in progress and we may, more likely than not, take a wrong turn and be forced to repent and retrace at any point.
Sex at dawn makes a really simple point, it is not in human nature to be monogamous. This is backed up with a thourough anthroposophical argument based on evolutionary theory. I realize that many evangelicals will stop reading at this point (if not already at the sentence before) as they will not be ready to recognise any argument based on evolutionary theory. This is sad, not only because the sciences have a lot to offer in the theological arena but also because I still think it is an important endaevour to question the standard narratives of sexuality, and how we look at the concept of marriage, no matter what the reason is to doubt that the current narrative may be flawed.
Any evangelical who is still reading after the E word may quickly conclude that, while the main point of Ryan’s book may be true that obviously depicts a human after the fall. I think maybe that Christopher Ryan may agree, or at least in part.
Ryan describes a hunter gatherer society that was structured by a “fierce egalitarianism” where promiscuous (as in many partners, not as in hooking up with strangers) sex was a normal social protocol governing friendships and social engagements. This hunter gather society lasted significantly longer time than all the following ages together and must therefore be seen as formative as far as our genetic coding is concerned. These findings are based on scientific studies of the bonobo societies (a primate that is as closely related to humans as chimps) and describe a society with completely free sexuality where the bonobo’s are “naked and not ashamed”.
Where Ryan may disagree with our post-fall assessment is that according to the scientific findings this longing for sexual liberty and sexual promiscuity is what defines us as humans. To restrict sex to only produce offspring as per the medieval/Christian paradigm is to, according to Ryan, be more like animals as most species on the planet cannot, and do not enjoy sex for sex itself. Let me say that again, our pre-occupation with sex is one of the traits that make humans human.
What if this free state is truly the image of god. What if the biblical description of Eden is really a mythologising of the hunter-gatherer society where we where naked and not ashamed. What if we, when we are praying for the salvation, the healing, the restoration, the ticcun olam of the world, what if what we are really wishing for,mlonging for is the deconstruction of the whole agrarian, urban experiment and a return to living closer to nature, naked and not ashamed?
What is ultimately clear is that monogamous marriage is not something that is difficult and straining for a select few perverts but it is actually a social convention placed against our genetic predispositions. Whether one then chooses to see this as brokenness or as holiness it does explain why we are having so much trouble as a species to make our marriages work and our sex-lives functional.
This means at the very least that we need to, as a church provide a safe environment where lust, desire, sexuality, eroticism can be discussed without stigmatising or demonising the drives and the desires of our church-members.
But how do we do this? How do we approach this subject with care and dignity when social convention pressures us to be ashamed just for thinking these thoughts.
I recently received the following IM from one of my soldiers in the corps.
I can’t or don’t want to continue as a Soldier … I feel that I want to fall in love, love and feel loved back. Therefore I wan’t to become an adherent.
Personally this is one of the most heartbreaking messages I have ever received. What is wrong with our organisation, our membership form if one of our members feel they must step down and turn in the uniform so that they may be free to fall in love?
This person is gay, and loves the Salvation Army and respects the organisations rules and regulations. Choosing celibacy no longer feels like a viable option. Adherency, the other membership of the Salvation Army does not have rules and regulations attached to it and therefore functions as a compromise. And so I received this message.
This Soldier is on of the most devout, gentle, spirit filled, loving Christians we have in our corps. I am humbled and overjoyed to have such a beautiful role model of what it means to walk with god and seek god for ones life as a Soldier in my corps.
What would you do, if you where the corps leader? How would you reply?
This makes me feel stronger than ever that we must be able to council LGBTQ persons the same way we do any other member of our church. If another member of my corps would come and say that they longed to fall in love, I would simply say: Good for you, lets pray that you meet the right person. I can’t wait to bless the two of you together. No need to step down or resign. No need to feel bad about it, it is part of ordinary (albeit extraordinary, as it is fantastic to fall in love) life!
So, right or wrong that is what I said.
Why are you doing this? Why do you take such an interest in the LGBTQ and sexuality? The question has been asked of me many times. By my leaders, by the people in my congregation and by my family. In fact I think it was my brother who asked the million dollar question one day just after I had come out with my LGBTQ and the church series: “How many LGBTQ people do you have in your church?”
The truth is that I somehow knew that this was an issue that we had to deal with. Already at our Officers training (like seminary but for Salvation Army Officers) I started asking the questions. How are we to deal with the LGBTQ community? It seemed no one was particularly interested in even broaching the subject and the ones that did either did so with a love the sinner hate the sin attitude and some even sneered at me “Why should we talk about this, it’s not like they will join your church, and why would they want to join a club where they are not welcome?”
After receiving my orders and moving to Malmö it took one week before I was caught like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming truck: “What if two men asks you to marry them what would you say?” This, asked by a group of teenagers hanging about outside during the Malmö festival. I had no coherent or thought through answer, I believe I stumbled through some kind of: It’s complicated kind of response.
I realised I had to get my theology straight I had to reconcile what I knew in my heart to be true and how I read the bible. It was fishing for help in these issues that I stumbled into Tim. We met in the chatroom connected to Doug Paggit’s radio show, I do not remember how the conversation started but I do remember how it ended. Tim asked me if I wanted to talk about this over Skype and I answered that I would love to, it seemed it was hard to get anyone to actually have a constructive conversation about this that wasn’t just regurgitating old evangelical sound bytes.
The conversation with Tim was great, the fact that he didn’t try to convince me of anything helped. Not once did he try to say: “This is how you should read scripture.” He simply directed me to some great resources (Andrew Marin: Love Is an Orientation among others). But then he shared story after story about how he had encountered deep spirituality and loving worship within the LGBTQ community, this I think was important for me to hear as a recovering pentecostal fundamentalist. But nothing could have really prepared me for the shocking turn the conversation took next.
After having to swear on the record that I wouldn’t be recording our conversation Timothy told me about his project. How he also had found himself on a lonely desert journey and had decided that he once and for all had to deal with the inner Pharisee. That he had done this by coming out as gay (even though he was straight) to his friends, family and church. Here are his words about it:
The thing that truly astonished me with Tim’s story was that he was willing to literally walk a mile/a year in the shoes of the other (please learn more about Tim’s experiment and support his indiegogo campaign) . It is this uncomfortable truth that seems to trip me up wherever I go in my spiritual walk like a pair of shoes carelessly kicked of on the hallway carpet (always tripping you up on the way to the restroom). I am committed to work day and night for the human rights of others but am I willing to walk in their shoes and more importantly am I willing to know their pain. Not just know of their pain but to actually feel it?
“I uncovered something unsettling about myself. I don’t really want a “relationship” with God. Here’s what I want. I want to share with God all I feel, all I need, all that grieves me, all that makes me happy, the puzzling things, the fun things, and the hard things, but I would prefer that God keep his stuff to himself. I don’t want to hear about his pain and share in his grief.”
That rings so true with me, I really want a shoulder to cry on but am I willing to bear the burden of the other, and am I willing to bear the burden of God?
Are you? Would you be willing to undergo persecution, ridicule just to know others? Would you walk the valley of death not for your own sake but just to know the other, to love them and maybe to realise that the other is not so different than yourself? If you won’t take it from me, please read more about Tim’s experiment and let it challenge you.
My conversation with Tim was, for me the first real step of this journey. I had been planning it for some time, checking out the catalogues, admiring the post cards, packing the bag but now I was ready to walk the walk inspired by Tim’s courage!
“God is not sexual” my friend stated matter-of-factly. It is odd that he did because he also does not believe in god. How the god he does not believe in can be, or not be, anything is beyond me. It is a common notion though to separate the divine from the worldly. It is even more common to draw a strong demarcation line between the sacred and the sexual. It is therefore imperative that we recognise that eros is an integral part of love and that god is love.
In my last post in this series I hinted at the possibility of having an erotic involvement with god. I said that this is a common image used by Christian mystics and I think an important part in recovering a healthy view on sexuality.
So lets return to the trinity the self sufficient community of god. The basis of grace lies in gods self sufficiency that is, because god had everything god needed within the trinity, god did not need to create the world and therefore all (as in all god creates outside godself) is grace, a free and scandalous gift.
The interrelations of the trinity have been described in theological terms as perichoresis. This term describes an indwelling or interconnectedness that has often been described as a dance.
Here is the Wikipwedia entry on perichoresis
Although clear references to full-blown Trinitarian theology in the New Testament are rare, it can be seen between two persons of the Trinity in passages such as the following from John’s Gospel:“the Father is in the Son, and the Son in the Father.”
The relationship of the Triune God is intensified by the relationship of perichoresis. This indwelling expresses and realizes fellowship between the Father and the Son. It is intimacy. Jesus compares the oneness of this indwelling to the oneness of the fellowship of his church from this indwelling. “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us (John 17:21).”
The theological tradition has viewed the indwelling as fellowship. John of Damascus, who was influential in developing the doctrine of the perichoresis, described it as a “cleaving together.” Such is the fellowship in the Godhead that the Father and the Son not only embrace each other, but they also enter into each other, permeate each other, and dwell in each other. One in being, they are also always one in the intimacy of their friendship.
I think there are a few notes to be made from this image of the trinity in perichoresis. The first is the language of “oneness”, “becoming one” and “cleaving” that mirrors our understanding of a consummated marriage. I write consummated because in biblical times a marriage that was not consummated was not a marriage at all. Even today there are many parts of the world where a marriage can be annulled if not consummated. The whole idea of oneness and cleaving together comes from the sharing of the marriage bed and entering into one another.
This of course is the next image of the trinity, the entering into one another, indwelling, penetrating each other, crossing boundaries and blurring out the edges to the extent that it is hard to separate one from the other. Like dancers blurred on a stage, like lovers in a bed. I think one of the most beautiful images of perichoresis is in the C.S. Lewis space trilogy.
And now, by a transition which he did not notice, it seemed that what had begun as speech was turned into sight, or into something that can be remembered only as if it were seeing. He thought he saw the Great Dance. It seemed to be woven out of the intertwining undulation of many cords or bands of light, leaping over and under one another and mutually embraced in arabesques and flower-like subtleties.
Each figure as he looked at it became the master-figure or focus of the whole spectacle, by means of which his eye disentangled a1l else and brought it into unity–only to be itself entangled when he looked to what he had taken for mere marginal decorations and found that there also the same hegemony was claimed, and the claim made good, yet the former pattern not thereby dispossessed but finding in its new subordination a significance greater than that which it had abdicated. He could see also (but the word “seeing” is now plainly inadequate) wherever the ribbons or serpents of light intersected, minute corpuscles of momentary brightness: and he knew somehow that these particles were the secular generalities of which history tells–peoples, institutions, climates of opinion, civilisations, arts, sciences, and the like–ephemeral coruscations that piped their short song and vanished. The ribbons or cords themselves, in which millions of corpuscles lived and died, were things of some different kind. At first he could not say what. But he knew in the end that most of them were individual entities. If so, the time in which the Great Dance proceeds is very unlike time as we know it.
Some of the thinner and more delicate cords were beings that we call short-lived: flowers and insects, a fruit or a storm of rain, and once (he thought) a wave of the sea. Others were such things as we also think lasting: crystals, rivers, mountains, or even stars. Far above these in girth and luminosity and flashing with colours from beyond our spectrum were the lines of the personal beings, yet as different from one another in splendour as all of them from the previous class. But not all the cords were individuals: some were universal truths or universal qualities. It did not surprise him then to find that these and the persons were both cords and both stood together as against the mere atoms of generality which lived and died in the clashing of their streams: but afterwards, when he came back to earth, he wondered.
And by now the thing must have passed together out of the region of sight as we understand it. For he says that the whole solid figure of these enamoured and inter-inanimated circlings was suddenly revealed as the mere superficies of a far vaster pattern in four dimensions, and that figure as the boundary of yet others in other worlds: till suddenly as the movement grew yet swifter, the interweaving yet more ecstatic, the relevance of all to all yet more intense, as dimension was added to dimension and that part of him which could reason and remember was dropped farther and farther behind that part of him which saw, even then, at the very zenith of complexity, complexity was eaten up and faded, as a thin white cloud fades into the hard blue burning of the sky, and a simplicity beyond all comprehension, ancient and young as spring, illimitable, pellucid, drew him with cords of infinite desire into its own stillness. He went up into such a quietness, a privacy, and a freshness that at the very moment when he stood farthest from our ordinary mode of being he had the sense of stripping off encumbrances and awaking from trance, and coming to himself. (C.S. Lewis – Perelandra)
OK, so god’s agape, fileo and eros is expressed in this dance, what does this have to do with me?
This is where I think it gets exciting. In John 17, Jesus prayer for the believers, for us we are invited into this dance. Jesus is extending an invitation to “be one” with him as he is “one” with the trinity. This means unconditionally accepted in gods agape, respected and loved as a friend in gods fileo and passionately adored and loved in gods eros. Michael Jackson expressed it like this:
Consciousness expresses itself through creation. This world we live in is the dance of the creator. Dancers come and go in the twinkling of an eye but the dance lives on. On many an occasion, when I am dancing, I have felt touched by something sacred. In those moments, I felt my spirit soar and become one with everything that exists. I become the stars and the moon. I become the lover and the beloved. I become the victor and the vanquished. I become the master and the slave. I become the singer and the song. I become the knower and the known. I keep on dancing and then, it is the eternal dance of creation. The creator and the creation merge into one wholeness of joy. I keep on dancing — until there is only. . . the dance.
Paul young calls it to be included in the trinity’s “circle of submission”. Where I submit to Jesus as Jesus submits to the spirit and the spirit submits to the creator and the creator submits to Jesus and Jesus submits to me and I submit to god. On and on the dance extends throughout eternity.
I think this is where St. Theresa of Avila paints the picture of intimate communion with god that is ecstatic and pleasure at the same time as it is passion and pain. I think this is also where lovers transcend when they climax in the bedroom if they have the presence to notice, I thing this is where the sexual act becomes worship, whether with a partner or alone with god. I think we are called to experience this “at-one-ment” with god not only as acceptance (agape) and friendship (file) but the bodily, physical, erotic experience of being loved by god.
I don’t know how I never saw it; One of the tenets of classical biblicism is faithfulness, I mean I even have it tattooed on my body, inked onto my skin so as to never forget. It is a label given to me by the voice of god on top of a mountain in wales. I bucked and fought arguing that whatever I am, faithful is not one of them. I am an adulterer, I think I have been unfaithful in every relationship in my life including or maybe especially my relationship with god. And yet this god comes down and covers my transgression (my queerness) with unlimited, unconditional grace. I couldn’t believe it then and I still struggle to live believing god actually loves me: A deviant, a queer closeted theologian of little consequence.
I decided, at this, to become the name, to live worthy of this faithfulness god has shown me (I even tattooed the hebrew for faithful/loyal, aman, into the back of my neck as a lifelong reminder). However, the more I delve into the grace of this god I realise that gods response was more than just grace, more than just acceptance it was encouragement not to limit myself by a rigid regiment of blinkered existence but to love like godself without limits.
It was as if god reached down and said “neither do I condemn you, I am unfaithful too.”
Could it be?
Let’s for a moment take of our religious glasses and all the cookie cutter phrases we ave been indoctrinated with. Let’s for one moment read the biblical narrative with virgin eyes.
We have this idea, that god could not be unfaithful, partly because “the bible tells me so”, partly because we have this idea that when we say that god “is the same today, yesterday and all days” we think that it means unchangeable. No matter how much the bible narrative paints the picture of a god that changes gods mind and develops. I am the same all my life, I feel instinctively the same today as when I was sixteen, I am still Patrik Olterman, but I have changed to, and I thank god for that. I am not the same Patrik Olterman I was when I was sixteen. Neither is god the same god, I mean god is still god, has always been and will always be, but god also changes, grows in relation to me and everyone else.
God makes a covenant with Abram renaming him Abraham, father of many. God goes on time and time again promising the Abraham descendants fidelity. Yet here I am a gentile, a pagan made Christian, adopted into gods own family by the grace of god. “You will be my people, and I will be your god” the words echo out through time, then later in history, god is unhappy with the relationship and broadens the definition of the covenant. God makes a new covenant where every nation is invited. God has not only turned polyamourous but omniamourous.
Or, how about this. If we strain our senses and sharpen our vision we discern something impossible in the biblical narrative like a palimpsest overwritten with our sacred text, we think we see what we have come to call the holy trinity. The trinity is described as the community of god, a never ending dance where god is complete, satisfied in godself. Never alone, three in one but three non the less. God is love, we say quoting scripture, and use the trinity as proof of this undying, eternal love. But love is agape, fileo, and eros. We just can’t imagine the erotic love of the trinity, entwined, in an endless embrace penetrating each others essence. This perfect community, once balanced with the three sides of love, is our blue print for marriage, or rather for all human relation. Yet for god this perfect union is not enough. God crosses over the boundaries of the blessed trinity, reaches out and creates a world filled with life and passion. Then god chooses to emancipate the earthlings and, oh the undecency, love them with all the agape, fileo and eros that god can muster. God loves me unconditionally, on my level like a sibling, erotically with all gods passion. And then as if this queer transgression is not enough, god invites me to interact and be part of what Paul Young called this circle of submission. But it is of course not only me but every living being is loved in this way. The trinity gives up independence for interdependence and queerly blurrs out the bounadries between godself and creature, between creature and nature, between me and you.
The omniamourous god doesn’t hold back, doesn’t temper love with prudence but impregnates a teenage peasent girl (who is incidentally bethrothed with a man) to fully cross all boundaries so that we may know this god, this passionate love.
Not that there is anything wrong with loyalty or faithfulness. The question is what are we called to be faithful to? Are we to be faithful to a religious system, a new set of laws and doctrines or are we to be faithful to this radical outpouring of omniamourous love?
It’s not that I want to surgically remove my tattoo and replace it with a symbol of promiscuity, pluralism or omniamory. I realise instead that I want to be loyal to this love priority of radical love because sometimes we are even called or compelled by that radical love to be unfaithful and cross boundaries no-one else dares to cross.
Why is this such a big deal? Why does it matter? It should be a non issue! This is what both right wing and left wing, conservatives and liberals are saying all over the place. In churches people are taught that their sexuality, while important, is not essential. Sexuality does not define you, or who you are.
This reasoning is the basis for the “Love the sinner, hate the sin” theology that is so prevalent, it is also the basis for all pushes for chastity and purity vows etc. Your sexuality whatever it is is a non-issue, seek first the kingdom.
Even in non church environments where liberalism reigns the sigh of ‘I have had enough’ together with the statement “why are we even talking about this” in regards to LGBTQ issues (all well meaning of course, taking for granted the equal rights for all people). I agree, equal rights for all people should be a non-issue, it should be something we could take for granted but it is not. As long as LGBTQ people are discriminated against in subtle and not so subtle ways it is an issue of importance. I also disagree, because our sexuality is an issue of centrality it is so entwined with whom we are and whom we are created to be, it is a central part of our creaturliness and therefore can never be a disregarded or relegated to a peripheral discourse.
We are so saturated in hetero-normative, sterelised thinking that we cannot see how a heteronorm reading of the bible narrative marginalises not only LGBTQ persons but also our sexuality.
It all starts in genesis where we have cleaned up the grand creation narrative with a clinical zen like ex-nihilo, purgating all messy chaotic double entendre within the narrative. In true platonistic fashion we pretend that the fall has negated gods declaration of ‘very good’ and fall into a gnostic reading where the spiritual still is good but matter is less than or even downright evil.
We continue our discourse by spiritualising our OT readings so as to forget about sexuality or at least put all the evil sex in the hands of the others (the others often being the LGBTQ community) scapegoating the dirty and disturbing onto those perverted others, safely ignoring the beams lodged in our own orifices.
The Song of Songs is read as a safe poetic allegory but we do not delve to deep lest we disturb the unsettling notion of gods passionate eros for us as gods beloved.
We continue sterilising the gospels by making sure Mary is a virgin and stays a virgin (making her a mythical creature and not a flesh and blood human). We keep our blinkers on so we can ignore the disturbing images of the god-spirit sexually (forcefully?) impregnating a teenage peasant girl.
Jesus is in our reading portrayed male but chaste to keep this serene gnosticism intact to the end. The passion of the resurrection is left unspoken as Jesus rises as an eternal resurrection body (without sex) and ascending to the sexless marriage-less heaven where we deftly ignore all sexual marriage symbolism used to describe the coming kingdom.
So here’s the problem, we have neutered the biblical narrative making it a-sexual, like a eunuch (which ironically is also sexually deviant). Since this is how we read scripture this is how we see god an a-sexual deity and therefore it must be how we treat our sexuality. Either as something embarrassing that should not be or something that will at least perish when we are made holy.
We need to recover a queer god. A gay god is not good enough, as a gay god simply reaffirms the false homo-hetero dichotomy. A Jesus who marries Mary Magdalene reinforces the heteronormative narrative while a gay Jesus reinforces it by reinforcing the “negative” pole. A queer god is a god who is neither male nor female but trans-gendered (not as in transitioning from one to another but as one who transcends both without ever becoming less of either or fully other). We need to recover a queer god that creates with erotic pleasure and then sets us free to do the same. We need to recover a queer Christ, who is not secretly longing to tap Mary Magdalene or Lazarus but passionately, erotically loves them both (that is, he is sexually attracted to them). Whatever Jesus does with his sexuality (as in: does he act it out?) is here irrelevant, the fact that it is there and central to his actions, fuelling his passionate love for all humanity, omni-amourous.
We are sexual beings, our eros is part of whom we are, not all that we are, but a significant part. When we ignore it or sterilise it, or try to tame it, make it clean acceptable we suppress who we are and therefore who god created us to be. It is time as Marcella Althaus-reid writes in her ‘Indecent theology’:
“Isn’t it time the Christian heterosexuals came out of their closets too?”
Let’s stop pretending that we are all the same, that our sexuality can be summarised with missionary vanilla sex. If we can allow the interpretative gap that Jesus leaves on these issues, the invitation to midrash, be a starting point for our continued discourse. Let’s stop pretending that this is not an important issue. Lets stop pretending that we can stop talking, wondering, experimenting, longing, masturbating, copulating and loving it!
Last week my friend Samuel decided to reblog one of my posts on LGBTQ and the church. Promptly someone questioned if I really had written the piece as I had taught a very different gospel at said persons confirmation camp. I had to reply that I have been (am still) on a long theological pilgrimage.
Looking back I realise that it has been a long journey, not in a straight line but rather a rambling exodus in the christian desert of sexual mis/information.
When I was younger I had no opinions about sexuality. Sex was the mystical promised land of unending climactic pleasure. There was some testing the waters outside the boundaries of heteronorm conduct though I never wavered in my appreciation and attraction to the mythical female forms. I encountered gay men and lesbian women early as I lived at times in LGBTQ collectives with pink triangles painted on the walls and worn by the kind gentlemen who shared rooms in the oversized apartment. As I was not sexually active I did not understand what that meant or that it could be wrong.
It was not until I became a Christian in my late teens that I was told that certain sexualities where accepted by god (a man and a woman joined in holy matrimony) and all other sexualities (mine included) where tickets straight to a fiery lake with eternal torment on the side. I was taught to read the bible literally and would never have considered Christianity a real option had I not experienced pure authentic joy (in the small baptist church in Malmö) and the unconditional love of an older man (the token black man in the otherwise all white congregation i attended in the Ozarkian backwaters of the US bible belt) showcasing what a fathers love should really be like.
I was crushed to my knees by the awesome presence of the divine and repented my old ways. That is when I had to start reconciling my postmodern upbringing with the modern vestments of American churchianity. First I had to shed my love and fascination for science and replace it with a growing passion for the metaphysical secondly I had to reconcile the unconditional love I felt from god with the judgement of everyone not part of the church (the church being a very narrow description of people who believed exactly what I had been taught that the bible teaches).
This was hard work, it is not easy reconciling a loving god with eternal conscious torment. It lead to a lot of ‘closeting’ that is I had to hide the parts of me that where not compatible with this black and white world of conditional love and unconditional justice. I burnt and renounced my tarot cards, my roleplaying games and my Metallica albums. I listened only to approved Christian music and broke of with my girlfriend who was trying to lead me into sexual temptation by her very existence.
One day I was sitting at our local hangout when a punk girl my age came up to me and asked me if I thought she was going to hell if she died today. I asked her dutifully if she ‘believed in her heart’ and if she could ‘confess with her mouth’ that Jesus was lord. She said that she didn’t know what she believed and that she would confess no such thing. That settled it in my mind and I told her as much, she was going to hell unless she reconsidered. I remember walking out of there with confidence and feeling quite proud of myself the ‘little servant of the lord’ and an evangelist to boot. Hadn’t I in no uncertain terms explained that god was handing out a free bag of candy if she would just bow to his might, never mind the punch in the face that was the price of refusal. The next day I learned that she had killed herself that night. I think this was the first day of my real journey.
Surely Jesus would ave seen the need to be loved in this girls eyes and restored her self worth… Surely Jesus would have known what to say, how to love her. How to enter into her world, to penetrate her bubble and show how passionately relentlessly god loved her.
I still had many years of soul searching and theological wrestling with the doctrinal dragons of organised religion ahead of me before I could answer these questions in a way that would be actual good news. In the meantime I compartmentalised the problem with the ever so handy phrase “Love the sinner, hate the sin”. I represented a unholy, unholistic hermeneutic of separation between person and action as if we can be separated from what we do so easily.
I did peer training with “a world of difference institute” and CEJI two wonderful organisations working against antisemitism, bigotry and racism. I did so still asserting that god loves gay people, he just hate what they do. I honestly did not realise that what my friend Paul heard from me, the loving Christian, was god loves you but hates what you are. From my other fiends on the peer training course who where not Christians he got only love because he was just a lovely loving guy. To this day I wish I could find Paul and tell him how sorry I am.
Stumbling through life trying to find a way to be an honest Christian who will preach a message that rings true and can be considered good news to the poor and the not so poor, the normal and the weird, the straight and the queer.
So I came to college a raving fundamentalist who really wanted to believe the pre-formated cookie cutter christian platitudes I was spewing out.
Don’t get me wrong; I was an excellent speacher, I could motivate and capture young peoples hearts with a cunning accuracy. I could convert and convict, I got inspire and release. My prophetic gift kicked in just enough to scare the youth I spoke to enough to hang onto every word I spoke. If only I could have believed them as fully as they did. If only the beast in the closet could die and not cry out for release.
At college was where my ‘queering’ begun. As my understanding for bible history, hermeneutics and biblical exegesis grew I quickly lost grip of my fundamentalist ‘reality’. I honestly thought at times as I was loosing my faith.
“What do you mean Moses did not cross the red sea?”
It was well into the last quarter of the first year before I gave up pressing my old formulaic beliefs into academic language and capitulated to what my soul cried out for ‘a faith seeking understanding’ but doing so in the only way I known how to do anything ‘no holds barred’.
My first queer teacher (I am unsure how he would feel about the title but it is just as true) made this groundbreaking statement: Just because it didn’t happen, doesn’t mean it’s not true. That statement alone was worth the price of admission. It ‘queered’ my faith forever, in the same way that Jesus’ “You have heard it said …. But I say unto you ….” must have done for his followers. This together with the guidance of Brian McLaren (A new kind of Christian, the secret message of Jesus) and John Eldredge (Epic, Desire, Sacred Romance, Wild at heart) who taught me a narrative reading of scripture. A narrative framework to replace my rigid fundamentalism.
Still the question of sexuality was still in the closet. I tried to open the can at college but was not really encouraged to go there. So I did when I hit the ground at my first appointment. The first week on the appointment I was asked, hypothetically, if I would officiate a gay marriage. I had no answer, but at least this time I was mature, courageous enough to admit that I did not.
Many books, sermons and meetings with representatives of the LGBTQ community later, I am standing on a square literally around the corner from the restaurant where I met the punk girl all those years ago. I am watching a heated argument between a young american missionary standing with a six foot cross over his shoulder and a young punk rocker girl with pink hair and a nose ring. She is spewing sarcastic question at him like a spitfire and he is squirming under the pressure. He tries to be graceful. He says to her that god loves her and that she will get to heaven IF she will repent her actions. I feel a strange yet familiar tug in my heart and I intervene, literally, I step in between the two combatant and I try to intercede. God loves you I say to her. She blinks twice and says, sarcasm thick in her voice, “but …” But nothing, I say, “god loves you, no matter who you are, what you do and whom you love”. At first she gets angry accusing me of trying to steal the other guys convert, then she mellows and asks quietly, “do you really mean it?” Then hesitantly, “Would god love me even if I was born a man, I mean even if I am a man down here and woman up here” she gestures at her body parts. I re-emphasise, “god loves you just as you are right now, he loves every part of you both down there and up here” I say. She goes quiet for a while and I realise she is crying. “Thank you”, she says, “I did not know there where Christians like you. I don’t believe in god but maybe I could love a god like the one you know”.
It struck me then that this is why I am. My whole existence can be described with a purpose to this moment, to tell this girl that god loves her, her mess, her penis and breasts and all. and that is good news.