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 were 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 compartmentalized the problem with the ever so handy phrase “Love the sinner, hate the sin”. I represented an 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 were 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 people’s 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.