Two Ways to Maybe Not Write About Gay People

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I want to say right off the bat that I love that the conversation is happening. In my closet days, I never imagined seeing the day when Christians, devout Bible-believing Christians, would speak out against harmful measures towards the gay community. The swell of righteousness that has been percolating through blogs across the web in response to the proposed Arizona bill has been such an assuring sign of forward progress. Of change. For the most part, it’s been a good day of reading.

 

One blogger stands out for writing the best, most poignant response to all of this. Preston, if you’re reading, you nailed it.

 

Preston put it this way:

 

We’ve stumbled into a theological grey area. Because Christians don’t agree on this. And actually, Christians don’t always agree on what counts as gossip, as sinful divorce. Even whether or not gay marriage is a sin.

So wait. Whose Christianity is it?

 

It’s a simple excerpt as you can see (read the whole post here) but it is also a sharp deviation from the typical progressive Christian response.

 

The message I normally hear, and have previously written about, is this: Christians are beating up the gays again and how will they ever find Jesus if we keep pushing them away from him? We need to be better at witnessing, showing Jesus love, like the way he was with sinners he encountered…

 

It’s a condescending argument, and yet, one that doesn’t seem to realize it’s condescending. It typecasts gays as the worst sinners of the gospel that Jesus, despite everything, STILL LOVED. He goes even that far! Amazing!

 

I cannot count the number of times I have been likened to Jesus drunk friends, or the adulteress woman, or the tax collectors. I am the pre- “go and sin no more” gospel character- the shabby fellow who’s luck is about to turn when I meet the Light of the World.  And Jesus would’ve met me differently; he would’ve converted me. But Christians today aren’t meeting me like he would. And because of their unkindness, I am still lurking in the corner- rightfully so!- waiting to be wooed into the light by love.

 

But wait a sec… I am a Christian. There are thousands, maybe millions, of others out there like me. There are entire organizations like the Gay Christian Network and Believe Out Loud, lots of congregations around the country that affirm same-sex couples. What’s going on here?

 

I want to suggest two arguments that tend to muddy things up for us. That need to be nuanced before the next culture war blow-up happens.

 

 1. Jesus ate with sinners- we need to eat with sinners. Serve sinners. Love sinners.

 Of course he did, the gospels tell us so. And we all are sinners, but Jesus loves us as we are, that is all there is to it. But when, from the outset of your piece, you circumscribe our sexuality as a mark of our sinfulness, you are othering us. It does not feel warm and fuzzy to be called the lesser that is still loved. The SINNER. The project. It feels rather low. Insulting. A bit ignorant.

Like you, we seek to live good and honorable lives. As Christians we put our faith, desires, and daily living before God and ask for his direction. So, when you assume that being gay or being in a same-sex relationship is sinful by way of analogizing our lives with the rowdy crowd Christ hung out with, you suggest that we are more broken, more need of redemption than you. And you continue a narrative that says there are no other interpretations of scripture (reformed interpretations, affirming ones, are growing in opinion.)

 2. There are more important issues

This one really gets under my skin. Though I know it is being directed at conservative Christians, it can feel like someone is somehow blaming my existence on the lack of attention to things like poverty, creation care, and human trafficking. It also assumes that this whole equal rights business, the liberating of a minority group, is kind of frivolous. Something to get over with. Move on to the important stuff that actually matters. 

I tell you.

Injustice is injustice. And when it comes to gay and lesbian people- the wrongs have been devastating.

They’ve resulted in a thousands survivors of reparative therapy- people who simply wanted to be normal, accepted, and loved by God, because according to Christian culture and teaching, they couldn’t until they changed. It has resulted in those who lied their way into a marriage only to come out thirty years later, trying to pick up the pieces of their family, grieving over all that time lost. Gay teens today are still the most at risk for suicides, and though they make up a tiny part of the population, they are the most likely to be homeless, too.

Healing, restoring dignity and giving respect to a group that has been maligned for a millennia is no frivolous thing. It matters, this process, it is where God is working his magic for the good of his beloved, for the good of his church and for his world. He is showing us with every shift in society, every conversation with loving Christian friends, that he is for us and everything will be okay. Two things that were once hard to believe.

And I get it. You are voicing your support. But even when you are eager to publish that post and show your solidarity with us, you still carry the capacity to offend and if publishing your piece is important enough to you, you must pay close attention to how you write about gay people, because you might be hitting us in an unforeseen way.

A Plea to the Pope

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Dear Pope Francis,

 

Desmond Tutu once said, “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” and I mention him here because brother Tutu has put boots on his words. Over the past several months, he has been hustling through Africa, sitting down with dictators, speaking to whoever will listen, doing whatever he can to place himself in the space between God’s beloved LGBT children and those wishing them harm. He has been courageously following his call, chasing down the path of justice and mercy and love. I can only hope to one day run in his wake.

 

I also bring him up because he is absolutely right about neutrality in injustice. There’s nothing neutral about it.

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer put this sentiment more sharply:

 

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr also added his voice to this outlook in the midst of his own fight against oppression:

 

“In the End, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

 

I wish to speak plainly, Pope, no groveling, no frills, no nonsense. I want to say that when it comes to you, I am always somewhere between a wild embrace and a swift eye-roll. Speak about poverty, speak about creation care, shamelessly say that Marxists are good people, too, and you will find me in the crowd, eyes welling with tears, clapping my hands so hard because that’s a kind of gospel that is so desperately needed.

 

Say things about gay people and I will naturally fall into crossed arms, eyes glazed with skepticism.

 

Because, Pope, while I have been gladdened by the way you have humanized the gay community, I cannot ignore the divergence between actions and words, and when it comes to matters of justice, the two are inseparable.

 

I am still embittered by comments of your past and as much as I wish they hadn’t happened, I still hear them when you talk. And you haven’t taken them back, either. Like when you called gay marriage “the work of the devil”, or, and more recently, in December, when you were reportedly “shocked” that gay couples could even adopt. When you urged a bishop in a country debating gay adoption to speak out against it.

 

And even when you’ve said kind things about gay people, they’ve usually been followed with quiet reversals coming from your administration. A lot of clarifying. A lot of back-stepping. A lot of distancing yourself, accusing the media of misconstruing your words. It kind of takes the lift out of your niceties.

 

But- if I am to put all of my cards on the table, criticism and praise, I must say- I am moved by the goodness of your heart.

 

I don’t know what is tucked inside it, but I do know that someone who slips out into the dark of night to tend to the homeless is someone with a heart lit by Christ. I’ve watched you wash the feet of inmates, kiss the head of the disfigured, proclaim to the world that God’s love and favor are boundless. That all of us matter. That we stand on the equal plain of grace.

 

And I am asking you to let your heart spill over once again.

 

Your LGBT brothers and sisters are being hunted down across the world, at this very moment, on the basis of who they are. They are in hiding. They are living in a world where to come out is to be thrown into prison. They are living in nations where the law of the land says it is illegal to know a gay person and not report them to the authorities. A dark cloud has fallen and they have no escape out.

 

Fourteen men were torn from their houses in Nigeria, dragged down the streets by a jeering mob, beaten with iron rods by both civilian and law enforcement. A young man in the north was found guilty of being gay (think about that), and he was sentenced to severe whip lashings, a sentence the judge called “compassionate” since he ought to have been publicly stoned. The anti-gay law that was passed and signed by the President of Nigeria was called a “courageous and wise decision” by one of your own promoted Bishops.

 

In Uganda, for years, the parliament has been moving to draft a “kill the gays” bill, a law that needs no further explanation. It has been tempered into a life sentence for being gay- oh, the compassion- but that doesn’t mean the public, the churches there, feel any less emboldened. A local Ugandan paper put out an issue with the pictures, names and addresses of one hundred gay activists in the country beneath the headline, “hang them.”

 

And it’s happening in Russia, in India, and approximately 83 other countries.

 

And it is being done in the name of Jesus Christ.

 

I don’t want you to misread me, Pope, I want you to know that I am not asking you to reverse your position on gay marriage. I understand reality; that you and I come from different places on the theological spectrum, walk of life, and spiritual experiences. I am under no illusions about that.

 

But that is far from the issue- it is a distraction from the dire issue at hand. Because violence and murder and brutality and imprisonment are flaming across the world, pursuing my people, and every single second that you remain silent, that much more you are complicit. Because as Christians, we are commanded to speak up, to speak out, and to defend the vulnerable. That is a non-negotiable. That is not a gray area. 

 

I have no idea why you have stayed silent. Perhaps it is politics, pressure from within, or maybe fear because your statements have placed you in hot water before. However, because of who you are, a Christian with unmatchable influence, it is completely unacceptable to stay silent. It is unbecoming of a Pope, of a Christian, of a human being.

 

So I call on you now to step forward and speak boldly. Listen to the chorus of voices on twitter, on the Vatican phone lines, in letters filling up your mailbox. Hear us crying out in the wilderness for someone to stand in the gap and stay their ground. For someone to shout EnoughFor you to live up to your calling.

 

I plead for you to listen to call of Tutu, of Bonhoeffer, of King, of Jesus himself:

 

‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”

– Matthew 25: 45

 

Your Brother in Christ,

 

Ben

On Ukraine

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Ukraine is in free fall. CNN has been replaying images of Independence Square shrouded in flames and smoke and ash with molotov cocktails and bricks piercing through the air. Strangers are keeping pressure on wounds, mothers are searching for their children, people are being jailed by the dozen. The police have turned completely savage, behaving- no doubt, at the pleasure of the Ukrainian government. And it is wrong and unjust and these are the moments I can hardly look up. I can feel my faith start to fray.

 

Ukraine is written into the fabric of my faith. My grandfather and others helped to create a missions organization that served this country in the aftermath of the Soviet Union, and I had the honor of traveling with them when I was just sixteen years old.

 

It was my first experience with poverty. And it was there that I saw how devastation doesn’t always hit like a Molotov cocktail. It can come slowly, inconspicuously.

 

I saw kids plagued with fetal alcohol syndrome, collateral damage of the Soviet Age, of a government that kept their people miserable, but too drunk too notice. I saw economic devastation and political oppression and the ghost of the Soviet Union pursuing their lives on a daily basis.

 

But there was also hope.

 

Part of the reason we were there was to support the development of a youth center, one established by a Ukrainian veteran who looked out on his community and saw several liquor stores serving ten-year-olds and not a single safe place for children. So he built it and the kids rushed in.

 

The community of Christians I met there walked with hearts of overcoming. They praised God in a reckless, radical, hit your knees in the morning kind of way. They beam with pride in their heritage, in their country, and in the gospel that was making a home in their small pockets of villages.

 

These ambassadors of goodness and effective change are what sustain my hope for Ukraine. They are the solution, they are the healing, they are the ones that are turning the tide of a thousand evils.

 

And now they are in danger.

 

The government has eliminated the freedom of speech and the right to protest and has started to push out NGOs nationwide. Twenty-five people were killed Tuesday and dozens more injured. If the past couple year of global turmoil have taught us anything, we know it will only worsen, the numbers will go higher. The powerful will do whatever it takes, kill indiscriminately, if it keeps their claim on the chair.

 

I understand the Christians who will watch the violence on the news, read the horror in the paper and throw up their hands in lament, crying, what could be done except to pray? And I say, yes, YES, we must pray. Pray and pray and pray some more.

 

But what I don’t want to get lost on us is the voice of the Ukrainian people who are outlining exactly why they have had enough. Enough of the injustice of cold war romantics and Russian thugs. Enough of economic oppression, of political oppression, of the theft of human rights. 

 

We must listen to their voices- the voices of the oppressed- this is a non-negotiable in following Christ. Despite your position on pacifism or just-war, we are required to be informed, and that means learning about the abusive arm of Russia and why the political move that sparked this protest, the President’s rejection of the EU agreement and embrace of one with Russia, conjures up horrors that you and I will never imagine. Learn about the history. About the agony. About the promised future that has fallen apart.

 

 

A relative shared this video on Facebook and I knew I needed to share it here. Please take two minutes to watch it.

 

For a brief background on the situation, check out this article from NPR:

Four Things to Know About What’s Happening in Ukraine

Some Thoughts on Ellen Page

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I treasure someone’s Coming Out. I know how hard it is and how life-changing it is and as a Christian, I see it as a deeply spiritual act. I see images of Jesus broken before a tomb, crying in a voice of delusional grief for Lazarus to just Come out! I see the blind man- Jesus rubs mud and spit on his eyes, and fails (remember this? What do you see? and then, I see people, Lord, but they look like trees!) And then Jesus has to take another crack at it before this desperate man can actually see. But I think Jesus did this on purpose I think he wanted to teach the man how to really see the world, how to see people and see himself- adjust the optics out from distortion to grungy to crystal clear and perfect, from one degree of light to the next.

 

The heart of our stories is in the moments of transition from point A of Absolute Hell to point B of Grace and God.  I love to write about what a blessing being gay is, but I only know this because I have climbed out of the great deep. I can only meet those that need my story by telling the whole hard thing, and that means speaking about the days I spent drowning and reaching and feeling nothing. Waiting an eternity for something I never thought would come.

 

True vulnerability is remembering the rough road that toughened up our feet. Sharing our stories of the seasons so bleak that we barely made it out. And then, our way back to wellness. To acceptance. To bravery and strength. These are the stitches that connect us to those with no one to stitch themselves to. Who feel utterly alone. Who need to know there is not an end to this, there is beginning. An emergence out of the tomb, fresh eyes to the world. A heart beating, finally.

 

Glennon Melton recently wrote about a poem taped to her computer and it talks about “dropping keys to rowdy prisoners” and that seems to fit here. These kind of keys cannot be dropped by those who have never felt the cold of the cell, the weight of shame and isolation; they cannot be given from someone who doesn’t own, doesn’t cherish, doesn’t share that slow emergence into the daylight of freedom.

 

Ellen Page is a key dropper.

 

When I watched Ellen Page’s speech, I cried big droppy tears. She told the full arc of her story, the pain, the struggle, the fear and though I do not know when she came out in her personal life, she doesn’t seem too far removed from it. She speaks shakily. Her feet shift and her hands are fiddling and you know the words were on the tip of her tongue.

 

And then she said it.

 

And she smiled in relief.

And happy tears fell down like keys.

 

Thank you, Ellen.

 

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.”

 

-Henri Nouwen

 

“I’m tired of hiding. And I’m tired of lying by omission. I suffered for years because I was scared to be out. My spirit suffered, my mental health suffered, and my relationships suffered. And I’m standing here today, with all of you, on the other side of that pain.”

-Ellen Page

 

 

A Closet Comes Undone

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In the past few weeks it has come to my attention that I am Out. Exposed. Dangling on the proverbial grapevine that everyone is looking at, talking about, and passing around. We’re in the everyone knows just-right-now stage, and so my name is being dropped over coffee, at parties, through texts starting with GUESS WHAT I JUST HEARD? and ending with Did you see that coming? I am feeling around for my walls, my edges of comfort, but they’re gone. The closet, it’s gone. And the air is rushing all around me. 

 / / /

At the elementary school I work at, we recently took a field trip to the Children’s Theater in Saint Paul to see the play The Mitten. It’s based on a book we read in class. A little boy loses his homemade mitten in the forest and, one by one, all sorts of woodland creatures crawl inside it to escape the chill of winter. It starts small with a mole and then the animals gradually grow larger in number and size, leading up to a full-grown bear squeezing in. The climax occurs when the whisker’s of a mouse tickle the bear’s nose and the whole big ball of yarn launches into the air like a deflating balloon.

 

In my real-life version of the mitten, I started with a therapist, and it took me a year and a half to let her in. I couldn’t even say it out loud. I had to pass it to her in a crumpled up note. Years later, I let in my family, and a year after that, my friends, another year, my readers here on the blog and I have felt the warmth of such safe company. And… I have also felt myself hurtling to the end- to the great wide open, all eyes on me.

 

Over drinks the other night, a close friend told me that he was at a party recently where my name was the center of discussion. It was kids from my conservative Christian college, and he told me that some of them had really nice things to say. Others, not so much.

 

I heard again, last night, from another close friend, that people had been asking him more and more frequently if it’s true, if Ben Moberg is really gay. I gave my people permission to tell the truth long ago, so he did and I suppose these people told others who told others who told others.

 

And this is what coming out is: relinquishing control; trading your former, staged reputation for the real one, and then letting it out into an unpredictable world. A world that can love you or leave you. You can speak your truth to it, but you never know what will come boomeranging back. When you give up control, anything could happen.

 

But if you’re an evangelical, then you could probably guess what will. Here, coming out is seen as an act of leaving, of tossing away your faith, your cross to carry, and despite the fact that you’re still physically here, still spiritually strong, plenty will dismiss your life as if it were a tainted memory, a wrong turn, a deviant gone astray.

 

I remember in my own closet days when some classmate would come out and the kids in youth group descended like a pack of hyenas. Gossiped and gossiped like charismatics talking in tongues. Faces became contorted amongst the guys, who would then fake throw up, and the girls would get sad, say it was such a shame this person was disappearing into the darkness. And then, inevitably, someone would say, do you think there’s anyone else? And my face would flush, throat would dry up, and an acute realization would hit me that one day, they’d all be talking about me.

 

And so… Here we are. It’s happened and I’m all the way out and people are talking about me without me. In my head, I thought I’d be breaking out of dodge by now. I thought I’d be running away.

 

And I think it’s because for a long time I’ve clutched at my closet like a shield between the world and I. A brace keeping me from really moving forward. And it’s only now, with my story streaming through all this conversation, all this gossip, making people turn and reflect and think about me, can I see how brave I have become.

 

Every step taken out has shaped me. It has made me daring and sharp, more sure of myself and my ability to walk even there. In this place where everyone in my world knows and I should be a bit on edge, a bit anxious, making a dive beneath the blankets to cover myself up, I am seeing just how much coming out has changed me.

 

It started with a crumpled up note passed across a room, to a crawl into my parents bed, to pulling over the car and saying it straight out to a friend, and what I am learning about bravery is that you have to grow it. You have to face this unpredictable world and know that you are strong enough to not look away. Alive enough to run right into it.